Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Shelter

Xymbers Slade recently dropped by "The Shelter," a place in Second Life with the purpose of helping out newcomers. He met up with one of the staff, ChatBrat Pippita, and asked her a few questions about the location.

Xymbers Slade: How long has the Shelter been up?

ChatBrat Pippita: Six and a half years. The Shelter was started by Travis Lambert and Lars Bismark on the Fudo sim on August 20, 2004.

Xymbers Slade: How has it changed from when it first started to now?

ChatBrat Pippita: The Shelter opened on a 1024 sq.m. parcel in 2004 and is currently on a 32624 sq.m. lot.

At first, we didn't focus primarily on new residents. We started out as a place where all residents, old and new, could hang out and just have some good clean fun.

People started bringing newbies to the Shelter because it was the one place you could socialize in a convivial non-threatening atmosphere. We had several events every day, one of which was a newbie welcome party.

Less than a year later, these daily parties evolved into welcoming newbies 24/7. This has been our mission ever since: To provide new residents with a positive social environment in our overwhelming world.

Our culture has become one of friendship and helpfulness: Old residents show new residents the ropes, and as the newbies gain experience, they in turn welcome newer residents into our community.

Xymbers Slade: How many newbies do you normally get on a daily basis?

ChatBrat Pippita: Roughly 250 newbies teleport in each day.

Xymbers Slade: How many of them end up making their home in the Shelter for an extended period, say 4 or 5 months? (I assume with a name like the Shelter, it is quite the popular landing spot to stick around and stay at)

The Shelter is very welcoming. Most new residents tend to stick around or at least return often. And almost all of our Volunteers started as newbies and then stayed to give back to the community.

For example, I found the Shelter as a newbie, learned basic skills here, became a Volunteer and never left. For the past two years, I have been hosting a themed formal dance at the Shelter every Sunday evening. Like many Volunteers, I have developed other commitments and interests in SL, but I never miss my Sunday evenings in the place that will always be my SL home.

Xymbers Slade: How often does the Shelter get griefers?

ChatBrat Pippita: Not very often and they never stay long. Thanks in large part to the Shelter staff.

Xymbers Slade: How can SL change the newbie experience for the better?

ChatBrat Pippita: I don’t think there is a perfect one-size-fits-all newbie experience. We all like to learn, explore, and experience new things in our individual ways. Having a wide variety of newbie-friendly places with readily available learning tools that newcomers can use at their convenience is, I think, a good way to do things.

Xymbers Slade: Is this place one of the first stops of a newbie's journey through SL, still? Or do they need to find it in Search like everything else?

ChatBrat Pippita: The Shelter is in the Destination Guide and our landmark is one of those that new residents are offered when they first rez.

Xymbers Slade: Finally, what is your advice for new people just starting out?

ChatBrat Pippita: Explore, explore, explore! Second Life is full of exciting, fun and magical things to see and do, and is home to amazing, intriguing and creative people. Look around before you put down roots in one spot, strike up conversations with strangers and enjoy the brilliant people you meet. Second Life gives you an opportunity to create your own world and be part of other people’s creations. Enjoy it, learn from it, give to it.

Xymbers Slade

(Pictures by Bixyl Shuftan)

The Shelter is located in the Isabel sim at (26, 249, 86). On the map, it's location is quite literally spelled out with a skysign.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Here’s to You, Kara Nakamori

In the Summer of 2007, I had started giving Second Life another look after a small start of just logging on occasionally and puttering around. I found a place to hang around at: Luskwood. I decided upon a new avatar to replace the starter ringtail I’d been wearing which back then marked one as a newcomer: the Lusk red fox, and I was starting to find interesting places after getting the idea to look on the Internet for Second Life websites.

I made a few friends at Luskwood. There was Lomgren who’s 6 inch avatar never failed to draw attention. There was Hervy the squirrelgirl, whose avatar had gotten a few seconds on CNN when a politician gave a talk on Second Life. And after some time, I came across another I became friends with, Kara Nakamori. At the time I ran into her, Kara was in the freebie purple catgirl avatar that was popular at the time. She stood out from everyone else with the friendliness and enthusiasm, and we ended up friending one another.

In real life, Kara was a Japanese-American whom had lived in Texas since moving there as a little girl. She was a student in college. She once showed me a photograph of herself, a quiet girl. I never did hear her voice, her telling me she felt a little embarrassed by it.

