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Tuesday, November 30, 2004


"You guys look like an alt rock group whose tour bus broke down in Omaha!" I tell the people I'm with, because, as it happens, they do. Foxy Xevious for one is a girl in leather with long dredlocks, while Jimmy Thompson sports a mohawk made of flame. And they're standing in a field of flowers and shrub, and a weathered farmhouse looms over them.

"I'm the groupie," their companion Dreams Lightcloud announces gamely, and as if to drive that point home, the girl with pink hair and platform heels begins to rock dance amid the long-stem roses.

Actually, what we're standing in is known as The Field of Dreams, which is also not a reference to the Kevin Costner film. It's an elaborate tech demo, and far as I know, I'm the first person associated with Linden Lab to see how a man who's spent a lot more of his time thinking about Canadian shipping routes has managed to beat Linden Lab at their own game. So to speak.

"I’m doing research [on] how to improve visual quality inside Second Life," Jimmy explains, "and the field is one of many prototype we made." He created it, he says, from "the desire to override the actual way Lindens implemented vegetation inside SL. [We needed a] more convincing and realistic solution." The result-- if I can briefly report from backstage-- got most of the developers and programmers at Linden Lab to gather around a single monitor, looking at Jimmy's field, gap-mouthed in awe.

I'm neither an artist or a programmer, so when I ask Jimmy to explain how he's able to make a field look this lush and dense, with foliage that you could actually hide in, if you were sitting in it, I beg him to keep it in language that doesn't make my head explode.

"It's very simple," Thompson replies. Then proceeds to swell my cranium anyway...

"It's a particle system that distribute particles (transparent images) in a 2D plane," he says. "Using the maximum [display] longevity for particles (30 seconds.)" He frowns. "The only drawback, its flickering effect; waiting for a Linden Lab improvement to help the system."

"How does this differ from the [default Linden Lab] way of creating plant life?" I ask.

"This system has the advantage," Jimmy replies brusquely. "This thread, Hamlet, VERY important. From the thread: 'The concept is to use a particle system to distribute particles that will create the field. Each particle generated by this particle system is a '2d plane' what will always face the camera. We place the texture of a plant on this plane. Almost lag free, [we] do not use prims and use very simple script (low [server] processing). Custom texture, we can create every type of field we can imagine. Low prims counts, only three [building block] prims for each section (twenty meter radius). NOT USING PRIMS. Customizable color and transparency."

To demonstrate that point, the Field of Dreams features a control panel, where you can select any number of flowers or plant, then watch it slowly propogate across the landscape.

"Soon, Second Life will be over-run with flowers," Foxy Xevious vows to me like she was a James Bond mastermind, speaking to me from her sprawling laboratory (which, as it happens, she sort of is.) "We stopped Unreal to work on this first." ("Project Unreal" is the place name for the upcoming project from Foxy's Bedazzled group; briefly mentioned in this month's newsletter, it's an ambitious attempt to create a multiplayer first-person shooter in the spirit of Unreal Tournament and other classics.)

"This project is only part of a more general project to improve visual quality," Jimmy continues. "I’m posting a tutorial on our website to help people."

"http://bedazzle.grfx.at", Foxy interjects helpfully.

"The trees are made from prims using traditional technology," Jimmy Thompson adds. Even though the gracefully twisting trees in the Field of Dreams resemble nothing I've yet seen in the world, created by Linden Lab or any of the other residents-- Bedazzled based theirs on Japanese bonsais.

In real life, Jimmy is a French Canadian who owns a business of eight employees, developing software to regulate maritime traffic. Like Foxy Xevious, then, he's an established businessperson (and presumably a pretty successful one) who now devotes most of his free time on a creative project with no immediate profit motive. (As it stands now, Project Unreal will be free to all Second Life residents.) So when he's not running his own company, he works in-world for Ms. Xevious, transmuting his skills at helping keep Canada's shipping routes open, to something considerably more esoteric.

"Yes," says Jimmy, "I invest a lot of time inside Second Life, a lot, because I believe in the potential of our world. A future mass media, like TV or the Internet." Eventually, he sees a time where he'll be able to sell his skills in-world, to make his living. "I will have to wait two-three years before being able to work full time in SL," he speculates. "The economy system isn't mature."

For now, then, much of his efforts are devoted to improving the fundamental tool box of this world, with the foremost goal involving gunplay and explosions and bursts of flame. On an adjoining simulator also owned by Foxy Xevious, the Bedazzled team is already hard at work on an alien temple amid a permanent snowstorm, and other settings where Project Unreal will play out. But I tell them they should figure out a way to incorporate the Field of Dreams into their shooter.

That way, I say, residents can "frag folks while running through the freaking daffodils and other flowers, while giant plumes of blood and shell casings drop among the rose pedals."

Jimmy Thomson nods agreeably. "The blood of the victim spreading through a field of white rose."

Foxy eyes her programmer. "This is a romantic side of Jimmy we have never seen."

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Monday, November 29, 2004


Added links to two more Second Life-related blogs in my sidebar: Ace Cassidy's Second Thoughts, whose last post is a detailed analysis of SL economy, and a blog from Prokofy Neva, whose last post is an incisive-if-eccentric report and rumination on the last Town Hall meeting held by Philip Linden-- as witnessed from behind a wall of fire.

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Thursday, November 25, 2004


Continued from yesterday. Blue State/International Bush opponents are Ace Cassidy (East Coast), Jinny Fonzarelli (Britain), Dominik Bauer (Germany), Lianne Marten (West Coast), Rose Karuna (East Coast); Red State/Bush supporters are Aestival Cohen (West Coast), Vyre Cohen (MidWest), and Dawson Murphy (South East).

Additional political sculptures for the event, to the right: "9/11 Triptych Memorial" by Ming Chen, for the Non-Partisan Current Events category. "America Ignoring the 800 lbs. Gorilla" by Rose Karuna, "Blind Patriotism" by Tripper Tapioca, "No More Peace" by Andie Apollo, "Not in My Name" by Jinny Fonzarelli, and "Twin Peace Towers" by Peredur Vindaloo-- all in the Anti-Bush category.

The host asks another pop question of the Red Staters:

Hamlet Linden: Regarding Iraq, a lot of pro-war folks, liberal and conservative, are outraged by how poorly the Bushies executed the deal. General Shinseki said we'd need 300,000 or so troops, and the Bushies said "No way, dude." Shinseki seems to have been right. So do you think that even if taking out Saddam was justified, the Bush administration has caused way more problems by their execution?

Lianne Marten: Oooh, Hamlet... you're drifting from unbiased.

Vyre Cohen: You can't plan a war step by step. This isn't a game of "Risk", it is real.

Hamlet Linden: But Vyre, their own General advised them, and they ignored him!

Aestival Cohen: No... it should have been done better, but in the balance, it's a small step towards a better world. They said the same things about Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt. You should read the history of the press in past American wars.

Lianne Marten: Doesn't seem like anything has gone right, though. It seems like all the things that were done, the hard ways or more costly ways were taken.

Vyre Cohen: Doesn't seem like ANYTHING has gone right? Saddam is gone isn’t he? Seems pretty right to me.

Dawson Murphy: To quote an old axiom, "No plan survives contact with the enemy".

Hamlet Linden: OK, fair answers, I guess. I suppose we'll see. If it stabilizes within a year, no one will remember all these bung-ups. OK, let's turn it over to the audience. One at a time, please!

