Tuesday, April 26, 2011

PSN Breach, the Cloud and Caution

Taking a short breather inbetween my Reply series and circling back to the issue of "transparency," I'm reading the breaking news about Sony's Playstation Network/Qriocity network breach and it doesn't look too good:

"... an unauthorized person has obtained the following information that you provided: name, address (city, state, zip), country, email address, birthdate, PlayStation Network/Qriocity password and login, and handle/PSN online ID. It is also possible that your profile data, including purchase history and billing address (city, state, zip), and your PlayStation Network/Qriocity password security answers may have been obtained. If you have authorized a sub-account for your dependent, the same data with respect to your dependent may have been obtained. While there is no evidence at this time that credit card data was taken, we cannot rule out the possibility. If you have provided your credit card data through PlayStation Network or Qriocity, out of an abundance of caution we are advising you that your credit card number (excluding security code) and expiration date may have been obtained."

- from Patrick Seybold, Sr. Director, Corporate Communications & Social Media

Newer reports from the forensic team indicate all personal data stored with your PSN account has been compromised. Everything including name, address, birth date, the answers to your account reset questions, email address, and passwords.

Coming on the heels of this great post from the Guardian, it simply reinforces the reasons we all originally wanted to get away from the monolithic IBM corp and their "dumb terminal" model of client-server processing. Companies ask me to "trust them" with all kinds of information that is a terrible security risk. It has been demonstrated many times now that most of these companies will either neglect to properly secure their network, fail to use even the simplest security procedures (storing passwords in plaintext, no encryption) or will even sell your data to the highest bidder.

And they want me to trust them with my data? Because it makes their targeted marketing easier and more profitable? And for that I get to pay them money?

At this point in time, no one really trusts Sony anymore to give them the whole truth, especially coming on the heels of their settlement with GeoHot for hacking the "other OS" functionality which was originally a major selling point for the PS3 and which Sony subsequently disabled in several "updates" to the console. Rumors abound of Sony rebuilding their network to destroy the regained functionality of the firmware-modded PS3.

I personally am wary of the rush to distributed computing which goes by the trendy and amazin' *insert sparklies here* name of "cloud computing." The infrastructure is being pushed together hastily; security auditing is often minimal in the "rush to market" and the time-honored wisdom of 'not putting all your eggs in one basket' seems to have gone the way of most sensible and tested business advice and ideas in this modern rush for "newersexierbetterMOAR! because... it's the internet!"

That, on top of the hundreds of stories of company malfeasance, collusion with marketeers and underhanded dealings with consumers (Sony rootkit, anyone?) makes me wary of trusting companies who want my trust and yet have not demonstrated a reason for me to believe their interests coincide with mine as a consumer. And it makes me wary of putting all my data "out there in the cloud" instead of on my desktop where I can control access.

And oh yeah... there's that little Apple iPhone tracking problem too...


By the way, in case you hadn't heard, I am now a military acronym for Psyops; just a little tidbit from the propaganda war. That is all.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Reply, Part II - Dialogue and Community

Prelude to the Afternoon of a Blog

My last post generated waves and counterwaves which I frankly did not expect. I hope my personal rant regarding NWN wasn't the only thing people came away with. I was addressing a point that a recent (trollish) comment on this blog brought up: for every person what writes a book, 20,000 people read it. Perhaps the bloggers are a numerically-small ratio of residents inworld, but they do express the oft-heard, widely-disseminated and general underlying comments, complaints and problems of many, if not most, residents.

Some people might argue that these complaints are "sour grapes," unfounded, unjustified or whatever other labels would be used to dismiss such discontent. So what if they are? Public perception of your company's actions and stance should be the #1 priority of Marketing/PR unless you happen to be selling something crucial to life itself (oxygen, food, electricity).


Problem #1 - What's that you say about me?

With all the talk from the Lab about "the first hour experience," most of these complaints and critiques touch directly on that first hour. They are, to most new and old residents alike, THE problems with Second Life. It is very seldom I (and I bet many others) have heard a complaint about the viewer "not being sparkly enough/enough like Facebook/Google/WoW" in comparison to hearing these complaints. These problems affect everything about the SL experience and discourage people from returning or from bringing friends inworld. They are directly responsible for the falling retention numbers.

The recent example of nVidia's problems is instructive: by trying to cheat their core customers one time, they sacrificed 7 years of fanatic support and goodwill in the gamer community. They lost enough business to let ATI gain a foothold in areas nVidia had all but locked up. They caused not only their loyal customers but future customers who those loyal ones would have brought to the table to look elsewhere. They lost billions of dollars in present and future sales. nVidia might recover, unlike the original ATI who suffered so much from their perceived arrogance and unapproachability regarding driver and architecture problems that the company failed and had to be bought by AMD, who spent a great deal of time repairing the drivers before they even marketed a new "ATI-branded" video card.

The mention of the Ford Edsel was not a sarcastic one; I'd have to republish the whole Wikipedia entry here to point out the parallels with the nVidia, ATI and SL problems. My first job in retail was at a record store that had been in business 40 years (and was semi-famous). It had two stores (one tiny, one warehouse) less than a quarter-mile apart. Despite being in competition with Sam Goody, The Wherehouse and Kmart, we had customers come to us from Denmark, Leningrad and Paris on strictly word-of-mouth recommendations. It was drilled into me over and over that customer goodwill and word-of-mouth was the most fundamental and critical tool at our disposal, worth more than 20 half-page newspaper ads at 1000$ a pop. I've never seen that bit of wisdom fail.

