Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’

I learned the secret to life from my cat.  Find a comfortable spot, and enjoy. I think most everyone can agree with this, the problem is that there is often a misunderstanding of what a “comfortable spot” happens to be.  Most people think it is a function of money, and stuff.  They are wrong, and that is why most people are miserable.

I tend to stay away from real life topics in this blog, but I ran across a bunch of related links on the topic of happiness, and thought I’d share. So here are some thoughts on happiness, and why the things we think will make us happy often totally fail to do so. I will back up these thoughts with random entertaining links.

Wax on, wax off, wax on, wax off…

An essay at Cracked.com called How Karate Kid Ruined The Modern World has recently generated some interest.  The theme of Karate Kid, is that anyone can achieve their goals just by wanting it more and working harder than the rest, a theme that fails to resonate in real life.

Without getting into all the reasons why working harder does not get you more,  let me point out one reason: Economic reality.

According to Professor Richard Wolff in his short documentary Capitalism Hits the Fan, the United States ended its 200 year long employment shortage in the 1980s, and inflation adjusted earnings of the middle class has stayed stagnant.  Working harder adds additional costs which lowers net earnings.  Since the 1980s, the American worker has been supplementing income with debt and paying interest.  The result is we are working harder for less, which begs the question:   Why bother?

Socrates says, the greatest knowledge is to “know yourself”.  In defiance of Karate Kid, I think what Socrates meant was: Don’t pretend to be something that you are not.  A corollary would be Don’t give a damn what others think of you.  Had the Karate Kid taken that advice, it would have saved him a hell of a lot of trouble.

That to me is the “comfort spot”: being true to yourself.

You Can’t Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd

Another random posting that brought all this to mind was an old Roger Miller song which has the opposite philosophy as Karate Kid

You can’t rollerskate in a buffalo herd,
but you can be happy if you’ve a mind to

In other words, you cant always do everything you want to do, but you can’t let obstacles stand in the way of your happiness.

One person that would agree with that would be Dan Gilbert.  This TED video has a lot to say about what really makes us happy.  Our brains are bad at predicting what will make us happy, and as a result we tend to make lousy choices. Things that we think will make us happy, turn out not to be so great.  Similarly, things that we dread, turn out not to be so bad.  Here’s a brief summary.

Happiness is a state of mind that can be achieved independently of our circumstances. So regardless of how bad things get, we can choose to be happy if we put our mind to it.  Knuckle down, buckle down, do it, do it, do it.

Freedom is not a source of happiness

I took a psychology class where I learned about “cognitive dissonance”.  It is a state of trying to hold two conflicting ideas in your head.  One example is choosing between two good things, we will tend to regret our choice regardless of which way we choose.  Inevitably our choice won’t work out completely as expected, and we will want to go back and choose the other good choice.

Knowing that it is natural to regret our choices makes it easier to accept our choice and avoid regret.  Professor Barry Schwartz takes this idea further to conclude that choice itself can make us miserable.

So when life doesn’t go our way, and we find ourselves with limited opportunities, we are actually better off in the long run, even though it may not seem that way.

As the Rolling Stones say:

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try, sometimes, you get what you need.

A final thought

I know what some of you are going to say, “What’s wrong with a little hard work to achieve a goal?”  The answer is: Nothing, if the hard work involved is something you actually enjoy doing.  Why the qualifying “if” statement? As we have learned above, getting what we want will not really make us happy.  Doing something you hate, to gain something you will eventually regret getting, is the exact opposite of happiness. Doing “hard work” you actually enjoy lessens the chances of regret, and gives you a much better sense of accomplishment, even if the rewards are not all that great.

That to me is the “comfort spot”: being true to yourself.

I have been following the Open Sim development for a couple of years now. Some of the latest developments have convinced me that if there is ever going to be a 3D internet, it will be based on Open Sim. I say this knowing that Open Sim currently has a rather low population of participants, low enough that one could question the sanity of such a statement.  Well here is a brief summary of this conclusion.

What is a 3D internet?
A 3D internet is one that is navigable in 3 dimensions rather than two. Instead of websites, you have explorable regions. Instead of 2D text chatting, you have 3D avatar chats.

