A decade (+) of blogging: thoughts on Second Life

On the occasions of my 13th SL rezday, Erik Mondrian reminded me that 2019 marks my 10th year of blogging via WordPress (I’d used another platform for a couple of years prior to that). With his reminder, Erik presented me with a challenge:

A slightly belated Happy Rez Day, Inara! And, if I may, perhaps a challenge? Not that you’re short of things to write about, but if you have time: In the last 10 years, what do you feel has been one of the best changes/additions to SL? And what are your hopes for the next 5?

– Erik Mondrian, via Twitter

As I stated in my reply to that tweet, I’m note sure I could pin thoughts down to any one thing in terms of what has positively happened to Second Life; there are simply too many – and some tend to be interconnected in some ways. However, I’ve been cogitating Erik’s challenge, and here is (slightly later than planned) an abbreviated list of some of the things that I believe have either benefited SL or had a positive impact on it over the last decade or so, and which I’ve particularly appreciated during my time using the platform.

Communications with the Lab: the relationship between the Lab and SL users has tended to be a complex one. At the time I moved to blogging via WordPress, things were at a low ebb. There had been the Homestead region situation, together with the drive to make SL a more “business oriented” platform (vis: Mitch Kapor’s SL5B crossing the chasm address that appeared to suggest SL’s early adopters were interfering with trying to reach an early majority audience; suggestions that parts of the Mainland should be made “business only”; the (ill-fated) Second Life Enterprise (SLE) product development; lectures from form Lab employees on how users should dress their avatars “for business”, etc), all of which left a lot of SL users felling pretty disenfranchised.

However, starting with Rod Humble and particularly with Ebbe Altberg, the Lab has sought to strongly re-engage with its users and embrace them. Things haven’t always worked out in their entirety (communications did go a little backwards towards the end of Humble’s tenure); but there is no denying the improvements seen through activities such regular Town Hall / Lab Chat / Meet the Lindens events plus the likes of VWBPE addresses and Designing Worlds interviews, and the simple expedient of allowing LL staff to once again openly engage with users whilst using their “official” accounts.

Windlight: although it was originally introduced in 2007, Windlight had a profound effect on the appearance of Second Life that’s hard to overlook. Originally a third-party product Linden Lab acquired and which didn’t see all of its potential capabilities implemented (for whatever reason), the overall impact of Windlight shouldn’t be trivialised.  If you need an idea of how SL looked pre-Windlight  – with the exception of the old particle clouds – just disable the Basic Shaders in the viewer.

Open sourcing the viewer code: also introduced in 2007 and not without its share of hiccups / controversies (the Emerald viewer situation, for example), the open-source project has undoubtedly served SL well. It has allowed third-party viewers to thrive within a reasonable framework, and both exposing features hidden with the viewer’s debug settings and allowing developers to add their own options, allowing users a greater choice of client options. It has also provided the means for users to contribute potential improvements to the viewer back the the Lab, generating a a largely positive synergy between developers and the Lab.

Mesh model import: admittedly, the impact of mesh modelling in Second life cuts both ways: positive and negative. Leaving aside what might be regarded as its negative aspects, it has helped to improve SL’s look and feel, potentially made region design more accessible / attractive, and helped bring improvements to the avatar we might otherwise not have seen, or which may have not have been implemented until later in the platform’s life (e.g. Bento and Animesh).

Performance improvements: over the last decade, LL has worked extensively “under the hood” with Second Life to try to improve overall improvements, such as the long-term Project Shining. Running for some 2 years with the aim of improving object and avatar performance, it was followed by further projects and efforts to help improve performance in assorted areas. Some have had mixed initial impact, but all of which have, overall, helped to improve things for most users, even if only incrementally in some cases.

Materials, Bento and Animesh: all three have helped improve the look and feel of Second Life, making it more attractive to users old and new.

Looking to the next 5 years, there is much that might happen or which many would like to see happen – from technical aspects such as further improvements in simulator performance (e.g. script and physics performance, region crossing management), through to more esoteric aspects such as audience growth / user retention, fee balancing, etc. However, I’ll restrict my thoughts for the future to one topic: the transition to the cloud.

