Octomore (more than I can afford, that is)

The establishment at which I’m staying at present has a rather fantastic bar. Not only do they stock a wide variety of locally produced and specialist ales, ciders and beers – which I could definitely be persuaded to give a try, but they also do a fine line in gin varieties, (not really my thing, but if that’s your poison, who am I to question?)

Where they really excel however, is with their whisky collection – the list runs to 25 pages and 164 varieties, ranging from traditional Scottish, Irish and bourbons to Welsh, Japanese, Indian and even Swedish distillations. Amongst them are featured some of my own favourites, although I’ll be the first to admit, I’m no expert in the matter, and neither do I walk the hallowed paths of the rarest and most cherished blends and single malts, although, there are those moments when I simply can’t help wondering…

Behind the bar sits a distinctive bottle, the pale turquoise of a February morning sky in the Scottish Isles: a Bruichladdich Classic Laddie Scottish Barley… £355 a bottle; but even that pales into insignificance next to its slim, dark, slightly oddly shaped stablemate… The 2003, 5 year old First Edition Octomore – a snip at £950 a bottle!

How much would I love to give them a try?… But, since the prices per measure are conspicuous by their absence on the aforementioned list – even though a full, and otherwise complete, loving description of every other aspect of each is given, I’d feel both a little bit afraid, and a whole load of stupid, about asking the cost of a dram or two, knowing it’s likely to be well above what I’d be prepared, or able to pay; so I can but look longingly at those bottles, gently mocking me from their spot behind the bar.

One day, maybe.

I guess until that day comes – if ever it does – I should resign myself to being happy with my lot, something that I’ve grown accustomed to in relation to SL.

You see, if I could, I’d be super sizing my inworld activities and living my SLife to the absolute max. Right now, I’m probably at my limit – I’m custodian of a pretty decently sized plot, big enough to give me plenty of room to breathe, space for my Gallery, nightclub, living space, a couple of railway stations and my own miniature narrow gauge railway, happily steaming away. All that, and I still have room for a build space and a fair bit of expansion.

You’d think that would be more than enough, and to be honest, it really should… But, deep down inside, what I really want is a whole region to myself: Somewhere I can build mountain ranges, sprawling cities, great expanses of parkland, and – of course – a fully functioning railway network, unconstrained by parcel boundaries, neighbours or the need to conserve prim counts. Absolute bliss!

Unfortunately, such space and freedom comes at a cost – maybe not quite the same degree of extravagance as a bottle of Bruichladdich, but certainly beyond my means at the present time, and like the whisky, even if I could afford it, I really don’t think I could justify the expense. You see, at heart, I’m really not a high flyer at all and when it comes to splashing the cash I’m not tight-fisted, but I’m also not going to be flashy just for the sake of it. So even if I could, I probably wouldn’t.

That’s not to say that I won’t continue to imagine what it might be like to have all that space to play with,but sometimes the dream can be better than the reality,and I can’t help but wonder if I’d even be satisfied with that – would I always be wanting just that little bit more space? A smidgen more land? A tiny bit more room to expand into? The truth is that I don’t really know, but I probably would and that is probably the best reason of all not to aspire to greatness… Maybe I should just be happy with what I’ve got and enjoy what I have, because – in reality – it’s unlikely that will change, so why not make the most of what is, rather than being unhappy with what it isn’t?

And whisky doesn’t have to break the bank to be good!

s. x

Musha rain dum a doo, dum a da
Whack for my daddy, oh
Whack for my daddy, oh
There’s whiskey in the jar, oh
Thin Lizzy – Whisky In The Jar

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Powerless

It was one of those ‘Oh crap!’ moments… Having spent the best part of the day on the train, with little else to do than write up a couple of blog posts, surf the .net and play a few games. Both my phone and tablet took quite a hammering over the course of the journey Then half an hour on the bus, with more time to kill online and, when I finally arrived at work, there were calls to make, maps, timetables and bookings to check.

So, high on the list of priorities once I finally hit my hotel room, some twelve hours after leaving home, was to dig out the charger and rejuvenate all those flagging batteries.

