Aldon Hynes's blog

Futher reflections on OnRez and CSI

Wednesday evening, I wrote blog post about the OnRez Client for Second Life. I like the client and have been using it as my primary client for the past few days. It takes a little getting used, but seems to work quite nicely.

Prokofy Neva responded in the comments presenting a different opinion, and I wanted to look at some of the data and at Prokofy’s concerns. Prokofy starts off by wondering how many new people will come to Second Life. According to recent Nielsen ratings, CSI NY has around 14 million viewers. If one tenth of one percent connected to check things out, that would be around 14,000 new avatars on Second Life.

The last I saw, Second Life had just over 10 million avatars signed up, having broken into that range a couple weeks ago. However, at any given time, the number of avatars active cycles in a pretty predictable sin wave between 30,000 and 50,000 avatars online. Over the past few days, these numbers have stayed approximately the same, with no discernible effect from CSI.

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Random Stuff

I’ve been on the road a lot over the past three days, so I’m behind on my emails and behind on the blogs. I did manage to get a few posts up while I was on the road.

As I read through my email today, I found a message pointing me to Assumptions? Do me a favour....

In it, Loz writes,

If you read this please leave a comment as to who and where you are and maybe if you feel like it why you visit here. If you are a blogger please visit the other bloggers who comment and maybe leave a comment on one of their posts saying Loz sent you ;)

I left my comment on Loz’s blog:

Who I am:

Hi. I'm Aldon, an old guard hardcore geek with interests in technology, politics, social media and networks.

I've been blogging for several years, including being credentialed to cover the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston and the Libby Trial in Washington DC.

I live in Woodbridge, CT, just north of New Haven.

My blog is Orient Lodge. Please, stop by and say hi.

I first found your blog through MyBlogLog.

I like to come back because there is a little more personality and reality to it than many of the political and technical blogs that I visit.

I've been on the road a bit over the past few days, so I'm way behind in my emails, blog reading and so on.

So, I will try to visit the blogs of other people posting here, but it I probably won't get to them all immediately.

My blog is using Drupal and requires registration and validation of an email address. Some people don’t want to give out their email address or go through the bother of registering on another site. If you are already using a site that supports OpenId, you can use that registration instead. However, a lot of people don’t know how to use OpenId yet either, so if this is too complicated for some of you, I can understand.

However, if you can leave a comment about who you are and why you stopped by, especially if you can via Loz’s post, it would be greatly appreciated.

Casting Call

Miranda has been urging me to do National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo. The goal is to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. I always have writing ideas, sometimes even in the shape of a novel, but rarely do they present themselves to me the way this latest idea has. I don't want to spill the beans, especially since I have no idea if I'll actually carry it out or if it will turn out at all like I'm currently expecting, but in my current imaginings it will involved Second Life, finance and who knows what else.

As I sit on the train heading into New York, I let my mind wander. What is the story I want to tell? Who are the characters? What will happen and when? How will it turn out? My mind becomes flooded with possible characters all auditioning for a role in my story. I've already gotten about a dozen seeking their chance to have their part of the story told, and that doesn't even get to the part that the reader plays.

If I can get these twelve characters to cooperate and tell their stories in a collaborative way, if I can find time to write this, as well as deal with the rest of my life, this could be good. So, Miranda, I'm not committing to NaNoWritMo yet, but I'm getting closer.

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Looking for Venus

It was a beautiful evening for convergence, all the planets seemed to be aligned just right. I was sitting in front of the TV with my laptop fired up. I was using the new OnRez client to explore Second Life as I watched CSI: NY. All of my old tools from the regular Second Life client were working fine. I was speaking with an old friend whom I've recently convinced to enter Second Life. He was stumbling through orientation and had added me as a friend. We were talking about capital markets in Second Life and I have him some seed money to get started.

I had my TwitterBox Heads Up Display (HUD), attached, so I could see the messages that my friends were posting on Twitter and I could post my own messages in reply. I watched the TV, the IM with my friend, the twitter messages and the discussions going on around me in Second Life.

I had teleported into the CSI area of Second Life. They had their own orientation to help people get started and guides were standing around making sure that people were finding their way around appropriately. Twice, while I was distracted by one of the other media streams coming at me, I was asked by the guides if I was having problems. This led to several great side discussions.

Over on Twitter, friends were talking about how bad CSI was. There were just too many things that were unrealistic. For the diehard Second Lifer, it lacked verisimilitude. People commented about how there were so many things that CSI showed in Second Life that you just couldn't do. Second Life just isn't that exciting people commented and they wondered why there was a need for that much embellishment.

Well, first life isn't always all that exciting either, and we've gotten used to television embellishing first life, so why not Second Life. I mean, after all, this is fiction. We are expected to come with some willingness to suspend disbelief. I must admit, I watch very little television. Before we moved, the TV was next to my computer, so I would watch a little of some of the prime time shows. But now, the TV is in a different room and I have to make an effort to watch TV, and rarely is it worth the effort.

Last night, I took my laptop into the living room and watched CSI. It is a show that I would normally be unlikely to watch even if the TV was still next to my computer. I just don't like the blood and gore. So, as I settled onto the couch, I didn't have very high expectations. How well will CSI portray Second Life and the people involved. They did a lot better than I expected.

