Paper ‘plates’

Eating establishments these days are doing their utmost to be trendy, as evidenced by the number of meals you’ll find served up on lumps of wood or quirky, impractical crockery; accompaniments presented in miniature items of cooking utensils, and – the subject of today’s rant – burgers, presented on small trays.

It’s not the small trays that bug me, but rather the ridiculous convention of placing a sheet of thin, decorative paper between food and tray. It’s a habit that pubs, restaurants and other non-burger focused establishments seem to have adopted, presumably to replicate the authentic burger joint experience, giving the illusion that your burger came wrapped in the paper upon which it now reclines. I find that more than a little weird – if I wanted the authentic burger joint experience, complete with food packed in Styrofoam, lard shakes, sticky melanine tables and obnoxious kids running around, then I’d have gone to Maccy Ds in the first place!

However, it’s not even the odd efforts to bring a decent eating experience down to the level of a cheap and miserable Happy Meal that really winds me up, its the fact that unlike a Chicken Royale, or whatever your favourite mass market mechanically recovered reconstituted meat product patty might be, that sheet of wafer thin paper has no practical purpose. Unlike your McMonstrosity – where it serves as a functional and useful wrapper, doubling as a convenient and sensible means for holding your burger without mess or unpleasant deconstruction – when placed beneath your double wagyu truffle burger, miniature kettle of sweet potato skinny fries and healthy dollup of gourmet coleslaw, all designed to be consumed with knife and fork, that layer of paper becomes a complete nightmare.

There are few gastronomic experiences worse, in my opinion, than having to contend with a soggy, torn mess of paper half way through your meal. You end up ingesting equal quantities of cellulose, mayonnaise and lettuce, and spend most of your time combing through the contents of your fork to dispose of greasy paper fragments – it’s thoroughly unpleasant, and completely unnecessary.

One of the things I do like about SL is that, despite trying hard, it always manages to miss the boat when it comes to being trendy. Certainly, The Lab does its best to keep up with what’s going on in the wider world, but things in SL tend to happen painfully slowly, which means that when all the new-fangled stuff does eventually arrive on the scene, it’s old news elsewhere and we’ve all had a chance to get used to the idea and decide whether it’s for us or not. We’ve seen it in the past with mesh, scripting, physics, avatar bones, pathfinding, experiences… Things that the wider digital community have known about and been playing with for a while, sometimes years, but by the time they’ve finally hit SL they’re really nothing new to the well-informed. And, unlike my grotty bit of burger paper, we almost always have the choice whether or not we want to be ‘on trend’ – we can choose not to Bentofy our bodies, ignore experience offers, and stick with our system avatars; we’re rarely forced to conform to the Big New Thing if we’d rather not – and that’s the second thing that endears me to SL: We don’t have to do stuff if we don’t want to.

People complain about the length of time that it takes for new inworld development, but for the reasons I’ve just mentioned, I personally welcome the chance for a cooling-off period before the next great innovation becomes available, and that we have the freedom not to engage if we so wish. Development does go on, no matter what the naysayers may have you believe, but we’ll never have the shiny new trendy things when they’re shiny, new and trendy elsewhere… We’ll get them though, eventually. So, if you want the stuff that’s all the rage right now – 360º images, 3D viewing, animated mesh, and so on – then you’re just going to have to wait, I’m afraid – although maybe not all that long for some of them. However, at least by the time they arrive in SL, we’ll all be familiar with those concepts and will have had the opportunity to consider both their merits and their downsides, and then we can decide whether we want any part of it anyway.

Which I kinda like.

s. x

You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant
You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant
Walk right in it’s around the back
Just a half a mile from the railroad track
You can get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant
Arlo Guthrie – Alice’s Restaurant

Posted in Half-Baked, Linden Love, Philosophicalisticality, Rants, RL, SL | Leave a comment

SLife’s a beach

I’m am not a beach type of person. You’ll never find me taking a beach holiday or see me get excited about spending a day topping up my tan on the shore, in fact  there are few things that I consider as much of a waste of time as lying immobile in the sun on a lounger all day long.

It’s not just the sheer boredom of lazing on the beach that I find anathema, it’s the unwelcome gritty-stickiness of sand adhering to the skin, creeping unwanted into your picnic lunch and being whipped up into mini sandstorms that irritate your eyes. It’s the relentless sun that causes snowblindness as it reflects from the pages of that book that you’re ineffectively trying to both read and use as a sunshade, the blood draining from your arms, trembling with lactic-acid tremors as you hold your book aloft. It’s the screams of devil-spawn children, the odour of sweat and sunblock, and the knowledge that your evening is condemned to heat headache and sunburn. Yet, most people see to enjoy it.

I most certainly don’t!

I don’t despise beaches – give me a secluded cove on an overcast day and I’m fine; a deserted, windswept bay suits me perfectly, but please don’t expect me to ever get enthusiastic about a sun-soaked beach holiday, or an invitation to any sort of beach party, because I won’t!