You can imagine my dismay when I realised my charger was currently (pun absolutely intended!) still sitting on my desk at home… Not exactly where I needed it! I did have a power bank with me, but it was never going to be up to the job of charging my phone, tablet and headphones, and once discharged, I was stuffed for the the rest of the week, and this was only Monday.

Thank goodness for Amazon! Thankfully, a new charger would be winging its way overnight for me to collect from the local post office – genius!

Trust me, it won’t be artificial intelligence, crazy presidents and dictators playing with their nuclear buttons, or killer asteroids that finishes humankind, it’ll be somebody flicking the power switch to ‘off’ and just waiting until we all grind to a sedate and inevitable halt. We’ve become so completely dependant on a reliable supply of electricity that without it, we don’t have a hope. That’s something that’s only going to get worse in time as we develope electric vehicles, smart everything, and become ever more reliant on power hungry devices. That’s not to say that we’re incapable of adapting – my experiences spending time in the bush in Kenya, with an electrical supply rationed to just a few hours a day, required careful planning and a lot of restraint, but it was indeed possible to keep camera batteries charged, although occasionally a bit touch and go! However, had there been no power at all, it would have been a matter of resorting to good, old-fashioned manual film.

Today’s experience brought to mind a recent inworld conversation. I forget the context, but the suggestion was made that it might be cool if SL had been around a hundred years ago – it was interesting to wonder how we might have approached such technology at a time when electricity itself was still something of a mystery.

And then reality hit home: We might well have had electrical power back in the day, but with no internet, no computers and – even if we had computers – you can bet that we wouldn’t have a suitable plug to fit whatever sockets might have been around at the time. A bit of a lost cause, really.

It just goes to demonstrate that an incredibly complex web of inter-dependencies and allied technology has to be in place, come together, and work seamlessly with each other in order to permit the very things we take for granted every day, just for them to work at all. All of this incredible tech and science collaborating; and for what? To allow people like you and me to enjoy spending our time essentially playing a glorified game.

You have to wonder if we did have the benefits of all this technology a hundred years ago, in those more serious and strait laced times, would SL have even existed? Would we instead be far more interested in how to unlock the secrets of universe, explore the planet and take a more philanthropic approach to what could be achieved by the .net in the service of people around the globe?

And, if that had been the case, where on earth would we be now?

That’s a question I can’t even countenance considering – I simply have no idea how the world might be different in consequence.

There is one thing about which I am certain, however… We’d be just as stuffed, if not more so than now, if the damn batteries ran out!

s. x

She’s electric
She’s in a family full of eccentrics
She’s done things I never expected
And I need more time
Oasis – She’s Electric

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A different view

When it comes to the technicalities of SL, I’m no expert, but I do like to keep abreast of developments and try to stay informed and up to date with what’s going on behind the scenes. I sometimes forget that most people have little interest in such things and have virtually no concept of the processes and work involved in creating, improving and maintaining an application, especially one as complex as SL.

Most of the time, it’s not that much of an issue for me – if anything, it can be a positive advantage to be ahead of the game… I know what improvements are in the pipeline, when to expect a new viewer and what changes it will bring, the relative merits of one viewer over another, and – perhaps most useful of all – some of the technical challenges that running a platform like SL can bring. This last point might not ease the frustration that even I can sometimes feel about the virtual world, but it does at least enable me to be philosophical about such things.

Knowledge, in this sense, is very much power, and it’s also a resource that can come to the aid of those in need, although I have to say that the days when I’d happily take the role of technical guru and hand out help and assistance whenever asked are becoming less common. This is intentional – I find that these days, whenever someone asks for help, they are instantly the recipients of a barrage of what one would hope is well-intentioned advice, but is essentially a load of nonsense. It can be incredibly frustrating trying to assist someone when you know exactly what needs to be done to fix their problem, whilst trying to make oneself heard amongst a plethora of useless noise. There have been occasions, for example, when I could quite happily scream upon hearing the thoroughly ill-advised, but oft-quoted, ‘clear your cache – that’ll fix it’.

