Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Celebration of H. P. Lovecraft in Second Life


Sometimes I believe that this less material life is our truer life, and that our vain presence on the terraqueous globe is itself the secondary or merely virtual phenomenon.

H. P. Lovecraft


          As I wander across Second Life, I never to cease to wonder at the themes that people come together around and form communities about inworld.  I’ve encountered fashion, writers, steampunk, nudity, and BDSM among others while traversing the Grid. 

          One group that has always had my attention is the "HP Lovecraft Roleplay (and more) Group of Second Life" (HPL-RPG) dedicated to the works of one of my favorite authors, H. P. Lovecraft.  (Admit it, is anyone really surprised?)  He is one of the great writers of horror, fantasy, and science fiction in the twentieth century.  Sadly, Lovecraft was relatively unknown for his writings until after his death. 

          Without Lovecraft there would be neither Cthulhu nor Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts.  (Where I wanted to attend college until someone cruelly told me that it was only fictional.  Mother could have handled that better!) 

          Fortunately for diehard fans such as myself, (Significant Other states that it would be simpler to just list what I’m not a fan of.) HPL-RPG exists inworld and they keep the traditions alive virtually. 

My good friend, Arik Metzger (AKA arikthered) is the founder and coordinator of the group.  We met several years ago and have stayed in touch since.  My peripatetic lifestyle inworld as well as Real Life (RL) commitments have prevented from staying close to Arik and the group.  However this year, the stars aligned (and Arik stayed on me) and I’m able to blog about and will visit the festival!

          One of their traditions is the annual Lovecraft Festival held about the time of the Master’s birthday, August 20th.  This year the festival will run from August 19th to 25th.

The main event site will feature a tribute to the marvelous Lovecraft tale "At the Mountains of Madness."   Visitors will be able to “gear up and board ship for a journey to the remote continent of Antarctica, and explore the mysteries of the icy lands, Lovecraft-style... an adventure that should prove to be a truly thrilling and chilling experience!”  OK, I’m on board!  (Significant Other’s eyes roll and a comment about being relieved that I only go walkabout virtually is made.)

Other activities and events are being organized for sim visitors to enjoy without leaving the vendor and activities areasl.  Currently planned are the concerts of Nightwish, Apocalyptica and Cradle of Filth, courtesy of Bad Ampitude and Arik Metzger. Also in the works are several stage shows, a scavenger hunt, and other projects.

          Arik was kind enough to invite me over to stroll the Festival grounds prior to its opening.  Never being one to turn down an invitation, maybe I’m not timely but I eventually show up, I dropped by recently to see what’s planned.

          Arik and his team have managed to capture that gritty view of Depression Era America that influenced Lovecraft’s writing.  There is a touch of whimsy thrown in with the horror. Walking around, I feel like I’ve just stepped out of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks and taken a stroll down the street. 

          Switching from the run down times of RL to the fantastic and horrible of Lovecraft’s writing can be a little unsettling.  This sim is not for the faint of heart or those who are easily influenced.  (I’m ignoring Significant Other’s query about why am I there then.)

          As Arik has promised there are rides, vendors, and a Lovecraft trivia hunt.  (That one ride promising to be a recreation of a trip to Antarctica from one of Lovecraft’s stories has got my attention.  I’m definitely coming back to try out that one!)  The buildings themselves are worth coming but to see.  The attention to detail is admirable.  The occasional corpse lying about does make me wonder what the site prep was like though.

          From the soundstages being erected the concerts should be loud and big!

          The Lovecraft Festival 2014 looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun.  Most importantly, it’ll bring together many fans of the Master to celebrate his brief life and his works which will be remembered for a long time.

          I strongly recommend all who either are Lovecraft fans or who just love a good time to drop by and visit the Festival.  Maybe you’ll see me there!

          Here’s the link to the Festival site.

HPL-RPG’s fine charity of choice, Autism National Committee (AutCom) will again be the recipient of their fund raising efforts from this event. Another fine example of SL helping out with RL causes.  Please be generous if you can!         

BTW, if you’ve never read Lovecraft before now would be a great time to start!

           I’ve included pictures from my visit to the Festival grounds but I encourage everyone to go and see these wonderful places for yourselves.  I’m about as good inworld with a camera as I am in RL so checking for yourself is highly recommended.  (Significant Other nods violently in agreement.)

