Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Time To Lay Down Arms

If you've drudged through the archives, you might get the impression that I'm a strict 'evolutionist'. And you'd be right. It's fact, people. I can't really tolerate the general stupidity which says otherwise. I've often gotten into large debates over this, and I haven't seen anything to sway me otherwise.

That being said, I don't generally bring it up, especially in real life, unless provoked. I don't run into family gatherings and preach the Good News. I'm definitely more reactive than proactive, which is sure to irk my evolutionist brethren who believe each and every person should be corrected.

I believe, though, that there is a time and place where you should, no, you must lay down the guns and just let people on their way. It's just not worth it and more than a little rude.

Case in point: today, it is raining. It's miserable. And two Jehovah's Witnesses come to the door, handing out their literature. It's pouring, they're soaked and huddled under two dinky umbrellas, and I'm letting heat out by holding the door open and chatting with them. No one wants to debate evolution. Not that it would do any good, since neither of us would sway the other. Best to just take their magazine, thank them, and wave them off.

Live and let live.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Incredible Invisible Miners

Star Trek shows us a brilliant future where there is no hunger, no crushing poverty, and in general no want in any person. Everyone works not for their own gain but for the gain of humanity and the galaxy overall. Resources are plentiful and the only impediment is the time it takes to assemble whatever it is you're trying to make.

And that is where Star Trek falls apart. Who mines the ores?

I'm not focusing on miners exclusively, by the way. All the extremely unpleasant jobs, who does them? Not to mention hazardous. Mining an asteroid for steel (and all the other treknobabble metals and minerals) cannot be a safe and happy experience.

And people are undoubtedly forced into those occupations. Show of hands: would you rather tend a vineyard or pick at some rocks deep underground? Yeah, thought so. In Trek Society, anyone can be anything they desire and there's supposedly no impediment to pursuing whatever career choice you pick. But someone has to mine. Someone has to clean the Interstellar Porta-Potties. Someone has to scrap the roadkill off the deflector dish.

They would have to be forced to. Now, the Federation cannot come out and march people off to the Slave Mines, it would break the illusion of 'the world is perfect and you can do anything!!1!'. Instead, they probably would carefully filter specific colonies and saturate them with propaganda designed to brainwash the unknowing inhabitants into believing that slaving away at the asteroid mines is the bestest thing ever. You won't get paid, but you will get free synthesized food! And medical care, which will ensure you'll be able to work out 120 years and sniff out all that dilithium crystal. Yes, life is grand, isn't it? Who needs to see the sky, anyway?

Disgusting, no? Even more when you consider that this is all to the Federation's benefit. They get all the products for free. The only expense is powering and the minimal maintenance to run the food/med/etc. machines to keep the miners happy.

The Federation is one of the great evils of the galaxy. What else do you call state sponsored slavery?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Does This Dress Make Me Look Too Tall?

It's always nice when people find a hobby. Hobbies are similar to hair styles. Everyone has one and everyone thinks theirs is just the greatest thing ever and spend lots of time and energy into it. My personal hobby is, of course, this blog. The President's hobby is to bring about the socialist revolution as predicted by Marx and Lenin. That nerd who still hasn't left his parent's basement at the age of 55's hobby is collecting post stamps and porn.

And a few people on the SL forums have made it their hobby to shove their avatar shapes down our throats. Yeah, it's that kind of hobby. The annoying kind where it's not enough for them to practice it in the quiet dark shadows and caves like the rest of us. No, they've got to proselytize to the world. They come to the forums like Jehovah's Witnesses, making the same arguments that have been made since the dawn of the Grid in 2004.

There were about 6 or 7 little more than a month ago, and let's see if I can guess what their arguments were before I even open these threads. Hmm, let's see...

-Everyone confuses me for an ageplayer!! (bonus points if they throw in mockery)
-Wasted space!! You could save almost 10 prims and an entire square meter!!
-Everyone looks stupid and unproportional!!
-Linden Labs is stupid!!

Ok, I'm going to open them now... whoa, I'm 4 for 4! How did I do that? Well, like I said, it's easy when you've seen the same shit for the past 5 years. It's similar to the complaints and concerns whenever Copybot crops up, or sim performance, or whatever the hell is wrong with the asset servers this particular day/month/year, or griefers, or etc etc etc. Boring.

