Saturday, October 11, 2014

Art Imitates Art in Second Life


Not all those who wander are lost.

J.R.R. Tolkien



          Recently, I was having a conversation via Skype with a good friend of mine from Second Life (SL), Augusta von Nassau. 
Speaking with Augusta von Nassau in 1920's Berlin.

          We were Skyping because I’m no longer welcome on Facebook. 

          I gave vent to my frustration, and that of other Facebook refugees, with Augusta (Significant Other is happy that someone else gets to listen to me for a change.) about having to use multiple social media applications and not being able to have the experience that I had had with Facebook.

Augusta, in her infinite wisdom and patient manner, suggested that I write about my experience.  (I suspect that this also got me off her hands.) 

          She was right!

          I had my epiphany and am now blogging about my feelings.  (Please don’t blame Augusta for this story.  This is all me.  Significant Other bolts for the next room.)

          Here’s where I’m coming from.

          Inworld, I’m normally who I am.  An explorer and writer who wanders across the Grid blogging about his various misadventures.

          I don’t have a role playing backstory for my avi with one exception.

Working Class District in 1920's Berlin.
When I visit 1920’s Berlin, I have a backstory.  And, of course, being me, it can’t be simple.  (What fun would that be?)

          In 1920’s Berlin, I play a political exile from the Bolshevik Revolution.  I’m a Menshevik who’s on the run from the CHEKA.  Once, I was on friendly terms with Ilyich but political disagreements and a few too many chess games won by me sent me to the West.

          I have no home and wander about living on the streets testing the good nature of my friends with my continually quoting Marx.  A certain young librarian allows me to hang out in her library as long as I quit whistling The Internationale.  (She’s also promised to add a section for the collected works of Marx for services rendered on my part.  I think I’ll wait until the spring before I start reminding her.  1920’s Berlin is a hard city to be homeless in when Frau Jo turns on the snow.) 

Why this character and not some comfortable bourgeois character?

That wouldn’t be me.

The wandering writer is more my style.  (Significant Other’s, who has now returned, eyes roll.)

It was a part.  A role.  I didn’t give it any thought.  (Significant Other asks, “What’s new there?”)

Then I left Facebook.  (Or, not to put too fine a point on it, Facebook left me.)

Here’s where I began to complain to Augusta.

Whereas with Facebook, I had one tool which connected to a large group of friends, let me know who was on, and permitted me to chat with them easily. 

Now, I have multiple applications each with its own subset of my friends. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve met some great new people and a few old friends have followed me into exile.  But, everyone is scattered.

On the Avatar Social Network, I’ve made new friends but still only part of what I once
had access to.  Google+ has great functionality but I still don’t know who’s on.

I Skype with Augusta and go somewhere else to chat with others.

I’ve begun to experiment with Ello. 

Facebook friends reach out to me and ask me where I’ve gone to.  They commiserate but can’t leave Facebook because of their own social investment there.  They’re also reluctant to load up on additional social media applications.

I feel like my role playing avatar. 

I wander aimlessly looking for friends.  Never knowing where I’ll be or whom I’ll end up with.

Is this what it’s like for the homeless in Real Life (RL)?

Has the vagaries of a tool like Facebook shown me what some people experience in RL at least on a social level?

Please don’t get me wrong and don’t feel sorry for me.

That’s not what I’m writing this piece.    

          I have family and friends in RL.  (Significant Other gives a warm hug right now.)

I have a roof over my head.

Yet, somehow, this virtual world has made me think about others who don’t have it as fortunate as me. 

My inworld wanderings have also made me suspicious for some time that there are some in SL who may be comfortable in RL but are among us because they are looking for something on a social level.

I just wanted to get these thoughts off my chest and share them with my readers.

Has anyone else experienced this?

Eventually, I’ll sort this out.

Thanks to the efforts of the LGBT community, maybe someday folks like me could return to Facebook.

Let’s see what happens!

