My Sister is Hooked!

Saturday, June 28

My sister and I go off for some RL fun. I tell her I got an email from D who has explained to me that I can’t pick up anything I don’t own. So maybe I’m not as totally awkward as I fear. My sister tells me that she tried to join SL in order to see if she would have the same difficulties I’ve had. She couldn’t even get the software loaded on her machine – too old and slow a processor. She describes how she logged on, and her password was emailed to her, and she went to something called Blue Azure. Huh?? This is NOTHING like how I joined. I clicked on the big “Join Here” button at the top of the page. She scrolled to the bottom of the page where she had a choice of worlds. She had more last names from which to choose. I got to pick a starting avatar. We go back to my house and logon to her avatar, Melissa. It’s Melissa’s first time, so she starts on Welcome Island (I started on Orientation Island). At first we try to be on two machines at once. I have my work computer up and running and I’m hoping to give clothing to Melissa, much the way L helped me. But we soon realize that this will never work. There is nowhere near enough bandwidth for 2 SL sessions. Both SL sessions crash. We shut down the work computer and stay on the Dell. We logon as Melissa.

Melissa is MUCH braver than I – she’s an alumna of chat rooms from way back in the day. I know how to bring up menus and move the avatar, she understands the stream of conversation that we see. Together we are almost competent. I bring up the Search menu. She types in clothing (Melissa is wearing jeans and a shirt, nothing exciting). She then clicks on a dropdown menu for category. She finds a category “Newcomer Friendly”. She clicks, a list of places is displayed. We teleport to the first one, NCIKuula. We wander a little. We see a group of ‘people’ (some are definitely NOT humanoid). We stand and watch awhile. Melissa teaches me how to understand the chatter. We both watch characters wink in and out, come and go, explode into flames, bubbles, and other interesting occurrences. Melissa is brave, she tries to fly to get closer (we are still having major problems trying to move about). We manage to get closer. We greet the group. They start discussing free money for Newbies. YES!! We could use that too! Apparently for the first 45 days, Newbies can get a L$10 stipend daily (L$ are Linden Lab dollars, the currency in SecondLife). This is very welcome news. They tell the other newcomer to go over the bridge. We don’t see a bridge, we don’t move well. We ask for the directions again. They tell us it’s north of us. North? We’re supposed to understand directions like north? Finally an avatar named Latha asks if we want to follow her, she will leave a stream of bubbles for us. Latha will be turn out to be our SL Angel for the next few hours. Yes, that’s right, hours.

We manage to follow Latha to the money machine. Could never have done it without that stream of sparks she’s putting down for us. Latha explains that we need to touch the blue globe to get the stipend. Success. Then she asks if we would like to sit down for a chat and learn things that might be useful. Since I have control of the avatar at this point, I say yes. (My sister prefers to stumble about, trying things, listening in. I prefer getting explanations.) So we sit down to chat with Latha. I want to confess that there are 2 of us there. My sister goes nuts and won’t let me. She says we will simply confuse Latha. I don’t see why that should be, but I agree and stop my typing. Latha proceeds to give us a box full of goodies. She teaches us how to open a box, move the items into inventory, take them out again. She tells us to reduce our resolution in order to make the graphics display more quickly (if not as detailed). That does seem to make a difference. She introduces us to her dog. She shows us her cars. She teaches us to fly and points out that it is very useful for seeing the landscape and getting a sense of where we are. She teaches us to drive the cars. This is hilarious. My sister and I are laughing so hard we are crying. You can actually watch the avatar fold and shrink herself into the car. We don’t drive any better than we fly. Worse, actually. Finally Latha says she needs to leave. We thank her profusely. She’s gone. We wander about some more, getting oriented to NCIKuula. We find Latha back on the lawn where we started originally. We find our way from there to the money machine and landmark it. We are quite triumphant. My sister says she needs to go home. We’ve been doing this for 5 hours. She’ll go home and logon a different machine and maybe we can both be on together.