Why is a 3D internet inevitable?
Sometimes things can be explained easier visually rather than textually, and 3D often gets visual points across better than 2D. For example if you are a photographer with a website, and you want people to see your photographs and find the ones they like best for purchase, the “slideshow” approach is a bad way to do it. After the 4th or 5th click, people start to wonder if it is worth it. Immerse the visitor into a 3D gallery of your photos and people will venture around, allowing them to find the pictures they most like fast.

Hyperlinks in 3D

The thing that got me interested in talking about the 3D web again is the recent development of  “hypergrid” teleporting.  Teleporting from region to region is easy if your start point and end point are on the same grid, but the 2D World Wide Web is built on the ability to move from page to page, where the pages are often on different sites and different hosts.  The development of a 3D web requires the ability to move from grid to grid, and from host to host.

While far from perfect, that obstacle has been resolved.  It is now possible to move from grid to grid without needing to create accounts on every grid or closing your browser.  The picture above is the OSGrid me meeting the Reaction Grid me after clicking on a “hypergrid” link.

It works similarly to the slurl’s in SL except if your destination is on a different grid, your avatar is uploaded to the new grid and your name changes to firstname.lastname @ gridyoucamefrom to prevent conflicting names. It is really cool when it works, but unfortunately a lot can go wrong.  Instructions can be found here, if you want to try it.

Not all hypergrid enabled regions can reach all other hypergrid regions.  Took me about a dozen tried to find a combo that worked.  To get from OSGrid to Reaction Grid, I found a region called Hypergrid Market Middle on OSGrid (a very boring place BTW), then clicked on this link: secondlife://hypergrid.reactiongrid.com:9009

Eventually all the bugs will get ironed out and an independent 3D web will really start to develop.

Why will the 3D Internet be based on Open Sim?
It wont be Second Life.  There are many reasons. First, a 3D internet cannot be controlled by one company.  Second, it is inappropriate for a 3D internet to be under a virtual economy if it is going to be universally adapted.  Thirdly, the designers of Open Sim are moving away from SL’s strict protocols.  Open Sim regions no longer have to be strictly 256m x 256m, they can be larger.  Researchers have managed to put 200 avatars on a single region, and have run up to 40 regions on a single server.  Open Sim offers a flexibility that SL cannot offer.

It wont Be Blue Mars, IMVU or any other current 3D Virtual World. These all do what they do well enough, but they are all designed to be proprietary.  IMVU is strictly a chat program in 3D, Blue Mars is a gaming platform.

The only real open flexible 3D platform that could be competitive is  OpenCobalt.  It interfaces with Google protocols allowing Sketchup KMZ files used in Google Earth, allowing import of the huge library of 3D objects in Google’s database, as well as in the OBJ format.  This is stuff OpenSim still can not do.  My knowledge of OpenCobalt is small, but there are three reasons why OpenSim will win: 1. it is already proven scalable technology, 2. More developers are working on Open Sim than OpenCobalt, 3. It is a lot easier to add KMZ and OBJ support to OpenSim than it is to add the OpenSim scalable multi-region stuff to OpenCobalt.

Of course, something designed from scratch could be better than OpenSim, but it would take years to develop, and OpenSim has a huge head start.  Network protocols could be designed to replace TCP/IP as well, but would never be implemented because TCP/IP is too well entrenched.  I believe we have reached a point where we are stuck with OpenSim.  Improving the platform is easier than rewriting it.

If OpenSim is the future, why is it not more popular now?
This is a very valid question.  SL has more than three times as many regions (32,000) as all of the OpenSim Grids combined (10,500).  The OpenSim grids are growing at a rate of 10% a month so far this year, while SL has only grown 1.4%.  That’s the best stat comparison.

SL has more than 500 times the number of accounts as OpenSim, and over 100 times the number of active players.  At any given time, about 60 to 70% of all regions in SL are uninhabited. In OpenSim, that percent is closer to 99%.  OpenSims one advantage is cost.  It costs 10 times as much to get a dedicated region in SL as it does to get one on OSGrid, but your SL region is 100 times more likely to get visitors than in OS, so if you want visitors, the premium is probably worth it.

Why the horrible stats?  I like to think of the 2D internet as it existed 20 years ago.  SL is AOL, and the WWW is a couple of years away.  The people who were on the web at that time were students, researchers, hobbyists, some businesses and governments.  So who are the few people on OpenSim?  students, researchers, hobbyists, some businesses and governments.

