Terpsichore Tuesday returns

Captain Veles Jaegermonster and I invite you to the weekly Terpsichore Tuesday dance event at the Harborside Horizon Ballroom, Tuesdays, 5-6:30 pm SLT. The motto of Terpsichore Tuesdays is “It’s Second Life–We can dance to anything!”

Terpsichore Tuesdays was created by Valentine Janus in April 2009 and hosted by her in City of Enoch until December 2009, when she was no longer able to continue. Steadman Kondor then hosted it at Caledon Mayfair until March 2010. Veles and I hope to continue in this fine tradition of musical variety and friendly conversation.


As in, which basket(s) to put them in.

Several months ago I sold my remaining sim in Second Life shortly after one of the two tenants I had left. I realized I didn’t want to be a landlord, and the cost of owning a sim had become much larger than the entertainment value it was worth. So I did a cost/benefit analysis of sorts, and I decided how much money I was willing to pay each month for my fun in Second Life.

Having been in the frame of mind of renting the bulk of my Second Life property directly from Linden Research, I replaced my sim by becoming a premium member again, contributing tier to a group I control, and buying a chunk of mainland for the group. That seemed like the best way to get the most prims for the least money. (For those who don’t know, tier on mainland is less than tier on private sims; groups get a 10% bonus above the amount of tier contributed by group members; and tier on mainland is paid in US$, eliminating the exchange fees.) Prices for land on the mainland are also at what may be historic lows, so it was cheap to buy the land.

Then came the mass layoffs. And I thought, I’m not sure I want to put so much money into such an unstable business. So I reduced my mainland holdings by half in order to drop to the next lower tier level. (Monthly tier, not the purchase price, being the major expense of owning mainland.)

And then came the news of Qarl Linden being let go. I never met Qarl, and I have no idea what the whole story is of his employment at Linden Lab. But the situation, nonetheless, only increases my sense of unease about the business health of Linden Research.

Tateru Nino continues to be one of the virtual world commentators/analysts I most value reading. She estimates that layoffs at Linden Research will total 60% by the end of September, “if all goes well”:

“If all goes well”? Yes, it doesn’t sound very good, does it? But it will mean that the company is still there, and hasn’t gone all belly-up.com – which would be the worst possible outcome for everyone, including Linden Lab’s competitors. Few people would actually want to see the Lab go out of business, and it certainly appears to be making all the right moves to ensure that it doesn’t.

And in the comments:

Without faith in virtual environments, generally, the opensim grid could well wind up in the same position as previous generations of online virtual environments: A niche-corner of the Internet with a small market of users shared between them; barely noticed by the public at large, and ultimately not sustainable for more than a decade or two without enough growth to offset attrition.

I do not want Linden Research, Inc., to go out of business. I enjoy my Second Life. But when I look at what I pay each month not just as a fee for server space but as an investment in future pleasure, it’s clear that the added value has little or nothing to do with Linden Lab. Second Life is the best platform I’ve found for what it offers (none of the OpenSim grids come close—yet). But the only pleasure it offers, in and of itself, is landscaping and building. Almost all of the joy I get out of Second Life is the result of communities.

So I’ve now eliminated my mainland holdings, and I’m putting my eggs in baskets that have the potential to outlast Second Life: the communities that bring me joy.

This week I became a true resident of Steelhead. I’ve owned land there, in various sims, for a while, but I now own a good-sized parcel in Steelhead St. Helens that will be my SL home. There are several reasons I chose Steelhead, many having to do with the owners, TotalLunar Eclipse and Tensai Hilra: I’ve met them in real life and liked them; they are actively engaged in Steelhead socially; and they keep up with the cutting edge of virtual world-related technology, including keeping an eye on alternatives to Second Life. (It is this last characteristic that makes them stand out from my other favorite land barons who share the first two.) And to the extent that I’ve been socially engaged in Second Life of late, it is with the people of Steelhead.

After a few months of wandering, it’s good to be home.

What Is Real? Lessons from a virtual life

Order of service and message presented to Unitarian Universalist Association staff chapel Nov 10, 2009

What Is Real? Lessons from a virtual life

By day, Kenneth Sutton is the mild-mannered managing editor of UU World magazine. But by night, he is Otenth Paderborn, gentleman, landowner, Steampunk, and DJ in the virtual world of Second Life.

Chalice Lighting (by UUA Chaplain)

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.

First Reading: A Psalm of Life, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream! —
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act, — act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

Hymn 315 This Old World

Words from a traditional American hymn, adapted

This old world is full of sorrow,
Full of sickness, weak and sore.
If you love your neighbour truly,
Love will come to you the more.

We’re all children of one family,
We’re all brothers, sisters too.
If you cherish one another
Love and friendship come to you.