I logon as Ahuva. My RL phone rings. Melissa is online. We spend another 5 hours online together. My ear and arm are so sore from holding the phone that I switch to my cellphone with its speakerphone option. We figure out how to extend friendship to one another. I manage to teleport to Melissa. I get MY free stipend. She shares the box of goodies with me. We teleport back to Vienna (L took me there originally) where I’m able to buy shoes. FINALLY. And then, as has happened perhaps 10 or more times already that day, my SL session crashes. Since it’s already 11:30pm, I say goodnight and go to bed

Fun and Frustrating Friday

Friday, June 27, 2008

I wake up thinking SL thoughts. I want to run to the computer and login. But I control myself and take care of some RL business. But finally, it’s time. I login to my Thinkpad to see if anyone has contacted me, the Dell sitting quietly beside. YES!!! L wrote to me!!! She has some suggestions for fixing the resolution. And ideas for where to find more interesting clothing. And names of other contacts. I email back, thanking her. And she starts sending me emails of inventory. A true friend – we’re going to handle my wardrobe first!! (I LOVE shoes, I hope there are cool shoes in SL).

Friday night, June 27

This is frustration Friday. I have changed my clothes (thanks L!!). I found the free shoe store. But I can’t buy anything!!! I click, the box comes up, but BUY is never enabled. I do this over and over and over, proving  Einstein’s dictum of insanity. And I certainly feel crazed. I don’t know where to go, what to do, how to do anything. I’m sure my graphics card is bad, my connection is bad. Why would anyone want to do this SL stuff anyway? And L and D are crazy too – this is NOT easy.

Calming Down and Getting it Right

Thursday evening, June 26

My family arrives home and I wish to prove to them that I do indeed have a good-looking avatar and I can move about. So after dinner I logon to SL. There I am, on the hammock. I try to move to the couch to show them the kitten. After several false starts, I get there. And look – the wine glass is now on the table. How did it get there???? I still can’t pick it up. Sigh. Our time is limited, so I make my way back to the hammock, stretch out, and exit. Hey. I never got my invitation to join the group. Or maybe I got my invitation but didn’t see it or recognize it. I can’t believe D and L said this was easy. I have to say that very little of this is intuitive for me. This is hard and it is work. But despite that I admit – it’s a blast. I want to do more. I NEED a gaming computer!

So here it is, nearly 1am. I’ve been writing this account for nearly 2 hours. I sent off an email to D thanking him again for his hospitality. I told him I figured it was time for me to move on, if I only knew how. If I can join the company’s group, I can get some new clothes for free. I asked D where the homeless and poor go to hang out in SL. Maybe there’s a library somewhere that I can park myself when I’m not doing whatever it is I’m going to do in SL. I’d like to go hang out in a bar or coffeehouse or some place social to chat with people, but I don’t have any money (do i?) to pay for anything to eat or drink. There’s so much to learn, so much to master. So many questions. And a recognition that I have probably just embarked on an adventure that is going to consume hours and hours of my time. To think, just one week ago I was scoffing at all this, wondering who in the world would want to join SL. That at least, is something I DO know. I can’t wait for tomorrow.

Trying it on my Own

Thursday afternoon, June 26

When all else fails, close the program and reopen. Once my initial anguish subsided, that’s what I did. Closed the window, then reopened SL. And got a message that my previous session seemed to have frozen or crashed, did I wish to send an error report? No, no error report. Good to know that it froze, nothing permanent. Let’s keep going. Hey! There I am on Orientation Island. And I seem to be dressed, oh thank goodness. So let’s try to move about. Okay, this is just not happening. There is a big lag between my pressing the key and the avatar moving. I adjust for that. But whenever I try to go forward or back, it’s as if I’m wearing 10-league boots from Fairy Tales (you know – the hero puts on the boots and each step carries him ten leagues along). I jump forward and then move back, in a very jerky motion. As if I move 3 steps forward 2 back. Except all the steps are larger than that. I keep over-shooting my target. But I am getting better at it. Somewhat. I move about. I see others. I cant seem to pick up anything. I’m not really getting anywhere I’m trying to go. I’m not sure this is really working or worth the effort. And then my machine freezes again.