If the Lab feels that their position is being misrepresented, is being ignored, misunderstood or is not accurate, it is up to them to openly address that problem as a problem in public relations.

We hear you hearing us

Rod Humble's recent Twitter presence has surprised people and given them much to chatter about. Most-often repeated comment: "This gives me hope." That such a small effort at outreach is providing hope to many who have taken a sad or cynical view of the Lab's position should raise a huge beacon. The response has been overwhelmingly positive to some of the statements Rod has made ("he'd really go to Inworldz to check out the Mentor program?!?!") and I join the chorus of praise and compliments for the effort. This is PR as it should be.

Rod's comment to me (after actually reading my blog), "Adversarial? Surely not!" was very nice and a good position for a CEO to take. He might be unaware that this word is one of the most-frequently stated opinions regarding LL's relationship with their customers (a short Google search of "Linden Lab" +adversarial will demonstrate this). It's certainly not only my own opinion and it is not recent. It is based not on one incident alone (like Viewer 2) but the culmination of the perceived conduct of the Lab over the past 3 years I have been in Second Life.

I'd point to this perception of unavailability, standoffishness and arrogance as the crucial problem Second Life/LL has at this present time. It's a public-relations catastrophe. No new toys (viewer 2.0, mesh, FB integration) will help this problem; none will relieve it. No one will stick with the program or bring new people to explore and enjoy Second Life if this problem continues.

Most of the issues brought up over countless JIRAs, conversations and complaints to Linden Labs could be dealt with in a way that did not alienate the community of users and kept not only retention of old users but brought in new ones. Most of them mesh with the Lab's own stated goals of retention and growth, being observed as broken parts of the program; things that make "fast, easy, fun" a somewhat sarcastic refrain.

Who's doin' it right

InWorldz is a good example in this discussion. I am there currently for several reasons; a main one is that I worry about the stability of Second Life and its continued existence (also the reason I am spread out over numerous grids now). That doesn't mean I wish to abandon Second Life.

One of the repeated comments regarding IW is "they are so approachable!" This I have found to be true by my own experience. Elenia, Tranquillity and Legion are very hands-on. They are seen working hard, making a deep effort to connect and dialogue with the residents of the grid; they are very active in the forums; they listen to problems and complaints and have enough foresight and business wisdom to separate the wheat from the chaff. They demonstrate their willingness to listen and their commitment to problem-solving for the benefit of the residents so that they may benefit the company. (please don't take this as cheerleading for IW; there's plenty of good grid-managers out there now; ask Pathfinder Lester and the rest of the Hypergrid explorers)

Sure, IW has problems. It's a growing grid with far less staff than Linden Labs. There are glitches just like in SL. There are things that are not enabled yet (some script functions, physics). Sure, some people are the kind who wish to only take from the world, not contribute to it; the legions of wanna-be Anshe Chungs who read that SL/VWs were the way to make oodles of spacebux; who get disgruntled when they port their inventory over and immediately do not start making Iz hand-over-fist. I'd guess they've never started or maintained a real-world business before and don't understand how to build one in a new market.

But people stay, and InWorldz has been growing steadily, as have other grids. Why? They have the same troubles (or more/different) than Second Life. What's the difference?

The difference is that these other grid operators are seen as less mercenary; as more involved with their grids; as caring about their grids beyond a mere profit spreadsheet; who have not succumbed to the current insanity that passes for "business acumen" in the web2.0-hypervisor-datamining-cloud vapor-speak crowd and recognize that principles that have served business well for at least 2000 years have some validity and profitability. The difference is in people committed to long-term and steady growth in an industry, not some vulture-capitalist-tainted ADHD view of one quick quarterly bump on the P&L sheet followed by a steady decline.

The difference is that they treat their customers with attention and respect, listen to them and understand that what hurts a business most is the perception that the owners do not care about the people who fork over money to them. They understand that no amount of talk will stand for long without a concrete demonstration of feedback and response to their customer's complaints and issues.

Retention: who stays and why

Most of the residents who have been present in Second Life far longer than me have a huge investment in this technology. We believe, as we believed in 1993 with HTML and the beginnings of the WWW, that this is the edge of a tech that will proliferate into wide use and change the nature of online presence. We weren't the fashionable crowd; we weren't the daytrippers and the samplers. We put a great deal of time, money and energy into something that we believed in and we had good practical reasons for doing so. We were in the minority; I remember trying to explain to people in '93 what email was and what HTML was and why I thought it would revolutionize communication. I was not alone in that view.

The answer is all around us now, as your grandmother goes to You Tube to see videos of her out-of-state niece in her first ice-skating competition or in the ubiquitous nature of email; in the recent democratized bulletins from Egypt and Syria and in Wikileaks. Time has proven us right.


This tech, in its infancy in 1997 (VRML) and its steady progression fueled by the gameworlds' interest and efforts in 3D visualization, is still at the steam-engine stage. It isn't for everyone; it does demand some learning and some experience. No one jumps into Blender, Maya or Lightwave; there is a learning curve, yet no one argues for removing the nurb controls in those programs "because they are too hard or confusing." Trying to "democratize" this tech is to destroy what the tech is without the time, energy and investment needed to develop and mature the tech in the same way that it took 5 years, more or less, from the first initial postings on the WWW to the explosive adoption and widespread use of websites in or around 2000.

