Monday, December 6, 2010

Link distance changes

Something I haven't seen any blogging about in the last week is the change to link distances in Second Life.  For some time, linking prims has been subject to an arcane set of rules which left nearly everyone confused... most people link things by trial and error and find out the hard way when things won't link together, or use a tool like the Rez Foo or Rez Faux to link builds that exceed the distance allowed.

There was a change last week that means that if something would fit within a sphere with a diameter of 54 metres, it should link.  This should mean that most house or office builds will link as one piece, which will be a great inprovement.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Angry Lindens

There's been some shenanigins on the JIRA, which is the place that residents of SL are supposed to report bugs and problems.  It can be rather complicated to someone who isn't used to it... certainly I usually struggle to establish whether or not a bug I have discovered has already been reported or not.

One source of extreme irritation for SL merchants has been the migration of goods from XStreet to SL Marketplace (SLM).  Some of them have been vociferous in their criticisms, particularly Ab VanMoer, who ended up posting one of his emails to the commerce team on the SL Blog.  It's exasperated, but not rude or impolite.

Thus it was a bit of a surprise that Brodesky Linden reacted angrily to a comment in the JIRA about ratings not showing up right in SLM, and said: "Why don't you stop wasting time and put in comments in the correct tickets. I filter (Ab's) emails to trash. Gmails makes that very easy to do."

This was such poor customer relations, particularly since Ab VanMoer is credited by other merchants with having assisted the commerce team in finding many of the bugs and problems which have been afflicting SLM.

To his credit, Ab tried to smooth things down, and made excuses for Brodesky's ill-mannered retort, only to find it thrown back in his face by Brodesky a few comments later:  "I'm glad this has been entertaining, and Ab is enjoying all the publicity this is bringing him. You can thank him for all the emails he has sent the commerce team about changing the item that gets delivered. The first part of being able to change inventory will be out tomorrow, with the ability to edit unavailable items, followed by a release where you can change inventory items."

Given that the evidence is that Ab's emails were not abusive, but detailed and helpful, and that Ab had been very reasonable and hadn't over-reacted to Brodesky's original comment, this response seemed inexplicable.

Then, Darrius Gothly published a blog which revealed that Brodesky was being fired, not for poor customer service or any transgression, but because, allegedly, Linden Lab do not want to be forced to pay taxes in the state he lives in.  Now, I don't know the facts of that assertion, but it does make an angry and inappropriate response to a customer somewhat more understandable.

I am concerned that Linden Lab are losing staff they can't afford to lose - even with Brodesky the Commerce team seem to have been struggling.  Now Philip Rosedale has announced that he is leaving again, after only a few months back at Linden Lab, without having found a successor to run the show. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Seasick in Avaya

Someone posted a link to Avaya, which seems to be windowed virtual world for  business meetings - as long as you are on a windows PC and don't mind voice chatting with strangers on the internet.  This is what I wrote on LinkedIn, in review of the world:

I'm always game for a new thing, so I downloaded the client and had a look. The fact that there is a download of a client may be a disincentive for people to try it out casually. I found the avatar customisation easy, but the control of the world and the interface was short on explanation in world - there is a basic overview on the website etc. Having to use W and the mouse to control the avatar's movements and the camera is vomitous - I'm used to navigating virtual worlds, but the fact that the camera swings about as you are trying to see where you are is a big disadvantage.

It took me some time to work out that the focus had to switch away from the world in order to use text chat - and it means that it is very difficult to get a meaningful interaction between avatars. Most people don't want to voice chat with people they don't know - this is risky behaviour in terms of the internet... people will often do the virtual world equivalent of showing you their penis (as in chat roulette). I don't know whether the people who were in the room with me at the same time were able to hear my text chat - they didn't respond if so.

"Voice chat is always on" says the quickstart guide - but this wasn't obvious to me at first having downloaded and entered the world, and would have been a huge barrier to me trying it out, if I had understood this to be the case, for the reasons above. For the demo online with strangers, it would be far better if this were an option and not always on.

The letterbox size of the window makes it seem very enclosed and restricted, and the seasickness effect of the camera movement makes one disinclined to move about much. Most of the areas around the central area seemed to be restricted access also, which seems like a big mistake to me... to invite people in, and then tell them they can shuffle around a central area, but can't access the upper levels or the rooms around the central room is likely to antagonise the very people you are trying to impress - it's a very unfriendly act. It would be better to block off entirely and not have visible, the places you don't want them to go. If you are expecting it would make them curious... I just felt resentful, that I couldn't go upstairs - particularly as I could see other avatars already up there.

Finally, the fact that it is windows only, is a big problem. You can't always guarantee that you will have everyone on a windows PC, and a lot of people in creative industries, will be on Macs. Excluding anyone on a Mac is going to be a big issue.

I certainly wouldn't choose to us this over Second Life for a business meeting, simply because of the sea sickness effect. I would fix the camera at the avatar's eye level, unless the avatar releases it to pan the camera around - that would at least make walking around a more comfortable experience? I would switch off the always-on voice, and give people more guidance in world.

It's interesting, certainly.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rug and hair-pulling behaviour

Oclee and I were planning to use this weekend to make a film of the nurse training demonstration that we have been working on for the last six months.  As you will appreciate, it is pretty difficult to waltz into offices in institutions and companies and demonstrate Second Life.  Even if you try to make contact with the potential client's IT bods in advance, there are generally issues with firewalls and connectivity which are hard to overcome for an hour's meeting.

I'd tried bringing a dongle and using external connections, but that really isn't much better, and depends upon what sort of signal you can achieve in the location.  Thus I found myself at one demonstration, turned to grey plasticine and apparently naked.

So, we thought that a practical solution to these problems was to make a film, which shows everything the demonstration can show, but in a stable environment on a good connection.  Logging into Second Life on Saturday, the first thing we discovered was that the HUD (heads-up display, something which presents like a window on the screen, within SL, see above) we have made wasn't working in the expected way.  It's been a while since we did the last demonstration, and there's been an update since then.  And they broke shared media on a HUD.

Our HUD links to a database which serves the images up, and the avatar making clicks in world.  If shared media for HUDs is broken, so is our HUD.

Initially I was sceptical that LL could possibly have put out a viewer which breaks their much-trumpeted shiny shared media whatsit, but they did.  They knew during the beta testing that it was going to break HUDs using shared media and they did it big fat anyway.

We searched the JIRA, found a lot of people complaining about the same thing.  Added our comments and votes to the issue and then spent the weekend on other things.  I have now found that Snowglobe, the open source viewer, is working for shared media on HUDs, although I am tending to crash frequently with any of the v2 viewers.  I am going to have to try to spend some time finding out what's going on.

One tip which Oclee passed on to me, was that the preferences revert back and don't tend to "stick" for some things, especially if you switch viewers, and so it is worth checking whether you have "enable openGL vertex buffer objects" checked.  (In v2 you'll find your preferences under the Me menu, and that setting is on the Graphics tab and then the Hardware button.)  If you have had problems with v2, you might try unchecking that option and seeing whether that makes a difference.

