Plus ça change…

If I was vanitous enough to believe I have the slightest impact on things happening, I’d believe in the theory that writing eulogies on people leaving SL Y-K-W in my blog is a good way of bringing them back into the fray.

As it stands, Katharine Berry has reopened her fabulous AjaxLife and resumed its development, even un-cancelling her account on the Teen Grid for the purpose. As I wrote in an addendum to Age and Treachery revisited, that does not make all well that ends well :

It seems Katharine has eventually listened to all the people telling her how much her work on AjaxLife is appreciated, and how much she will be missed. She has un-cancelled her account, as she mentions en passant on her blog. The point I made in my Age and Treachery entry still stands, though : confining a talent like Katharine’s to the stifling atmosphere of the Teen Ghetto for the next three years hardly qualifies as good policy.

Still : good to have you back, Katharine. I hope you hang on there until better times.

And « Mad Patcher » Nicholaz Beresford doesn’t seem able to leave the mess the Lindens call their viewer code alone either. Though he has kept away from patching release candidates at an insane pace, he has taken on the « megalomaniac » (his own words) task of freeing SL Y-K-W users of the « ass-tachment» plague instead. I guess my blog entry on him should be re-titled Sysiphus gives up goes hobbyist. Do I have to say it’s great to see you back, too, Nic ?

Age and Treachery revisited

Katharine Berry’s love story with Second Life You-Know-Where ends today on a sad, personal note. Shamelessly, I will quote my own comment on her blog :

Dear Katharine,

we have never met, our worlds lying far apart as I have come to realize, but I would like you to believe that your achievement with AjaxLife (alas the only sample of your skill I had an opportunity to profit from) outshines what most of us will ever be able to achieve — whatever our age (how the eternal « for someone your age » must hurt ; why can’t they just shut the f*** up ?). At 32, I bow to you. And I sympathize. I’m not old enough to get away from the fact how unjust and arbitrary people can be, not jaded enough to not understand your anger and not feel sympathy for the rejection you feel.

It is easy to tell you not to give in to it, but that is just insinuating that we, your elders, know better. I will not do that, because we don’t, even if we don’t like to admit it. So all I will tell you is that you and your stupendous mind will be missed by many people you do not even know, because you made our world a bit richer and no one can afford to lose somebody like you.

So long, Katharine Berry. If the grids you know where ever merge, I hope to meet you there.

I will not comment the flame war accompanying her farewell. Talent should buy you a modicum of leeway when it comes to rashness and occasional lack of social graces, but then, that is just me speaking. To those saying it was her peers and her own age driving her out, all I can say is : had the Teen Grid you know where not been such a thinly disguised excuse for the real thing, people like Katharine (and her antagonists) might be less frustrated, choice and a more rewarding experience replacing the often stifling closeness of such a tiny peer group. We are all at fault.

Farewell, Katharine Berry.

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Wild, wild west 2.0 continued

Sometimes, you just stumble over something and think « my thoughts exactly ». Now I admit this happens rarely to me, as I am a chronic dissenter, but Doug McMahon’s statement « Why » he is developing a Constitution for the Metaverse (while admitting to not using Second Life You-Know-Where actively, fancy that) strikes me as the straight continuation of my own thoughts in « Wild, wild west 2.0 ».

The question of why I would seek to draft a constitution for the metaverse, and why I think it might need one, is an obvious one. I genuinely believe that any online world in which users seek some kind of autonomy from the real world cannot function satisfactorily without one. To this you might reply that Second Life You-Know-Where, the leading metaverse, seems to be doing just fine. But I would question whether the benevolent dictator model for metaverses is really sustainable. All the power in Second Life You-Know-Where is concentrated in the hands of Linden Labs, they are the archetypal judge, jury and executioner with the added twist that they are also the law makers and the executive in the world. I am by no means accusing Linden Labs of anything underhand in this, I recognise the efficacy of this for their business model and that without it the world may not exist, but I am questioning whether this is a system under which one would or should chose to live.

The fundamental goal of a constitution is to distribute power in such a way that it allows for a fully functioning society whilst protecting the individual from the state. The goal is the rule of law – power under law, not under men. To those who resist the introduction of law into the metaverse I say this: first, it need not look like the law of the real world, indeed it should not look like the law of the real world; second, law is already pervasive in the metaverse, in the form of the ToS document, copyright and contract law, law suits brought in the real world concerning metaverse events. The only way to restrict the impact of laws not suited to the metaverse is for the metaverse to have its own.

