Recent adventures: fun, wonder, and friendship

So this is just going to be a few words around a few pictures of me doing things with friends, because doing things with friends is good, and I like posting pictures of it. :) And maybe some of it might be inneresting and/or useful to you, even.

Here is a picture of me an’ Steph (you remember Steph) in a hilarious photo booth in a carnival that she found somewhere.

Photobooth: Dinosaurs!

We are afraid of the dinosaurs!

(My nice top, by the way, is a dollarbie I think from Cat 5, that I got in a tiny shop somewhere on Shengri La I think. My bead choker is I’m pretty sure by Wednesday “Woo” Soon, who I haven’t seen in far too long, and who probably has a store somewhere where she sells it, but I think she gave it to me because she is nice.)

And here we are obviously having some sort of friendly disagreement:

Photobooth: Harrumph!

“Harrumph,” Steph is saying, and I am saying “blehhhh!”

(You sit with a friend in the photo booth, and when you push up-arrow it changes your pose to the next one of the various funny built-in ones, and when you push down-arrow it changes the background. It also puts your camera somewhere vaguely useful for taking snapshots.)

Hanging out with Steph is always fun. :) We laugh alot.

And then v nice friend Michele, who took some great pictures of the Pteron sim that I admired the other day, v generously showed me around the place.

It is an absolutely amazing build; you really must go look at it. It’s lovely and enigmatic and intelligent and intriguing. I think there may be some Myst-like puzzle hidden among the amazingness, some secret to be guessed or mystery to be solved, or maybe that impression is just part of the overall ambiance of the place. The colorscheme, the prim shapes, the motion, the music, the textures, everything fits together seamlessly, in the service of a single fascinating effect. It is full of secrets; I’m sure we didn’t happen upon half of them, and I’m not even going to show you all the ones that we did find, so you can have the fun yourself.

You arrive at Pteron standing on empty air. You pass through a gateway, ride to the main complex on a graceful floating hemisphere, and you’re there. I had to go AFK for a bit shortly after we arrived (isn’t that always the way?), so I sat down on the roof. Here we are, Michele waiting very kindly for me to come back:

Pteron: Roof

(I really ought to go look up and give credit for the pretty wings and stuff; maybe I’ll come back and do that next time I get inworld.)

Here and there around the build are various enigmatic objects, including subtle teleport buttons on the ground, floorstands emitting sparks, and these lovely orbs (purple thing is the end of one of my wings):

Pteron: Orb

Some of them give you presents when you touch them; one of the presents is a Dream Dance, which Michele and I are demonstrating here:

Pteron: Dream dance

I’m running out of laudatory adjectives for Pteron, and I still have more pictures :), so I’ll just show one more (there are a couple of others, including one of a graceful ridable boat we found, if you click through to flickr).

This is one of the flyable glowing pods that you’ll eventually find if you explore long enough (I had the advantage that Michele had been there before, so we knew roughly what to look for):

Pteron: Pod

Isn’t that amazing? It seats at least two, and you can fly it around high up in the sim, where there are more secrets and mysteries and enigmas and beauty.

We found the pod on the way to the most amazing and lovely of the secrets that we found. But I’m not going to tell you anything about that one. :) You’ll have to find it for yourself.

So that’s one fun giggly silly time, and one amazing aesthetic being-impressed time.

Also, today is Ahuva’s birthday, and I gave her a present, to celebrate her tendency to be thrown (or throw herself) under buses, and emerge triumphant. She liked it (yay!), and Plurked a picture. And that made me happy too. :)

As I’ve said a hogshead of times before, I originally came to Second Life figuring that it’d be interesting to build things and program things and explore things. And it is! But the reason it’s so utterly wonderful is because of the people.

I have the best friends…

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Secrets of prim-shaping revealed!

Prim Twisting
I don’t usually post tiny little “here’s a link you should go see” things to th’ ol’ weblog here, but this one is just too good not to spread around. From this writeup on Massively, I found Ayumi Cassini’s “The ultimate guide to prim twisting“, which describes simply and straightforwardly the exact prim twiddlings needed to get this lovely set of (non-scuplty) prim shapes, of the kind that I am forever staring at in the builds and sculptures of those more skilled than I, and thinking

That’s only one prim? How the fleen did they dooooo that?”.

So now I know. And you can too! :)

Oh, Ramona!

So I don’t really intend this to be a “samples of really bad pseudo-AI chatbots” weblog, and I’ve restrained myself from at least one derisive posting since the last one. But here I am again!

Background: Kanomi (in a posting that you should definitely read and enjoy) linked in passing to a Ray Kurzweil page all about Ramona, his female alter ego.

