Get a first life!

Mr. Bookworm came home from work yesterday quite excited. A friend had introduced him to one of those interactive online worlds, this one called Second Life. Here is how Second Life describes itself:

Second Life is a 3-D virtual world entirely built and owned by its residents. Since opening to the public in 2003, it has grown explosively and today is inhabited by 340,465 people from around the globe. * From the moment you enter the World you’ll discover a vast digital continent, teeming with people, entertainment, experiences and opportunity. Once you’ve explored a bit, perhaps you’ll find a perfect parcel of land to build your house or business.

* You’ll also be surrounded by the Creations of your fellow residents. Because residents retain the rights to their digital creations, they can buy, sell and trade with other residents.

* The Marketplace currently supports millions of US dollars in monthly transactions. This commerce is handled with the in-world currency, the Linden dollar, which can be converted to US dollars at several thriving online currency exchanges.

It is definitely an impressive bit of computer technology. To me, though, it’s also completely pointless. Why in the world would I want the “thrill” of making an avatar dance? And so what if I amass a fortune in fake money?  I have way too much to do in my real life to fuss around aimlessly in a “second life.” However, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m an extremely task oriented person. There are a few things that give me immediate pleasure — reading, ice cream, blogging. Everything else I do for a purpose. I like to play computer games, for example, but only if they involve problem solving (which is why I really liked Myst).

Really, the only thing that fascinated me about Second Life was my husband’s rationale for thinking it’s great:  you can be in a community with and meet thousands of people.  To appreciate why this is fascinating, you have to understand that, in our first life, here in reality-world, Mr. Bookworm is not at all a social person.  He finds it exhausting and overwhelming to meet new people.  What this means to me is that Second Life is really a perfect venue for shy people who crave social interaction, but can’t quite achieve that in the real world.

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  1. mamapajamas says

    Funny… sometime last year I had a really vivid dream. In that dream, I was in a place that looked sort-of like a football stadium, but in place of the seats was row after row of doors with URL’s on them instead of, say, numbers like you see on a hotel door. I reached out and touched a URL, and when the door swung open, inside were people sitting on a couch chatting. I nodded to them, and left, trying another door. Inside that door was a shop with a wide variety of merchandise for sale.

    When I awoke, I realized that I had been dreaming of a virtual reality world, but one that involved the complex, high tech equipment like the VR glasses and control gloves, where it would appear that you really were inside the virtual world and interacting with it.

    Now that this simple form of VR world has come online, I can see the complex VR world I dreamt of coming true within the next few decades! The technology already exists, and PC’s with gigabite space are already good enough to deal with it. It’s only going to be a matter of bringing the complex VR equipment down to a marketable price.

    What use it it? I can think of something right off… sales :). It would be a virtual mall, where people from all over the world could buy whatever you have to offer.

    I’m a computer artist by hobby, and this would be the ideal forum to sell my works :D.

  2. mamapajamas says

    Let me make an addendum to my point about VR shopping.

    In a cleverly constructed VR image, online shopping would be the next best thing to being inside a physical store in person.

    If you were, say, shopping for a jewelry box, you could pick it up and turn it in your hands to look at all sides, and open it up to see how it’s arranged inside. The item would be represented by a rendering of a logical box (VR items are usually called “objects”) that opens and is “painted” with photos of all sides and the inside of a real jewelry box of that type. I make 3D images myself, and it isn’t easy, but it can be done when you know how :D. When we can coerce computers to be a bit more creative, it will be even easier. :)

    The flat photographs and even “film” recordings you see on the net today are static… the image always stays the same no matter what you do. You can replay a vid clip from any point, but it will always be the same clip. A 3D VR construct is dynamic. This is true even now, as you’ve seen while you’ve played with games like Myst. The VR world constructed is called “virtual reality” because you can actually walk your characters through it. That isn’t a case of having a flat image in which the background changes from one frame to the next, like a cartoon; the VR world already exists in its entirety in the host program’s logical frames of reference, and the characters actually walk through it, followed by the “camera” view of the computer screen. This is why your “character” can make choices about which way to go and what to do. With the proper equipment, a living human could “walk” through the Myst world.

    For people in a Virtual shopping mall, the image would be in “real size” if the computer knows how tall you are, you would be able to touch the products with your VR gloves, and turn them around to look at the back or open them to look inside (the computer will know that your VR gloves have “touched” a VR object and will respond appropriately). A garden center could have a VR lawn available to show how a lawn mower works in the real world… and the demo would be accurate (but unable to telegraph the weight or pressure stress of the mower). In some cases, next best to being at a store, but in other cases BEST, not next best, because how many real world garden centers can actually demonstrate their lawn mowers? :D

    It’s an exciting concept :D.