I afraid that the same holds true for SL too. Whilst the majority of the more irritating inconveniences of the beach are avoided inworld, there are other facets of virtual seaside shenanigans that leave me cold: for example, the overwhelming slant that so many SL beaches have towards being pick up joints, almost inevitable you might conclude with so much enticing, inviting bare flesh on display, and let’s face it, there’s an awful lot of beach sims inworld more than happy to capitalise on that particular aspect of ‘entertainment’.

There also seem to be an inordinate number of music venues with a beach party theme, and of course there’s nothing wrong with that, but again it’s not really my cup of tea I’m afraid, and once again I can’t help harbouring the suspicion that a lot of these venues are as much about dancing around wearing as little as possible as they are about the music. Not my thing, I’m afraid, so when a friend recently decided to throw a beach party I was torn between showing my support and joining in the fun, and staying true to type and avoiding it like the plague. In the end, loyalty and friendship prevailed.

That presented me with a problem. My aversion to beaches means that my wardrobe, in terms of beach party wear is somewhat limited – and I’m afraid, rather dated – to say the least. Out of a 55 000 item inventory, only around 20 of those items could be classified as beach wear. In the past, I’ve usually opted for the humorously ironic Victorian beach paraphernalia, but on this occasion, I thought I really should enter into the spirit of the occasion and make the effort… There really was very little worth wearing to choose from, however. I considered buying something new, but I really didn’t want to spend a great deal on something that would get very little use; and there was another issue that I largely manage to avoid when it comes to everyday clothing. Being a bit of a virtual luddite, I’ve never ‘upgraded’ to a mesh body and, because my body shape remains pretty much as I designed it way back in my early days inworld, there are certain bits of me that just don’t get on with mesh, whether ‘standard’ size, or otherwise. This makes looking for anything worth wearing that could be described as beachwear somewhat challenging. Much of what is available pre-mesh can be a bit naff, but anything newer is likely to be tailored to specific body shapes – none of which fit my avatar. Such are the perils of stubbornness!

Eventually, I came upon upon a nice system bikini that I had floating in my inventory, and coupled it with a simple mesh sarong from the Marketplace, which appeared to fit perfectly… Until I turned around!

My butt cheeks poked out of the rear like a couple of backward-facing headlights, despite utilising the suplied alpha provided with the sarong. At this point, I’d had more than enough of trawling for something decent, (as opposed to indecent), and my sorry state of affairs was the prompt to get my act together and do something I’d intended to get around to trying for the past couple of years. It was time to have a go at making my own bespoke alpha masks.

It’s something I’ve wanted to have a bash at for ages – those aforementioned issues of trying to fit mesh properly on a weirdly-shaped body have been the bane of my virtual life, even so they can be fairly simply solved with a bit of work in Photoshop, and this was a perfect opportunity to finally get started – and the result? Perfect! No more butt cheek headlamps, and better still, all those mesh outfits I’ve been stockpiling but never worn because bits of me just don’t fit… Well, now their day might have finally come!

And all because of a beach party – I’d never have believed it.

(And I even enjoyed the party!)

s. x

Well I got the notion girl that you got some suntan lotion in that bottle of yours
Spread it all over my peelin’ skin, baby
That feels real good
All this skirt lappin’ up the sun
Lap me up
Why don’t you come on and lap me up?
The Stranglers – Peaches

 

 

Posted in Builder's bum, Rants, RL, SL | Leave a comment

Voice of reason

Unlike every second person in SL, I do not profess to be a DJ.

There are those amongst my circle of friends who would disagree with this statement, nevertheless I maintain my stance. The fact that I’ve built a number of inworld music establishments does not make me a DJ, neither does the act of me hosting musical events at these venues, and even occasionally being asked to do so elsewhere.

There’s a real misconception in SL that being able to load a playlist into a mixer application and streaming the result inworld somehow endows you with some sort of magical talent, earning you the coveted status of ‘The DJ’, when in reality, pretty much anyone can do it – indeed, I’ve made no particular effort to join those hallowed ranks, nobody taught me how to do it or initiated me into the arcane art, and I’m happy to be the first to admit, playing other people’s music inworld is one of the easier things you can do in SL.

It’s true that I do put some time and effort into researching, compiling and curating the music I put together, mainly because I want to preserve the essential character and uniqueness of the venues I’ve created, most of which are homages to iconic real world clubs… CBGB; The Roxy; Wigan Casino; Radio Caroline; The Marquee, to name just a few. When it comes to being an actual ‘DJ’ however, I lack some essential qualities.

I’ve no skills, for example, in mixing, beatmatching or taking a creative approach to the music I select – I just play it, plain and simple. Neither, to the disappointment of some – who it seems are obsessed with this one particular point – do I engage in talky bits between, over or around tracks. Whilst some of the best inworld DJs I know have the gift of the gab, voices that can send shivers down your spine, and have turned playful banter into an artform, I stubbornly shy away from using voice at all.