Never do I find myself struggling to bite my tongue and resisting the urge to punch somebody as frequently as during the period following the launch of a new viewer. For somebody who keeps themselves informed and up to speed about such things, it can be difficult to maintain a balanced and neutral disposition when surrounded by the wealth of misinformation, aggro and sheer ignorance that surrounds these events. Often I fail.

So, in the same way that I’ve elected to avoid giving advice and technical support inworld to those in need, I prefer these days to let them either work it out for themselves, or continue to take bad advice from those who – if you were to ask them from where they distilled their peerless knowledge – would be unable to provide its provenance. I have similarly come to the decision that I’m just going to keep my head down and my mouth firmly closed whenever the subject of viewers crops up.

So, for one final time, using the pages of this blog, where I don’t have to compete against false assertions, personal gripes and conspiracy theories, I’ll deal with the most common fallacies regarding viewers that I find myself getting wound up about inworld. And then, I’ll shut up!

1. Fredbonkers Resident: “The official viewer is rubbish – you should use Firestorm because it’s the best by miles”

Rubbish! And I say this as a die hard Firestorm user, who’s loyally stuck with it in all its forms since well before the Emerald Viewer debacle. In terms of being up to date, cutting-edge development, and stability, the official viewer is streets ahead. It may not have all the functionality that FS and some other viewers possess, but it will always have more recent code, the newest features and be optimised for the SL experience ahead of any other viewer, purely because of the way that it, and all those third party viewers that are based upon the Linden code, are developed. Let’s not forget also that a great many of the FS devs also contribute their own code and innovations to help The Lab build the official viewer.

In practical terms, the best viewer for you is the one that works best for you – some swear by Imprudence for graphics, others love Catznip for its RLV support, maybe Black Dragon for it’s edgy features; still others like Dolphin or Android-centric Lumiya, or Kokua for Debian – there’s not really a best viewer, merely a best viewer for you.

2 – Twitmunchkin Pirate: “I’m not going to update yet, I’m going to wait until it’s stable”

You do realise that each release is as stable as it’s going to get? (Clearly not!) Waiting a couple of months isn’t going to make any difference at all, other than annoy you because you no longer have the same functionality and stability that those around you, who did update, are enjoying. Let me give you an illustrative example from the past… When I started wearing fitted mesh – before most people had even heard of it – I was constantly being asked to rebake, relog and sort out my ‘broken’ avatar by numpties who were steadfastly refusing to update their viewer until, in their mind, it had magically become stable. Consequently, their viewers were incapable of properly rendering fitmesh, but somehow that was my fault! That was extremely annoying both to me and to everyone else concerned.

Do people really think that developers will happily stake their reputation on releasing code that they know is unstable? Perhaps that is indeed what some people might believe, but I wouldn’t mind betting these are the same sort of people who use hammers as screwdrivers and tape over the oil warning light in the car because it keeps flashing on and distracting them. They wouldn’t know stability if it fell on them.

3 – Numpty Oh: “Every time they do an update it breaks something. Why can’t they just release patches, or make it work properly in the first place?”

This is also a statement made by the hammer a screw into the wall and hope the shelves stay up brigade, because – let’s face it – anyone can code. And, I’m sure, if we had the time or the inclination, most of us could come up with a viewer far better than anything else currently on offer. </sarcasm>

There’s a simple response to that: ‘Go for it! Let’s see you do better’

If you think it’s that simple, go and ask Henri Beauchamp how he does it, or suggest a couple of your home-made and awesome patches to Whirly Fizzle? Hell, why not go along to one of the inworld dev meetings and tell the Lindens how much better you can do it?

Before you do, you might also just want to check that whatever ‘they just broke’ isn’t something to do with the fact you haven’t updated your graphics drivers for three years, or that little optimisation trick you invented using that second hand memory card and duct tape isn’t actually wrecking your PC.

Personally, I think you should stop complaining and leave it to the experts.


I was going to say a lot more, but I’m starting to annoy myself now, so the time has come to draw a veil over this particular rant.

