From Katrina to Talamasca

Ginny_talamasca

Oddly enough, Ginny Talamasca's appearance today in New World Notes was made possible by the greatest natural disaster to hit the United States this year. After Hurricane Katrina raked its way across the Gulf Coast, Second Life Residents launched a number of in-world relief efforts; one of them involved a lottery in our virtual New Orleans, with all ticket sales going to benefit Katrina's victims via the American Red Cross. For one of the prizes, I offered a screenshot and a short writeup on this blog. But rather than use his winning ticket on himself, George Backbite coyly sent me to the clothing emporium of Ginny Talamasca with instructions to take a screenshot of her as a gift from him.

Which is how, by pure double-barreled happenstance, I ended up meeting a fashion entrepeneur who makes a real income from her virtual clothing sales-- when she's not studying, that is, to find a better cure for cancer.

Continue reading "From Katrina to Talamasca" »

TRAVELING LIGHT

Cattrina_at_her_desk

Arranging real world travel from an online world (originally published here)... 

So for the first time yesterday, I'm momentarily tempted to use an in-world service I'm supposed to be reporting on for direct personal gain, because I still need to buy two tickets to Florida for the Christmas holidays, and this tall slinky redhead in the silk blue cheongsam and a steel collar around her neck, she could probably get me a bargain.

As it happens, the deals Cattrina Careless can offer now are for two other sunny destinations, one that I'm from, the other I've already been to. "Hawaii is always a popular destination so when GTI published that one," she says, "we had to include it. For the truly adventerous, Greece is a great place to visit and quite cheap with this week's special." You'd have to book and fly immediately she adds, "but if you have the opportunity you can save hundreds of dollars."

"GTI" is Global Travel International, an established and reputed web-based travel agency. Cattrina and her husband PajVar Kerensky are certified independant travel agents working with GTI, so I ask her if they know that their web business now has an online world branch, here on the lakeshore of Bella.

Cattrina Careless nods.  "Although I'm not sure they really understood what I was trying to explain," she says, laughing.

Their main goal for creating an office in-world is to fulfill the fervent need of Residents who want to meet in real life, for group get-togethers like the recent SLCC-- or for more personal, intimate meetings. Though they offer full travel packages with hotel and car to exotic destinations, most inquiries from potential clients have only asked about flights, she tells me. "[T]hey know where they want to go and are sure they don't need to make arrangements for accomodations," Cattrina says, grinning. "But one of the things I always recommend when moving [a relationship] offline is that you have your own transport and your own accomodation. There should be some personal safety involved whenever you do meet offline." Recently someone asked her how it'd cost to fly from the UK to meet someone in the States. "They were just considering the idea of visiting and wondered how much it would cost. It happens more than you might realize." (But then, I realize that quite well.) In a later interview, Kerensky mentions that he and Careless met and eventually married this way themselves, going from another online world to air travel between their homes on the US West Coast and Australia, respectively.

Their agency has black marble floors and high walls of smoked glass. A large couch is nearby, for folks who want to watch a Hawaii surf video, to get in the mood. On the wall are the current travel package offers, which are embedded with a web link that launches your browser, and takes you directly to a secured web page where you can complete the transaction.

"We do not take real life information in any way [here]," says Cattrina. "Global Travel takes any RL information, we simply help you select and personalize the trip you wish to take... we give you the details either in e-mail or here in-game of exact flight numbers, dates, hotels, etc. and a 1-800 number that you can call to finialize booking with Global Travel. Or if you prefer not to call, a direct web link to a page we have created for your travel choices." To earn their commission, they phone in the details of the deal to the agency, or supply their agent number to pass on to the GTI representative the client ends up talking to.

For a demo, I ask her about a New Orleans trip I've been wanting to take, even moreso after Katrina.

"OK," says Ms. Careless, "so what would you be looking at? Five star? Budget? Do you have a preference? In the French Quarter perhaps? The Saint Louis Hotel is the best in the French Quarter. I have a nice picture of the hotel rooms." She uploads and displays the digital snapshot of an ornate room.

Showing_new_orleans_hotel

"Nice," I decide, "though a little froufrou for me."

"Ahh, but that is the nature of this hotel, perhaps I can find one a little closer to your tastes. More modern? The Hotel Provincial is probably closer to your preferences... can't promise it isn't waterlogged right now, though." She uploads another room photo to show me.