Some people love to use voice in SL, I don’t. In fact I avoid it like the plague: I’ve used it in the past and it’s just not my cup of tea. I find that in ‘casual’ SL, voice is horribly distracting and takes the focus away from what is happening on the screen – if I wanted to have a conversation with you personally, I’d phone or Skype you, but chat to you inworld? No thanks. (Actually, I probably wouldn’t Skype or phone you, either – outside of work, my conversations of this sort can be measured in minutes, over the course of many months!) I also find that voice inworld destroys the carefully constructed mental picture and illusion of reality that I’ve constructed around myself: For example, when people I’ve known for years suddently start talking and their voice sounds nothing like I imagined, it can be somewhat disconcerting and can even change the way that I think of them from that point onwards.

Most of all though, I lack any sort of self-confidence when it comes to interacting with other people on that level. Certainly, I have no difficulty when it comes to speaking with my peers and others in the real world, professionally, but take me out of a work setting and put me into a purely social situation and I instantly retreat into deeply INTJ territory; which is fine – I’ve spent my whole life that way and am more than happy with things the way they are, although those around me can find it unsettling, even threatening and weird. So, when I sit behind a keyboard, I can type witty repartee with the best of them – it’s a purely academic and emotionally detached state of mind – but ask me to be a real person, reveal my weakness and vulnerability by the simple act of talking – using my own voice – on a social level, and I turn into a gibbering idiot, clam up and shut down. That’s a wickedly unpleasant place for me to be which leaves me reeling and totally demoralised.

I don’t know what people think when they encourage me to literally speak out, and I say ‘no’, and I don’t really care. I’m sure that one or two must think I have some sort of speech impediment or dreadful accent that I’m embarrassed to reveal; or maybe they think that I’m a burly trucker from Bermondsea, hiding behind my avatar; perhaps I’m being ‘mysterious’; or, most likely, they just think I’m being stupid. So be it, but if they had any inkling of the social anxiety that being invited to a party, attending a seminar or event with a bunch of strangers, or being expected to do a voiceover for a musical track creates in me, perhaps they’d reconsider?

You see, many of us really do hide behind our avatars, and when we go out clubbing, socialising and enjoying ourselves in the virtual world, it makes up for all those same things that we purposely miss and avoid doing in real life. If I wanted to come across as tongue-tied, awkward, and a bit of a personal disaster in SL, then I just have to be myself, but to be honest, I’d rather come across as confident, self-assured and in control. And that’s the way it’s going to stay.

So I’m going to continue to let the music speak for itself, rather than do the speaking myself. And besides which, don’t forget, I’m not a DJ!

s. x

Terrified of telephones
And shopping malls and knives
We’re drowning in the pools of other lives
Rely a bit too heavily
On alcohol and irony
Get clobbered on by courtesy
In love with love and lousy poetry
The Weakerthans – Aside

Posted in Musicality, Philosophicalisticality, Rants, RL, SL | Leave a comment

Friendships that pass in the night

I have a sneaky feeling that my SL friends list may not be as populous as most. Most people that I know boast lists that number well into three figures, unlike my own list, which is rather short, and when you strip out all the alts, it boils down to, at most, around 25 avatars. In point of fact, a great many of the people that I count amongst my circle of friends aren’t even included on the official list and I’ve never really seen any need to have them added.

I’ve no doubt that it’s partly down to my usual reticence to be social – whereas others may be perfectly amenable to sending out friend requests at the drop of a hat, I can probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of occasions when I’ve formally initiated an inworld friendship and I’ve always preferred to wait until somebody offers the hand of friendship, rather than making the first move myself. Even then, it can come as something of a surprise when that happens – my own reticence to actively seek new additions to my friends list means that when I’m on the receiving end, it’s somewhat unexpected. After nearly 10 years inworld, receiving a friend request is still something of a novelty and makes me feel rather noobish and excited when it does happen.

Having a short friends list does make it a lot more manageable than trying to deal with a telephone directory worth of acquaintances, and you’ll never see that frequently repeated notice in my profile: “If you’re on my friends list and never speak to me, don’t take it personally if I remove you. I clean out my list frequently”.

The other, somewhat more poignant outcome of having a short list is that it’s very obvious when someone on that list is conspicuous by their inworld absence: Of those 25 names, almost a third are missing in action. Some have gone on to other things in RL; others have committed avacide, sometimes under unfortunate circumstances, whilst there are those amongst them who have simply succumbed to The Big Quiet.

A trip down avatar memory lane can be a sad and upsetting experience.

That list includes those that I’ve spent wonderful, happy and fulfilling moments with – hours of exploring, late night chats and crazy japes. There are those who once held a place in my profile as ‘partner’, others who have cursed the day I was rezzed, and still others with whom I had an undefineable connection: We just ‘clicked’, it was that simple. Now, all gone.

