VWBPE logoYesterday, at VWBPE’s Second Life auditorium, Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg (Ebbe Linden in-world) gave the opening keynote. The auditorium was packed – at various points, there were up to 170 people in-world with their avatars. Mal Burns recorded the speech and uploaded it to his YouTube channel so that it can be watched even by those who were unable to attend. As had happened last year, Gentle Heron was hard at work transcribing Mr. Altberg’s speech, and there was an interesting Q&A afterwards, with people from the audience having a chance to ask questions directly; I must give Mr. Altberg kudos for handling this task with great aplomb, and for his relaxed, approachable attitude towards the users who came to the venue to listen to him and ask about things they were interested in, w.r.t. Second Life and the next-generation virtual world platform that Linden Lab is developing.

Ebbe Altberg, Linden Lab's CEO.

Ebbe Altberg, Linden Lab’s CEO.

Below, I’m giving some of the main points that attracted my interest during Mr. Altberg’s speech – both from the main speech and the Q&A:

Education:

  • More than 300 organisations are benefitting from discounts for educators and non-profits;
  • The combined capabilities of 3D graphics, simulation, etc. that virtual worlds provide are a strong element for improving learning and and teaching;
  • Educators have shared many success stories;
  • There is no intention on behalf of Linden Lab to increase prices or remove the discount;
  • On the contrary, LL seeks to make usage of SL for educational purposes more affordable.

It becomes clear that LL realise that the decision made during Mark Kingdon’s tenure to remove the educator and non-profit discount was a mistake, and that, if they want to maintain a leading position in the virtual world market for educators and non-profits, they must never repeat it.

Second Life:

  • LL are looking to improve the new user experience, including what Mr. Altberg referred to as “entry points”;
  • “SL is not going anywhere”;
  • LL understands that it needs to continue working hard on Second Life if it wants to maintain a market leader position. References to technical improvements that are currently being worked on by the Lab were made, such as:
    • Chat reliability;
    • Performance and stability fixes;
    • SLurl optimisation;
    • Avatar-related improvements;
  • Regarding the oft-discussed issue of tier, Mr. Altberg mentioned that LL charge for tier, but the “tax” they get from transactions (such as marketplace sales) is minimal – if they were to reduce “property tax” (tier), they’d have to increase “sales tax”;
  • During 2014, LL paid out over 60 billion US dollars to people using SL for their commercial presence;
  • They are looking to make cashing out faster for customers in “good standing”;
  • LL is keen to keep money laundering completely out of its system;
  • Regarding mentor programmes, Mr. Altberg’s position was that the Lab is not considering reviving them, because many mentors had their own agendas, and this caused serious problems.

Next-generation virtual world platform

  • Internally, it is called “Next Generation Platform”, not SL 2.0, and it is highly unlikely that SL 2.0 will be adopted as a commercial name for it;
  • Progress on its development is going well;
  • Over thirty developers are working on it;
  • They want to surpass SL’s 1.1 million active user ceiling and have considered the reasons SL maxed out at that point;
  • Mobile support is something the Lab wants to provide from the outset;
  • They want to provide better scalability: Whereas in SL an event can fall apart when more than 30 avatars are in the region, the Lab seeks to provide the ability for users to host events for tens of thousands of participants;
  • LSL will not be used in the next-generation platform: Instead, C# is the language of choice, thus making it easier for existing programmers to work on the new platform;
  • In the beginning, they will invite people who are adept at using Autodesk’s 3D application Maya, which was chosen as an internal tool for initial content creation for its power;
  • As the next-generation platform becomes ready to launch, more tools (like Blender) will be supported;
  • The entry age limit will be lowered to 13 years, as “there is no legal difference between 13 and 16″;
  • New avatars will be used;
  • There are plans to support multiple identities under one account (like the master account proposal), diminishing the need for alts;
  • It also seems that the Lab is planning to make SL a subset of the next-generation platform rather than ditch it: “I think of SL as a portion of the next gen platform. SL could be created on top of the platform we are creating. Less world, more platform”;
  • Land will be much larger;
  • Voice and 3D audio will be available;
  • Physics for vehicles will be much more sophisticated, and the Lab is currently working with a third-party that will provide the engine.

In all, it was an extremely informative and useful speech, which confirms the Lab’s commitment to building upon the experience it has gained from developing and providing Second Life, does away with the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) concerning the future of SL once the next-generation platform is released, and also shows that the new platform will be a great improvement over SL.

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See also:

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Shortlink: http://wp.me/p2pUmX-Lp

Renowned SL artist Bryn Oh announced that her new full sim installation titled Lobby Cam will open at Immersiva on Sunday, March 29. Her builds have often incorporated parts of her real life artwork. In this preview video, they’re prominently featured for the first two minutes, showing us how her art in both the physical and the virtual medium is connected.