Linden Labs has a damn good steam engine here. Just as the railroads had not a track-and-trestle business but a transportation business, Linden Labs has a fundamental technology that given proper development and attention could be the next WWW. We're already seeing signs of the desire for immersive experience, mostly from the gameworlds (as usual, the cutting edge). They do a lot of business.

Most of the complaints and problems raised regarding Second Life are endemic and address the architecture and performance of the program. This affects the retention and attraction of new users to the platform, which inevitably affects the profitability of the program and of the Labs. The technology is proliferating now; LL is not the sole-and-only. As an example, Elf Clan, a long-time group of residents giving LL thousands of dollars a month to maintain their inworld community, finally had enough of non-response to problems and complaints to the Lab and took those thousands of monthly dollars to another grid.

I've read a couple years' worth of Wayfinder Wishbringer's forum posts, JIRA reports and the rest of his output to be confident in saying that he was no mere whining troublemaker; Wayfinder did some amazing bug-tracking and reporting, collating reports from the many Clan landholders and members as to problems impacting the Second Life experience of hundreds of people; not only wasn't he paid to do this, but he was paying LL while he did it. He is only one example; I am sure people with much more knowledge and history could point you to dozens of other capable and technologically-competent people who have tried for years to help Linden Lab through JIRAs and community meetings to address these problems for the financial betterment and growth of the company (and for us).

We're not playing a game; we have a home where we play games

I think the single-most important perception and disconnect between residents and Linden Labs is in what Second Life is to most people. Again, I'll reach into the gameworlds for examples -my experience with them was deep and committed; after the collapse of the first VWs I spent a lot of time in those worlds, pursuing 3D model-making and texturing (and flying!). As now, I did not profit immediately from this time and investment.

People who think worlds like WoW are just "a place to go to waste some time between other things" haven't really spent much time in those worlds. People can play many games offline; they can get to Level 99 Uber Elf on their own; they can hack them, expand them with mods and tinker with them all they like without shelling out a monthly play fee and the fees for online connectivity required to play. So... why do they go there?

Because there's a community there. I can say from personal experience that at least half my time in a gameworld was in talking to other people; not just about what weapon I needed to get past a level Boss, but about their lives, their friends, their interests, their hopes, their dreams... them as people; as friends. Why do people put in so much effort into their Farmville farms? Just to raise cows? Hardly; they raise cows to brag about, discuss, get tips about and in general interact with other people, forming friendships and alliances and being part of a community. This urge to belong is fundamental to the human experience.

WoW, Farmville, Minecraft, Diablo, Freelancer/Crossfire, EVE and dozens of others thrive (and profit) because they are a home to many people. They are not played in isolation. People have serious time and money invested in those games because they offer more than a simple 2-hour escape from reality; they offer friendships and a sense of belonging. People go to these places to play games... but they also get news, tips, opinions, discussion, jokes and pointers to resources outside the game universe.

Who are you going to brag to that you made level 99 with a Mercenary/got past that nasty uber-Boss/found the rare Brass Panties of Athena granting you +50 to your bowshots/finally understood a LSL script/made your first Castle/sold your first outfit/found Bryn Oh's Standby if you're playing in standalone mode? I have my own local sim now (on a USB stick no less) where I can create all I want. So why do I still go to SL/IW? It's my home. My chosen community is there.

People who have homes are passionate about their neighborhood/state/country/world. They spend enough time inworld to recognize the difference between someone merely complaining about difficulty ("I tried and tried to get past this Boss and I can't! This game suxor!") and the real problems with the neighborhood ("I keep getting latency times of >700ms since that last patch"). They understand that problems with access or useability trump all eye-candy or decoration and discourage not only long-term players but newbies who will not have the good parts of the world to draw on and temper their experience with patience for a very complex technology. Sure, populations rise and fall in such worlds due to many reasons, but a glance at the P&L sheet of Blizzard will assure anyone of their profitability over the long-term.

The examples of this perception of a home online are self-evident. Why do people check /. or Huffington Post first thing in the morning instead of Faux Noos? Why do they patronize one web page over another? Why have people fled to other grids and reduced their presence in Second Life or let their (4-5-6-year) Premium Membership lapse into a freebie account in protest, preferring to pay a Private Island landlord tier rather than Linden Labs? Because they feel betrayed by LL as a community. They feel they are merely numbers in someone's spreadsheet; numbers that can be easily manipulated on paper to show a (paper) profit; numbers that can be discarded for the pipe-dream of "future, betterer numbers!"

These people have put up with a great deal of instability, technical limitations and problems to remain inworld for years, continuing to give LL money for that privilege. They have tried helping LL locate, document and focus on problems relating to the performance and stability of the program. They have continued not only to remain but to spread the word and their recommendations for Second Life despite the sensationalist press which passes for SL reporting in the media and makes SL look like some dumb sex chatroom.

But we can't do anything about the slipping retention rates or the fleeing of customers to other grids without active and involved Linden presence and attention to these problems that impact the user experience so devastatingly. We take the continued ignoring, covering up, dissembling, icy pronouncements from On High and general lack of inworld presence of The Company to be a clear sign of apathy and dissociation with their own product. It makes us wary of continuing to invest in that company and wary of bringing anyone new into an environment that shows signs of deterioration, neglect and appears unstable and uncertain.