They started off with the victim dressed up as her Second Life avatar. Cosplay, one of the characters described it as. People in Second Life will sometimes dress up as their avatar when they meet other people from Second Life. I know that my daughters' anime loving characters sometimes participate in Cosplay at anime conventions. I've met people from other virtual worlds at gatherings, and while one of them cross dressed for a New Year's eve party, I never saw any virtual world cosplay. But, I haven't been to any Second Life gatherings in real life, so I can't judge whether or not it was accurate. In my mind, it passed the verisimilitude test and added nicely to the story.

Then, there was the first suspect. A kid with advanced Multiple Sclerosis who could be a Don Juan in Second Life. He was supposed to meet the first victim where she was killed, but chickened out. He had bought a gun to kill himself when the disease progressed too far. This played on many stereotypes of Second Life characters. Those that can't make it in regular life, because they are losers, have some ailment, or some combination of the two. I don't like to promote stereotypes. While there are people like that in Second Life, there is also a wonderful diversity. Yet there is a reason for sterotypes. They can describe a subset of a population, and in this case, I've known too many people that fit the stereotype that CSI employed. Again, passing the verisimilitude test and adding nicely to the story.

Later, they introduced the concept a griefer, someone that causes grief to other people in Second Life. If they were teaching a social sciences course on the nature of characters in Second Life, they would have gotten a poor grade on this. Yet that's not what they were doing. They were providing entertainment and their dealing with the griefer was passable. The same applied to the virus that the detective picked up in Second Life, shutting down all his computers. They embellished that part much further than can really happen with the technology, but as a story telling device it worked fairly well.

The show was predictable. It was inaccurate about Second Life, and friends who are concerned about this are likely to hate what CSI did. Yet from my perspective, it was entertaining, which was its primary goal. The predictability and inaccuracies were less than I expected and so it exceeded my expectations and was enjoyable. I'm currently planning to watch the next episode.

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OnRez on CSI: NY

This evening, millions of viewers will watch CSI: NY and be invited to solve a mystery in Second Life. Many will click on the CSI: New York Virtual Experience web site, set up an avatar, download the OnRez viewer and enter Second Life. How well will the grid handle the influx? We can only wait and see.

How good is the new OnRez Second Life Viewer? Well, you can download that now and start playing with. I did, and here is what I found.

It appears to be based very closely on the current Second Life viewer. The keystrokes all seem pretty much the same. You can even go into debug mode by press Ctrl-Alt-D and turn on and off the all the extra images with Ctrl-Alt-F1. This is exactly the sort of thing that Electric Sheep hopes the standard newbie in Second Life doesn’t do. It will confuse them horribly.

Yet Electric Sheep has done a great job with the new viewer. In the lower right hand corner, there is a friends button that makes communicating with your friends in Second Life much more like communicating with your friends via other instant messenger programs. They’ve added a nice navigation bar, similar to web browers to go to your home page, or in Second Life, your home region, as well as forward and back buttons to go to places you have recently teleported. They’ve added the section for ‘My Stuff’, ‘Shop’ and ‘Buy L$’. This should make the Second Life shopping experience easier and more pleasant for the casual user, so who knows, it just might help the Second Life economy after all.

Connecting via OnRez also brought up a box for CSI: NY. ‘Happening Now’ the message reads and encourages me to make sure that I’ve visited the White Rabbit crime scene and completed the orientation experience. It also provides links to crime scenes and of course shopping malls. Monkey Canning is offline right now, but I’m sure that when he gets a look at this, he’ll be trying to find some angle to get all these new Second Lifers to stop by at the Virtual Stock Exchange and by some Atlas Venture Capital stock or perhaps pick up some shares of Dawes Financial Corp or Springboard Publications currently in IPO.

It actually makes a lot of sense. Given the failed banks and corporations in Second Life, the allegations of fraud and so on, I’m sure CSI: NY could have a great episode about people hunting down notorious financial avatars like Jasper Tizzy.

So, for the casual user, it makes the experience much more enjoyable, without detracting seriously from the experience of the frequent user. For the hardcore geeks, there are some interesting tidbits. First off, the OnRez client appears to be based very closely on the traditional Second Life client, perhaps a little too closely. When I tried to install OnRez while I was in Second Life, it told me that OnRez was already running. When I shut down my traditional Second Life client, the OnRez installation resumed.

I’m running OnRez on an old Laptop running Windows 2000. It runs fine, although it requested that I load DirectX 9 and Quicktime 7.1. I have older versions of both which work fine for me, and I’ve been having difficulties getting DirectX 9 or Quicktime 7.1 for Windows 2000.

With OnRez up and running, I decided it was time for the next level of testing. Could I connet the OnRez viewer to an OpenSim? Fortunately, I have an OpenSim Grid running on my home network, so I fired up OpenSim with the –loginuri paramenter and sure enough, there was my OpenSim avatar in my OpenSim grid, ready for me to move it around.

I decided to push the envelope a little further. Could I run OnRez connected to the OpenSim grid and the traditional Second Life viewer connected to the Second Life main grid? Sure enough, they ran nicely next to each other, at least for a little while. Next thing I knew, I hit a blue screen of death. So, you can do it, but if you’re running on a flaky old Windows 2000 based laptop, you might see some crashes.

When I started up OnRez again, it gave me a message about how the last time I had run OnRez, it had ended abnormally. It was essentially the same message I’ve see too many times from the Second Life client.

So, I’m running the OnRez client. I’m going to keep my eyes open to see how Second Life and CSI: NY get along. To paraphrase Rick Blaine, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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