Thursday, September 22, 2011

Pooky Amsterdam’s Talk on Virtual Worlds and Science Fiction

On September 15th, the Constellation sim hosted a talk by Pooky Amsterdam. She IMed her friends, “Greetings and salutations. I will be giving a small talk on the use of Virtual worlds for science fiction. Hope you can make it.” Getting to the SURL she provided, the location was a small auditorium with some Star Trek banners around.

Pooky addressed the audience, “As it has been said that we didn't create the universe, so we can not fully understand it. Yet we have created the virtual world, in which we can create anything imaginable. This is done with what are free building tools, here n the 3D world of Second Life. While much is recreated to reflect the outworld reality of the residents lives, there are opportunities for fantasy, science fiction and historic role play which are met. Enthusiastically talented, the creators of Second Life's vast and stunning array of virtual goods and content contribute much.”

“The legacy of science fiction has inspired many people to carve out tracks of the grid for space bases, futuristic cities and to sell everything from starships to transporters. All while wearing the latest 2520 fashion. While books give much for our minds eye to describe, it is thought out before us. Being able to immerse in a 3D world with other people provides a level of visual storytelling which is unique to us. And that can be unique every day.”

“A number of traditional media programs have spawned new virtual worlds like the upcoming BattleStar Gallactica, Star Trek, and Star Wars – Clone Wars. What Second Life provides is a way to create a new vision and interpretation, not just re-create and to role-play within it. There is a pool of resources within peoples minds that can and is crafted into being. That they can also be manifest virtually & sold is an incentive and this encourages a new way of investing in the future here.”

“There are designers and builders in Second Life creating assets and adventures which reflect the same design traditions of classic sci-fi, yet made out of prims, sculpties or now mesh. They also provide a great backdrop and wealth for films. Films can not be made without sets, costumes, props and all that makes for great visual story-telling. I feel lucky to be part of this kind of creative world which inspires.” Pooky then gave the audience a link to her own work in science-fiction, “Time Travelers” -

Pooky continued, “Science Fiction has allowed us to dream the future in ways that go beyond a somnambulist experience. The future set apart from now allows us to see our humanity from a distance, recognizing where we are heading, and how we are getting there. Writers such as Huxley, Orwell, Asimov and Heinlein have sometimes expressed it's darker side to a wide audience which has embraced these warnings, recognizing our weaknesses, along with our strengths in them.”

“I believe we are fairer people for having been exposed to those writers who can target our inherent humanity within any and every futuristic scenarios imaginable. Science Fiction has long served as a place where intelligent creation of mental experiments – the way a writer can create a word image to have the reader “experience” - what the writer is talking about. Has flourished, allowing us to lose ourselves in a world to which we don’t actually belong, but can actualize!”

“As we live our lives within worlds where the infinite is possible, and we are no longer grounded by physics of a gravitational sort, as we create literally out of electricity, our imaginations are unleashed. We are able to see ourselves not in just the minds eye, but in an actuality we feel because we are immersed in it. Is there more value in a story that is outside of ourselves, a book as it were that you can put down? Or is it in an actualization of a story we put ourselves into each day, allowing that story to be molded and shaped by the others we encounter during it. Both are valid, both are immersive as well, and you put down the book, or turn off the computer. We are writing the stories of our lives, and within the spaces we both carve out and inhabit in Second life, we are preparing for this future.”

“Now we can play and act out in public through roleplay games that are intensely personal and private. Where books can reach millions with concepts and ideas, our daily activities on the grid might not have the same reach, but honestly who cares? This is a form of exploration in story line, in allowing the reader to become the creator as well. As we read the text others generate, we incorporate them into the plotline we are actually living. When you roleplay in a Science fiction universe like Second life, the tools for creation go beyond the text -”

“When we recreate our adventures in a science fiction world as an ensemble we are crafting a collective story, a shared one that we replay not again in the solitude of our study, but in the arena of our friends and relationships. I don't see a time when the private reflections and true luxury of enjoying a novel or story alone will fade. We are cerebral creatures us humans, and do like to be mentally engaged. The stories we live daily – the trip to the doctor, the job we must attend to, the calls from our families we don't put on hold- this is the fabric of what will wind up to be the novel of our lives, and the pages we turn are the ones we fill up everyday. Our keepsake memories are on an interior roll of film we can play endlessly, or until another memory takes its place somehow.”