However there is one piece of technical advice I will willingly give to anyone who even thinks about moaning the next time an update to their favourite viewer they love to slag off comes out. It’s a really simple fix. Why not give it a go, rather than moan…

[CTRL] +[Q]

s. x

When the tears come streaming down your face
When you lose something you can’t replace
When you love someone but it goes to waste
Could it be worse?
Young At Heart – Fix You

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Spaced out

There are some ways in which my real world preferences are not mirrored in SL – one such anomaly is the way in which I perceive space. In the real world, I appreciate wide open spaces, uncluttered with the detritus of human occupation; a natural vista of endless plains, without any visible signs of habitation, interference or unnatural presence is something that will always appeal to me.

There are few things that irritate me more than seeing a pristine, natural, open space, completely ruined by the presence of an industrial estate dumped in the middle of it, a string of pylons running across the horizon, or a pile of rubbish left, without thought for environment or aesthetics. To me, a crisp packet in a flower meadow is a crime scene, as is a radio mast planted in an otherwise empty wilderness. It makes me wish I could photoshop such offending objects from the face of the earth, or better still, go into edit mode and permanently delete the damn things.

However, I feel differently about virtual space. Maybe it’s because I know it’s not real or natural, or perhaps it’s that ever-present awareness that wasted inworld space is wasted money; then again, it could simply be that I tend to get bored easily when no effort has been made to engage my attention whilst inworld; but the bottom line is that if I should happen to come across a wide open space in SL, it’s difficult to avoid every part of me feeling the need to see it stuffed to brimming with interesting bits and pieces. Inworld, the crime is not utilising every square inch and filling it.

That can cause the occasional personal dilemma.

I have a sizeable parcel of land which tends to lay fallow most of the time. Its primary purpose in SLife is to boost my available land allowance, permitting me to indulge my building whims, without having to dismantle any of the more permanent structures that occupy the rest of my land. It bugs me, because it’s an undeveloped, empty, blot on the landscape – a space, that if it belonged to anyone else, would drive me to distraction by its mere vacant aspect. Every time I look at it, every fibre of my virtual being cries out for me to do a spot of landscaping, building or anything at all to make it appear less of an eyesore, but that would defeat the whole object of having the land in the first place – the more I use my LI to fill the space, the less I have to play with elsewhere. Even if I was to go down the route of temporary structures, I’d still have the hassle of setting them up and pulling them back down again every time I wanted to build something.

Actually, that’s something I’d be happy to do, except for a couple of burning issues that would more than likely trip me up. Firstly, there’s my past performance in such things… The last temporary structure I built became so intrinsic to the form and function of the rest of my parcel, that it’s become a permanent feature, tying up the plot it sits on completely and thereby becoming the very reason I had to secure another plot, that is the subject of today’s post!

The second issue I’m continually faced with is that I rarely have any idea of what to settle on as a temporary space filler anyway. It can’t be anything I’ll fall in love with, or becomes an essential part of of the existing parcel, or I’ll be back where I started; I don’t want anything overly complex, expensive or time-consuming, but I also don’t want anything so generic and pointless that it detracts from the overall feel of the place.

The simple fact of the matter is that, most of the time, I really have no idea what I can do do with the space, and whilst I prevaricate and agonise, it’s simply going to remain an empty space.

And, I’m stuck with it!

s. x

What shall we use
To fill the empty spaces
Where we used to talk?
How shall I fill
The final places?
Pink Floyd – Empty Spaces

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Interesting times

‘May you live in interesting times’: The old Chinese curse is a phrase that occasionally finds resonance in my life. I’m not in the habit of insulting Chinese people, as a rule, so I’m not altogether sure why I should be cursed in such a fashion, but I guess that we all have our interesting times, now and again.

Today’s interestingness began early, although it really should have been a whole lot earlier, thanks to not one of the three alarms I’d set to wake me could be bothered to go off at all. So, I’m lying all cosy in my bed, enjoying the fact that the Springtime mornings are finally getting a little brighter, when the thought began to percolate through to my sleep sozzled brain that it was rather lighter than it really should be. That’s how, at ten past seven this morning, with a train to catch at 7.35 and a 20 minute walk to the station in between, I realised things were not going well.