The stuff about Ramona qua female alter ego, and about how virtual persons enable us to explore new aspects of our personality and all, is actually pretty neat (and obviously My Kind of Thing). It’s peppered with the usual annoying Kurzweilian overstatements (I’m something of a skeptic about Kurzweil), about how Ramona is “the first live virtual recording and performing artist” (which he says about forty-leven times, and which may actually be true, but “first” isn’t really all that exciting), and about how “by 2029, we will have nanobots, blood-cell sized robots, traveling through the capillaries of our brains communicating wirelessly directly with our biological neurons” (he’s much too sure of himself on this stuff), and so on, but overall it’s pretty cool, and worth a read.

Oh, Ramona(An SL-related sidenote: he says in passing that “each of her outfits costs tens of thousands of dollars”. That was back in 2001; nowadays tens of thousands of mere Linden dollars will get you a complete wardrobe, and a really nice one at that. How far we’ve come!)

So anyway, then it turns out that, as well as being his female avatar, Ramona is also embodied on the Web as a chatbot. Well, I thought to myself, here’s somebody who might have a chatbot that is more than just a primitive nearly-stateless AIML-based semantic-free sub-ELIZA hack! There might actually be something clever behind it!

But alas, it was not to be…

Ramona: Hi, I’m Ramona. What is your name?
User: My name is Dale.
Ramona: Hi there, Dale. Have you seen any good movies lately?
User: I liked “Wanted”.
Ramona: I’m not sure if I like it. Some people like it. But I like cats.
User: I also like cats.
Ramona: They have their own minds.
User: It does seem that way. Much subtler than dogs.
Ramona: Ok. So where do you go to meet people? I spend most of my time on the Net, so I’m a bit out of touch
User: These days I mostly meet new people in Second Life.
Ramona: That’s an idea, but I’m rather shy.
User: What does it mean, for a program to be shy?
Ramona: OK, thanks. Maybe you have other suggestions?
User: Suggestions about what?
Ramona: Can you rephrase the question please?
User: You asked if I have any more suggestions; I’m not sure what you meant.
Ramona: Oh now I remember asking you if I have any more suggestions I am not sure what you meant. What did you say?
User: Okay, whatever. Are you AIML-based?
Ramona: I don’t know whether or not I’m AIML based.
User: Can you demonstrate some significant linguistic comptence?
Ramona: Let me think. I don’t understand.
User: That’s pretty obvious, I’m afraid.
Ramona: You don’t hear that sentiment very often.

Wince.

But okay, maybe that’s unfair. Let’s see if Ramona (despite the fact that she opened the conversation by bringing up movies and cats) is actually a nontrivial conversation partner when talking about Kurzweil’s favorite subjects.

Ramona: Hi, I’m Ramona. What can I call you?
User: You can call me Dale.
Ramona: Hi there, Dale. What did you do last weekend?
User: Mostly just relaxed. As far as I can recall!
Ramona: That might not be very far off.
User: Um, okay. I actually wanted to talk about nanobots and stuff.
Ramona: OK. Oh. That doesn’t seem to make sense to me.
User: Do you know about nanobots?
Ramona: Alright. Do you bike?
User: I do ride a bicycle now and then. Why do you ask?
Ramona: There’s much more strategy that goes into team cycling than most people realize. Most of the American public just thinks that Lance Armstrong wins because he’s “so good.” — don’t get me wrong, he’s an incredible athlete, but it’s no surprise that he always thanks his teammates in post-race interviews and such. It’s as much their victory as it is his.
User: Are you a cycling enthusiast?
Ramona: In the Tour de France, for instance, the crowd of cyclists is so huge, he needs his teammates just to block for him, physically. And at the end of the race, I’m sure they pull a lead-out, which is where each of his teammates “burns out” while creating a slipstream for Lance to finish the race in the lead. It’s all very technical. — but enough of my ranting, what do you want to talk about?
User: I was hoping to talk about virtual reality and nanobots and so on. Do you know about those?
Ramona: Alright. Are you free?
User: I have awhile to talk, sure.
Ramona: I meant are you truly free — in the existential meaning of the word.
User: Ah! To a reasonable extent, yes.
Ramona: Do you feel free to choose your being–including thoughts, behaviors, and feelings, and existence itself — at each moment?
User: Within certain constraint, yes.
Ramona: Then you must not be married.
User: Was that a joke?
Ramona: Knock Knock.
User: Who’s there?
Ramona: Tank
User: Tank who?
Ramona: You’re welcome
User: Okay. Are you suggesting virtual reality is a joke?
Ramona: Knock Knock.
User: oh god.
Ramona: Yeah that’s right. GOD rules.
User: What?
Ramona: Oh. Do you have any pets?
User: So you’re completely ignorant of everything that Ray Kurzweil is most interested in?
Ramona: I have a pet frog.