  3. erp says

    Re: Second Chance. I’m okay with a fantasy world, after all I grew up with the Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Anderson then went on to Isaac Asimov and the rest of the early science fiction masters, but if I opt for a fantasy life, I’d like my world to be a lot nicer than the one I saw on the screen. It turns out that for me, reading really is better because you see what you want to see in your mind’s eye, not an artist’s rendering.

    mamap, virtual shopping would be a pleasure. Shopping has become such a chore. Hoards of male adolescents dressed in prison garb and girls barely dressed at all have taken over the malls.

    Inside the stores, no matter if they’re low-end or upscale, sales clerks know nothing about the merchandise they are supposed to be selling and are rude and disdainful on top it. Ditto sales persons in the big box stores of every description. Supervisory personnel are no better.

  4. mamapajamas says

    erp, the world you saw at Second Chance is just the first baby steps. It’s helping to set up protocols for future projects that have wider scope and possibilities.

    It reminds me of the day I heard that Yuri Gagarin made that first step into space. I was momentarily miffed because NASA had published their goals in advance for all to see, and the Soviets kept their space program schedule secret the entire time until the Apollo-Soyuz program, and obviously worked hard to make things ready to go a couple of months ahead of Alan Shepard’s scheduled flight just to get a political advantage of having the “first man in space” notch on their belts.

    But once I got over that little tantrum, I was delighted that the Space Race was finally on.

    With Second Chance, what we’re seeing is that first flight, that first baby step into a new frontier :D.

    And, being a geek by profession, I’m thrilled about it :D.

  5. erp says

    Thanks mama, I’ll check it out Second Chance again.

    I’ll call your geekiness and raise it by about 30 years. I started in the 70’s before the silicon chip in days of dumb CRT’s and enormous main frames using RNO/EDT for word processing and the original Lotus 123 for spread sheets and data manipulation … and were we glad to do it. More fun than I ever had before or since.

    No sissy mouse and pointer in the good old days.

  6. mamapajamas says

    erp, I call YOUR Supreme Geekiness and raise it by somewhere around 10 years. :P I’ve been involved with computers, one way or another, since 1969 :D.

    In the Air Force (’69-71) I actually worked on a specially altered Honeywell 800 mainframe that could be operated from a building in a remote area… and was one of the prototype tests that the Air Force was running for the Arpanet, the grandaddy of the Internet! :D They were trying a number of different system configurations at the time to see which ones worked best. The one I used ended up to not be one of THE configurations that went into the Arpanet, but I can say that I was in on the testing phase. :D

    And, since I have both years of involvement with computers AND a history with Arpanet, MY resume out-geeks the Geekiest of All Geeks! :D Well… except for the geeks who were in on the direct creation of the Arpanet… but they’re, like, Geek Gods! (Groan! I didn’t really say that, did I???)

  7. says

    It is mean what I said, and I apologize. I was very irked by Mr. Bookworm insisting that I spend several hours in a virtual world that held no interest for me. With bills to prepare, laundry to fold, posts to write, children to bathe, etc., it just seemed like a pointless waste of time. Also, as I said, I found it funny that Mr. Bookworm, who is so averse to socializing in the real world, should be so excited at the thought of interacting in one sentence intervals with thousands of strangers.

    As it is, I love the virtue that MamaPajama envisions, especially when it comes to virtual shopping. It’s not there yet, though. Land’s End has (or had, about a year ago) a sort of avatar you can model to your specs, so that you can “try on clothes.” Maybe I’m not visual enough, but it didn’t work for me. The computer generated clothes melded so well onto the computer generated body that they always looked reasonable — and I proved that hypothesis by making that computer generated body pretty much of a mutant!

  8. says

    It wasn’t so bad, Bookworm, I found it funny in a snarky kind of way. If only because you don’t like that normally. It was different from your conclusion, which made it a bit weird, but that was about it. If he was insisting that you get in on it, then he was too ensorceled with his own excitement over the subject. Just remind him that him doing that to you, is like you keep moving around his stuff that he prefers not cleaned ; ) Sometimes people can’t be bothered with switching perspectives, so that they can only come to conclusions from what they see to be.

    Remembering names and so forth, is a chore, that is for sure. In that way I might agree with Mr. Bookworm on the energy it takes to socialize. However, that is what wives are for after all. Remembering all the little social details and calendar dates that one cannot keep in one’s head for too long. So long as someone else takes care of the introductions and is handling the social heirarchy, it isn’t quite that bad even for those who do find it draining.

    one of the tricks, of course, is to find a subject that you both are interested in. Even for strangers, this can produce excitement in conversation beyond the normal small talk.

    This requires a little bit of deceptive ploy gathering, in probing what someone likes or dislikes. Not too hard if you pay attention to their responses. It is usually apparent when someone finds a subject interesting or whether they know nothing about it. That look of confusion and befuddlement is almost unique in a way.