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Shortlink: http://wp.me/p2pUmX-Lk

mona-profile-pic-by-liara-1-512Regular readers of this blog might have noticed I’ve put all my analytical and opinion posts on virtual reality, virtual worlds, and Second Life in particular on hold, opting instead to dedicate my time and efforts to my story titled Arianna, of which I’ve already written three chapters. As I’ve explained in a recent post, events in my SL during the past few weeks have been extremely painful to me.

I wrote my heart was broken recently. That was an understatement. These events destroyed my faith, trust, admiration and love for someone I adored and looked up to. They also opened my eyes to how little regard that someone had for me; you certainly don’t let your new lover hurt, humiliate and insult a “valued and trusted friend and confidante” in front of you. At the very least, you’ll be alarmed by such behaviour and you’ll defend your “valued and trusted friend and confidante” – after all, lovers come and go and friends are forever, right? This didn’t happen in my case.

What happened before that fateful Saturday and afterwards, as I discovered more and more of what has been going on, only served to bring back painful memories from my real life. SL for me is, to a great extent, a form of escapism. I have my own RL problems and stresses; I have my whims, fantasies and desires that can’t be satisfied in RL, and SL largely serves as an outlet, creative, social or otherwise. Because of things that had happened in my RL, I’ve been dealing with depression for many years. I tried to deal with it through sporadic cognitive-behavioural therapy (when my finances allowed it) and by keeping myself as busy as possible. RL circumstances beyond my control during the past few years have not been exactly helpful. What happened recently in SL was the final straw. It was the trigger that brought back all the memories I’ve been pushing away, and the catalyst for the fire to burn more intensely inside me, to burn me more intensely and make the pain even worse.

I’ve been trying to take my suffering in silence. It was one little thing after the other that added and added to the burden on my back. I kept trying to adapt. To fit in. To be and do what would not offend, what would be liked and appreciated. It didn’t work. I was shutting myself up and down, emotionally, verbally… In every possible way. Just to hear a good word; a word of truly heartfelt praise or appreciation. To receive a hug, a smile, or a kiss. I kept trying and trying, but to no avail. And then, whatever little I had, or thought I had, was taken away from me and shattered before my eyes.

I decided I’ve remained silent for too long. If it’s OK for others to hurt me, it’s OK for me to speak of what I’ve been through. In my own voice. I decided to tell my story – my first ever organised and concerted attempt to write a story. Thus, Arianna was “born”. The title was taken from the first name of the first SL account I created, way back in 2006. You could say I am Arianna, and it would be true in so many ways. The story itself is a blend of fictional and real events. It is set in a fictional version of the UK. Obviously, neither Ashworth, nor Dagenhull or Sunford exist. And, unlike Arianna, I haven’t committed suicide. That’s not to say I haven’t contemplated it, though, or that I haven’t been tortured – especially recently – by thoughts of whether people would be better off without me. So, while the suicide that kicks off the story and the exploration of what led the protagonist to jump off the bridge is fictional, the events of Arianna’s life are not. They are adaptations of RL and SL events and dialogues that have really happened. By “adaptations”, I mean I’ve adapted the events to fit in with the environments I describe in the story. Perhaps you could say it’s a mixed reality novel. Well, at the very least, it’s inspired and informed by my existence in both the physical and virtual realm.

Fallen

I mentioned that this story has very real elements. For instance, in the second page of the second chapter, the reader is presented with Arianna’s suicide note. It’s a real suicide note, from my RL. One I had written ten years ago, but never acted on it. As said earlier, the actions, events, and words that led Arianna to jump off the fictional Ashworth bridge are real. They’re words that were really said; they’re events that really happened; in both worlds: the physical and the virtual. Of course, I have changed the names of the people involved, although some might be recognisable – easily or with difficulty.

The – real or perceived – recognisability of the novel’s characters is something that concerned me as I was beginning to write my story. Would it cause upset? Would it cause gossip? Would it… (add whatever worry or concern you want – legitimate or not)? Would rumours start to circulate? Would it cause drama? Shouldn’t I protect those involved? I thought long and hard about it, considering the past, the present… And what could come in whatever future there can be. In the end, I decided to proceed. After all, it’s my story. It’s my pain, and I need to let it all out. I can no longer suffer in silence. I can no longer keep it all inside me. With every word I write, I bleed, for I relive each instant, each moment.

I know people may get upset with what I have to say, but I need to do it. People around me do what they want, and, as far I’ve seen, without asking if and how I’m affected; this time, I’ll do what I need to do. It must also be said here that, just like my post on the “drop” in D/s relationships (which, ironically, is my blog’s most popular post by far), Arianna is something I wished I would never have to write… But there you have it. And you can interpret it in any way you want, depending on your perspective.

