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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

HELP IS ON THE WAY

The first in what will certainly be numerous in-world benefits to help Hurricane Katrina victims is starting in about an hour:

Good Vibes for New Orleans, Gulf Coast Gathering
Date: Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Time: 8:00PM - 11:00PM (180 minutes)
Location: Sutherland (35,135)
Host: Conrad Hatfield

Event description: Join us tonite @ Terrapin Station as we try to send our good vibes to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. We will be partying to the tunes of Nugs.net. Bring your Mardi Gras beads and umbrellas as we let the Katrina victims know they are in our minds and heart. We also ask that you make donations @ www.redcross.org or 1-800-HELP-NOW, see you tonite!

Conrad is from a region close to the disaster, and narrowly missed great harm, "but many, many friends and family with nothing now," he tells me. I'll be posting announcements of other benefit events as they come in.

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THE EXTRAORDINARY MEET THE EXTRAORDINARY

It would figure, wouldn't it, that when I opened an Expo to showcase the wonderful and strange in non-human avatars, a lot of the visitors would be just as marvelous as the exhibits they came to see. It would also figure, wouldn't it, that by now, the world has grown so large and diffuse, that even after announcing the Expo on the official Second Life Forums several times, and posting blog entries on it at least a couple, this would be the first time a lot of them had ever heard of it. Not the death head battle bot or the chrome commando in powered armor, not the giant pill beetle (tucked, untucked), not even Fennix Eldritch, the Resident who'd created a picture-perfect tribute to the little Prince from Katamari Damacy. First time they'd heard about the Extraordinary Avatar Expo was when they saw the Expo opening announcement pop up on their screen. All this time, they'd just been working in relative obscurity on all these ornate and finely detailed bizarre creatures of theirs, all the while not knowing someone was out there trying to do everything possible to publicize exactly the kind of creations they were putting so much work into.

It would also figure, wouldn't it, that Fennix Eldritch had also created a tribute to the sticky ball "Katamari" of the beloved Japanese videogame. It would further figure, wouldn't it, that the reporter and a blue man and a red battle 'bot and several hapless pedestrians would for no particular reason other than it seemed like a good idea end up attached to the ball, rolled into a nearby stream, then bounced upward several hundred feet, a clump of metallic and fleshy weirdness shot through the stratosphere, then plummet headlong into the displays of furries and robots and dragons and tiny woodland creatures and bag ladies below.

Anyway, the runway show for the Expo is today at 7pm Second Life Time-- details here. See you by the catwalk!

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

WHEN DOES INNOVATION BECOME COMPETITION?

Philip Linden's recent announcement of plans for a future version of Second Life that would expedite the buying and selling of Linden Dollars between Residents has provoked not a little controversy-- some Forum reaction here-- partly because this implementation would potentially compete with Resident-run businesses like Gaming Open Market. Beyond that specific policy looms a larger question-- should Linden Lab add features to Second Life that might undermine Resident-created innovations? Philip addresses that issue in his blog in an entry aptly titled "Jumping the Shark"-- apt, since in the opinion of some, this is precisely what the new policy represents.

SL blogger Brace Coral has already posted a, well, bracing retort to Philip's line of thinking here.

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Monday, August 29, 2005

WE BURN EARLY (Updated)

Burning Life returns for a third time to SL-- and some come already well-prepared

I think 2005 must mark the 8th year running when more than half a dozen friends say, "I'm going to Burning Man. Are you going to Burning Man?", and I say, "Yeah maybe, if...", and after a few half-hearted attempts at logistical planning, blow it off for the next year, in the run-up to which my fallback reply becomes, "But hasn't it gotten too big and mainstream to be any good anymore, anyway?", the retort always being, "No way, last year was the best ever!", forcing me to then say, "Yeah maybe, if...", and after a few half-hearted attempts at logistical planning...

Anyway. In the third run-up to Burning Life, Linden Lab's annual tribute to the legendary Black Rock event (BL '03 featured here, BL '04 here), I'm starting to detect some real cultural parity between the two events. Burning Man has become such a tradition, such a defining part of global bohemian life, that many people will spend the whole year planning for it. I know of folks whose San Francisco garages have been converted into veritable Burning Man labratories, where they'll tinker away at whatever wild project they're set to unveil in the Nevada desert, for the good part of the year. Pretty much planning much of their lives around the Labor Day weekend out there, and this chance to create for no other purpose than the joy of creating, and sharing it with others.