Imda Tomba [from the stands]: This is directed to the Blue Staters, who I assume are Democrats [grins].

Lianne Marten: Not necessarily, but go ahead.

Imda Tomba: Some Democrats' (i.e., myself and Phil Hendrie) basis for being Democrats are that the individual is what's important, helping the "poor man". By moving to the extreme left, they [the Democratic party] end up destroying jobs. How do you feel about the idea the Democrats are leaving their party behind for more of a Green Party stance? And the idea that President Bush was more of a Democrat than Kerry was. Kerry was liberal, as you can see from his voting record. Bush supports Democratic ideas like prescription drug benefits, No Child Left Behind, and immigration issues. Or is this [debate] purely about the war?

Aestival Cohen loves Phil!, Aestival emotes from the stage.

Lianne Marten: So, no lists about what Kerry supported? Or is he just a "liberal?"

Vyre Cohen [laughing]: I still don't know what he supported. SORRY.

Rose Karuna: Kerry supported a woman's right to choose. He supported a lot more personal choice issues than did Bush.

Phineas Clio [from the audience]: This is more an observation than a question. Thanks for hosting this event, Hamlet. And I mean no disrespect in saying this, but I don't think we heard anything new from either side. This is a 50/50 country. One way or another, we need to learn to get along. Any ideas how we might do that?

Hamlet Linden: How about we ask each side say something nice about the other side. I mean, Blue Staters praise Bush, and Red Staters praise Kerry?

Aestival Cohen: Phin, I used to be a "liberal", but now I realize I don't sit on a line from red to blue.

Lianne Marten: I'll start if you want me to Hamlet... but it will be a sarcastic thing I like about [Bush].

Hamlet Linden: Nope! You have to be genuine!

Ace Cassidy: While I think he has surrounded himself with people with ideas that frighten me, I will say that Bush is a man of integrity and honesty.

Dawson Murphy [smiling]: Kerry has nice hair... damn, that whole ticket had nice hair.

Hamlet Linden: No sarcasm, Dawson!

Aestival Cohen: Kerry was a decorated soldier, and he fought hard as a candidate, and conceded with terrific grace. And he was a good speaker. Much more articulate than Bush.

Dawson Murphy: Yes, I would have to say the concession was gracious and very timely.

Hamlet Linden: Ah! There we go!

Vyre Cohen: Kerry-- his occasional stance on Border Patrol. I praise him for being right a fraction of the time.

Peredur Vindaloo [from the audience]: Is it not true that members of both sides of the Iraq war are now committing war crimes? [Peredur is referring specifically to the disputed incident involving a US Marine who apparently shot an unarmed Iraqi insurgent.]

Vyre Cohen: Wait, who [in the audience] had the gun, I need to shoot myself.

Dawson Murphy: Ouch... one side has isolated instances. The other has war crimes has a flat-out plan.

Peredur Vindaloo: Thanks, Dawson, good answer. I hope you're right.

Lianne Marten: [T]he Army covers up bad things it does. It's always been doing that, keeping things internalized. Or so I have heard.

Aestival Cohen: Abu Ghraib was under investigation by the Army way before the news broke.

Imda Tomb: Keeping things internal and covering up are two different concepts.

Rose Karuna: They would have covered up Abu Ghraib but non-military intelligence was too stupid to pick up on cell phones with cameras.

Hamlet Linden: Rose, sorry, that's just not factual, [the Defense Department] did mention it to the press when the Taguba investigation started.

Vyre Cohen: Emotion is not the path to understanding, listening and thinking are. Just a thought.

Peredur Vindaloo [taking her leave]: Thanks for a great day, people, and goodnight. Well done to both sides, you resisted my inflammations most successfully.

Ulrika Zugzwang [co-creator of "Flag Razing", from the audience]: One thing that disturbs me about discussions such as this is often when discussing war, people omit the reference to deaths. Both sides. How do you feel about your tax money being used to kill over 200,000 human beings? You are proud that you are killing unarmed women and children?

Hamlet Linden: Wait! What's your source for that figure, Ulrika? The largest figure I've seen regarding civilian casualties is the Lancet report, but its methodology is under serious dispute... by the Economist and Slate. Even the anti-war Iraqibodycount places the figure at around 18,000.

Ulrika Zugzwang: How many people have to die to get you upset then? Apparently 18,000 is below that limit?

Vyre Cohen: You are proud to indirectly support someone [i.e. Saddam] who kills and tortures for entertainment. Interesting..

"Aestival Cohen lived through the cold war," Aestival emotes from his chair, "fought in little countries you folks forget... I saw people shot and head fall off and I was only a kid. Now that I'm an American, I'm proud to spend money to fix some of that mess. It's still the same body counts." Then speaks out loud:

Aestival Cohen: Democracy is the only fix. Abandoning the dictatorships that keep killing every year until the totals are in the millions. Don't be dumb.

Dawson Murphy: Wow... Ulrika is just MoveOn'n over there.

Ulrika Zugzwang: That's a strawman attack, Dawson. Stick to the question.

Hamlet Linden: Well, wait, Red Staters, I do think she's being inflammatory, but could you take her point and talk about how you feel about civilian causalities, which whatever the figure, are significant?

Vyre Cohen: I thought I made my point on that. It's a part of war. WAR is not clean.

Ulrika Zugzwang: That's how you justify the grief of thousands of families? War is not clean?

Dawson Murphy: War is war. There will be casulties. I read in the New York Times (of all places), that more people died in DC last week than innocent people in Fallujah.

Hamlet Linden: Ulrika, would you apply that logic to World War II, for example, and say we should not have fought that, either?

Ulrika Zugzwang [after a long pause]: That was provoked. This was not. It was by definition an illegal incursion.

Hamlet Linden: But the [first] Gulf War was sanctioned by the UN, and Saddam has been in violation of the cease fire agreement he signed in '91, so the war never ended. The war he launched against Kuwait, originally. Saddam was firing on US/UK planes trying to enforce the cease fire agreement since then; that seems pretty provocational.

Ulrika Zugzwang: Oh. I didn't know that. Then by all means continue to take 50% of my tax money and apply it to murdering unarmed women and children.

Ace Cassidy: As wrong as I believe those who favor the war in Iraq are, if one buys the argument that is is justified and good, then you accept the deaths.

Imda Tomba [from the audience]: I think we can all agree no one likes civilian casualities, but the ends justify the means-- in the majority of voters opinion evidently [grins].

Kendra Bancroft [co-creator of "Flag Razing", from the audience]: The ends NEVER justify the means.

Dawson Murphy: Nowhere in the US battle plan does it say target women and children.

Ulrika Zugzwang: Yet they die. By the thousands.

Dawson Murphy: COLLATERAL DAMAGE happens. It's war, war is hell. But it's the only way to make our nation safe from people who want to kill us. They don't want our land, our money, our food... they want to kill us!

Kendra Bancroft: When did Iraq become our enemy-- I thought we were "liberating them".

Aestival Cohen: So... looks like this debate supported the idea that the election was about the war on terror and not other things.

Hamlet Linden [over the increasing din]: OK, let's pick this up later, actually, in group discussion…

Awards for political sculptures are handed out, some photos are taken. The audience begins to mingle on the stage, and amid the sculptures.