I ask her if she's considered doing transactions through Linden Dollars, acting as a kind of virtual world Paypal, since they can just convert the payment into cash after the sale's completed.

"Yes and no. The primary concern of many people (and an honest concern it is too!) is the chance of having to give out real life information. We don't want to put them in that position, thus the direct interaction with a well-known travel company. If we took payment in Linden Dollars we would require personal information to make the final booking, like [real] name, etc. Not going to do that." She smiles sweetly. "One of the attractions of Second Life for many people is the anonimity that SL provides. Even when they are going to meet someone in real life they dont want some stranger to know who they are-- a valid concern."

In any case, their new agency has yet to complete a sale. "We have had a lot of interest, but as yet no one booking travel," she acknowledges. "But such is the nature of the travel agency business. Many people like to browse."

I wonder if the lack of sales has anything to do with the comparative strangeness of the setting, the surreal prospect of chatting with a femme fatale avatar so you can spend hundreds of dollars for a service that usually involves being strapped into a steel hull and sent airborne thousands of feet, flying at speeds approaching Mach One. Or maybe it's just the bulbous pink sculpture near the travel agency that's been nagging at my periphery throughout our conversation.

In any case, I finally have to ask.

Cattrina_careless

"You're a submissive wearing a steel collar with your master's name on it and there's a 50 foot animated penis tower right outside. Is that distracting to clients wanting to do business?"

Cattrina Careless laughs. "Unfortunately there is little we can do about the penis. We own most of Bella, however [the penis tower owner] owns what's left. And as you know we can do anything we want on our property.

"As for my collar," she adds, "you are actually the first person that has even mentioned it. So I don't believe it has worried anyone." Ms. Careless smiles. "We try to be professional in all our dealing with our customers and that's ultimately what counts."

IMPEACHABLE OFFENSE

Impeach_signs
A pervasive political statement or quasi-griefing scheme (or both) comes to Second Life-- again and again, and maybe yet again (originally published here)...

So when you're trying to run an honest sex club on a pleasant foothill off the highway, you probably want the clientele in the lobby to enjoy the view outside, while waiting to enjoy the services provided within. The mini-mall across the way, for example, or the mansions up the slope. Though maybe not the giant, multi-color sign floating right outside, the one emblazoned with the words "SUPPORT OUR TROOPS - End the Illegal War in Iraq - Restore US credibility - IMPEACH BUSH". Because even if the clientele happened to agree with the sentiment, it's probably not something that gets people in the mood.

Especially if it's a sign they've already seen in Second Life,in so many places -- floating above mountains, along roads next to castles and fine suburbs, next to shopping centers and casinos, looming over nightclubs and lakes.

"It's really annoying," OnnaYokai Yamabushi, proprietor of the Cage of Sin, told me. "It looks horrible, too. They're [on] really small parcels and priced way too high."

Impeach_land_for_sale

When I talked with her several weeks ago, one of the dozens of "Impeach Bush" signs that appeared in Second Life recently was hovering right outside the Cage of Sin. Like the rest of them, the property where the sign resided had been set for sale, at disproportionately high rates-- often L$500 or L$1000 (about $2 to $4, at market rates) for a plot of land no bigger than an Afghan rug. So if Mistress OnnaYokai wanted the call to impeach George W. Bush to darken her door no longer, she'd have to pay the price of a small latte. Or maybe even go high as Venti size.

Too steep for her, in any case. "I can deal with it," she told me. "I figure I just don't have to look out the window. I haven't had any of my guests complain about it, so it's not really hurting me in any way."

But the dozens of signs have had a lasting impact on Second Life culture, beginning with an enraged Forum topic on the subject.

"I play Second Life to get away from such nonsense," Ranma Tardis, a Resident from Japan, fumes to me after posting there. "This is suppose to be a happy place! Too rude, people deserve respect."

Counter_impeach_sign_sign

The in-world response has taken several forms-- most prominently, a rash of giant signs put up to decry the original signs. 

"Yes, I agree it doesn't help the view," acknowledges Dook Buckenburger, one of the counter-sign creators. "But if I don't do anything, will anyone? The fact that you're asking me about them means that it has, if maybe just a little, had the intended effect... I feel it is disgusting what this person is doing. It is painfully obvious this person is not making a political statement in any way."

In all this back and forth, Linden Lab has not taken a view on the spread of "Impeach Bush" signage across the continent one way or the other. They have removed a few of them, Daniel Linden, Director of Community Services, tells me. This has provoked complaints from Residents who support their message, and believed the Lindens were restricting free political speech.

