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Category Archives: Side Topics

Small update: Gear VR, ArcheAge, SL

Sorry for neglecting this blog. I have two half-written posts but I ran out of steam and interest before they were done. So, a small update to get back in the swing of things:

I’ll have more coming about the Samsung Gear VR soon, but I haven’t picked it up again after the first day I tried. Why? Mainly because I’m doing other things in my free time and a VR headset doesn’t allow for multitasking. I’ve also been having headaches; wearing a headset that might make them worse is unappealing. But, I’ll confess, it’s also because I was underwhelmed with my first experiences. 360 degree photos didn’t seem more interesting just because I could move my head rather than my mouse to look around. The few short videos were unimpressive and overall, the things I viewed were low resolution and sometimes blurry. My phone overheated before I was able to try more. I’ve downloaded a few free apps and I’ll try a game or two soon.

Reading some forums about the Gear VR made me wonder if I might be jaded by more than a decade in Second Life. I often wander SL in mouselook (first person) view, where I can scan a full 360 degrees. Moving through a 3D environment and looking around is second nature to me and maybe I don’t feel much of a difference between turning my head and using a mouse. Earlier, when I saw videos of people freaking out because they could look all around a VR scene, I wondered if there was some magical mind-body integration that I couldn’t yet imagine. So far, I haven’t seen one. I’m certainly leaving the possibility open and hoping to be wowed soon. Anyone else have an experience to share?

During the holidays I got more swept up in ArcheAge and even gave up my solitary ways to spend time causing mischief with guildmates and chatting in TeamSpeak. There is so much drama, soap opera writers would roll their eyes! I’m trying to keep some separation between myself and the worst of it, but I’m in a divisive guild with a polarizing leader. I’m stunned by how much time and money others pump into this MMORPG. I’m limited in both, which keeps me out of the upper tier of players and under the radar for a lot of trouble. However, my gaming/virtual world time being spent more in that world than any other… for now, until I get bored or the drama gets to be too much.

I’ve been trying to divide the mainland parcel I own in Second Life to get down to a lower tier payment, but since I’m dealing with a couple of premium accounts and a group land bonus, the math is complicated and I’m trying to find a last ~100 m² to cut off. It’s been almost a month since Jakob died and spending too much time at that parcel still makes me melancholy. At least his sister has stopped sending me photos of his coffin and grave. It was kind that she included me and recognized that we had been important to each other, but those photos were very hard.

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2016 in Digital Devices, Gaming, Side Topics

 

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Retrofuturism: 20th century Paris?

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Isn’t that a lovely image? It’s from a book published in 1883 entitled The Twentieth Century. You can find more resolutions and information here, on the useful Old Book Illustrations site. I’m still waiting for my personal flying machine, future!

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2015 in Side Topics

 

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Roundup: Star Wars, holiday tech gifts, ArcheAge, yada yada yada

Thank you for all your kind comments about Jakob. Once the waves of grief subsided, I started finding peace with his death. His illness was never going to have a happy ending and it’s a relief to let go of the constant tension of worry and sadness. I don’t have to dread a new crisis each time his sister writes to me. His funeral is Thursday and I’m grateful that it was easy to send flowers to a village in the Rhineland from the other side of the world. Jakob will always be part of who I am.

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Image above from Berkeley Breathed of course. Some heresy: I really don’t care about the new Star Wars movie. I adored the first film of the original series. Robots! Space! Scary creatures in the desert! Darth Vader! Star Wars action figures moved into my Barbie Dreamhouse. After that? Meh. The other two in the first series were fine. A date took me to a midnight premiere of The Phantom Menace and it was hard not to dim his enthusiasm with my wtf exclamations. I hope the new movie is good and more coherent than the last few. If you see it and it’s awesome, let me know.

What technology is on your holiday gift wish list? I’m seeing a lot of hits on my review of the Amazon Echo. I’ve had mine a year and still use it daily, though there’s plenty of room for innovation and improvement. If you’re still looking for ideas, I’m pretty excited about the Anova Precision Cooker I picked up recently ($129 from the Anova website, more expensive elsewhere). This Gizmodo review explains why, with plenty of food porn. As for me, I’ve asked Santa for a Samsung Gear VR. I see it as a starter headset and the device that could spread VR from the narrow band of the innovator market segment into the early adopters.