“We engage in science fiction here though in a way that would have been impossible 100 years ago because of what we can see and do here, because of the amount of projection of self into the daily film of our lives, for surely we are starring in our own cartoon movies everyday. Where what we saw was generated by masters of Hollywood special effects in the past has now been replaced by a much much broader contingent of creators, people we know. People who might not be working for Pixar, or Lucsfilms, but who are working and creating the components of a vision they have. And all within an expertise they develop.”

“Where what we saw was generated by masters of Hollywood special effects in the past has now been replaced by a much much broader contingent of creators, people we know. People who might not be working for Pixar, or Lucsfilms, bu who are working and creating the components of a vision they have. And all within an expertise they develop. Often training themselves, at all hours of the day or night to put that extra touch on that which our community sees and uses.”

“We don’t have one person writing the scenario we all act out upon. We aren’t really Keanu Reeves, or Laurence Fishburn, though we can get avatars who look just like them, and we can inhabit them as if they were really speaking. Then again Keanu Reeves is an actor, his part in the Matrix while replayed in Netflix and millions of DVD's is a finite story. Ours do not have to be, ours are evolutionary because they are scripted by us. We make this transformative jump into an other here, and our imagination is forced to deliver more upon the text – than we are when we read and our minds are compelled to imagine what we read. We are not following a narration, We are the protagonist, we are the hero or anti-hero.”

“Here we are seeing & being what we read – and so with these visuals intact, both a part of us and in front of us we must take our imaginations to the next level. This kind of role play experience, and dynamic venue creation and participation undoubtedly leads to story telling in a vast and dynamic framework. Then there is storytelling for those who rent as engaged let’s say.”

“A new computer program has been proposed called the The Infinite Adventure machine which generates fairy-tale plots. Based on structuring Russian folk-tales to 31 basic functions, TIAM aims to question the limitations and implications of attempts at programming language and narrative. Because the program is unable to deliver a finished story, rather only a crude synopsis and illustrations, users have to improvise, filling the gaps with their imagination and making up for the technology's shortcomings.”

“Sounds like another day in the life of lag on a role play sim. The story and narrative are part of the history of humankind. Without the great writers of literature, among them Homer, Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, Isaac Asimov, Vonnegut and so many many others we would not be able to examine the kind of human relationships we have through the characters of great story-telling.”

“What we have now is the ability to become those heroes in a fiction of our own making, allowing for the belief in our own romantic heroism to upgrade the fabric of our daily lives. And when we dream at night, we dream of this future we share with one another daily. As we can lose ourselves in the story we are acting out, we can gain value in the epic tales of battle or the smaller private moments we find illuminate the larger picture – Such is the attraction because we can and do project larger image of ourselves and in the world everyday. It is critical that we hold onto authoring these narratives for ourselve, and not allow others to dictate them to us. This is a great freedome and draw for virtual worlds in this arena of science fiction.”

“What if stories could tell themselves? A see an electronic billboard glowing in the darkness, with a massive auto generated section of news that no one is reading. Recently – I found Narrative Science, a tech start-up based in Evanston, Ill. that can take data from a wide variety of sources and turn that data into newspaper and magazine articles. The technology application generates news stories, industry reports, headlines and more — at scale and without human authoring or editing. Narratives can be created from almost any data set, be it numbers or text, structured or unstructured. And of course thought of - SF great Philip K. Dick who foresaw this development in the 1960's. In his short story If There Were No Benny Cemoli, he describes a vast underground computer system called a homeostatic newspaper which is computational journalism.”