          I’d like to thank Arik for his help and patience in preparing this story.  Without his efforts, and those of countless others inworld, these events and activities couldn’t take place.

          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 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.



Photo No. 2 Festival Poster

Photo No. 3 Local Flora

Photo No. 4 Signpost

Photo No. 5 Merchant’s Booth

Photo No. 8 Fairgrounds

Photo No. 10 Where to?

Photo No. 11 Another Visitor

Photo No. 12 The View

Photo No. 13 Festival Office

Photo No. 14 Concert Poster

Photo No. 15 Local Transportation

Photo No. 16 Amusement Ride

Photo No. 17 Tamer Ride

Photo No. 18 Local Fauna

Photo No. 19 Ruins

Photo No. 20 House Interior

Photo No. 21 Lovecraft Himself
Photo No. 22 H. P. Lovecraft Trivia Hunt Starting Point

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Controversy in Second Life


Within any important issue, there are always aspects no one wishes to discuss.

George Orwell


          One thing about Second Life (SL), you can always count on it for a bit of controversy. 

          Most times, I just ignore it or create my own for the sheer Hell of it.  However, recently, there has been one controversy that I just felt I had to wade into and give my two cents on.  (Significant Other wants to know what took me so long.)

          A week ago, a Real Life (RL) writer, Karyne Levy, the Senior West Coast Tech Editor at Business Insider, wrote a story entitled Second Life has devolved into a postapocalyptic virtual world. The weirdest thing is how many people still use it.  (Yes, I know it’s a mouthful.  Just be glad I go for succinct titles for my stories!) 

          As you can surmise from the title, it’s not exactly a gushing review of a wonderful alternative reality where we can all feel good about ourselves.  On the other hand, I can’t say that Karyne really got too much wrong.  (Truthfully, I think I’ve been harsher in some of my stories than Karyne was.  But then she probably has more than the two followers that I have which may explain the dust up.)

           I join the fray not for the love of the fight.  (Significant Other’s eyebrows arch.)  I join because I think we should keep things in perspective and not be too thin skinned.

          Bloggers whom I follow and have considerable respect for really went to town on Karyne.  (Whom I wouldn’t know if I tripped over her but I feel I owe her some benefit of the doubt as a professional courtesy if nothing else.) 

          Wagner Au on New World Notes blogged, “Business Insider just published a fairly clueless post about Second Life.”  While Wagner blames the lackluster technical components for this clueless piece of reporting, I think he misses the point.  If this is what SL has to offer after eleven years of operation then who’s to blame?  The journalist?

          Mona Eberhardt, in her blog, ascribes the poor reporting to a lack of research on the part of Karyne.  It’s hard to think of a worse comment to be made about a journalist.  However, Mona doesn’t challenge Karyne’s facts just her conclusions. Hmm…

          Finally, there are more but I don’t to be writing this story all night, Nalates Urriah, writes in her blog, Nalates’ Things & Stuff, “While Karyne distorts what SL is and misses much of what is going on, the article is not that bad. It is just the typical ignorant writer writing without bothering to do more than a minimal amount of research on their article. A basic noobie thinking they know what SL is.”  Ouch!  OK, but didn’t we all start as noobies?

          After reading these blogs and a few other comments, I feel that we’re shooting the messenger here.

          Do we really think every journalist should research and prepare their technology before they go in to write a story as if they’re going into Deep Space?  Are we saying that the only way anyone can appreciate SL is by an effort comparable to the Normandy landings?  Whatever happened to the spur of the moment?  Having fun for the sake of having fun?  (Significant Other notes that the world’s in trouble if I’m the one asking this.)

          If this is what we mean then Linden Lab (LL) had better change their marketing strategy because that’s not how they lure people in.

          Do we really feel that the only way SL can be presented fairly is by controlling the message in some Orwellian fashion?  (Like how I name dropped there?)

          Journalistic integrity is under attack in SL. 

          The bloggers whom I quoted above I respect, follow, and will continue to follow.  I share and retweet their content.  I will continue to do so.  They publish quality,relevant blogs and I know what’s involved in trying to run a blog.  (I’m not saying I’m as good as they are, I just know what it takes.)  I encourage anyone reading this story to check them out.  I just feel they missed Karyne’s point. 

          How many of them, contacted her as I did and offered to show her the better side of SL? 