This is Linden Lab's primary problem at this time. It needs to be addressed quickly and competently with more than sugar-words, pasties and smoke and mirrors if Second Life is to stop the horrendous attrition rates, stabilize and grow.


As usual, this post has gone on long; some would say overlong. This post and the ones preceeding and following are a condensing of my own thoughts on these matters over the (almost 3) years I have spent in SL and the hundreds of hours I have spent researching and reading articles, blog postings and in inworld conversations with many residents.

In choosing to spend this time reconnecting to the general net community and the new tech as a full-time, unpaid job, I have invested not only my time but $30,000USD of my savings and income for a reason. Soon I will need to reduce the amount of time I spend online in search of some kind of employment to pay my modest rent, food and gas bills in order to maintain a place where I can continue to invest in the future as I see it.

These latest blog posts are my own way of digesting, ordering and reaching conclusions to the vast amount of information I have absorbed in these years and activities; a summation of experience in order to place it into some kind of perspective for my next step. I publish here because it is my own space to say what I will. I do not monetize, a decision I made in order to be free of the pressure to write for income and to be free to express myself. I have no agenda for profit; I do not do it to grab ego-stroking and yayas. It's my private journal.

I realize this post is not as "juicy" as the previous ones; I have firmly distracted the ghosts of Dorothy Parker and Hunter S Thompson from their usual hijinks for a reason. If by some strange happenstance I have the talking-stick right now, then I will do my best to express the sentiments of the many as clearly as I can without theatrics in order to use the working supposition that these expressions and concerns are being heard or at least looked at by LL management. Once more, I commend Rod Humble for his recent Twitter presence and engagement in these dialogues and take that as one of the more hopeful signs I have seen in a long time that perhaps I did not waste my time and resources for the past 3 years.

I've stated the problem as I see it; in Part III I will attempt to put forth some answers and courses of action that Linden Lab might consider as unpaid, honest and ernest suggestions and feedback from the community for their own, and our, benefit in fixing, maintaining and growing this world.


I know that these observations are not original; many of the ideas expressed in these posts owe a great deal to other people. I'd like to thank, in no particular order: soror Nishi, Wizard Gynoid, Skylar Smythe, Botgirl, Honour McMillan, Crap Mariner, Doc Gascoigne, Daniel Voyager, Vesper Kling, Apmel Goosson, Tateru Uno, Jeri Rahja, Nazz Lane, LadySakai, Kev Sweetwater, The Alphaville Herald, Thirza Ember, Iggy Onomotopoeia, Maria Korolov, Prim Perfect, Raven Haalan and a host of other blogs and people inworld for these ideas and summations. If I've forgotten anyone, please forgive me; this is what happens when you do not plan an article and keep meticulous notes.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Reply From The Recalcitrant & NWN, go away

Well, I need to get political again. James Wagner, aka 'Hamlet Au,' has reposted a link to an original interview I did with Chestnut Rau on his New World Notes blog. People are commenting (positively) there, and I'd like them to be aware of something:

I am not best pleased with this linkjacking. I have been vocal on NWN about Wagner's slamming and disparaging of residents with his assertion that said residents and their widely-held opinion that Viewer 2.0 is a technically-challenged cobbleup are responsible for the decline of Second Life.

I enjoyed very much talking to Chestnut, who was interested, charming and very nice. I was quite pleased with her original interview. I view this repost/hijack of the link as an attempt either to curry favor with me or to make me out to be some kind of ungrateful wretch, as Bettina Tizzy implied in a tweet to soror Nishi, who was chided for objecting strongly to Wagner's position because "he was nice to you once upon a time."

I do not like Wagner using me to drive traffic to his blog while castigating me as a resident. If you wish to read/comment on this interview, please do so at Chestnut's blog. She deserves the traffic, not NWN.

Here is the comment I have posted at NWN:

"I suspect this link-referral to an interview I did with the charming and nice Chestnut Rau is some kind of clever offering or trap for my posting rebuttals and comments on NWN for Hamlet's unexcuseable and troll-like inflamatory position that I, and the very people who pay Linden Labs to rent their land and our membership fees as premium members are somehow responsible for the decline of Second Life because we object on technical grounds to the abortion that is Viewer 2.0.

If you'd like to comment, please do so on Chestnut Rau's article page and not on this page, as all it does is offer Mr. Wagner incentive to continue trolling for blog hits.



All in all, another example of why I do not read NWN anymore. I do not think Mr Wagner has anything of interest to say. I find his position untenable and disingenuous and this reposting of a link to drive traffic to his monetized blog rather than Chestnut's (non-monetized) blog rather sly and underhanded.

So... I had prepared this post last week (before the link posting at NWN) on the continuing carping of Wagner about why I, as a paying premium member and landholder putting money in LL's pockets, am the reason Second Life membership and landholding is declining. I held the post because I wanted to promote a stellar art show/event for a cause and organization I support.

That event is over now, and I give you the original post. Note the time frame: this post was written and completed in response to another one of Wagner's inflammatory posts at NWN, my comment thereon and before Wagner posted this linkjack that has really got me irritated.

I do appreciate all the nice comments people have left, but I do not appreciate being used by Wagner to steal traffic away from someone deserving just to increase his monetized bloggery.

And to Mr James Wagner aka Hamlet Au: don't do me any more 'favors'. You were never interested in my work before I started commenting on your ridiculous assertions and I don't think you are interested now. Address me over these issue if you like, but don't use me or attempt to curry favor or derail my arguments with your soft-soaping.

Original post follows.