I’ve remained moderately active in ArcheAge long after I thought I’d give it up from boredom, which says something about the game though I’m an atypical player. I’m not social, I don’t spend lots of money, and I don’t play for hours on end (except for a lazy afternoon on the weekend, perhaps). I’ll never be in the top tier but I’m satisfied. This week I moved from my boring guild of farmers and fishermen to a high level guild that often leads faction raids. I was evaluated on my level, gear, and had to pass a voice interview before I was accepted. It felt good to do my first sea raid with many of my new guildmates and to be praised for my play style. Earning the admiration and respect of one’s peers is a boost, no matter what arena that takes place in. Until No Man’s Sky arrives for the PC next year, you’ll probably find my gaming time spent in ArcheAge.

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Lately I’ve been in Second Life a lot more, relearning how to make small talk and upgrading my neglected avatars (I love the Maitreya Lara body so very much). This week I need to attend the RL holiday party for my husband’s company and that small talk practice will help tame my shyness at the event. Part of that is learning to apply filters to my stream of consciousness again; I’ve had a few years of not holding anything back when talking with my husband and Jakob. When a new acquaintance recently asked some probing questions, in a conversation where I felt that optimistic honesty would be appreciated, I told him the truth about Jakob and my health struggles. His response was more robotic than actual robots and he vanished in a cloud of dust. Ha! I’m not a roleplayer so if I’m asked a personal question that I’m willing to answer, that answer will be true. It will take practice to get back to answering truthfully without spilling my whole life, no matter how nicely phrased.

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2015 in Side Topics

 

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Second Life road trip: Heterocera Atoll part 1

The SL mainland doesn’t have the best reputation. With no zoning laws and limited control over the terrain and atmosphere, the mainland continents can be chaotic. That chaos can hide gems, though, which is one of the reasons I enjoy living there. Today I dismantled my skybox, leaving a platform and a large box to contain objects owned by Jakob: windchimes, a lotus pond, and lots of bouquets of red roses. I’ll arrange them neatly and give myself a space to sit and reflect until his account is deactivated. I still have my office on ground level as well as a large, landscaped parcel next to the road on the Heterocera Atoll continent. The notion of cutting off part of my parcel to bring down my tier payment is distressing, so I’m making little changes and maybe I’ll be ready by the end of the year.

In the meantime, I started flying around to see what bits of fun I could find on Heterocera. (I adjusted Windlight settings and sometimes applied a Darken filter for detail, but no additional editing has been done to the images below. WYSIWYG.) First I stopped for a coffee at the Damocles Diner in the Spini region. There’s seating for standard and tiny avatars, a nice assortment of refreshments and news boxes, but the swaying train above kept me from lingering.

Damocles Diner

The diner is below an abandoned and incomplete railway line. If you’re a transportation fan, Heterocera has railways, navigable water, a pod tour system, and many public roads. I won’t claim the lag is good — it’s shitty — but you can pull out a vehicle of your choice and get around. If you fly, the sky isn’t overwhelmed with ban lines but you’ll have to dodge skyboxes and towering structures.

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One of the unusual structures on Heterocera is the Great Northern Wall. This is a Linden build; you can walk/ride along the top or through a tunnel inside. Resident builds line the Wall and you can visit the (unofficial?) Great Wall center in the Ziczac region.

Great Wall center

While you won’t see many avatars in my photos, Heterocera is far from empty. There is a lot of abandoned land and in many areas the population density is low, but some places draw crowds. This is a shot of the map with green dots representing people, taken on Saturday afternoon SL time.

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On the SL mainland, each landowner can terraform her parcel only within a limited range of values (which is why I have a steep hill between my office and the back of my property that I can’t flatten). Between odd shapes cut by the various roads, waterways, and railroad tracks and the challenging elevations, residents have had to devise interesting solutions to build at ground level. I snapped a shot of one of the mountains on Heterocera; the peak is the highest point on the SL mainland:

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If you travel along the roadways like I often do, you’ll see a lot of open land. Some of it is truly vacant, but often the resident has a skybox hovering above for more privacy and less concern about the uneven ground. I admire those who have risen to the challenge, though!