Aestival Cohen: It was nice to meet you, Dawson, sorry only three of us showed up [on the Red State/Bush supporter side]. [Grinning] I'm actually in a Blue state.

Kendra Bancroft: Aestival-- I may not like your politics-- but I loooove that Totoro [avatar]. Do you do commissions?

Aestival Cohen: I've never done one before, but if it's something I want to make I might!

Kendra Bancroft: How about Meowth from Pokemon?

Aestival Cohen [laughing]: Hmm... lemme think about it.

As people drift away, Kendra Bancroft invites Hamlet Linden to visit Neaultenberg, a Bavarian-themed town in the winter region of Second Life, which also acts as a resident-run experiment in self-governance. Founded by Ulrika Zugzwang, she's an officer of the group who runs it. It's also decidedly left-leaning*; a few weeks ago, the members of Neaultenberg sponsored an anti-war, anti-Bush rally.

Kendra Bancroft: We'll be setting up the Christmas market soon. [Turning to go.] Ciao!

Before she leaves, Kendra turns to the large furry cat-like creature near me.

Kendra Bancroft: And ciao to you, Aestival. You're invited [too]-- if you come as Totoro.

* There's an active dispute among many Neaultenberg members and visitors on the political affiliation of the project, with Ms. Zugzwang and Ms. Bancroft and others claiming the project itself is not left-leaning-- while some residents argue the contrary. See Comments section below. - HL, 11/30

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Wednesday, November 24, 2004


Continued from yesterday. Blue State/International Bush opponents are Ace Cassidy (East Coast), Jinny Fonzarelli (Britain), Dominik Bauer (Germany), Lianne Marten (West Coast), Rose Karuna (East Coast); Red State/Bush supporters are Aestival Cohen (West Coast), Vyre Cohen (MidWest), and Dawson Murphy (South East).

A note on these screenshots: Before the event, I asked residents to contribute political-themed builds, with Linden Dollars awarded to Selectees in three categories: Pro-Bush, Non-Partisan Current Events, and Anti-Bush. (Pictured in second screenshot from top, on down.) The Pro-Bush Selectee was Aestival Cohen for "The Liberators", featuring an illustration of President Bush above a photo of freed Iraqis, next to a portrait of President Roosevelt above a photo of freed concentration camp survivors, and on the opposite side, President Lincoln above a drawing of freed slaves. The Non-Partisan Current Events Selectee was Zaphod Edison for "Liberty from the Wreckage", depicting a hand emerging from the rubble of the 9/11 terrorist attack. The Anti-Bush Selectees were Ulrika Zugzwang and Kendra Bancroft for “Flag Razing”, an interactive, 3D mural featuring an oil rig spurting animated black crude. Customized poses are embedded in the installation, which enables four residents to place themselves in it, to ironically recreate the famous World War II flag-raising photo on Iwo Jima (which is depicted in red, in the background.) - HL

The Red Staters continue to question the Bush opponents...

Jinny Fonzarelli [checking the time in UK, frowning]: Gods, it's gone [to] 4AM. COAT!

Vyre Cohen [smiling]: Lianne or anyone: What is it about federal government that makes you feel it should be larger? How much government is too much? Why is it the the government knows better how to spend my money than I do? I want a different perspective on the government.

Lianne Marten: Hypothetically, if you could spend the money any way you wanted... would you spend it on foreign aid? Schools? Subsidies for new technology? Upkeeping of old buildings? Preservation of the environment? The government takes our money and (in a best case scenario) uses it to do things that will benefit all of us. Granted, we aren't there yet... there are a lot of things in place that block good decisions from being made, or economical decisions... but we shouldn't just ditch it all and let everyone decide for themselves just yet. If it could use my money any way I wanted, the government would spend a lot more on porn. Oops.

Lianne Marten blushes.

Rose Karuna: A seven trillion-plus national debt is not a conservative government. Personally, I don't believe in bigger government, but I do believe in a balanced budget. The problem I have with Bush-inomics is that we have a seven trillion debt and no improvement to our internal infrastructure. 43 million without health care-- jobless rates just keep increasing.

Jinny Fonzarelli [grinning sardonically]: Got a big ol' war, though.

Hamlet Linden: OK, two rejoinders from Red Staters!

Dawson Murphy: Well, a balanced budget is nice, but ask any economist... that doesn't work fiscally. Sometimes you have to spend later earnings. Is it out of control? Yes. And now that our President has a conservative mandate, I believe spending will decrease. Dramatically.

Hamlet Linden: Conservatives used to argue for a balanced budget though, right, Dawson?

Dawson Murphy: True... but nobody's perfect. Not even all conservatives.

Rose Karuna: Well, that's the difference between our opinions. I only think it will get worse, because Bush is not a true conservative.

"Aestival Cohen's not a conservative," Aestival muses out loud, "but *is* perfect!"

Vyre Cohen: Lianne, Bush is doing what you are asking of a big goverment. I.E., NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND. So why not vote for him on that issue, if that’s what you believe?

Lianne Marten: No Child Left Behind didn't work.

Dawson Murphy: I agree, Lianne, hand control back to the states... make them accountable, and they will make individual schools accountable.

Ace Cassidy: I find it ironic that the only balanced budget in the last 75 years was under a Democratic Prez, while the two biggest deficits we've ever had were on Reagan's, and now Bush's watch.

Aestival Cohen: Bush and Reagan had to fight wars.

Jinny Fonzarelli: Had to?

Hamlet Linden: OK, now it's MY TURN! I'm gonna ask some pop questions to both sides! First, a question for the Blue Staters: According to the LA Times' exit poll, 19% of Bush voters are self-identified liberals! Almost one in five. Bush would not have won without his liberal base (!) How do you explain this?

Lianne Marten: Terrorism and national security... fears of another attack. That's what made those people vote for Bush. They felt that he would do a better job.

Ace Cassidy: I would agree with Lianne... a lot of people bought the argument that we shouldn't change horses mid-stream.

Hamlet Linden: Do you think that's a valid response, Lianne?

Lianne Marten: No... if terrorism was their main worry, why didn't they ask why Osama Bin Laden is still out there?

Hamlet Linden: Well, catching Bin Laden quickly would require US presence in the Pakistani tribal areas, which would almost certainly lead to a jihadist movement there. Do you think Bush should do that?

Jinny Fonzarelli: Conflict makes people a bit bonkers. You're an immature nation, it's only natural your citizens should want to prove themselves on the battlefields. It is the way empires have always worked.

Lianne Marten [sarcastic]: We could ask India to go in and get him...

Ace Cassidy: So long as Musharraf is huntin' the bastards down, I'd stay out... Musharraf may be a tin-horn dictator, but he is fighting the same bad guys as us.

Aestival Cohen: Oh, Ace! That's what got us in this mess in the first place! And Bush's public commitment to abandoning that Cold War strategy is my biggest reason for supporting him!

Lianne Marten: [coughs] North Korea. [coughs]

Hamlet: OK, a question for Red Staters! Red Staters, according to that same [LA Times] poll, 18% of Kerry's supporters were self-described conservatives. Again, one in five! If he didn't have that conservative base (!) he would have lost by a landslide. How do you explain this?

Vyre Cohen: Self-described conservatives voting for Kerry, misinformation and Michael Moore, for starters. The majority of media saying we are losing the war.

