Sunday, December 31, 2006

Expecting to fly

The office is now more or less complete, although I'm sure I will keep tweaking it for some time. I'd better be at least somewhat happy before I send it up several hundred metres, though, because at that height, I can't just fly outside to make a change. I'd also better make sure the teleport terminals are in place and working correctly.

As I mentioned, it's basically the same shape and layout as the free Archer house. When you're building on land that's only 16 metres wide and 32 metres long, you don't have a lot of flexibility. It might seem odd that we little avatars need rooms that measure a hundred square metres with 16-foot ceilings, but the reason for that is the camera, the way we see the world. Just as with a real camera, like in a film shoot, if you're in too small a space, you can't see what you need to see. You need more room than if you were just looking with real eyes. Which is a challenge when it comes to interior decorating! Second Life rooms are huge, and it's difficult to create a feeling of intimacy.

The one thing I did differently from the Archer house is to add that peaked roof in the back. There's a small loft under that peak, above the counselling room. What's it for? I'll never tell! Let's just say it's for a private space, and no, not for clients. I thought about making the peak go the other way, but the house fits on the lot in a north-south direction. That landing pad you see faces north. So by turning the peak sideways, with the one-way glass windows facing east and west, I get views of the rising and setting of the sun and moon.

The loft illustrates that cool things can be done with textures, even free ones from the SL library. To me, the rough wood look makes it feel like an attic, except that in SL, it won't give you splinters, which is rather nice. It's slightly smaller than the room below, because of a two-foot gap just past the edge of the floor that allows me to fly up and down (stairs eat up way too many prims). With the sloped-in walls of the peak, it illustrates the problem I mentioned about the camera and space. It feels rather cosy, maybe even cramped. But that's OK. It's not a place to run around in.

Looking at the photo above, I realize that I'd probably better put a railing around the outside of the landing pad. If I ever get any clients, I don't want them falling off the edge of my sky-office! And if friends come up to visit, I certainly don't want them going into free-fall without a parachute.

I learned one more thing today, once more by the trial-and-error method. I put in a front door as well as a door between reception and counselling. The door has a script in it that allows it to open and close upon a touch from the owner. Well, when you link the doors to the building, or at least if you do it in the wrong order, opening and closing the door flips the entire building around. That was a bit of a shock! It's a good thing I was in a sandbox with lots of room when it happened. And also a good thing that I have a copy of the office in a pre-door-linked state.

The office takes shape, slowly

I spent a lot of time on Help Island when I was first rezzed, waiting for a better graphics board to arrive, so I went through the building tutorials several times. Still, when I'm just practising, doing drills as it were, I don't learn as well as when I'm working on a real project. And I had never done more than basic linking of prims.

So deciding to construct an entire building for my office was taking on a lot. However, there was no deadline, and if you make a mistake in Second Life, it's not too hard either to fix it or just start over.

Before I got started, my dear friend tree (tree, like some in SL, is not big on typing capital letters) gave me several textures that she had for clear glass and for some beautiful stained glass. Textures are how you change the basic plywood look of a default prim into something you actually want to look at. She also showed me something I'm sure I had learned but had forgotten, which is how to apply a texture to only one side of a prim. This is how you can make a totally cool thing—one-way glass. Create a prim, turn it into a wall, put glass on the inside and an opaque texture on the outside, and voilà, a skybox with a view but complete privacy! The glass in that picture works as glass only from the inside.

I started by building the floor, two 10m by 10m and one 10m by 7.5m (0.1m deep) prims linked together. I put a wood texture on the rear floor (I have a nice rug for it), a Spanish tile texture on the middle one, and a different tile texture on the smaller front one, the landing pad (outside the walls). The landing pad is where a teleporter will go, so people can beam up to the office but not be inside.

I then started building exterior walls, 10m by 5m by 0.1m panels, and put them in place around the floor. On most of them, I put slightly frosted glass on the inside and a peeling paint texture on the outside, which I later changed to granite. On the front wall, facing the landing pad, I put stained glass on both sides.