I'm still struggling with a lot of the changes in the v2 viewer, not least the fact that so many things I use all the time have been seemingly buried.  I'll have to see how I get on with Snowglobe.  It's very annoying though, that it is broken in the main viewer, and makes it difficult to persuade very conservative institutions and companies that SL is a stable platform for development, when something that was working perfectly well a couple of weeks ago is no longer working.  Coupled with the high cost of development in SL, it may well be a deal breaker.  OpenSim looks ever more attractive.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The sky is falling... again

It's been pretty lively on the message boards and forums since the Emerald viewer debacle at the weekend.  It seems that a lot of SL residents are returning from holiday and playing catch-up because of the number of changes and announcements that have been made over the last few weeks.  So, in case you've been off on a round-the-world trip, or in a cave with the troglodytes, here's a summary of what's happened over the last few weeks:

Linden Lab laid off about 30% of their workforce.  It seemed initially that maybe they were slimming down the community Lindens in order to get ready for take-over or merger or public offering (theories varied) but then people began to notice that it wasn't just the people who give support who were being booted, but also the coders and programmers who knew all about mono/sculpties/flexis like Pastrami and Qarl and others.

Initially it seemed that things were going to plan.  The residents held a wake for the Lindens who died, virtually-speaking, and awaited the next move with baited breath.  Then, all of a sudden, M Linden didn't turn up to the SLB7 celebrations and Philip Linden was back and did.  The king is dead... long live the reincarnation of the last king.  Er, what?

Since the recrowning of King Philip, things have gone a bit bonkers.  Among the announcements is one that the teen grid is going to be amalgamating with the main grid.  It seems that the residents of the main grid were touchingly convinced that the teen grid had successfully rounded up all the under-18s and put them in a safe place where their underwear was nailed on and they weren't given any sharp things that they could hurt themselves with.  Thus, they are panicking at the prospect of the 16 years and over teens joining the main grid.

Actually, SL main grid is teeming with under 18s and has been since the beginning.  The only difference that the new policy will make is that the 16-18s  are more likely to be accurately labelled.  The under 16s will still be pretending to be adults though.

Linden Lab announced the "display names" change.  Residents think this is a cynical move to allow them to link SL with social networks like Facebook.  Possible it is, but it is also the case that some residents would like to be able to use their real life name when that is appropriate:  ie when you are at a conference or business meeting and want people to know who you are.  Not when you have discovered a predilection for furry sex in the bushes... you prolly want to use an SL name for that, preferably one belonging to someone else.  Oh look, you can.  And that's the main problem that long-time residents see with the name changing thing:  the possibility for spoofing someone else's identity.

No official announcement has been made afaik, but  one of the Ontyne support staff posted to SLU that ther jobs are disappearing and LL is subcontracting them out to an American company.  I don't know how far this going to go, and whether the remaining Linden Liaisons are going to be contracted out is anyone's guess.

Linden Lab announced the ending of the Community Gateways project, with no advance warning to their partners in the Community Gateway project, and its replacement with a selection of handpicked landmarks.  Thus, instead of being put into an educational sim whether they liked it or not, and having to learn enough to leave and explore the rest of the grid, newbies will now suddenly find themselves in the middle of Bare Rose or similar, and have to work out how to leave, without the benefit of the tutorials/mentors/educational events they were previously getting in the hubs and gateways of the previous system.  Even the shopowners of the places which have won listing on the newbies places list, don't know how they came to be chosen.

The companies and institutions who have spent considerable sums in setting up newbie reception points, are understandably a bit miffled about suddenly losing their supply of newbies, although some places, like Caledon, report an almost uninterrupted supply of newbies due to their having got onto the List.

Talking of newbies, LL introduced a new viewer v2 some months ago, with a view to increasing retention rates, apparently.  It is alleged that the new viewer is more newbie-friendly and easy to use than the old one.  I don't honestly know if that is true - or how you would ever quantify it, because everyone can only use one viewer as their first viewer - but for oldbies it is a total nightmare.  Things you have used all the time, like the current location and position information which used to be at the top of the screen... have gone.

Many people reverted to the old viewer, or looked to the list of the alternative viewers, and from thence has come the drahma which unfolded over the weekend, over the Emerald viewer.  It seems that over the past few months, Emerald has become the viewer of choice to anything from 20 to 50% of the residents of Second Life.  It's hard enough to get figures on how many people there are in SL, let alone what proportion of them are using a particular viewer.

Rumours have abounded about the dodgy backgrounds and behaviour of some of the developers working on the Emerald project.  Some of the people said to have previously developed so-called "black-hat" viewers, which enabled people to do things like export objects which don't belong to them, were working on Emerald.

There's been some acrimony between the Emerald developers and others, which seems to have developed into a full-blown hate, in which one of the Emerald developers inserted code on the login page which hijacked the users computer to download data from the other developer's website.  There is dispute over whether this constitutes a distributed denial of services attach, or DDoS, mainly because it was unsuccessful at bringing down the website.

Linden Lab has removed the viewer from the list of approved third party viewers, Emerald have had a lot of staff changes, with people resigning, being asked to resign, returning to post, rearranging themselves...they seem to have put most of their effort into sending out PR bots to troll the lists and reassure everyone that Emerald is a safe and trusted viewer.  Which it is not, not any more, sadly. 

So, there you are, you should be more or less up to date with things in Second Life.  I'm making no promises though.  Things change quickly, and it's often all smoke and mirrors: I suggest you put on full body armour and mosey on over to SL Universe if you want to keep up.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Emerald viewer users beware

I haven't used the Emerald viewer, although people around me have been talking about it a lot for ages.  There are trial uploads to test new textures, the ability to export your own products and creations from SL to OpenSim and a whole lot more. 

Having set up my own OpenSim locally, I needed a viewer that would allow me to transport my builds to OpenSim from SL, legally, and so I got to the point of downloading the Emerald client just as this thread began on the SL Universe Forums.  Initially it was a bit gossipy, speculation about the comings and goings of Emerald developers and of limited interest to me... read on though.  By page three it is alleged that the login screen for all the users of Emerald viewer was used to attack a blog written by someone the developers at Emerald don't seem to like much.  I am hazy on the history, but my attention was caught by the idea that they could embed something in their login screen which was just one pixel square, which would have my computer trying to download from the hapless blogger's website.

This means that not only did it appear that they were organising an illegal attack on a blogger, but that they were prepared to use the customers for their viewer to do it.

According to Arabella's blog, this wasn't a distributed denial of service attack (DDoS)... it was a "poor attempt at boasting that failed miserably".  Like the people discussing it at SLU, I don't buy it.  Notwithstanding their claim that Data Linden and Qarl Linden have joined them, I'm afraid the undermining of trust was complete for me... I deleted Emerald without ever having fired it up.  Frankly, given that they admit the attack on the blogger, they are in deep trouble.  I think LL should ban the viewer,  as being untrustworthy.

I'm looking at Imprudence.

Edited to add:  you might want to check out Talwyn Mills' summing up of the Emerald situation, as there is a bit more details.

OpenSim resources

This is intended as an updatable list of OpenSim resources.  I shall be posting to the blog about my experience of working on an OpenSim grid, but in the meantime, I am going to collect information useful for Open sim on this blogpost.

OpenSim business roadmap - some inaccuracies but a useful general article.

How-to information
Video about installing an OpenSim hypergrid on your computer.  Other parts linked from that first part.
Opensim tutorials
Easy User guide
Linux/Ubuntu set up of OpenSim grid.

Reference information
Wikipedia article about OpenSim.
A useful list of all the server commands for OpenSim.
OpenSim and Unity working together at Rezzable

Fan sites
Koinup fan site.
Justin Clark-Casey's developer blog
Metaverse Ink

Difficult to know how to categorise Adam Frisby's site (he's also known as Adam Zaius in SL).  It's a combination of reference, fan site and how to and very much worth reading.