This work has already eaten into the Lab’s engineering and operating time over the two years, and will doubtless continue to be a significant focus for 2020. However, it is a leap into the unknown for Linden Lab and Second Life, both technically and in terms of operating outlay / revenue generation (e.g. capping the cost of having cloud servers running 24/7 in a manner that doesn’t require uncomfortable fee increases).

On the technical side, it’s more than likely that the focus on moving to the cloud has a higher priority that developing significant new features for SL – and perhaps even curtailed implementing updates that might be seen as having a limited lifespan, such as infrastructure changes that could be rendered obsolete following the cloud uplift, but which are nevertheless causing a lot of teeth grinding amongst users.

Even when the uplift itself is completed, it is likely that the transition will still require a significant among of settling-in and adjustments that will continue to occupy the operations and engineering teams. So there is a lot hinging on this move that will continue into the next couple of years, and that is important to the overall future of the platform.

A baker’s dozen in Second Life

At home, December 2019

December 5th is my SL rezday anniversary and this year marks 13 years since I arrived back in Second Life as Inara Pey. Thirteen years is actually the 2nd longest time by which I’ve called a single place my home, given a lot of my childhood and teen years saw my family moving around a lot in the physical world, and my early adult life was similarly marked by semi-regular relocations due to the annoyance of careers.

I was delighted to be featured in the May 2019 edition of Eclipse Magazine

As I noted in my 2018 piece Twelve years in Second Life, I really didn’t expect to still be logging-in to the the platform after so long, given that a few years ago, I sort-of agreed with myself to hang up my SL hiking boots on the occasion of my 10th anniversary as Inara in-world.

In that piece, I noted three major reasons for still being around now: fun, discovery and freedom. I’m not going to re-tread those reasons here and now; suffice it to say that they do still hold true. I’m still having fun with SL sailing, boating ad flying as well as still enjoying my time kitbashing and scratch building (I’m still very much a prim person for building, never having really got my head around Blender, but also enjoy taking mesh bits and re-purposing them).

I’m still out and about visiting SL regions and appreciating all the art that is offered through the platform, and I’m obviously still captivated by the freedom Second Life offers all of us to be who and what we want to be (within the boundaries of the Terms of Service and Community Standards, of course!) regardless of race, religion, gender species or ability.

There’s also the fact that the technical complexity of Second Life continues to fascinate me, and I still enjoy trying to dig into things and understand them, be they genuine technical developments or updates, or more esoteric issues such as the SL economy, what’s going on at Linden Lab, and so on.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of of my Second Life time is maintaining this blog. What started as a fairly narrow-focused and perhaps lopsided projects has grown over the years, has become something that I’ve striven to make into not only a journal of my SL travels and appreciation of art in Second Life, but which can also be a useful resource for other users – hence the menu system at the top of each page (if you’ve not used it before, I do encourage you to do so!).

While I’ve never sought recognition, I am flattered and honoured by the fact that over the years, this blog has been recognised, from topping a poll of New World Notes readers’ favourite blogs, through to this year being awarded the Blogger and Vlogger Network (BVN) Founders Award, while I was also flattered and honoured to be made an Amica honoree by the Virtual Existence Society (VES). MY thanks again to both organisations for these honours.

This year has seen this blog and myself honoured twice – and for which I’d again like to sincerely thank BVN and VES

This year has been interesting blog-wise, given the changes that have popped-up within Second Life, such as the arrival of the new Premium Linden Homes and their continent, there have been the various fee changes that have taken place, the arrival of Animesh and more – all of which have kept me busy. Sansar has also kept me engaged – to a degree, although I admit that the uneven pace of development with that platform and the unevenness of the same has caused a lessening the time I’ve been spending there.

Right now, I don’t see my blogging journey coming to and end – but we really can’t guarantee what the future may bring; so rather than prattling on, I’ll simply say another “thank you” to all of you who continue to read this blog, who support me via social media with re-tweets, likes, etc.. You as much as anything keep me engaged in Second Life. My thanks as well to Brett Linden at the Lab for continuing to put up with my questions and requests for information. And most of all, my thanks to Caitlyn and all my friends who continue to make my explorations and time in SL fun.

The Bloggies 2019: a thank you

This year marked (I believe) the 3rd annual Bloggies Awards, the presentations of which took place on Saturday, October 26th.