I think we might have to watch this one…

Sysiphus gives up

Nicholaz Beresford has declared Bug Hunting Season over. If you don’t know Nicholaz, well, you missed a good opportunity to radically improve your Second Life experience. For quite some time now, Nicholaz has been building patched, bug ridden versions of the Second Life You-Know-Where viewer, rooting through its source to hunt the elusive critters with a dedication and perseverance matched by none. I have been wondering at each new Linden viewer release how anybody could keep this up, each iteration breaking most of what Nicholaz did (and this despite him making his patches available to the Lindens) besides introducing a plethora of new bugs. Nicholaz just groaned and started to integrate his patches all over again, then rooted out the new bugs until his viewer, much unlike the official one, ran smoothly, did not leak memory all over the carpet and generally abstained from the nastiness the official viewer seems prone to.

Well, at last, Nicholaz has decided this is not worth neglecting his first life. As sorry as I am from the very egoistical point of view of the happy « Nicholaz Edition » viewer user, I have to applaud his decision. If Sisyphus had let the damn stone just lie, and gone home, he couldn’t have felt as relieved as Nicholaz must feel. The last version of his viewer, running quite smoothly, is still available here. Go and grab it while it’s still there (editions for Mac OS X and Linux to be found here).

Nicholaz, we will miss your work, but we won’t begrudge you your life. Thank you for everything ; you’ll forever be on my list of unsung heroes.

Mapping the grid

I don’t know about you, but I have seen a phenomenon well known from my early days of web browsing repeat itself in Second Life, namely the hassle of managing bookmarks. Linden Lab’s system of landmarks organized by folder is virtually identical to the bookmark system built into web browsers to this day. And as in web browsers, it sorely lacks in flexibility when it comes to managing large collections of bookmarks.

Now, on the web, people have been moving towards online bookmark services. They offer a wider range of management options, most useful among these direct access to descriptions (which really help when you’re not sure what that bookmark you set ages ago was for, believe me), a freeform categorization system (the ubiquitous tags, which allow topical access, unlike the taxonomical, hierarchical approach of nested folders) and a social component, allowing for the aggregation of similar locations collected from other people. The best known of these is, of course, del.icio.us.

As a convert to social bookmarking, and not so recent one as my Second Life centric del.icio.us membership might suggest, I have been wishing for a similar system in world. Unluckily, and I think for the near future (unless Linden Lab really change things about the extensibility of their software), no such system seems ready to emerge. Still, clever people have launched the next best thing : web based landmarking systems, based on Second Life’s SLURLY-K-W-URL protocol. Basically, you add and tag landmarks in world through a HUD or chat commands, and a script adds these to a web service very similar to the well known social bookmarking ones.

Two such contenders I am aware of : Sloog and Gridmarker. Of these, I prefer Gridmarker for several reasons :

  • It offers descriptions, while Sloog does not ; see my remark above. Plus the landmark titles are editable.
  • It identifies the landmarks through proximity, which allows for more precise landmarking, while Sloog uses the parcel as landmark unit. I often want to landmark places inside parcels, shops especially, not the whole thing (ever been lost in the Sensations Store ?). Plus it makes for finer grained grouping across users and landmarks, as only landmarks close enough (on a selectable scale) are considered related.
  • It converts SL landmarks to gridmarks : simply drag and drop them on the HUD. Great for getting all those legacy landmarks into the system.
  • It goes less for flashiness than for technical maturity (where it has got a head start, as it is based on the Scuttle open source project). Some might find its design a bit drab, but I prefer it that way.

I have also found I can further simplify entry with a set of gestures using the nifty « replace text » function, which allows me to type « /tag nice fast » instead of the cumbersome « /7 tags: clunky slow ». Contact me in world if you want a copy.

There is a downside to both systems, besides jumping out of world of course, as held in common with all script based extensions to SL Y-K-W : you can’t use it in no script areas. The fallback is to create a landmark with the native landmarking function and convert it afterwards (if you use Gridmarker — see above). Not quite perfect for the power shopper I am, as many shops have disabled scripts to ensure vendor security, but the whole thing is still attractive enough for my expanding collection of landmarks.