Thursday, July 24, 2008

March of the Plush Avatars

Rivka, our suspiciously emaciated Mistress of Ceremonies; Jubilant; and a bit of ruthiness on the side that shows I'm still working with the old viewer.

I've been over this before about appearances in SL. Apparently, there's a research group dedicated to just this topic: the Avatar Identity Research Center. It's an interesting thought, "What does your avatar's appearance say about you?" So, I slapped on my fatvatar and tp'd over to have a listen. This was in the middle of the BlogHer Conference and I had to made a very hard decision! So much going on in SL (the same day) and so little time!
Rivka, in her introduction to Jubilant's presentation, said that SL is a sandbox for exploration of self and embodiment. I must have a multiple personality disorder then.

The Evil Speaker's Ball that no amount of Papyrus font can save from my waxing medievally wroth all over.

I had thought that the Speaker's Ball sounded like a good idea when we started. So much more polite than, "Please shut up until Jubilant has finished her presentation." There were problems with the ball when we started, which were probably due to lag (nice turn-out for the presentation coupled with a prim-fest of attachments) and some people elected to resort to just typing "click" to get in the comment cue. But when it came to the actual comment portion of the presentation, I don't think it worked at all. I was called on, but people kept talking over me. I finally gave up. Later I happened to look at my speaker's ball (that was floating over my head ... a place I was not looking because I was intent on looking at other people, the photos, reading chat ...) and saw that it was green and that I was next to speak. In space, no one can hear you scream; in SL, no one can see your brow furrow with annoyance. I was cross now, and I clicked on it to turn it off. Shortly afterwards, I was called on again and instead of saying, "Well, people talked over me when I was called on earlier and my mind has now moved on from the comment I had formulated with care to being pissed off at the speaker's ball and I don't feel like participating anymore!" I said something less fraught with the same gist of "nevermind." I wasn't sure that I hadn't turned my speaker's ball back on. It might not be showing the same for others as for me.
Conversation/chat in SL takes about four times as long as in RL (tm). The speaker's ball, when it's being used properly, doubles that again. I am used to chaotic chat (hell, I go to the Humanism meetings!) and will wade in with the best of them. I don't think the speaker's ball worked technically nor in concept.
But, on to the presentation!

Visual Aids provided by Jubilant in lieu of Death by PowerPoint.

Ya gotta love someone who thinks that women should be round and curvy, and that's Jubilant for you! She made herself her ideal in feminine beauty, the way she cannot be in RL (tm). But she found that SL did not take the larger (or, for that matter, shorter) sizes into account when the mesh and animations were originally designed. Textures stretch the designs beyond recognition; animations embed the arms into the chest and abdomen; and the larger the bits of you get, the pointier they become. The resident designers continued in that vein, making prim additions that just plain don't fit (See top right picture in above photo). Multi-prim objects can be resized, but the seller has to make them modifiable and copiable to do this, and that activity is not for the faint-hearted. I do it all the time with prim hair now.

More Visual Aids ... why do these figures look normal to me?

The stigma associated with fat seems to have carried over from RL into SL. Although not subject to outright harassment (such as being denied entrance to a club), Jubilant has been asked why she is the size she is and it has been suggested she diet (which in SL I would take as a joke - I occasionally tell overly-thin avs they "should eat cookies"). She has found herself attracted to other avs who look different than the ideal she created for herself. What's going on here? So why is she this voluptuous? What keeps her curvy despite the annoyances of comments, clothes that don't look right or just plain don't fit, and an apparent subconscious attraction to something outside her ideal?
Well, someone needs to look normal, don't they? You need some large people, short people, minority people, and bald people (although I think most men go bald because men's hair sucks in SL ... except a couple of heads of hair at this presentation - I almost clicked on my speaker's ball just to ask two of the guys where they got their hair!) walking around amongst the overly muscled chests or gravity-defying breasts that make up most of SL so that the real people behind them can feel their RL bodies validated. Someone's got to do it, and Jubilant has stepped up to the plate. My fatvatar smiles.
Would staying in my Kathy av, with her slender waist and big hair-that-everyone-is-mad-about, increase my self-loathing? Hard to see how I could loathe my RL body (tm) any more than I do now. At the BlogHer conference we met an avatar that was based on a body that the typist wanted, and seeing it regularly helped motivate her to lose, so far, over 100 pounds. How she manages to do that, while sitting in front of the time-sucker that SL is, escapes me. I mean, I haven't gotten any shorter walking around as Lludmila. But I find Kathy lovely - I fell in love with her. I did my best coming up with something that looked different from the SL norm with Lludmila, and I worked hard to make whatsername the cutest fat girl imaginable, but Kathy's is the face on my desktop. I think you look for someone different from you when you fall in love. And you can't get much more different than me than Kathy. You just can't help who you fall in love with.