We met a couple more times at Luskwood, and then she invited to teleport to somewhere. I found myself in a place with a number of cafe tables and chairs, with a stone fence around. Kara introduced me to two friends of hers, Blarion and Keli, and told me this place, the STA or Student Travel Association, was a hangout of hers. They soon introduced me to the two who ran the place, Euranna Rossini and GlobetrekkerBob. Anna and Bob were normal humans, as were the rest of the staff there. Bob stood out with his sunglasses, denim vest on a T-shirt, and hat. And in the STA website, pictures of the real-life Bob had him in his hat and sunglasses as well.

The STA was two sims, the east a building showing what the real-life organization was about, and the west a sandbox/newbie help area/social hangout. My friends would sometimes spend time building in the south, and attending events in the north. But we often hung around the center of the sim at the cafe tables around the globe, chatting about goings on, occasionally remarking about the newcomers arriving and walking around as they read the “Welcome to Second Life” signs instructing them on how to go around and giving them a few clothes and useful items. There was a small staff there most times to be there if they needed help. Occasionally the newcomers would have a question for us, which we answered. We were occasionally asked about our furred avatars, and we answered their questions. There was only one occasion someone was rude to us about them.

Time went on, and there were a few changes. Kara put away her freebie av in form of a black and white huskygirl avatar. She told me this look just seemed better for her than a vixen or wolfess. Blarion started out with a skunk, but switched to grey wolfboy. Keli was briefly in a Luskwood "jogi," but changed back to his coyote-like tan-furred avatar. It might have been one of the “Crux” avatars, but not sure. Anna would wear different dresses. O’l’ Bob never did change. Myself, I got a vampire bat for Halloween, which I wore for about a week before putting it away and going back to foxy.

Blarion soon got a job as one ot the STA’s DJs, with Keli pulling host duty. Keli never had his own tip jar, as Blair insisted on splitting his take with him fifty-fifty. Bob and Anna invited the four of us into the STA staff, as we were already helping out the newcomers. One of the titles to the group was “Traveler,” which I liked as I was exploring time to time, and it became the one I wore the most.

Over time, three more people joined our group, all whom like Kara went about in anthro husky avatars. One was Schism, whom dated Kara in the Grid. Another was Balt, the blue huskyboy, whom was the quiet one in the group. And then there was Kana, Kara’s real-life roommate. She was also Japanese-American, but was more aggressive and assertive than Kara. But she fit right in with our group. Kara soon started a group for her closest friends, each of us getting a unique title. The one she gave me, with my jokes, was “King Corny.”

Other STA group members close to us that were practically in included Otis, a self-described “gangsta” with tattoos whom was the other DJ besides Blarion. There was August, with her flowing red hair, whom liked to dance. There was Sparklin Indigo. And there was Ayern, whom was always there with a smile.

There were a few small problems. There was one guy whom somehow got a picture of Kara and Kana at a party. Apparently, he was showing it around, much to Kara’s embarrassment as she was a little shy. Then there was the incident in which someone was rather rude to us, continuing to call us “freaks.” Fortunately Schism was able to shock him so badly, the pest ported away.

One of Bob and Anna’s friends was Sean Voss. He was an avid explorer of Second Life, even publishing a book in real life about the best locations in the Grid. He did weekly tours of places that caught his interest, and we joined and went on the tours, Blair and I being the ones who showed up the most. Sean helped me find a number of places for articles.

In November, I joined Second Life Newspaper, and I now had a steady source of income. A few more tips for Blair, and some of the cartoons I sent to the newspaper came from here. Later that month, the STA hosted an art show, so I was able to feature my hangout in the news. Talking to the artists there, Kara and I found a photographer whom took what became our profile photos.

The happy times continued to December. We continued to make the STA our hangout, but still explored around some. Kara, Schism, and I occasionally took a peek back at Luskwood, the others not so much because of the lag. Soon came Christmas and New Years. These were good times, swapping a few small presents, talking about what we got in real life. And with January came the new year, 2008. We went about as before, meeting up and hanging out, exploring, going to parties, such as the ones my newspaper then was holding, and otherwise having a great time. One of the STA staff, Sparks Indigo, started up a small club in another sim. It seemed there was no end to the good times.