Not at all, says Daniel Linden. "Some neighbors thought we were acting in a reactionary manner," he explains, "when in fact the only reason we removed them is they overhung parcel boundaries. Content is something that Linden Lab is not concerned with unless it crosses the line into 'broadly offensive'. The only time we'd remove a sign for content would be under that circumstance." (As spelled out in Linden Lab's Community Standards, that rubric includes publicly viewable profanity and nudity, for instance.) "There's no free speech issue as far as I'm concerned," he says.

As for their status as an "eyesore", Daniel Linden goes on, "It's not for us to decide the relative merit of construction in Second Life. We'd also remove the signs if they were script-intensive or a targeted attempt to harass another Resident." (Being a public figure, he adds, it would not become harassment if President Bush ever decided to get a Second Life account.) As for Residents accusations of "extortion", he continues, "If someone can demonstrate a concerted attempt to extort then we would appropriate action."

The day before Thanksgiving, I reached the owner of the many "Impeach Bush" plots scattered all over the world, interviewing him via a long series of IMs that he replied to, he says, via cell phone text messages while on a train cutting through Middle America. Rather than refer to him by his Second Life name, I'll call him "Jedidiah Profane"-- reflecting New World Notes' general standard not to give press to those engaged in griefing.

That's even though, in this case, Jedidiah Profane's signs don't explicity violate Linden policy. In my own judgment, griefing is at heart an attempt to violate the implicit social contract to sufficiently maintain the consensus reality necessary for an online world to function. By puncturing that illusion, artificially imposing reminders that we're not really in an alternate world of castles and clubs, and we're just displaying a stream of 3D images regulated by a monetized data management system onto our computers-- the magic leaks away. And then we really are just in a three-dimensional Web, and not another world. And whether it's an honest attempt to express a political opinion, or just a clever way to make money-- or perhaps more likely, a calculated experiment to test the limits of expression in Second Life-- I'm erring on the side of caution here.

But motivations are for the reader to decide. What follows after the break is my complete conversation with Jedidiah Profane, edited only for grammar and clarity.

Continue reading "IMPEACHABLE OFFENSE" »

POINT TO POINT: POINT, COUNTERPOINT

Arguments and counter-arguments for P2P teleportation...

Back when Second Life was a tiny world, Residents could magically teleport point-to-point: that is, from any place on the grid to any other place, just like that. Shortly after launching commercially, however, Linden Lab introduced "telehubs", scattered throughout the grid. From then on, when you teleported from point A to point B, you were actually sent to the telehub nearest to point B-- usually a few hundred meters away, meaning you had to travel the remaining distance on your own power (fly, walk, vehicle.) In the same way, in the offline world, that a public transit system tends to create a civic gathering place and neighborhood around each of its stops, telehubs were a way to mitigate the urban sprawl of a constantly expanding world. A place to meet folks, and a chance to look around, wherever you were going. Smart urban metaverse planning, in other words.

All that's about to change. Linden Lab recently announced that an imminent update would re-introduce P2P teleportation. Telehubs-- which, unsurprisingly, drove up the real estate prices of the surrounding land-- would then be transitioned into some kind of public/community space.

Also unsurprisingly, the decision has generated energetic Resident debate on whether this will be good for the world at large, so I offer two contrary opinions from the SL blogosphere. For P2P, there's Forseti Svarog, who addresses the fears that the end of telehubs will lead to urban blight with a 15,000 word rebuttal.  (So to speak.)  Offering close to 15,000 actual words is Gwyneth Llewelyn, who is decidedly more pessimistic:

In a sense, SL will be a place of isolated chatrooms, linked together through point-to-point teleporting. People will not care what is "in-between"... It won't simply interest them. Notions like urban planning or organic growth will simply not fit in this model — what will be important is the ultimate destination, not how and why you get there... This will definitely not "destroy" Second Life, or "destroy" SL's economy, or make everybody go away in disgust, or anything like that. The only thing that will happen is that Second Life won't be a "virtual country" any more — ever again. It will be a collection of snapshots linked together by teleports.

For my part, I wonder what will happen to the various technologies that Residents introduced in the era of telehubs to make traveling more efficient: specifically ROAM, created by Francis Chung and Rathe Underthorn, a fairly cool and ingenious means of traveling point-to-point through an auto-mapped, AI-piloted jetpack with a Google-style web interface for searching the places you want to go. (Torley Torgeson has write-ups on ROAM here and here.)