Not forgotten, however. They still live on… In textures saved in my inventory and pictures on my hard drives, memories tied to landmarks and places that themselves no longer exist, in gestures captured years ago, lying unused and unspoken in my inventory, but they’ll never be deactivated. In all these ways, my old friendships live on – gone, but not forgotten.

It’s a funny old virtual world that we have. We may never meet for real, never speak in our own voice, never write, message or make contact in any other way outside of the Grid, yet those connections can become more than just passing acquaintances, they can indeed become friends: People whose presence you seek out and want to spend time with; those with whom you are willing to share your deepest, darkest secrets, bare your soul and be yourself with. You trust them, want the best for them and will go out of your way to help and support them – and they would do the same for you. And, if that’s not friendship, then nothing is!

I tend not to spend too much time dwelling over those names in my friends list that now point only to inactive accounts. It can be a painful and depressing experience, and if I’m honest, I’ve lost enough close friends in the real world to want to remind myself that even in a virtual world, friends can come and go also. However, just occasionally, I will take a look for old time’s sake, and in amongst the sorrow, there’s joy too – you never forget the good times.

Sometimes, when I think about those SL friends who no longer log in, I can’t help wondering if they ever think of me, wherever they are now, and whatever they’re doing.

And, if they do, I hope it brings a smile to their face.

s. x

Oh, there is a light and it never goes out
There is a light and it never goes out
There is a light and it never goes out
There is a light and it never goes out
There is a light and it never goes out
The Smiths – There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

 

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL | Leave a comment

Melons the size of basketballs

…And peppers as big as melons!

Many years ago, when my parents first moved abroad, in the days before my mother discovered the internet, and back when I was much better at keeping in touch than I am today, these are the things that she wrote home about. Her first letter raved about their trip to the local market, which is where she found her massive melons. Having lived all their lives in the UK of Britland, with its EU dictated ‘Class A’ fruit and veg, grown specifically to allow any remote possibility of possessing flavour to be non-existent, and measured to within a metric inch of its life, it was something of a shock to my parents that within the actual European bit of the EU, nobody gave a stuff about complying with arbitrary rulings from Brussels about the size and shape of vegetables and instead were far more interested in selling good quality, tasty, wholesome produce, at reasonable prices, with little thought for its size, shape and bendiness, and even – heaven forbid – still with traces of mud adhering to it!

However, it was the size of these culinary delights that particularly impressed my mum, so much so that it was the highlight of her first letter from the continent.

It was quite some time before I was able to pay a visit – a couple of years later, in fact and – needless to say – top of my list of things to do was head off to the nearest market and check out their massive melons! Sadly, I was somewhat disappointed: Certainly, they were impressive, but I’d been spoiled by some of the best and most diverse markets in the world, from Bali to Bangkok, Fez to Thika and from my well-travelled and enlightened viewpoint, they were not quite as impressive as I had expected. When you’ve feasted on fresh durian at Damnoen Saduak, gorged on salak by the handful at Chow Kit, and eaten roasted cobs of corn from the street vendors of Nyeri County, it’s easy to be underwhelmed by a European green pepper, even a large one that still has bits of mud on it!

Human nature is such that the more experience we gain, and the more encompassing our world view, the more it will take to impress us. That can be enormously beneficial, but it does have its downside. If we’re not careful, we can lose our sense of wonder and appreciation for what we begin to consider as being the more mundane things of life; and it takes ever more to stimulate and keep us interested and invested in the world around us.  The same is true of SL – it doesn’t take long for us to become first attuned to, then quite dismissive of the remarkable technological achievement that is our virtual world. When we first join, everything is an adventure; we’re constantly being surprised by the things we come across and can find ourselves entranced by the things we see and experience; then, over time, as we become more ‘sophisticated’ and more demanding of the virtual world around us, those moments become more rarefied – no longer is it enough to have an outfit that we initially thought looked cool… Now we want it in fitmesh, cladding a bento body. A prim house isn’t good enough anymore, instead we want something that’s low impact, high quality, with baked-in shadows and specular maps. A simple AO is no longer good enough: We want mocap, with bento and tailored to our body shape… And so it goes on, whilst our inventories become swollen with the unused and forgotten detritus of the past.

I have an inworld friend who, both in the real and virtual worlds, is fairly advanced in years – although I’d say that in their mind they’re still a teenager. They have an extensive inventory, much of which is rather antiquated and dated; even so, they’re happy to clothe themselves in those outfits routinely, and think nothing of what others might think. They also, despite their inworld experience, seem to have maintained an almost noobish charm in some ways: SL is still exciting, the simplest distraction – a gesture, an ancient dance, or any opportunity to do something new – are enjoyed with the same gusto and sense of wonder as you’d expect from someone still new to SL, and I think that’s exactly how we should all feel about the place, no matter how long we’ve been around.

SL isn’t something we should become complacent about, it’s not something we should take for granted, and yet many of us who consider ourselves seasoned avatars do just that.