Let me know if you have suggestions or any of the links go dead! Ping Caliandris Pendragon in SL, or contact me via my blog.

The Virtual Revolution

The Guardian carries an article today about the virtual revolution, which it suggests may be as important as the industrial revolution in terms of the changes it is making to the way we work and do business.  I know that a large proportion of the people I know in real life think that I am involved in some sort of game... they don't understand what the virtual world is, and what is more have little interest in it.  They aren't into Computer Games, they tell me, as though this explains everything.

I have been in Second Life for over six years, and as soon as I arrived I could see the potential that the virtual world has for collaboration, creation, making links between people.  At that time, SL was tiny - a grid of around 100 sims and no more than 1000 people online, many of them from Linden Lab, the owner and creator of Second Life.

The virtual world has changed a lot over the past six years.  Big business has come and gone and come back again, educational institutions have dipped their toes in the water and then plunged into the world, only to jump out again.

Until recently, there didn't seem to be any viable competitors for Second Life, and so much of the development and content available in virtual worlds was on the Second Life grid.  Over the last year OpenSim has made such a lot of progress that more and more companies and institutions are using it for their corporate sims.  It has become possible to run your own OpenSim and to offer access to others - and to link your world with others on the Hypergrid.  Things are progressing at a breakneck pace, to the point where even people who are immersed in virtual worlds are beginning to have to work very hard to keep up with developments.

As for the rest of the world, who have gradually adopted the hideous echoes of the virtual world which are available on Facebook - like Farmville - which seem to offer all the timewasting drawbacks of virtual worlds and virtually none of the advantages - they are on a different planet altogether.  I find that the majority of my real life friends and family lack the vocabulary to discuss virtual worlds, lack the shared understanding of what I mean when I talk about a virtual world, and lack the inclination or motivation to change that.

Consequently, I have stopped even trying to explain what it is all about any more, and wait for articles like that in the Guardian to come along and explain things for me.  Eventually, they'll get it.  By that time, hopefully, I will be Queen of my own virtual world, and in a position to dispense land and virtual bounty to them.  At the moment I am struggling to get to grips with my own local OpenSim, fighting with the terraforming and trying to cope with running a server.  That's one thing I can say for virtual worlds... the big thing for me is that they have presented a constant intellectual challenge, and there is always something else to learn.  How much there is increases with every passing day.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hubs and gateways

Well that's rather spooky.  I posted at SL Universe about the changes to the Community Gateway program which have just been announced on the SL blog, and decided that actually I had a lot more to say on the subject.  Logged into my blogger acount and came here to write the post and blogger suggested I might like to entitle my piece Hubs and gateways.  I'm trying to work out how it knew and why it came up with that title which is absolutely appropriate to this post.

When I first joined SL six and a half years ago, there was a short orientation on an island to show one how to move, chat, fly, and then the hapless new resident was dumped in Ahern Sim to fend for themselves.  In those days normal people hung out by the hubs that brought new people in, and offered them help and friendship.  Of course, the world was smaller, and there were only about 100 sims to explore.  Even so, I found it disorientating to know where to go... and it took me some time to get the courage to move away from the hub and explore.  I worried I would never find my way back again.

As time went by, Ahern and the other hubs became much less friendly environments for people.  They found it difficult to work out what was going on when they were griefed by people the moment the joined the grid.  A new island, Help island, was joined to the orientation experience, to enable people to learn skills before they were dumped into the free for all on the main grid.

This was only partially successful, because people would arrive on help island and have absolutely no clue where they were or what they should be doing there. Men particularly found the lack of guidance very trying.  There is definitely a gender bias when it comes to aimlessly exploring... in general, women like it and men do not.  Men prefer to know where they are going and what the purpose it - and if you don't tell them, they don't like it.

Some time ago, LL chose people to run what they called community gateways.  This meant that new people could choose to go to particular places, where there were new orientation experiences, tutorials and guidance for new residents.  Some were good, some were very good and some were a bit dire... and none of them really satisfied the desire to be directed quickly to the things which had attracted people inside SL.

In my experience of four years of mentoring newly arrived people, they were generally quite clear about what had brought them into SL, and I always thought that sorting people according to their interests - and offering them the skills they needed to get into that - would be by far the easiest way to immerse them in the grid.  I thought a series of gateways - like a castle or fortified town, would be the best option, with them choosing their gateway according to what they were interested in, with the option of returning to start over if what they had chosen didn't work out, or they wanted to choose again.

There are so many sims across the grid that are owned by Linden Lab and which are currently empty of real content, I thought it would be easy to have a place to learn how to explore, or with good landmarks for interesting places.  People want and are crying out for guidance, and it isn't that difficult to give it to them.

Now Linden Lab had announced that the Community hubs are going, and that people are to be offered places to go to which interest them... but I fear that sending them straight into the grid is going to send them back into the confusion that I felt when I joined.  Maybe not:  there are a lot of websites and books now about using Second Life that weren't around when I joined. 

I'm still convinced that proper guidance in the first few days of entry into virtual worlds can be the difference between someone understanding the nature of the virtual world and how to explore it, and overwhelming them.  As it is, many of those offering the community hubs and gateways are going to continue to offer the services that they have built up over the last couple of years - the meetings and events which introduce people to the virtual world, the support for new people, mentors and guides. 

There is still one big problem for creators and explorers alike: finding good content and events, knowing how to distinguish the great from the truly awful... I think the virtual world will be a lot more usable once we have an equivalent to google available in world that uses something other than how much one paid for an advert to judge where on the search list to place them.

In the meantime, my advice to a newb is to find someone to act as a virtual tourguide and mentor, to use Google rather than the internal search to find things in world, and not to expect modern gaming graphics in SL.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Grid merging

Shock announcement at SLCC from Philip Rosedale about the merging of the grids. It seems the main grid and the teen grid are going to be gradually merged, with the 16-18 years olds joining the adults first.

There is much furious debating going on around the SL message boards, as though this is a shock horror change that is going to make a huge difference to people in SL.

As I have pointed out in a couple of posts myself, there are already substantial numbers of underage residents and explorers in SL.  Anyone who thinks it is possible to know through any sort of verification system whether someone in SL is 14 or 84 is deluded.  All it takes if for person A to set up an account, and to either abandon the account and leave it where others can find it (with remember me ticked, so they don't even have to guess the password) and even the best and most efficient age verification is defeated. 

In any case, it has always seemed barmy to me that teens can have real sex at 14, 15, 16, 17, or 18, depending upon jurisdiction, and get married at around 16 and have their own babies, but they can't see pixel sex or participate?  That just seems crazy, as though online sex can somehow be more damaging than the real life stuff.

If you are going to indulge in cyber-sex, you had better have a real relationship with the person you are involved with, or else you cannot know if they are maybe 14 or 74 or the opposite sex to the one they portray in SL.  If you are indulging in casual genital shouting sex (ah, I'm too tired to explain) then probably you don't care who the partner is. 

It's all part of reconciling yourself to the psychological challenges of cyberspace.  I have had fascinating discussions with fellow residents who think that we only fool ourselves when we think it is possible to know more about the people we see in real life than we do about the people we meet online.  To a certain extent I agree with that - but it isn't so easy for a 56 year old pedophile to pretend to be a 15 year old boy in real life, as it is online.  Conversely it isn't so easy for a 15 year old to get away with pretending to be over 18, in real life.

