Friday, November 24, 2017

Resident from Puerto Rico Back Online Two Months After Hurricane

By Bixyl Shutan

This year's hurricane season was a destructive one. Hurricane Harvey would affect a number of residents when it slammed into Texas and Louisiana in late August. But this would not be the only hurricane to wreck havoc on Americans. On September 20, Hurricane Maria slammed into the territory of Puerto Rico, which had already suffered damage from Hurricane Irma a couple weeks earlier. The result was devastating. Officially, the number of people who were killed by the storm is 55, although there are suggestions the death toll was much higher. For the power grid, which was already in bad shape, the storm was the finishing blow. Practically the entire island lost power, with estimates that some parts could be without electricity for as long as six months. When it turned out that a company contracted to rebuild the power grid had only two full-time workers, the move to cancel it added to delays.

For Second Life resident Serenity Stahlwalkur (AyameAkemiSakura Resident), the disaster was personal as she herself lives in Puerto Rico. Seeing she was online after weeks, I contacted her, and she and I talked about what had happened, "My home flooded ... over 5 feet of water. I was asleep when it was filling, 3 feet, almost drowned. ... Ihad to sleep in a high chair 'till (the) water drained at 5 AM. That was when the National Guard came." Once she could get back to her house, "me and Mom cleaned the place and salvaged what we could." She blamed the flooding on city government, "was the mayor's fault that the sections were flooded. He didn't clean the gutters or the channels before the storm. ... for the water to flow down to the sea. It deviated to the urban area, taking bridges and a few homes and cars with it ... plus the storm surge pushing salt water. ... They had to open the dam's doors and it flooded the 5th, 6th, and 7th sections."

"Overall, been bad here. ... broken trees, fences, houses, collapsed power lines, power poles on the (ground) broken. ... Mentally I'm still stressed out, had a few accidents. ... I cracked and fractured both of my ankles cleaning the devastated back yard. ... Plus one of my pups was run over by a car. She survived, but badly injured." When I asked how many stores and businesses remained open, Serenity answered, "None, the stores were damaged and flooded, between 6 and 7 feet of water." She and her neighbors had gotten supplies at "the National Emergency Center, and the Army convoys came to give water and food." The first stores and businesses nearby would open "a few weeks after. Power came back the 20th of November," with Internet shortly afterwards, and running water about a month ago. But power, and her Internet connection, are still less than reliable. More needs to be done "to stable the communications and net," as well as more cleaning up.

Serenity stated it was about a month before she had gotten more or less used to life without the Internet, "though as for power, I was going nuts. The dark nights were too depressing." Of how the storms, damage, and long outage will change things for the long term, she felt, "This hurricane changed everyone, some for the good, some for the bad." Some would leave the island and move to the mainland United States. Of her plans in Second Life now that she's back, "Well, my plan is go back to my old life (here) and start over, a new chapter."

Sources: Wikipedia, CNN, Wired, New York Times 

Bixyl Shuftan

Addition: More links about the hurricane's aftermath.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Commentary: So, You Want To Be A Club Owner

By Bixyl Shuftan

There's no shortage of clubs around Second Life. Someone once told me, probably more than one person, that residents in Second Life either had their own club, or dreamed about having one. This is obviously an exaggeration, but perhaps not a very great one as clubs and hangouts are always springing up. And over time, yours truly has seen his share, and friends sighed about a favorite hangout going under. Some last for years. Some just for weeks.

Yours truly has never owned a club, though I've helped with a number. So I know a few things about what goes into a club, and what can help make it last.

The Purpose

Do you want to run a club to be somebody, or do something. I've seen people whom seemed to be dreaming of having a popular club dozens people will flock to. They want to be the next big thing, a big flashy place with lots of lights that will attract so many, they'll have to fight through the lag. Others are less ambitious, perceiving a need among their friends and/or virtual neighbors for a certain type of club. Perhaps the club they've been going is too big, or perhaps they want something a little more laid back and less flashy, or perhaps something different. Those among the latter are usually more realistic than the former as they're not generally out to create an overnight success.