Philip K Dick was a genius writer, who was recreated as an android after his death, with an eerie likeness to the author, the robot featured award-winning artificial intelligence that mimicked the writer's mannerisms and lifelike skin material to affect realistic expressions. The voice software loaded with data from Dick's vast body of writing actulaly allowed the robot to carry on natural-sounding conversations, with biometric-identification software and advanced machine vision allows the robot to recognize people -- even in a crowd -- read their expressions and body language and talk to them.”

“Until the head was left on a plane during the junket for Through A Scanner Darkly – He was missing for years. The missing head of the Philip K. Dick android was discovered in St. Petersburg, last year and confiscated in an Interpol sting against the Russian software piracy syndicate ‘ Little Bear.’ “ (chuckles in the audience) “They were using the head basically as a portable hard drive to transport pirated ebooks, movies, games, and data between Russia and South America," said Detective Andrei Supernov. ‘ I think they thought it was funny.’ The head will be returning to the United States next week, where it will be rejoined with the body.”

“These are folk lore tales in a sense of heroes whose afterlives will generate stories to come because they were authors who reached many. We are also authors and our stories ring true with our authentic journeys. We are authoring them, we are actively in them - we are using new technology to tell us the story.”

“Innovega is working on display technology using contact lenses that enhance human vision to directly see near-to-eye objects like electronic micro-displays. This technology can be used to make see-through augmented reality displays using transparent OLED and LCD displays. With the abilities we have to create an unlimited array of virtual objects, and with the cost effectiveness that allows for legions of people to have access to the tools of creation there is no doubt that we will be using this 3 Dimensional space to advance prototypes outworld. While we have recreated much of the past, those of us on the frontiers of science recognize the value of these tools.”

“While I believe in butter more than guns, and ploughshares, more than arms, I understand that the Military has been responsible for advancing technology on many levels, and we have a debt to that. My greatest hope Is that the underlying deep nature of our humanity finds the positive, creative and beneficial to humankind as we can meet across borders within virtual worlds, eliminating hatred which comes from the fear of the unknown, and increasing our levels of tolerance and patience for eachother. Allowing us to live through our technology in peace and fulfillment.”

“Combining the various creative talents of us all, and that sounds like a good ending to the story we live every day.”

Pooky took a cew questions after her talk. Gandalf Nakamura asked, “How do you think that virtual worlds will envelope? Will they become more of a social network, or a place to gamble and to relax? Pooky answer included, “I think of virtual worlds as providing an antidote to loneliness … I think work is being done in that field.” Urza Flux asked, “How has Second Life developed your interest in Science Fiction Ms. Amersterdam?” Pooky answered, “It has helped me develop an interest in past sci-fi ... I've always liked sci-fi … can live as futuristically as we want.”

Bixyl Shuftan

Monday, September 5, 2011

Hurricane Irene Stories from Second Life

No other country is as heavily represented in Second Life as the United States, and millions make their homes near the East Coast. So when Hurricane Irene smashed onto the coast on August 27th and 28th with it’s wind, rain, and flooding, many of us were affected in one way or another.

Among those in the path of the storm, yours truly. And remembering Hurricane Isabelle several years ago knocking out power for a week, I was worried this would happen again. So I made sure I had enough canned food & bread, batteries for the flashlights, gasoline for the generator, and uploaded a few articles onto the Newser ahead of time. I also had a number of books to read, plus pencil & paper if I wanted to write (or draw).

On the day of the hurricane was dark skies, thick clouds, and the strong breeze made the trees sway when I looked out the window. And the rain, at times it fell normally, others heavily, and water pooled in places in my yard. I basically hunkered down at my house, watching the local news and going about my business on the computer, keeping in touch with friends in Second Life, not sure if I’d be knocked offline at any moment. The storm was its windiest about 3-6PM SL time (6-9 PM local time), but power stayed on until a bit after 6:00, just when I was starting to think it might not fail.