Aestival Cohen [winks]: Yeah, we're dumb and easily mislead.

Dawson Murphy: I still believe this election was never between two candidates... it was was a review of Bush. If you thought he did a good job or not.

You: OK, next question for Blue Staters-- with an international flavor! Because Jinny has to sleep!

Dominik Bauer [checking the time in Germany]: 5AM here.

Hamlet Linden: Many Bush opponents have argued that he's caused the world to hate the US, and that he expended all the good will the world had for America, after 9/11. However, there was a poll taken right after 9/11-- don't have a cite right on hand but I can find it, from a leading polling firm-- which suggested that nearly 50% of Europeans thought, while they didn't approve of 9/11, they thought it was good that the US learned they were vulnerable. [It's here, and it's actually estimated at 66%-- HL, 11/23] So it seems like there actually was a lot of anti-American sentiment already. On a BBC show after 9/11, the American ambassador was reduced to tears by the vehemence coming from the audience. So do you think it's possible that the notion Bush is the source of all this anti-American sentiment to be a bit simplistic?

Jinny Fonzarelli: We're such bastards.

Dominik Bauer laughs. "Aestival Cohen likes Jinny anyways!", Aestival emotes from across the stage

Jinny Fonzarelli: I think there's some truth to the statement, but it's far too simplistic. There's been a lot of anti-US feeling for a while. The anti-globalisation and anti-capitalist movements have been preaching about the dangers of American cultural imperialism for years.

Hamlet Linden: So maybe Bush just focused hatred that already existed in the world against the US?

Jinny Fonzarelli: Hamlet, he makes an excellent target.

Dominik Bauer: There was no anti-American sentiment in my country [after 9/11]...

Norm Drago [from the audience]: I am sorry to interrupt, but I'm from Canada, and there was no anti-American sentiment here, we even sent help to the USA during 9/11.

Jinny Fonzarelli:. .. and there have been a lot of evils perpetuated by capitalism-- this war [in Iraq] has cemented opinion for many.

Conversation continues in that vein for awhile, until Jinny Fonzarelli begs off for bed-- it being near to 5 in the morning for her in the UK. Audience and panelists bid her a good night.

Hamlet Linden: OK, meanwhile, a question for Red Staters! Then we turn it over to the audience...

Concluded in the next entry...

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Tuesday, November 23, 2004


Continued from yesterday. Blue State/International Bush opponents are Ace Cassidy (East Coast), Jinny Fonzarelli (Britain), Dominik Bauer (Germany), Lianne Marten (West Coast), Rose Karuna (East Coast); Red State/Bush supporters are Aestival Cohen (West Coast), Vyre Cohen (MidWest), and Dawson Murphy (South East).

Hamlet Linden: So let's have each Bush opponent ask a question of the Red Staters. A question to the group, or one in particular. Ace, wanna start?

Ace Cassidy: I'll address my question to whoever might want to respond... how is it that Bush supporters seem to ignore the fact that he really screwed up the war. He lied when he said there was WMD, then he blamed the lies on his subordinates?

Hamlet Linden: Wait. Before you answer, Red Staters, let me ask for a clarification. Ace, what "lie" are you asking them to respond to?

Ace Cassidy: The lie that there were WMD there... it was the entire premise of the war before it started.

Vyre Cohen: That is incorrect.

Hamlet Linden: Just a sec, Vyre, let Ace clarify. [To Ace:] A "lie" is telling a known falsehood, knowing that it's not true but telling it anyway. Is there evidence this was the case?

Ace Cassidy: Okie, lie might not be the right word... but [they] certainly conveyed false information. Remember Colin Powell's speech to the UN, it was all about WMD. And then when they admitted that it was wrong, Bush blamed the very people he's supposed to be leading.

Hamlet Linden: OK, that seems like a fair question. Go ahead, Red Staters!

Dawson Murphy: I disagree that it was a lie. So, no WMDs were found. Intelligence has shown that weapons were moved out of Iraq, and Russia may have helped them. At the very least, this was the greatest humanitarian mission the world has ever seen.

From across the stage, Dominik Bauer laughs.

Hamlet Linden: Dawson, do you have a cite from a respected non-partisan media outlet that WMD was moved out of Iraq?

Dawson Murphy: Let me find it in Drudge's archives, if I can... though he isn't very non-partisan, his source might be.

Aestival Cohen: I don't think the war was run perfectly. But judging it as a total screw up is too early to say. [I] see Iraq as a unique situation where a number of factors made [the war] possible. The belief in a threat, the government which deserved to be destroyed, and the fact that we could reach it without impossible burdens. [Someone begins to speak over Aestival, but Hamlet tells him to finish first.] The PR for it shouldn't have been done solely on the threat, but I think it was the right thing to do. Sorry, done now!

Hamlet Linden: OK! Hard to tell when a big furry cat is talking!

Vyre Cohen: Don't forgot about the many, many people who were being tortured and killed by Saddam. That alone is a leg to stand on. Too often people are focusing on ONE aspect of Bush's reason to go to war. The only one that cannot be COMPLETELY proven.

Lianne Marten: "The greatest humanitarian mission the world has ever seen." Since the war started, there have been 14429-16579 civilian casualties in Iraq. As for the argument that he gassed his own people, the sanctions were working. The infrastructure for large scale weapons were not there. And as for the "government deserved to be destroyed?"-- what right do we as a nation on this earth have to dictate our values and judgments on other nations, without substantial international support and approval?

Dominik Bauer: How do you feel when you read the following: "'Why the intelligence proved wrong (on WMDs), I'm not in a position to say,' Rumsfeld said in remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. 'I simply don't know.' When asked about any connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, Rumsfeld said, 'To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two.'" That quote was from CNN, by the way.

Dawson Murphy: Simple... how long would it take for the wisdom, "My enemy's enemy is my friend" to come true? Al Qaeda hated Iraq for being secular and ignoring Islamic law, but it has been reported that many Al Qaeda operatives have been found to be seeking asylum in Iraq.

Hamlet Linden: But Dawson, Dominik asked why Rumsfeld replied how he did.

Dawson Murphy: Decompartmentalism.

Aestival Cohen: I felt angry that the administration pushed WMD so much in order to go for the simple and not-nuanced-only-threat angle... I'm often angry at the administration’s communication skills.

Jinny Fonzarelli: I'd like to ask the Red Staters.... do you think there is a huge cultural chasm opening between certain parts of the US and the rest of the Western world?

Dawson Murphy: I agree. Europe has always embraced a liberal mentality, and with our country setting a conservative mandate this election, we could see a lot of discourse in such venues as NATO or the UN.

Jinny Fonzarelli: I was wondering what "liberal mentality" is... I've had "liberal" used as a swear word at me... and I also wonder what the Red Staters think our attitude towards the US is?

Dawson Murphy: Liberal mentality... easily. The European Union, for one. It in itself is slowly taking individual nations' rights away for the good of the Union. You're seeing nations like the UK lose power to French interests. That's just diplomatically and financially-- I won't even discuss morality.

Jinny Fonzarelli: So basically, being a liberal means selling one's sovereignty for a mess of EU pottage?

Dawson Murphy: Partly, because I don't understand foreign social issues.

Jinny Fonzarelli (smiling wanly): Forgive me if I say, "So I see".

["Aestival Cohen wishes Jinny would stop talking about food," the large cat-like creature says out loud.]