Foregoing my usual final check of the suitcase, morning coffee and leisurely perusal of the news and weather, necessity demanded calling for a taxi… But, of course, none were available. Nothing for it, but to grab the car keys, tear off down the road, abandon the car somewhere where I hope it will still be at the end of the week, and miraculously, still manage to catch my train. To build on the morning’s interest, three hours later my train ground to a halt and everybody was offloaded onto a new one. It was only after leaving the second train at my destination, I realised that my phone – aka, life support system – was no longer on my person, and was presumably now heading off on one or other of my two trains, now each destined for opposite ends of the country! The taxi I’d booked to meet me at the station was – of course – late. Interesting times!

Such things are sent to try us, and I will admit to being just a little bit miffed at what was turning out to be something of a disappointing day, but I’m really not the sort to get wound up about such things – stress is not really a word that features in my vocabulary and I tend to breeze through life, even when everything seems to be against me, in much the same way that most other people don’t. I’d probably make a good UN peacekeeper, lion tamer, or hostage negotiator – y’know, the sort of jobs where a cool, calm disposition should come in handy.

Hardly surprising then that I can struggle at times to understand how people can allow themselves to become super stressed over some of the quirky irritations of SL, far beyond what they really deserve. I’ve seen any number of ragequits when the music stream drops; tantrums over broken scripts; and stress levels going through the virtual roof over things as simple as clothing failing to rez, or textures not loading. Somehow, the petty failings and inconsequential dramas that are part and parcel of everyday virtual life can have a far greater effect on people’s wellbeing than you would ever credit. Interesting.

Why do people allow themselves to become so riled over something so unworthy of their emotional pain? I’ve known people to disappear for monhs, even years, as the result of a simple falling out, a technical breakdown or a just one bad occurrence inworld. It all seems a bit crazy to me, when it would be be a simple matter just to grin and bear it, put up with the inconvenience or simply ignore the nonsense.

What I find even more bizarre is that so many of the silly little annoyances SL specialises in are quite frequently the very things that make the virtual world, for me, such fun. Yes, it can be irritating when something goes wrong, but cracking on with the business of virtual living or finding a workaround or alternative solution can often be a whole lot more fun than whatever was planned in the first place.

And that, is what I call interesting times!

s. x

Why do you have to go and make things so complicated?
I see the way you’re acting like you’re somebody else gets me frustrated
Life’s like this you
And you fall, and you crawl, and you break
Avril Lavigne – Complicated

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Blogging Bytes: 12th April 2018

Roll up! Roll up!

And be disappointed, dismayed and discontented.

All the gloss and the glamour that was promised isn’t quite what we expected, and we’re left out of pocket, out of luck and out of time.

But, hey that’s life!

Alt. life: Welcome to the Circus!

s. x

It’s the cheapest show you’ve ever seen
With drop-outs, drug addicts, old queens
It’s garish, gaudy, cheap and obscene
The Tiger Lillies – Cheapest Show

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LP… CD… MP3…???

Those of us of  a certain age will be very familiar with those memes that regularly do the rounds on social media reminding us just how old we are… The ones that go along the lines of:

“You remember taping your favourite songs off the radio, and hoped the DJ wouldn’t talk over the end” ;

“There was only one phone in the house – it was always in the hallway, and you’d have to whisper so your dad wouldn’t overhear you” ;

“Cereal boxes had toys in them”… And so on.

So much changes  in the course of a lifetime these days that when you’re faced with the bleak reality of just how different things are than they used to be, it can be quite disconcerting. Worse still, the pace of change has ramped up considerably in the last decade or so.

It’s frightening to think that there’s a whole generation who weren’t alive when vinyl was king; a generation that has no understanding of the niceties of chrome oxide over standard cassettes, or any opinion on whether TDK trumps BASF. Even more frightening, not only do we remember the rise of the CD and the demise of the LP, but that huge collection of CDs we acquired to replace our record collections also now languish, unused and boxed-up, having been usurped by MP3s and music streaming services. The same is true of video and DVDs… Old before they’ve even had a chance to mature.

It’s quite astonishing, when you consider that rate of change, that SL is still going strong and is essentially much the same concept and platform as when it started, after nearly 15 years! In technology terms, that’s several lifetimes, and yet it perseveres – some might say it’s hanging on grimly, but I don’t see it that way.