Each SL premium account comes with an allocation of 512 square meters worth of free tier, the amount you would pay Linden Lab as a monthly rental fee for mainland space. I know a few people who don’t take advantage of that because they rent or own private islands. Other times, a resident might own mainland space but rarely use it. I had to laugh when I came across this building with the self-aware marquee.

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Sometimes a tiny parcel of land may be all you need, as in the case of this touching little roadside memorial.

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I can’t explore Heterocera without talking a little bit about the Second Life Railroad and the Virtual Railway Consortium, but I’m no expert. I marvel at some of their builds with all the wonder of visiting my childhood neighbor’s basement, where a detailed model train setup filled an entire room. If you’re a train aficionado, the tracks are here for your use! You can even find freebie train givers along the route. I took a little break at one of the stations.

Virtual railway station

Below is a map that was posted there. Further along in my journey, I found a sign by the VRC showing “Second Life Rail Road Traffic” on the continent, with lights indicating where pods and trains — automated ones, I’m assuming — could be found. There were nine pods and three trains active on the sign at the time.

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Because of all these public works builds (literally in most cases, the Linden Department of Public Works), there is a lot of public space on Heterocera. You’ll find piers, picnic areas beside the road, and even little rez zones. I pulled out some furniture to test the access. As a landless avatar, you could do worse than to find a pretty seaside spot to unpack your boxes.

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I’ll continue this trip when the mood strikes. After all, you haven’t seen the hobo lands yet, or Pyri, or the crater, or the temple, or the….

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2015 in Art in SL, Side Topics

 

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I’m still alive, really

I’ve been neglecting this blog terribly. The good news is that it’s because I’ve been busy. My broken leg is doing pretty well, so I’ve gone back to normal activities plus writing. I still read tech blogs and websites, but honestly, research for my novel has taken most of my free reading time. I share interesting finds on Twitter when I can, even if I don’t have time to add commentary or flesh out a post for the blog.

NaNoWriMo starts Sunday and I’m using the event as motivation to get my fingers moving on my novel. I’ve been doing lots of research, plot and character development, and thinking. It’s time for me to churn out some scenes and chapters, even if the first draft is awful and full of holes. Though I consider myself a NaNoWriMo participant, I’ll be out of town for a few days next week and doubt I’ll meet the 50,000 word count goal by the end of the month. I’ll try!

Things are not going well for Jakob. I found out from his sister that he’s not online because he has forgotten his passwords and how to use his devices. Cancer in the brain will do that, it seems. He has stopped chemotherapy and gone back to smoking, though the cancer has spread to his lungs, and his sister is making plans for his end-of-life care. I haven’t signed in to Second Life in weeks because it hurts to go to the land we shared there, but I’m starting to feel the urge to go online and purge it all. I’ve been worried or mourning for 11 months and it’s exhausting; I want a fresh start soon. Is that cold? It’s not that I don’t care about him — I do — but he hasn’t been able to communicate since August and there’s nothing I can do but send him snail mail now and then. I may try splitting my evenings between SL and the MMORPG I’ve been playing, to ease myself back in.

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I’m still playing ArcheAge and my main avatar has reached the maximum level of 55. There is freedom in that: I don’t have to worry about dying anymore because I can’t lose XP. I have fair gear for someone who doesn’t plan to spend an arm and leg on an MMORPG; the gap between what I have now and the next level is crazy. It’s not rare for a single endgame gear piece to cost the equivalent of $100-200… and that’s with a 7-piece armor set, weapon, shield, bow, and instrument. In the most bizarre twist, I’m now an officer in my guild although I rarely talk or do anything with other guild members. Heh. They seem to be nice people, but I don’t want to spend my time doing virtual farming and fishing when I could be learning boss, dungeon, and PvP strategies.

Another post when I have something to contribute to general Internet discussion, which could be tomorrow, could be in a couple weeks. I’m still here. Have a fun Halloween!