A HAH! THIS must be the issue. It’s the computer’s fault, NOT mine!!! I need a better computer. I shoot off an email to my husband. I NEED a gaming computer. There. He writes back and suggests that I use his computer, or our son’s computer. Hmmm. Okay. I can try that. So I go upstairs to his computer. I download the software. As it downloads my son and I discuss which computer in the house is the best. We agree it’s my personal laptop, a Dell Inspiron. It’s basically the same age as my husband’s but mine was the better machine at the time. For a variety of reasons, I’ve not been using it much, mostly because I use my work laptop all the time. So I get out my Dell and I had back downstairs. I set up the Dell next to the thinkpad. Turn it on, let it boot. Hmm. Hope this will work. One of the reasons I’ve not been using it is that somehow IE got corrupted. And I think some other things. But I don’t really remember any more. In the meantime I’m IM’ing with a friend. So I have 2 computers downloading the SL software, and my thinkpad standing by for communication. Still no word from L or D. But that’s not surprising about L – she’s in another time zone completely. She should be home eating dinner.

Okay, let’s get going with this installation. Wait – what’s happening? Oh no. All the automatic updates that haven’t been done since April are being downloaded to the Dell. Okay, a little more patience. Oh here we go. These updates require an automatic restart. Fine, do what you have to. Fifteen minutes later my computer is still shutting down, but never quite getting there. Enough!!! I’ll go use my husband’s machine. But first I hold the power button down on the Dell to force it to shut down. Then hit the button to power it up. Back upstairs, lugging the Thinkpad with me. Okay. Time to go with SL on that machine. It’s going, going. Message: fix the resolution. SL requires 32 bit color. Uh oh. I really don’t like to mess with my husband’s machine – he uses it for his work. I say to my son (who’s in the office on his computer) I may need you to tell me what the message says. I mean that I’m going to go back to my Dell and see if it works and if I need the resolution changed. But he’s not really listening to me – he replies, uh huh.

Down the stairs, lugging the thinkpad with me. Logon to the Dell. Uh oh. I think I know why it took so long to shut down. Oops. I think it was installing all those many updates it downloaded. Why do I think this? Because it’s displaying a message to that effect. Oops. Do you think that forcing a shut-down while it’s installing is a bad move? Too late now. Oh look – it’s DONE!! Let’s give it a try. But first I’m getting an IM from upstairs – my son has changed the resolution on my husband’s computer. Oops. Okay, we’ll ignore that for the time being.

Let’s give SL a try here on the Dell. Okay, let’s go. So far so good. There I am, back on Orientation Island. But wait. Everything is blurry. I can see my avatar. I get the message that I should wait while the clothing downloads. I can see the map. But everything else is smeared and blurry. So I change the resolution and apply. No difference. Oh this is ridiculous!!!! There must be something wrong with this machine! Back upstairs to my husband’s machine. Start up SL again. There, we’re entering, it’s loading, loading. Stops. Either something is wrong with my network or with SL servers. Okay. We’ll try again. Exit, restart. Loading, loading, loading, getting farther on the meter bar. Stop. Again the message:  Either something is wrong with my network or with SL servers. Why do I not think it’s their servers?? Exit, restart. Nope, still not working. Easy, they said. It’s easy. Right.

Back downstairs. I am logging miles up and down the stairs, carrying the other laptop.  Who needs a gym?