KILLING PRIMMIES

Primmies_march

Originally published here.

Primmies, winner of the 2005 Second Life Game Developer Contest, is the delightful strategy/puzzle/action game that resembles a multiplayer, three-dimensional Lemmings, challenging you to navigate your adorable tribes of Primmies across treacherous terrain, while preventing them from marching suicidally off the edge of the randomly generated maps which appear from a whirling vortex.

Primmies_level_generation

In naming it the overall winner, veteran game developer and contest judge Doug Church praised it as "a focused and self-contained game... a game sandbox to play in," full of nice details that provide "a fun closure to it."

Primmies_march_and_die

There's really just one problem with Primmies. Primmies is dead.

Co-creator Jeffrey Gomez discovered this shortly after the recent release of SL version 1.7, when he returned to the land he'd won from the contest, and fired his game up. The thing of it was (without overgeeking on the particulars) Linden Lab had just changed with 1.7 the way objects in the world handled collision detection. "Everything works but the Primmies themselves now," Gomez told me. "Who either collide with one another now (bad) or don't collide at all (worse)."

Or as Gomez surmises it, "Let's just say the cows have come home to roost."

For in his eyes, this was a sign of larger issues for scripters like him, as they attempt ever more ambitious projects that require months of development, through several updates. "[Y]ou had asked why big production games don't work in Second Life," he tells be. "That's why. The commands are just too subject to change at the higher levels... The higher-function stuffs, collisions especially, are changed pretty often." (In this particular case, an element in the collision system that would somtimes cause regions to crash was fixed, and in the fixing, Primmies was broken.) "It's tough working with code no one really understands enough to follow out to every logical conclusion," Gomez reasons. "Makes stuff impossible to predict."

Unsurprisingly, LL development coordinator Chris Linden sees it differently, pointing to Preview, which as the name suggests, is a pre-release version of Second Life where Resident developers and builders can test how the upcoming upgrade might impact projects they have in the works. "What is frustrating from our perspective," he e-mails me, "is that we advertise the Preview grid months before we launched 1.7. Jeffrey could easily have come to Preview and tested Primmies and discovered the problem and contacted us. If done early enough, there is a good chance we could have done something."

"The devs have been very supportive of fixing it..." Jeffrey acknowledges. "It's really not the fault of the coders. Or Preview grid. Or anything. It's a logical fallacy at the systems level. That being, when a new update goes live, it goes live everywhere. Contrast this with most systems builders and designers, who know it might break stuff, and basically give people the option to upgrade."

He explains his perspective in systemic terms, in comparison to the Internet itself.

"Current assumptions by the [Second Life] system:

1) Linden Lab controls all data.
2) LL employees are human beings, hence, they make mistakes.
3) All patches are final and happen everywhere at once, due to point 1.

Compare this with the way the Internet works:

1) No one controls all data.
2) People screw up.
3) Any changes to the system happen ONLY WHEN ADOPTED."

Beckett_beholds_a_primmie

If there's anything to be gained from the inadvertant death of Primmies, perhaps it's Jeffrey Gomez's exhaustive white paper on where he believes  the future of metaverse development should go. [5/17/06: Seems like Jeffrey's white paper has been moved-- will check with him on new location. - HL]

THE SECOND LIFE OF THOMAS P.M. BARNETT

Fsm_barnett_fan

Originally published here.

So one day, you're briefing General Abizaid and Central Command; another day, you're briefing the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

I spent much of this month worrying how great a leap it would be for someone like Barnett, going right from the halls of the powerful to something so apparently trivial as an online world. At the same time, I had an inkling the divide wasn't so vast. A thinker who calls the tradition of American governance the "source code" for the future and his army of nation builders a "SysAdmin force", Barnett is a digital age Wilsonian, merging a strong-jaw internationalism with the metrics of a culture already ablaze with broadband. (That's not even to mention his prediction of a near future when an online world will overthrow a real world dictatorship-- but more on that later.)

So maybe it wasn't so surprising, after all, that when we teleported to the Second Life island made for him, he easily found and donned the custom avatar by lilith Pendragon, chuckling while he watched his alter ego morph into something resembling him, then when we had trouble teleporting into the United Nation's Grand Assembly Hall, he just began the journey there on foot, where an engaged and fairly rambunctious audience already waited for him.

