Friday, December 25, 2009

Birthday Revisited

Wednesday, December 23, 2009 8:54 PM

Thursday, December 24, 2009
  • 8:10 AM: First birthday present: booze filled chocolate bottles! I think I'll make breakfast first: the bacon is just starting to sizzle...
  • 9:01 AM: Breakfast accomplished. Now it's time for a luxurious shower with Aveda product. And then to the Eugene "Clock Museum."

  • 9:53 AM: One of the chocolate boozes was leaking, so I ate it. Outfit: Purple T-shirt, green flannel shirt, black pants. Too cold for Birkenstocks.

  • 10:09 AM: RT @thaumatrope: Ginger forced the oven door open and freed confection angels. They flew outside, momentarily easing the nibbled ridges.

  • 1:58 PM: Back from the Clock Museum and the Holiday Market. Mark is stepping out for a minute, which means... Time To Burn Frankincense and Myrrh!!

  • 2:03 PM: Hey! Who scrunched up my last charcoal brickette ? Don't *make* me use the gas BBQ grille for my itinerary birthday celebration.

  • 3:52 PM: Oh! I just woke up from an afternoon nap and Mark has made scones. Time for Ceylon tea. I love Mark.

  • 6:46 PM: The entire Dwyer clan (at Mary's) just sang "Happy Birthday" to me over the phone. And they're three hours ahead of us, too.

  • 8:09 PM: Mmmm. Cheese fondue and salad with Gorgonzola croutons. I *so* owe Mark a fabulous birthday in August...

Friday, December 25, 2009

  • 12:04 AM: Should be wrapping presents, but instead I am on social networking sites.

  • 9:58 AM: Oh the carnage! I think I need another Very Large Cup of Tea.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

My Life as a Second Life Geek.

So okay; I'd heard about Second Life on NPR a few years ago, but I'd never checked it out. For one thing, the computer I owned at the time wasn't powerful enough to render the second life world. Then a writer friend of mine said he was participating in a reading in Second Life and invited the critique group we're both in to attend.

I decided I'd give Second Life a shot. The first thing I had to do was create an avatar, or virtual version of myself. My first frustration with Second Life was that I couldn't just type in my name, "John Burridge." I mean, if I'm going to use Second Life as a vehicle for self-promotion, I want my name hovering over my avatar's head wherever I walk (even if I don't look like a old English soccer goalie). Alas, the name selection process featured a blank for me to type a first name and a drop-down box of pretentious names straight from a Dungeons & Dragons game or a New Neo-Pagan Encounter Group. When I typed in "John", I got an error message informing me all the slots for "John" were taken. In a snarky fit of meta-self-reference, I settled on naming my avatar "Mask Stickfigure." ("No cigar, no lady on his arm; just a guy made of dots and lines.")

I wanted my avatar to look like me. This is a problem, because I have a Prince Philip of France beard, and, apparently, the standard avatars don't have facial hair. I guess it's a good thing that I am a white Caucasian male, because I had a variety of starter avatars to choose from. I thought about walking around as a black man in a power business suit, but went instead as the hip rocker dude -- who looks a little bit like Gra Linnaea. When I tried to give my new body a beard, his cheeks and chin exploded outwards like he had a case of mumps on steroids. It looks like if I want a beard, I have to build one out of primitives (or prims, more on those later), or buy one at the mall....

When one of my old high school friends heard I was going to foray into Second Life, she sent me a message with the coordinates to her Second Life hangout and a collection of coordinates for stores with free objects.

The Shopping Malls. What can I say, it's a mall. Make sure you don't bump into anyone -- which can be a trick if you decide to touch a map and it takes control of your avatar's body and walks you to a store. I explored around the freebie mall, and I've since decided that most of the people I've encountered on Second Life are either super-nice, or are like all the people I left behind in middle school, or else are looking for a virtual swinger's party.

Help Island. I haven't figured out the schedule for the volunteer helpers, or mentors, because two out of the three times I've visited, it's mostly been avatars standing around in outfits from the Matrix texting snarky comments to each other. A few of them use their computer's microphones to audio broadcast. There was that one time when someone was walking someone else walking around in a three-meter-high alien spider body.