          I’m disappointed that Karyne had such a poor experience in her visit.  SL is much better than that.  Notwithstanding, my periodic jabs at LL, SL is a wonderful place with great people in communities that are truly tight. 

          Blaming Karyne for her experience and reporting on it is would be like blaming the survivors from the Titanic for not doing their due diligence before boarding when they complained. 

          If we want to criticize let’s look more closely at LL and its culpability.  Near as I can tell, Ebbe Altberg’s only response to all this was to refer Karyne to the Drax Files.    Nothing wrong with that but a stronger response is in order.  (If I’ve missed something here then please set me straight.  Don’t just criticize me for not doing my research!)  I feel this is just another example of that typical LL customer service that we all know and love so much. 

          Some who are jumping all over Karyne are also swallowing LL’s line about SL 2.0 hook, line, and sinker.  Let’s see what happens there first before we go clapping anyone on the back.

           I make a standing offer to Karyne and anyone else who wants to see the good side of SL to meet me and I’ll show you around.  I think after over three years of blogging about SL I have something to say.

          If writers, whether noobie or otherwise, walk into a buzz saw whenever they’re perceived to be critical of SL then we’ll all suffer. 

           I’ve included pictures of some of SL’s highlights but I encourage everyone to go and see these wonderful places for yourselves.  I’m about as good inworld with a camera as I am in RL so checking for yourself is highly recommended.  (Significant Other nods violently in agreement.)

          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 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.



Photo No. 4 Baroque Neighborhood

Photo No. 10 Asian Victorian Gardens

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Buying a Boat in Second Life


All I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.

John Masefield


          Earlier, I’d blogged about grand adventure of mine - a boat trip through the twelve sims of Mieville in honor of their recent sixth anniversary celebrations. 

          You may ask why?

          I will not insult your intelligence with the perfectly logical retort, “Why not?” 

          I do it because it’s there.  It’s never been done before.  And, I figured I could get a few good stories out of it.  (Hey, it ain’t easy coming up with new ideas every week.)

          My loyal friend and Research Assistant (RA), Tera Trenchcoat, who always asks that I add that she’s also unpaid, stepped up and volunteered to come along. 

          A third traveler joined our group when Becca (“Bec”) Kellstrom asked to join us as well.  You may recall Bec as the Real Life (RL) minister who also works with the Second Life (SL) congregation, First UCC.  Bec hopes to see more of SL and learn to sail as we make our way across the Grid.  (Please no wisecracks about the need for bringing a chaplain along.)

          (Significant Other’s eyes roll and I overhear something about Gilligan, Ginger, and Mary Ann.) 

          We have our crew.  I have a complete list of the Mieville sims from Mike Olbracht.  What more do we need?

          Seems we need a boat. A motor boat.  (Sorry, Bec.)

          Tera in her usual efficient way has gone ahead and done a recce.  (I love using that word.  Confuses the Hell out of all my American friends and my British ones ask just exactly how old I am.)  The long and the short of it is that if we try to make this voyage by sail boat as originally planned then we’ll need at least a third life.  Tera’s recommendation is that we get a motor boat.  She doesn’t want to be an OAP and still be doing this.

          Since we don’t have one handy and this was my brainstorm, I’m tasked with acquiring one.  (Tera’s very good at delegating upwards.)

          I should point out that I can neither swim in RL nor have any inclination to do so.  (Significant Other is always amazed by this.) I’m not a beach person and as a matter of course I normally avoid boats.  (Let’s put it this way, the Staten Island Ferry is the biggest boat that I’ve ever been on that wasn’t moored to a dock.) 

          Despite all these shortcomings I’m the one going out to get a boat.  (The film Titanic started out better than this.)

          I tell myself that I can do this.  I’ve done more difficult things in both SL and RL.  (Significant Other’s eyebrow arches here.)  After all, how difficult can this be?

          Our boat needs a few basic features.  First, it should float.  (See?  I’ve got the basics covered.)  It has to be a power boat and it needs to seat three people. This is going to be cake!  (I always find Significant Other’s rolling on the floor laughing rather undignified.)

          My next challenge is where to buy a boat inworld? 

I do a search and come up with two names.  How’d I select these two?  Simple.  They were the first two names in my search results.  I’m ruthless when I’m on a mission.