Un_exterior

And it was rambunctious. Since the talk started around Noon (PST), much of the audience there was from the EU, where it was early evening-- Britain, Germany, and France being the country names I caught, when my co-host SNOOPYBrown Zamboni gave an impromptu "Where you from?" shout-out to the audience at event's end. Generalizing broadly, most of the deepest skepticism to Barnett's ideas seemed to emanate from the European Residents gathered there. (Via Instant Message, one French
Resident described themselves as so scandalized that they were tempted to create tomatoes for the purpose of pelting Barnett's avatar.)

Barnett's own blog cites a review in a British publication which begins with qualified praise, but ends in a declarative, "[I]f you imagine modern Europe trying to follow his advice, you will laugh." It was fascinating to see that dynamic apparently play out in avatar form. And Barnett taking on all comers with a blogger's agile wit, when we moved to audience Q&A, generously staying with it for twice the 90 minutes alloted.

Continue reading "THE SECOND LIFE OF THOMAS P.M. BARNETT" »

HOMELAND SECURITY COMES TO SECOND LIFE

Originally published here.

Response

"Response" is the name of a private (but publicly accessible) island that happens to be owned by a top East Coast University. It's been built to resemble a small town in New England, not to evoke nostalgia, but to simulate and model emergency response behavior to very real dangers (fires, structure damage, and so on) in an online world. This morning, the leader of that university project (whose avatar is a cybernetic humanoid alien) will be giving a presentation on his work-- which happens to be funded by the United States Department ofHomeland Security. 

Educators and government/military officials have been exploring the national defense utility of online and virtual worlds for years, but now that they're doing so in a public setting in Second Life, it brings up all kinds of new challenges to my work as the embedded journalist. Up to now, "embedded" meant within the world of Second Life, reporting on the evolving community of Residents, mentioning the real world only insofar as it intersected with what they were creating and experiencing here. As with the New York convention last week, however, keeping those realities apart is becoming more and more difficult. This also means wondering when I'll need to drop the "embedded" part of my title altogether. Because not only do the worlds refuse to be kept apart, now that merger is being partially funded by US taxpayers, too.

Anyway, full announcement after the break. I won't actually be able to make this morning's event, myself, because as it turns out, I'm too busy hammering out the details on the Second Life visit by a guy who used to brief Donald Rumsfeld's staff and Senator John Kerry.

Second Life: A Platform for Homeland Security

The Synthetic Environments for Emergency Response Simulation (SEERS) project aims to provide cost effective mission rehearsal and virtual prototyping tools for the emergency response community. The project, which is funded by the U.S. Department ofHomeland Security, is part of the core research program of the Emergency Readiness and Response Research Center (ER3C) at Dartmouth College's Institute for Security Technology Studies.

Satchmo Prototype, a Dartmouth researcher, will give a presentation on the use of Second Life as a platform for creating synthetic environments forHomeland Security. He will discuss the pros and cons of the Second Life platform, present his work creating an environment for community emergency response teams and will lead a brainstorming session on other possible uses.

Day: Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Time: 10 am (gametime)
Location: Response (10,140)

For a teleport, IM Pietro Maracas [founder of the "RL Work in SL" group], Echinacea Wallaby, or Katherine Mullen.

THE HIROSHIMA MEMORIAL OF SNAKEKISS NOIR

Snakekiss_at_the_entrance

Re-imagining the unimaginable in an online world (originally published here)...

The tiny Eurasian girl with flame-red pigtails and implausibly enormous breasts greets me at the entrance and bows politely. After pleasantries are exchanged, Ms. Snakekiss Noir takes me through the hell she made, built between her time in Second Life as a landscape architect and her real life as a sex worker serving clients in Japan’s thriving adult entertainment industry.

“[T]his is Hiroshima Garden,” Ms. Noir says. “The reason Hamlet-san I chose a garden is that my normal 'fame' in Second Life is for beautiful tranquil peaceful Japanese gardens and villages. So this is the real view of destruction as contrast.”

Continue reading "THE HIROSHIMA MEMORIAL OF SNAKEKISS NOIR" »

TWO STORMS FOR FROST AND CALDERA

Samuel_frost

In Katrina's aftermath, an online community launches rescue missions for two of their own (originally published here)...

