Terje Jansen, 1963-2023: Grieving a Loss in the Sansar Community

Today is a sad day.

Terje Jansen was a vital part of the small but dedicated Sansar community, known for his welcoming friendliness, his story-telling, and his Norwegian accent. He loved Sansar so much that he became a member of the new Sansar team, and his presence will be sorely missed by many.

Terje passed away on Feb. 13th, 2023, but it was not until yesterday afternoon that word of his death reached the Sansar Discord server, where it was met with shock and sadness.

There will be a number of events taking place in Sansar this week, an open mic chat on Monday, March 13th for those who knew Terje, plus a couple of memorials taking place on Saturday, March 18th. Please check the Sansar events listing for details on the times and locations of these and many other events.

If you wish to pay your respects, the Ebbe and Terje virtual in-world memorial is located here. Terje’s virtual tombstone sits on a small hill under an oak tree, right next to that of Ebbe Altberg, who was the CEO of Linden Lab, the company who originally created Sansar (he passed away in 2021).

Throughout the afternoon (my time), avatars would come and pay their respects, using text chat to share reminiscences and offer each other support.

There’s also a memorial webpage (it’s in Norwegian; please use your in-browser translator to read the tributes in English).

Sixteen Years of Second Life Landmarks: A Trip Down Memory Lane

My oldest Second Life avatar, with the legacy name of Heath Homewood, was created on March 20th, 2007, which means that in a couple of weeks he will be sixteen years old! (And yes, I can blame a work committee at my university library for falling down that particular rabbit hole; more details here in a blogpost I wrote in 2017.)

This evening, on a whim, I loaded Heath up, opened up the landmarks folder in his voluminous, never-cleaned-out-in-sixteen-years inventory, and tried teleporting into various saved landmarks, out of curiosity, just to see if they were still around.

Many were long since gone, of course; over 16 years, sims had often changed hands. More often than not, I got an error message that the non-mainland destination no longer existed at all on the Second Life grid. Sometimes, the new owner of the sim or parcel had set up an intruder alert system, which warned me that I was trespassing on private property and that I needed to be somewhere else within X number of seconds (the rude ones set it to 5 seconds, and in one case, 1 second!).

The virtual recreation of a Tim Horton’s coffee shop, one of the few places where I could meet up with other Canadians in Second Life, has also vanished into pixel dust now. (I have fond memories of sitting around a campfire set up outside the store, swapping stories with my fellow avatars. We used to get quite a varied crowd! It’s amazing how many virtual worlds recreated the concept of a central campfire as meeting spot, a concept we have seen again in newer metaverse platforms like AltspaceVR and VRChat.)

Similarly, the extremely detailed virtual recreation of Dresden’s Old Masters Picture Gallery, where I spent many hours wandering around the paintings, is no more (but you can get a sense of it from this September, 2007 WIRED article). Of course, Second Life is home to countless art galleries and museums, but I wish that this particular build were still around! It was a wonderful showcase.

Likewise, my landmark to the Body Doubles store, where you could purchase shapes and styling cards (with detailed information on what to buy where) to create avatars which looked like celebrities, past and present, is long gone. I suspect that they might have gotten into some trouble with the real-life lawyers representing the real-life agencies who owned and/or managed the rights to famous dead and living people!

However, I still have my Marilyn Monroe alt (no doubt created using the style card from Body Doubles), and I like to trot her out for special occasions, just to surprise people. I likewise have a late-stage Elvis Presley avatar, complete with black sideburns, sunglasses, a white glittery jumpsuit, a microphone with singing animations, and even some wearable, white-hot stage spotlights! I still pull him out from time to time, and have him sing and gyrate in some unsuspecting public space, like London City, just for the hell of it. Or have Elvis wander around the grid, looking for Priscilla… 😜

But amazingly, my first-saved and oldest landmark still worked after all these years! The Lost Gardens of Apollo is one of those historical builds which appears to have been preserved for posterity by Linden Lab (which does happen sometimes), and it remains very much the same as it was when I first visited it in 2007, with no modern mesh additions or replacements.

The Lost Gardens of Apollo

You can even take a self-guided balloon tour of the sim (with narration in one of nine different languages), to explore the fantastical architecture: the harbour, the soaring towers, and the floating islands. This used to be a popular place back in the day!

You can tour the Lost Gardens of Apollio via balloon

Another venerable Second Life landmark, the Ivory Tower of Primitives, functioned as an immersive teaching centre, where the first generations of SL builders learned how to create, modify, and assemble primitives (prims), well before the advent of mesh on the grid. It sits on Natoma, one of the first 16 so-called “mainland” sims created by Linden Lab in 2003.

The importance of this place cannot be underestimated. Innumerable Second Life content creators, who perhaps have since moved on to design for other, newer metaverse platforms using tools such as Blender, first got their start by working through the detailed, step-by-step tutorials at the Ivory Tower of Primitives! I was one of them myself (although I never really designed anything truly beautiful or useful, or ever set up a store for my rather limited creations).