As to my “other” blog work… It will continue. I’ll keep my other articles coming, if perhaps at a slower rate. But Arianna is something I need to do. And if anyone gets upset by it… I’m sorry they feel this way.

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Chapters already published:

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Shortlink: http://wp.me/p2pUmX-L1

Chapter 3. First Insights

Arianna’s hometown seemed to be a peaceful, almost sleepy one. There was little the local constabulary seemed to have to do to maintain a modicum of order. The majority of criminal cases that were reported in the local press were victimless crimes, such as illegal gambling. Murder cases were few and far between, and were covered in a rather sensationalist manner. On the other hand, white-collar crimes and domestic abuse cases were usually covered up, often at the behest of local MPs, so that balances in the Town Hall and within families wouldn’t be upset.

“Inappropriate allocation of scarce police resources, my ass,” thought Stevens as he read Arianna’s suicide note again. “They never bother to investigate anything, unless a body riddled with bullet holes or brutally slaughtered is involved.” It was already ten o’clock in the morning and very little in the way of work seemed to be happening at the station. He asked McMahon to join him on patrol. It would be a good excuse for him to mingle and ask questions. After all, there were other officers to handle citizens’ bureaucratic needs.

“Have you contacted any of the schools Arianna went to?” he asked Sally.

“Yes. Some of her old teachers are still in town, one of them retired.”

“How come none of them spoke to the media?”

“No idea. Perhaps they’re wary of appearing on TV,” Sally replied.

“Can’t blame them.”

“So, where do we start?”

“St. Mary’s High School. It’s the last school she attended before leaving town for her higher education, so perhaps they can tell us more about her formative teenage years. It also seems its headmaster is still the same as when she was a student there,” said Richard as they fastened their seatbelts.

“Who’s that?” asked Sally.

“A man named Philip Hendricks. He also ran that school when Helen went there.”

Sally’s mobile phone rang. It was a journalist friend of hers from Dagenhull.

“Yes? Uh-huh. Yes. I see. Yes, yes, thank you Mike. I’ll tell my colleague. Perhaps this will give us greater freedom to act. Thanks again!”

“What did he say?” Asked Richard.

“Dagenhull aren’t ruling out foul play yet.”

“How so?” said Richard, surprised. “It’s as obvious a suicide as they come.”

“Obvious it may be, but are we sure she wasn’t driven to suicide by parties that wanted to silence her?” asked Sally. “Harassment, bullying, threats, intimidation… These things can drive someone to suicide, and it’s happened before.”

“Still, she wasn’t an investigative journalist. Who and why would want her silenced?”

“Even opinion columnists and non-investigative journalists can get in trouble. It happens often. Hell, it’s even happened to ordinary teenagers who’ve been bullied on the internet,” said Sally, as the car reached St. Mary’s.

Richard stopped the car.

“Arianna was known for her feminist perspective, and this caused her to be harassed by online trolls and MRAs,” she told Richard.

“MRAs?”

“Men’s Rights Activists,” replied Sally, her speech becoming quicker. “They’re loudmouth misogynists, usually posting on the internet about how women have all the power in the world and men are disenfranchised. Some of them, however, in collaboration with ultra-conservative circles and the far right, have gone beyond their usual whining and have orchestrated campaigns against women in various industry sectors, such as computing. Their attacks can get pretty nasty and obsessive. And they can keep it up for many years.”

“And what do these people want to achieve?”

“In a nutshell: They want women to shut up and accept being inferior to men. Among other things, they’re pushing the line that rape is acceptable and a way to show women how much they’re appreciated.”

Richard cringed.

“And there are people taking them seriously?” he asked.

“Apparently. There are many conservative pundits ready to pamper them.”

They exited the car and entered the school’s premises.

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Back in Dagenhull, Sergeant Amanda Bennett and her partner, Police Constable Anthony Cavers had gone to the Dagenhull Herald’s offices in search of information. The Dagenhull Herald is a newspaper with progressive leanings and one of the few led by a woman. The Dagenhull Herald was the highest-circulation newspaper in its area, and even nationwide it was remarkably popular for a newspaper not based in the capital.

Arianna’s death was a great shock to everyone at the paper. Everybody in the offices had words of praise for her writing and her supportive, compassionate, but also determined personality. Her writing focused on gender issues and, in particular, how women from disenfranchised social classes were affected by central and local government policies.

Bennett was a seasoned police officer, who had successfully worked on numerous mysterious criminal cases in the past, including cases of sexual abuse within families. While it would seem odd that she, a policewoman whose main strength was solving cases where much was going on beneath the surface, would be appointed to investigate what was obviously a suicide, the chief inspector had not ruled out foul play. Arianna’s outspoken writing had attracted violent threats from various people associated with the far right and the MRA movement. Furthermore, while Bennett was politically more moderate than Arianna, she still admired her writing and shared her dream of a society that would be safe for women.