And I don't even see the problem, frankly. I think I noted a long long loooong time ago that you can actually date an avatar based on their height. Rare is the person born before 2008 who is three meters tall and breathes fire. The more a person plays and get immersed into Second Life, they proceed on a gradual pace to create better and better avatars. I don't know whether it is due to gaining a better understanding of the shape tools or whether it's due to boredom or what, I've just noticed it is fairly constant. In fact, judging from the forum responses, everyone seemed to be trying to get 'realistic' anyway. Most of the people against it did so on 'freedom of speech'-esque grounds.

Anyway, go enjoy your realistic avatars. For the record, I have one (even if I am six feet tall, that is within the range of humanity). But don't run around and impose on people who have, undoubtedly, heard it all before. Thank you.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

One Thing You Noobs Need To Understand

At Bear Infohub today:
[2011/11/16 10:07] [redacted]: right, one thing all you noobs need to understand
[2011/11/16 10:07] [redacted]: sl dont always work
[2011/11/16 10:07] [day old account]: please help me
[2011/11/16 10:07] [redacted]: they having issues right now
[2011/11/16 10:07] [redacted]: [day old account], ffs stfu
[2011/11/16 10:07] [redacted]: im trying to help, trying to explain
[2011/11/16 10:07] [redacted]: the game system
[2011/11/16 10:07] [redacted]: the computers that run sl for you
[2011/11/16 10:07] [day old account]: ok.sorry
[2011/11/16 10:08] [redacted]: the engineers are fixing something

Ah, the best kind of welcome to Second Life: being told to sit down and shut the fuck up, you stupid little noob. Yup, let's keep changing the viewer. That's obviously the real reason retention rates are dismal.

Oh, and for reference, she asked a single question about where to find inventory. God! Get off my back and find your own damn shoes! What does this look like, some kind of infohub?! Oh wait...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hey Hey! Let's Make Vehicle Lemonade!

I have found the perfect use for AnnMarie Otoole's endless Mississippi river of vehicles so ugly they wouldn't pass muster in SL 2003's shitty prim statue era. People have been bitching and moaning, but like my parents said, "Anna, make lemons out of lemonade."

So, aside from the fact that they lag up sims horribly, are uglier than '60s era 'cars of the future', slam and push people off public roads, behave as if the driver is aching for multiple DUIs, and have an unfortunate urge to offroad into others' sims; what use could possibly be made out of them? Well, look at their single positive: they do manage to find their way around the entirety of Second Life. In every stream, road, and abandoned no-autoreturn parcel, you will find AMO's crimes against decency.

You are probably wondering why I'm pointing their out. Well, the thing is, I'm sick of people writing volumes upon volumes that Second Life is one gigantic wasteland full of abandoned lots and blight worse than Pittsburgh's industrial district, populated solely by AMO's mechanical tumbleweeds. And my conclusion is that these people have never ever "had their boots on the ground," as my grandparents would say. I have no idea why no one notices this huge disconnect between people who bloat about this imagined SL desert and reality.

And hence the saving grace of AnnMarie Otoole. My suggestion is such: strap each person onto one of her vehicles and forcibly motor them throughout Second Life. Let them see all the incredible homes and builds people have made and are still making! Let them see people opening up stores and shops even though there's an offworld marketplace. Even the giant hideous black privacy boxes are evidence that the grid is as populated and lively as ever.

"But Anna!" you interject, "I don't see any dots!!" Ok, I have a riddle for you. No, a metaphor.

In the suburbs, it is a ghost town from 7 AM to 5 PM. Everyone is away, whether at school or at work or the nearest Occupy Wherever protest. And it's also barren from 8 PM to 7 AM, when people are having dinner, and sleeping, or up late walking around Second Life. So, from 8 PM to noon and all the way back to 7 AM, if you wandered through the suburbs, you could declare, "Surely this development is dying! Why, I see no souls moving about!" and have a spot of tea and congratulate yourself on such a remarkable observation. Except you're neglecting that window, that window from 5 PM to 8 PM, when everyone comes home, and before supper is ready, when everyone comes out. Children ride their bikes, and adults water and cut their lawns, and it erupts into the chaos of life.

And Second Life is similar. A quick romp through a particular sim will never capture its spirit. Go ahead and sit by it for a few days, and you'll find people come in (with varying degrees of frequency) and, well, do their thing, whatever it is. It comes to life. But that's something you will never see if you never take the time to go inworld, wander around it, and sit and watch the grid go by.

There is the second virtue of AMO's vehicles, by the way. Wherever they crash, they'll force their hapless occupant to watch the sim as it is.