As always, I’m grateful to all inworld for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives.         

My Twitter handle is @webspelunker.  Please feel free to follow me and I’d be happy to follow you.

I can be found on Google+ as webspelunker Ghostraven.

My flickr Photostream is located here.

On Skype I’m webspelunker Ghostraven.

I welcome feedback from readers, please either comment on my blog or e-mail me at . 

          If you would like to read about my other adventures in Second Life
please click here.

          Open roads and kind fires!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Great Gardens of Second Life II – First UCC


Gardening is cheaper than therapy and you get tomatoes.


[ N.B. I'm doing something different with this story.  At the request of several readers, I'm now including pictures with the body of the text.  (I've also finally figured out how to do it.)  Below is a link to my flickr account for additional pictures.  Please let me know how you like this!]

          This is the second story in my blog series entitled The Great Gardens of Second Life. 

          My first entry was about the Asian Victorian Gardens part of Perryn Peterson’s Mieveille domain.  This is an explosion of flora in an Asian setting overlooking San Francisco bay.

          The story was rather well received.  (At least I thought so.  Even Significant Other was impressed.)  I had considerable feedback from folks and many suggestions on which Second Life (SL) garden to cover next.

          I try to be fair in these matters when selecting subjects for my stories.  Whenever I’m faced with a situation where I have multiple choices from several friends, I do what I do in Real Life (RL).

          I decide to not play favorites, make everyone equally unhappy, and select the subject myself.  (We’ll ignore Significant Other’s comment about looking at the RL consequences of this behavior.  And, no, this is not how I decided upon our relationship.)

          Anyway, back to the subject of this story…

          A drumroll please…

          The subject of this edition of The Great Gardens of Second Life is the gardens at First UCC.  (Location here.)

          My readers may recall that I first blogged about First UCC when I went looking for God inworld.  (In case anyone missed that one, I found Him.  He’s there just as much as He’s in RL.  I’m not so sure He’s too crazy about me tagging along but I still think there’s some significance in the fact that besides Starbucks, religious sites are the only other places I have yet to be thrown out of in RL.  Significant Other mumbles something about small children and puppies.) 

          Thanks to my SL friend, Becca (“Bec”) Kellstrom, who is a religious in both SL and RL, (She’s a great homilist.  Check her out the next time she preaches inworld.)  I was introduced to Jerome (“Jer”) Newstart , the pastor of UCC, and YoYo Rez, a congregant and a member of the pastoral staff there.
Jerome Newstart, First UCC Pastor

          Jer oversees the planning and building of the gardens at First UCC and YoYo is responsible for the exhibitions at the Art Garden.

          Bec was kind enough to arrange an interview for me with Jer to discuss the gardens at First UCC.  (After all my questions, she may be reconsidering that whole “never been thrown out of a religious site” shtick of mine.) 

          My reasons for selecting First UCC as one of the great gardens inworld are several. (What?  Do you think I pick a name out of a hat?  Don’t answer that!)

          First, let’s go over the layout of the gardens at First UCC.

          The church buildings sit in a forested area which runs down to the shoreline.  The grounds are laid out in a natural setting much like one would encounter in RL woods.

Forest Pathway

          Paths lead through the woods going around copses of trees and beds of wild flowers.  As of this writing, all are in autumnal splendor.  Trees arch over the walkways allowing for a nicely shaded effect.

          Buildings have integrated into the natural setting and one is given the feel of a classic older college campus setting as opposed to the more modern ones which are stark glass and steel with nature taking a back seat to man’s intrusion.

          Several areas have been set aside for specific purposes.

Peace Grove
The Peace Grove is deep in the woods and is an opening surrounding a firepit with torches at the periphery.  This serves the function of a meditation pit for either individual or group contemplation.  A cross looks over the scene.  Services occur here and sadly these days there’s too much cause for them in such a place.

