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This is not Rheta

Hello. As it says above, this is not Rheta writing. And this is not one of the mind games she was so fond of either. You don’t know me. I am the guy doing the tech work for this blog. I have been happy to count myself among the friends of its creator for quite some time, the woman you probably only know as Rheta Shan. For reasons I will not discuss, she chose to gift me with the trust of her second life; in the past two years I have heard more from her about the magic of that game than I ever cared for, and she has heard more taunts from me about it than anybody deserved.

It seems that makes me the only person who can share the following piece of news, as it reached me from her husband, to the people who lived that virtual life with her:

… on April 3rd, my wife was hit by a van as she crossed the street to get to the bakery. She was dead before SAMU could reach the hospital. She was 9 months pregnant; our unborn son died shortly after she did, despite doctors’ best efforts. […]

I know how much Valérie loved an cherished the people she friended as Rheta. Even if your world is not mine, and howewer much I mocked her for it, I know her feelings were genuine, and I am sure the feelings she got in return were too: she was simply too warm hearted and wonderful a person not to love. In a way, her second life friends were the extended family she had not, and I present my most heartfelt condolences to that family. We all lost somebody very special.

I also know that among all the special people she met, there was one who held a place in her heart no one could rival, her lover Thaddy. Thaddy, if you happen to read this, I know this must be devastating news, and I am deeply sorry to be the one to have to tell it. But please, by all means, get in touch with me – you are the heir, and executor, of the virtual estate left, and I do not want to take any further steps without talking to you.

Valérie, you made the world around you a brighter place. Rather than mourn you, I will try to keep a bit of that light in my heart, and bask in its warmth and glow whenever I think of you.

Adieu ma belle.

Dear passengers,

this is your captain speaking. We are scheduled for lift off in the next twenty minutes. Our flight will take us to Italy and back, with our return scheduled for Sunday, June 1st. The weather conditions are clear and we expect a quiet flight.

Please note this is a non smoking, non drama flight, and that our plane does not afford mobile internet facilities. Emails will not be answered and comments on posts might stay in the moderation queue until our return.

Unluckily, the on-board entertainment system has suffered from a slight technical setback we are diligently trying to repair. Until then, we kindly ask that you make you own entertainment ; in case you are stuck for ideas, we propose the following quiz :

  1. Read the instruction manual carefully from end to end.
  2. Answer the following question : it is widely considered bad style to escape from life. But if you consider escaping to instead, what is the place every escape leads to called ?
  3. If you wish to try for bonus points, answer the following question too : how do you call a place you are not meant to escape from, and the people who are making sure you don’t ?

Also, please take note the correct terminology for the crew of this plane is not escapists — it is escape artists.

Have a pleasant flight.

PostRank goes bump

I removed something from my blog today. Well, from the sidebar, actually. All right, all right — that is hardly the Times relaunching, I am aware of that, but it is still noteworthy for two reasons : one, it was the most recent addition there. Two, I removed it as a matter of, well, exorcism will have to do.

The item I removed was a pretty inconspicuous link to the aideRSS ranking of my blog’s feed items. I you missed Kit Meredith’s post extolling its virtues, aideRSS is a free web service that will swallow your blog’s feed (any feed, really, it doesn’t need any kind of subscription) and, after some rumination, spit out a ranking of your posts, which it calls PostRank. The FAQ tersely states that « PostRank™ is a scoring system that we have developed to rank each article on relevance and reaction [my emphasis]. ». The idea is to define sub feeds of, say, the top 10 % posts, so people can subscribe to these instead of the whole feed. Which sounds rather neat.

So what’s wrong with it ?

Nothing at first sight, which is exactly why I included the link in the sidebar (the much more informative widget provided is unavailable for wordpress.com hosted blogs, as it requires JavaScript to work). After all, if it helps my readers, it’s a good thing.

What made me wonder if that was the thing to do was what I discovered when I had a look at what aideRSS considers my « top 20 » posts (click on the screenshot for a larger picture) :

PostRank de Rheta’s World le 12 Mai 2008

I mean, I can more or less agree on the inclusion of four posts among the top five. The reaction numbers (which aideRSS computes from the number of comments, Google blog search hits, Diggs and del.icio.us bookmarks linking to your post — although oddly enough, its count is slightly off from the ones the services themselves provide) are mostly corroborated by the reader statistics of wordpress.com. The fifth one, my interface rant, is the odd man out. Obviously, that is one case where aideRSS does its magic computing relevance. Independently from any feedback numbers.

So why remove the link ? Was I miffed by some patent pending, trademarked Google-ish algorithm showing me it knows more about my posts’ relevance than I, as the author, do ?

Wish it was that.

I removed the link because I was frightened — frightened to death by seeing what aideRSS considers the seventh most relevant post on my blog. Ever. See for yourself : Continue reading

Story Box

I always am in deep awe of those bloggers (say, Lillie Yifu, or Prokofy Neva) who turn out post after post in one long prolific stream. My own thought processes are so haphazard and incoherent I’m actually rather surprised I eventually manage to publish anything at all, never mind at the break-neck pace some are able to sustain. It’s a bit like watching an old toaster : no matter how long and hard you stare, you’ll always miss the moment it ka-chunks — and most of what it spews out, somewhat ballistically, is charcoal, not toast.