 

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Off-topic: Misplaced responsibility for training in US capitalism

This is not a partisan political rant, I promise.  However, this morning on the drive home from physical therapy, I heard a local public radio piece that made me so angry that I couldn’t get it out of my head. You could apply this post to the theme of technology companies or education, but I know that it’s off-topic for this blog. That said, it’s my blog. Read or skip as you like.

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In a nutshell, the interview discussed job training for industrial sewing workers who are needed in Detroit-area manufacturing. The woman being interviewed (sorry, I have no names) spoke proudly about an initiative she’s heading, getting industrial sewing programs offered in area community colleges with funding available for eligible students through Michigan Works, a group of organizations (some run by the state, some private non-profits) focused on helping unemployed people find jobs. When asked how she came up with this idea, she said that she talked with someone from the Detroit Garment Group at an event and was told that they were frustrated with the amount of training new workers needed. Home sewing skills are not applicable to industrial sewing and the DGG person was displeased at the waste of putting someone through all that training just to have the worker decide that “it was not for them”.  The interviewee assured the radio host that there were plenty of industrial sewing jobs with garment makers, auto manufacturers, and others in the area, and that jobs pay around $10/hour.

The tone of the interview was “look at this great thing we’re doing to support both local industry and unemployed people!” I wasn’t in my car long enough to hear if the interviewer took any phone calls after that. The host was positive and asked no probing questions; it was a local business puff piece and nothing more.

But, let’s break that down. Companies need workers with specific skills, skills that do not give those workers any job flexibility or, with the condition of US manufacturing, many future options at all. That need is being met by having government-run institutions develop programs for students with government-provided funding (or I suppose the students can pay for it themselves). So, taxpayers are paying to train workers for $10/hour jobs at for-profit, private companies.

No no no no no. I’m sorry, members of Detroit Garment Group, but if you need industrial sewing workers, you should take responsibility for training them. Some drop out after training? Since the other options would be indentured servitude or slavery, that’s a fact you simply have to deal with. If you have an industry group for marketing purposes, pool funds to pay for training workers as well, to alleviate the burden on smaller companies without looking for a government hand-out.

Why have we accepted that it is the responsibility of individuals and the government to provide specialized workers to corporations? Yes, I think it’s in all of our best interests to ensure that K-12 education — or K-14 with “free” community college, perhaps — gives students essential job and life skills as well as basic general knowledge. I also think that specialized vocational education programs in high school should be given more respect. (Mike Rowe, pictured above, is a hero to me for the way he supports, ennobles, and advocates for skilled tradespeople.)  But if a for-profit company needs workers with particular training, and it can’t find enough with the needed experience, it’s the company’s responsibility to train more or pay for their training. After all, who benefits most from that worker’s future output?

I’m not saying we should return to the medieval guild system, but the jobs under discussion were not craftsman level, either. $10/hour in the Detroit metro area is a few pennies under the living wage for one adult according to MIT’s excellent living wage calculator. (I also earned $10/hour as an unskilled worker… 25 years ago.) So, these companies expect potential workers to go through an unpaid training program that doesn’t guarantee them a job at the end, for a chance at a job that pays less than a living wage. Not only that, they have the gall to expect the Michigan taxpayers or those workers to foot the bill.

Bravo to companies that are trying to bring jobs to Detroit for workers of every skill level. It’s important for a healthy economy to have jobs for unskilled and low-skilled workers. That said, if your company can’t afford to provide a moderate level of specialized training and pay a living wage, perhaps your industry is not viable here.

I admire companies like Shinola — beyond coveting almost every item they make — because they invest in craftsmanship. In this short video, Shinola managers explain how they knew they wouldn’t find experienced watchmakers in Detroit, so they brought trainers from Ronda AG to work hands-on with each assembly line employee. They have a open position in industrial sewing (experience required), but they have quite a variety of jobs available, not all of which require college degrees or specific training.