          Another portion of the grounds given over to a specific purpose is the Art Garden near the shore.  Here different artists’ works are exhibited.  The placement of paintings and sculptures in the natural setting gives an effect difficult to achieve in RL.

          In front of the administrative building is an apple orchard.  (I’m told Bec keeps a bowl of apples on her desk on the third floor.  I never said a word!)  Looking the windows, citrus trees can be seen growing in the atrium. (This is what I love about SL, the laws of physics and nature are suspended.)

Rooftop Garden
          Entering the building and taking the elevator to the rooftop on the fifth floor one is greeted by fourteen planting beds filled with a colorful riot of flowers and vegetables.  The rose and aubretia beds especially draw my attention.  A small fountain and a greenhouse complete the scene. 

          When Jer and I meet in his office to discuss what he describes as his “very amateur landscape efforts,” (He’s being very modest, trust me.) he explains how he was looking for a peaceful, contemplative effect with the gardens.

          Jer has succeeded here.

          The purpose of the gardens and landscapes is to provide space for meditation and contemplation.  There are many places scattered across the grounds where one can find peace and quiet and be alone with one’s thoughts. 

          The use of the space on the rooftop was an attempt to take advantage of what was perceived as wasted space and gain some recreational value from it.  The swimming pool on one side certainly helps there.

          I’m shown around the rooftop gardens and the atrium by Jer before he has to head off to evening psalters.  (I have yet to hear him preach but I’m told by others that he’s very impressive and I’ll make a point of returning later to do that.)

           I thank him for his time and hospitality and head back home myself.

          My attraction to the First UCC gardens are their natural look and feel and having beautiful water views doesn’t hurt at all.   They are the perfect place inworld to come, to sit, and to sort through one’s thoughts.

          Being a religious site there isn’t the pandemonium that exists on other SL sims with lush forest scenes.  Form and function come together very well here.

          So, I include the gardens at First UCC among the Great Gardens of SL.

Wild Flowers
I do recommend that you come and visit.  Whether just for the natural scenic beauty or to take advantage of the site for meditation, please do come.  I promise that you won’t be disappointed!

I do ask that visitors remember that First UCC is a religious site so dress and act accordingly.  Be mindful that services may be underway when you arrive and be respectful of these even if you’re a non-believer. 

I would like to thank Jer for his time and hospitality while meeting with me for this interview.  Thanks to Bec for helping with the arrangements and to YoYo for answering my questions earlier!

Also, a big thank you to all of them and their friends and colleagues who are working tirelessly to help those who have nowhere to turn with their RL problems but SL.

          As always, I’m grateful to all inworld for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives.   

          In addition to the pictures included here, more pictures of the First UCC gardens can be seen at my flickr account

My Twitter handle is @webspelunker.  Please feel free to follow me and I’d be happy to follow you.

I can be found on Google+ as webspelunker Ghostraven.

On Skype I’m webspelunker Ghostraven.

I welcome feedback from readers, please either comment on my blog or e-mail me at . 

          If you would like to read about my other adventures in Second Life
please click here.

          Open roads and safe fires!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

All Hallows’ Eve in Second Life


                 Witch and ghost make merry on this last of dear October’s days.



          Leaves are turning color and falling from the trees in both Second Life (SL) and Real Life (RL).

          The days are getting noticeably shorter and there’s a crispness in the air that wasn’t there last week.

          Yes, autumn has arrived!

          With its arrival comes the unofficial start of end-of-year Holiday season – Halloween! 

          I know, I know.  Halloween isn’t for another month!  (Significant Other sighs resignedly.  Significant Other has never gotten used to how I play fast and loose with the calendar.)  Last Halloween seems like only yesterday.

          My good SL friend and Mayor of Mieville, Perryn Peterson has reached out and informed me that the Mieville Halloween Village is ready for a tour.

          While we both realize it’s early (I don’t know about Perry but I haven’t even bought candy for the trick or treaters yet.) we decide to start the publicity campaign now to give everyone plenty of time to come and see the spectacle that Perryn and his team have prepared for everyone.