It thus comes as no surprise to me that more often than not, someone else beats me to the punch, putting things into neat words that have been pinging around my head in hapless chaos, making me blurt « yeah, that » when I read their findings.

Dusan Writer has done so tonight, and he has done even better, carrying the thought much further than I would ever have been able to :

But when I look at Second Life You-Know-Where I don’t see a game, and I don’t see a role-playing environment, and I don’t see an e-commerce engine (although to some degree it is all of these) – I see the possibilities for stories. And in these possibilities I am attracted to how Second Life may be a new camp fire around which we weary hunters gather, scratching pictures in the sand with our primitive tools and telling each other of the days we’ve had, and the adventures ahead.

As I owe Dusan an apology for having somewhat misrepresented his stance on Second Life You-Know-Where in my last post, all I will do today is bow deeply to him, and send you over to his post, should you not have been there already : The Story Box: Second Life You-Know-Where & Magic « Dusan Writer’s Metaverse

Le rouge et le noir

Now that my Dazzle induced snow blindness has abated, I realise it is too easy to poke fun of the whole thing, and that doing so misses the point utterly. The Dazzle team’s total obliviousness to all theories of ergonomics and interface development and their utterly amateurish take on widget and icon graphics makes them such an easy target, one might easily lose sight (no pun intended this time) of the one fact that should be central to all discussions of the Second Life client interface (and which the Dazzle revamp does absolutely nothing to address) : it is about content.

Second Life You-Know-Where is content.

The client is only a toolbox to access and manipulate that. It’s main problem (all right — besides being horribly inconsistent) is to aspire at being a full fledged, self contained OS-like application, when it should be more like a browser : a window to a world outside your computer, connecting it to and integrating it into your computer. Basically, we are talking modularity and OS integration. I for one would like to know why SL does not allow the transfer into and out of the world of event data (beyond copy and paste of plain text) ; I mean, ever heard of vCalendar / iCalendar, LL ? Or why login does not make use of OS features (password store on Windows, keychain on OS X) ? Or why the client doesn’t even use OS native text editing widgets (I never noticed that before switching to a Mac, because SL Y-K-W‘s widgets are modelled on Windows’ — but in fact, SL Y-K-W is the only app on my Mac disdaining to use the system spellchecker, or stubbornly refusing to advance the cursor from word to word with Option-arrow) ? Or why we have to download a texture to edit it, then re-upload it after doing so, instead of integrating off-world editors ? I could keep going on, but I think you get my drift… I’m ready to bet client development would profit greatly from such a paradigm shift, concentrating on the logical structure of the browser and the best way to make it work with content, instead of wasting manpower on re-developing OS features. And so, of course, would we all.

I’m not naive enough to believe this is more than a pipe dream. But one is allowed to dream, don’t you think ? Especially when one sees what astonishing things content creators manage to do despite the bad state of the tools they are using. We can’t remember that often enough, because, when all is said and done, user content is one of the things that makes Second Life unique, and immersive, and addictive. The other is the range of customisations possible on our avatars. Shapes, skins, fashion ; no virtual world offers opportunities quite like these, and there is more to it than glitz — far more. Because, as my friend Rick van der Wal once rightly said, the real interface to the virtual is your avatar. The software is but the conduit.

Nothing could serve as a better memento of this in my mind than CodeBastard Redgrave‘s wonderful Boudoir Rouge photo series — and not only since I had the undeserved honour of posing for her among women smarter and more creative than I am by far (she’ll scold me for saying this — Codie isn’t just one wonderful and gifted SL Y-K-W photographer, she’s also one the most generous and kind persons I have ever met — besides being ebullient, raucously funny, and a very smart person to boot). I’ll quote her verbatim on her series :

The Boudoir Rouge series is an ode to beauty of all the great ladies of the metaverse, mostly those who influenced my Second Life You-Know-Where. This serie portrays women avatars I admire greatly because they are all smart, creative, and lovely. Boudoir Rouge is not a who’s who of Second Life’s most popular girls; it is a very intimate and personal road I’m following. Sometimes meeting with people I never met before, or sometimes they are good old friends who had a huge impact on my own second life, and some other times its people that inspires not only my own Second Life You-Know-Where but your own too.

To me, in creating such beautiful content by capturing the beauty of the real interface to our world — the avatars we have painstakingly crafted and lavished so much care and love on — Codie’s series embodies much of the double essence of Second Life You-Know-Where. Don’t take my word for it. Go take a break from interface rants, crashing woes, and resentment at Linden Lab. Let her pictures (Flickr slideshow over here, album view over here) soothe you. If nothing else, it might provide a shred of much needed aesthetic relief. And if you are lucky, they will help you renew your commitment to the one part of marketing spin Second Life You-Know-Where is truly about : Our imagination.

Don’t we bleed white like you ?

Grace McDunnough challenged me to it, and I took up the gauntlet : I downloaded and tried the Dazzle First Look viewer, just to see what I was ranting about up close.

Now, I’m not going to be a Mac fan girl again and complain about the fact it now looks even less native on OS X than it ever did. That is a fate I have made up my mind to bear with dignity. No, in fact, I published an entirely unbiased pictorial review of the interface bling revamp the Lindens are pushing on us. Head to my Flickr stream and read through my comments if you care. And forgive me for going to bed, I have acute snow blindness to cure.

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