Thus, my grand plan for taking an otherwise inexcusable plague upon Second Life and twisting it into a net bonus for anyone who wants to seriously discuss the state of Second Life itself.

Monday, November 14, 2011

RL Linkage Is The Only Way To Validate Your Work

Ah, I remember Bettina Tizzy. She was a tad less than enthused about the art critiques of her Flickr stream given by me and my friends. Rendered speechless by our rapier wit. And undoubtedly bemused by our attempts to discuss how a sculpty androgynous statue hovering in a waterfall could Possibly Exist in Real Life. Yes, I remember Bettina alright.

She's moved on from passively aggressively expressing her disapproval (the " . " heard round the blogosphere) to dispensing pearls of wisdom to artists trying to make it in the big bad world of Second Life. Since Bettina is possibly the biggest name in the SL art world (aside from Starax and whatever alt of the week Starax is using to hide from his adoring public), her words carry the weight of the world upon Atlas' tired shoulders. What was this jewel bequeathed to Hamlet Au on NewWorldNotes?

Paraphrased, it was, "Link your Real Life name and your Second Life name!"

Of course! Genius! Surely, no one has considered this. Let us listen to more of this indispensable wisdom.

More Paraphrasing: "If you use your Second Life name on your Second Life projects, then you'll be forever pigeon holed into Second Life itself. Cast off that albatross! Proclaim throughout the land and across the sea your True Name, so that you may expand beyond our pitiful sex-addled insular circle jerk of a virtual world into Real Life praise and glory!"

There were detractors who threw meaningless strawman effigies of Bettina up. They argued nonsense, such as attempting to point out people using pseudonyms in real life, so why should a SL pseudonym be limited to only Second Life? Do I really need to answer that? You silly commentators, you can't use SL fake names in Real Life! Could you imagine ever buying a book written by Anna Tsiolkovsky? Assuming it wasn't pure drivel (and that's assuming a lot), people would research the Internet and say, "Whoa, this Anna, she's a fake name from SL! To think I was almost conned into buying and reading this!"

Or if I crafted an exquisite statue in Second Life, I am sure the Art Life would cast their gaze and hand down the judgement upon me, that anything I may do in First Life would be null and void unless I revealed my Real Life. Think of how much my work would be devalued! All great artists never hide! What are you so scared of?

Bettina leads the charge by bravely exposing her Real Life self. Whew, and good thing too, because I almost was about to dismiss her NPIRL as the mewings of some anonymous nobody. Now that I know her real life, I will so read and watch her more often. Dodged a bullet there Bettina. Bev. BettiBev? The small fact that despite this linkage people will continue to call her Bettina is irrelevant, of course.

So, budding SL artists, remember that your SL name is only valid in the virtual world it was issued. If you wish to travel to real life, you'd better produce the proper papers and passport.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Mesh Mosh

For most of its history, the prime building block of Second Life was the prim. It wasn't particularly hard to figure out how to make one nor how to shape it and connect it to others to build an object. If you spent a few hours a day teasing prims, you'd probably at least learn to build a simple house in a week.

Of course, you needed to texture it, but that wasn't too hard, either. Select the surface, add the texture. There were numerous free textures covering basic surfaces; so again, you could in a week learn to build not only a house but make a brick house with asphalt roofing and wooden panel floors. It wouldn't be the prettiest house, perhaps, but if one kept at it, you could gradually get better and better.

If you needed a custom texture, you needed to import it. But this task was not that hard, either. It only cost L$10 (that's what? A few cents in RL money?) to import one picture, and most people have photoshop and everyone has MS Paint. The Lindens even offered templates so you could create clothing textures. It was never difficult and the most expensive part was the L$10 import fee.

Then along came sculpties and for the first time, it became harder to be a builder. You could still work with prims, but sculpties required being able to work in Maya or similar programs, programs less commonly seen to the average user. You needed these programs because the sculpty shape was read from an image, which has to be crafted just so to create the correct shape. And to color that image, you needed the same program to export the color layer. You had to create a unique texture for each unique sculpty.

And there you go. Suddenly, it became harder to enter the building market because you needed a sculpting program, and learn how to use that, and learn how to use SL's building tools on top of it all. And you came to need a minimum cash investment. Prims and prim textures are free, but even if you use free sculpting programs, the texture import fees would be at least L$20 (10 for the sculpty base and 10 for attending texture).

That's not to say a new builder can't get a foot in the door, but it's much harder. Sculpties are part of the standard now. People are prim aware, and a choice between a 1 prim sculpty staircase and your 10 prim one... they'll spring for the former. Plus, a sculpty will usually look more natural and less chunky than a similar prim object.