Sometimes, we need to look at the melons with fresh insight, as if we’re seeing them for the first time, and then – when we do – perhaps we’ll be reminded just how special they are!

s. x

Here I go out to sea again
The sunshine fills my hair
And dreams hang in the air
Black – Wonderful Life

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL | Leave a comment

Glassed off

You may – or may not – have noticed that the blog has been rather quiet over the last week or so. It’s not that I’ve been away, suffered paralysing writer’s block, or couldn’t be bothered – I’ve actually been doing something I should probably do more often: Almost every evening for the past week, I’ve removed myself from the butt-shaped depression in my fake leather chair, walked away from the computer screen, and out into the summer sun, to do ‘Other Things’!

Scary huh?

OK, maybe not scary, but certainly a bit of a change from my usual activities which invariably involve the use of a mouse, keyboard and hours gazing at a monitor with a glazed expression and the odd glass of refeshing beverage.

What I’ve been up to is a little project that I’ve managed to put off for the last year or so, but now the wilderness outside my back door is starting – at last – to look something like a garden, rather than somewhere you’d expect to find David Attenborough and a BBC film crew doing a documentary on endangered wilderness species, my attention turned to the pile of aluminium that has spent the last 12 months generally getting in the way and being a remarkably efficient trip hazard. This pile of what was essentially scrap metal was the mortal remains of a greenhouse that a helpful friend offloaded on to me with the intention that I might one day ressurect it and give it a new lease of life.

I have indeed, on numerous occasions, picked up various pieces of dead greenhouse, toyed with the idea of having a go, then given up. The whole thing resembled a Meccano set you might come across at a jumble sale – a random pile of metal, with no instructions as to how any of it might fit together; a number of clearly missing parts; and – thanks to a rather unsympathetic and enthusiastic dismantling team – some rather nasty looking, terminally broken bits. Now, I’m never one to take the easy road, but if things weren’t going to be challenging enough, the space into which the greenhouse would be going required that the end result would need to be about a third shorter than its original size… Fun huh? But I’m not one to balk at a challenge, although maybe on this occasion, I should have considered throwing in the towel even before I started.

So this past week, every evening, I’ve been labouring away in the unseasonably tropical heat with hacksaws, hammers, spanners and cursing. It’s been an interesting time, especially towards the end when I realised that the pile of glass that came with it, comprised of much which was broken, missing or simply the wrong size and shape for what I needed to do with it. So I’ve also had to teach myself how to cut and shape glass! However, it’s all been worthwhile, and the first plants have gone into their new home today, reposing happily on the staging I built from all the leftover pieces.

I wouldn’t say that it’s not a project I wouldn’t have had a bash at previously and would have succeeded at – coming from a background, (although quite some time ago now), in technical stage craft, I’m well-used to coming up with solutions to solve novel and tricky puzzles, but it’s been a while and I thought I was out of practice. However, it seems that SL has stepped into the breach to assist with keeping my hand in. Many a time I’ve found myself having to innovate inworld to make up for the deficiencies of the building tools, environment and materials I have to hand. Often, I’ve experimented to find the most efficient and effective way of modelling prims to fit a specific purpose, frequently in ways they were never intended to be used or utilised. And, of course – inevitably – I’ve had to work within the constraints of limited and finite resources, again requiring lateral thinking and some creative problem solving. I’ve also had to teach myself new skills when I’ve had no other option other than to knuckle down and learn how to do something in order to achieve the end result I want.

These are all skills that tend to get rusty without practice, and unless we use them regularly, we do lose our capacity to problem-solve and think outside the box. So it’s been a rather pleasant realisation that I’ve come to this week to find that some of the challenges I’ve faced inworld have ensured the continued resilience of that particular skillset. It’s certainly paid dividends in the real world, evidenced by the rather impressive, custom-designed greenhouse now gracing my garden, made from the broken bones of of a predecessor that, by all accounts, should never have seen the light of day again.

I’m very happy with the results.

And, now it’s finished, maybe I can get back to some blogging, before I forget how to do that!

s. x

Once upon a time there was a garden on a high hill
Green and blossomin’ round against the sea
And there the sun came and the rain pourin’ down
Garden grew and flourished and splattered bits of color on the ground
The Byrds – Mind Gardens

Posted in Builder's bum, RL, SL | Leave a comment

Outbreak

I’m not a particularly zombie-ish type of person. I’m the sort who thinks that once you’ve seen one zombie movie, you’ve pretty much seen them all, and apart from just a couple of better-than-average examples, there’s not many films in the genre that I’m overly-enamoured with. I haven’t watched a single episode of The Walking Dead, never been tempted to read any zombie books or comics and I’ve never played any zombie-related games.

Oddly though, I do  have a comprehensive zombie apocalypse survival plan – now in serious need of a revamp and bringing up to date – which I suppose would also suffice, with some adaptations, to cover the eventuallity of an alien invasion, terrorist takeover, nuclear holocaust or giant asteroid strike. There’s nothing wrong with having some sort of insurance policy in place, just in case, I reckon.

