Thursday, July 28, 2011

Second Life Shadows

If your graphics card is up for it Second Life Shadows are pretty cool. But be forwarned...even my 1GB 8800 Nvidea card has to be tweaked a bit and performance is really degraded. Of course this computer "only" has 2GB of RAM.

What's cool is that the shadow to the right of me is cast by a prim that has a texture that has transparent regions and that is reasonably well echoed in the shadow! How's that done?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

More on Avination

My initial enthusiam for the $40 price for a sim is a bit tempered by a couple of limitations in Avination. The first is minor-namely it doesn't seem to support SL's media on a prim idea. In SL I am used to being able to have my blogs and my Flickr site open on prims so that I can at least see what's going on. The second is a bit more surprising given the OpenSim background of the owner, namely that Avination does not support OpenSim specific functions some of which are really cool especially the texturing functions.

On the plus side my inquiry about OS functions was quickly answered by their support staff. I also like that you can import prims that you own from SL using the Avination viewer, including scupted prims as my picture shows. Just be aware that it doesn't seem possible to import the scripts in the object- you have to do that separately or use Stored Inventory as explained here.

Of course Second Life is not sitting still what with pending rolling out of mesh and if you haven't noticed realistic shadow rendering like that in Blue Mars. Since Avination is billing itself as content creator friendly, I wonder how the introduction of mesh in SL will affect Avination.

Who knows, I may ultimately find it cheaper to set up my own Open Sim server, and link it to OSGrid. Not that I have ever done anything like that mind you. Hmm as cheap as computers are today...might be worth it to take that plunge.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

An Alternative to Second Life?

Somehow I keep getting side tracked. Today I stumbled upon a new virtual world grid based on open sim called Avination and of course checking this out took precedence over cleaning and reorganizing my study.

Avination according to its website was started by an OpenSim developer, Melanie Thielker who has created her own "spin" on Open Sim. See for more information about Avination's Staff.

Now I have invested lots of time and energy in Second Life, including on my college's land. Unfortunately Second Life has doubled educational fees for a ful sim to around $4,000 which has my IT people really nervous. Avination right now is advertising full sims with 15,000 prims at the special price of $60.00 a month. Hmm in SL I am at the $40.00 tier level which means I am paying about 6 times what I could be paying in Avination.

Well even a virtual lady can't resist a bargain so I went on over. Joining is easy and similar to Second Life in that you choose your own first name and then select a second name from a predefined list and select your basic avatar form. One slick thing is that Avination has terminals in Second Life. (Wonder if Linden Lab knows about this.) You can go there and use the terminal to assign your Second Life AV name. Which I did right away. You don't get to share your inventories or your appearance but when you log back in to Avination your SL profile name shows in place of your Avination AV name. The system is like SL's new double naming system so my Avination name still shows on my profile if you click on the Avatar.

You can use SL viewers for Avination but I choose to use the Avination viewer. This viewer is clearly based on the SL viewers but is a lot more like the older 1.2 series of SL viewers wth some things out of SL 2.X viewers. Just about everything should be familiar to veteran SL users. I have not had a chance to try any scripting but Open Sim's version of LSL typically has some things on it that are not found in SL's language so I would be suprised if all my scripts will always work.

Buying land. Unlike SL it looks like the best thing to do is buy a whole sim. In fact the map is set up as a huge grid and you pick your sim and which one of a limited number of configurations you want and buy the sim using one of several methods including Paypal.

The advertisements have a promotional code so you might watch out for that. A sim is $40.00 a month for the first three months and then goes up to $60/month. Mmmm sounds to good to be true even at $60 a month but the lure of the bargain was too strong so I am giving it a whirl. I am sure there are some limitations in terms of flexibility and service...we shall see. Supposedly I can port my SL objects to Avination-assuming I have permissions on the objects so we shall see. Probably can't port my nice Kimono collection though.

I had my sim within 5 minutes of the transaction. Seeing all that sunny empty land is a bit intimidation as I have always lived in the mainland in SL. By the way there is apparently no sort of division between PG, Mature and the "Dark side" but you can control access to your sim just as in SL. So I figure at $40 bucks a month for three months this is worth a try.

One risk is that this is a small company-when I was on there were about 850 users online (SL might have 60K users online at the same time) so that perhaps adds a bit of premium to SL. Avination has it's own currency(C$) I haven't compared it closely, but it looks to be valued roughly the same as the Linden. I bought 2,000 C$ for $8.00 so I can upload textures and files. Uploading costs are 10C$ per upload.

I am not ready to give up my SL account so you still find me in Carmine at

More to come.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Today all started when...

My meat avatar decided to get a web cam to use with his desktop. Well the USB cable was too short so he decided to rearrange the office and computer. That meant a lot of cleaning and throwing away of stuff. Then testing the computer and the new monitor arrangement and the web cam. And then booting up SL and spending a delightful afternoon listening to jazz and doing some simple building. I had forgotten how therapeutic building in SL can be. So here is the first pass at the Tree of Life...