Old and clunky, it may be, with the immanent threat of newer, glossier virtual worlds, like Sansar and High Fidelity hanging over its head, but I have a feeling that SL will endure, and may even outlast its successors, because SL has managed to carve out a special niche for itself that transcends progress and taps into a particular facet of human nature.

Vinyl, CDs, even cassette tapes and VHS may well be officially dead and buried, but amongst aficionados, they are very much alive and kicking. The smooth and superior tonal quality and the aesthetic appeal and tactile indulgence of removing an LP from its protective paper dust cover; carefully going through the act of placing, cueing up and playing; sitting back to enjoy the music, jacket in hand, admiring the cover art and reading the track details and lyrics, without squinting, has a kind of magic about it that streaming a digital file simply cannot compete with. And there are those who will wax similarly lyrical about the joys of tape and even CDs, because they have an essential character and ritual to them that is both unique and incredibly desirable to those who understand their allure. It’s not for everyone, but it’s undeniably a powerful draw. Mainstream they may not be, but in their particular niche, they’re fit and healthy, thank you very much!

And it’s the same niche that I think SL occupies. It holds a special place for those who know and understand it – they view it with affection and accept its foibles and limitations as part and parcel of its unique appeal – it wouldn’t be the SL we know and love without them, and that would make it somehow less appealing. It’s the wonkiness of a warped tape, the dodgy tracking of an old VHS, and the pop and crackle of vinyl that adds to their character, as well as irritating the hell out of us… And SL is no different.

So, I’m convinced that we may yet see another fifteen years of our favourite virtual world we love to hate, no matter how far behind technological innovation it may fall – that’s simply part of its charm, and if the truth be known, we wouldn’t have it any other way.

s. x

Not really sure how to feel about it
Something in the way you move
Makes me feel like I can’t live without you
It takes me all the way
I want you to stay
30 Seconds To Mars – Stay

 

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SL RP OK

SL is ideally suited to some activities, whilst in other areas it’s probably best avoided. Even though virtuality is going through something of a boom period in terms of possible applications, it’s best to leave those to their own bespoke systems, rather than consider using SL as a platform… You wouldn’t, for example, feel particularly comfortable about seeking a doctor’s consultation inworld, sitting an important examination, or using SL to model brain surgery.

There are some things however that SL wasn’t designed for, but are ideally suited to the virtual world. Roleplay, for example, is a massively successful pursuit inworld thanks to the freedom and flexibility afforded to us by SL

However, it’s not for everyone and, in a recently conducted scientific study – well, slightly scientific… It was a bunch of us talking about the subject one evening – it turns out that in a randomly selected group of SL residents, whilst almost all present will happily accept that roleplay is a perfectly acceptable and normal pursuit, the majority will be entirely baffled by the concept, although maybe a third will have dabbled at some time, but have been incapable of taking themselves seriously ever since.

It’s not for everyone, but – even in RL, RP seems to be growing and is considered a legitimate and respectable adult recreational activity, which is confusing for someone like me for whom roleplay was always something you did as a child – more commonly known as ‘dressing up and make-believe’, and was certainly not the preserve of adults. I suppose times have changed – play for youngsters today is very much what takes place on a phone or tablet, and it seems that grown ups now hold the monopoly when it comes to pretending to be fairies, vikings and superheroes. It’s a funny old world!

It should come as no surprise then that SL, with its capacity to bring to life pretty much any setting you could wish for, and allowing us to interact with it and each other in any manner and form we wish, and all anonymously, is an idea RP playground. What is perhaps surprising is that relatively few of us – enlightened people that we are, (after all, we have little difficulty in relating to the virtual world in any other regard), actively participate in or even understand RP.

Although… That’s not strictly true, is it?

Aren’t we all, by virtue of the fact that we are participating in SL in the first place, role-playing by definition?