The Dell is GOING TO WORK. Here we go again. It all looks fine and good, so I know my monitor isn’t broken, login, onto Orientation Island. Blurry. But look!!! There’s a message from D!!!! Oh. He sent it over an hour ago. Probably while I was running up or down the stairs. But I’ll give it a try. I click in the box and write back. Nothing. So I switch to the Thinkpad and send him an email. But there he is – IM’ing me in SL. I can see his words fine. But everything else is one big blur. But now I have a life line. I explain to D about the blurred scene. He tells me how to check my video properties. I do that, and they claim to be okay. He offers to teleport to me to help me. I wonder if I have any clothes on. I mean, I think I do. But is it really appropriate to meet a coworker when you are a naked avatar? Somehow that simply doesn’t seem professional. D explains to me how to get to a menu to teleport him to me. Not allowed. You aren’t allowed to teleport TO orientation island. So he offers to teleport me off. Would I mind missing more time on orientation island? Mind? I can’t see anything, I can’t do anything. What’s the downside of leaving? This sure isn’t fun. I say please – take me away from all this. And he does.

There I am in a, in a, in a place. Ah, it’s a house. And nothing is blurry. I can see. And oh thank goodness, I am dressed. And I must say, I look good. Mattel really knew what it was doing with that Barbie figure. But how to move, where to go. I see D, then I don’t see him. Thank goodness we have the chat box open. Without his instructions I’d have no idea where to begin. So I begin to move about the house. This is a true comedy. There still appears to be something wrong with how I move. We compare notes. When D moves, it appears relatively fluid. He agrees that there is something very jerky and non-smooth about my movements. He thinks perhaps it’s the internet connection. I have no idea what to think. I practice moving. I try to sit on the couch. My avatar reclines on the couch, curling up in what seems a very posed but langorous way next to D’s avatar. I’m really quite surprised at her. After all, we’ve all just met D. Who knew she’d be so forward?? D shows me his cat. I make a promise to myself to get myself back to that couch and the pillow so I can pet the cat too.

I get up, walk about some more. I manage to sit in a chair. Sit. This avatar has no shame whatsoever. She’s not sitting. There she goes again, posing in the chair. Look at me! Honestly. Who does she think she is? We can’t walk across the room and she’s draping herself on the furniture. D and I spend a few more minutes chatting and trying to figure out what’s happening w/ my resolution – is it my graphics card or the connection or something else. But then D has to go to a meeting. He’s been so kind and helpful. I’m so grateful. He tells me to feel free to hang out at his place, figure out how to use the maps, and things like that. I thank him and point out that as I have no idea how to leave or where to go, I truly appreciate his kindness in letting me stay.

So D goes and there I am. Alone. Clueless. I walk about. I see a bookcase. Maybe there’s something to read. I try to get a book. The bookcase gives me a folder, according to a message. But I can’t open it or do anything with it. I continue walking about. That sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Mostly I press the forward key, watch my avatar shoot forward out of the room, then come zooming back, then she moves a little forward. Good thing she has a strong stomach. I move about, trying to touch things, or move things. Not much luck at all. I see a wine glass. Oh frustration deluxe. I get sooooo close to that wine glass. SO close. I click on it, I click around it. I learn who made it. But can I pick it up? NO. I have no idea how to pick up anything!!!! And half the time when I move toward the glass I overshoot it and find myself outside the room. If I had any idea how to do it, I’d have kicked the thing. Finally I move to the couch and sit. Obviously my avatar knows we’re alone – she sits this time. No provocative reclining. We touch the white pillow and we have a black kitten in our lap. And so we sit for awhile, the kitten and I, relaxing.

But I think that maybe I should find some place else to be when D returns. What if he wants his couch or his kitten? So I get up (YES! I can do THAT) and move outside. I see a hammock. I am able to make my way to the hammock and stretch out in it. I’m watching the water and looking at the neighboring locale. It’s very peaceful, and I think this is a good place to bide my time. And so I exit SL and return to my RL, four hours of real time elapse.

Now it’s time to catch up with administrative matters. I follow the instructions on the VUC forum and add my SL name to my company yellow pages. I joined the company VUC. I get a welcoming email that tells me the next time I login to SL I will be invited to join company group. I am feeling quite triumphant. I BELONG.