Then on January 25 came a shock. The STA organization canceled it’s support for the two sims Bob and Anna ran, and gave us only a few hours notice before the place was set to de-rezz. Stunned, my friends could only hang around until the end, porting to someplace nearby after it was gone. I logged in after work to get the news. It was truly a shock. Our hangout, our home in Second Life ... gone. Kara was almost in tears.

Then came more trouble. Kara had a stalker. It seems Kara met up and befriended someone at Luskwood months earlier just before his computer went kablooie, and somehow he had interpreted her words of kindness as romantic intentions over the four months he was saving up for a new computer. And when the shocked Kara tried to explain that wasn’t her intention, he went ballistic.

Eventually Schism was able to talk some sense into him. But the damage was done. Without the place she had known as home in Second Life for months, with her sense of security shattered, she told the rest of us she would be leaving, at the least for a few months, but possibly for good. At a hollow tree at a sandbox which had become our new hangout, she gave each of us a hug, and logged out.

With Kara gone, it was like the heart of our group was gone. Her roommate Kana still logged on, saying Kara was busy with college. At one point, Texas was threatened by a hurricaine. Kana told me she and Kara ended up having to spend a few days with family deeper inland. We continued to hang out at the sandbox tree, having a few parties at Spark’s club. Bob never returned to Second Life. Anna built a flower shop, which remains open to this day. We began hanging out with a bunny couple, Fortunas Sands and Caleia whom ran another club, the Fortelia club. But unfortunately troubles soon forced them to close, and Sparks soon had to close her club as well. Kana herself became a builder, showing up often in a macro av, leading to a few “fifty foot woman” jokes.

Finally in May, Kara returned, which was joyous news. But it didn’t last. After a short time, she told us she was going for good. Summer 2008 was the last time I saw her avatar to avatar. I saw her log on a few times after that, but never got an answer to my IM greetings.

She was gone.

Kana soon left for personal reasons, and then the group began to slowly drift apart. We were meeting less and less. Balt became the only one I met up with more than rarely. My work as a reporter on the Grid kept me going on my business, and eventually the road would take me to other friends, and new hangouts and homes.

But I never did forget Kara. She once told me shy as she was in Second Life, in real life she was worse. She told me if I ever greeted her hello in her real life, she’d just shy away. But one as involved in Second Life as I am, I never did forget my first good friend here. Someone whose bright smile and cheery manner helped encourage me to be more involved here, and start on the road which took me where I am now.

Here’s to you, Kara Nakamori.

Bixyl Shuftan

Friday, March 25, 2011

Xymbers Slade’s Interview by Sam Nightfire

About a month and a half after my interview at Virtual Tonight by Sam Nightfire, it was someone else’s turn from Second Life Newser. Our new freelancer Xymbers Slade was invited to appear there.

Xymbers was the last to appear on the show. Before him were a few others. First were two women from the Cheeky Cow Golf course. Next was noted singer Lance Rembrant. Third was Dmitriy Gauseman from the Tombstone RP area. While the show went on, Xymbers had a problem. A SL glitch was causing the eyes on his anthro wolf avatar to bulge out. So he switched to a “Crux” avatar, hoping for the best with this unusual-looking avatar. As it turned out, Sam liked the Crux, impressed with it’s uncommon appearance.

Xymbers was on not to talk about his role at SL Newser, but his fortune telling. He told Sam he had about fifteen years of experience, “I don’t see myself as a psychic ...” He explained what he did as foreseeing potential happenings using tarot cards. He focused on five cards or ten, usually in Second Life a five card reading. Each card, he explained, has a particular meaning, the final card for example representing if the person didn’t change from his or her course.

To skeptics, he often tells them “this seems like the most likely thing to happen.’” He commented dealing with some diehard skeptics was “like arguing religion.” Sam admitted, “I was a skeptic, but ...” She talked about the reading he had given her, “everything you said became true within 5 weeks.”

Sam asked Xymbers if he could do a reading on someone. Xymbers answered he’d need a volunteer from the audience. A boy scout child avatar offered to be the one. Xymbers then rezzed a board, telling the volunteer he needed something to focus on, asking for a location. The boy scout gave his home state, and Xymbers drew the cards.