Planning aside, having said that I don’t have a fascination for all things zombiesque, you won’t be surprised to know that I haven’t exactly been known to embrace the many zombie-themed locations and activities that proliferate inworld. However, you’d be wrong: I don’t avoid them – in fact, you’re quite likely to find me frequenting such places routinely, mainly because they’re often terribly well-designed, atmospheric, and highly photogenic places that hold a strong appeal for the inner post-apocalyptic urban grunge fetish that resides inside me. Their only failing, as far as I’m concerned, is the constant annoyance of marauding zombies, generally getting in the way and being irritating in the extreme.

However, I’ve had an epiphany of sorts.

A recent trip to The Wastelands – an excuse to dress up in full post-apocalyptic garb, whilst packing some serious ballistic heat – failed to completely pique my need for some Mad Max style violence and bloodlust, so I decided to look up some of the other SL locations where nobody bats an eye if you happen to turn up looking like an escapee from Doomsday and in a mood to shoot anything that moves; I ended up at The Fringe – a zombie apocalypse role play sim that ticked all the boxes. To begin with, it had plenty of interesting and challenging roads where unusually, for a non-mainland location, I was able to rez my somewhat extreme combat vehicles and generally wreak mayhem throughout the town – good fun! There were buildings to explore, scenes to be captured and a wonderful atmosphere of decay and desolation around every corner. I loved it.

There were zombies too.

Lots of zombies.

Zombies groaning and moaning in the street; zombies lurking in the cornfield and the woods; zombies thronging outside buildings, waiting for me to emerge, and zombies rattling fences in their efforts to get to me. And then it happened … It was time to tackle those damn zombies and play them at their own game.

Out came the weapons, and into the fray I advanced… Zombies to the left of me, zombies to the right of me, into the valley of death advanced The Serenator, leaving a path of destruction, blood and gore in my wake. I was picking off zombies with pinpoint accuracy from the rooftops, slashing and cutting them down at close quarters, and lying in wait in the shadows with surprise ambushes. It was immensely enjoyable!

The next day, I went back and did it all over again.

And the next day too.

By now, I was really starting to get into zombie massacre mode, to the point that having received a sneaky, and potentially lethal bite, I was willing to sacrifice a leg, rather than succumb to infection myself! (It’s just a flesh wound really, I’m sure it’ll grow back).

Quite unexpectedly, and totally without precedent, it seems that I’d become a role player. Even more unexpectedly, I was enjoying the experience and going back for more, and I’ve no idea why.

I’ve no idea how long this phase will last, or how far I’ll pursue it, if indeed I do, but until then, I’ve just one thing to say…

“watch out zombies: I’m coming for you!”

s. x

I got bloodshot eyes, and there’s blood in my teeth
I got a ripped up jacket and a friend who’s a thief
Well I’m a frothin’ at the mouth, tryna pull it out
But the fire inside keeps burning, burning out
Jamie T – Zombie

Posted in RL, SL, Tour Guide | Leave a comment

Retune

There’s a 15th century coaching Inn that I try to stay at when I working in a particular location. I like it because of the convivial atmosphere, excellent food, cleanliness, roaring coal fires, comfort, and the oak beams in the bedroom. It’s also full of that one thing that so many pub chains try to capture without success – character.

Character can be a difficult thing to define: It’s a combination of  diverse qualities, which can include age, history, conviviality, quirkiness, luxuriance and something more that’s hard to put one’s finger on… But we know it when it’s present. The place I stay ticks pretty much all those boxes, but it’s the quirks that can catch you completely unawares, mainly because they simply don’t fit with the expectations of a 15th century coaching Inn!

There’s one thing in particular that catches me every time: The music that plays in the background to accompany your evening meal and whilst you unwind in the bar over a quiet drink.

I’ve no idea who is tasked with putting together the playlists, but I can only conclude that they either don’t know or care about what they’re doing, have a wickedly playful streak, or are totally bonkers, (or maybe a combination of those things). The first time that the musical selection caused me to raise an amused eyebrow in surprise was one evening sometime in August a couple of years ago… When the strains of Christmas music accompanied my evening meal. Since that fateful day, I’ve learned to pay a little more attention to what I’m hearing, because it makes for fascinating listening.

The mix is eclectic, to say the least – everything from choral pieces to rock ‘n’ roll and rave. The last occasion I was there, I was serenaded by an evening of Welsh folk songs, which inexplicably gave way, mid evening, to Iron Maiden, Limp Bizkit, AC/DC and a plethora of heavy metal bands… It was all rather interesting, and I must say, enjoyable too – although if I’m totally honest, I enjoyed the heavy metal more than the heartfelt folk!

In fact, it brought to mind the strange mix you become attuned to when wandering the sims of SL with the audio stream turned on.