Which may also explain how some Residents can erect intricate and ornate Burning Life installations in a couple days after the site is opened. Vudu Suavage's delicately imposing Cthulu-like sculpture, Jillian Callahan's massive power generator, Foolish Frost's mechancial rose with petals that open and close, and at the center of the flower, a control panel that streams old music videos at the touch of a button-- I took these screenshots last Friday, only two days after the land was opened up for construction. (And by then, the Burning Life "man" was already dwarfed by most of the installations.) You'd almost think people were planning much of their second lives around the Labor Day weekend and this chance to create for no other purpose than the joy of creating, and sharing it with others.

The Man burns on September 5, and the whole site is reclaimed on the 12th has been extended to the 19th. Details for Residents here.

Burning Life extension added 9/13 - HL

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Sunday, August 28, 2005

HOPE STREAMS ETERNAL

Avatars dash thousands of miles and raise thousands of dollars to fight cancer...

Even after everyone else had given up for the day, an angel kept running. As of about an hour and a half ago, 4pm Second Life Time, Jade Lily's Second Life Relay for Life had raised the Linden Dollar equivalent of at least $4600 for the American Cancer Society, with more to surely come.

"It's going directly into a Gaming Open Market account, but [GOM's owners have] a script set up to send me the current total every five minutes or so. We have US$4,267.79 in GOM right now. It officially ended at Noon, but some others are holding events tonight and donating." (Skyllar Skidoo has an advance report from the scene at Terra Nova.)

"It's not including US$ donations made directly through Kintera," Jade adds. "We know there are some of those. Touch this sign." Clicking on the sign behind the slender brunette opens up a dialog box that lets you launch a web browser and go directly to a donation site. "And we had someone donate US$360 this morning on that site," Ms. Lily continues. "That's not been included in the total I gave."

Jamie Brokken scripted a lap tracker to keep tabs on the 315 avatars who ran on the pathway shaped into the word "Hope", sending the data via XML to an external website. "Karandas Banjo ran 100 [laps]," Jade tells me. "That's about 200 kilometers." (One full lap, according to Brokken, is two kilometers in relative SL distance.)

"Kornation appears to be running still," Jade observers, "but we're not tracking the laps anymore."

As if on cue, an angel in a cream-colored suit named Kornation Bommerang jogs past us, slowing down only long enough to pose for pictures, then continues in his quest to go the distance.

Update, 8/29, 10:47pm SLT: According to Second Life Future Salon, SL Relay for Life has raised the astounding and excellent Linden Dollar equivalent of $5,411.00 for the American Cancer Society.

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Thursday, August 25, 2005

I WANT MY SL-TV

Live from Stockholm and Second Life, it's...

It is, after all, altogether fitting that two of the first successful attempts to create Internet television programming from within Second Life would come from a government-funded Swedish conceptual art collective and a knee-high fox with a rocket launcher sitting on a cow with an electric guitar.

"We did a TV show from The Port that was broadcasted over Spain," Kapital Metropolitan tells me. In her first life, Kapital is an architect from Stockholm, working with fellow Swede artists Sorgaard Jacques and VoyeurOne Baron, building a communal art site funded by the Swedish state and universities. Their private Second Life island, The Port, has already functioned as a soundstage for clips featured on the International Festival Television Network, a TV program produced from the Tarifa region of Southern Spain. In the second episode, for example (downloadable here, ), VoyeurOne and his colleagues offer Derrida-esque observations on the nature of illusion in an online world. (Their clip begins at about 5:04, but don't miss what must be the strangest-- and coolest-- TV commercial associated with the Microsoft Corporation ever, at the very beginning.)

"A war of pictures and sounds is replacing the war of objects," VoyeurOne informs us in the Spanish broadcast, nodding sagely from The Port, "In a technician's version of an all-seeing Divinity ever ruling out accident and surprise."

As it happened, AsterixLe Gall's own venture into SL television began with a war of objects-- specifically, he says, over the explosive weaponry he'd test in the combat region of Jessie. After complaints from the neighbors, he hit on a project that wouldn't earn him accusations of griefing. Which is how he wound up last Wednesday on the Second Life homepage simulcast, interviewing controversial real estate tycoon Anshe Chung and fashion diva Aimee Weber from the top of a cow next to a giant chicken playing drums.

"Oh ahahahahaha you is talk 'bout chicken behind drums?" Gall inquires, when I ask about it afterward. "Is like set is just chucked out inventory. Just way it landed man. Is like is all fanz is who is guests is stuff. Like what come in on is show. Is like dun get stropped out yuh yuh. Like yesterday's guests. Is all FUUUUUNZ. All for muck about is no serious."