When it became obvious that the open WWW was superior to AOL, everyone flocked to WWW.  I’m hopeful that history will repeat again with OS and SL.  On the other hand, maybe it is more accurate to think of SL as “Windows” and OS as “Linux”, and OS will be forever stuck as a niche platform despite its parity.

It seems every few months, I write yet another post about how SL is going in the wrong direction.  Here I am again.

In the last few weeks, Linden Labs has released a new “SL 2.0″ viewer,  has introduced new welcome centers, new starter avatars, a new 3rd party viewer policy that essentially has killed all third party viewer development, and new terms of service designed to protect LL liability from merchants that use the service.

I’m generally OK with the changes making SL easier to use, especially for new players (it’s about time!).  The client changes are a mixed bag, the new client looks better, but many useful tools are buried deep in the menus and are hard to find.  There are serious bugs that still need to be addressed as well.

The other changes I am not OK with. Yes, Linden Labs has the right to allow or disallow third party viewers as it sees fit, and has the right to change the rules of use as it sees fit.  That does not mean it should.

I will not go into details about these changes, plenty has been written about them elsewhere.  My concern is with the overall pattern of change.  They are not changing the technology in any way to protect merchants from theft, meaning theft will continue, by those who do not care about the rules.  Instead, they are making it more difficult for us rule abiding players from doing what we want to do with the service.

I see what is going on as a conflict of three visions:

1. The Merchant Vision: “We want SL to have strict submission rules and built in protection for our merchandise.”

2. The Linden Vision: “We want SL to be a 3D Facebook with tens of millions players.”

3. The Artisan/Role Play Vision: “We want Our World, Our Imagination back, we want a place to play and have fun the way we want.”

I’m one of the people in the third category.

On the Merchant Vision: Rules that go in place to protect merchants from thieves also restrict those of us that are not thieves from doing what we want.  Among the artisan/role player class, there is a general “liberal” share and share alike, take what you need and do what you will attitude.  We are artists who create for fun, not profit.  We want an environment to play in and we are willing to pay for it or create it ourselves, but worrying about the origin of textures, who created what prim etc, and what permissions are in place just distracts from the fun.  Its all an unnecessary burden on the players.

On the Linden Vision: As Linden Labs reaches out to the more “mainstream” audience that come in from places like Facebook, the more trouble they will cause all the goreans, furbies, nekos, age players, gender benders, cos players, and everyone else the mainstream doesn’t “get”.  Misunderstanding leads to unnecessary drama.

Role Players built Second Life.  Yet, every change LL has made in the last two or three years has had at least a small negative effect on the RP community.

I still love Second Life, but I no longer see a future for me there.  The “cutting edginess” has dulled.  It is still a gold mine of virtual places, that I will continue to explore, but my metaverse interests are moving elsewhere.

That elsewhere is OpenSim, a small but growing community on the frontiers of the metaverse that welcomes the “liberal” artisan/role players.

And, that is the topic of my next few posts…  (to be continued)

slvision

Three other blog posts generated a fair amount of feedback over at SL Universe this week.  First was a protest over in world copying promoted by the Shopping Cart Disco blog.  Second was an article at the Pixels and Policy blog about how real life gender affects second life play. Third was a proposal by Hamlet Au at NWN about integrating Facebook and Second Life in an effort to get more players into SL.

My response to all three was decidedly negative.  Even though these three separate issues have little to do with one another, they all deny the whole vision and purpose of Second Life as if they are a part of a concerted effort to turn SL into something it is not.  Have we lost the vision of what SL is supposed to be?

The bulk of my venom is over the second and third posts, but I should begin and end with the first.  I did not participate in any protests over copyright issues.  Not that I am opposed to copyright protection or removing counterfeit goods, or punishing those that violate copyright in world.  I am opposed to changing the rules of SL to accommodate copyright protection.  I have explained why in previous posts.

Every now and then we get an article about how people play avatars that are nothing like who they really are. Men pretending to be women, women pretending to be men, adults pretending to be children, children pretending to be adult, humans pretending to be animals, animals pretending to be human.  You get the picture.

My response is always: That is why it is called SECOND Life. Yes, there are fake people in SL. In fact the vast majority of players look nothing like their avatars in RL, whether it being a few inches taller, or 20 pounds lighter, all the way to playing fantasy alien species.