So I made a comment on a blog which was kind of prickly; you get that way when someone keeps calling you names. But since Wizard says I get "articulate" when I am "frenzied," I thought I'd try to live up to that and articulate a bit more in response to this continual trumpeting from James Wagner about the failures of Second Life/Linden Labs being laid at the feet of the people who, according to Mr Wagner's own figures, actually pay the bills - the residents like me.

In the grand tradition of tech troubleshooting, I thought I'd make it easy to understand by using the tried-and-true car analogy. But then I wondered if, although the comparison of Second Life and Linden Labs to the Wikipedia entry for the Ford Edsel is pretty applicable and illuminating as to both product and marketing (i'm not joking; read the article), this might be too complex for a simple blog post (or at least one that anyone might care to read). So I settled on a much simpler hardware-store analogy.

If I Had A Hammer...

Suppose you were selling a widget you called a hammer. You sold this widget to a number of people, whose continuing income stream paid your bills and put money in your pocket. You start to get feedback on your 'hammers' from the renters (who originally were told, "Your world, your hammer") of these hammers. Many of those now-renters are knowledgeable Carpenters (some are Master Carpenters) and they begin to tell you of certain problems or flaws in the hammer.

The head flies off; they explain it would be simple to use a better wood or a better staple in the head of the hammer to prevent this. They also note that there seems to be variable quality; some of the hammer heads appear to be too soft and will not effectively pound a nail into hardwood, only soft wood. The angle of the claw end is not very good for removing nails. Yet they continue to rent your hammers in good faith, listening to your marketing department and trusting that you are an honest and forthright company and that you are all working with a new product and that bugs take time to work out.

This goes on for quite some time, becoming a bit sharper and more critical after several years of promises. The Carpenter community begins to talk amongst themselves, comparing stories of the failure of the hammer to work as advertised and intended; to do its basic function as a hammer. Concern is raised that, despite a company forum supposedly devoted to constructive feedback and problem area suggestions, the main failures of the functioning of the hammer are not being addressed. In fact, certain threads of the forum are shut down and closed after several years of mounting complaints, even though no solution has been offered.

The number of hammer renters, some of them really big hammer renters, begins to fall to attrition. Not only are no new Carpenters flocking to the hardware store, but some of the oldest and most-supportive Carpenters, who have paid your hardware store thousands and thousands of dollars for years, are declining their annual orders. Panic ensues in the hardware store's boardroom. The old Carpenters, some of them still talking and not walking (and paying) attempt to explain that a hammer which cannot serve its main purpose is not promoted by Carpenters and does not attract new Carpenters. This view is rejected by Management, who have seen new sparkly things in other hardware stores and take the position that their hammers need to be more sparkly.

New features are added: a big marketing blitz for SparkleHammer 2.0 goes out, explaining that the head is now covered with twinkly bits, the handle has been wrapped in racy stripes and the claw is shorter and more user-friendly in order to to capture the fancy of the New Market of young Carpenters-to-be. Marketing develops a campaign to lure new hammer-users in by explaining how much fun it is to use their hammer as a doorstop, how a user can glue fur onto the handle for a sensual experience, how to pretend to be a vampire using the claw part of the hammer and how you can spend a lot of money accessorizing your hammer (girls, if you had Barbie, you know what I mean!).

The immediate feedback from the Carpenters, who are still paying the bills, is almost unanimous: not only does the new hammer (or 'Ham 2.0') still fail badly in the necessary function of a hammer, but some of the new features actually degrade the hammer-experience, frustrating both new and old Carpenters alike.

Numbers continue to drop. There is an anger, based not only on this iteration of the Ham 2.0 but on the track record of the hardware store, which has baited-and-switched with their Mini-Ham (homesteads), refused or been unable to fix fundamental flaws (Group Chat, asset server crashes and loss of inventory, general sim crashes and crossings) and shut down feedback and communication with the Carpenters. More Carpenters leave, taking with them those thousands of dollars. They leave not because they don't like furry-handled hammers but because a hammer that doesn't pound nails or remove them is not a tool of interest to a Carpenter.

I'd Hammer On A Hamster

James Wagner, who once wrote of the possibilities of Second Life and who once declaimed, "it won't go away," has taken to calling the residents of Second Life "recalcitrant" and "averse to change" for their continued and now fairly-widespread criticism of Linden Labs conduct. Dazzling us with facts and figures, he attempts to address us as wayward and stubborn children.

By Wagner's own figures, we continue to fork over to LL some several million dollars for the priviledge of using a tool which has not been fixed and which underperforms and degrades with regularity. Unlike Mr Wagner, we did not flee to bluer pastures, trumpeting our with-it-ness and siren-calling to take carpenters away from their old store to a new one.

Note that last point: Wagner jumped ships and was disappointed when many residents of SL refused to go, citing the technical and content problems of Blue Mars. We all know what happened there; Blue Mars as a virtual world collapsed, morphing into a tiny phone-app which has yet to prove itself in the marketplace.

So he begins this schtick about "recalcitrant" users and sticks with it, despite mounting criticism and mockery; despite his absence from Second Life due to his year-long jaunt in Blue Mars (where his prediction of "the new happening thing" was demonstrably misplaced); despite his denial of even his own old columns where he himself wrote of several of the fundamental problems with SL architecture.