You never quite know what to expect when streaming music inworld. In the space of a few steps you can be subjected to a range of music covering more genres than you can shake a stick at and quite a few that you didn’t even know existed. One minute, you’re being serenaded by Vivaldi, and the next it’s Trent Reznor assaulting your eardrums. You effortlessly skip from ambient to classical, then crash headfirst into techno-trance, hip hop, garage and classic 60s,and somehow it all seems terribly natural and doesn’t jar with us in the slightest. All of which is a little odd, since if we were listening to a radio station that took the same approach, we’d almost certainly get very frustrated with it, before eventually changing channels.

Perhaps we don’t mind so much because those who do set up audio streams for their parcels do tend – although not always – to be fairly selective with their choice of music, using sound to enhance the atmosphere and complement the overall theme, whether it’s an upbeat and modern radio station enlivening the shop floor and putting you in the mood for spending, or the hard rock accompaniment to a biker’s hangout – like the decor and scenery, the audio stream can set the mood, reinforce the illusion of reality and subtly direct our unconscious perception into the concept the creator wants us to appreciate. It develops the character of the setting in much the same manner as history, elegance and atmosphere develop the essential character of a real world setting. In a way it’s a form of subliminal messaging!

And that causes me to wonder about the music that plays in the background at my quirky hostelry… Perhaps they’re trying to subliminally message me; implanting ideas into my head and making unconscious suggestions for their own purpose.

The only thing is, with that bizarre mix of music  I have absolutely no idea what their agenda might be!

s. x

You’ve got the music in you
Don’t let go
You’ve got the music in you
One dance left
This world is gonna pull through
Don’t give up
New Radicals – You Get What You Give

Posted in Builder's bum, Musicality, RL, SL | Leave a comment

I wandered lonely

All of us at sometime or another crave a little solitude; speaking as one who lives alone and can often feel a little resentment when visitors conspire to invade that privacy, you might think it odd that I should ever want to seek out ‘me time’, since I have plenty of it at my disposal almost every day, but even I sometimes feel the need to retreat from routine and be alone with my thoughts – and, as so many of us do, I find that release in SL.

Just lately, I’ve been doing more of the things I used to do when inworld: Exploring, driving the mainland, and occasionally rezzing a train and following the tracks of the SLRR. It’s partly because of the changing social scene – it seems that many of my friends are now away at clubs most nights, and while I do enjoy socialising, music and dancing, it’s not something I want to be doing every time I log in, but neither do I want to be moping around at home, twiddling my virtual thumbs. So instead, I’ve been heading off around the Grid in search of excitement, adventure and really wild things.

Except, such things seem to be in short supply these days, as do fellow avatars. Now, I know that SL is a big place, but it’s also started to feel a terribly empty place too. Take a recent trip that I took along the length of Highway 2 and 2A, where from start to finish – a good couple of hours – I saw precisely zero other road users, zero pedestrians, and a grand total of zero passers-by of any other description. I only received a single “Hi, how are you. Looking hot, babe”, random IM, from someone whose precise location I was completely unable to identify, and according to the radar I didn’t come within shouting distance of anybody throughout the whole journey.

I admit that at least some of this will have been down to my own reticence to mix with strangers: If I see a pile of stacked green dots on the map, then that’s a location I’ll take pains to avoid, (although even then, they are often up in the sky and out of harm’s way); I also accept that running to UK time means that I miss a good percentage of those who login Stateside, but even so, I would expect to see a few more signs of life when I’m out and about than I do.

Some would say that this is a sign of the decline of SL, but I’m not so sure this is the case. I see plenty of evidence that there is still a healthy inworld demographic – yes, there are vast swathes of abandoned and empty land, especially on the Mainland, but there are also a huge number of private sims out there, and even on the Mainland, somebody must be paying to maintain all those expensive properties and the extraordinary number of airports, that line the roadside! So I’m not convinced that the population is in decline. What I do think is happening is that the way in which people are interacting with SL may have changed somewhat.

To begin with, the glory days of build-it-yourself are over. There’s now a huge amount of good-looking, lower impact, reasonably priced mesh available which people are turning to to build their own little piece of inworld heaven. Being able to pick up your property on Marketplace, drop it on your parcel, and you’re done, means a whole lot more time that you don’t have to spend glueing prims together, tweaking seams and uploading textures – time that you can be spending away from your inworld home, up in the sky, bopping away to techno tunes.

If you’re not techno inclined, there’s shopping too… And I’m fully aware that there’s always been shopping to be done, but it’s subtly changed these days, and again mesh has to shoulder at least part of the blame. The days of picking something you like, buying and wearing it are long gone – there’s a whole load of fixing alphas, playing with HUDs and generally hunting down clothing that matches your body of choice that we never had to get involved with before. I personally get extremely irritated when I spot something I’d love to wear, only to find that it’s designed only for Slink, Maitreya or a whole host of other mesh bodies, none of which will fit my own, fuddy duddy, non-mesh, old-fashioned frame. Even picking something up for free from a hunt is no longer the fun it used to be… Wasting time to find that elusive item, only to find I can’t wear it and the shoes turn my feet into big white blocks. And mesh bodies are the reason that so many people are spending so much time static, up there in their changing rooms in the sky, fiddling about for hours on end with HUDs, trying to get the perfect fit, rather than employing their time exploring and having fun.