Lianne Marten [to Red Staters]: You mentioned outside attitudes to the US-- well, what about people in the US who disagree? Why do you think that is?

Vyre Cohen: We are always going to disagree. That’s why it is such a great place. Not everyone is going to think alike and not everyone is going to vote alike. It will NEVER happen. We need to disagree in order to understand and learn. If everyone just agreed, we would never progress.

Hamlet Linden: Lianne, a question from you now?

Lianne Marten: OK, I'll go back to Dawson's original statement. Dawson: What is it about the federal government that makes you feel it should be smaller?

Dawson Murphy [grinning]: Haha, where should I start? We need welfare reform for starters, and consolidation of many positions. I disagree with our President on one matter especially: No Child Left Behind. Americans have been educated well before the Department of Education was created by President Carter. What is the need for it? It should be eliminated and given control to the states themselves.

["Aestival Cohen had three federal jobs," Aestival muses audibly, "that was tax money wasted!"]

Rose Karuna: My question: How do you justify the killing of a helpless Iraqi prisoner and how do you justify Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo?

Hamlet Linden: Wait, Rose! I think the Fallujah incident isn't resolved, so let's just keep this on Abu Ghraib and Guantanomo.

Dawson Murphy: You can't justify Abu Ghraib. The men and women involved are being charged and punished. I do not believe that the Administration was responsible and that it was an isolated incident.

Aestival Cohen: You can't justify that. You can't justify government rape rooms, or the Germans shot while surrendering to the GIs in the Second World War. If [what] you're asking is, "How can things like that not make me vote for someone else... well, I was sometimes tempted. But in the balance, I don't see that Bush can be held responsible, or that Kerry's approach to Iraq would have been able to avoid that kind of thing.

["Aestival Cohen is kinda flustered trying to get a clear answer out fast!", Aestival emotes, when he finishes.]

Ace Cassidy: My concern is that things like Abu Ghraib, and the failures of the intelligence agencies, are systemic problems, and not isolated incidents, and ultimately, the President is responsible for systemic problems.

Aestival Cohen: Roosevelt then is ultimately responsible for firebombing Dresden... but changing presidents wouldn't have been worth it, or have changed the US strategy.

Jinny Fonzarelli [from the UK]: Nah, that was us Brits did Dresden.

Hamlet Linden: Now the Red Staters question the Blue State/International opponents!

Lianne Marten: [This is] like wrestling, only less sweaty!

Ace Cassidy: Hmmmm... wrestling cats can be painful.

Aestival Cohen: How many of you believed in the assertions and implications of Fahrenheit 9/11?

[Before anyone can answer, a thin man with a bent nose rises in the stands, waving a pistol, shouting, "I have a gun!" Dressed as a London Bobby, community manager Haney Linden uses his "god" powers to simply teleport the miscreant away. "If only Wilkes-Booth had been so easy to ," audience member Peredur Vindaloo observes, with evident relish.]

Ace Cassidy: Believe it or not, I haven't seen it yet... really can't comment. I should say that most of us who question the President's judgment in Iraq certainly didn't need Michael Moore to point out anything to us.

Dominik Bauer: Oh well... Fahrenheit was not perfect, but there were some interesting aspects. I mean Iraq was not the land of milk and honey before the invasion, like shown on Fahrenheit...

Rose Karuna: Michael Moore is an entertainer who created a dramatic representation of his personal opinion. I took it with a grain of salt-- so to speak.

Dawson Murphy: As I was telling Hamlet earlier, people like Moore and Ann Coulter should never be used to win the affections of an opposition. It’s pundits like that who choose to divide our country more. [Grinning] As Jon Stewart said, "Stop... hurting... America."

Lianne Marten [from the Blue side, crying melodramatically]: Jon Stewart is ours! You can't have him!

Hamlet Linden: Who here agrees with [Dawson's] statement, panelists?

[All three Red staters answer in the affirmative.]

Ace Cassidy: Hmmmm... I might say the same about the [Swiftboat Veterans for Truth] ad sponsors.

Dawson Murphy: I agree... the 527s are no better.

Jinny Fonzarelli: Moore's no worse than the right wing bull machine.

Rose Karuna: I agree-- I think the media has a great hand in playing the American people for effect with no regard to result.

[Lianne Marten mentions Rush Limbaugh for the heck of it. From the stands, Peredur Vindaloo observes that the Blues and Reds seem to share a pundit in Jon Stewart.]

Lianne Marten [shocked]: No, we agree! Darn it! [Shakes fist]

Hamlet Linden: That seems to be one point Red and Blue agree on. OK, it's resolved: Michael Moore and Ann Coulter will be sent to a deserted island. To create a new society!

Lianne Marten: Eeeeew.

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Monday, November 22, 2004


Before I begin running excerpts from "Red Staters Meet the World", last week's New World Notes event that brought Bush supporters (primarily from the South and Middle America) and Blue Stater/international Bush opponents together (context in this entry), here are a few things I learned that evening, and after wading through the subsequent transcript and screenshots:

Looking over the avatars of the residents who spoke on my panel, I am struck by how their appearances seem to fit their politics. Without reading further, look at the screenshots on the right and try to guess who might fit someone's mental image of a stereotypical Bush supporter, and who might fit someone's mental image of a stereotypical Bush opponent. When it comes to avatars, at least, the personal really can be the political. Though not always (see #3.)

A discourse on war, terrorism, and civilian death tolls tends to run smoother when a large, fat, cat-like creature is in the middle of the conversation. Evidently inspired by Miyazaki's My Friend Totoro, Aestival Cohen's bulbous avatar seemed to soothe tensions, even when things got their most heated (at least for me), and seemed to bring together politically divided residents (at least for some of them.)

Sometimes you discover a mysterious, unclassifiable creature in your midst, and while it's hard at first to believe it even exists, after awhile, it doesn't seem so strange. A week or two before the event, Aestival Cohen stopped by my in-world office in Shipley, and told me a little bit about himself and his politics. And though you'd think a graphic designer living in one of the bluest counties in one of the bluest states of the country would be a reflexive Kerry supporter, he wasn't. Then again--
as I tried to suggest in some of the exit polling data I offered during the event-- maybe there's more people like Aestival out there than one might assume. (Except probably not as bulbous.)

But enough about what I learned. What follows are some excerpts from the evening, beginning with my opening words, then the introduction by the panelists, and more highlights, running throughout the entire Thanksgiving week...

Hamlet Linden: "How Can 59 Million People Be So Dumb?" That's the question posed by a UK paper, after the United States presidential election went to Bush. A German newspaper displayed a map of North America, with the Blue states annexed into a new country called "The United States of Canada", with the Red states relegated to something called "Jesusland". (Is that supposed to be a theme park?)

[At this, someone imports a snare shot sound effect. "Aestival Cohen wants to ride the holy roller," Aestival Cohen muses out loud.]

These claims are too simplistic to take seriously-- I've cited some exit polls from non-partisan groups/media outlets on the screen near me, to establish that very thing. I've also found some red/blue maps that are entirely accurate according to voting patterns by county or percentage, which don't seem as red and blue as we sometimes like to think.

In any case, we do know a lot of people are angry. Or confused. Or if they like how the vote went, defiant and jubilant. And the thing is, these people don't usually talk to each other, or associate with each other. Often, in America (but not always, not at all), they don't even live in the same areas. Culturally, they don't usually share much in common. Even more so when we're talking about the rest of the world.