I TP to the first boat yard.  A place called Best Jet Skis.  I find myself standing in water up to my knees in the harbor.  (I keep getting all these auspicious signals.)  I drag myself up onto land and start looking around.

This place has a lot of toys.  Motorbikes, jet skis, helicopters, planes, and boats!  I’ll spare you the ugly details but I find a beauty.  It’s a zodiac boat with two high powered engines and has plenty of seating capacity.  It’s like what the US Navy SEALs use.  (Mount an M60 on this and I could have some fun!  Better not talk like that around the chaplain, er, I mean Bec.)  She’s sleek with good lines and black like the night.  And fast!  Did I say she’s fast?  I love her!  (What’d you expect?  I’m a guy after all!)

Of course, there are problems.

One problem is that despite supposedly being in the business of selling boats and things, there doesn’t appear to any mechanism to purchase my dream boat.  Further, as I research the builder, it appears that he only does business in French.  While I have a limited control of the French language, I decide not to make American-French relations any worse by attempting to conduct a business transaction.  (Tera’s fluent in French, I do read profiles, but this is my mission and I’m going to complete it myself!)

I move onto my next stop, Roark Marine.  Now, here’s a place that just sells boats.  All sorts of boats!  In fact, they have this really neat pirate ship with working cannons!  I control myself.  (Facing a mutiny and being forced to walk the plank by my crew doesn’t really appeal to me.)

I come across a nice, little three seater runabout.  Won’t be any tighter than three people sitting in the back of a NYC taxi cab.  It’s quick enough. It’s cheap, 450 Lindens. (Significant Other wants to know what happened to SL being a free experience for me.) 

          I’ve made my decision.  We have a motor boat!

          My next problem is to figure out how to get her into the water to cast off.  Then gather up part of the crew and begin our voyage.  Oh, yes, another little difficulty.  I live on the East Coast of the US.  Bec’s somewhere in the Midwest.  Tera’s somewhere Down Under.  So, we’ll make this trip in relays.  Hopefully, we’ll be able to make a few legs of the trip together.

          My next post in this series will be the first leg of our voyage with whomever I can con into starting with me.  I’m not sure how many stories it’ll take but I hope to be finished before the end of the year.

          Wish us luck!

           I’ve included pictures of Tera and Bec along with a few shots of my boat buying expedition. 

          I’d like to thank both Tera and Bec for offering to accompany me on this trip and look forward to traversing Mieville with them!    

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 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.


Photo No. 1 Tera Trenchcoat

Photo No. 2 Becca Kellstrom

Photo No. 4 The One for Me!



Saturday, July 26, 2014

Helping Others in Second Life II


No one has ever become poor by giving.

Anne Frank



          Those of you who are regular readers (My thanks to both of you!) know that I’m very interested in how virtual worlds like Second Life (SL) interact with Real Life (RL). (Significant Other gives me that warning look that SL had better not ever show up at our front door.)

          For many, this involves hanging out with friends, music, dancing, parties, sex, and lifestyles like BDSM or naturism.  (I should know, I’ve blogged just about all of them!)  All of which contributes in one way or another, fairly or not, to how some in RL perceive SL.

          I’ve always felt that the positive aspects of SL such as friendship and community bonding don’t get the proper attention and respect that they deserve.  One of the reasons I’ve marooned myself inworld instead of going out across the Metaverse was that I found SL and its residents and their lives to be so fascinating.  They have to be great people no one’s kicked me out yet.  (Well, there was that one time.  But, it was a misunderstanding.  Better yet, let’s just not bring that back up again.)

          One aspect that I’ve found particularly engaging about SL is how willing people are to go out of their way to help others.  Recent examples in this blog include Relay for Life (RFL) raising money inworld for cancer research in RL.  (Which as of this writing has collected over $400,000US.)  The Mieville sim had a yard sale to help raise money for a member suffering from leukemia in RL and who didn’t have health insurance.  (Which has surpassed its goal for its member in need.)  Finally, First UCC maintains a ministry inworld helping congregants, and anyone else who needs it, with their spiritual and other needs. 

          There are many others and I don’t wish to slight them.  These three groups I’d just stumbled across in my wanderings across the Grid and became aware of their activities.

          Recently, while hanging around with the First UCC crew (The only places in RL that I have yet to thrown out of are churches and Starbucks.  Since there are none of the latter inworld, I tend to hang around with the former.  It’s safer.)  I learned about their upcoming fundraiser to support a child in RL.