Don’t get me wrong, I like a bit of mesh, but I don’t think it’s the wonderful thing it could be and I’m more than happy to pin at least some of the blame for the emptiness that surrounds us on its influence. Then again, if it’s solitude we’re seeking, well there’s plenty of it out there…

I’d just like a little more of the ‘Life’ bit in Second Life!

s. x

Solitude sometimes is
Life that no longer exists
Solitude sometimes is
When there’s nothing left to give
Manic Street Preachers – Solitude Sometimes Is

Posted in Builder's bum, Rants, SL, Tales of the Road | Leave a comment

Chew bubblegum and kick ass

I’ve gained a wealth of interesting, (some would say, worthless), knowledge as a result of my time in SL. I’m not talking the sort of academic or technical knowledge that you might think I’d value and would be of some use to me either inworld or in RL; rather, it’s the trivia and cultural curiosities that tend to stick in my mind.

It helps that my circle of friends encompasses a diversity of people from all walks of life and from all four corners of the globe, (has it every occurred to you what a meaningless and inappropriate expression that is?) – so I regularly have the opportunity to engage with people on a variety of subjects about which I can be somewhat ignorant or which might otherwise struggle to cross cultural, generational and geographical boundaries. Then again  it can simply be that SL exposes me to people a wider variety of backgrounds, circumstances and situations than I would normally come across in the real world, and I frequently find that many things that I myself, or those with whom I associate inworld take for granted are, in fact, not quite as universal as we imagined.

A friend asked me the other day if I’d turned up to chew bubblegum and kick ass… It was clearly a reference to something that they assumed I would instantly have grasped, but on this particular occasion, I had absolutely no idea – helpfully, she later emailed me a link to the movie in question, and all became clear, but it is something that happens fairly frequently and it’s especially noticeable when spending time with friends from the States. It’s natural to assume that because we speak the same language and have a fair amount of things in common, that the everyday references, nuances of speech, pop culture and even everyday words and activities will be understood, but frequently, confusion can set in, often with moments of hilarity due to misunderstandings and misinterpretation. To borrow an error message from my Basic coding days, we can often ‘fail to parse’ the concepts that are being communicated.

That’s by no means a bad thing: Aside from the aforementioned humour, it can provide a wealth of fascinating topics for discussion and insights into other cultures, and it can highlight just how different our individual world view can be, even in comparison to our peers and contemporaries. So often, I’ve been in discussions when friends have brought up the topics of music, television programmes or movies they grew up with and assumed, quite naturally, that my own experience and formative memories would be much the same; and, equally often, it’s turned out that they’re not, and the divide grows even more noticeable when having that sort of conversation with those in different countries, even when we share seemingly similar backgrounds.

So many things fail to successfully cross cultural and geographical boundaries, at least initially – many, of course, do subsequently make the transition, sometimes years later, and often thanks to the influence of the internet or television, but even then there’s a huge difference between reminiscing over something that is intimately connected with your past, and discovering it for the first time in later life. Nevertheless, talking about those things can provide a fascinating and illuminating window into the lives of those around us and the cultural differences about which we might otherwise remain ignorant. There’s also the weird way in which the most unlikely things can influence the thinking of a whole generation too…  It never fails to surprise me just how frequently the theme music from a children’s television programme can trigger a wealth of memories within a group of people, or how a classic zombie B-movie can colour our perceptions.

So much for the real world, but as SL enters its mid teens, I’m starting to see a similar parallel inworld too. Perhaps the most noticeable social milestone is defined by the pre/post last name divide – although that may lose some of its importance, now we know last names are coming back – although the Lindens have made it clear that the old, legacy last names will never be re-used, preserving that essential nolstalgic element for those of us who have them. Beyond that, comparative noobs, like myself at a mere ten years, can spot clear differences between ourselves and the pioneer virtual generation. They are the ones who look back misty-eyed to Wednesday restarts and Grid downtime; weekly town hall meetings; teleport hubs and flying penis griefer attacks, and sometimes its all too obvious that I lack that shared experience. They talk of sims that have closed down forever – but at the time, were the place to be seen – glitches that saw your head stuck up your butt and bodies that came with underwear baked on: Experiences and situations that they will often assume to have been part of my own experience too, but sadly not.

Then again just as in RL, such conversations can be enormous fun, satisfyingly revealing and offer a brilliant insight into not only the historical Grid, but also those things that influenced and shaped the virtual lives of the avatars around me.

In a way, it reveals the hidden side to them that I wouldn’t otherwise see… They live!

And I’m all out of bubblegum!

s. x

Images of broken light which dance before me like a million eyes,
That call me on and on across the universe,
Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box they
Tumble blindly as they make their way
Across the universe
The Beatles – Across The Universe

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL, SLarcheology | Leave a comment