The first storm came for them by sea, hitting land with winds whipping faster than 150 miles per hour. Samuel Frost had gotten the warning to clear out of New Orleans the Saturday before last at 4:00pm local time. This was the city he'd lived in for all his 21 years; his fondest memory is running as a boy up Monkey Hill, the highest point of the Big Easy, and when he got to the top, rolling down the side like a lunatic. And unlike all the city storm warnings that had come before, for "this one we sensed we had to leave." He was out the door and heading out of New Orleans by 4:30pm.

"It was odd in that no one else was leaving and we were able to leave quickly," he remembers now. "We were out two days before the storm hit."

Vampira

In another Louisiana parish, Vampira Caldera and her family made a similar frantic escape, as Katrina kept closing in. After the evacuation orders hit, they left with nothing but the clothes they currently wore, and even then, their exit strategy was slapdash at best. "She thought it was very temporary," a friend tells me afterward. "Left her purse at home... Her son's shorts were falling down to his ankles. He did not take a belt; go figure. So many little things we don't think about."

So in later days, after Katrina had descended on the region at full gale, they were able to watch from relative safe distance their homes being lost to the rage. Samuel did so from a friend's home in upstate Louisiana. Vampira learned of it from a Mississipi trucker motel that she shared with her two children and four other evacuees. The power in the motel flickered with the storm, so television was sporadic. Instead, she read the same book twice, found the room's Gideon Bible and read that, wrote a country ballad about the storm for her daughter to sing. Her son, austistic and deprived of his medicine (since that was left at home in their rush to flee) was racked by fits of agitation. Outside, they watched Katrina rip a nearby roof off.

This would be their home for 7 days. 

And for a time there, it looked like it'd be their only home, since returning to New Orleans looked more and more like an impossibility; and if they did, what would there be for them to come back to, anyway?

That was the first storm to hit Frost and Caldera. But a second storm-- subtle, electronic, and encompassing the entire globe-- was quickly gathering around them.

In the days after Katrina's worst devastation, some of the Residents who knew them best and knew they were in New Orleans began reaching out to them. Vampira's friend Eos Zander, for example, sent her an Instant Message, and getting no reply (since after all, Vampira was currently at that truck stop without electricity, let alone a computer), also IM'd her in-world boyfriend, the charmingly-named MrTorture Whiplash. And since they were now a couple in real life as well, Whiplash was able to give her the hotel phone number to reach her at. (Samuel's in-world girlfriend Raven Pennyfeather also made similar inquiries after Frost.)

What happened next is an ongoing, inexplicable paradox of online worlds. Because once the needs were established, dozens if not hundreds of people around the globe began working separately and in concert to provide immediate, substantial real world assistance to two individuals that most of them had never met in person. Events were planned, benefits were raised, fees were collected. A Resident in Florida contacted Samuel, and offered him a place to live for awhile. "Will be starting out from scratch," Samuel tells me, via a phone call to Raven, who paraphrases for him. "Trying to get a job, car, and ultimately my independence once again."

After discerning the plight of Vampira Caldera and her family, Eos Zander sent out alerts to her Second Life friends, then set up donation boxes and planned a fundraising event at Wolf Castle with her friend Pepper Curie. The Linden Dollars began arriving from everywhere. They even came from Residents who didn't go to the event, but just read the announcements on the Forum bulletin board. "My posts in the Forums had people just giving me money even when I was offline-- 20K, 30K." It just kept coming.

By the first day, they'd raised the Linden Dollar equivalent of $300. More benefits followed, some planned by them, others arranged impromptu by friends or friends of friends. By late today, that sum had come to $700.

"We loved her actually," Pepper Curie tells me, when I ask about her interactions with Vampira. "She always came to our events and was a lot of fun and enjoyed SL very much... fun, spunky, quick wit, friendly." The description seems a little out of place for Vampira Caldera, given her fangs and skin as pale as death, and a poem in her profile that reads in part, "let the blackness roll on/mothers cold reptilian womb/ain't so cold tonight/my fingers trace the exit wound/my graveyard light."

But Pepper Curie just laughs when I point out the contrast. "Of course," she says. "We have friendly vampires here, you know. That is the fun of Second Life, people can express themselves in different ways." (And for that matter, what's New Orleans without vampires?)

Beyond the in-world benefits she'd spurred, Eos also found a place in Indiana where Vampira and her family could stay, for the time being. Then she rode with her real life husband to the border of Kentucky, to meet a minister who had driven Vampira and her children there from the motel.

So they met for the first time in the flesh on the state border. Eos had an observation for Vampira, when she got out of the car.