          We meet at the Village to begin our tour. 

          When I first see Perryn, I assume he’s getting into the swing of things early by wearing his lederhosen and cap.  (Nice legs BTW!)  But as it turns out, he’s doing double duty as the Biermeister at the Mieville Oktoberfest this evening.  (I guess things aren’t all that easy when you’re the Mayor.)

          Perryn begins by explaining to me that there are six themed areas in the Halloween Village.

          The first is the Pumpkin Patch and that’s where we’re standing.  There are a lot of pumpkins and let’s just say that orange is the predominant color.

          Here, visitors can either smash pumpkins or carve their own jack o’lanterns.  Not to worry about getting carried away, they grow back almost immediately.

          Moving along, we come to the next area, Witches’ Woods.  Leaves fall around us adding to the autumn mood.

          Guess what the theme is here?

          Yep, you guessed it.  Witches!  (Significant Other accuses me of sometimes pandering to my audience.)  There are enough cauldrons and witches about to satisfy even Hansel and Gretel.

          Up next is Skellytown.  (We’re playing to a lot of stereotypes here I know but it’s all done with the best possible taste in the most macabre way possible.)

          As we walk through these theme areas, I notice the shops and wagons of the participating merchants.  Their merchandise is appropriate for Halloween and is of the highest quality.  Many will be offering free gifts to visitors.  Perryn works continually to have the best designers and creators at his events.

          Our fourth stop is Vampyreville.  None of our fanged friends are about when we arrive but there is an imposing castle which would make the Old Impaler himself proud.    Perryn points out that the Halloween dances will be taking place on its rooftop.

          The Village amusement park with rides is located in Vampyreville.  One ride, a pumpkin coach reminded of a childhood ride that I once too.  (Contrary to rumors started by my mother and which Significant Other continues to spread, I did have a childhood.)

          Next up is Ghostly Gulch where graveyards and ghosts reside.  A few of the latter have even set up a small barber shop quartet.  Be careful around some of the graves because they have a nasty habit of reaching up and grabbing the unsuspecting.  (Perryn finds this very amusing.)

          Here is also the memorial to The Master.  The grave of Edgar Allan Poe lies to one side for those of us who reread regularly his works to drop by and remember him.

          Finally, Perryn and I reach the last themed area, Spyder Steppes. 

          Climbing the creaking old steps (Perryn has a thing for word play and puns I’ve learned over the years.) and brushing aside cobwebs we arrive at the top of a steep hill.

          Here, as Perryn puts it himself, he has saved the best for last.

          And, indeed he has!

          For here, all free, is a treasure trove of mad scientist gear from the master herself, Aley Resident (AKA Acadia Asylum).  I strongly recommend everyone who visits Mieville Halloween Village to at least stop here.  Even if you’re not a collector, you must stop by to see some of the most ingenious contraptions inworld. 

          My tour with Perryn is over and he has to return to his biermeister duties and I have another interview to get along to.  (I’m realizing that we’re both busy guys!)  So, I thank him as we make our farewells and then rezz off into the Unknown.

          All my impressions of the Mieville Halloween Village are favorable.  After this whirlwind tour and my return trip to take pictures for this story, I’m impressed by both the scope of the sim and its detail.

          Mieville festivals seem to be getting bigger and better.  The Tolkien Festival earlier this year is another good example. 

          In lieu of the traditional Hunt with the event, there will be trick or treat doors with select merchants.  Knock on the door at the appropriate time and you’ll receive a gift as a treat from the merchant.  Knock at the wrong time and as a trick you may be teleported home!  Wyvern Dryke

          This particular sleight of hand is the handiwork of Wyvern Dryke. Wyvvy is one of the team’s most creative scripters.

          This sim has lots of scares and fun but avoids the blood ‘n gore of others.  (Significant Other informs me this one is preferred to some others I’ve visited in the past.)