I did this work in stages, mainly at one particular public sandbox. A sandbox is a large, flat, open area where you can work on building projects. Most clean themselves up periodically. I chose one that allows objects to persist for six hours. The first time I took the partially finished house into my inventory, I learned that I had to figure out a better way to link prims! I thought I had linked all the floor and wall pieces, but it broke in two, necessitating a tedious refit the next time. I learned that it's possible to link prims in sub-assemblies so that you don't have try to click on each individual prim in series, an impossible task with something like a house.

Friday, December 29, 2006 she picked up her hammer and saw

Second Life is down. Oh, the horror! Patrice and I were lying in bed last night, just shooting the breeze, when suddenly I was summarily booted. It was so quick that I thought maybe there had been an incursion and that the grid needed to be shut down immediately. Later, I saw the dreaded words "asset server." I certainly hope that when SL returns, I and my stuff will still exist!

Especially my building project. I might have mentioned that I'm more a scripter than a builder, or would be if I learned enough LSL to be useful (I've learned enough to do a few useless things). But I think that's because, just as with scripting, it's a lot more stimulating when you're building an actual project than when you're just practising.

I own a parcel of first land on Bluenose, right on the edge of the sim, next to Kootenay. It's not much, just a 512m2 (16m by 32m) grey slope facing south. Patrice gave me a free Archer house (there must be millions of them in SL by now), because for some reason I did not yet have one in my inventory, and I set the house up mainly with low-prim furniture that my friend tree had given me, plus some artwork (including a beautiful original from tree, which you can see in the photo). This became my counselling office, in theory.

Among the problems with first land, however, is the density of the neighbourhood. There can be many people within earshot of your building, and it seems that the feature of preventing sound from entering or exiting your parcel is no longer available. If I had a client, we would have to converse in IM, since chat is anything but private. So I decided that I want to take advantage of the weird and wonderful physics of SL and put a house in the sky. I could lift the Archer house—anything can be a skyhouse—but for some reason, I decided I wanted to build a whole new structure.

Building a house might be easy for some people. Not so much for me. Still, I'm having a blast. The layout is pretty much the same as the Archer house: landing pad, reception inside the front door, counselling room behind that. There isn't much flexibility when you have to fit something on a 512m2 parcel. But I'm also building a loft over the counselling room under a peaked roof, whereas the Archer house is flat-roofed with one storey only. More to come soon on the trials and tribulations of learning by making mistakes.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

It's educational—really!

I spend a lot of time in Second Life. Not as much as some, from what I can tell, but a lot. Am I just having fun? Most of the time, yes. I claim, however, that I learn things about myself through SL. I suppose this assertion might seem like rationalization, but I think it's actually true.

One of the most important things I've learned, perhaps even the most important, I cannot yet discuss here. If I can ever make it public, trust me, you'll be the fourth or fifth to know. It's a good thing, though. SL helped me come to grips with something that I've sort of known for a long time but could not admit to, as liberated and free as I thought myself to be. Just goes to show you, there's always more growing to do.

One thing I've learned is just how powerful and alive my imagination is. I thought I'd lost that, if indeed I ever had that much before. Well, yes, I did, because I write songs, and I trained as an actor. But I haven't worked as an actor in a long time, and songs aren't exactly flowing out of my pen these days. So the way that SL woke up my imagination has surprised and delighted me. As I know I've mentioned, I'm neither a gamer not a veteran of any other MMORPGs, so this hit me quite recently. I'm still enjoying the expansion of horizons that an active imagination can bring.

Along those lines, I find that I am more volatile and emotional in SL than in RL. Something about SL tends to heighten emotions and make little things seem bigger. I've described the place as "high school on steroids," and I imagine that's not an original observation. We're in the middle of an improvised play in which each character has a different author and the story is constantly being written. When people say they want to avoid drama in SL, well, good luck! Since being in SL, I have laughed a lot, wept a lot for various and sundry reasons, and felt a whole range of emotions from elation to rejection. Patrice and I have done a pretty good job of keeping the drama to a minimum, probably one of the reasons we have been together for this long—we hit three months of partnership today—but I have to watch myself to try to stay on an even keel.