"I mentioned to her that she did not have fangs," Eos tells me.

Then they were hugging.

"HUGE HUG," says Eos. "Like we had known each other forever, just not seen each other for a long time. You know that feeling? We kept hugging each other."

Eos_and_vampira

She took them to their temporary home, a place where the needs of Vampira's autistic boy could be cared for. From there they'll go to a children's hospital to get his medications, and later, Eos will drive her around to government agencies. "Then we start work on getting documentation for her other necessities," Eos continues. "She may have a lead on two small single homes in the town where she is staying."

Of course, there was all that money she'd raised to account for, too. "Yesterday I gave her $400," says Eos. "I have another $200 here for her today." And because Vampira had left her ID and her bank card to the mercies of Katrina in New Orleans, this money transfer was cold hard cash on the barrel.

"Her eyes kind of bugged out but I think she was also a bit embarrassed," Eos Zander tells me. "I should have put it in an envelope. Not thinking," she adds, upbraiding herself. Then she grins. "She knew I was raising money, though."

When Vampira gets settled, her man Mr. Whiplash will be making the trip from Canada to visit her. (They've met in real life before, and were planning a meeting when Katrina imposed on their plans.)

"I wanna go there and help her out," Whiplash tells me.  "I don't got lots of money.  What I got is to get there."

For Eos Zander's part, I ask her why she's devoted so much time to help someone who was at most just a friendly acquaintance in Second Life, someone she found "to be very bright and witty, so enjoyed having her attend my events." It's also worth mentioning at this point that Eos has a chronic illness, and is prone to pain and exhaustion. (She almost had to cut our interview short for this very reason.)

"I have been an optimist all my life," she explains. "Don't dwell on myself. And if you're doing for others you're not obsessing about your illness."

Once he's settled with his friends in Florida, Samuel Frost will get back into Second Life-- the plan is to do so this Friday. 

As for Vampira, says Eos, "She's DYING to get to a computer. Once she has her kids settled in school I will have her over here."

KATRINA RELIEF IN SECOND LIFE

Creating_memorial_candles_at_waterhead

(Originally published here)

ReallyRick Metropolitan built a memorial to the victims of Katrina in Waterhead, and within hours of its creation, lit candles and other tributes had already been laid at the site. Metropolitan doesn't have any friends or relatives directly impacted by the disaster, but he was watching the news, and "I saw the pictures and was so overwhelmed. Once the reporters started crying I lost it." So with the help of Pathfinder Linden, he built the Waterhead site, which is not only a memorial, but an actual donation point-- if you have your web browser open while in Second Life, clicking on the sign launches you to a Yahoo page where you can contribute directly to the Red Cross. (Pathfinder and I are now working with Residents to set up a contribution system to turn Linden Dollars into to US$, so people can directly contribute their in-world currency to the relief effort.)

When I arrive in Waterhead, a man and woman are creating candles to contribute to the memorial. Their own real life intersection with Katrina cuts even closer.

"I have a friend that's still missing," Sunny Buttercup tells me, frowning. "No idea if she's OK. She's seven months pregnant." Sunny begins crying at that.

Sunny also worried about Jordon Jensen, the brawny man next to her, because he lives in the region, and went offline as Katrina closed in. Jordon now has the title "I survived Hurricane Katrina" over his head.

He was in a Louisina parish when it hit, he tells me.

"Oh my god," he says, "it was very bad, very wicked." Despite that, he didn't run away from the danger, but instead turned back, to where the storm had done some of its worst, in New Orleans. He wanted to get there to help.

"I drove to the foot of the causeway," he says, "and was turned around. And helped people on the way back and when I got home." A couple of his friends are still missing, though he hopes they've made it to Houston.

Katrina_survivor_tells_his_story_1

"I have never in my 43 years on earth even with the military or law enforcement seen this much destruction, it really scared me," Jordon Jensen tells us. "It's bad, man. The levee system in New Orleans was only built to withstand a category three hurricane." Katrina was a Cat 5.

To give some reference to his sense of destruction, Jordon was in the Middle East during Desert Storm. "I tried to go back [into the service after] 9/11 but no, I was too old... I don't think it will be as many lives lost [over Katrina, as the September 11 terrorist attacks.] But the destruction is going to be horrible... you have corpses floating out of graves.

"Hamlet," Jordon tells me, "the only thing I know to do is survive and help."

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