This old world can be a garden,
Full of fragrance, full of grace;
If we love our neighbors truly,
We must meet them face to face.

It is said now, “Love thy neighbor,”
And we know well that is true;
This the sum of human labor,
True for me as well as you.

Sharing of Joys and Concerns

Reading Macbeth Act 5, scene 5, 19–28, William Shakespeare

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.
                                   Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Hymn 109 As We Come Marching, Marching

Words by James Oppenheim

As we come marching, marching in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing: “Bread and roses! Bread and roses!”

As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men,
For they are women’s children, and we mother them again.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!

As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient cry for bread.
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.
Yes, it is bread we fight for — but we fight for roses, too!

As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days.
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler — ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life’s glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!

Sermon: What Is Real?

I know I should aspire to ensure that each of you, while sitting here, has a good chance of connecting all the dots I made in my choices of readings and hymns. I fear, however, that is not how I approach reality. Reality is, first, rough-and-tumble, but it also has shifting appearances and defies easy definition. If you don’t see the connections (or if you imagine others of your own), I invite you to engage with me in that sort of discussion best carried out after work at the 21st Amendment.

I’m involved in, and this service is inspired by my experiences in, Second Life, which is a persistent, three-dimensional, virtual, user-generated, social environment.

I recently attended SteamCon, a science fiction convention in Seattle. I went in order to meet people I already knew from Second Life, the third time I have met friends I previously knew only virtually. It is the consistency of these experiences, as well as oft-heard ribbing about virtual worlds or “computer games” or “social media” that spurred these reflections, which I first presented in a nondenominational Christian church service in Second Life.

Are the pixels one sees in Second Life real?
In the sense that we are not each dreaming, or imagining the screens before us, they are real.
They are real pixels, then.
No, they are not flesh. No, I do not have horns (although two people at SteamCon both offered to make horns for me).
To be real is to acknowledge inherent nature—and inherent limitations.

Is art real? –and not just in the facile sense of being real canvas and pigment.
And no, “I know it when I see it” isn’t a good answer, either.
Neither is “I like it.”
Art can take so many forms. What is it that makes it real art?
Among other things, real art is created with intention by an artist.
To be real is an acknowledgement of intent.
Real art is meant to feed the spirit and heart.
To be real is to acknowledge dimensions beyond what we can touch and see.

Is a telephone conversation real? Are the people on the other end of this conference call real?
Hello! Can anybody hear me?
It is real sound, created by real electromagnetic energy.
It is a real intention.
But what makes it a real conversation is not only the intention (leaving a message in voice mail is not a conversation!)
A real telephone conversation is communication.
To be real is to communicate.

Is love real?
It is a real emotional state–whether reciprocated or not, whether permanent or not, it can cause real differences in behavior, resulting in physical action in the world.
While it may take one by surprise, it is intentional when expressed.
It is, hopefully, communication.
But beyond that, healthy, mutual love is connection.
To be real is to connect.

So back to the pixels that one sees in Second Life.
Beyond the reality of their pixelness, the reality of the images,
they were created with intent
sometimes they were created to inspire
they were created to communicate
they were created to allow us to connect.
They are, while “only” real pixels, also real on a much deeper level.

So, the people at SteamCon:
Were the people real avatars?
Sometimes the genders didn’t match.
No one had horns, wings, or blue skin.
Some people were multiple avatars.
To acknowledge inherent nature, no, the humans and the avatars have a different inherent nature.

And yet,
and yet.
*Is* the inherent nature actually different?
It depends often on intent.
Does the human intend to use the avatar to deceive?
(Setting aside the fact that humans often intend to deceive, without the need for an avatar, and yet they are still “real” humans.)
Does the human intend to obfuscate or deny the relationship to the avatar?
(Setting aside the fact that humans often obfuscate or deny their previous actions, and yet they are still “real” humans.)
Is there a congruence between what the human and the avatar communicate?
Sometimes there is.
In many ways, there is a consistency between what is communicated by the avatar and by the human.
It doesn’t even have to be conscious–we humans are very good at reading one another’s subconscious communications.
Even if an avatar is meant not to reveal anything “real” about the human, how can it not?
We express our reality with every action we make. Every choice tells the world something real about us.
We cannot help but infuse our avatars with intimations of our human reality.

What is real?

Real is when someone at joys and concerns at a UU church service in Second Life shares that he has lost his job (and this, sadly, is shared all too often these days, in all of the social circles of Second Life).
Real is when one of your communities reminds a member faithfully every night to take his medications.
Real is when an acquaintance lets your community know she is undergoing chemotherapy.
Real is when your friend tells you her plans to leave her husband, who has Asperger’s, and to whom she is married only in name.
Real is when that friend tells you her husband has pancreatic cancer and she has decided to stick by him until he dies.