The first card was pentacles, “foundations, anything you set up now will stand on it’s own, it will stay put.” The second card, Justice, “greater arcana ... karma and fate ... the card of destiny, difficult to change anything.” The third card drawn, Xymbers told him represented a major obstacle, “Upside down knight of cups ... someone about your age.” Right side up, the card represented “the holy grail.” But upside down, “a corrupt knight, someone out for himself, or out to get you. If you take allies, you will get stabbed in the back.” The fourth card drawn was the 8 or pentacles, “work ... establishing ... the knight is going to attempt something, but not get very far.” And the final card drawn, “The Lovers ... I’m tempted to say this means a relationship of some kind. .. like a relationship is starting, someone will try to break it, and fail.”

“Just keep doing what you're doing ... I don't foresee anything negative ... don't take any crap from anybody."

Xymbers went on to say that outside Second Life, he normally does a ten card reading. He could do additional readings, but “do 20 different readings, get 20 different answers,” and asking for more readings to get a better one, he felt, defeated the purpose. The volunteer then admitted to being in a relationship, and thanked Xymbers for the reading. Xymbers did remind him his readings were not a hundred percent accurate.

Xymbers later told me this reading was uncommon in that is was unusually positive. Usually his readings had some kind of warning or caution, such as the one he had given me earlier this year.

A recording of the interview will soon be available on the Virtual World Network website.

Bixyl Shuftan

Sunday, March 20, 2011

White Mouse Power

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Paisley Beebe interviews Azure Twine of Team GreenZone

Sunday March 6 had a few guests on Paisley Beebe’s “Tonight LIve” show. First was MenuBar Memorial, whom had an unusual kind of breedable pet to sell: a breedable pet rock! Singer Sonyajevette Charisma was on as the musician.

But the main guest was Azure Twine of Team GreenZone. Paisley introduced the subject as being the result of a “massive security hole,” which the product Redzone exploited, and the Greenzone HUD was created in response. Azure began by saying, “Greenzone’s a product, we’re not a militia group .... we don’t promote harassment or greeting. We were grown organically as a group of concerned citizens.”

“I was kinda drafted ... I was the one they chose to speak to you” She had been asked by the creator as her native language was English and his wasn’t, “Redzone scans you ... captures your IP address ... an invasion of your privacy.” Rezone, she explained, will ban all your alts without an appeal process. GreenZone was developed as a result. One of the team had been banned by a RedZone device, so wanted a device to tell her when she was in a Redzone area. She described Redzone some more, and the complaints of it being a community standards violation. As it worked by tracking IP addresses, it would report everyone at a Starbucks venue on Wifi.

One could keep oneself safe from Redzone by turning off both music and media streams. Azure explained she had been told Redzone used only the media stream, but it was best when traveling about to turn off both music and media, “all copybotters out there have media off by default.” Greenzone is a HuD, Azure explained, and not against the ToS. Paisley asked if Voice was vulnerable. Azure answered probably not, although she heard it could be. Greenzone has a 96 meter range

Soft Linden’s ban announcement was discussed, as well as Redzone creator zFire Xue’s threat to release database on web,“I take them very seriously.”

How many Redzone devices were out there? Azure stated zFire claimed 22K, which considering there were 32K sims on the Grid suggested a flawed method of counting, “the number’s much lower.” Of zFire’s claims that if Redzone was banned, another product would replace it, “there are several other systems that say they do what RedZone does, but without the one banned dying in a blaze of glory.” Azure stated Redzone had an animation that if someone banned, the avatar was set afire or caged, others “more professionally done.”

Paisley went on to say she had read some of the Redzone forums, and in a sense could understand the frustrations of some of the Redzone users, saying their argument was
“Linden Lab have allowed Second Life to get to a point of vigilantism because there are no effective ways of protecting oneself from griefing or stalking that people feel comfortable with.” Azure brought up the copybotting issue, agreeing Linden Lab did not take copybotting as seriously as most content creators want, “whom I’m one of.” While there was a process, “It requires knowing that you’ve been copybotted, which is unlikely as the Grid is so large.”

Paisley brought up the stalker potential, that products could be used to track someone on the Grid. Azure explained Redzone could do that as well. Paisley told that the person she had heard had a stalker never filed with Linden Lab as she believed it would just be a waste of time. Azure felt Linden Lab’s attitude was “until you are a victim, there hasn’t been a crime yet.”

How to tell if a Redzone on a sim was the new legal version or the old one? Azure explained there really was no way for someone else to know, “It’s up to Linden Lab to police that. ... It doesn’t actually look in the script.”