Which leads to one more thing I have learned. In First Life, I am often solitary. In SL, I find that I am much more social. And while I am interested in building and scripting and taking advantage of the things that SL has to offer, I find that I am more interested in people and in their interactions among each other. I find that I am a pretty good listener when people need to talk and that, sometimes, I even give sound advice in return. This is why I have set myself up as a counsellor in SL. I have an office on my tiny parcel of first land and am open for business. So far, business has not been open to me. Close, but no cigar yet. Meanwhile, there are always friends who need a caring ear or a shoulder to cry on. I'm not making any money in SL, but I'm happy to be at least somewhat useful.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Black Velvet

Second Life is market capitalism at work, so clearly the standard SL club/casino formula is successful. I have to assume that lots of people like discos with light shows and "sploders" (devices into which you put money which periodically "explode" to shower more or less money on the participants), casinos, dancers and/or strippers, private dance booths, and escort services. There is certainly no end to variants on this theme in SL, and they do provide a lot of employment (been there).

If you look around, though, you can find places that provide alternative entertainment, places like the Lonsdale Social and the Wet Kitty. One of those alternatives is our "local." Literally—it's just a few lots down the beach from our house. The club is called The Velvet. Pushbutton Skolnik designed the club to be a place where she would want to hang out, and many of us have found our niche there as well. It looks like a somewhat-remodelled old movie theatre, complete with balcony. It retains enough of a beat-up character to let you know this is a rock club, not a disco. In fact, don't be alarmed if you find a bit of blood on the floor—hey, at least it's not vomit! Having spent many a happy night in real-life grungy rock clubs, I feel like this place is a second home.

Push and her hosts have been active promoters since the club opened in the autumn of 2006. They used to have dancers, but now the poles seem to be there mainly for whoever feels like taking a ride. In keeping with the fact that it's music that's important (to me, anyway), the focus is on the hosts and, especially, live DJs. Push has great regulars and guests, and she herself is an excellent spinner. There are also imaginative theme nights with contests, such as "Jammies Night" (right, where Patrice and I are joined by hostess cantara Boxer in an attempt to revive Destiny's Child), not just "best in red" or "sexiest couple," although those sorts of contests happen occasionally as well. There was even a night when we were all channelling Abraham Lincoln, complete with beards and top hats (I have a photo, but it's kind of embarrassing). Don't ask me what that one was about—ask Push! But it was funny and fun.

The best part of all this is that the club draws a great mix of people. I mean, how many clubs have among their regulars Elvis (the later years), a spider, a TV set, and a wide assortment of punks, anarchists, vampires, and fashionistas of various sexual orientations and persuasions? And not only is the place great for avatar watching. The conversation is pretty much always sharp and entertaining.

Obviously, the Velvet is not everyone's cup of steaming spiked tea. The abundance of thriving discos and casinos attests to that. But for anyone looking for good music in a cool place with interesting people, the Velvet is well worth checking out.

And no, Push did not pay me to say any of this. I sweahtagawd!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Happy Rez-day!

In Second Life, the day an avatar was "born" or created is called its "rez-day," since "rez" (derived from "resolution") is the word used when something is made to appear in SL. That date is listed in the avatar's profile.

My darling Patrice was rezzed a year ago today, on December 21, 2005. Her current profile does not reflect this because the avatar Patrice Cournoyer is kind of Patrice version 2.0. For various reasons, some people leave behind their first avatar and give themselves a fresh start.

So happy rez-day, Patrice! And a merry solstice to all—the shortest day for those of us in the north, and the longest day for those south of the equator.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Do androids dream of electric sheep?

(A tip of the hat to Philip K. Dick for one of the great titles of all time.)

OK, we're back to the love for a bit. Just what does it mean when avatars love each other? Does that make any sense? Is this just a game, or is it more?

Here is another case where I'll offer a personal view that might or might not apply to any other relationship in Second Life. I don't know about SL love in general. I can't even speak for Patrice. I know about what I myself have experienced.

Back in the early days, I thought I loved M-. What did this mean? It meant I—the real life "I"—was happy to see him, or even to IM with him when we didn't have time to meet. It meant that I found him—his avatar—attractive. It meant that I thought he had a great personality. It meant that I found making love with him—SL sex—to be a wonderful experience. In First Life terms, this is more like falling in love, more like infatuation, than it is like loving someone over a long period of time, through thick and thin. It's easy to fall in love in SL, just as it is in FL. It's easy to become infatuated.