The truth is there are plenty of fake people in real life as well, the fake people in Second Life are a much more interesting fake.  In real life we pretend to be something other than ourselves, because societal norms tell us we should.  In Second Life what we pretend to be is a personal choice, a creative representation we choose to project.

As I have pointed out before, there is a large part of the general population that doesn’t get this.  They believe that our online persona should be real, that the virtual world should mirror the real world, they are offended by even the idea of “role play”, and they are likely to show up more often in social networks like Facebook.

I did finally get a Facebook account and use it to talk to family and old friends.  I don’t bother with all the other crazy stuff that goes on there like Mafia Wars and Farmville.  So yes I understand that SL’ers may be ok with social networks.

I’m not so sure a typical Facebook user would be that interested in Second Life.  Advertising SL or integrating Facebook in SL will not work.  The TOS policies in FB are decidedly anti role play, and they will occasionally suspend accounts of people using fake names or 3D rendered profile pictures.

Bringing in the Facebook crowd means bringing in the kind of players that reports people wearing child avatars for being under age; that think it is cool to “out” the gender benders; that take offense at furbys and goreans and nekos; the type of people that don’t understand “role play” and generally cause problems for those that do.

These kind of players don’t last long in SL anyways. If SL wants to attract future loyal players, they need to hit sci-fi and comic conventions, SCA and Renaissance fairs, war reenactors, and other places likely to attract the role playing types. I’ve met lots of SL players who are into all of this stuff IRL as well.

Second Life is a world designed and built for role players of all types. That is what it has always been and needs to remain.  Concerning yourself with real life identities is a waste of time.  Trying to “mainstream” Second Life is counter productive and wont work.

Linden Labs needs to stop marketing Second Life as a place to make money, especially since only about 2-3% actually do. They also need to stop marketing as a social chat environment as there are dozens of better places to chat.  It is far more effective, I believe, if SL were marketed as a fantasy mecca, as a place to create your world. Its what those misleading ads for Evony and IMVU do, and they have attracted millions of players.

Which brings us full circle to those concerned with copyrights and stuff.  SL was not designed to protect copyright. Many real life 3D artists don’t bother with SL for that reason.  I figured this out a long time ago myself. If you release something cool in SL, it will get copied and stolen, and spread around.  Somehow this idea that SL is a place to make money has caught on and has turned into an entitlement, they are demanding that the Lindens protect their investment with draconian rules to limit play for non-paying players, or to limit what can be uploaded and by who.

From a role play perspective this whole thing is silly anyways.  I build my character, make or buy clothing, make or buy housing and enjoy the world.  If I want to play the role of “fashion designer”, I design avatar clothing, and have fun doing it, and if I make money too, great!  It means I can play the role of successful fashion designer.  If others are making cheap knock-offs of my product line, well that’s the life of the virtual fashion designer.

Worrying about what others are doing with your stuff just leads to stress and burnout.  Aside from filling out the occasional DMCA ticket, people shouldn’t waste their time over it.  This is all antithetical to the whole spirit of Second Life.  SL was designed as a fun diversion, a fantasy escape, with as much freedom as possible, not a big business platform that needs to be scrutinized and regulated.

With the recent departure of some key players, Second Life seems to be at another crossroad point. In these times, there is always this serious risk that things could change enough to destroy what has been built.

It is time to remind people of what the whole purpose really is.

In lieu of a real original post (taking a short break), here are some other blog posts and form topics worth a look see.

Second Life Killer Apps and Weak Ties by Grace McDunnough

A good analysis of why Second Life has failed to reach “Killer App” status as “promised” by Linden Labs CEO M Linden (Mark Kingdon). M Linden responds to this post himself (see comment #10)

Second Life vs. Open Sim by Zonja Capalini

Thoroughly notated long post about the experience of moving from Second Life to Open Sim, including the reasons why and the advantages and pitfalls. This post is a first hand account of a move I believe a lot of people and companies will be making soon.

Symbolism and Second Life Forum thread at SL Universe.

A thoughtful philosophical discussion about how we experience Second Life. In the real world, we run into symbolism on a daily basis that partly defines our reality. The symbols themselves are immaterial just as cyberspace is immaterial. The “real” experience of Second Life is in the symbolic representations of the people, places, and things. Good discussion.

