Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The very secret life of Second Life

I have an addiction and it seems to be a tough one to beat. I am wrestling with the thought that I need help; a support group, perhaps like in a 12 step program. I to find a local chapter of AAAvatars Anonymous.

Hello, my name is Robert and I am a Second Life junkie. I have been hooked on Second Life (SL) for several years. I was able to give it up once but I recently fell off the wagon.

If any of you followed my first blog Zenboomer you may have watched as I experimented with Second Life under the pretense of a journalist, reporting dispassionately in third-person about that interesting virtual world. And perhaps you thought the experiment had ended with my final blog entry. Well, Partially it did.

So why did I go back? Well years ago back when I did my first skydive I did what was called a “tandem” – I was fastened by a harness to an experienced skydiver as a “passenger”. I just went along for the ride. But I had do know for myself if I could skydive on my own; totally and completely responsible for my own success and safety. I accomplished that.

My initial foray into Second Life was a similar experiment in that my initial entry into that world was as an "observer". I took on a false persona much different than my own; indulging in fantasy and experiences usually outside my own real life experiences. The ZenBoomer blog was my chronicle of that experience. But after I left Second Life, I wondered what it might be like to live in a virtual world as “me”. So I crafted a new avatar (trying to make it look sort of like me) and re-entered the Second Life world. It was kind of like being in the Witness Protection Program.

Being “me” in Second Life was much easier in some ways; and yet more difficult in others. I conducted myself there as I would, as I do, in the Real World (termed RL in Second Life). This meant that when people asked me direct questions, like if I was married, or what my age is, I answered them truthfully. Predictably, the responses were what one would expect in RL; some responded positively, in other cases, friends disappeared.

SL content is overwhelmingly user-created. As a result, there is a remarkable amount of creativity expressed there. Some places are amazing – but at some point, the experience becomes sterile without other people to share it with. Imagine spending an entire day at Disneyland by yourself; not another living soul to be seen. It would be rather strange.

So what brings people back to SL are the social and human interactions. The avatars are operated by real people with wants and needs and quirks and baggage and creativity… and emotions. Strong emotions, I discovered.

And just like drugs or alcohol can make one feel good, some of the emotional connections one makes there can be equally as compelling... intoxicating. If one is not careful, one can get caught up in emotional situations that have very deep ramifications.

The particulars of what happened to me during my second foray there is much too personal for me to share here. I will say only that I came away from my second experience in SL with some new realizations about myself and people I care about. I have made a new friendship that now exists outside of SL in RL and I hope to continue that friendship.

Anything truly worth doing carries some level of risk, be it skydiving or starting a business or setting out on a course of self-introspection. Often we don’t always realize the risks when we first embark on any journey. But I have no regrets about most of the risks I’ve taken, including my brief step briefly back into Second Life. It isn’t for everybody, but I can assure you… it is more than a game... Infinitely more.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

There's no immunity from stupid.

I consider myself to be of average intelligence, perhaps even a tad over the far side of the bell curve. But sometimes I'm just not paying attention.

I recently needed to reserve a conference room at the local library. Being the sort of guy who prefers taking the easy course of action with any task, I looked up the library web site to find the conference room schedule; it wasn't posted online. However, while paging through the library web site, clearly posted on the main page was an announcement that the library would be closed on the 21st for a library staff meeting.

Unable to find the library conference room schedule on their web site, I decided to stop in at the library and inquire in person; I had to run some other errands so it was no inconvenience to drop in there.

When I arrived at the library I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were plenty of available parking spaces in front of the building. I had no trouble finding a parking place.

I casually noticed one of those orange and white striped construction barrier sawhorse thingies in front of the steps leading up to the building. There was a sign on it, but I just assumed that they were blocking off the steps for some construction. Behind the barrier on the steps were a bunch of high school, maybe junior high school, kids milling around on the steps jostling each other and talking trash. I figured there was some event happening and the sign on the sawhorse was somehow related. So I skirted the barrier and the kids and strolled up the handicapped ramp to the library front door.

I pulled on the library front door and... nothing. It was securely locked. I peered inside; the library was dark. It was then that I stepped back and noticed the sign... the one taped to the door clearly stating that the library would be closed on the 21st for a library staff meeting. I opened my cell phone to check the date: April 21st.

Suddenly this eerie feeling came over me that I was the focus of attention; turning to leave I distinctly sensed that my intellect was being most brutally judged by countless pairs of unyielding adolescent eyes. I walked past the horde and around the construction barrier on which a "Library Closed " sign was neatly affixed.

The kids didn't need to say a word... I looked like a complete idiot!!