But here in Second Life, all these people can be together, in a very vivid sense. They can inhabit the same space, and as it were, see each other as people. And if they like, they can look each other in the eye, so to speak, to try and make an honest effort to understand each other. So that's why I've put together this event. I've invited Bush supporters and Bush opponents, and asked them to do that very thing. Not a debate. Not one more attempt to try and prove the other side wrong. But to understand. And if that happens, even just a little, to go from there with a different sense of things.

So in that spirit, let's start this event... let's meet our Red State/Bush supporters.

Aestival Cohen: Hi! My name is Aestival, I live on the West Coast. I don’t like political labels, they don’t represent me at all. For me, security was the most important issue of election-- we haven’t been attacked again, and we’re spreading democracy. The United States is not perfect, but I believe we’re doing basically the right things. I believe in our democracy and that it does find the right balance! This election, I was disgusted by the way everybody succeeded in making us see each other through red and blue-colored blinders. We’re neighbors and friends and come in all shades of purple. If [we] forget that, that we’re in it together for each other, then we’ve forgotten what democracy is about.

Vyre Cohen: Hey, I’m from the REDdest state of all. Here in the West, not only do we vote RED, but we bleed RED for college football. GO [football team from her home state]! I voted for President Bush because this is not a time for leaders who change with the political tide and fail to understand the nature of this important struggle. Our troops, our allies, and our adversaries must know where America stands. The President of the United States must be clear and consistent. I believe that President Bush was the only candidate who demonstrated this characteristic.

Dawson Murphy: Hi, I'm Dawson Murphy, a Red Stater from the SouthEast... I voted for Bush because I feel he was the best candidate to offer greater national defense, protection of the sanctity of marriage between one man and one woman, lower taxes, and smaller federal government.

Hamlet Linden: And now to meet the blue state/international Bush opponents. Let's start with Ace there!

Ace Cassidy: Greetings. I'm from [the capital of an East coast state], and have always been a good [East Coast state] Democrat. I've known John Kerry for a long time [and supported him throughout his political career]...

Jinny Fonzarelli: Hey. I'm a generally baffled Brit who thinks the world has gone mental... I'm here hoping to find out why. I have little faith in politics or big words like "democracy".

Dominik Bauer: Hello, I'm Dominik, radio journalist from Germany. I am very interested what effects 9/11 will have and had to United States foreign policy. 9/11 changed everything. We are all targets for terrorists now. But the question is, how do we fight them most effectively? In my opinion, Bush's policy is counter-productive, it’s fueling the Islamists since the invasion of Iraq. Preemptive strikes, yes-- but hit the right ones. Not every Iraqi is a terrorist. And a democracy cannot grow on a basis of suppression, which is the case right now.

Lianne Marten: I am from the Pacific Northwest. I opposed Bush's re-election because the things I value most are not represented by his administration. In the past four years, he has attempted to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, pushed forward the "Healthy Forest Initiative," which allows logging companies access to forests in order to "help prevent forest fires," but does not regulate what they are allowed to remove. In non-environmental issues, he will be in charge of several Supreme Court nominations, and I fear that the people he will choose will do more to dismantle our civil liberties. His tax breaks only benefited the top upper elite of the United States, or as he puts it, "his base." Put simply, I did not feel that the country could handle four more years of George W. Bush as the President without major and long-reaching negative consequences.

Rose Karuna: Hi -- I'm Rose from [an East Coast state], the Blue part of a Red state. I voted for Kerry because I believe that the most pressing issues, the war in Iraq, the national debt and health insurance, are being overshadowed by things that should be personal choices and not addressed in a political arena. I am very concerned with our civil liberties being dismantled and I do not feel that this administration is best addressing the terrorism issues. Thank you for the opportunity here.

Hamlet Linden [smiling]: OK, now we actually get these folks talking to each other.

Tomorrow: it begins, of course, with Iraq...

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Thursday, November 18, 2004


If you're a resident and you still feel like talking about the Presidential election, you should stop by the outdoors auditorium near the winter chalet in Wengen (75, 248), tonight at 7pm (PST). That's where I'll be hosting "Red Staters meet the World", a NWN event bringing passionate Bush supporters-- primarily from the mid-West and Southern "red states"-- together on stage with equally passionate Bush opponents from the "blue states", and from outside the US. Not a debate, one hopes, but frankly, a chance for both sides to try and figure each other out.

When I arrive at Wengen this afternoon, to check the stage, it's already ringed by four sculptures. There's a triptych memorial to 9/11's terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, and a mural based on the famous World War II photo, of U.S. troops raising the flag at Iwo Jima-- but here, instead of raising the American flag, the soldiers are raising an oil rig. Nearby, a bronze robot is putting the finishing touches on another 9/11 memorial, featuring a battered hand emerging from the rubble. At the end of the event, I'm giving out prizes to political builds like these, in three categories: anti-Bush/pro-Kerry, anti-Kerry/pro-Bush, and Non-Partisan Current Events. Of course, in these partisan times, even deciding what qualifies as non-partisan can be a challenge.

"Hmm," I muse to Peredur Vindaloo, "does your peace sign tower count in the anti-Bush category, I guess?"

"Until Falluja," Vindaloo replies, heatedly, "I would have said no. Today I'm less neutral. To be honest, I will let the reds decide whether they wish peace signs to be on their side or the opposition." So she agrees to qualify her tower of peace symbols as anti-Bush.

In four and a half hours, I'm guessing that they'll be even less neutrality at that site. But hopefully more understanding, too.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2004


Reflections from some of the key creative minds behind Neverland, the project conceived by Fey Brightwillow and Baccara Rhodes, with some assistance and sponsorship from Linden Lab. After taking an extensive tour of their creation, I was fascinated by how they created its many wonders, how much labor hours they had invested in it-- and above all, why they had put so much effort into a project that a for-profit company would, after all, indirectly benefit from. Read on, to read more...


Garth Fairlight (Mr. FairChang)
As part of [the group] Spellbound, we were asked if we would participate in the project. I loved the idea, but was visiting Pituca Chang in the USA at the start. [Garth lives in the UK, and has an ongoing real life relationship with Pituca. –HL] So got off to a slow start.

I build the pirate ship, Hook’s one. Scripted everything on it. The player-firing cannons, swords to fight with. I also scripted the cars and trolley in London, plus the bats and ghosts there... I learnt new scripting tricks, too. Attachments don't do damage in SL, so I had to figure out how swords could do damage. The trick is to detect where your opponent is, and rez a prim inside them. That does the damage. Firing players from cannons also made me think. They would get caught on them, so I made the cannon phantom [i.e. visual, but with no material properties]. That worked. It was a learning experience.

Nyna Slate
The rollercoaster was the first project I had. When talking with Baccara, we decided we wanted something big and interactive that would encompass the whole sim. The first thing we had to do was have Ben [Linden] terraform [the sim called] Neverland. That once finished, I laid out the foot prints for the track… it gave Baccara a better idea how to lay out the rest of the sim. The coaster was scripted by the gifted Gaudeon Wu... The cart has two invisible rings on top and on bottom. The rings keep the cart on the track, for the most part.