I don't know what LL hope to see as the outcome of this merging.  Maybe it has long been in mind and that was the reason for the setting up of Zindra.  Maybe it is a cost-cutting measure that allows them to spread their thin band of Lindens a little thicker.  I guess that the educational industry might be very enthusiastic for this change, because the rules about ages for the main grid and the teen grid are a problem for them.  If you are running courses for people ranging between 16-19, under he previous rules it was necessary to have the under 18s in the teen grid and the over 18s in the main grid.  This change allows everyone to be in the same place.

I don't know how the community in general will react to the change, or how the new teens will be on the main grid, but I don't expect there to be a substantial difference.

As in every environment virtual or real, most people will behave reasonably, without having dire consequences drilled into them or inflicted upon them.  A few will break the rules and behave unreasonably, no matter what punishments they are threatened with.  Those people are likely to be in the main grid already. 

It makes me want to start doing SL basics classes again.  I miss them, although how in hell you publicise something like that nowadays so that it isn't one man and his dog in the audience, I have no clue.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Prim torture

A friend posted a link to the ultimate guide to prim torture. I thought I was pretty knowledgeable, but one or two of these are new to me. I don't think one should overuse twisted prims, but there are some great tips here for achieving shapes using prims only, no sculpties.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

People, not profits

I know I said I was splitting my blogs back up and this could be my blog for Second Life. However, I think the gulf oil spill has slipped off the agenda for the media in the UK, and this film is so important, I want to spread the world about it.

Kindra Arnesen speaks passionately about the need for evacuation in her area of Louisiana. It seems astonishing to me that it hasn't got more views. Her reference to Ponies and Balloons, her description of the explanations from BP for the illnesses causes by the spill, and the call for the area to be evacuated to protect the people in her parish, needs to be seen and disseminated.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Linden Lab entropy

I was so exhausted after a demonstration to a client yesterday that I simply swallowed some food and collapsed for the night, sleeping about 10 hours straight. I woke up to email talking about the loss of 30% of the Lindens.

I've been in SL for over six years, and I love it. I make most of my money in working in SL nowadays, and so it is important to me financially and personally. I've seen things go up and I've seen things dip down.

The blog post indicates that Linden Lab is planning to develop a browser-based version of SL... which people are interpreting generally as a move towards a more Google-Lively version of SL. I think that isn't it, they're planning an addition to, not a replacement for SL. The rumour mill is doing overtime.

Many names of well-loved Lindens are apparently on the list for the axe. People who have given more than their time and expertise, who seemed to be dedicated and visionary are on the list. I mourn for the loss of so much enthusiasm and spirit.

I presume that this may be the precursor for some takeover or buyout, which is the presumption when a company suddenly slims itself down.

I wish... I wish that Linden Lab would make it a prerequisite for every member of staff and management... and board of directors... to spend at least 5 hours a week in world. Perhaps they should be filling the boots of the departed Lindens. I wish that they would talk to and listen to the people who have been in world for years, who have invested time and money and effort and vision on it. I wish they'd get better at communicating.

Somehow, the vision of what SL could be, and what it is, has been lost. I fervently hope it survives, but I see this as a precursor to an outflux of oldbies to the alternative worlds like Opensim.

It amazes me that I spend a lot of my time explaining to clients what SL is good for. Perhaps someone should take Linden Lab to one side and explain the same thing to them. Maybe if they were engaging with what SL is good for, and how to use it for that, they'd understand better what retains people, and what they need to do to ensure that Second Life expands and gets stronger.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Coming and Goings

I know this isn't the tradition time of year for being introspective and retrospective, but looking at the blogs I read bar at the side of this blog, I realise that the sad truth is that most of the blogs I used to read are either entirely defunct or only get posted to on a very erratic basis. And that includes this blog.

Bitchy Jones has closed her blog, Ordinal has left SL, and Question Reality has been in abeyance for over a year. I shall be removing the links forthwith, and replacing them with ones which are still alive, ALIVE.

I have realised that amalgamating my blogs was not a good idea, and that it worked a lot better when SL, Quakers, family history and home education all had their own place in their own blogs. Thus I am splitting them again. It is true that I will probably post less frequently on each one individually, but at least it will mean that the posts are relevant to the people who read that blog.

Recently I have wanted to write a lot more than I have had time to do. I have wanted to examine things in more depth and write longer posts, and maybe I will be able to do that once my life settles down a bit. For now, it is what it is, I am only going to indulge myself and write when I have time and want to, and I am going to write in the appropriate place.

I'm leaving this post with a totally irrelevant picture of my 11 year old self up a mountain with my Dad in Austria. So there.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Not about fruitbatsex

I don't often read BoingBoing any more because the design, although modified STILL SHOUTS AT ME and I just can't bear it. However, Oclee pointed out a story about an academic who, according to the story on BoingBoing, has been accused of sexual harrassment by a colleague because he showed her a peer reviewed paper about fellatio between fruit bats.

The implication of this article, and of the blog which apparently originally publicised the story, PZMyers, was that if showing adult colleagues a peer-reviewed paper could possibly constitute sexual harassment, the end of academic freedom was nigh, and the sky was falling.

The BoingBoing article contained links to the paperwork in the case, the original statement by Dr Evans's colleague. In this, as you can see, she asserted that there had been inappropriate behaviour from Dr Evans on other occasions, and he was often at pains to engage her in unwanted conversations about a range of things, including Casanova, and fruitbatsex.

Whether these assertions are justified or not, I have no idea, but someone thought it was right to publicise the case, and the outcome, because they disagreed with it.

I have no special knowledge of the case, or of the people involved, but I know myself that even when behaviour is very intimidating and sexually aggressive, it can be hard to put together any form of evidence. I once worked with a man who took every opportunity to squeeze past female staff, making as much contact as possible. It seemed inevitable that, if one had to negotiate a tight corner, he would suddenly arrive and need to squeeze past.

He talked about the "morals of young people today" and seemed under the impression that anyone under the age of 25 (this was the 1970s) was likely to fall into bed with anyone, at the slightest encouragement. He seemed to think that talking about it might persuade young girls to throw themselves at his feet.

He frequently grabbed necklaces from inside t-shirts, and made up spurious rules for young women employees to follow.

To me, at the age of 19, he seemed slimy and objectionable, but I couldn't imagine that anyone would seriously act upon my opinion, and so I put up with his behaviour and left as soon as I could.

Some people are inclined to sing the "political correctness gone mad!" song in relation to this - or any - case of sexual harassment, but sometimes, a string of possibly unrelated incidents from one person's point of view, adds up to something much bigger. Sometimes it has seemed to me that someone is completely unaware of the effect that their constant attention has had on a woman... on other occasions it has been completely obvious that someone knows and revels in the fact that they are affecting the other person in an adverse way.

I don't know if Dr Evans did or did not sexually harass this woman, but I dislike the fact that he seems unable to accept that she may have seen his approaches to her as anything less than positive. He has commented multiple times on the comment thread on the PZMyers blog, and seems to be basking in the attention, on his own website and on twitter.

It seems that fruitbatgate is about to get attention from the New Scientist and other publications... it will be interesting to see if the reporting is any more balanced than the article in the Irish Times.