          The Village opens on October 18th and runs until Halloween.  Maybe I’ll see you there!

          I strongly recommend the Mieville Halloween Village to all who want a little fun inworld during this time of the year.     

          Happy Halloween!  

          I would like to thank Perryn for his time and hospitality while meeting with me for this interview.        

          As always, I’m grateful to all inworld for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives.   

          I’ve included some pictures from my meeting with Arkad in his private offices inworld.

My Twitter handle is @webspelunker.  Please feel free to follow me and I’d be happy to follow you.

I can be found on Google+ as webspelunker Ghostraven.

On Skype I’m webspelunker Ghostraven.

I welcome feedback from readers, please either comment on my blog or e-mail me at . 

          If you would like to read about my other adventures in Second Life
please click here.

          Open roads and safe fires!




Photo No. 1 Landing Zone

Photo No. 2 Pumpkin Patch

Photo No. 4 Scarecrow

Photo No. 5 Merchant’s Shop I

Photo No. 7 Witch’s Den

Photo No. 8 Skellytown Entrance

Photo No. 9 Merchant Shop II

Photo No. 10 Vampyreville Entrance

Photo No. 11 Amusement Park

Photo No. 13 Graveyard

Photo No. 14 The Master’s Grave

Photo No. 17 Castle

Photo No. 18 Aerial View



Friday, September 19, 2014

Finding New Friends in Second Life


Old friends pass away, new friends appear.  It is just like the days.  An old day passes, a new day arrives.  The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend or - meaningful day.

Dalai Lama



          As many of my readers hopefully know by now, I’ve been looking at social media to improve the sense of community among residents of Second Life (SL). 

          Initially, this was intended as a means to keep the community together in the event that SL went walkabout.  (Love that word, Significant Other contends that I’m only trying to show off that I once saw an Australian movie.)  Later, this became more pressing as Facebook started making noises that they didn’t like my type. (No skin off my nose, I’ve been thrown out of better places than theirs.)   

          Just prior to all the turmoil of my hasty departure from Facebook, I came across a new social networking site exclusively for avatars from virtual worlds.  Its name is the Avatar Social Network (ASN) and, oddly enough, I learned about it while on Facebook.

          Joining, I found several old friends and started to make many new ones.  Since the Facebook diaspora has begun to arrive the numbers are steadily increasing.  No one asked about my Real Life (RL) identity.  I could offer friendship without people coming back asking snarkily who did I think I was trying to friend them.  There’s a Help Center staffed by real people who came back promptly and helped me when I was trying to figure something out. 

          I must admit that this was an entirely different experience from the other so called social network that’d just run me out of town.

          Then to top this all off, I met the founder and general manager of ASN who friended me, had a pleasant conversation with me, and accepted readily my offer of an interview to do this story. 

          His name is Arkad Baxton and with his help, I’ll introduce ASN to you. 

          Now, to be fair, I’ve never met Mark Zuckerberg so he hasn’t had a chance to snub me or decline my friendship offer.  But, somehow I don’t think I’d have gotten the same reception as I’ve gotten from Arkad.  (That offer to guest blog here is still open Mark!)

          Arkad is an avatar in SL.  He’s been inworld since 2004 and his current persona was born in 2008.  For him, the attraction of SL is privacy.  No RL needs to be shared.  Like me, Arkad enjoys his privacy.  This was the reason why ASN was created. 

          ASN is intended to be an alternative to Facebook for non-real accounts such as ourselves.  Arkad stresses that no RL information being required was the driving force behind the decision to establish ASN. 

          As Arkad puts it, a person can be whomever they want to be inworld. He cites the example of Anshe Chung, a Danish school teacher in RL, a Chinese land baron millionaire in SL. 

          The goal of ASN is to bring and keep the virtual worlds and games communities together without any obligation of providing real information, thus offering more freedom than other social media websites. 