I haven't done research, but I wouldn't be surprised if we lost something in the leap to sculpties. You can't just 'leap in' anymore, amateur style, at least if you want a serious business. And I think people do want a serious business. They want others to look and praise their work.

And now, with mesh, I'm not sure what to think. It's still kinda sorta new, and I don't think it will have the same impact as sculpties, mostly because sculpties already broke the ground on shifting building from an inworld enterprise to an import one. That's a shift I'm not sure was good for the world. Especially when it's expected. You come in expecting to be able to build your world, and then are told you need Maya and all manner of other external programs... It discourages some. It also hobbles teaching. I can inspect a prim structure and point out how to fix it or make it better. With sculpties or mesh, I'd have to send them out and rework it.

And it's being used to divide the world as well, or so it seems. Only the new viewer can see mesh, so you're outta luck if you want to stay on the somewhat more stable old viewer. Heaven help you if your computer isn't too fast, either, because then sculpties (and I presume mesh as well) will turn up as odd spheres, which morph into these twisted piles of wire before finally settling down into the actual object. It's ugly.

I will not doubt that sculpties (and possibly mesh) have made our world a little more beautiful. But it sure is a shame the cost is to essentially outsource building tools offworld and beyond the reach of most of the grid.

Up By Your Bootstraps III

Ok, ok, this is THE final post on this subject for the next month. I promise.

It occurred to me that the failure of textures to load properly and thus fail to pass their instruction onto new residents can be easily rectified by making a simple hovertext nearby. I've noticed that I've seen that load even in laggy clubs, identifying the tip jar for the musician playing that night. It's not as if you need to show people what the arrow keys are, I think most people are familiar with their keyboard. You can simply say, "The arrow keys will move your avatar" and be done with it. Even the interface can be somewhat described. "Find a button in the lower left corner marked 'Destinations', which will blah blah blah."

And you can always have a quick message below it explaining that if they are patient, they can wait for the texture to load in order to see an actual screenshot.

And you know? Another thought occurs to me. If you have a few dedicated mentors on each Orientation Station, it will help in another way besides spitting out information: it will allow them to test out conversing with another person, getting to know etiquette, and so on. Talking to a scripted parrot is not the same as holding a chat with a veteran. From my experience, in an orientation setting, most people won't hold up the line like at an infohub because they're eager to get into the game. They'll exchange friend cards (another important skill glanced over in orientation, as there are unspoken handshake agreements in that as well), and move on.

As always, just a few thoughts for the Lindens to chew over.

Up By Your Bootstraps II

I was reading Prokofy the other day and he hit upon another good idea for encouraging retention: create a panel which displays the multitude of things to do in Second Life.

So, for instance, you'd have a panel showing War Sims for Call of Duty-esque games, and a panel to some social clubs if you're into making friends, and a panel to a sandbox and building lessons if you're into making objects and so on. When you click on the panel you want, it spits out a landmark to a location relevant to that interest.

It allows the new user to sort themselves quickly and direct them to where they would go anyway if they followed the current path. Currently, they would land in an infohub, ask where so-and-so is, and then get a landmark. This system would cut the middleman. If all I want to do is rent a house and play with some pets because a Real Life friend hooked me on Sion Chickens, then it's not really necessary to hit an infohub and have to shout over a dozen or so other people asking where I can buy pets.

And again, you can have a feedback system. Ask: Did you feel you were directed correctly? Did you get where you wanted to go? Then you can adjust the landmarks that are sent in each 'mode'. This sim is treating newbies like dirt? Remove them from the Help Station.

This isn't exactly rocket science.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Bumper to Bumper

I was driving down the road when I collided head on with a giant Trojan horse powered by rockets. It thoughtfully said, "Sorry", pushed me out of the way, and jetted down the highway.

"Huh," I said, "That's strange. But Second Life is always strange. Mayhaps someone's vehicle went out of control."

Further down the road, I smashed into a wood burning locomotive. "Sorry!" It said as it shoved me aside.

"Well!" I exclaimed, "Certainly is busy tonight!"

Ten minutes later, I crashed into a Pod.

And then I hit a bus.

Seriously, what happened in the year I was gone? Did the vehicle factory become sentient and spit out a plague of riderless planes, trains, and automobiles? Every five to fifteen minutes I'm hitting these things, which then proceed to push me off the road. Luckily, I never crossed any bridges, but I can imagine these things pushing you off the side into the river below.