In a final note, it seems that some of the thousands of people who rushed to sign a petition in favour of Dr Evans, have reconsidered that in the light of the full story. I'm somewhat at a loss to understand how anyone felt it was right to interfere in what was a private disciplinary matter, and I have to wonder who leaked the documents originally.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Privacy beware

I've been getting pretty alarmed by the changes to Facebook. It seems that the squillions the people who set it up have made from the thing isn't enough for them, and so they recently set up to share information from all the profiles in a new setting called "Instant Personalization" that shares data with non-Facebook websites and it is automatically set to "Allow." Go to Account>Privacy Settings > Applications and Websites >InstantPersonalization > Edit Settings, and uncheck "Allow". You...also need to uncheck all the boxes in the "What your friends share about you" tab.

What is this rubbish? Shouldn't stuff like this be opt in, and not "scrabble around trying to find out how to switch off something they set automatically on"?

I recently fell out with Geni, the free genealogy website for the same reason. I used it for my speculative genealogy, putting in place a lot of information I have gathered over the last twenty years. Suddenly they announced that they planned to share all my information with everyone else, except for living people and a couple of generations.

Never mind that I don't want to do this... or that the speculative nature of my family trees may make them worthless for other people. I know what will happen, people will import or merge my information, however worthless, with their own information.

There is no option for not doing this, except closing the account. There was no warning when I set up my account that this would happen. It shows an utter lack of respect for the people using their service. I had uploaded pictures, joined family to the service, used it to keep in touch with cousins. I have to trash all of that because they don't respect people's ownership of their data.

It makes me angry when people treat me as though my opinion is of no consequence. I don't believe that companies will continue to be successful if they treat people like this. I will migrate to the new, privacy-aware facebook, Diaspora, as soon as they are up and running. I plan to leave my facebook in place, with just my professional details in place, and remove all personal information.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Modelling RL policy in virtual worlds

Woke up to a note in my inbox this morning from LinkedIn asking for participation in a questionnaire on the use of virtual worlds for modelling real life policy and obtaining reactions to it.

The website from the consortium running the questionnaire is dense and uses a lot of meaningless words in its descriptions. I presume they wrote it by committee over a dodgy video conference link between the various participants.

I filled in the questionnaire, but found it a most unsatisfactory experience. have a good vocabulary and a high standard of written English, but I was having to read and reread the questions and explanations.

I am a passionate advocate for the uses of virtual worlds, but I am sceptical about the uses of virtual worlds for the modelling of real life policy and understanding public attitudes to it. I loathe the idea of having all my actions as an avatar logged, which is one of the suggestions.

I suppose that if I could see a positive point to the exercise I could overcome some of my objections, but frankly I do not see how you can usefully model real life in virtual worlds. Although I try to ensure my avatar has the same character, ethics and way of dealing with people as my real life personality, it is inescapable that the roles I play in real life do not apply in Second Life. I do not have to be a wife, mother, daughter, sister in Second Life.

Where, in real life, I would have to consider the impact of my actions on my children and my friends and neighbours, and thus would not walk along the street in heavy BDSM gear with a slave on a leash behind me, in Second Life I do not have to consider such things, I can behave however I choose to behave.

If I want to explore the sex exhibition currently on in Zindra, I can do that without worrying that anyone will catch me examining an attachment or piece of equipment... I am free to do as I like.

At the same time, all the concerns that I have in real life...paying the bills, deciding what to have for dinner, educating my children, looking after my elderly relatives... those things don't follow me into SL... I escape them in SL. My attitudes and my concerns when I am living my Second Life, are entirely different. I'd be surprised if other people who spend substantial time in SL didn't feel the same.

It seems to me that this is just a vehicle for soaking up a lot of EU money and achieving nothing much.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Family fortunes

I needed a break from the screen yesterday, and so I started sorting out the pile of miscellaneous correspondences and photographs which has been accumulating in my boxes. This is the stuff which I want to keep, but hasn't found a home... it doesn't need any actual action, but needs to be dealt with.

In among the filing were a group of things which have been on my conscience, in some cases for *years*. There's the book I am almost sure belongs to a friend, the card which includes new addresses for a friend of my husbands, and a card which announces the marriage of one of my oldest friends. In among that lot were some typewritten notes from a family history contact, who was expecting something in return which I have not found and sent to him. Unfortunately my son Ali was very ill at the time - which means it was five years FIVE YEARS ago that I promised it.

I decided I must do that this weekend, and so in normal fashion, a simple task of filing had rapidly transmuted into a long list of things to do, not least to track down the document I need to send. It's a freedom of the city, which I need to copy before I send it. That's been the hiccup, as it is too long for my scanner. But in the five years FIVE YEARS I have been prevaricating about doing this, I have learned how to scan in and splice together images.

In the course of looking at the family history, I realised that I had had more information about this branch of the family than I had thought, but because I hadn't fulfilled my part of the bargain - and still haven't - it didn't seem right to use the information. Having looked in more detail, I can see there is a problem with it.

This particular ancestor was a relatively well known one. His name was Charles Jearrad, and he was an architect, who with his brother Robert, is most famous for the architecture of Cheltenham. Much of the Regency architecture in and around Cheltenham was designed by Robert Jearrad and his brother Charles.

Charles Jearrad seems to have been a fairly colourful character. He married my great great great great great grandmother Margaret Doyle in 1800, when she allegedly eloped from her boarding school. It may be this fact that persuaded him to allow his daughter Christiana Jearrad, to marry as a minor to my great great great great grandfather, John Walton Robey.

I discovered that Margaret Doyle died after a long illness, in 1817 and Charles Jearrad remarried, to a Letitia Nash. However, on looking at the registers, there are two marriages for Charles Jearrad and Letitia Nash... one in 1808, and one in 1817. There is also a list of entries for births between Charles Jearrad and Letitia before 1817.

It looks at present as though Charles Jearrad had two families, and went through a bigamous marriage with Letitia while his wife was still alive, and then another when she died, to make quite sure that his children were legitimate. It's very odd and demands further research.

It also looks as though Margaret Doyle was a member of the famous Doyle family from Bramblestown, Kilkenny. This is a very strange coincidence, as this is just outside Inistioge, the small town that I recently discovered was home to my Father's mother, who I had been searching for, for 20 years. This Doyle family produce six Major Generals in the course of a few years, have connections to many families. At resent it seems certain that Margaret's grandfather was Charles Doyle, of Bramblestown, but what I cannot yet discover is which of Charles Doyle's six sons was her father. That requires a lot more research too.

Looking for information on Charles led me to the knowledge that many of the registers of St George's, Hanover Square, are now available as digitised books on the Internet Archive. I love the internet archive. But I must tear myself away now.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Never mind the quality...

According to the New Scientist, scientific research shows that it is quantity and frequency that make one a good blogger, not quality or controversy. Whether you are postive or negative, hardly matters. If you want to be successful, it's quantity that builds readership.

That explains a lot. I have tended to spread myself rather thin over the blogs I write, and consequently, my contributions when I have had busy periods have been few and far between.

Not that I have been short of things to blog about, but it is one of the ironies of life that the time when one has most to say is likely to be the time when one can least afford the time to indulge oneself by sitting and blogging it. Perhaps I should learn how to blog from my phone or put more effort into spending a little time every day to do it, the way I used to keep my diaries.

Maybe I will see if I can keep to one blog a day, the way that I used to.

At the moment I am working, trying not to get too behind on my tasks, longing to spend time on my genealogy, outlining a novel and writing music. It looks as though the next couple of weeks will be mostly work, and not much of the fun stuff, but that's ok.

This means my avatar in Second Life has had a considerably more lively social life than I have, recently. I have been struggling to cope with the transition to the new Viewer (and failing, every time I have to build). Things have been dodgy in world this week, as a power outage and server upgrades seem to have conspired to add wonkiness to everything.