Each one of us, every time we log in, is playing a character, even if that character is supposed to be an accurate representation of our real world self. Our avatars are not us, they are a costume that we put on and in which we act out scenarios in an environment that permits our interaction in scenarios that range from the everyday and mundane to the bizarre and exotic. We fly and teleport, change our shape and appearance, pretend to drive, ride, dance and swim, and all of it – although it may look, and even feel real, is completely made up. It’s role-playing, pure and simple.

And that means that all of us, whether we profess to be role players or not, have a real, in depth understanding and appreciation of what roleplay is, how it works, and how it makes us feel, and no matter what we might argue to the contrary… We enjoy it.

So, yes, RP is OK, and if it suits us to pretend that we’re doing something entirely different, then that’s OK too…

Although, that’s just pretending, isn’t it?

s. x

Save myself from death, is that it?
Is that why I’ve come here?
I’m not afraid to die!
At times I’ve welcomed death
American McGee’s Alice – Time To Die

 

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If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

It never ceases to surprise me how simple it is to to confuse us poor, easily-bemused human beings. Often, all it takes is to put us into a mildly unfamiliar situation and we’re instantly rendered incapable of drawing logical conclusions or making rational decisions, and even the most confident of us can become gibbering imbeciles when faced with something outside only a very narrow field of perception.

Picture the scene: I’m sat at a table, in a restaurant, enjoying a quiet drink while I wait for my meal. In front of of me is one of those slotted plastic menu holders, into which has been inserted a large, folded card containing a list of the meals and accompaniments available for customers to order. To avoid any possible confusion, the front of the card clearly bears the legend – in capital letters, no less – ‘MENU’.

Cue the arrival of a gentleman who, in passing, stops next to my table, looks at said card for a moment, and then says the following: “Excuse me, is that a menu?”

We’ve all done it though, haven’t we? Asked the stupid question, made a completely irrational decision, or made an idiotic choice, simply by virtue of the fact that we’re in an unfamiliar situation. Commonsense, rationality and intelligent thought steps out to lunch, allowing the work-experience boy to take over the running of our brain.

It’s the reason you’ll find people getting hopelessly lost in an unfamiliar town because they’ve decided the most sensible method of navigation is to wander around aimlessly, or to follow a random vehicle, simply because ‘they seem to know where they’re going’. It’s the reason we’ll select our train platform, bus or flight departure gate, simply because there’s a lot of people waiting there – it must be the right one – rather than seeking out an appropriate source of information; and it’s the justification for taking a particular course of action when we don’t really know what to do, because ‘it feels like the right one’.

How the human race managed to evolve to become the apex species on the planet eludes me; sometimes I wonder how on earth we managed to survive past breakfast, because in evolutionary terms, when it comes to coping with unfamiliar challenges,  ‘survival of the thickest’ is really a very poor strategy!

It does however go some way towards explaining some of the scenarios we see in SL: Things that those who consider themselves established residents make a point of being critical about. Those of us for whom our own noobhood is but a distant memory tend to mock those who are a newcomers without even considering that their ineptitude might be the typical human reaction to a completely novel situation.

The classic noob conversation starter on blundering into a new location: ‘What is this place? ‘, rather than the rather more sensible ‘hi, what’s going on here?’, is a product of the typical sense of bemusement that we feel in RL when we wander into an unexpected situation where our brain has to rapidly assimilate what’s going on and make sense of it, whilst simultaneously attempting to keep ourselves out of trouble. The result is often a quasi-intelligent response, awkwardly expressed – ‘Is that the menu?’.

Similarly, a noob blundering into our company, with little understanding of how they got there, or any virtual social skills or experience, is going to blurt out the first quasi-sensible question that may aid them in understanding what exactly is going on… ‘What is this place?’

Invariably, our response tends to fall into one of three standard formats: Ignore, humour or help, but – bearing in mind the circumstances – maybe the proper response should be a more literal one? Surely, for the noob overwhelmed by the sheer confusionality of SL, the complexity of the viewer, and the complex weirdness of the visual, aural and experiential stimuli that bumbling around in SL tends to produce, the most appropriate and helpful response would be a completely literal one…

‘What is this place?’