Pretty rough but lots of fun...more to come at

Friday, May 6, 2011

Identity in Second Life

One of my first life interests is gender identity, so I periodically search the SL forums for gender related posts. Today I ran across a wonderful thread called the Unqueering of Second Life, started by resident Scylla Rhiadra. Scylla argues that one of the things that SL does well is queering our perceptions. Here Scylla isn't quite talking about queer in the sense that the word is being reclaimed by GLBT people but a process related to that notion that forces us to reexamine our assumptions about people and identity. Scylla writes:

" “Queering” in this sense is really a process of “making strange,” a kind of shifting or even distortion of perspective that forces us to perceive anew, and in different ways, objects, ideas, and socially-constructed conceptions that we otherwise take for granted. "

Scylla then argues that this queering process is under threat by social networking such as facebook where one's "real life" identity becomes paramount as well as by groups requiring gender verification via SL voice.

The threats posed by social networking and beyond that, the threats posed by facial recognition software and other technologies is something that I have been thinking about. To me the threat of such systems is that they threaten to take away any sense of sanctuary that one might want online to explore by trying on other identities. Now I don't believe for a second that I have expectation of absolute privacy online but there should be room for relatively safe spaces where a person has some control over what information from these identities they wish to link to their real life information.

For transgender people, this can present a problem because there is the desire and for some the need to keep their transgender issues private, and at the same time be able to talk and share with other people including those outside the transgender community. In my case I am a professor and generally keep my transgender identity separate from my work life. But as a professor I am told "to be authentic" by academic theoreticians and to me being authentic means presenting myself as an integrated whole.

Of course in real life, we take on specific roles but to me the quest for integration implies that I don't keep my gender dysphoria suppressed-been there most of my life and that path is inherently destructive. Besides as professor-I can and do maintain a male persona at work-but unless in my private time I am going to relegate my gender expression to the shadows some bleed through is inevitable. Students do from time to time see me outside of class as a female. So my strategy is not to keep my other self hidden but keep my presentation separate enough so as not to upset the gender binary natives and yet reveal this aspect of my psyche in a sort of matter of fact way. I am for instance co-advisor of my school's GLBT student group and also am a Safe Space trainer for my campus and I can't exactly be hidden there. The whole idea is to open up some psychological space for myself.

Certainly students can find out about me. Now returning to SL, if you check out my profile you will a picture of me in SL but also there is a real life picture of me as I look in RL. When I teach, work, or shop in SL, Simone is my expression-sort of an extended phenotype. She is the face my biology students see when we go into SL. I did create a male AV which I use only rarely. Why should I bring the dysphoria I feel in first life into Second Life? To me that makes no sense. My experiences in SL as Simone have generally been good. I guess most people who might other feel threatened by my alternate identities appreciate the transparency or they don't find a short Japanese -Creole female AV in a Kimono to be threatening or desirable as a SL pick up.

One of my best experiences happened the other Spring when I was on sabbatical and working in SL. One day a strange male IM'd me in SL, and as I normally do, refused the IM since he did not state what he wanted. Well he persisted and on his third attempt said "Paul it's XXXXXX". Now it turns out that XXXXXX was an old friend from South America whom I had lost track of for about 15 years. At any rate he had googled my first life male name, found this blog and made the connection.

He asked me if I was gay since I have a female AV so I took the time to explain the issues I have and even show him a picture of myself "en femme" in real life. For the record, dear reader, "Paula" is pretty conservative in dress-not pick up material at all. But this fellow knows me in first life and my colleagues and friends have pretty much stuck with me. So my friends allow me an oasis where I can be more myself. That gets me through the week sometimes.

Yet even me being relatively transparent feels threatened by social network technology. First all of the sudden my RL "official" identity becomes key-I was dragged kicking and screaming into Facebook by my son who insisted that this how he and his friends communicate. Plus enough of my colleagues are on FB that my morning coffee ritual is to look at FB first rather than opening my campus E-mail. But I was a bit disturbed when FB kept insisting that I had to give my sex as male or female else how could people find me? Ya right. Fortunately FB stopped that nonsense. Maybe they imputed it from my RL name or from the funky stuffed caterpillar that currently graces my FB profile.

Now I really don't mind FB or SL having my legal ID information but why should this be the primary thing for a profile. Why can't FB allow me to establish a profile at variance with my legal identity if by doing so I am giving a more authentic face to myself? Fortunately in the circles I run in-even SL work related circles have not insisted in any sort of voice or verification of gender which would in my case be a verification of assigned gender based on the fact that my gonads produce microgametes with tails (i.e. sperm). SL provides still an oasis for me to the degree that my assigned gender or even my male name is not an issue.

Voice verification, linking SL to other social networks etc threaten the informational oasis because all of the sudden it become too easy for "queering" information to leak out to people who don't know me and may not be so willing to set aside their biases about people who are transgender. Rather than being like a large city where anonymity serves as a buffer against judgmental busy bodies, making first life assigned gender markers etc makes the net even more a city of judgmental busy bodies where the gender binary is enforced and those of us who don't fit are relegated to the shadows of the closet.

Scylla has a lot more to say in the SL forum thread and if you are interested in identity issues in Second Life it's worth a read.