I've made contact with a cousin of my husband's through Ancestry.Co.UK, which is why I have been itching to do more to the family history. I was feeling very angry with Geni, the family history site, which has announced they plan to share all our research, outside the immediate family, and so I have been dismantling my stuff in Geni, and transferring whatever I didn't have to Ancestry. It isn't even that I object to sharing my information, I have always done my best to help others with their family history, as I have been helped in my turn. It's the lack of respect it shows for the rights of their members which really gets to me. I'm not even sure that deleting my data is going to take my things out of their system, despite their reassurances that it will.

The surveillance society has been in the news recently due to a forthcoming film, Erasing David. Both the Times and the New Scientist (and many others, I am sure) have interesting articles about it. I realise that I have voluntarily allowed a lot of information about me to escape into the wild, although neither Sainsbury's not Tesco can have much data about me. I have lost my cards without registering, or registered and then lost, nearly all the loyalty cards I ever had. Thus I can probably dredge up a ten-year-old W.H. Smiths card I used once, or nothing. Hah! Make what you can out of them data apples!

I think most systems in the country assume most people won't pretend to be someone else, and that's either touchingly naive or normal, depending upon your point of view. Sometimes I think that people don't think clearly about what they are saying really - although I haven't seen the film, only read the articles. OK on one level it is worrying that someone can pretend to be you and garner details of your antenatal appointments... on the other hand, does one want to live in a world where people are so distrustful of each other that your doctor's surgery/hospital won't believe you're you without asking lots of security questions? I dunno.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Light Relief

Recently I have been working very hard on a project, and so I have appreciated some breaks and some laughs which I have found through other people's posts on Facebook, or through my children, or just random stumbleuponing. I recently realised that there are some people's sites I go back to again and again.

Dan and Dan films are amazing. There's the technical brilliance of making the twin thing work in a convincing way, and then the intelligence of the songs and banter... I think he deserves a show or his own, not just 15 minutes of fame on Genius.

I was only recently introduced to Ray William Johnson's twice-weekly postings of viral videos. Initially I found him a bit irritating, but he grows on you, even though he can be a bit crude at times, his comments and graffiti on occasional videos does make them funnier. This is my favourite... I don't know why the lamb is funny, but it makes me laugh every time.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Go to the top of the class...or is that the bottom?

A few days ago, Gwyneth Llewelyn blogged about the Better Business Bureau rating of "F" for Linden Lab. I agreed with a lot of what she had to say, but I was wary of the cases which had led BBB to rate Linden Lab with an "F", as I said in the comments. Any creator in Second Life has to deal with a lot of people who don't understand the way things work in world, and, depending upon what one is creating, sometimes a lot of scammers.

One of my SL friends who shall remain anonymous, deals with more than his fair share of this, and I have from time to time mentored the people who have been frustrated by their inability to understand things like permissions, or linking things, or who have simply dragged the contents of folder after folder of stuff into their rug or house walls or carpet - and then blamed the hapless creator for its disappearance.

So, I was sceptical about the actual cases, but in agreement with the many of the things Gwyneth appeared to be saying about the decisions which are being made, and how consultation and changes to decisions often seem to be made after the protests, and after the damage has been done and not before.

I almost suspected that the "F" might be an April Fool's day trick, although it seems that on April 5, Linden Lab were still showing an F.

What I did not expect was that Gwyneth would out her own article as an April Fool's trick. I'm still not sure what part of it was supposed to be the April Fool... the comments on the article got very heated (as one would expect with Wayfinder and Prokofy, and then Gwyneth herself, going head to head in there).

I sent a link to the article to a friend, who passed it to a friend, who then sent a link back to the BBB page showing that LL was now rated "A" by the BBB. Elfod Nemeth, for it was he, should get the credit for the find, not me.

The quick change undermines any faith that BBB ratings are meaningful. How could a company go from "F" to "A" in a week? Either the initial rating was far too punitive, or the current one is far too positive. It's the same company, the same policies, the same customer service and the same old Linden Lab. I'm glad they are no longer an "F" though. I love my SL, and want it to continue, and I think its chances are better with an A than an F.

My feelings about Gwyneth are that she has done some damage her reputation, perhaps. An April Fool's joke needs to be purely a joke. Pretending LL had an A when they had an F or vice versa, would have been a joke. Angrily blogging their F when it was their bona fide rating at the time... how is that an April Fool's joke? I like Gwyneth's blogs, have always found her clear and sensible as a blogger about SL, but I don't know what to think about this. *Ponders*.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

My virtual memoirs: 1

My first experience of a virtual world was about eight years ago, when a friend lent me Riven to try. I was transfixed by the game, which involved travelling around a strange and beautiful place, as an invisible traveller. This photorealistic world had remarkably few people - just a handful glimpsed here and there, in video sequences that merged seamlessly with the game.

It was one of the defining aspects of the game that the explorer played him or herself in this strange world, and that was the reason for the invisibility of the explorer. Everything one experienced in the game was experienced in the first person, as though you were seeing it through your own eyes.

Riven was a point-and-click adventure, which meant that one clicked in the direction that you wanted to go, and the scene changed as you moved in that direction. There were some linking scenes of film which gave the impression of travelling around in a vehicle, and I spent quite a lot of my first couple of days in Riven travelling between islands for the thrill of the ride in the little cable car which linked them.

Riven introduced me to a lot of the skills which I have found so useful in the subsequent years. "Mousing over" a scene to find places where things could interact, collecting information while travelling around, exploring thoroughly for every clue.

I found Riven to be beautiful, engaging and challenging, and it took me roughly three weeks to solve it, in which time I found it difficult to do anything else. I kept journals of exploration, noting the things I found, and I was seized with the desire to make games of my own - not to play more games but to create them, although I didn't really believe that this would ever be possible.

I visited the world often, simply to travel around and see favourite places or to listen to the haunting music which Ryan Miller wrote for Riven. I dreamed about it as though it were a real place, and even felt homesick for it. It's hard to explain to anyone who hasn't played such a game, how immersive it can be. Watching someone else play a game like that isn't at all the same as sitting in front of the screen yourself. There is some magical change which overcomes one and enables the player to become something other, to believe that you are inside the world.

I had played other computer games... very early on, in the 1970s, we had a games console which had to be linked up to the tv, to play pong, a crude video approximation of tennis which involved a square ball and a couple of straight lines for bats. This was swiftly followed by space invaders, and similar shoot and destroy types of game, chess, and all sorts of text-based Adventure games.

When my company introduced Wang word processors for a short time in 1980, I had become a Master at Wang adventure game, which involved giving directions like "go west" or "turn left" and learning the layout of a cavern and where the dangers and rewards lay.

Computer games of the first person shooter type were still pretty crude at this point, and didn't really interest me. By comparison, Riven, being based in what appeared to be a real world, with segments of film seen from a first-person perspective, appeared to be very sophisticated.

I'd been online for about five years at this point, and so it was natural that I should surf to the Cyan Worlds home page and discover that Cyan were in the process of creating a new game, which was to be played online, codenamed "MudPie". I signed up to participate in the beta, without the slightest idea that I might be chosen.

Just long enough later for me to have forgotten that I had signed up, I received an email to tell me I had been chosen to take part in a closed beta test. Shortly after that, when I had signed up at a forum and sent in my non-disclosure agreement, I found myself loading the new game.