Sometimes, sometimes,
there is a connection.
And I don’t mean romance, or sex.
I mean those moments when we choose to reveal our hearts to another, and to witness another’s heart with respect and love.
That can happen here.
Is it not what we are hoping will happen at this very moment?

What is real?

This moment is real.

Savor it.

Hymn 128 For All That Is Our Life

Closing Words The Tempest Act 4, scene 1, 148–158, William Shakespeare
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Go in peace.

Community is community is community

Mr Hotspur Otoole has some insightful words about what it takes to build community:

I’ve been involved in many organizations in the real world– clubs, hobby organizations, academic organizations, lodges, professional organizations, recreational groups, church groups, charity groups. Much like the rest of us. I’ve seen what seems to keep groups thriving and what does not work as well. As virtual worlds are really just real societies with a computer graphics overlay, as it were, I’m not at all surprised to see that the organizational patterns that tend to succeed in RL also tend to succeed in SL, and the reverse is true as well. People are people, after all, and they interact in similar ways in virtuality as they do in reality.

Go read the whole thing. It’s well worth your time.

Whither polite Victorian Steampunk society?

Both the Independent State of Caledon group IM and the Caledon blogosphere are bubbling with conflicting opinions about whether something is going wrong in Caledon, and if so, what to do about it. If you somehow read this blog but don’t already know about it (how could that be possible?), the Duke of Argylle has links to several posts as well as sharing his own thoughts. There is an active comment thread on Miss Orr’s most recent blog post, including a long response from Guvnah Desmond Shang. Meanwhile, Miss Callisto reminds us that things change (while also cleverly pointing out several old-timers who are still around and may be feeling dissed), and says she intends “to ignore you and your whole petty squabble, which I might venture to suggest has very little to really do with the Caledon chat, entirely.”

I quite agree with Miss Callisto on a number of her points, especially about Caledon chat not being the real point. (I must say that I doubt it is all attributable to fallout over a land squabble, however, nor that it is a petty squabble, as I believe the rest of my post will make clear.)

Here’s a Venn diagram for your amusement:

[unremembered diagram, image lost to data corruption long after the event]

This diagram is obviously not drawn to any scale—indeed, the actual and ideal relative sizes of each portion are part of what is at issue. The diagram helps to clarify for me that focusing on Des, Caledon, or Caledon chat is missing a major piece of the picture: We (those reading this blog, those who live in Caledon, those who visit Caledon, those who think something is wrong, those who don’t think anything is wrong, those who think the only thing wrong is that some people think something’s wrong) belong to and create a human community (a real community, not a virtual one, even if virtual worlds and electronic communications make possible the vast majority of our interactions), which is not synonymous with Caledon.

This community long ago ceased to be a single village, or a single conversation—and let us give thanks for that! Des, as a visionary small businessman, has nurtured a number of other fledgling estates as well as creating a community against which others can sharpen their own visions, creating their own attempts at Steampunk, Victorian, or “historical re-imaginist” and fantasy estates in Second Life. What an amazing eruption of creativity in just a few short months, relatively speaking, since Caledon began with a single sim on February 26, 2006. (Perhaps we are just experiencing the last bit of the Terrible Twos?) Anyone who looks only to ISC chat, or to the ISC membership, or to who rents land in Caledon, will inevitably miss a much broader context. And that larger context is one of change, growth, and the conflict that often accompanies (or even creates) both.

I would be remiss were I not to mention something that I don’t believe has been directly addressed elsewhere thus far: We don’t all like one another. Of course, you might say, of course we don’t. But it bears repeating, and really let it sink in: We do not all like one another. We are a real community: There is everything from simple lack of friendship to dislike to enmity to broken hearts to feuds. There is rivalry and competition, in business and socially. Most of us have learned to navigate these realities of the human condition in our daily lives. There are limitations imposed by the technology that makes possible our particular community, however, which make these realities more difficult to deal with. But deal with them we must, and shall.

I confess that I had been of the opinion that “Des should do something.” And there are times I still feel that way. Residents of Caledon are Des’s customers (whatever else we may be), and as a customer I have on occasion complaints about the way his other customers behave, or wish that he would take Caledon in a different direction than he does. In some ways, Des and Caledon are frighteningly parallel to Linden Research and Second Life. (If you have not done so, please go read the Guvnah’s comment on Miss Orr’s blog. This is a long post; it will be here when you get back.) Not only is Des disinclined to become a tyrant (or even an enlightened moderator), I’ve come to realize that it would be impossible for him to do so. The Guvnah did not create a community, and he cannot control it. He did create a wonderful seed-bed for community, and I have to trust his good business sense as a steward of that seed-bed.