My Three Avatars (dada dadaaaaa, dada dadaaaaaa ...) demonstrating scale: Kandice/Mandy/Tammy (the fatvatar), Kathy (the bombshell), and Lludmila (short, 4'8", and middle-aged).

Sunday, July 20, 2008

BlogHer '08 - Virtually There!

We experience some technical difficulties, including a little static in Queen's voice stream, so here are her fingers typing chat. Hee hee!

What did I learn? About blogging, there was noted a struggle to balance blogging and Real Life (tm), but there is also the balancing of Second Life, Real Life, family life, work life, Daughter Life, Married Life, cat life ... it goes on. You have to deal with it. How do you promote your own blog? Network: go into social situations and take an interest in other people's blogs, read them, comment, then shamelessly promote your own. Use to track your traffic and pander to what interests them. Tweet your blogposts. When you post something new, tell your twit friends, your plurk buddies, your fellow powncers it's there and provide the url.

BlogHers, after a long day with our noses to the blogstone, hard at work networking to promote our own blogs.

Lludmila wearing her useless (only at the conference) button.

We were given buttons/badges we could rewrite the code for that a click on would take the clicker to the clickee's blog. Having experience with cut and paste in code, I had no trouble with this. Unfortunately, to protect the conference from possible griefers, scripting had been turned off and I had to go somewhere else to test it. It sort of defeated the purpose of the little badge (you can see the little white oval beneath Lludmila's chin in the photo above) to have it out of commission at the time when it was most likely to be used. I'll have to wear mine for a few weeks more. But, it's all worth it if it prevents some butthead from unleashing a particle bomb on us. Instead, we "speed dated" by introducing ourselves to people nearby and sharing our blog urls.

I learned that alts and auxiliary avs were handy things to have. An avatar is limited to 25 groups. If they want to add to their groups, they have to find some to drop. I must belong to three or four library-related groups (grr! taking up space!) plus the South Carolinians group (SL Library, SC State Library, Palmetto Librarians ...). But, if I add another avatar account, I have 25 more spaces! I could put all the shopping groups on that one! Also, if you've been banned from somewhere for being a butt, all you have to do is open a new account with a new name and you're off and griefing again! Very handy! I had been struggling with the ethics (not to mention the nuisance) of having more than one account for over a year. This might, might push me over the edge.

More, ummm, networking.

SL, the sessions pointed out, is social networking on steroids. You can have as much or as little transparency as you like. Some corporate avatars are required to be totally transparent so that customers can have confidence in dealing with a real person. Others would just as soon be completely anonymous, even without the penchant for cybering. Then there are all the gradations between.

SL and Security covered material for sim owners and just the average Joe or Jane Avie.
At least in SL, if someone is annoying you (you don't like their language, etc.), you can just mute them. I did that today with someone who spammed me. One spam is all it takes and that av is history. If they were naked and dancing in front of me, I could just teleport somewhere else and they would be unable to find me (of course, first I'd have a really good look at them). If they have inconvenienced me with scripting or objects, I can get their name off of them and report them to Linden Labs. I have an incredible amount of control in SL that I never have in RL. (But, then, this blog is not about SL, is it?). One panelist noted that the incidences of bad behavior have been overblown in the press and they don't happen with any more frequency in SL than they do in Real Life. Also, you take a certain amount of responsibility when you enter a virtual world. For instance, you can make the decision to not go into the sex club in SL the same way you'd make that decision in RL.

SL for Education and Training:
For those who are nervous about dipping their toe into the SL pool, it was suggested that they not go it alone, but go with a group or at least one other person. That way, if you accidentally end up without your pants on, it's a funny experience you share with another newbie. Also, two heads are better than one. I went alone my first time. SL has since changed the newbie experience, so I can't vouch for that, but I had seen Michael Steven's powerpoint photos on his entrance into SL and I thought I could handle it. I seem to have done okay, but it would have been more fun comparing experiences, step by step, with someone else.

A little "networking" between sessions. Anyone still feeling sorry for us that we weren't actually in San Francisco?

Using SL for Good, not Evil ... or at least not just for Fun.

Just a note in passing that the Relay for Life in SL brought in around US$200,000. It's a drop in the bucket compared to the over US$1million a day that changes hands (got that from a Reuters page), but it's nothing to sneeze at.
There is more going on in SL than just cybering and selling. Non-Profits are making in-roads into SL, the Non-Profit Commons having already two islands and about to open number three. Concern over SL friends created the Frozen Pea Fund for breast cancer research. Gimp Girls, women with disabilities who started out back-in-the-day chatting on listservs (remember listservs?), now have their own sim where they and their friends can meet. Many of the people who make it to SL are highly motivated and their energy can be channeled into many types of worthwhile endeavors. Then they can go cybering.