On the drive home I wondered just how much stupidity in the world might be the result of just simply not paying attention.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Country of Europe

Americans are seeing something radically new in the news that they rarely see… satellite photographs of Europe.

Wait a minute…Where??!!

The Eyjafjallajokull volcano (no, I can’t pronounce it either) in Iceland has erupted sending an atmospheric ash plume over northern Europe, bringing airline traffic virtually to a standstill.

Now normally anything that happens in Europe, actually anywhere outside the good ol’ US of A, is of no interest whatsoever to most Americans. So then why has the Eyjafjallajokull volcano eruption garnered any news airtime at all?

Because it affected Americans – American tourists and American dollars!

It is estimated that New York is losing tourism dollars due to 12,000 fewer tourists a day. And of course, this European problem is causing Americans to not be able to return home, forcing them instead to cough up more Euros as they camp out in luxury hotels waiting for their canceled flights to be reinstated. Awwwww.

The frightening thing is that most Americans can't find Iceland on a map, let alone the European continent. Case in point...

And it only gets worse...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Happy Garbage Day Eve !!

I have convinced my granddaughter into celebrating a new holiday with me: Garbage Day Eve. (Some of you may know her already as Lydia, the Fairy Scientist.) Every Tuesday, the municipal waste utility in our town picks up the garbage, recycling and yard debris. So every Monday is the day BEFORE garbage pick up – it’s Garbage Day Eve.

I was not sure my granddaughter really believed in Garbage Day Eve. I challenged her apparent lack of faith. So to prove her devotion to the holiday to me, she scribbled her testament in crayon on a paper plate . Hey, It’s documentary proof – I am convinced that she is now a believer.

We even sing Garbage Day Eve carols together:

It’s garbage day, oh yes its garbage day,
It’s our very very special day.
We take all the garbage that’s down at our feet;
Gather it up and throw it out in the street.

It’s garbage day, oh yes its garbage day,
How could anybody stay away?
We take all the garbage that’s down on the floor,
Gather it up and throw it out the front door.

Garbage day is special in that, unlike all the other holidays, Garbage Day Eve only comes fifty-two times a year. It is indeed a truly festive Garbage Day Eve if we have sufficient garbage to put out all three (garbage, recycling and yard debris) containers for pick up on a single day.

I even have my granddaughter petitioning her school to allow her the day off as a school holiday. Unfortunately her mother is undermining the request, claiming Garbage Day Eve is not (yet) a recognized national holiday.

Still, there are at least two of us who believe and our numbers are growing. We believe we have convinced her younger brother to join our movement; we are already teaching him the carols (Well currently there is only one carol, at this point) but this bodes quite well for the movement, we think. Only 6.8 billion more people need to be convinced to join us in celebrating this festive day.

Happy Garbage Day Eve, everyone !!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A cold beer in heaven.

Below is a poem written and read by Jerry Andrus – the clip is from my documentary, Andrus; the Man, the Mind & the Magic. Of the segments in the film of Jerry reading his poetry, this has to be one of my favorites. I will admit, my wife and I found the concept strikingly thought-provoking.

I think most people believe they will go to heaven when they die. I am sure they believe it to be a wonderfully beautiful and desirable place; but in most cases I don’t believe they put much thought into it beyond that.

For example, many assume they will be reunited with their deceased loved ones. I wonder though; will my mother-in-law still be old and in her wheel chair? No, she will probably be up and walking – but will she still be elderly and overweight with graying hair or will she instead appear like the beautiful girl she was as a bride at age seventeen? Would I even recognize her? Will I recognize my grandparents who died before I was born… my great grandparents… my great great great grandparents?

Will there be reformed bad people in heaven? I am told that sinners who renounce their sin and take Jesus into their hearts will be forgiven and taken into heaven. Does that mean that horrible (former) criminals will be there; child rapists or murderers? Will a father encounter his child’s murderer in heaven? Or would they possibly sit down and have a beer together? (Is there even the joy of a cold beer in heaven, and can it give you a “buzz”?) A place with no cool refreshing beer – it doesn’t sound like my idea of paradise.

Heaven sounds kind of boring! I asked a Mormon missionary who came to my door one time what they thought you did in heaven every day. She said you “learn about god”. Ok, learn about god… month after year after decade after century… forever? Do we get a recess for a billion or two years?

Suppose you were a gifted surgeon whose skill saved lives; your work giving you satisfaction and purpose. But no one in heaven needs your skill. Think of how much of your consciousness is built upon the challenges, risks, disappointments, failures and successes in your life. Take all those experiences from you to where existence is now perfect; where you cannot make anything better or help anyone because no one needs help. How could you stand that for a billion-billion years?