Fun of a sort is also on the agenda of VoyeurOne Baron, when they open The Port island tomorrow to the general Second Life public, with several jam sessions and a five-piece band, and somewhere in there, a native-to-SL interactive musical instrument created by Sorgaard and musician Alazarin Mondrian.

"It is loop-based music," Sorgaard Jacques tells me. "Very simple on/off buttons with volume control." Each button unleashes a short instrument sample-- horn, bass, and so on-- with the idea that every combination plays more or less in sync and in something resembling a melody.

"It will be a kind of free-form-rock experiment," Mr. Baron says approvingly. "Kind of Einst├╝rzende Neubauten meets Pink Floyd in a super market in a German suburb."

"This sounds like a Grateful Dead concert suddenly intruded upon by a marching band," I say.

"Yeahhhh," Sorgaard drawls, agreeing. "Free form!!!"

AsterixLe Gall's Wednesday show garnered a live audience of at least a couple dozen, though he's not sure how many watch the stream from his website.

"More than is fox can is like counts," he tells me, laughing. "Is only is got like paws. And is like must be some. But like is errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr... Three? Who cares. Is like for fun. Is like even if no audience I is still is would mucks 'bout."

The Port's grand opening won't be simulcast via the Web-- rather, it'll be shown to audiences in Berlin and the Swedish capital. "We are building a pavilion in the royal park in central Stockholm," Voyeur One Baron tells me, "and will be projecting the event on a big screen... We have collaboration with the royal library for Internet connections."

Dancing will also obtain. "Royal Metropolitan is the main choreographer here at The Port," Mr. Baron informs me, referring to the tiny man with an oblong head who just joined us.

"We hosted a workshop for Impulztanz Vienna," Ms. Metropolitan continues, "and Royal worked with the students in here for two days testing stuff out and discussing future possibilities for the dance to come."

I ask if this choreography will involve custom animations, but Royal's attention is focused on a higher plane. "It's interesting to consider what can happen with the economy of circulation and distribution when it comes to performance and spectacle," he tells me. "It's not so much about custom moves and animations yet but more about structural matters... That is then to not speak about what this can imply on the body and it's understandings and being in the world."

Having said that, the short man in tennis shoes and white tights under green shorts begins to writhe and twirl on the stage to a rhythym heard nowhere in the world.

"An important issue is to not educate people to what we know," Royal adds. "We have set up a research group here that rehearse together twice a month. With people from Europe, US, Australia, and Japan. We are not so many yet but first."

So they're bringing together Residents with outside creative forces, for projects that'll make their way to a larger audience beyond Second Life. (And more on those next week, hopefully.)

"It is important that we have recruited the performers in-world and that we are setting up a serious performance for them," says VoyeurOne Baron. "It's important for us to establish connections between Second Life and first life."

In his own way, AsterixLe Gall's Super Fox TV is driven by similar coming-together idealism.

"All gweefers in SL is likes, 'aaaaaaaaaaaaaahahahahahahahaha screw gweefing for 90 minutes. Let's all jets on down to Super Fox show and is watch Super Fox do stuff instead.' So every one happy," he concludes proudly. "Brinning the worlds into is one big unity mans. Like happy happy happy and is like nice and stuff. Lessenings like divide is between Residents and Lindens. Is whilst is still maintain is like authority status.

"Dun forget 'bout site and like is locations," the tiny fox in camouflage reminds me. "Yuh yuh."

The Port's in-world opening party launches tomorrow morning at 10am Second Life Time (website here; English and Swedish-language press release here.) AsterixLe Gall's Super Fox TV generally airs at 4:00PM Second Life Time, broadcast from his theater in the region of Guam-- check your local listings.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

METAVERSE BECOMES MONACO

During yet one more discussion about Second Life as an ontological category (is it a "game"? is it a "virtual world"? what is this thing?) today, I began fishing about for a workable analogy, and ended up at the website of the Central Intelligence Agency. Specifically, at the World Factbook notation on the country of Monaco. The results surprised me. Some excerpts from the Monaco listing:

Background: principality of France
Area: 1.95 sq km
Population: 32,409 (July 2005 est.)
Economy overview: "[A] popular resort, attracting tourists to its casino and pleasant climate... The state has no income tax and low business taxes and thrives as a tax haven both for individuals who have established residence and for foreign companies that have set up businesses and offices. The state retains monopolies in a number of sectors, including tobacco, the telephone network, and the postal service."