When, in thoughtful mode, people reply with facts and figures of their own, Wagner refuses to acknowledge the problems and makes one up of his own: it is we, the people still putting money in Linden Labs' hands; the people who have continued to do this out of love for the platform; the people some of whom have a vast array of technical knowledge; the people who spend, I am confident in estimating, more time inworld than 80% of the Linden Labs staff, who are the problem. We do not want to change! We are the ones killing our world!

This is patently ridiculous. The problems with Second Life can be easily simplified to one line: it is a communications program, and the communications suck. The communication between resident and Landlord (LL) and between client and server (asset server, chat, sim crossing, 'dancing' prims, missing inventory) are abyssmal. The client is unstable. The client has built-in artificial limitations (prim size, lack of shader support) which other viewers have handled quite adequately. In seeking to emulate some other program, ala Facebook or Twitter, LL appears to be attempting to mimick surface features without acknowledging this base truth: they are all communications programs. Their success is based on stable and reliable communication.

No amount of tarting up the interface or additional copied widget ideas will do anything to retain users or attract new ones if core functionalities are unstable and unreliable.

Mr Wagner, with his this-day "SL is dying" and that-day "We could really build something here if you all weren't such grumbly little children" is quite the font of negativism he accuses others of being. His fickleness has been demonstrated publicy by his own actions. His obtuseness to the fundamental underlying problems in SL is disingenuous. His continual harping on the "recalcitrance" of the consumers of the product to buy into a new, tarted up interface at the expense of the underlying flaws in the architecture begins to sound like nothing more than corporate shilling and trolling or the attempt of a once-relevant voice to regain its prominence.

If Mr Wagner and Linden Labs insist on an adversarial position with their customer base, that base will leave; it's that simple. Browbeating will not help. Refusal to engage the pertinent issues will be disasterous. No one who does due diligence on the company with an eye towards purchase will be fooled.

I hope that wasn't too snarky, but I am irritated. And I don't like being called names repeatedly.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

War & Peace at The Zinn April 16-17

Trill Zapatero curates this powerful exhibit at The Howard Zinn Center for Social Consciousness and the Arts on the Four Bridges Project sims.

The all-star lineup of contributing artists include Em Larsson, Drumstick Ah, Igor Ballyhoo, Oona Erin, Plot Tracer, Novia Halostar, Filthy Fluno, Chrome Underwood, Asmita Duranjaya, Pol Jarvinen, Larkworth Antfarm, Fiona Leitner, Mona Mendes, Aaron Hughes, Gamma Infinity, millay Freschi and Trill (and me) meditating on the themes of war and peace with powerfully-evocative builds, installations and paintings/graphics.

Trill's done an amazing build (most of the sim work is hers, and it is spectacular) as well as a gorgeous catalogue for the exhibition. You really have to see this sim-work to believe the amount of time and talent Trill has put into this. There are also some pretty-happening events in the lineup:

Scheduled Events

Saturday, April 16, 2011

12pm SLT: millay Freschi, opening remarks and a reading

12:30SLT: Open Mike Poetry Slam

6pmSLT: Meet the Artists

8pmSLT: Live music with Leo Voorhees, Costa Rican musician

Sunday, April 17, 2011

12pmSLT: Juniverse Stockholm and Medora Chevalier of "The Wall" fame

2pmSLT: Meet the Artists

3pmSLT: Mommaluv Skytower plays!

My own Theatre of War (installation version) is there [Flickr link].

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

WordPress.com hacked- CHANGE PASSWORDS

For those of you using WordPress, this announcement today from WordPress:

"Tough note to communicate today: Automattic had a low-level (root) break-in to several of our servers, and potentially anything on those servers could have been revealed.

We have been diligently reviewing logs and records about the break-in to determine the extent of the information exposed, and re-securing avenues used to gain access. We presume our source code was exposed and copied. While much of our code is Open Source, there are sensitive bits of our and our partners’ code. Beyond that, however, it appears information disclosed was limited."


  • Use a strong password, meaning something random with numbers and punctuation.
  • Use different passwords for different sites.
  • If you have used the same password on different sites, switch it to something more secure.

(Tools like 1Password, LastPass, and KeePass make it easy to keep track of different unique logins.)

Here is a tip I have given to many, many people who think such passwords are hard to remember or type:

Make one text file. Call it something innocuous or stupid like "MomsCherryPieRecipie". DO NOT CALL IT PASSWORDS.TXT.

Use this text file to store long, strong and untypeable passwords. Keep this file on your drive somewhere and also on a/several USB keys. Make a shortcut to a folder somewhere with, again, an innocuous name like CLASS-SCHEDULE. Password-protect THIS FILE with a password you can remember. Do not use any of the passwords contained in the file for this text file.

Use cut and paste to log in to sites.

The Steve Gibson password generator is a good one which allows several methods; some for extended characters, some for plain alpha-numeric and others.

... and a little more on this "transparency" thing...

Having been gently strongarmed into getting a FeceBook and Tweety, here's a little article from the Wall Street Journal on data scrapers and aggregators. You should read it, particularly if you're one of the people pushing for "transparency everywhere" and the like.

Somehow, the people pushing this don't seem to consider the realities. Of course, perhaps they haven't had their email broken into and friendships destroyed by that, as I have. Perhaps they haven't made the connection between thinking or trusting some entity out there to "respect their privacy" in the same way they'd think phone taps would "respect their privacy if they aren't doing anything wrong."