What about things that give us joy on earth now? Do I need a parachute to skydive? I won't die if I don't; there is no risk therefore no "thrill". Do I even need to eat? I certainly won't starve to death or presumably, even get hungry - but I do enjoy eating some foods. Disappointing. Will I need to sleep; will there even be night and day? How can there if there is no sun to revolve around heaven? I think one thing I would truly miss in heaven – sunsets!

One could argue that heaven is beyond our ability to comprehend, an experience far beyond the limits our brains could understand. But what of our consciousness, the genetics and experiences that have constructed the personality that makes each of uniquely individual? Is it not sometimes the little imperfections, quirks, personality of a loved one that endears them to us? How is this consciousness to remain engaged and intact; occupied and challenged, even “sane” for eternity?

The finality of life gives impetus to our existence on earth. I find the idea of heaven very uncomforting, disturbing to me, in fact. Rather, I find comfort instead knowing my body is made up of countless trillions of sub-atomic particles cooked up in the furnaces of stars. They have been assembled in the universe by well understood processes to assemble Me! Entropy will over time return these particles again to be redistributed back into the same universe. Therein lies my immortality.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

What goes around...

I just came across this article on the CBS News web site about a bit of an "oops" moment for the Conservatives in this country.

The Republican party has been getting a bit cozy with the idiot Tea Bagger movement in their mindless opposition to everything Democratic and Obama. In nurturing their moronic tirade against all things "government" the Tea Baggers are urging their members to NOT complete the census forms!!

The Tea Baggers, in their never ending idiocy in proclaiming the census to be unconstitutional, seem to forget that the taking of the census actually IS enshrined in our Constitution (Article 1, Section 2); and is one of the more simple patriotic acts a citizen could perform.

However, the thought recently dawned on the Republican Party that if masses of their moron minions do not compete their census forms, they will be under counted... possibly resulting in changing the representation in Congress. Yes, you see, census numbers are used to determine the makeup of congressional districts. If a bunch of right wing nut jobs don't compete their census forms, it could be a significant advantage to the Democrats in the halls of congress.


The article linked above contains a video of a rather stoic Karl Rove encouraging people to compete and send in their census forms.

I have this very naughty desire to log into several of these Tea Bagger web sites and rant about how filling out the census form will allow the government to implant mind control chips in their brains and make them all divorce their spouses and marry gay people.

For the facts refuting what the conspiracy nuts are saying about the census, check out this video put out by FactCheck.org.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Voyeuring in on Molly and McGee

Ordinarily I do not promote WebCams as the vast majority of them are really lame. However, Nancy has been completely hooked on Molly and McGee, a pair of barn owls nesting in a box in San Marcos, California.

The couple who put up the nesting box outfitted it with two web cams; a color for daytime and a night vision camera. The couple occasionally come on an narrate the progress of the the pair and answer questions from viewers.

We have watched several of the eggs hatch in to three (or four) incredibly ugly baby owls. The cams are sound enabled so we can hear them in the background when we are on the computer - usually there is a huge ruckus as the male brings his lady fresh mice, rats and occasionally, a rabbit. The kids delightfully chirp as Molly tears the heads off the evening meal.

I encourage everyone to check out this cam, it truly is fascinating as Molly and McGee dutifully attend to their brood and one another. The link is: http://www.sportsmansparadiseonline.com/Live_Owl_Nest_Box_Cam.html

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The what with the what, now...?

One thing 25 years of marriage has taught me is that couples need to continually work on their communication. This is an ongoing (may I add occasionally agonizing) process.

One thing my wife has not learned yet, thought, is that if I am doing ANYTHING else than listening to what she is saying, like working on the computer or watching TV or writing or walking and chewing gum, I cannot understand what she just said. This is because men generally are not good multi-taskers. It’s a male thing – it’s in our genetic makeup. Women genetically are much more adept at multi-tasking; they can bounce a kid, do the laundry and write a thesis all at one time. Men; not so much… we need to focus on one thing at a time.

The ramification of this defect is that most of what my wife tells me is relegated to a kind of a feminine white noise in the background of my experience. Often I don't quite understand what my wife has just said and so ask her to repeat it. More often, however, she already knows I didn't comprehend and repeats it to me anyway. I usually act like I heard her right the first time. But usually I didn't.

One night we had checked into a motel and were in bed beginning to doze off. A car pulled into the parking lot and the beam from its HEADLIGHTS flashed momentarily across the wall. So in my dreamy stupor state she says "Oh my, what are those… head lights"?

In mortal terror I fly of bed, yelling for her to turn on the lights and get the hell out of the bed.

Wife: “What on earth is wrong with you!!??”

Me: "I thought you said Head Lice".