Fortunately for me, I had switched from my PowerPC Apple Macintosh to a PC, as Uru as it was called, was not available at that time for the Macintosh. I still think this was a big mistake on the part of Cyan, although I am sure they had their reasons. The Apple community had been a big part of the fan base for Myst and Riven, and so making it impossible for them to play the latest game in the Myst and Riven sequence prevented the largest part of their market from participating.

I have to admit that initially I was disappointed by Uru. Not by the game, or the world, exactly, but how cartoony and unreal it seemed after the photoreality of Riven. There were other differences. The explorer was now represented by an avatar on the screen. There was an opportunity to customise the avatar, add weight, change the colour of her hair, add a cap or travel in sandals or put on a fleecy top. But actually there were very few choices about the face or physical appearance of one's avatar.

This frustration was increased when I started to play the game, as early on in the initial section of the game I clicked a sequence of buttons to be startled by the sudden appearance of a figure of a girl who is one of the recurring narrators for the storyline. She wasn't wearing the standard issue clothing, and appeared to have both jewellery and a scarf wrapped around her hips as a skirt. I wanted her clothing, her level of customisation.

After a short while blundering around in the preface to the game, I made it through to my Relto, the island which is each player's base in Uru, and the launching pad for all other areas of the game. Much like the avatar, each island starts off looking the same, but small changes are wrought to the island as one collects items from other places. One relto looks very like another, though, except for the number of books on the shelves, or the addition of a tree or sticks and stones to the island's surface.

From this island, it was possible to reach the neighbourhood, an enclosed town where it was possible to meet other people. I didn't, although I followed the instructions to collect my ki, a communicator that made talking to other people possible, and from there it was possible to teleport to the city in the cavern. It was here that I first made contact with another player - and promptly ran away.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

All washed up

I have hardly had time this week to celebrate the fact that parliament threw out the clauses in the new act which would have changed arrangements for home educators. In the last few days of a parliament, there is a process during which the government does its best to get legislation passed, and it has to do some horse trading with the opposition. It's known as the wash up. In this case, in order to get the main parts of the bill passed, they had to drop the home education clauses, along with one which would have made sex education compulsory etc.

Whether you home educate or not, the measures that Ed Balls and his merry band were trying to bring in had serious consequences for all parents. The idea that the authorities should be given the right to enter one's home, without any fault on the part of the parents being suspected, was a terrifying one.

It may be a false impression gained from media reports, but it seems that social services under react when they ought to be reacting - as in the case of Khyra Ishaq, the girl who was starved to death in Birmingham - or they overreact, as in the many cases reported by the Daily Mail over the past year, in which parents have been forced to flee in order to avoid their children being taken into care for spurious reasons. In one case, because the children were overweight. In another because the mother had allegedly allowed the now estranged father of the child to shout at her in front of the child, something which social services claimed was "emotional abuse" and which I hazard a guess nearly every parent has been guilty of at some time or another.

Currently we have a very poor system of child protection, it seems, and the consequences for children who are being badly abused are dire. People are reluctant to report suspected abuse because the alternative can be so much worse.

Over the last year, I have come to see the large charities which are charged with animal and child protection in this country, the RSPCA and the NSPCC, in a very different light. I think it is a danger for established charities that they become all about the money and not much about the original causes which lead them to the work in the first place. How the NSPCC could look at what is happening in social work in this country currently, and decide that the area of most concern to them is how home-educating parents are controlled, I cannot understand. They should get back to their business, and look at the terrible conditions for children who have been taken into care by local authorities, and what happens to those children. Or in the case of Khyra Ishaq, they could look at their actions which failed to protect the child when serious concerns for her welfare had been expressed by both teachers and neighbours.

The issue is not whether the authorities should have the power to enter someone's home when they have serious concerns for the welfare of a child - they already have that power, for home educating families as well as schooling families. The issue is whether allowing them to add a clause which allowed them the right to march into any home educating family's home, whether they had concerns or not, would have enabled them to identify abusers any more effectively. I strongly believe that the authorities need to put more resources into the families already causing concern, and not to waste time persecuting families where there is no concern.

I fervently hope that the election result is not a clear win for Labour, as they have vowed to replace the clauses and put the bill through parliament if they win.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Amazing pictures of earth

Edited: to stop amazing being every other word, as well as the headline.

I thought I had better take advantage of free access to the Times online before it runs out in June and they start charging me. There were two articles which caught my eye - an interview with Martin Freeman about the release of Nightwatching, the Peter Greenaway film which has been finished for months (and showing at the festivals) and yet hasn't been released until now. I find his work rather challenging, but the wonderful lighting and composition of this film seems likely to reward the watching of it. The trailer features the exhilarating music of Giovanni Sollima too - which I can hear 100 times without tiring of it. Go here for another piece which I can listen to for weeks, plus an extremely clever film by young film maker Lasse Gjertsen.

The other article was about an amateur photographer who took such stunning pictures of the earth from the atmosphere above, that NASA called.

I used to work with an editor called Ted Crowley, who was also an amateur photographer, and used to take ariel photographs using remote controlled technology, before computers were a usable adjunct to the planes and helicopters used for it. As it happens, in addition to amateur photography, he was also a playright, with a huge German following, unknown in England.

It seems that where the scientists at NASA would have used rockets and a few hundred thousand dollars to take similar pictures, Robert Harrison used £500-worth of materials including loft insulation and duct tape. He even uses a GPS device to be able to retrieve his camera once it plummets back to earth.

It's a case of necessity being the mother of invention, and demonstrates that professionalism isn't necessarily better than amateurism.... I see that A.A. Gill, at the Intelligence Squared debate on the future of news/journalism recently asked if people would be happy to have citizen dentists in the same way that they appear happy to have citizen journalists. Well, possibly. Up to the advent dentistry as a profession, citizen dentists were all that was available. And many of the people who made amazing discoveries in science would be considered amateurs today.

Being a professional journalist isn't a guarantee of quality, as anyone who reads Jan Moir in the Daily Mail can attest. Sometimes you just get an outpouring of a person's internal homophobia and not anything resembling journalism. Even A.A. Gill is not immune to allowing his personal feelings as an anti-fat grouch from showing through. Sometimes a "citizen journalist" can write more passionately and informatively than the most professional of the professionals.

It seems to me it is only in the last century that people have become obsessed by the idea that one has to go through a series of professional examinations in order to become whatever it is. While I agree that you probably don't want someone who trained in their garage to be the one taking out your appendix or your wisdom teeth, I think it would be sensible to recognise that sometimes the application of the laws about medicine have mitigated against the public interest. Dr Kelley, a dentist who discovered a dietary approach to cancer, was prosecuted several times for having practised medicine without qualification, even though he was only sharing his successful treatment of his own cancer with his dentistry patients.

And sometimes, a passionate amateur can outperform the professionals.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Medical training build

Eelco and I have been working flat out on a demo for a healthy authority here in the UK. We've not had a lot of time to come up with the specific demo, but we have been working on a medical training project for some time, and so we already had some groundwork done. Nevertheless we're feeling quite excited. We'll be using a robot patient, and I have been training her to answer questions appropriately.

At the moment, if you ask after her legs, she may tell you that one has been bothering her rather a lot, or she may tell you she has no legs. We've progressed quite a long way though, and have a scenario going. I have been making poses and anims, building a flat for the patient, and props for the scenario we're using.

The major problem is always trying to make sure that you understand what the client is looking for. It seems to me that there is a great future in medical role play in Second Life, but the major use I can see for it, is the way that in Second Life, learning new information can be made to be part of a journey - a journey which will help you to recall information later.