Did this "love" mean anything in First Life? I am very happy with my SO. M- has an SO as well (I didn't know that at the time), and presumably he is happy with her. Yet we found each other in SL, had feelings for each other, talked a great deal, and had SL sex. Was this an affair? Good question, and I don't have a good answer for it. I can only say that my attachment was confined to SL, and it seemed not to affect the relationship between me and my tolerant SO.

(Note: I do not do cybersex in SL. SL sex affects me, sometimes very strongly, but for the most part, I keep both hands on the keyboard. Some people occasionally have trouble typing, and I have no problem with that. For me, SL sex is more "psychosomatic"—it affects me mentally and emotionally and therefore physically. I have found that imagination is a powerful thing.)

Later, I grew to love Patrice. This started out much the same way as I described—falling in love, an infatuation. But we have stayed together. We have spent a lot of time together. There was a crucial point for me in our relationship, and this is a very personal thing to relate here. It was a night when a lot of things were broken in SL, including animations. We couldn't use the bed for sex, nor any pose balls. There were no animations. I mentioned earlier that SL sex is basically talk anyway, although the animations help. Well, that night, Patrice talked through making love with me, without any animation, without any visuals, and it was one of the most amazing, profoundly touching things I have ever experienced. I cried like a baby. It still affects me when I think about it.

We have had other moments like that, not necessarily involving sex, moments of profound connection. We are not just lovers, but friends as well. We are not alike, yet we often think the same thought at the same time. Our friend Push says "jinx" when this happens. We say "sync." It's not bad luck. But it's odd.

So does this have any meaning in First Life? FL Patrice and FL Véronique do not know each other directly. We are both circumspect about sharing details of First Life. We know a lot about each other, but we do not know each other. Our SL characters know each other. Even so, even though our avatars are virtual, we feel real emotions in First Life when our SL characters interact. Perhaps for some people, SL "love" is just a game, a matter of role playing. For us, it doesn't work that way.

My SO says we are in a polyamorous relationship. SO is right. SO shares me with Patrice, and Patrice's SO shares her with me. We both know where SL ends and FL begins. We are not crazy. But our relationship and our friendship, as well as friendships we have with other SL avatars, are real in some way. And I'm glad for it. SL has enriched my life. Complicated my life, to be sure, but enriched it as well. And that's extraordinary.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Love, sure, but where's the life?

Why did I join Second Life? I've never been a gamer. I've never been into chat. I had never explored any multiple-member online role-playing games (MMORPGs) . I've done lots of web surfing, but my human interaction via computer had been limited mostly to e-mail and some online forums.

When I read a feature on Second Life in the Globe and Mail in July of 2006, however, something intrigued me. Maybe it was the name itself. Who wouldn't want a second life, no matter how good first life was? So I signed up.

I've never been sure what my particular goal in SL is. To learn and explore, I guess. And even though I have not had some of the experiences I've read about others having, I have learned and explored a great deal, as much of myself as of the world around me. Both by being with Patrice and simply by having a life in-world, I have gained insights, and I expect that will continue.

As for the fun stuff, well, I did learn to build, although in First Life I am a software developer and thus drawn more to scripting and animation than to building. I do enjoy flying, although I'm afraid I've become rather blasé about that. I tend to teleport from place to place, and take that for granted as well—until it breaks! Flying just to explore is fun, but I've run into enough private-property fences to take some of the enjoyment out of it.

I've been lucky to have friends who have exposed me to new things. My friend tree gave me a hoverboard (left, with vapour trail) a long time ago, a fun way to get around. I think she's responsible for the little purple dragon in my inventory as well—poor thing, I hardly ever bring him out! She has shown me cool places too, like the spot with all the different drums called the Lauks Nest.

Patrice has been a major contributor to my SL experience. She has a couple of helicopters and a sailboat, more fun ways to get around. She showed me where to get a great swimming animation, and since we live on a beach, we both swim a fair amount. We also have a diving board, which makes for a great combination with the swimming animation. She gave me an entire skydiving kit, and I've been having a blast learning to be more accurate with my landings. (Do not fail to set the auto-deploy; the blood on impact is disconcerting!) She gave me hockey equipment, although we have not yet organized a neighbourhood shinny game on the nearby pond. She has a horse, and I'm thinking I should get one too.