Second Life is falling off the mainstream radar, ironically Linden Labs is making a potentially hazardous move to try to become more mainstream. I have to ask: Is the party over in SL?

SL’s Declining coverage

I am noticing a major shift in the attention that Second Life has been getting lately. Mainly it is getting a lot less of it.  I have an RSS aggregator dedicated to SL which pulls stories from the biggest and best SL outlets I can find.

I used to feature Reuters, they dropped covering SL. Same with Wired. Electric Sheep Company seems to be pulling out of SL and blogging less. I yanked them all.

Of the ones that are left, they are still covering SL, but at a reduced rate. Former Second Life Herald, now Alphaville Herald (thanks to trademark enforcement) is shifting to Metaplace and other VW coverage. Massively, a site dedicated to all online gaming that bought up SLNN for more SL coverage, still has the occasional SL story, but only when there is some interesting development. They no longer seek out the stories themselves. Of the other blogs I list, only New World Notes continues to blog regularly. To keep the aggregator busy I added Koinup popular places and the Second Life Bloggers group at ning.com.

Mainstream press in general no longer seems that much interested. Part of me suspects that when SL was being judged by the number of accounts, the tens of millions generated some interest. Now that the “active” account number seems to hover around 500,000 and hasn’t grown much in nearly two years, its considered old news.

A couple of years ago the announcement to section off a continent for “adult content” would have gotten a few mentions in the mainstream press. Today nary a blip. The last SL story to get mainstream press coverage was last November’s headline of a real world divorce over the husbands SL “cybering” with another player. It was a strange human interest story, but that kind of thing happens a lot more often than you think. That story reinforced SL’s reputation as a “cyber sex” haven. The recent “adult content” announcement was an attempt to lessen that reputation.

“Adult Content” Continent

As  I have said before, the age verification is a game changer. There has been quite a confusing discussion about what exactly counts as “adult content” and many players are upset that Linden Labs is engaging in censorship.

What LL is proposing is a new mainland continent where adult content will be allowed reachable only by acconts that have been age verified or that have used a credit card for billing. The general consensus is this will be a “ghetto” continent, which could eventually be closed completely if LL decides it is necessary.

Personally I have a suspicion that this may backfire completely on every level. First of all, you are going to lose some of the 500,000 active players who no longer want to have anything to do with SL, best case is that they are replaced with new active players not looking for adult content.

But from my perspective, there are unforeseen benefits to this island. Adding verification for admittance means there will be no “kids” on this island, no “alts” or “alt griefing”, the vast majority of people allowed will be paying customers with lindens to spend, few “noobs”, few free accounts = no lag due to “camping”, and no one complaining about the content there, because everyone goes in knowing what to expect.

No doubt the immediate focus of this continent will be on the adult content, but these other ancillary benefits may actually drive more really active players there, possibly making the adult continent more popular than any other continent, possibly making the rest of SL the “ghetto”. A recent NWN post agrees with my assessment.

If Linden Labs sets the adult content bar real low (like no nudity) and strictly enforce it, this will almost certainly be the outcome. If this does occur SL’s reputation may continue to sour. New players will find new obstacles to the “good content”, ultimately driving a wedge into the community as a whole.

On the other hand, If they set the bar real high (like no XXX porn anything less is OK) and don’t enforce it much, it will change SL not at all and then LL can tell anyone interested that they are doing “something” about it without really doing anything.  The new adult only continent really will become a “ghetto” no one wants to go to.  Unfortunately, lax enforcement will lead to more player complaints ultimately driving a wedge into the community as a whole anyways.

Either way the community loses. Linden Labs has put themselves in a tough position that will affect every player one way or another.

Based on interviews at NWN and reports from the SL forums, there is lots of contradictory info coming out of LL’s offices. If they hope to have these policies in place by the end of summer, they got a lot of work ahead.

A divided community is an unhappy community, opening the door to the next cool thing taking away LL’s business. The party in SL will truly be over, moved to another venue.