From the article: "many firms offer to collect personal, and potentially incriminating, data about users from their social networking profiles and discussions. Many companies even collect online conversations and personal details from social networks, job sites and forums where people might discuss their lives and even potentially sensitive data, such as health issues."

See that?

Still think you have "nothing to hide"? How about the fact that you have high blood pressure, which you mentioned to someone once in SL or on Tweetbook, which your insurance company paid to have scraped, which resulted in triple rates for you, or being dropped from your policy? How about cancer, thyroid problems, depression, some strange fungus on your foot... or that you once made a joke in a forum/chat session like this when you were 15:

"What's white, then black, then white, then black, then white, then red?"

"A nun rolling downhill into a wood chipper."

A joke almost any Catholic school inmate might find hilarious? Or potential terrorism???

Really, if you don't think of these consequences you don't really understand the technology you are using and nothing you have to say to me will be of value. If you want to lecture me on why I should allow every piece of conversation or talk or aside or remark or whatever I chose to make to be connected to my physical being in perpetuity, you are entirely ignorant of the tools and environment you are using. It only shows me your profound ignorance and willful denial of the reality of online data.

And lest you start with the tin-foil hat and paranoia stuff, do some reading. I'd rather be classified as 'boring' or 'not with it' than have stuff out there that might come back to bite me in 10 or 20 years time.

I still believe in free speech and the right to anonymity.

ps - I posted this in Comments but it deserves to be in the main article:

Here's a little reading for people:

Wikipedia - Text Mining

Take a look at the "Commercial software and applications" section - these are just the open and admitted apps. Follow the companies - IBM, Microsoft, Lockheed-Martin...

Monday, April 4, 2011

Meme - Rebecca Black & 'Friday'

Time to step out of the local fishbowl that is virtual worlds and into the wider sea of the internet (my environment) to comment on a current meme and memes in general:

"A meme is a unit of social information. It is a relatively newly coined term and identifies ideas or beliefs that are transmitted from one person or group of people to another. The concept comes from an analogy: as genes transmit biological information, memes can be said to transmit idea and belief information.

A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices, which can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes, in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures."

- Wikipedia

You may be familiar with the "All your base are belong to us" meme, which is quite old. You may also know "Fucking magnets, how do they work?" or "You can't explain that;" both are very current and prevalent memes making their way around the social net scene that deserve mockery. I'd like to examine another:

Rebecca Black - Friday

I first heard about this song as "the most awful song in the world" and was prepared to join the mockery, as I have strong feelings about the roboticisation of pop music, the formulaic tripe that is passed off now as product and the promotion of no-talent vases (in Chinese and Japanese films, a 'vase' is a girl stuck into the film with no character meaning; just to look at; eyecandy) by song factories. But then I took a look at the video itself as opposed to the press about it.

'Friday' on You Tube

Yes, it's formulaic. It's also obviously a cheap production; the producers used family and friends as extras. The song itself is pure bubblegum, appropriate to the tween age group it is targeted at. It is also heavily autotuned, which isn't surprising as most pop records now use this studio trick in varying levels. Much of the mockery comes from the heavy use of autotune, but also includes the banal lyrics and some truly awful ones. But as far as the "worst song in the world"? Hardly.

Friday - The Meme

This song probably would have sunk without much of a ripple, except that it was taken up by the net and tossed from spear to spear like a bloody rag doll. It began with a mass of "dislike" comments on You Tube, well over 30,000 in just a few days; perhaps from classmates or peers of this 13-year-old girl. Then the supposed "adult press" got wind of it (they depend on kids to keep them well-fed) and suddenly Rebecca Black was all over... being called "the worst singer in the world" and "completely frightening"... lashed for the lyrics and the autotune... dragged through the public square in stocks, target of rotten vegetables by the same merry crowd that attends public hangings for entertainment.

As I started to dig further into this meme, I came up with some interesting information:

1. Rebecca's parents paid $2000USD (or 4k, depending on who you read) for this video/recording.

2. Rebecca wrote neither the lyrics that are being savaged nor chose the Autotune option.

3. During the recording, she was bothered and had questions about the most-mocked lyric section ("Yesterday was Thursday; today it is Friday; tomorrow is Saturday, and Sunday comes afterwards"), saying "Wait... this is just the days of the week... I'm supposed to sing this?" So even a 13-yr-old has some lyrical sense.

But hey, her parents had sunk $2k into thier child's dream and she tried to live up to that expectation. Laugh all you want... but my parents never did anything remotely as supportive as this, particularly with money. My parents prefered my dreams to die, so I could settle down and become something sensible and grey, like a bookkeeper.

Who is actually behind this?

Ark Music Factory (at least their name is honest) looks like one of those "tween modeling agencies" that are fairly repulsive. All their clients are 11/13-yr-old girls; all of them paying money for these videos. In every single one of the videos, there is a cut scene of an older male "rapper" ... who is actually Patrice Wilson - the co-founder of Ark. Go to their website; watch some of the videos. No one seems to be commenting much on this aspect... except these people.

This caught my eye, as it caught many eyes in the Friday video. It's such a non sequitur; a bunch of 13-yr-olds singing merrily away... then this well-out-of-teenhood rapper busts in for a verse. I suppose this is to give the videos "street cred" but ... it surely looks like this guy is using these tweens to get his own face promoted everywhere. Kinda... slimy, yes?

It looks like bare exploitation. It looks like they are trying to ride on the backs of tween girls; inserting themselves into every video they make, getting their screen time and having these girls pay for that.