Plunging In

Thursday morning, June 26

But today was a slow time in RL. Slept late, had things to do around the house. And saw that someone had posted on MY social network page. I followed that thread back and discovered L. I’d seen L before, a lot, on the VUC forum. And I’d seen her in the network. But this was the first time we actually “intersected” on a common theme. I commented on her profile, mentioning that I was interested in joining SL. Shortly thereafter she commented back, telling me to do it, it was easy. Easy. Okay. You know what? I CAN do this. So I said to my son, want to give this a try with me? He flew down the stairs so fast that maybe he actually teleported. D and L both said it was easy.

And so it seemed. We logged on, downloaded the software onto my Thinkpad. Everything seemed to be going just as it should. We entered SL and hit the first major decision – a name. I’d known going in that I could make up my own first name but would have to pick from a list for my last name. But such unappealing last names!!! Finally we decided on one. When I tell you that it took us at least 10 minutes, maybe more to pick a last name, you can see that even easy things are not necessarily easy. Now we faced the next major decision – picking an avatar. Do we pick an avatar or do we skip this step and believe the little message that says we can always pick one later? Back and forth, clicking on pictures to see what the various characters were. Finally I made a decision and picked an avatar. I would be a woman w/ short white blond hair, with a Barbie doll body. Why not? I always wanted a Barbie Doll body, natural laws of physics notwithstanding.

And so we entered SL, made our way to Orientation Island. But what was happening?? Was I, gasp, oh no, naked???? Did I NOT pick an avatar after all? Do you have any idea how incredibly uncomfortable it is to be a naked avatar in front of your 17 year old son???? Naked, okay, not my first choice. But with my son there???? Where the heck were my clothes???? And why wasn’t I moving? All these other avatars are flying around past me on Orientation Island and I’m standing there naked not moving. I was highly stressed. This wasn’t easy. And there was something odd about my head. Or my hair. Or something in that general vicinity. I relinquished the controls to my son. He found a menu that had clothing. And instructions: Drag item to avatar. But every time he dragged something to my poor naked lonely avatar, we’d get a message about “Clothes need to finish loading”. Well yeah, that was for sure. But we were trying to move the clothes onto the avatar. And then we couldn’t do anything at all. Well, what we were doing was snarling at each other. You moved this, you said that, if you hadn’t clicked here. You know that kind of conversation. He stomped off in a huff. I sent off an anguished email to L and D. Help! I’m naked and alone on Orientation island. Sob.

Please write back. Please please write back. Oh please don’t think I’m a total idiot. Please one of you write back. No one’s writing back. Sigh. I think I’ll take a real life break. Do some laundry, have some lunch. Send silent prayers into the ether that my avatar will get some clothes and move.

Avoiding the Issue

Monday, June 23

I started vacation today. Hey, no time to start playing with the computer. I had Real Life things to do. But I still logged to read the forum, check the social network, email coworkers and friends. I was still talking about joining SL. M was still encouraging me, even telling me that I should write a blog to detail my journey. Right. Like I’m going to write a blog. Be real.

Tuesday, June 24

The VUC forum had a question that intrigued me. I thought, gee, what if they could do this…. I debated posting my thoughts to the forum. But vanity got in the way. I have no experience in these issues. What if someone has already proposed this or what if my suggestion is simply total nonsense? I’d be embarrassed to have someone point that out in public. So I sent off an email to D, hoping again that I wasn’t violating forum etiquette. But this time he didn’t answer. HEY!! Shouldn’t everything revolve around ME and MY needs? Oh wait – I’m supposed to be a grown up now, and mature. I was starting to get very fidgety. I WANTED to participate in the discussion. I wanted to understand and maybe even contribute. Oh, but it’s late and there are things I need to do to be ready for Real Life Wednesday.