Of those Redzone users whom excused themselves, stating since Google tracked IPs, so could they, “Google won’t publicize my IP address, or keep it ... or turn it over to the police. ... there is no good way to link someone’s avatar... only Linden Labs can.”

Azure stated the privacy issue was reaching the point to places on the Grid were starting to advertise themselves as “Redzone Free.” She went on to say Linden Lab had to take this issue more seriously, “someone is going to suffer in real life, there are real life consequences to having your IP address (tracked).” Someone could potentially find himself fired, and with teens in Second Life, this added another level of problems.

Paisley wondered if this might hurt the music industry, with people turning media & music off to stay safe from Redzone and similar, “This is going to affect our entertainment in Second Life.”

Azure felt, “the Lindens need to acknowledge that there is an exploit, acknowledge that there is a hole, and that they do take it seriously and they will fix it.” The issue was not so much the IP addresses than how they were getting them. She concluded, “I sympathize with all the people who think they need to use RedZone ... but that does not justify you violating my privacy.”

As the show took place, there was something of a debate within the audience, albeit a mostly one sided one. There were a few people sympathetic to Redzone, one man in particular whom was very vocal. But most in the audience were clearly against it.

Paisley and Azure chatted for a few minutes after the show. It was felt this was “the Emerald decable all over again. Azure felt zFire’s stubbornness in trying to keep Redzone alive was him “trying to salvage a dying empire.” She did acknowledge it would probably be difficult for Linden Lab to fix the hole.

For more on the show, check the post on Paisley Beebe's Tonight Live site: Here.

For GreenZone's blog, click Here.

Bixyl Shuftan

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Jessica Lyon Discusses Phoenix at Ambrosia Live

Last week, the head of the Phoenix Viewer team, Jessica Lyon, made an appearance at the Ambrosia Live Second Life talk show. She answered some questions from hostess Ambrosia Kamala, then took questions from the audience.

Jessica told Ambrosia that contrary to what some thought, she was no “coder genius” - “the team are the real geniuses. I’m just good with people.” She stressed that everyone at Team Phoenix was a volunteer, whom contributed without pay, including herself.

Jessica felt Linden Labs had the viewpoint third-party viewers, Phoenix included, were becoming more of a necessity. She brought up Viewer 2, having the opinion Linden Labs wanted a newcomer-friendly viewer, and about halfway through realized their efforts were leading to something quite different from the old viewer, and older residents would probably be hesitant to adopt it. She reasoned they went ahead, feeling third-party viewers would help “take up the slack” of the old viewer no longer being supported.

Someone asked of there would be a Phoenix viewer as an application for handheld devices like iPhones and iPads. Jessica responded that it sounded like a good idea, but their team didn’t have the time to both work on that and it’s computer viewers.

Jessica mentioned that the SpotOn 3D Grid, another virtual world much smaller than Second Life, had adopted Phoenix as it’s official viewer. Their dealings with Linden Lab were brought up. She explained that when the Phoenix team was first formed, it was a bit difficult dealing with them because much of the sense of trust had been “destroyed” from the Emeraldgate controversy. Time, however, was allowing it to slowly rebuild.

Talking more about Linden Lab’s motivations for encouraging the use of Viewer 2, Jessica felt the Lab has to convince residents to switch to a “2.0 base” before Second Life can truly progress. One example is the Mesh feature that was under development. It was designed to work only with Viewer 2. On Viewer 1, Mesh objects look scrambled.

She mentioned one disadvantage Linden Lab has when competing against 3rd-party viewers: expense. They had expensive overheard 3rd party viewer teams didn’t need to get. While Team Phoenix could just have a group chat inworld to discuss updates for the viewer, Linden Labs has to have a roundtable meeting in an office in real life, with developers paid $40 an hour.

With Jessica was Ed Merryman, another of the Phoenix Team. He mostly left the speaking to Jessica, though made a few jokes about the word “wiki.” He also mentioned that the source code of Viewer 2 was much cleaner than the old viewer. The old viewer, he commented, had been patched and updated so many times, it had become a tangled mess of codes.

Following the show, Jessica talked with a few of the audience, which was a diverse mix of avatars, including a number of ethnic human, furred, and tinies.

Ambrosia Live takes place on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5 to 6 PM, located at the aMuse sim (32, 16, 2994). It's a fairly new show that's gotten some attention, including a media award.

Bixyl Shuftan