The Herald’s editor was an affable, balding man in his late fifties, with a round head, sporting a short, grey beard. His name was Henry Sanders. A veteran investigative journalist, with many successes under his belt, he was now running the Herald as Dagenhull’s largest progressive news source, and was quick to adapt to the capabilities offered by new technologies, from a full-featured portal to web radio, including a successful subscription model. Under his management, the Herald was going from strength to strength in the internet era, while other newspapers faltered.

“Arianna has been with us for six years until her death,” he told the officers. “She joined us as an intern when she was twenty-five and was an intern for… ” He paused for a bit to remember, and continued. “Five months, I think, and then she was hired as a regular columnist. Her death shocked all of us here, because she was one of our best contributors, she was deeply appreciated and we never thought she’d end up like this.”

“What did she write about?” asked Cavers.

“Gender issues, mostly. She wrote a lot about how various policy decisions made by the central or local administration affected the lives of women, especially those in more vulnerable situations. You know, single mothers, women working in low-income jobs, women in the LGBTQ community, domestic abuse victims, sex workers… Her advocacy pieces for sex workers and domestic abuse victims frequently caused the ire of the conservatives, but what can you do?”

“Had she ever received threats for her work?” asked Bennett.

“Yes, many times. Each time it happened, we advised her to ignore them and to not give the abusers the pleasure of knowing they can influence her actions in any way. She took our advice, but I think she was still affected. She often complained about how no one in the newspaper would say a word and how this gave others the impression that she was really alone and exposed.”

Bennett wanted to dwell on this subject for a bit.

“Were her feelings on this justified?” she asked.

“With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps they were. Each time these attacks on her person were happening, or resuming, she seemed depressed. Or, I should say, more depressed than usual.”

“More depressed than usual?” asked Cavers.

“Yes… Arianna was never a particularly happy person. She rarely smiled and I could see something was bothering her.”

“What was bothering her?” Bennett asked.

“I’m not sure. She never complained about her pay, so I’d say it must have been something personal, and it must have been running pretty deep.”

“Such as?”

Sanders took off his glasses.

“I’m not sure. Family matters? Personal issues? Clinical depression? She didn’t open up.” He paused for a bit, sighed and continued. “Whatever it was, it must have been eating her up from the inside for years. Now that I think about it, I’m beginning to wonder if her complaints and her requests for a few words of support when she was attacked were a cry for help that hardened investigative veterans like me didn’t listen to.”

“Did she have any support network that you know of? Anyone she could turn to?” asked Bennett.

“Here in the newspaper, she was closest with another columnist, Emma Rowlings. She handles music, theatre and movie reviews, and also writes on social issues occasionally. There were also rumours that they were together romantically. She’s also the one who wrote her obituary.”

“Can we talk to her?”

“Yes, she’s here. I’ll take you to her office.” Sanders offered.

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When life gives you apples... Run!

“When life gives you apples… Run!” at LEA6 (Rated: Moderate) – Please click on the image for the original.

Such is the title of Rebeca Bashly’s new installation at LEA6, the final installment for this round of the Linden Endowment for the Arts’ Full Sim Arts series. As Rebeca writes in the introductory notecard:

Looking at various myths, legends and fairy tales, apple seems to be pretty misfortunate for a woman.
When an apple appears in a story, you know that something will go bad.
From Eve, through Greek mythology to Snow White there was always a catch with an apple.
It is beautiful, delicious, tempting, seductive. A perfect disguise for all bad that can come.
I use it as a symbol for the monstrosities that women too often don’t recognise as such in its early stages.
This installation is about domestic violence and eating disorders, on first sight two very different things,
but violence against someone and violence against oneself are the same thing, a violence.

Indeed, the apple is often considered to be the symbol of a trap; a temptation that comes with a very heavy, if not fatal, price. In greek mythology, Eris, the goddess of discord, disgruntled for not being invited to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, threw a golden apple – the apple of discord – among the guests, with the inscription “τῇ καλλίστῃ” (to the most beautiful one) on it. The goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite vied for it. Paris of Troy was called upon to select the winner of this unlikely beauty pageant; after having been promised the hand of the world’s most beautiful woman, he gave it to Aphrodite, inadvertently lighting the fuse of the Trojan War.

In Christian mythology, the Forbidden Fruit is identified with the apple – perhaps because mālum, the latin word for “apple”, sounds nearly identical to malum, the latin word for “evil” and “wicked”.

And, of course, the tale of Snow White is well-known to everyone.

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