For those not in the know, the Bloggies are awards organised by the Blogger and Vlogger Network (BVN), a group and website built specifically for networking and education purposes. BVN strives to provide bloggers and vloggers (video bloggers) with the most pertinent, up-to-date, and interactive information available, and hosts live discussion panels, interactive forums and tutorials on a wide range of blogging and vlogging subjects.

The Bloggies are intended to recognise those producing written and video blogs on Second Life across a range of categories, the majority of which are decided via a public / popular voting system. Each year the organisers present special awards: the Founders Award and the BVN Member of the Year Award.

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend due to commitments in the physical world, so I was surprised and delighted to learn today that I had been awarded the Bloggies Founders Award for 2019. This is given to (and I quote):

The founders award can be any blogger or vlogger in SL and we look for those that have made a huge contribution to the SL community through Blogging or Vlogging.

Needless to say, I’m both genuinely honoured and thrilled to receive the award and the recognition of my peers in blogging Second Life, and for the glowing terms used to describe this blog at the ceremony, which I’m also going to reproduce here:

This year’s recipient has been on the grid since 2006 and began blogging in 2007. Her blog covers a range of topics from news, reviews, commentary, exploration and opinion, and her dedication to chronicling the social, cultural and technical aspects of Second Life is unsurpassed. She is the premier source for all Second Life information, a major proponent of the arts and one of the grid’s most prolific bloggers.

I include this word in a small part because I do feel a degree of pride in reading them (I’d be lying if I said otherwise) – but primarily because I don’t try to seek out recognition in any significant way outside of the occasional interview; I simply try to write about what I appreciate, enjoy and find fascinating in Second Life in the hope others find it enjoyable / of interest  / useful, and whilst trying to maintain an element of objectivity in my factual reporting. So having this blog recognised in public in terms like those above genuinely encourages me to keep writing and to also do better in the topics I strive to cover.

Many and sincere thanks to Kess and Dethly and BVN for this award – and congratulations to all of the winners and those who received special mention in this year’s awards.

Twelve years in Second Life

At home

Twelve years ago on December 5th, 2006, I decided to give Second Life a second chance, creating Inara Pey in the process. At the time I never expected to actually still engaged in the platform 12 months on from that date, let alone twelve years – but here I am. Not bad for someone who was at one time considering hanging up her Second Life boots (so to speak) on reaching 10 years.

So why am I still here?

I can probably sum that up in three words: fun, discovery, and freedom. Fun, because – as well all know – Second Life has an awful lot to offer, from playing games through learning to role-play, to doing things we cannot (or would not) do in the physical world. For me, and as I’ve mentioned in the past, it’s the ability to do things like skydiving, or to enjoy flying whenever I want (or the expense of actually owning / leasing a plane or obtaining my PPL!) or to get out on the water under sail or power.

Black Bayou Lake; Inara Pey, October 2018, on FlickrThe ability to explore so many fabulous places, like  Black Bayou Lake, is one of the reasons I continue to enjoy Second Life 

Discovery, because Second Life is always evolving. Not just technically – although this year, with the “15 reasons” roadmap, there’s hopefully ample evidence of this – but also in terms of how regions are always in flux. Yes, it is sad when places vanish, and the shrinkage of the last few years has been of fiscal concern (although not necessarily indicative of any large-scale loss of users): but when it comes to publicly accessible regions, things are surprisingly stable – as fast as one popular place vanishes, another pops up elsewhere.

Twelve years – and counting!

Freedom, in that Second Life allows us to meeting, mingle with, get to know, spend time with, people from all over the world, most of whom we’d probably never likely meet in the physical world. This obviously feeds back into both the fun and the discovery elements, as sharing with friends adds depth to everything we do.

There’s also the aspect that our avatars allow us to be who we wish to be, as well as potentially allowing us to extend ourselves in ways that may not be otherwise expressed. I’m actually a lousy formalised role-player, for example; finding a character inside of myself, one I can maintain and live through with personality aspects perhaps foreign to my own, is something I’ve never managed to comfortably achieve. It’s probably the biggest reason my first attempt with Second Life “failed”;  I came with preconceptions of dropping into role-play (historical or sci-fi or something on those lines), but never really found anything in which I felt “at home”.

As “me” (or “me through Inara”, so to speak) I’ve found a greater range of freedom than might otherwise have been the case: the freedom to share friendships that can be in some respects transient, but because of the nature of Second Life, allow a lot more depth to be plumbed, and genuine connections to be forged.