          I continue asking if ASN was a reaction to Facebook’s policies or did that develop afterwards.  Arkad replies that ASN was the result of a mix of things.  The original concept, yes, is ensuring privacy and that no RL data is being shared or requested.

The other, he continues, is that there was not any kind of social network available where virtual world members can share their photos, connect, promote, play games or interact like there now is in ASN.

          Arkad says proudly that ASN has it all in one place. ASN is the flickr, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook and Forums, etc. for virtual world residents and gamers all at one place.

          As far as I’m concerned, Arkad seems to have hit both nails squarely on their heads. 

          I next ask about the funding for ASN as all this takes money.  Arkad explains that originally investors were behind ASN but, now, advertising and sponsors are helping.

          When I ask about who ASN’s members are, Arkad says they come from all over and cites Second Life, Little Field Grid, Island Oasis, Virtual Highway,, IMVU, World of Warcraft, and even flight simulator enthusiasts.  A pretty diverse group in my opinion. 

          Arkad states that there are several reasons why people join ASN.

          First, they come to make friends.  Next, they join to promote their activities such as photography and blogging.  Finally, there’s a lot of useful information to be found at ASN and members avail themselves of it.

          My next question came from one of my readers.

          The question concerns intellectual property (IP) rights for content posted on ASN.  (Remember the ToS controversy with Linden Lab and SL?)  The question is does ASN consider itself the owner of IP posted on ASN.

          Arkad replies that no, ASN is not the owner.  What’s posted on the Internet is available for all.  ASN has no claim on it.  (Ebbe Altberg and Linden Lab could learn a few things from this guy.)

          I inquire about any issues that ASN may be experiencing. Arkad replies that server capacity had been an issue but has been addressed by the recent upgrade.  (I have to add that this migration was done very professionally and with transparent communications with the user community.  I know some large global companies that could learn from this.) 

          My last question has to do with ASN’s future plans. 

          Arkad says that short term, the immediate plans are celebrate the first birthday of ASN this coming September 20th (which is why this story is one day early) from 10:00AM to 11:00PM SLT. 

          The festivities will be non-stop with performers, gifts, and parties.

          Oh, you’d like to know where the celebrations are?

          Well, I can tell you without having to… (You know the rest!)

          Until just a few hours ago this was a tighter secret than the personal mobile phone numbers of Linden Lab management.  (Don’t ask.)

          The first anniversary celebrations will be here.  See you there!

          The location will be announced the day before on the website so keep an eye out is all that I can say now!

          Longer term, after the parties, Arkad’s plans for ASN are to introduce new features onto the website, fix some bugs in the Android app, and launch the iPhone app.  A pretty impressive list!

          Arkad next takes me to ASN inworld location to show me where residents can join and use the ATM for credits.  (More about this feature in a future story!)

          Wanting to be mindful of Arkad’s time, I thank him for his openness and hospitality then take my leave to return to Nowaki.   

          ASN is a well run, tight community of avatars from across the Metaverse.  In my short time here, I’m impressed by the friendliness of the other members and the helpfulness of the staff.

          For those looking for a social networking application to assist in their enjoyment of SL and other virtual worlds, I strongly recommend ASN. 

          You’ll see me there!

          I would like to thank Arkad for his time and hospitality while meeting with me for this interview.        

          As always, I’m grateful to all inworld for their kindness and time in stopping to talk with a stranger who was passing through their lives.   

          I’ve included some pictures from my meeting with Arkad in his private offices inworld.

My Twitter handle is @webspelunker.  Please feel free to follow me and I’d be happy to follow you.

I can be found on Google+ as webspelunker Ghostraven.

On Skype I’m webspelunker Ghostraven.

I welcome feedback from readers, please either comment on my blog or e-mail me at . 

          If you would like to read about my other adventures in Second Life
please click here.

          Open roads and safe fires!




Photo No. 5 Arkad Baxton
Photo No. 6 ASN First Anniversary Announcement