Yes, like many SLers, we spend a lot of time in clubs, which are basically places where you listen to music, allow your avatar to be animated with one or more dances (or not), and chat with other dancers. Our main hangout is the Velvet, run by our friend Pushbutton Skolnik, a great club with great music and great people. We also go to the Wet Kitty, a mainly lesbian but other-sexuality-friendly club that also has great music. And when we want to get away and be romantic, we've been checking out various jazz clubs: the Blue Note, Phat Cat's, and Red Velvet, so far. It's fun to get dressed fancy and dance cheek to cheek.

And yes, there is a great deal of shopping in SL. I have more hair, skins, dresses, pants, tops, underwear, jewellery, and shoes than I will ever need, but of course I want more. That's going to need a blog entry of its own!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Patrice and I hit the two-month mark

As of this writing, Patrice and I have been married for just over two months, since we had our ceremony on Friday the 13th (a lucky day) in October 2006. We actually partnered on September 27th, so we are nearing three months for that.

What does this mean in Second Life—partnered, married? Officially, not much. One person goes to the SL web site, pays Linden Labs a fee, and gets to send a proposal to the other person. If the recipient accepts the proposal, the two are partnered. On their profiles, you'll see a name in the "Partner" field. (Divorce is even easier—only one partner need agree.)

For Patrice and me, being partnered and married has been quite meaningful. We had a rocky start, as is often the case. We had glorious sex one day after we met. Patrice tells me she was already head over heels in love. I was going a bit more slowly, having only recently been burned from having moved too quickly. It took at least a few days (a long time in SL) for me to realize that I was just as head over heels as Patrice was. Still, we did not start out as bastions of fidelity. Old habits die hard, and in SL, it's pretty darned easy to have sex, at least if you are female. The funny thing is that for each of us in turn, our "transgressions" and the subsequent dealing with them had the effect of bringing us ever closer together.

I can't speak about SL relationships in general. In the brief time I have been here, I have seen some go from the head-over-heels stage to disintegration at an astounding pace. I have seen others persist longer. I have seen weddings planned and then blown apart. I've listened to the outpourings of broken hearts. I don't know how long anyone has lasted who isn't with their First Life partner. I feel pretty good that Patrice and I have made it past two months, still madly in love, still loving sex with each other, and now pretty much into fidelity.

It's interesting having a relationship in SL as well as having one in First Life. My FL relationship is very good. I must say that I have a very tolerant Significant Other (henceforth referred to as "SO"), and I am very grateful for such tolerance. An SL relationship, by its nature, has to be secondary, at least if the partners are not single in real life. If we start messing up our first lives in favour of our second lives, then we're probably in big trouble. The SL partners might not see each other as often as they would in FL. Communication is entirely verbal, even sex (despite animations)—no visual cues such as facial expressions. It's easy for misunderstandings to develop. It's easy for there to be anxiety—if a partner is not online for an extended time; if a partner is with someone else, however innocently; if one partner gets very involved in an activity that does not include the other. And it's all too easy to let things get blown out of proportion.

It seems to me that SL relationships aren't all that different from FL ones. Patrice and I have had many ups and downs. We have had times of mistrust. We have had times of intense passion. We have comforted each other when something is wrong, in SL or FL. We have laughed together. One thing that I think has helped us is that we have some understanding of the dynamics of a relationship, since each of us has a partner in FL. Another is that we are not as young as some residents of SL. (Well, I know how old I am, and can only guess at Patrice's age due to shared cultural references.)

I am very happy and very grateful that Patrice and I are together. I hope we continue to beat the odds. And if there comes a point when we part ways, I will have a wealth of wonderful memories. Patrice, je t'aime beaucoup, beaucoup. Je suis ravie que tu es ma belle femme.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

More on those Fates

I don't believe in fate, so I'm kidding when I make reference to "the Fates." However, it's definitely weird to think of how things lined up to bring Patrice and me together, out of a million (at the time) residents of Second Life. If I hadn't been feeling dumped... If I hadn't been sick of the clubs I was hanging out in... If Tats hadn't shown me such kindness... If she hadn't then gone offline for a week or so... If Patrice hadn't just lost her roommate, her house, her land, and most of her life... If her friend Mischief hadn't dragged her to the beach party to cheer her up... If we didn't both speak French... All these circumstances began something that is still growing more wonderful by the day. I'll get to that story when I have more time.