So, any reason for this?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Up By Your Bootstraps

How is it possible that Linden Lab, through three changes in leadership and countless hirings and firings of employers, have still not managed to create a good orientation program?

I've been observing this for some time, and it is shocking that the orientation process has seemingly became worse than when I took my first steps five years ago. It was thought that by allowing residents to create their own orientation stations the process would improve but if anything I believe it destroyed it. Too many half ass it, or create infohubs which fail to provide information people want to know, or omit things they believe others just know. Often, their islands and stations aren't even staffed. It's a crapshoot: if you're lucky, you get shuffled to an OI who cares and commits the time necessary to bring day old residents up to speed. If you're unlucky (and more than likely you will), you'll find yourself stranded, isolated save for your fellow newbies, feeling around an otherwise deserted island, wondering what the deal is with all the gray squares and squashed objects.

If it seems I'm being unduly harsh on the Orientation islands, it's because the in-grid infohubs are complete garbage. Today, I sat in on Bear Infohub. For about an hour, a group of midbies (from around 07-08) dominated the infohub, lamenting that hardly anyone was talking on Voice and who was AFK and so on. The newbies were completely ignored save when they greeted everyone. When that group left, the entire batch of newbies were left to their own devices. There were no mentors to answer any questions. There was a billboard in a corner which linked to Torley's tutorial videos, some of which are outdated and often discuss topics that newbies don't care about. They don't care about sculpties or script efficiency. They want to know where to go to buy things, to meet people, and how to fucking move.

Read that last sentence again. It is true. I was asked how to move about by at least five different newbies. That is a damning indictment of the Linden's failure to bring people into Second Life. How can they enjoy the platform and its community when they can't figure out how to get their avatar to go where they want it?

Here is a list of the questions asked:

  • "Why do I look like a ghost?"

  • "I can't get Edit Appearance to work right"

  • "I'm not sure how to use Second Life?"

  • "How do move about?"

  • "You can fly? How can you fly?"

  • "Do you have to pay for different clothes?"

  • "Where do I go for new clothes/vehicles/housing?"
All those and some variations thereof were asked in about a twenty minute span. It should not be left up to the tender mercies of older residents to inform the new generation how to fly, or how to use Search, or even confirm that you can change your avatar look. This is not my job. This is the job of the Lindens and they're failing horribly.

The question is, what can be done?

First, get either Lindens or Residents or both to patrol these places and be on hand to answer any and all questions. There should be at least two at each location around the clock. These people, by the way, should be screened and it should be made sure they aren't arrogant shits who'll sneer if someone asks how to fly or attach hair. There should be no worry that the person in this role isn't very software inclined, because it's rare that a newbie asks a question which would baffle the average SL resident. It doesn't take an engineer to tell someone that to attach something, you go into inventory, right click, and select 'wear'. It doesn't take a programmer to tell someone how to search for a night club.

Second, they need to hold a meeting and standardize the newbie experience. Here's a suggestion: after about a month, send a notecard to the newbies and ask them their thoughts on how well the OI prepared them for SL. Don't give any multiple choice bullshit, just ask: "What are your thoughts on orientation? Did we neglect any information? etc etc etc" Multiple choice tends to not tell you anything. 7 out of 10? Why? And these should be collected, and read at the end of the month, and OI should be adjusted accordingly. Don't hand me bullshit that it would take too long. I've worked projects where I've been evaluated by at least 90 or so people, and I was able to handle it and get everything together in about a day. I'm sure a company can do better.

Third, make notecards containing information easily accessible in the infohubs. Isabell and I think Ross do an ok job at that, but most of the others are dismal. It turns the infohubs into glorified town squares where people congregate and chat. There is nothing wrong with that, but the primary purpose of the infohub is to inform. Information should be distributed if asked. And I'd do it in notecards, and not in links to outside websites. Tell people how to do it NOW, not later on someone's website.

Fourth, please police the infohubs a little. Clean up the loiterers. Infohubs, as I said above, have become similar to town squares, where people mill about and chat. Again, nothing wrong with that, but emphasis should be placed on informing new residents of what's what. When you have a newbie asking how to fly, and the crowd is mocking them, you need to call in the police and break it up.

Please, Linden Lab. Fix this shit. You have no idea how many people come into Second Life and abandon it after two or three days because they get no help and have no idea what to do. You cannot tell me you enjoy losing potential paying customers. Why do you let this continue? And the same is said to third party OI. Clean it up, please.