The Time

Do you want a big flashy club with lots of events and people? If so, be prepared to invest a lot of time in your venue to the point it feels like a second job. A tiny beach hangout that has only a few events per week, not so much. But you'll be surprised how much time event a little club can take, especially if you're doing things alone.

The Expense

Very seldom do clubs in Second Life make money. It's very possible none of them do any more. Unless you're a builder, you'll have to buy the building and furnishings or pay someone to make them. More importantly, there's the land which needs to be paid for every month. The radio stream costs more money too. And unless you know how to DJ and have the software, which costs money, you'll need to find someone who can, and probably one ore more hosts/hostesses. While most are willing to work for tips alone, be prepared to take care of that yourself on days when the crowd is reluctant to part with their Lindens. If you want a live musician, prepare to spend even more. And with club after club offering contests, most likely you'll need to offer those too if you want more than a small crowd. More money there.

Getting By With A Little Help From Your Friends

Only the smallest clubs can be operated okay by one person. More commonly, the owner will have someone manage things on an everyday basis. Bigger and more active clubs often have one or more acting as assistant managers. Then there are the hosts and hostesses, who make announcements and greet people as they come in, and occasionally answer questions. Some clubs will also have security to keep out the griefers. While such people can be hired, the best people will be those you already know, possibly people whom have been coming by the club for a while and would like to help out.

One issue is if you hire your friends, it becomes less of a boss and worker relationship and more of a team effort in which those you know will expect to have a say in how things are run. So this kind of arrangement isn't for everyone.

The Drama

Sadly where there are people, there is the potential for Drama. The contests alone can be a source of it as people can be surprisingly possessive when even a tiny amount of Lindens are on the line, and complaining of "cheating" when they don't get it. And when one or more persons seem to win a lot, people will complain about the contest being rigged or by alts stacking the vote. And then there's "(S)he shouldn't have won, I fit the theme much better than (s)he did."

Politics (I haven't noticed religion be an issue, but it can happen) can also be a problem as some people can be upset by something in the news. Many clubs have rules discouraging political talk, especially when the crowd is more than a tiny few. There's a reason for this: many people come to Second Life to escape the pressures of reality, and political talk can result in several people TPing out of the place.

Then there are people who seem to always find something to complain about. Sometimes they're under pressure from their real life jobs, or friends and family. But other times, the reasons are clear only to them. And then there are the horndogs who will pester women for sex, the bullies who seem to like pushing people around, the griefers whom love disrupting club events for the joy of making others miserable.

Being a "people person" is a must for a club manager. If a club owner has problems relating to people or with his or her temper, a manager with people skills will be a must for keeping the club healthy.

I have seen a few people lose heart with their clubs after a heated drama incident, wanting to shut down the place or leave the staff if they're a part of the team, feeling the "taint" has permanently crippled the club's ability to attract people. But it's my impression most visitors, while not wanting to deal with the hassle of drama, aren't especially phobic. If they don't see a problem there and then, most will show up as usual, and those that are wary will come again after an event or two when it's obvious the problem is gone.

Another problem I've noticed are people who make trouble, then use having Aspergers or some other mental condition as an excuse, saying they don't mean to cause it. But many of my friends don't believe this, one saying, "I know a number of people who have Aspergers, and they do not act like that." One club owner stated in his rules, "If we have to tell you how to act, don't bother coming here."

The Griefers

Most Second Life residents are familiar with those whose sole purpose of their virtual lives is to make others miserable.  We're all familiar with the "grief and run," someone rezzing a particle emitter nearby that floods the place with dozens of images of Mario or some other image. Or they may just be trying to create drama, by insulting the DJ, or talking about how great or how bad a certain political faction is. Often, they're brand new avatars with little attention paid to detail, or seem to be deliberately deformed a bit. Because of the stereotype, many clubs will throw out such avatars on the spot, or simply automatically not allow any avatar under 30 days.

As true as this stereotype often is, it's not always the case. There are some people who are simply bad at designing themselves ( and continue to have this attempt at an appearance long into their virtual life. And club after club with a "not welcome" sign for newcomers isn't exactly encouraging to keep new people interested in the Grid. And of course some griefers are properly dressed. Or perhaps they have a way of knowing the "fine line" before the club owners give them the boot. These people are truly aggravating for patrons and club owners alike, especially for those who feel without procedure, people will be reluctant to come out of fear for being banned for no reason.