But power wasn’t out for long. Before sunrise, I woke to the sounds and sights of power coming back on. And it stayed on. In the morning, I went outside and saw no damage but fallen tree branches, which I spent about an hour cleaning up. I wouldn’t be spending a week offline after all. But it wasn’t that long ago I had to spend a lot of money to fix up the house, including cracks in the ceiling that came about after a bad storm. It’s possible the storm might have shaken the house up for future problems down the road.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Others in Second Life had their problems. Grease Coakes lived further up the East Coast. “I didn’t go through a lot,” he told me, “it was just windy and rainy. I stayed inside, ... with food supplies I was fine. My neighbors didn’t think much of it. They were more unnerved by the earthquake. ... I’m used to rainy weather, but in all my life, that was my first earthquake.I thought the hurricane was overhyped by the media. It might have been worse in other areas, but here it was no big deal.” Grease lived some distance inland.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

SL Newser reporter Gemma Cleanslate was in the hurricane’s path in the northeast, “No wind or rain damage, but power out for about ten hours.” But many tens out thousands nearby were without power, “The town next to me, (power) will not be up for a week, they said. ... Our library was *full* of people to say, charging cell phones, just hanging around (chuckle) people we never saw before.”

“I think Vermont is really suffering, never expected this massive flooding. And the Connecticut River is going going to flood a lot. One farmer, a woman, who is about 45, took over her dad’s farming a few years ago and if the river floods her fields in the meadows, it will be devastation to all the corn down there. She had a bad harvest last year. This may be her last.” The farm was near where Gemma worked,”She almost quit then.” Later, Gemma told me the field was a total loss, “My farmer lady lost all her corn in the meadows. First timt I have had no corn for Labor Day weekend.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Reporter Xymbers Slade was also in the northern part of the hurricane’s path. He wasn't close to shore, well inside New York state far from the ocean, but still he was affected. He didn’t lose power from the wind knocking down power lines, but from an exploding transformer. When he called to see how long it would take, he was first told by the power company they didn’t know, then was given the impression his area was considered “low priority” and might have to wait a while, possibly more than two weeks. Hearing that made him feel, “Not happy. Not happy at all.” He was able to get limited access online from his public library, but couldn’t do much more than tell his friends to wait.

Fortunately, power was restored in a few days,and he was able to log back on the Grid. Xymber's Livejournal entry can be read Here (caution, adult language).

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Perri Prinz, DJ at Sunweaver Air and Club Zero Gravity and Internet Fantasy writer featured on Book Island, also ended up losing power from Irene. “As hurricanes go,” she posted in her journal, “it wasn't terribly impressive. Basically it rained a lot, but there wasn't a lot of noisy wind like I'm used to. And we had not a bit of property damage. I had gotten about 3/4ths of the way through my show at Cutlass when the power went out, and it stayed out for three days or so. But they were rather cool days. So we didn't miss the air-conditioning.”

Perri being imaginative, she wasn’t really bored, but listened to the radio and pondered, posting a few of her thoughts in her Livejournal entry later, “Another stray thought that cropped up over the outage was how easy it was to get on without electricity. Three days to do nothing but sit and dream. ... And I wondered at those who think it would be some tragedy if we suddenly had to do without all our electrical toys - like life just couldn't go on without them. How silly.”

Eventually power did come back, and it was back to Second Life, back to Book Island, back to DJing, and back to her friends. Perri's whole post can be read Here.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Mystery hostess Monique Corbeau lived around the New York area, and told of some of the damage there, “New York got hit bad. We had very large waves, the winds were crazy. Trees went down. No electricity yet for most of us where houses flooded. Even when it passed, we still had the winds. Most of the Island, in some spots, still no electricity. My son’s (workplace) has none. ... My husband’s (workplace) has none too. We have friends who don’t have any. My house doesn’t either, staying with family until it comes back. ... Hoping for electricity tomorrow, they said it might be days.”