Closing Comments: 36 million women blog (or perhaps there are 36 million blogs by women, in which case only about 30 of us are actually blogging - I know I have at least 5 now), some of them post photos of their nieces and label them "little sh1ts" and then their brother gets annoyed but everyone else gets a good laugh. Blogging is preserving a slice of life for posterity ... except that it's ephemeral and won't hang around for millennia like papyrus. If the mainframe storage units go down, all that will disappear into the ether ... forever. I recommend that if you are intent on keeping things for posterity, you back it up on your own computer and print it out ... on acid-free paper. We're already slap-liable to lose a generation of photographs because pixels just don't last, people! I'm as guilty as anyone on this. I don't print things unless I absolutely have to. I can only hope that our printer inks have improved enough to stand the test o' time.
All in all, this conference made me proud to be a blogger, a blogger in SL, a blogger of SL, and a girlie one at that. I'm also glad I got my feet wet at a conference in the virtual format. Now I've got a humongous list of blogs I need to look at and comment on. My work is cut out for me.

Friday, July 4, 2008

What's in a Flag?

Mandy/Tammy/Kandice/Whoever watches fireworks display at Fourth of July Party

You might not realize it out there, but the people behind these avatars take their second lives seriously. Seriously enough, it seems, to take offense. This includes me, as you would be able to tell from my previous post. I'm capable of being annoyed that one of my avs gets too much attention and another does not. I can't win. At least, though, I can step back and analyze it, which may be something harder to do than in My Real Life (trademark).

Towards the end of my stay at a July Fourth party in SL, an "incident" occurred and I've been struggling with my conscience over it ever since. It is part and parcel of a secular national holiday that is fraught with historical significance for the flag to take on a heightened symbolism. It is also natural for partygoers to get a little bit silly, even if they aren't all tanked up. And, I suppose it is natural for other partygoers to take offense ... and a powder.

The old banner of the former Soviet Union, both now defunct.

When I say I wrestled with my conscience over this, I am referring to the propriety of waving the old flag of the former USSR. (Because I was busy taking photos, uploading them to Flickr, and typing in notes, I missed the full transaction so I cannot say what the circumstances were: Was the avatar aware of the content of the flag? Some attendees had "Missing Image" instead.) Someone thought this was funny, and, to be frank, so did I and I have a tendency to think anyone who would take offense would be a silly-billy, a party-pooper, and a fussbudget, probably in that order.
But was it appropriate? And the analogy I came up with, which came to me because of geography and local politics, was the flying of the Confederate battleflag on the grounds of our state house. I proceeded to analyze this situation (with the help of my husband, because I had already caught myself in a knee-jerk response) by comparing the situations.
CSA: no longer a sovereign nation
USSR: no longer a sovereign nation
CSA: lost the Civil War
USSR: "lost" the ideological Cold War
CSA: a symbol of the oppression of a people over hundreds of years, the ramifications of which we are still living with
USSR: a symbol of the oppression of lots of different kinds of people (Jews, Christians, Minorities, Gays, Intellectuals, Anyone Who Thought Differently) over a much shorter period that just ended recently and the survivors might still be around.
CSA: a symbol to some other people of all that was good and honorable in the historic and "venerable" past.
USSR: a symbol to some other people of a failed but well-meaning experiment.

The nub of the gist, my husband points out, is the intention of the waving of the flag, but does the existence of the Confederate battleflag on our statehouse grounds as an historic artifact make it less painful to the people who remember hard-won civil rights? It may over time, but that time is not now. Still, the assholes in the state capital will fly the damn flag merely because they'll be damned before they lose points with a sullen white electorate. Is that tacky? Well, I think so, but no one is going to listen to me if they don't listen to the African-Americans who complain about it.

That, at least, is the political excuse for waving the flag of a defunct nation. What about the humorous use?

I tried to sort out in my mind who has every right to be offended by seeing the flag of the USSR being waved. Those who fought the USSR in the ... no, wait. We never declared war on them or fought them directly and they were our allies in that war fought by the Greatest Generation. People who risked their lives to escape persecution in the USSR? I can see that. Still, if you come to this country to embrace freedom, you also have to accept the freedom of others to be assholes (like the Nazis who wanted to parade through Skokie, the Jewish suburb of Chicago) and, if you're like my staunchly Republican parents, you will support the ACLU when they defend those rights as well as the rights of asshole liberals.

So, if there were some former refugees (or their children, but I'm drawing the line there) of the Soviet Union at the party who were offended and felt they had to leave, I apologise for calling them silly-billies, party-poopers, and perhaps even fuss-budgets. Anyone who has not had a personal experience of oppression by the former, defunct USSR can just suck it up.