Some years into Second Life history, a new kind of griefing came into play: extortion. Instead of just trying to annoy, these people would employ things like "sim crashers" repeatedly at a club and then demand money in order for it to stop. Otherwise they would keep it up until they either got their money or the club closed. There has been at least one case in which the Lab wasn't much help, and the club and it's community had to hunker down for a while until they felt the coast was clear (, a nightmare scenario for a club owner.

May The Best Man Win, Or Maybe Not

Going back to those who gripe about losing a contest to someone not dressed as good, while more often than not it's someone venting after not winning, on occasion things do look like they have a case. One complaint I've heard is that of people TPing friends or alts in at the last minute to vote for them. It's my experience this doesn't happen often, but it does on occasion. And a club owner being paranoid of alts for voting can easily end up throwing out people who were simply curious newcomers who happened to hear about the club.

But vote-stacking isn't the only issue. One person I know who works meticulously on her outfits complained about being "jellydolled," saying people who couldn't be bothered to adjust their settings in order to see her avatar and therefore didn't vote for her. Some people may also be using old viewers that show some avatars as scrambled or otherwise deformed. So a more detailed outfit could end up costing someone votes.

And then there's the human factor, someone not voting for someone because they feel they've already won a lot, of voting for a newcomer to the club to make them feel more welcome, not voting for someone because they didn't like they way the person was acting earlier, etc.Talking to one club owner, the person felt while they can always discipline someone for cheating, in the end things come down to the voters and they have a right to chose a simple outfit over a detailed one if that's their wish.

Other Clubs

With so many clubs out there, you'll often find people going to more than one. Sometimes clubs with much the same crowd will cooperate, especially if they're in the same community. One example is the relationship between Club Cutlass and the Happy Vixen, the events of the two clubs never overlapping and have usually been on different days.

But often, there are rivalries. One example was that of two disco clubs which were similar in structure as they were built by the same builder, and one invited it's patrons to make out in the open while the other told visitors that anything more than a kiss was "get a room." Then one day, someone with the latter found the online forum of the former, and invited people if they were uneasy with a sexual environment, they could check out their club. The owner of the first club reacted badly, saying only his club had the right to the design and kept demanding that the other shut down. The rivalry got to the point when one of the second club's workers was threatened, saying if the venue was sued anyone affiliated would be among those targeted.

While one club can hire DJs and/or hosts from another, there are a few dos and don'ts. Club owners can be angered if they feel someone is trying to "poach" their DJs. So it's best to meet up with the DJs between events and don't try to take them away from the club they're already at.

The Unexpected

Sometimes those who are prepared to handle a busy club when they start out end up having to face unexpected surprises down the road. Your landlord may go out of business and you'll have to relocate, and the new place may charge a lot more than where you were. Your star DJ may end up not being able to play any more due to real life. And your own real-life situation may change, such as your Internet connection becoming bad, marriage and children, financial hardship, a death in the family, and others. It's possible you may need to step back from running your club for a few weeks or months. Could your managers and staff handle things without your direction, possibly your money, for a while?

And there's always the possibility you may need to depart Second Life indefinitely. When the owner has to leave the Grid, it usually means the end of the club. But a few have survived their founder. In these cases, the original owner made plans with certain people he or she could trust to keep the place going.

In Conclusion

Running a club is almost always a lot more complicated than one expects it to. The expenses can be high, the hassles many, and the rewards often far less than anticipated. But it's not mission impossible for an amateur. You could have a club that will last for many years. But it takes thought, planning, help, a lot of patience, and more than a little luck won't hurt.

If you're not sure you can run a club after reading this, maybe you're better off keeping one going. There are hundreds in Second Life, and many will be glad to have more help. If you decide to build a club and this article has helped you prepare for the road ahead, then happy to have helped and I hope your venue continues to entertain people for many years to come.

Bixyl Shuftan