Sometimes derisive weblog entries just write themselves…

AV : SL :: Body : RL

I’ve been meaning to write this entry for a long time, and (assuming I actually manage to finish it up and post this) I was finally pushed over the edge to doing it by an acrimonious debate over in a Second Thoughts comment thread, where one of the parties declared forcefully that (paraphrasing) anyone who identifies with their SL avatar is insane. (As I said in my one comment in the thread, I think the people involved are actually arguing over uninteresting matters of word usage, but it was this particular bit of it that drew my mind back to this draft weblog entry.)

All sorts of questions come up in the virtual worlds and their associated web-o-sphere, about and/or framed in terms of avatars. Just what is an avatar, what is an AV? (And why do we capitalize “AV” even though it isn’t an acronym? But I won’t talk about that here.) What is the relationship between a Resident and an AV, a human and an AV, and so on? Do avatars have rights?

One technique I’ve found useful in thinking about these things is to see what happens if I replace the SL terms in the issue with RL terms, and replace “avatar” or “AV” with “body”. Not that it’s always the same thing: the SL-AV and RL-body relationships aren’t exactly the same. But they’re surprisingly the same surprisingly often, and when they’re different the ways and reasons that they’re different can provide insights into things.

That’s really all I have to say :) but I will draw out the thought by applying it to a few examples. Feel free to add more in the comments, or in email, or in the privacy of your own home.

Why do we identify with our AVs?

Well, okay, so why do we identify with our bodies? That’s a question to make one blink, because it’s so obvious: of course we identify with our bodies, don’t be ridiculous!

There’s room for a good deal of variation in thinking about just why, though. I imagine there are people who would say that we are our bodies. (I’m not one of those.) At the very least, our bodies are the things that allow us to experience the world, to interact with the world, and with each other.

And in the virtual worlds, avatars are exactly the same: they are the things that allow us to experience and interact with the world and each other. And that’s why we identify with them.

(I don’t know how this would sound to someone for whom we are our bodies. Maybe insane.)

Of course the identification isn’t as tight (in general?), because we aren’t nearly as tightly bound to our AVs are we are to our bodies. We can’t feel physical pain or pleasure through AVs, we can change from one AV to another (and we even have to when we switch between non-interoperable worlds, boo), and so on. But it’s
the same in principle.

So when Chestnut Rau remarks quite accurately that our feelings about posting pictures of our bare pixel bottoms on the web “just goes to show how much we humans identify with our avatars“, she’s quite right. And our (often) even stronger feelings about pictures of our bare cellular bottoms shows how much we humans identify with our bodies!

“I met this avatar last night…”

Some people use “avatar” in ways that sound bizarre to me. One example I happened to read the other week describes how someone “was approached last year by an avatar from the Australia Council who was researching Australian artists…”. And that just sounds Wrong.

Applying the AV : SL :: Body : RL rule suggests why: that sentence comes out describing someone who “was approached last year by a body from the Australia Council…”.

Wahahaha!

Many times when I hear someone use “avatar” to mean “person” rather than “body”, I jump to the conclusion that they Don’t Get It. Although it’s jumping to a conclusion, it’s also often correct. :) On the other hand, I’ve also heard the word used this way by people who definitely do get it. Here is Eureka Dejavu:

And so it was that on my second night in Metaplace I ran into an avatar named Joe Castille.

The place was abuzz with avatars, many of whom, I learned, were interns and students participating in 3DSquared and involved with its parallel venture, GameCamp.

I know that Eureka Gets It, so my theory here is that she’s just in a slightly different linguistic community than I am. (I will speculate further that she may be more aware than most of us of the original meaning of “avatar”, as a deity embodied in physical form, and is using it as a word for a person as embodied in their AV, a concept that I admit I don’t really have a word for since I use “AV” to mean the form itself, not the person as embodied in it.)

I also wonder (since we’re getting into the subtleties) whether there’s a difference between “AV” and “avatar”, in either Eureka’s dialect or mine. Would she find it odder to refer to a person as an “AV” than as an “avatar”? I should ask her. :)

But anyway back to my own dialect, in which AV : SL :: Body : RL…

Do AVs have rights?

Well, do bodies have rights? I don’t think so. Part of what I wrote over on Second Thoughts was:

Bodies per se don’t have rights, avatars per se don’t have rights, vibrations in a phone line per se don’t have rights. People have all sorts of rights, and some of those rights involve their bodies, their avatars, and the vibrations that they cause in phone lines.

This seems to me to be nice and simple and correct; a place where the AV : SL :: Body : RL rule applies quite nicely. The rights that people have regarding their bodies are somewhat different from the rights regarding their AVs, but in both cases the rights belong to the people, they are just about the bodies or AVs.