I’d be a fool if I denied blogging had played a role in my continuance with Second Life. I actually started in 2007, but it wasn’t until I relocated the blog to WordPress in 2009 and really set out trying to learn more about how rich and complex the platform is, both in terms of use and technicality, that I felt I’d really found my niche.

I’m genuinely not a technical person, so discovering all that goes on “behind the scenes”, so to speak have been a constant – and still evolving – learning experience for me. It has also taught me a lot about the platform in general – the users, the places, the art – all of which have expanded my horizons, helped grow my understanding of a range of topics and taught me lessons in appreciation and thinking.  I may not get things right all the time – but that’s part of the fun and discovery.

Looking ahead, there’s liable to be a lot more to write about – be it technical with the move to the cloud, the return of last names, the arrival of EEP, the potential of Animesh products, or as a result of having yet more places to explore, art to appreciate and things to try. So hopefully, I’ll have plenty of opportunity to continue to experience Second Life and report on it.

Thank you to all of you who continue to read this blog, who support me through Twitter and Plurk; you as much as anything keep me engaged in Second Life. And my thanks once again to Caitlyn and all my friends who continue to make my explorations and time in SL fun.

Personal data and Modemworld.me – update

The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force on Friday, May 25th, 2018.

In April, and in preparation for this, I updated this blog with  and page explaining how it is hosted by Automattic Inc., the creators of WordPress, and what data was liable to be collected when visiting this site, and who held it. The page was a temporary place holder pending Automattic Inc releasing their own statement on privacy and data management.

On May 25th, 2018, Automattic issued a Privacy Notice for Visitors to Our Users’ Sites, outlining the information they collect when visiting sites such as Modemworld.me, hosted on their servers. I have now updated my Privacy Statement page to reflect the availability of this document.

Note, as well, that the Automattic document should be displayed when completing the contact form on this site. However, if it is not, a link to it is included below the form itself.

Dealing with breast cancer: don’t avoid hearing the “C” word

Second Life is in the midst of the 2018 Relay for Life season, most notably (at the time of writing) with Fantasy Faire. Given that it is, I would like to step to one side from my usual writing and offer a personal piece on the subject of cancer. It’s something I’ve spent a couple of days wrestling over committing to print, and I’m now doing so not to illicit sympathy, but to hopefully offer insight into why it’s better to confront things then shy away from things out of fear of hearing the “c” word.

Earlier this year I was diagnosed with DCIS – ductal carcinoma in situ – in my left breast. This is a form of best cancer where the cancerous cells are contained within the milk ducts of the breast. Because the cancer cells have not invaded nearby breast tissue, DCIS is regarded as non-invasive breast cancer, and accounts for about 20% of all breast cancer cases, and around 85% of all in-situ (confined to a specific area) forms of breast cancer.

While there is a risk it might become invasive if left untreated (the American Cancer Society estimate between 20-53% of untreated in-situ cancer cases become invasive over a period of about a decade), DCIS can be dealt with in a relatively straightforward manner through what amounts to a two-step treatment process.

The first step is for the affected area of breast duct to be surgically removed in a localised procedure referred to as a lumpectomy. This is a form of surgery designed to excise the affected area, and as a rule leaves the breast looking as close as possible to how it did before surgery, with its general shape and the nipple area remaining intact.

After a period of healing, the second step is generally followed by a period of localised radiotherapy. This is designed to destroy any remaining cancer cells that would otherwise by too small to see on scans or to measure with lab tests. In addition, it can lower both the risk of DCIS returning to the breast, or of the breast developing an invasive cancer later in life.

Ductal carcinoma in situ is a form of breast cancer in which the cancer cells are confined within the milk ducts of the breast

Obviously, “surgery” and “radiotherapy” are themselves terrifying words; but the fact is that often, DCIS can be dealt with on an out-patient basis – there’s no need for a protracted stay in hospital;  while the radiotherapy is localised enough such that the risk of it giving rise to cancer later in life is around 5% – far less a risk than that of the DCIS leading to a more invasive form of cancer.

A key point with DCIS is that it is hard to detect; while it may be indicated by a subcutaneous lump, often it is only through a scan and / or biopsy that it may be identified. In my case, I noticed a small lump in my right breast; when it hadn’t gone away after a number of weeks, I went to see my GP.

