Fourteen years, Oh my!

Contemplating fourteen years

I logged into Second life to receive a greeting from Johan Neddings congratulating my on reaching my fourteen rezday – and I have to state that, but for his IM (And tweet, when I looked at Twitter!), the date honestly would not have registered with me at all.

While I try not to bring the personal and the physical world into this blog too much, the fact is that 2020 has been a real stinker of a year for all of us, thanks in large part to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which has impacted so many people around the world in so many ways, and in relation to work and things, I’m no exception. There have also been some personal matters, particularly in the last month or so and which will continue through the next few months to varying degrees, that mean SL is not currently a primary focus for me, although I am trying to keep abreast of news and articles.

Within Second Life, 2020 has certainly been interesting. On the technical front, things have clearly been dominated by Project Uplift and the Lab getting everything transitioned to run on Amazon AWS services. Much could be said about this,but I think the most important aspect to it is that while some remaining services have yet to be migrated, and we have yet to go through a period of fine-tuning / performance tweaking, overall, the entire process has been really smooth. Yes, there are some visible teething problems that need to be sorted, but when you consider there were a fair few SL services transitioned to AWS without users ever noticing they had been moved, LL have done a really good job with what might have been a really disruptive undertaking.

Of course, one of the visible changes to SL that has come along this year is EEP – the Environment Enhancement Project. While this also has some issues that are still to be sorted (and some UI niggles that may not be, given they tend to be subjective in nature), I’ve found it to be a very flexible and usable capability, if a bit of a beast to get one’s head around at first. I’ve particularly had fun creating a number of personal Fixed Sky environments, as well a 24-hour  day/night cycle for Isla Caitinara (and I will at some point get back to my tutorial on Day Cycles, which has again be pushed to one side due to the aforementioned physical world matters).

A gibbous Moon rising over Isla Caitinara, part of the Day Cycle for our island home

On the personal SL front, things have been pretty quiet. Circumstance / opportunity led to us shifting home to settle within the “new” Second Norway estate, now under the management of Vanity Bonetto and her team (which also includes Ey and his team), and as someone who has followed that entire situation from initial rumours through the takeover to becoming a resident there, I can honestly say Vanity and her team have done a superb job, both in maintaining the core of the estate in its “mainland” regions, and in revamping the estate’s island offerings, and in bringing in new opportunities and features to the estate, as I noted in Second Norway: a closer look. In fact, we’re so settled that we actually recently up and relocated to a slightly larger island within the estate!

2020 also saw me unexpectedly get involved in administrating an in-worlds arts group – the Phoenix Artists Collaboration. Things  haven’t gone quite as well as had been hoped, particularly in the area of exhibitions, largely due to all three of us who have taken on the responsibility for managing the group all being hit with physical world demands. But hopefully, once the page has turned to mark the start of 2021, we’ll be able to start properly pulling things together.

The garden of our new Isla Caitinara home
Fourteen years in Second Life is a long time, so do I have any insights to share? Oddly, no I don’t think I do. Second life is still offering me the three things I enjoy: fun, discovery and freedom, so I’ve little doubt I’ll be marking 15 years in-world in twelve months time. Perhaps the one thing I would say is that while fourteen years have passed since “Inara Pey” first arrived, I actually don’t feel any older than my first days in-world with her. Wiser (I hope!) perhaps, yes.  But not older. In this, I think my avatar has been a positive influence; largely unchanged in terms of looks for 10 of those years, she has – as past studies have pointed out in reference to people and their avatars – she has encouraged the vanity in me to exercise regularly and (generally!) mind my diet in an attempt to (in my own way) also look as good.

And of the future? perhaps the most burning question is that of Linden Lab and Second Life post the current acquisition process.

As I’ve noted before, I’m interested to see the overall shape of the revised board, and whether or not some current members will retain a minority holding. I’m not overly concerned about the risk of LL being stripped or sold on; as I’ve noted in these pages, the two incoming principals between them have good track records for long-term investment and company growth. Certainly, the Lab aren’t slowing down their own plans for SL: beyond / alongside of the “uplift” work, there are major plans for overhauling several aspects of the viewer to hopefully make it more performant and efficient, and projects to further improve things on the back-end as well. Much of this  work is fairly long-term, which speaks to a good level of confidence for the platform’s future, and I currently see no reason not to share in that confidence.

In the meantime, here’s to a happier time of things in general in 2021.

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.