Wednesday, June 25

Real Life Wednesday left no time for Virtual life. Barely had time to read the forums, check the network.

Trying it on for Size

Saturday, June 21

Pretending to be someone I’m not, at a party I brag about how I’m going to join SL, hold virtual meetings, become the “leading edge” in my team. The non-technical crowd is impressed. By a techie, I’m no techie. But these people think this is a cool idea.

Sunday, June 22

My family was over for dinner so I announced this new part of my job description to them. If I thought my initial reaction was negative, it was nothing compared to the scorn and disbelief and derision my triumphant proclamation received. I was so excited about learning something new, something modern, something adventurous. They wanted to know why any company would support such a thing. Why would any person waste their time doing this? What was the matter with a regular chat room? Who needed this kind of thing? And you’d pay good money for this?? Ouch. Sometimes it hurts to look in the mirror. And I thought back to my company’s social networking site. This is what I said when M invited me to join that and look at how much fun and use I get from it now. I didn’t want to be that negative. And so my resolution was hardening more and more.

How it Began – Day 2

Friday, June 20

So I began eavesdropping on the Virtual Universe Community (VUC) forum at my company. I read the posts. I googled topics that made no sense on first reading. I got brave. On Friday I emailed someone who seemed to know a lot about the VUC and SL but also seemed to have a sense of humor. I had no idea how I’d be received. I was a stranger, an uninformed and fairly ignorant stranger, writing to ask the simplest most basic questions. I had no idea if that was a gross violation of etiquette, or if it would be acceptable. But I figured I had nothing to lose, at worst he’d ignore the email. So I introduced myself, confessed my total lack of technical knowledge, my total lack of SL knowledge, and asked for the opportunity to ask questions. Within 2 hours I had a reply. A warm, friendly welcoming reply. I was so pleased and grateful. D is so much more technical and knowledgeable than I on all things computer and SL and probably many more topics. But he answered all of my questions and then some, provided links, provided presentations, and encouraged me to give it a try.

Give it a try. But I’m a coward. I had visions of being lost in the virtual world. Of committing some horrible faux pas. Of making a fool of myself. Wasting money. Getting hurt. So I wrote back and asked more questions. And I started talking about how I WAS going to join SL. Maybe if I said it enough I’d believe it and actually do it. Maybe. So I announced to more coworkers that I was going to join SL. I saw a notice of a VUC meeting and forwarded it to my manager M. M said – go, you’re our SL ambassador. Okay, so do it! Still too scary.

How it all Began

Thursday, June 19

It started innocently enough, as these things do. I was following a thread in a private social networking site, which led to another thread and another. I found myself on a site that extolled the wonders of SL. SL? Never heard of it, but the post was intriguing. Someone else commented. So I followed that thread, but was still unenlightened. I was IM’ing with a coworker – a young man, definitely more in touch w/ games and trends than I am. He didn’t know too much about SL either, but was somewhat scornful and dismissive. “No point, no goal” he said. “Why bother?” It sounded like role-playing to me – pretending to be someone or something else. Not especially appealing. But I googled SL and found more and more articles and threads and information.

So I turned to my officemates. WHY would anyone want to do this?? One coworker is always game to argue the other side. He said to me “Hey, when your husband is watching TV, or playing a game on the computer, and you want something to do, what do you do? You might like to go down to the corner tavern and have a drink and chat with friends. Except there is no corner tavern, drinking has too many calories, you couldn’t drive there and back, and you go to sleep too early.” I couldn’t argue with any of that! He said “But if you could log on to SL and hang out somewhere chatting with someone, you’d enjoy that.” And I had to admit, that did sound appealing. “And besides” B added “a month ago you would have scoffed at the idea that you would have any use or interest in social networking.” Touche! My manager (and friend) took up the baton. “Figure out how we can have a virtual scrum” he said. We can hold a meeting in SL.

And that’s how I was hooked, as simple as that. Learn something new that might be fun both socially and professionally. Why not?