I met my high school friend in Second Life, and she introduced me to some of her friends. These were super-nice people -- before I knew it, I had some building permissions to create objects on their plot of Second Life land and some scripts, a new avatar body, and lots of advice. Speaking with them was kind of odd, because after a while, I forgot that what I was looking at wasn't virtual avatars on a virtual landscape. My friend's avatar looks like her, and that helped the illusion. Also, avatars look straight ahead, so if your avatar is directly facing another avatar, it looks like they are staring straight into your eyes. It's a little like being in a bar and getting cruised.

I went to the poetry reading, but only stayed for a few moments before I had to leave. It was really cool, because the reading was held over an audio channel everyone could hear -- which made the event a kind of cross between an open mic night and a call-in radio show.

Somewhere along the way, I learned how to make objects, or primitives. A primitive is a unit object, like a sphere, cube, torus, cone, or cylinder (there is also a special prim type called "sculpted"). Prims may be "painted" with textures so that the look like granite or wood. After a few fumbling sessions where I tried align glass square planes into something resembling an Art Deco lamp (the key word here being "something"), I started looking up Second Life's scripting language in order to build complicated compound objects without having to spend five hours lining up everything.

What I really want to make are the five Platonic Solids and then build lamps in the shapes of the Archimedean solids. I thought it might be fun to put a bunch of upside down pyramids together into a floating upside down pyramid (ala Swift's Floating Island of Laputa). In the mean time, I'd made a bird-bath.

I wanted to make a sundial. There are two difficulties making a sundial in Second Life. First, the sun (and the moon) do not cast shadows, and as near as I can tell, the rendering engine in the Second Life client is not using ray-tracing to create what's on the screen. The second difficulty, is that the sun in Second Life doesn't necessarily move in the same fashion as the real sun. In the case of my friend's place, the sun rises and sets in about ninety minutes. So, there's no way to use the Second Life sun to determine the local meridian, and the solar day is really short. So I built a sundial with a gnomon, and then I had to build a shadow and then use a script to make the shadow rotate around the gnomon.

Meanwhile, on the web, I found a script that would string together other prims into a bent ellipse. It provided hours of fun manipulating sine and cosine functions in order to create necklaces, belts and bracelets. I got really confused trying to rotate cones and cubes in three directions. Oh yes... and I finally learned how to walk up the ramp to my friend's treehouse without plunging over the side and falling into a pool. Of course, all this experimenting around with prims and trigonometry functions was taking away from my writing time.

By this time, I rummaged through the inventory of things I'd been given or gathered from the freebie stores. I changed my avatar's body from the guitar dude to a muscle-bound gym queen. I added a few outfits. The dragonfly wings were fun, but they look very weird when I'm in close quarters and they pass through objects. Then there was the Harley Motorcycle outfit (vroom!), which my friend said was "intense." I think I prefer the Star Trek federation officer uniform over the rainbow shirt because people are more likely to IM "Live long and prosper" at me than to make snarky gay comments. I still don’t have a beard, but my hair is long and grey.

Probably the weirdest thing about my experiments in fashion were dressing -- or rather, undressing -- the avatar. For privacy, I snuck into my friend's treehouse to change. But I kept expecting her to teleport into her house or for someone to walk in, so the whole experience felt like a "naked in public" anxiety dream.

Then I wanted to make an Archimedean Screw. I manipulated a cylinder prim into a spiral, then strung a few together into one long screw, and made them rotate. Then I made a sphere and three rods to restrict the sphere's motion to just up-and-down. The screw would knock the sphere around, so I tried dropping the sphere between the rods. Guess what? The sphere hovered over the rods, not touching them as if the rods and sphere had the same repulsing electrical charge. It was like discovering dark matter. I slowly moved the rod that was within the rotating spiral and gradually the sphere fell between the three rods... and stopped about half-way down the rotating spiral. The spiral would pass through the sphere on each rotation instead of pushing it up between the rods.

Undaunted by earlier failures to make a rotating spiral push a sphere up a track, I made a new spiral, put it in a cylinder, and then dropped a sphere into it. The sphere traveled all the way through the sculpture. So then I started spinning the spiral and cylinder combination, tipped it over at a 45 degree angle (still rotating) and dropped the sphere in the top. The sphere traveled about a third of the way down, then stopped and the spiral passed through the sphere. So. Non-rotating upright spiral-column: a dropped sphere transverses the sculpture; rotating tipped spiral-column, the sphere stops part-way. Clearly, the laws the physics are different in the Second Life universe. I suspect that the rendering engine in the Second Life client is calculating the sphere's physics as if it were a cube and that the spirals (which are solid, but don't have their physical object box turned on) are interacting with the physical sphere.