Geographically, Second Life is now about 25 fully contiguous square miles, and in July 2005, eclipsed Monaco in total population. (Current SL population: 42,263.) A de facto principality of the United States, it also has no income tax and a low business tax (i.e. land use fees.) Tourism, nightclubs, and casino-type games like Tringo dominate the economy. We don't deal in Grace Kelly memorabilia, but we do have our own starlets, and they even engage in impromptu online USO tours for the troops. For now, Linden Lab maintains a monopoly on Instant Messaging, IM-to-e-mail delivery, and inventory object delivery in-world, though a few Residents have developed services that are beginning to compete with those.

Next target marker: Luxembourg (population 468,571).

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PRIMITIVE HUMOR

The latest addition to the unlikeliest of subgenres, Chrestomanci Bard and Moriash Moreau's "Plywood" is a webcomic set in SL, nicely capturing the subculture of an online world in pictorials that are some sometimes fanciful and sometimes true-to-life (true to Second Life, at least.) It tells the ongoing story of one new user's encounter with a rampaging mob of teddy bears, and the veterans who try to wean him off his noobish ways. Encounters with asexual clowns, away-from-keyboard hijinks, and someone tactfully described as a "fuming slut" are also documented. Thrill as well to the ongoing adventures of Gender Man, in his vain quest to ferret out the real life sexual identity behind the avatars he meets. (This series may be the first webcomic to come with a company terms-of-service notification in the fine print, warning readers that it's actually against Linden Lab TOS to reveal aspects of other Residents' real life identity.) My own personal favorite is sort of a tribute to Chuck Jones' beloved "Duck Amuck", which imagines the Lindens as mischevious prankster gods, bringing the reality-mind-game beat down on hapless Residents.

Joining Brian Mifflin's "Second Theory" comic blog, "Plywood" is one more chuckle-inducing attempt to turn online world screenshots and flashy Photoshop skills into a new medium. Go here to see how it succeeds.

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Monday, August 22, 2005

ELECTING THE EXTRAORDINARY

Handicapping the red-hot race between the wolf robot, the phoenix, and the giant snail...

As it turns out, getting the Extraordinary Avatar Expo together has been about as difficult as herding cats. (And there are a set of humanoid cat people in the Expo... and two separately nominated cat women, not to mention a forest diorama of furries, and a cyberpunk diorama with a humanoid robot and a robotic squirrel.) After announcing this convergence to showcase some of the best non-human avatars in Second Life, I got inundated with nominations, a laundry list including a giant gorilla, a dragon, a firebird, and perhaps most strange of all, a bag lady. Over three dozen in all.

After a lot of coaxing and wheedling and land management and property rights disputes and requests with Linden management, they're finally there, most of them, in Plum. The only trick now is figuring out how to put them up for a public vote. The original idea was to use a bunch of ancient, Linden Lab-created vote machines, but when it became clear that this would lead to a dispute that would resemble Palm Beach 2000 on acid, that plan was scotched. So now a Resident is creating a whole new vote machine for this Expo, which will enable all 40+ nominees to be listed, and every Resident to vote on up to ten. Trouble is, the vote machine's creator, Max Case, is a bleach-white, big-hair alien who is also a nominee in the Expo. Which sort of threatens to become a dispute that would resemble, I dunno, Diebold touch-voting in Ohio on acid and amyl nitrate. Fortunately for us, Max has promised to post the code to his voting machine on a public forum, so every nominee can make sure there's no backdoor hack that magically gives Max Case a few hundred extra votes, then entrust code and machine to me for safe keeping. Too bad Diebold didn't think of doing something like that.

Anyway, voting should begin later this week-- before or after a runway show of exceeding weirdness, that is.

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Sunday, August 21, 2005

A PLACE CALLED HOPE

It's getting to the point where to keep up with Second Life community happenings, I sometimes need to read about them in the Sunday New York Times. A project originally conceived last year by Jade Lily (covered in NWN here), the SL Relay for Life was Jade's plan to raise Linden Dollars in an in-world walkathon, and convert that into a massive cash donation to the venerable American Cancer Society. Now with the official blessing of the ACS, the event is scheduled for the 27th and the 28th, with Linden Lab's active participation. The course where the walkathon will be held has been terraformed appropriately.

More background on the event, in the Sunday Times' Arts Section, in "Letting Your Fingers Do the Running", here.

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