          Yes, you heard me correctly.

          A church group in SL is raising funds to support a child in RL.  Not only that, but this is the second time they’ve doing it!  I had to learn more.

          Reaching out to my SL friend, Becca Kellstrom, a minister in both worlds, I asked about the possibility of an interview.  She promptly connected me with YoYo Rez, one of the two non-clergy staffers at First UCC and who is also responsible for running the program.  (Significant Other suggests the promptness may have more to do with not wanting to be seen with the likes of me.  I politely remind Significant Other that but for the likes of me, folks like Bec would be out of a job.)    

          YoYo and I were able to schedule a time to meet and to discuss the children’s aid program run by the church. 

          What follows comes from that interview and materials that YoYo was kind enough to send to me.  (BTW, YoYo’s a big time Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan.  We hit it off from the get go!) 

          The program is called RealReach by First UCC and is run in RL under the sponsorship of an organization called Children International. 

          YoYo was originally attracted to their program because they are not a directly sectarian effort tied to a single denomination.  They had strong ratings through charity tracking sites, and she liked how they tied education and skill-building programs into their outreach efforts.  They actively involve the families of the sponsored children in in-country community efforts.  They are not just a drop-off-the-food-and-clothing kind of place.  They have programs right in the neighborhoods they serve, and they interact daily with those they're helping.          Children are normally supported until their eighteenth year when their education ends.  Although, YoYo cited as an example a young person she sponsors herself whom she supported until his nineteenth birthday so that he could complete technical training. 

          To me this sounds like a very effective program.  (Look, I’m not going to pretend that I’m some sort of expert in helping others.  (We won’t go into Significant Other’s observation that I can help best by staying away.)  But, my limited experience has taught me that getting and staying involved with folks who need help is beneficial for all concerned.) 

          The cost per child is approximately $350US annually. 

          There are benefits accruing from this program other than just caring for children.  YoYo observed how this effort unifies everyone in First UCC.  It focuses them and draws them together as a community.  Naturally, they grow in unity through their services and their prayer times, but there are very real friendships and relationships being forged here.  Many of the members have already met in RL.  Some have made decisions about moving to be closer to other First UCC members and to join their worship communities, and are beginning to visit one another from across states and across the country.  So certainly, First UCC gets a direct benefit from joining in projects that never could have united them without a virtual world community.  They never would have met.  This extra good would never have been done.

          Now, for the good part, how can we help!

          First UCC is having its next fund raiser to sponsor a child on Saturday. August 23rd, from 11:00 AM SLT to 1:00 PM SLT at their inworld location. 

          It’s going to be a “Battle of the DJs.”  There will be four DJs and each DJ will receive thirty minutes of allotted time.  At the very start of the event, YoYo will trigger a device that spits out rolly balls with a single word on it.  She’ll do eight of these.  The DJ must play up to eight songs with that random word in the title.  The person who goes first has less time to think about it ... but those who go last might see the song they want taken by an earlier DJ.  (Sure beats the old bake sale idea, huh?) 

There will be four donation stations, and people can donate to the DJ they want to "win." And of course, the real winner is the sponsored child, although the DJ who wins walks away with bragging rights.

Sounds like a plan! 

          At the first fund raiser, expectations were modest.  YoYo and her colleagues didn’t expect to raise the full annual fee for the sponsored child.  They were stunned to not only hit the goal but to exceed it.  YoYo admits freely that she cried for joy. 

          If you want to want to make a difference in the world, the real world, and help a child then I’d recommend you join YoYo and First UCC on August 23rd and join the fun.  If you can’t make the date how about dropping by some other time to make a donation?

          Remember no donation is too small.  (The widow’s mite is one of my favorite parables!) 

          At a time when so many children seem to be suffering in this world either dying of thirst in a desert or hiding in basements from bombs, here’s a chance to make a difference in the life of at least one child.  

           I’ve included a few pictures of my interview with YoYo and the First UCC sim.  Drop by and walk through the gardens there when you find yourself in need of a quiet moment. 

          I’d like to thank YoYo again for taking the time to meet with me and answer my questions and Bec for arranging for us to meet! 

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 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.



Photo No. 1 YoYo Rez

Photo No. 2 The Interview

Photo No. 5 Church Grounds