Also, anyone who thought the Soviet flag being waved at a July Fourth party was an "hilarious" expression of "We Won! We Won!" hubris can go tell it to the Marines.

Why did I think it was funny? It's the same humor generated by hearing "steak tartare," "steak tartare," "steak tartare," and then: "corndog." It was surprise. If I hadn't been so busy, I might have thought of something similar, like the flag of the United Kingdom. I have that texture somewhere.

Now, here are some pretty pictures to celebrate our independence from a country that is now one of our best friends:

Fireworks at the Cafe.

Oooo, pretty!

I'm Easily Annoyed

Kathy gothed


I've made many avatars and tinkered with them in the almost two years I've been in Second Life. And I've picked up some freebie shapes. The problem with the shapes you get is that a) the breasts are too large and don't seem to be subject to Newtonian Law and b) the legs and arms are too skinny. You want to force-feed them cookies.
I set out to make an avatar that would look more normal, normal in the sense of not being from the cover of a sword and sorcery fantasy paperback, anyway. So I made Kathy. Not quite the Kathy you see at the top. She had more color in her and ... the hair from the avatar below her. Looking at her reminded me of a good friend from Lexington and, keeping with my obsession with the letter K, I named her Kathy. Kathy, the girl next door. Then I read about this freebie hair (along with a dozen or so other freebies) and slapped it on her. The tan didn't look so good anymore. I pulled out some goth skins I normally have no use for but hadn't deleted. A lip ring to top it all off ... and I fell in love. Something about the hair. More about lovin' the hair later.

I read about some people who fattened their avatars for a social experiment like the one we did with Grizzy. In fact, some normally fat avs went thin for the Grizzy experiment. Their biggest problem was just like in RL, trying to find clothes that fit. And clothes that had textures that didn't get all stretched out yucky. I decided that I needed a fatvatar and then promptly forgot about it.

Kathy was getting attention. She was getting attention that Lludmila never got. Kathy pulled. This was thrilling (who isn't happy to get attention?), annoying (why her, why not Keisha or Keiko or ... ?), and finally it was worrying (I'm married). I decided it was definitely time for the fatvatar. I cannot adequately express the ambivalent feelings I have about this. I envied Kathy and her "powers." And I was aggrieved on behalf of my other avs. I'd put time into them as well. I collected skins and evaluated them for which av looked best in which. I accumulated hair with a vengeance to find the best. There's lots of nice hair out there, even for free. I even kept demos of hair I thought worthy of purchase when enough Lindens were available with notes that read, "Buy when you have $179!" Slapping this freebie hair (From Bishwear, by the way - and they don't have anything else as good because I have looked and looked) on has made all the difference in the world. My husband tells me that men look at the hair first and then the eyes. "What about the boobs?" I asked. He looked thoughtful and then told me that they were probably about fourth on the list.

The fatvatar, like Kathy, was started from scratch. She had to be under six feet - I just don't understand the giant avs. Now that I have a 22" monitor, everyone's butt looks big, so she might be a bit narrower than necessary. But she does have a belly and arms and legs with meat on them. And then there is the round face with the extra flab under the chin. To make her cuter, I made her eyes larger. I tried all sorts of hair, but Kathy's old hair looks terrific. There was some very girly skin in my inventory, with huge pink lips and I decided that "pink" about said it all for this gal.

Next came the clothes, and the stuff I read was right. Prim clothing bits can be prettily easily resized and I was able to do that for her. Mesh clothing is something else. I thought the tunic and leggings look would be good on her, but too many of the patterns (texture on mesh) get stretched out of shape. I don't even want to get into what happened to her booty. It got shifted. That's all you need to know. Hearkening back to my youth, I guessed that the babydoll style would suit her and I was right. Black is a good one as well. If you're wearin' black, you've covered a multitude of sins. I might just have to use this info in RL! In the photo above, my fatvatar is wearing an outfit that is very similar to the one that got me sent to the office for indecent exposure in high school, another one of life's proudest moments.

I only had to post photos of her on Flickr before I got a positive response ... from someone else with a chubby av. But who gets the real attention? The pale one with the big, messy black wig. It is almost to larf. It is so predictable. You have the same person doing the talking, the walking, the dancing - but you slim her down and put poofy big hair on her and suddenly she's attractive.
There is a really nice bonus to this and it is that there is a real person who looks like Kathy gothed and she's just as nice as she is beautiful. It wasn't until much later that I realized Kathy gothed looked just like Christine. Christine, by the way, is available and lives in the northeast US. The eponymous Kathy, my dear friend from childhood, is also available and lives in the south. Anyone interested, please contact me.

Me, I am happily taken.

By the way, my fatvatar obviously needs a name. I am open to nice suggestions.