    The internet is after all, I believe, the greatest and latest technology in terms of time compression. Which is as it should be. Decadence comes later, of course. It should save time and hassle, and make productive lives even more productive so that we may accomplish more in 10 years than bronze age barbarians accomplished in 3 life times.

  9. erp says

    mamap, I doff my hat to you, especially as there were few women (I assume by your cyber handle that you too are of the female persuasion) in the field in those days.

  10. mamapajamas says

    erp, Thanks for the hat tip! You are right… I was one of the first women to go through computer training in the Air Force. I think the class one week ahead of mine was the first. Before the AF, I had three years in as a keypunch operator (I don’t count ’66-early ’69 before AF as “computer” years) and swallowed Hollerith coding whole (for the non-geeks, thats the binary code you used to see punched into the computer cards), as well as EBCIDIC coding, so I did so well on the pre-testing they’d have had a major discrimination situation on their hands if I’d been denied access to the compute schools ;).

    I had a lot of fun when I got to my permanent station. The guys just sort of looked at me and said, “Don’t expect us to get the printer paper for you.” The paper was that continuous green bar, as you recall, and the boxes (for those who don’t know) weigh about 50 pounds each. So to demonstrated how I was going to handle the situation, I moved three boxed of paper from the supply stack to the printers. I just pushed them off the top of the stack, and when they hit the floor, I loaded them on the dust-covered dolly that was leaning against the wall :).

    No prob.

    The idiots had been carrying the paper to the printers, one box under each arm when they had a dolly available. Idjits! LOL!

    Remember computer paper with REAL carbons in the middle that had to be removed with a decolator? LOL!

  11. erp says

    I remember it all very well. Remember the “DIABLO” printer fashioned after an IBM selectric typewriter and more tempermental than diva. It put out fabulous copy when it worked and when it refused, caused much renting of garments and pulling out of hair.

    Your anecdote about moving heaving cartons of paper made me laugh and proves once again my contention that men are only good for heavy lifting while we’re good for everything else.

    My husband could never get over my being able to move the piano with my hip (I was a skinny little thing then too). If heavy things couldn’t be pushed/nudged along, they were moved head over heels, if that didn’t work, and there was no dolly around, muscles was called in to do the honors. Didn’t happen very often though.

    I first used computers when I worked at a college in the early 70’s. The students at the make-shift computer lab were so helpful and because what I was doing was time consuming, I was often there late at night with the real hard core nerds, as they were called then. Most of them never saw sunlight or ate a decent meal, but boy were they smart.

    When the lab started to get popular, one of them would stay at my favorite console until I got there. I often wonder what happened to them. I hope they are all filthy rich after starting tech companies. Since I had some pull, I’d get them whatever they needed from the stingy math department who controlled the lab and treated students far worse than lab rats, but they couldn’t say no to me when I asked for supplies.

    Gee, but that was fun. I hated it when the first little tinker-toy-like Apple computers were distributed to students and faculty. So effete we all thought. Now anybody who can move a mouse around a screen could do the things we had to figure out how to do inside our own heads. Sort of like a master pastry maker might feel about Betty Crocker and prepared cake mixes.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  12. mamapajamas says

    erp, you were a lucky lady to get that exposure to the lab “nerds” :D. I pretty much had to figure everything out for myself, since the men in the AF weren’t very helpful. And when we made the Great Leap from stand-alone systems to everyone suddenly wiring into the Net, I had to learn everything all over again! :O

    But the basics have stayed with me… no matter what else happens, computers can STILL only add ones and zeros, and store data, and everything they do is a variation on those two themes… and my “historic memory” of how things were has been one of my biggest assets in my career. And another of my best assets is being able to describe computer functions in plain English instead of the Conversational Cobal that we have a tendency to slip into when we geeks are talking to each other. One of the main duties I have in my current postion is to train new computer people, many of whom are straight out of college, and being able to explain not just what to do and how to do it, but also WHY things have to be done in at least a variation of that exact procedure in actual English has helped them understand what they’re supposed to do sooner and more thoroughly than using jargon.

    I see from your notes here that you’re also good at explaining things in plain English, so I tip my hat to you, too! :D

  13. mamapajamas says

    Oh… and one more anecdote.

    I’ve been dealing with computer systems for so long that one day, when I went into our data center and saw that someone had moved an IBM Selectric typewriter from one of the offices into the computer console area to work on some forms, I stopped and stared at that thing for the longest kind of time, trying to figure out its function.

    Then I grinned and said in a loud voice, “Oh, wow! A printer with its own keyboard!”

    The operators all looked at me, cut looks at each other, and then one of them politely informed me that it was a typewriter.

    I just burst out laughing at my disconnect, and the rest finally started laughing, too. That’s been one of our favorite anecdotes for years :D.

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