Here are my woefully inadequate and incomplete thoughts about what has made us a community (with another nod to Miss Callisto for pointing out many of the talented people who have lived and live still in Caledon):

  • Gathering places: Where would we be without CrystalShard Foo’s dance machines, the venues provided by any number of generous landowners, and DJs of every stripe? Or the pubs and bars with their storytelling and poetry sessions?
  • Places of learning: The Caledon Library, now the Alexandrian Free Library (libraries of Caledon, Steelhead, Winterfell, New Toulouse, New Babbage, Amatsu Shima, & West of Ireland), with its ethos of service and a commitment to deepening our understanding of history, literature, the arts, and all fields of knowledge that might inform our Second Life communities.
  • The web, specifically Excalibur Longstaff’s forums and wiki, Gabrielle Riel’s Google calendar, and the many blogs and journals: Imagine being limited to the group communications channels provided in Second Life. (And there I reveal a bias; there are dozens if not hundreds of Second Life residents who are part of our community who do not extend that community beyond Second Life itself. They, of course, are limited to the group communications provided by Linden Research, most, I must assume, by choice.)
  • Who created your skin? Your clothing? Your hair? Your AO? Your house? Your gardens? Your armaments? Your sailing ships, riding horses, buggies, and flying machines?
  • Events: Relay for Life; Caledon anniversary events; balls; the Grand Tour; races; dogfights; regattas; duels; banquets; CaleCon; informal RL meetups.
  • Friendships: Let’s keep them strong.

These elements of being a community were and are created by us, by our friends—and by strangers, and by those we may dislike. (Notice that few of these elements of being a community were created by Des, although without him any number of them might not have happened.) In order to continue to enjoy these fruits of community, do we have the will to find our way through disagreements and conflict? Can we become better at building what excites and nourishes us now and letting go of that which does not, no matter how affectionately we may once have regarded it?

I hope that this very long post has more in it than “Can’t we all just get along?” But in the end, perhaps, that is exactly the greatest challenge for us as a community—the human community.

Tolerans, Civilis, Innovus, Laganum

So—is there anything I’m actually going to do? At this moment, I’m tending towards these things (not a prescription for anyone else, simply my thoughts on what might be best for me to do):

  • I’d like to be kind and to personally act with decorum. I will attempt to address people as they wish to be addressed, except when strangers ask me to use their first name in Caledon (because I do value that in Caledon; in Steelhead and Winterfell, not as much).
  • I will not put any effort into ISC chat. If it annoys or bores me, I’ll simply close it. My “communications” time and energy will continue to go to the Caledon Forums, Caledon Wiki, and the Aether Chrononauts Google calendar (which has a handy mnemonic: http://tinyurl.com/aetherchrononauts).
  • The Guvnah and I have had conversations about coordinated events within what I will call the “Aether Chrononauts” world, or perhaps the “themed” estates, if one includes Raglanshire. I want to encourage distinct communities in Second Life and within Caledon to recognize and develop their distinctiveness, while also serving as I can to encourage cooperation and creative co-existence.
  • Last year’s Caledon Social Season was an uneasy marriage of role-play and community education. Like the Duke of Argylle and the Marchioness of Giggleford, I am interested in creating opportunities for non-RP but themed education, which might serve as one form of introduction to Caledon and its related communities.

Thank you!

Many thanks to all who helped make my belated rez-day party an event to remember! I had such a wonderful time.

I heard Mr. Rudo Gynoid DJ for the Confederation of Democratic Sims event at last weekend’s Grand Tour, and I enjoyed his mix of middle-European folk waltzes, polkas, and some delightful yodels. And so I asked him to DJ for my party, with a mix of world music, and he surpassed my wildest hopes. He introduced me to a number of Balkan and Klezmer musicians with whom I wasn’t familiar.

And my request that guests limit themselves to system clothes and hair or retexture attachments with the plywood texture resulted in a low-lag party, even with more than 20 avatars in close quarters. Even Captain Trenton, who has been increasingly unable to attend social events in Second Life due to technical limitations, was able to join us.

I shall single out one guest in particular who took my suggestions to their logical, and in this case, lovely, conclusion.

[lost image of Frau Lowey in plywood, head to toe, skin to clothing]

Yes, yes it is a plywood-textured prim skirt. It looks rather like moth-wings to me. And here Frau Lowey is in close-up, where you can see her plywood-textured glasses, hair, and, yes, skin.

Aether Chrononauts

If you are reading this on the Tenth Life site, you may have noticed the new “What’s happening?” tab at the top of the page. In cooperation with other administrators of the Caledon calendar, I have created a consolidated calendar for the overlapping communities of historical imagineers, Steampunks, and fantasists of Second Life®, including but not limited to the Independent State of Caledon, Winterfell, Steelhead, New Babbage, Lovelace, Orcadia, Antiquity, Victoriana, Steeltopia, Al-Andalus, and Neualtenburg. Please contact me if you are a member of any of those communities (or others) and would like to participate in upkeep.