‘Good evening stranger. You have happened upon a virtual representation of a typical British public house, and these peculiarly attired and seemingly impossibly beautiful people you see around you are the virtual manifestations of a bunch of fairly average people as they wish they really were’

or, alternatively…

‘Welcome, brave explorer – this is the Matrix, or at least the closest you’re likely to come to it on a laptop. None of what you see is real, but it will nonetheless feel as if it is, and the further down the rabbit hole you go, the less real reality will become, the more real the virtual will feel, and the more compelled to pronounce that you know karate you will feel.’

Alright, maybe that’s not quite as helpful as it might be, but it certainly does frighten off those damn noobs far more effectively than any other method I’ve found!

s . x

Standing on an island
In the middle of the road.
Traffic either side of me,
Which way will I go?
The Kinks – State Of Confusion

 

Posted in Philosophicalisticality, RL, SL | Leave a comment

Cam whore

I’ve always felt that one of the greatest innovations that the internet has given us is the, now pretty much ubiquitous, webcam. I can vividly remember buying my first webcam, back in the days when 240p was considered high end and even if you were fortunate enough to have a modem that could handle a camera feed, it was still a struggle to find any real practical use for your new toy.

That’s all changed, of course, and now almost anyone can broadcast live in HD quality from the local coffee shop, or even on the move. Except, even with the capacity to do so, I don’t. My own webcam is employed for the occasional Skype call to family and doubles up as a remote security camera when I’m working away – a somewhat pointless exercise, I’ll admit, but at least I’ll be able to see that I’m being robbed, from a distance, if nothing else. I will admit that it’s strangely comforting to be able to see whether the postman’s been and what the weather is like at home, from the confines of a hotel room at the other side of the country.

I have at times considered setting up a feed of the back garden, but a) apart from the birds, squirrels and the fence being blown down, it’s not terribly exciting, and b) who would watch it anyway, when it has to compete with Sultry Sandra baring her all on Live Jasmine.com?

However, whilst my own camera may be gathering dust, I do have to admit to being somewhat addicted to a variety of webcams from around the world. Many are of iconic locations, but most are of places that you may not have heard of – places that I have visited and which hold happy memories for me, and have serendipitously had a webcam set up that can evoke those memories as if they were being made right now.

There is, for example the view of Mount Kenya I had from the balcony of my room when I stayed for one unexpected and exceptional night in the house once owned by Adnan Khashoggi – all I need do is turn on the feed, and once again, I’m there. It’s amazing, and rather fabulously, there are a host of other cameras out there too capable of bringing forth a variety of great moments.

That aside, I’m a fundamentally nosy person – I’m sure I’d make a great spy! And I derive a certain perverse pleasure from being an invisible voyeur to the lives and activities of strangers the other side of the world! I’ve always wanted to be able to do the same in SL too: Having the capability of camming anywhere in the sim is, in my opinion, a top feature of SL – I even have a HUD that allows me to quickly view and switch between multiple locations at the click of a button… If I could have a similar setup, Grid-wide, I’d be more than happy, especially if I could have more than one feed open at the same time.

Better still than that, my ideal SL webcam app would allow remote viewing of multiple inworld locations, whilst offline. Now, you may be thinking, why not just log in and take a look, but that’s not always possible or convenient, and sometimes you just want to keep an eye on what’s going on inworld, whilst you get on with your life outside.

It shouldn’t be too hard to come up with some means for sending a feed to your desktop, without the need to be logged inworld oneself, and I’m surprised that nobody – to my knowledge has ever done it, but even so, I can imagine the reaction from some quarters, including the profile disclaimers prohibiting the viewing, publishing or dissemination of inworld activities without express prior permission. All of which is a bit nonsensical when you consider that those avatars are generally the same ones that publish their every activity and undertaking in Plurk, Facebook and anywhere else they’re guaranteed a fawning audience!

Not that I’m particularly interested in that aspect anyway… All I really want is to have a calming live feed of my Nowhere Land parcel in the corner of my computer screen when I’m going about my general business, just as a reminder of what I’m missing, and what I can look forward to coming home to at the end of a busy day.

And, if you wanted to, I’d be happy to let you check it out too!

s. x

Wide-angle watcher
On life’s ancient tales
Rush – The Camera Eye

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