I went to Help Island to try to find someone to ask about spheres and Archimedean screws (pause to imagine kinky/snarky comeback from the Matrix wardrobe department). But those were the days that I couldn't find any mentors. My writer friend gave me some coordinates for some Second Life building enthusiasts, so I may be able to speak with someone wise in the way of Second Life physics. In the mean time, I do have a simple cascade structure for medium-sized spheres built -- but no way to have the spheres returned to the top of cascade.

About this time, I had my first "griefer" encounter. I was (literally) flying around my friend's place when I got an IM from a stranger asking me if I was the owner of the locality (I wasn't), and if I could do something about a Giant Rotating Book and Red Sphere Floating Thingy hovering in the sky. I'd actually seen it, and was investigating it, expecting to watch a new construction project. By the time I tried to do something about it, the GRBARSFT had vanished. I found out later that it hadn't done much damage, but was the equivalent of having one's house spray painted by vandals.

Meanwhile, I've learned that to make interesting objects (say a solid cube with three cylinders removed from it), one has to download a "sculpted texture." Downloading textures costs money. The other thing I've learned is that most builders are playing a version of "Name That Tune" with prims ("I can build the Eiffel Tower in three prims!..") I spent more time not writing researching various free programs that promised to help me generate a sculptured texture. They came bundled with malware.

After cleaning off my computer, I put aside plans to build a perpetual motion kinetic sculpture marble machine, and built a balance scale. I made it big enough to be a Monty Python prop and my avatar nearly got crushed when I made the fulcrum and pans physical objects and the whole collection of objects crashed over sideways. I was glad that I didn't clobber my friend's friend's buildings and holiday ornaments. Note to self: next time try building on a half-meter scale instead of a ten-meter one.

I went back to my original goal of building a dodecahedron. I re-read some of the rotation help pages on the Second Life wiki and found a demonstration script on rotation that used a rotation vector. I think my difficulty is that I'm imagining rotation of objects in the X Y and Z axises as if I were moving them orthogonally, and the Euler motions are non-intuitive. The vector method of rotation (instead of thinking in terms of a theta angle in the X-Y plane and a phi angle in the Y-Z plane) produced results closer to what I wanted. No dodecahedron yet, but I did get a cool decahedral sculpture. The other difficulty in five-fold symmetry is that it's much easier to think (and manipulate objects) in four-fold symmetry.

What I've learned is that it is kind of fun to meet people as an avatar. I also like the idea of creating something in a virtual space and having other people interact with it. I write to get images from my head into others' heads, and Second Life lets me do this also. I like being an amateur designer, engineer and architect. Finally, there's something relaxing about manipulating geometric shapes -- on stressful days, ten minutes with a ruler and a compass is soothing.

I thought maybe I might be able to make some money creating objects in Second Life, but that's probably a pipe dream unless I start developing virtual sex toys.

And, while it's been fun, I need to manage how long I spend channeling a virtual Archimedes instead of writing. I think Second Life has been a nice little break, and building virtual objects is a lot like crafting a story -- noodling around might make something pretty, but going in with a clear idea helps to streamline the process and product.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Holiday Reading

Just back from the Wordos Holiday Reading. It was very fun. There was no knee-capping, but there seemed to be a preponderance of cannibalism. I think my "po-em" was well received, and I, at any rate, had a fun time reading it. There were lots of really cool short stories. And good food. Photo credit: Jerry Oltion.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Deck the Halls

The 18 inch gilt plaster angels are on the mantle & the copy of "The Grinch" is resting on top of the other holiday books. It's officially the Christmas season at our house.

We have our holiday picture, and the next task is to write a quick holiday missive...

Oh. And clean.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Creepy Spiritual Valley

The oddest thing about Second Life is my reaction to avatars. I remember instant messaging with Amy and some friends. Amy's avatar is similar enough to what I remember Amy looking like and unconsiousely, I was splicing her real life image onto the screen where she was virtually standing. One of Amy's friends -- who during the course of our interactions morphed from a guy, to a box, a red dragon, a teddy bear, and back to a guy (and several costume changes) -- and I were chatting and I realized that I was building a mental picture of what he looked like based on his avatar. In other words, I expect that if we ever meet (we're living on different coasts), he'd look like his humanoid character (this is in spite of his non-human appearances).