What Ark is doing is just a low-budget (and badly-handled) version of what many other companies already do; what American Idol does; what Japanese pop music hit factories have been doing for years.

Friday - The Song

As I mentioned, the song is rather shallow... but it's for the tween market! What do you expect, Proust? One of the most-mocked (by the adult press) lyric sections is:

"Kickin' in the front seat
Sitting in the back seat
Gotta make my mind up
Which seat can I take?"

erm... I guess most of these Bigs can't get a metaphor; I can clearly see and remember the tween-teen angst about trying to emerge from a cocoon; to step out in your own strength or to remain part of the crowd/herd. Isn't this metaphor saturated into every coming-of-age film, novel and song throughout history?

I've already discussed the really-weak lyric section (days of the week). How about Autotune?

Unless you have really numb ears, you've been hearing Autotune on almost every pop song for the last few years. In this case it was used pretty grossly and with no talent, making the audio artifacts jump out... but in most cases, Autotune is regularly used to smooth over single bad notes in a vocal performance; most of the time it is very subtle and unnoticeable unless you have good ears and are really concentrating on the song (and have a much better engineer than Ark's).

And frankly, this song scared me a lot less than when Cher went Borg. It also scares me less than Lady GaGa, as it does not pretend to any deep meaning. It's a bubblegum pop song for Bobsakes!

I guess the supposed adult press never enjoyed tapping their feet to "Da Doo Ron Ron," "Cherry Pie," "Illegal Alien," "The Rockafeller Skank" or "MMMbop." Maybe they were among the same people who attacked Tammy Wynette for having fun and playing with the KLF on "Justified & Ancient"? Perhaps they spend their days with furrowed brows and Meerschaum pipes, pouring over the lyrics of Pete Sinfield looking for clues to the meaning of life. Pitiful, eh? Poor dried-up husks; forgot what it's like to be free in summer, "Top Down, Radio On" [The Charms]. Got old.


Good Morning America performance [ABC video]

Imagine being 13 years old, having yourself mocked throughout the internet not only by your peers (who can truly forget the savagery of childhood?) but by the adult press. Suggestions of "you should cut yourself" to "you should just die" and "the worst singer in the world" were passed gleefully from pen-to-pen... by (supposed) adults.

Then imagine the courage it took to appear on ABC's Good Morning America and sing an "unplugged" version of Friday, having spent a week in Hell. Go ahead, watch that video. Try to ignore the flat notes; watch Rebecca. This girl is performing under tremendous pressure - live, unplugged - in front of millions of people with absolutely no studio or in-mic post-processing. Tell me when Stevie Nicks did that (she of the famous billy-goat, flat-noted voice) or Cher, or Lady Gaga.

Grace under pressure, the hallmark of courage. I have been on stage, but nothing to compare to this kind of pressure, and not at that age. If it would have been me, my knees would not have held out. In show biz, this is called "being a trooper" and Rebecca Black showed this quality in a sterling way. Watching that video, my heart went out to her.


There have also been some voices of rationality and sense in this. Steven Colbert & Jimmy Fallon came by Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to cover Friday as the payoff for a bet made with Fallon earlier in the week to raise $26,000USD for DonorsChoose.org (they met that goal) - so already this young singer has had a realworld, monetary effect on some good causes. A nice article on CNN by Doug Gross appeared; Ryan Seacrest from KissFM got involved with her; Simon Cowell, he of American Idol known for his scathing and unbuffered remarks to singers has said "I think it's genius" and has shown sympathy for Becca. I am also informed that Lady Gaga has come out in support of Becca.

From my perspective of working in the music biz from retail through Contracts and live performance for many years, Friday is surely cheesy production, silly lyrics and ultimately bubblegum pop. So what? I like bubblegum pop occasionally, as a break from pondering Psychic TV, Cabaret Voltaire, Virgin Prunes, Stockhausen and Bartok [You Tube links]. I happen to have a well-rounded appreciation of music from indigenous tribal to pop to post-modern noise and audio, and sometimes I just want to enjoy being mindless and in joy for good weather, for summertime... or for Friday, the end of the work week.


So... just a post about memes, the verbal or visual viruses of the internet; how you can catch these infective agents and succumb to them in a lazy way without a closer look into the semantic process. Some memes like the Bill O'Reilly or ICP ones deserve mockery, as did the bad translation in AYB. But the Friday/Rebecca Black meme disturbed me. The closer I looked at this story the more bothered I got.

The internet is my home, my environment. As a world, a universe, I pay attention to the weather; to the currents that drift and eddy throughout; to the transmission of information/disinformation that blows through the net like shoals of fish. Immersing in this environment, like diving in open ocean, requires some thought, some attention to surroundings, some knowledge of indigenous lifeforms benign and hostile.

I am merrily and happily contributing to the "You Can't Explain That" and "Magnets" memes because I believe them to be legitimate satire and commentary. I do not feel this Friday meme is legitimate. So I wrote this post for Becca; for her courage on Good Morning America and her rather brutal introduction to the modern pop music industry and as a response to the "adult" press who surely should have been shining a spotlight on the music producers and their exploitation of young girls' dreams, not some poor 13-yr-old dreamer. But I guess it's easier to mindlessly grunt the chant of 'Kill the pig! Bash him in!" than do their ostensible job.

Bring On The Dancing Horses

If you are inworld, send me a notecard and I'll send you a Becca Luv Box with gestures, posters and clips.