“We never get hurricanes, or even tropical storms, so it was bad for us. ... The news was talking about it for days. They evacuated us fast and good.” Asked if her neighbors took it seriously and got supplies, “yeah, when you went to get supplies, there was no more. So I left being by the water and went inland to family. Just their houses were flooded. One friend in Virginia, he said tree, floods, still no power for him. A tree went through his house. ... He said thank God he was at a shelter and not home.”

“We need to be better prepared next time. So many homes destroyed, and insurance companies won’t help.” Asking her for details, “will drop you, they say. Don’t like the sound of that. They say your coverage for floods might not be covered. ... We have (flood insurance), but they said it’s for a certain kind of flood. ... That’s all the news said. I guess we’re not under flood insurance for hurricanes because we don’t get them. ... Most don’t have cell service or phones right now.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Live singer Debi Late, who performs in Second Life, was south of me in one of the barrier islands in North Carolina where the hurricane first hit the coast. She described details on her Facebook. Starting Thursday August 25th, she began posting about it, including weather maps of where the storm was and it’s projected path, “I'll be online as much as possible until power and/or internet service go kaflooey this weekend. We're expecting a pretty direct hit from Hurricane Irene. I'll keep you all posted on how we're doing!!” The hurricane was just one thing she posted about, others being about a cold, which caused her to cancel a show, and about the armed forces. Her friends posted her messaged wishing her well, and not to take chances, “Please be safe, Debi.” “I’ll be thinking about you.” “I’ll keep you in my thoughts and prayers.”

Although she could evacuate to away from the storm, her husband was “essential personnel,” so she stayed in the area. She did make the decision to leave her house to go to a shelter, “starting to wrap my head around packing all the important things in my house and taking them to the fire station where we will ride out Hurricane Irene. But I suspect my house will be very wet after this. So, computers/photos/scrapbooks/the works, is all getting relocated, today.”

The hurricane being downgraded got her attention, but she wasn’t taking chances, “Looks like Irene is weakening a little. But it'll still cause flooding of our area from the west. So I'm still leaving my house and hoping I don't have too big of a mess to clean up when I get home.” By evening, the move was done, “We're at the fire station now.... it started raining just a little bit, around 6 or so, nothing major here, yet. That'll happen starting in the wee hours of the morning.”

She got up early Saturday morning to check things, “We're having winds around 60 - 65 now, I'm hearing power is flickering. But this building has a generator, so we'll be ok. And the modem is on a UPS so I'm still online.” By late afternoon, water was being blown back onto the island from the west, “guess I'm going to have a wet house to return to.”

On Sunday evening, the hurricane far to the north, she posted, “We got our butts handed to us with this one. It was nasty, but we're alive. My house is flooded, but, it's stuff and wet clothes. No biggie, folks. We'll just relocate to something. Living in the fire station now. I know lots of prayers were working. Just popping in on someone else's computer ...” Two days later, she had concluded her home couldn’t be saved, “Our house is going to be a total loss, had about 2 1/2 feet of flooding in it. I'm working to salvage everything that's still dry, then we'll work on finding somewhere to live. ... This was the worst storm ever to hit our island.”

Needless to say, logging onto Second Life was out, “I won't be singing in-world for quite a while, till I'm back online and in a house at some point.”

But friends wanted to help out. Among them, “Just Because” clothing store owner Annie Melson. She posted, “Terk and I are wanting to help Debi Latte and her husband rebuild their life after the hurricane. I put up donation vendors in my store (link provided) to help Debi. EVERY cent will go to her. I'm also in the process of making a special outfit where all proceeds will go to helping Debi and her husband rebuild. Please donate! We love you, Debi!!” She was putting aside her work on her mens’ clothing for the fundraiser outfit.