In other words, I'm unconsciously reacting to humanoid avatars as if they were real, even though I know they're virtual. This must be the Second Life version of the self / body dichotomy. Only in this case I have subjective proof of the split. And it's just a little freaky.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Perils of Second Life

For the record, this is all Ray Vukcevich's fault: he invited the Wordos to a reading. Not just any reading, a reading in Second Life, a virtual reality "world" where people painstakingly create avatars so they can be 17 Again (so *that's* what Annie Lennox was singing about).

I've had a lot of really great help learning how not to smack my avatar into virtual walls from my high school friend, Amy Beltaine. I'm still learning how not to walk off the edge of ramps and cliffs. Probably the most (to me) amusing Second Life moment was trying to find a little Pre-Raphealite flame to wear over my head, and engulfing my avatar completely in roaring flames. Then walking around like it was completely normal to be perambulating over a cliff in the middle of a conflagration.

The reading? Oh, yes. I was there, but then family duty called me away, so I only caught a few opening remarks over one of Second Life's audio channels. By then I'd managed to have a little flame hanging over my head instead of being a walking Olympic Torch. I even managed to take a seat without walking into the Christmas tree in the reading room's corner. I'm excited by the prospect of a prose/poetry reading in Second Life because it can make an event something between a podcast and a radio show.

When I got back to Second Life, the reading was over. All that was left was someone's steam-powered duck. Amy was on, so I zoomed over to her house. I met some of her very nice friends, one of them who turned into a dragon. We chatted and they gave me lots of great advice (and objects) and we got to edit birdbath and water primitives (primitives -- or prims -- are the simple polygons the Second Life world is made up of). So I missed a reading, but I got to talk with a dragon (Debbie Mumford will be so jealous) and collaborate on (essentially) a sculpture.

More later...

Monday, December 07, 2009

Where's Mom ?

Look out, John's trying a recipe from the Pre-Raphaelite Cookbook ...

Quck News

On the shoulder front: the stretches seem to be improving my flexibility, but of all the places to feel them, I'm feeling them in my left pinkie and ring finger (okay, and also in some of the usual knots on my left scapula). On nights when I sleep funny (at least I think that's the cause) I have a tension headache the next day.

On the weather front: no snow, but December is starting out appropriately cold.

On the writing front: time to send things out. I'm considering Dropbox as an off-site back-up option for my final version of manuscripts (I already back things up to a RAMstick).

I'm having a bout of writer-self-doubt -- I'm probably about where I should be in terms of number of sales per submissions, but on bad days I wonder about what I'm writing for. Am I a mediocre writer competing with really good writers for slots in magazines and is this a good use of my time? Could I write (ooops, I mean sell) better if I wrote in a different genre? Since (as my friend Kevin Keanan likes to remind us) author pay is a logrythmic power curve, how do I need to re-tool my attitude about "making it" as a writer and my contribution to my family and household.

I was having one of these self-hating moments when my gaze stopped at the illustration for my WOTF story, Mask Glass Magic. On one hand, it's a spooky picture, and Mark has a sensible attitude toward having his husband's spooky illustration prominently displayed on the wall. And, sometimes it feels like a faded laurel. But when I allow myself to enjoy it, I recall how exciting and satisfying it was to have concrete proof that the images in my head had jumped into someone else's mind. Lorraine Schleter, the illustrator, skillfully captured the essence of the story at the moment of its central conflict.

So, yeah. I write stories because I want to get into your head. I write stories because I want you to get into my head. I write stories where the characters choose mystery, beguilement, portents, wonder, awe, connection, majesty, and surprise. Mark would add, and they do the dishes, get some exercise, and eat well-balanced meals.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Friday, December 04, 2009

Irritating Pet Status

Ah yes. The hair.

I wanted to do a re-enactment of a famous print of an Asian woman combing her hair, but what I think I got was some guy trying to get his cat into the vet's.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Photo of the Day

Portrait of the author as a young Jedi. Or Robin Hood. We're not quite sure.