This is the first of three “opinion” pieces I am writing about the future of 3D Virtual Worlds. I believe that ultimately the future looks bright, but we are at the beginning of a long overdue “shake up” that should finally separate myth from reality. Lets start with legal realities:

So one of the oldest but least successful MMO providers Worlds.com filed for patents of their 3D online technology back in 1995 and were awarded the patent finally in 2007. The two patents obtained were Scalable virtual world chat client-server system, and System and method for enabling users to interact in a virtual space

During those intervening 12 years a multi billion dollar MMO industry has grown. Some of it based around the same technology patented by Worlds.com.

So earlier this year I saw an announcement that Worlds.com has retained a major patent rights law firm to represent them, and on Christmas Eve they filed their first suit against NCSoft, founded in 1997 two years after the original patent application.

According to Wired, NCSoft’s official statement in response: “We can’t comment on potential litigation except to say that NCsoft takes all legal action seriously — even if the company believes a lawsuit has no merit. We intend to defend ourselves vigorously.” (emphasis mine because it is funny)

I have not studied the patents, and do not know how broad or narrow they are or what they actually cover. I do know that in worlds.com programs, you pre-load all the shapes, textures, etc. and there is virtually no way to do custom textures and buildings etc. MMORPGs work just like worlds.com programs, hence they seem to be the first target.

NCSoft is the largest MMORPG producer in the world (yes bigger than Blizzard), producing Guild Wars, City of Heroes/Villains, Lineage 2, and the upcoming Aion. They were part of a landmark suit before. Marvel sued them over the ability of players in City of Heroes to create custom heroes that look like Marvel heroes. The suit ended amicably, with CoH game runners creating “Generic Heroes” of characters that potentially violate copyright.

Worlds.com lawsuit has far reaching implications. If Worlds.com wins, they could theoretically go after every producer of 3D online games, potentially killing the whole industry. You can bet there is a lot of support building for NCSoft to do everything in their power to invalidate the patents.

Two things can kill a patent: Prior art, and obviousness. The other defense is that the burden of proof of patent violation is on the patent holder.

Prior art can come in the form of older patents. Like this one. Or it could come in the form of 3D online games that existed prior to Worlds.com development. Obviousness is also an obstacle as the whole concept of 3D online games is a combination of Habitat (a 2D virtual world built by Lucasarts in 1985) and Doom (a 3D game that included multiplayer network play in 1993).

Then there is the burden of proof problem. The patents were based on technology developed in 1995. The technology around online game playing has changed radically in the 14 years since, and there are many ways to do the same thing. In a future posting I plan to compare the underlying structure of Second Life, There.com, Guild Wars, and World of Warcraft. The technology behind these four games is so radically different there is no way they can be compared as using the same technology except in a “look and feel” way.

While I do not know the ins and outs of patent law I do know technology. The whole paradigm of online game play changed radically in 1997 with Diablo. Blizzard offered online play for the successful desktop game and ran into a huge problem: cheaters.

Before 1997, the only thing online programs dealt with was communicating between players was position, movement, and chat. Everything else was handled by the player’s own computer. People soon figured out that by modding the game on their hard drive, they could do things that other players without the hacks could not.

The fix implemented by every online game that followed was for the game servers to keep track of everything. Hit a beast with a sword, the damage is calculated on the game server and the info is relayed to your computer to display the damage. Swing the sword again and another exchange between your game and the game servers is made. This keeps the game fair for all players. It also requires a very different conrol structure for online play, different than anything worlds.com has ever developed.

This lawsuit is do or die for worlds.com. Once the star of online gaming they have watched dozens of upstarts fly right past them. They have announced two new virtual world projects, but I bet they do not have the money to actually do them. They are counting on winning lawsuits to get them the capital to go on. Losing is likely a death sentence.

Good riddance I say.

I believe that all software patents are an abomination and should end!! Copyrights are fine, if another company is using art or code without permission, go after them. But NCSoft has built all of their games from the ground up. They are mirroring what everyone else is doing true, but they are doing their own thing. For Worlds.com to profit off the work of others because it is “similar” to what they did first, seems to me to be immoral.

But since when has law been equivalent to morality?

A trio of articles about legalities of virtual worlds:
The Rocky Legal Landscape of Virtual Worlds, Part 1: Trademarks
The Rocky Legal Landscape of Virtual Worlds, Part 2: Patents
The Rocky Legal Landscape of Virtual Worlds, Part 3: Copyrights

Note: While Red Light Center was built by worlds.com, it is a seperate entity, and not part of the litigation.

Update: Case Has Been Settled!