I sent Annie a message asking about her helping Debi, and she later answered, “Yes, I have placed donation kiosks in my stores and another location to raise money to help Debi and her husband, and I'm creating an outfit that all proceeds from that will go to her as well. My husband, Terk, is also contacting others to help organize some special events to help bring in funds that way too. I'd like to get more kiosks out there so I'm willing to place the kiosks anywhere anyone will let me place one, and I've talked about it on my facebook page and group notices to help bring awareness. We just really want to help Debi and Mike as much as we possibly can. She's a good friend and an incredible person, and she deserves any help that can come her way.”

Annie’s store is at Taupo (60, 180, 36)

So for Debi Latte, sadly her experience with Huricane Irene is not yet over. Hopefully she’ll be able to get a new home soon. For those with a Facebook account, you can read her posts Here.

Sources: Debbi Latte's Facebook page, Symphonic Rock Productions, Xymber's Livejournal

Bixyl Shuftan

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Interview with Avination's Cindy Darkstone

While at the Avination aniversary celebration, I looked for someone to interview to ask a few questions about this other grid. Who answered me was Cindy Darkstone, the founder of the "From Second Life to AVN" group. So we met up later on the Avination grid, yours truly using his not-so-foxy Avination account Bixyl Sands.

Cindy Darkstone: Ask away and I will answer any questions you have. (smile)

Bixyl Sands: Sure. Where did you first hear about Avination?

Cindy Darkstone: From my friend Azzkicker Darkstone, he was in Avination just about the first day.

Bixyl Sands: When did you first come here?

Cindy Darkstone: Feb 6th 2011

Bixyl Sands: How did your experience here go?

Cindy Darkstone: I have been in the opensim grids since Aug 2007, so for me it was as I expected it to be. It was running well, and had some functions the other grids didn't have at that time.

Bixyl Sands: What functions did it have others didn't?

Cindy Darkstone: In Game Currency, Enhanced Permissions, Search, Groups and many estate land functions.

Bixyl Sands: I recall you saying you were in Second Life. How does Avination compare to it?

Cindy Darkstone: Many of the same types of functions are available in both SL and Avination, but the cost of the land is much lower, the access to the grid staff is much better, security and customer protection is much better also.

Bixyl Sands: What would you say Avination's biggest challenges have been?

Cindy Darkstone: I would have to say the growth has been a challenge to keep the software and servers able to handle the large volume of users and assets, but the grid staff has done well since Feb to upgrade and enhance the software to accommodate.

Bixyl Sands: What places would you reccomend newcomers go? Which for those familiar with other virtual worlds such as Second Life, and which ones to people completely new to virtual worlds?

Cindy Darkstone: It is hard to say, but the Avination Welcome sim has a mall and also staff there to help with any questions at all times.

Bixyl Sands: For those looking for a good place to explore, what places would you reccomend?

Cindy Darkstone: That is a good question.. I am a member of many groups, and we get notices of new events and fun places to vist, like now I am at Pappy's Club and Melanie the grid owner is the DJ for us.

About this time, Cindy got bumped offline. But we met later to finish the interview.

Cindy Darkstone: In Second Life, there are many people doing the same things. Here there are less people, so less are doing what you do. So (there is) a better opportunity for many to create a business. (smile) Also I am (the) co- Founder of Galaxy Corporation. I operate the AVN division. My SL name is Cindy Vichan. I am not as active in SL anymore, but my partner still is working the SL shopping centers we have. I run the AVN Galaxy Corporation office and services.

Bixyl Sands: What does Galaxy Corporation do in Avination?

Cindy Darkstone: We sell skins, shapes, clothing. We have a game called Galaxy Token Game, where people play and get tokens to be used for renting land, stores and purchasing merchandise, shopping center stores, pre fab buildings, and we are building a directory type system to help people find places in the grid.

It was about this time Cindy had to go, and we went our separate ways.

Bixyl Shuftan