YadNi Monde
[I worked on t]he very OLD London part, with the Mermaid Inn, the Cemetery and the little Park. I had to find ways to spare primitives [building blocks] and build a whole area of houses at the same time, so I built primmy windows— I took a screenie of them, and applied that as a texture on a single prim cube. And instead of one window, for the same count, I can drop eleven.


Baccara Rhodes
I retired from event planning in my real life, and I miss it. This restores my creativity, and keeps me "thinking". It's the thinking that scares everyone.

I love Second Life, and I have great hopes for its future. I feel very blessed by the friends I have made and the support they give me. It is my fervent wish that our world grow to be everything [Linden Lab CEO] Philip [Linden] believes it can… I am also motivated by the amazing people who give us so much of themselves by joining Spellbound and taking part in wonderful projects such as Neverland. It shows what we can do as a group, if individual egos are put aside.

Garth Fairlight (Mr. FairChang)
Personally, I love building and scripting. As FairChang Engineering and Pituca's Pets and Plants, we get enough out of SL in terms of cash to pay for what we have in-game and more. So I love to put something back. I love to see players’ reaction when they discover something new, too.

In real life I am a single parent so have lots of free time. SL gives me a purpose. Fills a void and allows me to be creative.

Madison Gardner
[I did it f]or the people of Second Life. They have given me a wonderful place to go when I come home from a hard day of work. I like to relax here in my world which I created, and I want them to have as much fun as I do.

I am a designer of interiors and exteriors in real life and Second Life. I like textures and putting them together like in the real world. I love making things look beautiful.

Nyna Slate
I have gone back to college for graphic arts because of Second Life. I love being able to use this for my creative medium. There’s no waste! No supplies to buy, nothing goes to waste. [I] like to create things people will enjoy and find pleasure in. I got to spend quality time with my friends I have made here. I love to build, but I have a difficult time coming up with ideas. This [Neverland project] gave me something to focus on, to be challenged, to learn more techniques. It can also be humbling to be associated with such a gifted group of people.

YadNi Monde
[I]n my real life I’m not a designer but a night receptionist in a hotel. But I am creative, and that’s what Second Life helps me to do, whether it’s Neverland or a simple house, an avatar or a [piece of] furniture. As long as I can build, I’m glad.


Baccara Rhodes
Entirely too many to count, Hamley. The last several weeks we were at it about twelve hours a day, at least.

Garth Fairlight (Mr. FairChang)
I must have spent... over one hundred hours on Neverland. Getting up most days at around 3am (7pm SL time) to make meetings, spend time finishing my work in Neverland.

Madison Gardner
We [Madison and Azrael Rubio] worked on it for about two weeks, total. About fifty hours.

YadNi Monde
Woah, good question. Erm, err, well, let’s see… TONS, dunno. Prolly more than fifty hours and less than a hundred...


Baccara Rhodes
Hamlet, I am always honest and truthful (no bull)-- I love this world, and I want to do anything I can to help it succeed. As partners, the resident and Linden Lab will only make things better, if we can work together in the great spirit of cooperation!

Garth Fairlight
As far as I am concerned, if it helps SL to grow, that is good for us all. After all, if Linden Lab goes down, so do our investments and game.

madison Gardner
Yes they do [indirectly benefit], but [Linden Lab has] a great product to sell and I feel they are way ahead of their times, and I want them to continue doing what they are doing-- so I SUPPORT their business.

Nyna Slate
Never really thought about it, in that respect. I love a lot of the Lindens-- they have always been very kind people. Last year I had a very serious illness, and three of the Lindens Instant Messaged me through Baccara [to relay their] well wishes. I just feel like here, I have an SL family with my SL.

YadNi Monde
It’s good if Linden can make any profit of it, it will anyway be good for us all at the end.

[However] I feel I should [have been] allowed to almost ADVERTISE freely in ONE place in the three sims for my work; something’s not very fair here, I think, but... no choice. (And when I say ‘I’, I also mean all the crew members should be allowed to do so)...

So it would be nice if we personally could profit a BIT, too, for all we did here and the time spent. A logo wall would have been a good compromise. (“The deal was no advertising,” Baccara Rhodes explains to me later. “First of all, we want things to be authentic [to the time], and we made a contract with Philip [Linden] about the way things would be run.”)


Spellbound's Neverland Builders

Concept & Coordination - Baccara Rhodes & Fey Brightwillow

Olde London
Athos Murphy - Infrastructure, Bloomsbury Square, trains
Yadni Monde - East End including cemetery
Nyna Slate - West End including Buckingham Palace & Park Gazebo, Slate
Bank Azrazael Maracas - West End including Buckingham Palace & Park
Gazebo, Slate Bank
Mash Mandala - All furnishing & Interiors
Johnny Bunderfeld - Telehub
Panthar Orlowski - Scripting, Dart Game, Special Effects (Fog)
Garth Fairlight - Vehicle Scripting, Cemetery Effects
Fey Brightwillow - Horseless Carrriages
Ben Linden - Bank robbery & Jewel Game
Evie Fairchild - Food & Beverage, Dart Game, Telehub Texturing
Baccara Rhodes - Storefront Signage, Cemetery Texturing

Lovely Thoughts (Pirate Cove)
Panthar Orlowski - Stars & Special Effects, Slingshot
Evie Fairchild - Slingshot
Garth Fairlight - Pirate Ship & weapons
Pituca Chang - Pirate Ship
Mickey Roark - Shipwreck and SL ship
Madison Gardner - Pirate Arena
Azreal Rubio - Pirate Arena

Gaudeon Wu - Coaster Ride
Nyna Slate - Coaster Ride
Azreal Rubio - Indian Village & Mermaid Cove
Madison Gardner - Indian Village & Mermaid Cove
Zana Feaver - Wendys House, Lost Boys Treehouses
Taigh Murray - Lost Boys Treehouses
Evie Fairchild - Peters Cave & the CROCS !
Panthar Orlowki - Peters Cave
Ryan Linden - Waterfall
Evie Fairchild - Furnishings

Fey Brightwillow - ALL costumes and Avatars
Ferran Brodsky - Animations (most)
Sensual Casanova - Animations
Nexeus Fatale - Soundtrack
Panthar Orlowski - Script Wizard & Special effects
Baccara Rhodes - Storybooks & Accessories

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Monday, November 15, 2004


Glimpses from an advance media tour of Neverland, now open in the Olde London simulator. Sights and sounds first-- tomorrow, a glimpse at some of the personalities who made them possible.

- First row, first image: Greeting some of the Spellbound team at the London entrance to Neverland.

"This is the East End," says Pituca Chang.

I look around at the finely detailed recreation of England's capital. "Is this from the [Barrie] books?"

"No," says Fey Brightwillow. "This is from our imaginations."

"Just a section of London," Baccara Rhodes adds. "The seamy side. Yadni [Monde] worked from [photographs] of 1900 [era] buildings."

- First row, second image: Stopping at an East End pub, for a nip.

"There are darts to play, and fish and chips to eat," Ms. Rhodes notes. "Have some dinner and a pint or two." (The Ale Tankard actually speaks invitingly at this point: "Hoist another there, Mate.")

- Second row, first image: Aiming for the bullseye.

"The darts actually work?" I ask.

"Yes," says Baccara. "Panthar [Orlowski] did them."

- Second row, second image: Outside a London graveyard. (Note Peter Pan's shadow, trailing behind us-- another role-playing member of Spellbound, actually.)