I would love to have the chance to make games which teach people, and I hope that this may be my opportunity. And with html on a prim working, and robots, and working with some really great scripters, it could be absolutely stunning.

Eelco remarked that he's surprised that we haven't seen more about the use of AI and robots in SL, but then I pointed out to him thatwe haven't really publicised what we have been doing in that area - and where, apart from blogs - would we do that, really? I still think this is the major thing missing from Second Life, a proper place to exchange information and to find specialised objects, products and builds.

Many different schemes and systems have been set up, in world and out of it, but none of them seem to work the way I would like them to. Huds and nominations websites and al those things designed to find the best of SL still end up with terrible places in the top 10. And nearly every system can be gamed.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Goodbye 2

The Huffington Post reports that Cornell University are taking steps to try to prevent more student suicides, there having been several in the past week. It seems that Cornell is surrounded by gorges and students have to pass over the bridges to make it into college. Of course they present a temptation to anyone in despair.

The college is checking the bridges, but mre than that is checking up on the students in the residences, trying to ensure that anyone who feels equally desperate is helped.

I have long been astonished that youth suicide is not countered more actively, worldwide. It seems that the brighter students with the most potential are somehow at more risk of suicide. It isn't the teenagers who expect to be at the bottom of the class who take their own lives... often it is those with the most to look forward to who commit suicide.

I can remember a posting to one of the UK Home Education boards in which local education authority bod had tried to persuade a family that the threatened suicide of their daughter was not a reason to withdraw her from an unhappy situation at school. Fortunately the parents disagreed, feeling that the possibility that she was unhappy enough to contemplate suicide was reason enough to take her seriously and remove her from that situation, whatever the LA thought.

I joined the "to write LOVE on her arms" group on Facebook, and I support the work they do to help people. It was their group which directed people to watch the plea from Walter Koenig on the day that his son was found dead, having taken his own life. Andrew Koenig was an actor. His parents made an impassioned plea for people to notice if someone close to them was showing signs of depression. His father Walter talked about the emails he had received from people:

"Hundreds of emails from people who said they were depressed...or had somebody in their family who showed signs of this kind of behaviour ... or had in fact lost members of the family because of this...the only thing I want to say
if you're one of those people who feel that you can't handle it any more, if you can learn anything from this it's that there are people out there who really may ultimately not be enough... before you take that final decision, check it out again: talk to somebody... for those who have families who have members who they fear they may be susceptible to his kind of behaviour, don't ignore it and don't rationalise it...extend a hand."

Andrew's mother added: "For both the families and people who are suffering from depression...
they don't realise there is help and they need help... I would ask you all to familiarise yourself with signs that you may rationalise away - don't rationalise it away if there is something that's bothering you... there is love ...there was love available to him. That's the hardest part. He was much loved and he had much to contribute in this world."

I think perhaps Andrew Koenig's father was exactly right... depressed people don't know they need help, don't seek it out, they retract into themselves and don't make contact with other people. Maybe what's needed is not a last resort phone line ike the Samaritans, it needs something more active, more out there, which extends a hand to people in despair who won't seek it out otherwise.

I've been thinking that there are so many people in the world who would like to be needed, and so many others who need somebody. In these days of social media, there ought to be some way of matching up one with the other that would be a win-win. I'd like to hope that universities everywhere will be checking up on their students, making sure that there isn't someone in despair buried in their halls of residence, needing help. And we must all take responsibiity for anyone we know who might be feeling this way, and extend a hand to them, wherever they may be.

Goodbye Cruel world 1

I posted the following to SL universe this morning. I don't have much time for blogging at the moment, and so although it is probably cheating and will get me expelled from the Good Bloggers' group, I am going to repost here.

And it's goodbye cruel world - forever!
Except, it rarely is, in Second Life. I am sorry I came late to this thread, what can I say, I have been busy, I missed the blog from Ordinal although it is linked and displayed on my blog, and so I only discovered the news this week.

I can understand all of the pressures and frustrations that Ordinal talks about, and I recognise that last straw thing. Also, my avatar seems to be a lot more volatile than I am in real life, and has done a fair bit of flouncing out, deleting builds, and deleting friends from lists... in real life I am lazy and I procrastinate and if friendships fail there it tends to be from lack of picking up the phone rather than a dramatic storming out or throwing of plates.

But... I have become increasingly irritated by the public door slamming. What's it for? If you leave and *don't* delete everything we won't take you seriously? If you leave and do delete everything, we just assume that if you change your mind and want to come back, you'll come back in another body (cf Starax). The mass deletion of stuff doesn't affect LL, it just affects the people left behind... and what is it for, really? I think of it like an artist having a bonfire...such a waste. Why not simply set everything free and put it out in a box? I'm sure Caledon could have found somewhere for *that*.

Maybe people of an aspergery type of mind like to draw a line in the sand and kill it all and have done with it. But many of the "goodbye cruel world" notecards and messages I've had over the past six years have been from the Drama Queens and game players... the ones who might easily approach you in an alt and ask what you think of their main, on the offchance that you won't recognise the batshit insane from the run of the mill....

I'm not accusing Ordinal of Drama Queendom, but it's one of those things you learn not to do over the course of your Second Life: just as you should never actually send that drunken email to your boss telling him he's an idiot, or lickable, or defrauding the company, while drunk... you should always sleep on the decision to delete and leave. Even the geekiest of emotion-free geeks can be seized by the SL deletion madness when angry and frustrated. It has happened to me a couple of times, and now I try to sleep on anything irrevocable, SL or RL.

I understand the frustrations, the perms thing is a real killer, particularly if you have been working away to solve a problem with a complex object, but I do not feel so depressed about the prospects for SL. Since I arrived six years ago it seems to me that SL has been through a large number of incarnations, and it is the constant change and challenge that keeps me interested, keeps me logging on, keeps me learning. I started making animations this week, having tried on numerous occasions before and finding it too hard, I suddenly find I can do it, and understand what I am doing so much better than I did before. SL has opened my eyes to architecture and design in a way that makes me feel I slept through my first 45 years on the planet. I've learned so many skills, I've met so many people and have had fun doing that.

My teenage schooldays impressed me with the horridness and selfishness of other people. I carried on thinking girls were bitchy to all and was a loner until I discovered the marvellous companionship and support of women, once I had children and met a lot of them. SL rehabilitated strangers for me, impressing me with the kindness and generosity of random people helping each other out. I bump into some of those same people here from time to time - Khamon was one.

Despite the sky falling in drama that happens every time there is a change or a bug or an exploit or a dramatic departure, I don't see the sky falling - I see a lot of creative, inspiring people, helping each other still. I passed on the care I'd received to the people I met, and they have passed it on again. People are still more open and honest and generous in SL than I ever expected, and it taught me that, despite a lot of time and attention having been lavished upon the IP theft and scamming side of things, in general people aren't dishonest and horrible... there's just a few of those and we let them make the news all the time. I liked Jeremy Clarkson's recent column for the Times, where he suggested we should simply accept that 5% of all known people are bonkers, and stop making rules for everyone based on what they do... he said it much more elegantly and amusingly than that, here:
What a daft way to stop your spaniel eating the milkman | Jeremy Clarkson - Times Online

I'm really very sorry to see Ordinal go, and I hope she will calm down, throw out any tasks that were on her to do list that don't inspire or amuse her, and stick to the fun and engaging projects which produced so many unique and memorable products.