I began this post by saying that it wasn’t partisan; I think there’s something objectionable in the interviewee’s program for people on either side of the aisle. Government spending! Borderline living wage job that requires specialized training! For me it’s not political as much as it’s an issue of respect, responsibility, and realism. A company should respect a worker enough to give her specific training for the job and pay her enough to support (at least) herself*.  A company should take responsibility for obtaining the assets needed to operate, and that includes those skilled workers. And realistically, some trainees will become excellent employees, but others will be incapable of the work, drop out, or be revealed as lazy or awful individuals. That’s how people are.

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*Personally, I’m intrigued by the system in other countries where unskilled younger workers can be paid less while learning a job, but then the minimum wage goes up. When I was cashiering at McDonald’s at 16, it was fair that I was paid a low wage because I was gaining experience in elementary job skills: showing up on time, respecting authority, etc. The employer could pay less because a person that age is a trainee in the most basic ways; he is inexperienced, might be irresponsible, and needs education and supervision. Expectations should be higher for an adult in the same job category, as well as responsibilities and pay.

And here’s where I get partisan, deep in a lengthy footnote: I don’t accept any rationale for paying an adult less than the living wage to support him or herself, in any job. Does that mean that fast food workers should be paid $15/hour? In some areas, probably. But other employees who earn less than a living wage should be brought up to a fair minimum too, whether they are retail workers, miners, or adjunct professors. Some people who oppose a higher minimum wage kvetch that it will be a disincentive to ambition, thinking of their early days, like mine, where they moved up to better and better jobs. They may not understand that the tier of manufacturing and general labor jobs that paid a decent wage to hard working people without college degrees has evaporated. They may not understand that many employers are requiring four-year degrees or higher for jobs that don’t actually require specialized skills from those degrees. (I’ve looked at job listings lately and it’s disgusting. Project management jobs like I did very well — with only a high school diploma at the time — are now listing a Masters degree requirement and paying less than I earned 15 years ago.) They may not understand that some people are not ready or able to get a four-year degree.

I get it, really, I do. I’m philosophically libertarian. I buy into the pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps way of thinking. It’s how I was raised and how I behaved. I wish everyone could and would do the same, but if wishes were horses, I’d win the Triple Crown every year. Changing my opinion on this came from reading a lot, thinking a lot, and coming to three core conclusions: there are many reasons why people take a different path than I did, education and employment have shifted dramatically, and I believe we’d be better off as a society if we were as accepting and supportive of our weakest members as we are celebratory about our strongest. (I deleted a large section explaining that, because I was giving my opinion far too much airtime.)

Yes, I understand that many small businesses are barely staying afloat while paying low wages. Perhaps there should be a small business exemption. Then workers could choose to seek jobs with larger companies where they would earn at least a living wage or smaller companies, which might offer benefits that appeal to young workers or the second employed adult in a household: flexibility, camaraderie, on-the-job training, child/pet-friendly working conditions, and so on.  I’m no politician or economist, merely an opinionated voter.

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2015 in Learning, Side Topics

 

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Jumping into the past for the future

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I consider myself a writer, though the money I’ve made as one wouldn’t pay my mortgage for a month. The last couple weeks presented me with an existential crisis. Recovering from my broken leg yet not able to resume all my normal household work, I started feeling restless and trying to define myself. I spent hours paging through job listings and course catalogs. Maybe I should go back into software project management. Maybe I should apply for a job with my city. Maybe I should take programming classes on Coursera. Maybe maybe maybe.

Finally, I skimmed my files of incomplete writing and got hooked in again. I’ve started many projects over the past year, from science fiction to modern drama to goofy short stories to a dense historical novel with the potential to be a family epic. After browsing them all, the last is the one that kept playing in my head, leaving me awake at night thinking about my characters and their world.

So, I’m committing myself to work on that novel as my primary job. Most of the story takes place between the years of 1930-1950; my love of modern technology isn’t going to play a large part in my research. I’ll be hip-deep in a different era, when Roll-Oh was the dream of the domestic robot:

My goal is to keep posting here two or three times a week, though, so I don’t lose my connection to the fascinating intersection of humanity and technology. It’s time I take my other writing seriously, get this story out of my head and onto the page, and maybe earn a few coins toward retirement. Wish me luck.

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2015 in Our Robot Overlords, Side Topics

 

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