Hey, maybe the Lindens really are gods! Or maybe it's just the kindly trickster Torley who brings the right people together.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Fates bring Patrice and me together

So here I am, just been kind of dumped (not really, but it felt like that). I'm thinking that I need to find some new places to hang out. I do a search for punk. Among other hits, I find the Wet Kitty. The description looks promising, naughty little British haunt, etc. Lesbian? So what? I'm a two-spirited girl. A lesbian hangout is no problem for me.

I teleport over, walk in, and right away I can tell the music is going to be to my liking. The Wet Kitty plays Radio Akasha, which seems to be a mix of techno, old punk and new wave, and other music not so easily classified. It was working for me!

As always, I'm looking around for the dance ball. I could never find the frigging dance ball in those days. I IM the club employee nearest to me—a beautiful, semi-naked and very tattooed dancer named Tatsuko. Tats is a sweetheart, and makes me feel comfortable in a new place. When she quits work, she brings me to her house to meet her (then) wife, Super Calamari, known as Cala, a gorgeous faerie with white skin, purple hair, and beautiful purple tattoos. It's pretty much a nude zone, so here I am dancing in this strange house, naked, surrounded by other naked women. This is definitely a new world!

Cala's having this party at her beach on Friday, and I'm invited. But when Friday comes around, Tats has gone offline for a period of time, and she's my connection. No worries—Cala says come on by. So I'm dancing up a storm by myself, mingling with and meeting new people. Naomi the DJ, a semi-feline (I've learned since that she is called a Neko), offers me friendship. A pretty red-haired woman named Patrice offers me friendship. I find out that she speaks French, so we start chattering away. A connection is starting to form.

Time in Second Life moves very fast. I'm pretty sure it was the very next day when things went from friendly to serious. Patrice and I met, talked, discussed, and kind of felt our way forward. Was I ready for this? It's a good thing I didn't know at the time that she was on the rebound, not just from a relationship but from a previous avatar. To an extent, she was starting her Second Life over again. All I knew then was that an intense passion was starting to overwhelm me, and it was wonderful.

Has it been only four and a half months?

My "rez day," the day I was created in Second Life, was July 30, 2006. It's hard to believe that not even five months have passed since I started trying to cram two lives into one. You've noticed that Second Life doesn't come with 24 extra hours? Oy.

I spent more time on Help Island than thousands of other newbies combined. Mainly I was waiting for a new graphics board to arrive. Running SL was pretty painful using the so-called built-in (i.e., nonexistent) graphics board that came with this very non-graphical Dell machine. The time was not wasted, however, even though it did get boring after a while. I went through the building tutorial several times. I worked out a lot of the basics. By the time I jumped to the mainland, I thought I had to be ready.

Well, sort of. I landed at the Ambat Infohub in the dark, not having learned how to force sunrise or noon or sunset. If it hadn't been for my friend tree, who had jumped several days before I did and was that much more savvy, I might have floundered hopelessly. As it was, tree was a great help in raising my comfort level with a world that can be pretty confusing. I love ya, girl!

I got another hand up from a knight in shining armour. I was shopping for something, don't remember what, and the search led me to Bad Girls. So here I was, pathetic noob, still not having learned how to force daytime, landing on the boardwalk outside Bad Girls in the dark. Suddenly I was getting IMed by a guy I'll call M-, who seemed to be inside the club. Clearly, even though I was only an avatar, I had the look of someone in serious need of help. I did manage to meet M- face to face before the encounter was over, and I was definitely interested in seeing him again. Fortunately, he was of like mind.

We did see each other for a while. It never got that serious. It felt more serious to me, no doubt too soon, which complicated things and eventually led to the affair fizzling out. But it was lovely while it lasted.

A new chapter begins in September, with a broken-hearted two-spirited girl looking for a good rock club and finding much more. To be continued.