I admit, my feelings were mixed when I did so: cancer has been a frequent visitor within both sides of my family, so I was concerned I would hear the words “breast cancer”; at the same time, there was also a feeling that I was “just being silly” and over-reacting to something that would go away – after all, lumps in the breast can be caused by a lot of non-cancerous events.

In-situ breast cancer types: location and percentage of cases

In fact, the right breast lump did prove to be a small non-cancerous node of breast calcification. However, as a result of the scans my GP sent me to have, the left breast DCIS was spotted.

Cutting a long story short, I was referred for surgery at the cancer unit of a local hospital, where I underwent two bouts of surgery some 14 days apart. The first was to excise the affected ductal area, the second to remove a small amount of tissue from the surrounding area. Both bouts of surgery were performed on an out-patient basis, so I went into hospital in the morning and was back home and in my own bed in the evening.

After the surgery I had several weeks of recovery to allow the surgical wound and the (admittedly extensive) bruising around it to heal. I have been left with a scar marking the entry wound, but the shape of my breast hasn’t changed and as is common with this type of surgery, the scar itself is on the underside of the breast, so it’s not naturally visible.

As to the radiotherapy, I was given 15 sessions broken down over just over three workday weeks, plus an initial “targeting” session a week ahead of the treatment. The treatment took the form of spirometry-monitored deep inspiration breath hold (SMDIBH). Again this sounds a mouthful, and possibly frightening, but what it amounts to is being subjected to a short burst of radiation while controlling you breathing and holding your breath for around 20-30 seconds. This approach is used when treating left breast cancer, as filling the lungs with air raises the breast away from the heart, reducing the amount of radiation to which the heart is exposed.

The treatment itself is quite painless, each “zap” lasting around 20 seconds as the breath is held, with the number of zaps you get varying according to need. However, due to the frequency of the treatment sessions, there are side-effects. These can include fatigue, a swelling in the breast due to fluid being unable to drain properly a reddening and drying of the skin around the treated area, and a gradual feeling of heat build-up in the breast which takes time to dissipate. These symptoms can take several weeks to abate, and the heat / drying of the skin can be treated both during and after radiotherapy by the use of non-metallic moisturising cream. In addition, you may be giving special cooling gell packs to help reduce the heat in the breast.

As I write this, I’m into my second week of post-radiotherapy recovery. I’ll make no bones about it, my breast is sore I’m at times in a little discomfort and have felt lethargic at times – effect that should subside over the next few weeks. However, the preliminary results of the treatment is that the surgery has been successful, and the radiotherapy will have hopefully done its job.

So why tell you all this? Because – as I said at the top, cancer’s biggest weapon is fear – fear of what it might mean if diagnosed and, equally, the fear of learning you have it in the first place. Yet the fact is, as my case hopefully shows, getting diagnosed early enough not only means a better chance of dealing with it – it also means the treatment is often less protracted and invasive than might otherwise be the case (put it this way, while it may well sound worrying when first heard, a lumpectomy is, overall, a lot less traumatic than a mastectomy)  – whereas the longer it is ignored in the hope it might “go away” or because it spares us having to confront it, the greater the risk that it might reach a point were it cannot be more effectively dealt with.

Cancer is not something we can avoid simply by ignoring the signs (when they are present) or by avoiding the opportunity to have it diagnosed. So please, if you have concerns about anything, a lump here or there, a mole-like mark on your skin that has appeared or which has changed in size or has been subject to bleeding – go and get it checked. It might be cancer – or it might be something else entirely; it might be entirely benign. But if you don’t get it checked, you run the risk of not knowing – or of receiving medical help at a time when, should it prove to be cancer, it might be more easily dealt with than might be the case if you just ignore it.

In my case, I’m grateful I didn’t let the feeling of “being silly” when going to see my GP get the better of me; as a woman in my 40’s (no, I’m not saying where in my 40s!) I’m still several years from my first routine breast cancer screenings, possibly time enough for the DCIS to have become more of a problem. As it is, it’s now excised, and I’ll be having regular scans to make sure it stays that way. And that’s a form of peace of mind I’m grateful to have.

So again, if you have a suspicion or concern, don’t leave it for “another day”; go get it seen to.