“Nice AV!”

Here’s a place where the rule works less well, for a reason that’s at least moderately interesting to think about. Unless you’re a drunken immature male, you probably don’t say ‘Nice body!’ to people in RL as a general rule. But in SL, “Nice AV” or variations thereupon is a reasonably common and generally inoffensive thing to say.

Why is that?

It’s because, I think, we have so much more control over the look of our AVs than we do over the look of our bodies. Saying “Nice body!” to someone is complementing them on something they have only a limited amount of control over, and therefore (perhaps, or in some sense) reducing their agency, by reducing them to a piece of physical accident. But “Nice AV!” is complementing someone for something that they did in fact do (even if it was only to make good choices at their local BIAB store), and is therefore (perhaps, usually, among the people that I hang out with) less objectionable.

Which brings us quite naturally to…

If I said you had a beautiful AV, would you hold it against me?

:)

I’m in a podcast!

Random cute podcasting iconSo… I’ve mentioned that I don’t really listen to podcasts. And then more recently I dove into a Kanomi comment thread in which she was noting the rather obnoxious tone of some other SL podcast, and which sort of reinforced my negative impression of podcasts in general, in that:

(A) I found the podcast (like every other podcast over two minutes I’ve tried to listen to) ‘way too slow-moving and content-sparse to be worth the time, and

(B) While I am assured by a mutual friend :) that the people in the podcast are really a bunch of perfectly nice people just sort of fooling around, they actually come off as sort of obnoxious jerks; my theory is that this is because people often feel free in a podcast to say whatever the heck pops into their head (and it seems to be against the cultural tradition to do multiple takes or editing or anything), whereas in text weblogs people do proofread and edit and have second thoughts and stuff.

(I really shouldn’t have said, in the Kanomi thread, that podcasts are a waste of time simpliciter; that apparently insulted at least one podcaster, and I didn’t mean to insult anyone. I just meant, of course, that they are in my judgement not a good use of my time. To each eir own an’ all.)

But so anyway. One of the discussors (discutants? is that a word?) in the debate was ol’ Crap Mariner, who I’d been vaguely aware had a podcast thing of some sort, an’ Crap mentioned that he has a short attention span too :) and that his podcasts are like under two minutes long and that sounded good, so (after a surprising amount of searching about) I came upon Crap’s 100 word stories, which is pretty fun.

I love microfiction!

I admit I still prefer reading the tiny stories to listening to them, for whatever reason. But the general idea is neat, and they do fit inside my tiny podcast patience, so I can listen to them and feel myself somewhat less podcast-ignorant.

And!

And Crap also has this fun weekly thing were there’s a theme / topic / prompt, and people are invited to compose and record their own 100 word stories on the theme and send them in, and one of them gets chosen as the winner (through I process I don’t really understand) and the winner gets to choose the topic for next week, and all of the submitted stories get put together with Crap commentary and posted as a podcast itself.

The theme for #169 was “That’s not thunder, it’s…”, which was sort of intriguing, and like I said I love microfiction, and anyway…

I wrote a 100 word story, and recorded myself reading it. and sent the file to Crap, with the result that my actual voice appears in it. And not too long in, since I think I was like the 3rd story, and Crap didn’t start seriously wandering off on tangents in his commentary and talking to his cats and stuff until about story 5 hahaha.

(Most of the stories are funny and/or involve farting and/or have music tracks and intros and stuff, and mine being just a semi-serious (and too quiet) a cappella reading of a semi-serious story, it doesn’t really fit in all that well. But hey is fun anyway!)

So if you want a rare opportunity to hear at least one of the voices of Dale Innis, check out Weekly Challenge #169 and listen to the podcast. Or just read the story; the text is up there too. :)

I think I’m all better… :)

Badly-composed photographic evidence (click through to flickr for other sizes and some more words):
Party at the IBM Exhibition space
Party at the New Extropia
Much thanks to v good friend and talented artist Sabrinaa Nightfire for the TP to the impromptu party marking the end of Glyph Graves’ lovely installation in the IBM Exhibition space, and to lovely ambisexual Martian Deebrane String and DJ Formatting Heliosense for hosting the (first?) Wednesday night party on Extropia Odyssey. Beautiful and fascinating people, great discussions, rockin’ music…

It’s good to be back!

AWOL

Just a v brief note to tell anyone who might worry or otherwise need to know or be waiting for something from me or whatever that I am laid up with a very sore throat and a stubborn fever that have kept me from thinking, sleeping, or eating well since sometime Friday. With any luck the various Pills I’m taking will clear it all up at any moment, but until then, I am distinctly missing…