"The cemetery and the park where Jack the Ripper struck," Baccara explains. "Yadni, Garth [Fairlight] and myself built this area. Afraid, Hammie?"


Third row, first image: in the land of the dead with Captain Hook and an English lass.

"If you are VERY brave," Baccara promises me, "Mash [Mandala] might show you the mortuary." From the gravestones we go to a room of corpses, awaiting dissection.

"'CSI - Neverland'," says Pituca Chang, cackling.

"Talk about Sim Feet Under," adds Baccara.

- Third row, second image: clambering aboard a trolley to take to the other side of London. (Note the London bobby emerging from the working sewer system beneath the cobblestones.)

"Stand clear," the 'London electric tram v0.95' announces, "Off we go."

We trolley past numerous streets, past a fountain, a park, and other metropolitan wonders.

"How many prims [i.e. basic building blocks] are on this sim?"

"NOT ENOUGH," Ms. Mandala grouses.

"We need MORE," Fey agrees. "We have used 13,294 prims so far."

"My God!" I exclaim. "In this one sim?"

"Yes," Fey says quietly.

We bypass a maze and a scavenger hunt game (still under construction at the time), but do stop to have a look at Buckingham Palace. "This palace was built by Nyna [Slate] and Az Maracas," says Baccara. There's even a stoic guard, at the gate. "An amazing job."

- Fourth row, first and second image: Inside the Darling's family home, preparing for the voyage to Neverland.

"This area was built by Athos [Murphy]," says Baccara. "The center by Nyna, and all the furnishings by Mash. We even have a custom piano of a company of the time, donated by Sinatra [Cartier]. Everything is authentic to the time [based on] pics and research, Hamlet."

- Fifth row, first and second image: Leaving through the children's bedroom window (the only entrance to Neverland); flying there with the second star on the right as our guide.

"Mister and Miss Darling," Peter announces out loud, "I'm here to kidnap your children."

By now, I'm accompanied on the tour by Spellbound residents all the lead characters from the original novel, and not a few of the supporting players. "So when the event starts," I ask, "will you all be role playing these characters you're in now?"

"It will be improv," says Fey, "like Oz was."

"The avatars will be offered to everyone in London," Baccara elaborates later, "To wear on their journey. You will be able to roleplay yourself."

- Sixth row, first and second image: the pirate armada of Captain Hook.

"I hear a clock!"

Evie Fairchild smiles. "See my croc? It ticks. Up here. He has a clock in his mouth."

Baccara glances at me. "How about trying the cannon?"

- First row, first and second image: trying out, as offered, Hook's cannon.

- Second row, first and second image: riding the Lost Boys' roller coaster.

"The ride [is] by Guadeon Wu and Nyna Slate." Baccara Rhodes turns to me as we ride the car, racing up steep inclines, roaring through hill and dale. "So?" she asks me, expectant. "We did good?"

That's not the word I'd use for something so ambitious. "Are you trying to change the world or something?" I ask her.

"Philip wants to take over, right," she agrees readily. "We wanna help."

- Third row, first and second image: Lost Boys' treehouse, exterior and interior.

- Fourth row, first image: trying a piece of the Lost Boys' tantalizing cake.

- Fourth row, second image: outside Peter Pan's home, where one chapter in many continues the reinterpreted story of Peter Pan for residents.

- Fifth row, first image: posing with the three's-a-crowd Neverland trio.

"Tinkerbell lives with Peter," Evie Fairchild reminds me; she's in Wendy's persona, and is already playing the part. "She likes to have her own entrance. Then over here is Peter's entrance. Peter has icky medicine." She frowns. "I don't know why. Also treasure map, sword, etc."

Nyna Slate appears as Tinkerbell, and I ask them to pose alongside Peter. Then it occurs to me: "Didn't Wendy and Peter and Tinkerbell have some kind of kinky triangle thing going on?"

"Yes," answers Wendy. "I'm trying to keep my temper." She glares at the pixie. "He's mine, Tink."

Ms. Bell glowers at her. "Want dust in your eye, London gurl?"

"Only a hussie would live with a boy!" Wendy shoots back.

- Fifth row, second image: spending some time with the mermaids of Neverland.

"The mermaid cove was built by Madison and Az Rubio," notes Baccara, "as was the pirate ring." There's more to see, though. "Finished here?" she asks. The Indian village..."

"OK," I agree, "let's go to the Native American indigenuous homestead. (I live in San Francisco, remember.)"

- Sixth row, first and second image: on a high plateau, the home of the braves.

Native Americans are dancing around the fire, but one of them stops to explain the origin of their home.

"The Indian Village was the first thing me and Madison [Gardner] built for Neverland," Azreal Rubio tells me. And then, incorrectly political: "Ha, Whiteman no welcome in 'um valley of the great white bull."

"And the members of Spellbound all worked hundreds of hours," Baccara tells me, "for nothing. This is a gift to Second Life... We have been building since the first of October."

Tomorrow: why they built it...

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Thursday, November 11, 2004


"Oh Hamlet," Baccara Rhodes begins modestly, referring to the foggy London cobblestone streets outside, and the warm glow cast by the pub fireplace nearby, and the Northen star above us, and the pirate ships, and the roller coaster, and the Indian village, and everything else that she and her team have spent weeks building, in a project that spreads out in all directions over three simulators and 48 acres of virtual land, "You know me. I talk to Fey..."

"What did I do?" Fey asks, standing wide-eyed next to her. Then again, Fey Brightwillow is always wide-eyed-- especially when she's dressed in a Victorian Age ladies' bodice of her own creation, as she is now.

"And," Baccara continues, "the three words she doesn't wanna hear are 'I've been thinking'."

Ms. Rhodes and Ms. Brightwillow are the founders of Spellbound, a group devoted to creating and hosting premiere social events (fashion shows, weddings, and the like) that tend to top whatever came before it. But in that regard, given that their last big production was a tribute to the Wizard of Oz novels, they had quite a hurdle clear, this time.

"Fey and I just talk," she said. "After Oz, we said, 'Hmmmmm.'" Baccara told Fey she'd been doing some thinking, and then Fey did some too. And they kept on thinking together, over the phone (which considering their in-world celebrity status, is probably the best way to brainstorm without constant interruption.)

And the outcome of all their thinking was this: Neverland, a three-sim tribute to the world and wonders of J.M. Barrie, creator of the Peter Pan novels. Spellbound's efforts were assisted by Linden Lab, which loaned them use of three servers, for Neverland; some Lindens contributed their technical and creative assistance in the production, as well. Earlier this week, they took me on a long advance press tour, to show me all its wonders. There's a story to unfold, secrets to reveal, games to play, fabulous creatures to interact with, and rides to, well, ride on. But by request of the production team, all of those will remain untold here, until next week. For now, just these three screenshots, as hints of far more to come.

When we're standing in the children's bedroom of the Darling house with the window open to the sky, Baccara turns to me.

"Do you remember how to get to Neverland, Hamlet?

I'm not feeling the magic just yet, so I say something about Michael Jackson's palatial estate, and the Elephant Man's bones. Undaunted, Baccara presses on.

"Tink and Peter sprinkled fairy dust...

"The window opened...

"And AWAY they flew. Second star to the right."

And so off we go...

Neverland opens to the public on Friday at 5pm (PST), in the Olde London Sim.

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