There were a few places in Heath Homewood’s landmarks folder that still are around, even sixteen years later! The oldest store landmark that still worked for me was the Bahia Tiki beach house and decor store, which is still in operation (albeit with more modern, mesh offerings). I must have bought something there for my very first set up, a sandy beach on the Maso Ariol sim, a parcel I bought in 2007 and built on and tinkered with to for a little over a year, until I became one of the first tenants in the Bay City mid-century-themed neighbourhood in May of 2008.

The Bahia Tiki store is still around!

Another sim from my landmarks folder, which has stood the test of time is Neufreistadt, inspired by the pubs, cafés, and narrow streets of the real-life Bavarian town, Rothenburg ob der Tauber (here’s a SLURL that takes you to their Marktplatz, where there is a charming bookstore which I had landmarked back in 2007). It was somehow reassuring that, in a virtual world that was full of changes, I had found yet another place where time seemed to stand still.

An aerial view of the town of Neufreistadt

Neufreistadt is one of six regions operating under a long-running, over-arching government, the Confederation of Democratic Simulators, which bills itself as the oldest democracy in Second Life, dating back to 2004 (you can read more about its rich and eventful history here).

I then loaded up my librarian avatar, Notecard Writer, whom I created March 21st, 2007, as my “professional” avatar, as opposed to my “fun” avatar, Heath Homewood. And out of curiosity, I once again began checking out a few of the locations I had saved in the landmarks folder in Notecard Writer’s inventory, dating back to 2007.

Of course, the virtual library reference desk at the Second Life Library, where I used to volunteer evenings and weekends, and the other buildings at Info Island have long since been shut down, as part of the scaling back and downsizing of library services in Second Life (I wrote about it here in 2018). It turns out that expecting patrons to learn how to use SL to ask a reference question was too steep a learning curve, which makes sense. It was an interesting experiment while it lasted, though.

However, I am happy to report that one of Notecard’s landmarks, which still worked after 16 years, is the beloved International Spaceflight Museum, an educational project which was started in late 2005, and which has been at its present location on the Spaceport Alpha sim since early 2006. Here, you can explore models of the many rockets and shuttles which have taken humans into outer space over the decades.

The International Spaceflight Museum

Another spot still around after sixteen years is the Renaissance Island historical roleplay sim, which features a virtual reproduction of the Globe Theatre (exact SLURL), where works by William Shakespeare and other 16th and 17th century playwrights were produced. I don’t think the virtual version has been used for plays for several years now, though (and yes, that was definitely a thing!).

The Globe Theatre on Renaissance Island

Another SL store which has stood the test of time is The Omega Concern, a military vehicle vendor still in the same location after 16 years! I’m not even sure why I saved this as a landmark back in 2007, since I am not into military roleplay at all. I checked my inventory, and lo and behold, it turns out that Notecard Writer bought an anti-griefing tool called the Omicron from this store, to use while working shifts at the reference desk at the previously-mentioned Info Island! I believe the Omicron was recommended to me during my virtual librarian training, to keep those early SL griefers from launching me into orbit… 😜😜😜

The Omega Concern has been operating in the exact same location for 16 years!

One thing that I struggle to understand is why some long-disused locations are still up and running. For example, the NMC Campus sims are still on the Second Life grid, but utterly deserted; I can’t even remember the last time that any of them had been used for events. The notecard you receive upon teleporting in, which appears to date from 2010, speaks glowingly about the project and the first four years of its history, but frankly, most universities and colleges have long since moved on from Second Life at this point.

The NMC Campus sims appear to have been unused for quite some time
An aerial view of the deserted NMC Campus

But, apparently, somebody is still paying Linden Lab for the five non-mainland sims for the NMC Campus, even though nobody seems to have been using it for years. Or perhaps LL has taken those over as historical regions, as well. Strange. I wonder how many of these “ghost” sims are still on the grid.

I spent a very enjoyable evening teleporting around Second Life, and I plan to spend some more of my off-hours revisiting old landmarks in my avatars’ inventories, and take a trip down memory lane! I have (re)discovered places that I haven’t thought about—or visited—in years!! It was fun.

I hope that, as we approach the 20th anniversary of the surprisingly resilient virtual world of Second Life, this blogpost will make you decide to shake the cobwebs from your landmarks folder in your own SL inventory, and perhaps pay a return visit to some old haunts. You might be surprised to see what’s still around!

Editorial: Why Am I Buying a Meta Quest 2 Wireless VR Headset—After Swearing I Would Boycott Meta Hardware and Software Forever?

I will soon be the owner of a shiny new Meta Quest 2, as shown here in this screen capture from the Meta website

Longtime readers of this blog will know that I have, over the years, developed a well-founded aversion to Meta (the company formerly known as Facebook), its business practices based on surveillance capitalism, and its products and services.

For me, the final straw was when then-Facebook-now-Meta did an about-face, and insisted that users of its then-Oculus-now-Meta virtual reality hardware had to set up accounts on the Facebook social network in order to use the devices (more on that in a moment). I angrily responded by giving away my Oculus Quest 1 to my brother’s family, and upgrading my trusty Oculus Rift to a Valve Index headset using SteamVR. I was DONE with Meta, and I was willing to vote with my feet (and my wallet).

So, it might come as a surprise to some people, to learn that I have decided to purchase a shiny new Meta Quest 2 wireless virtual reality headset. Why did I do this? Several points, which I will take one at a time.

Well, first and foremost, Meta blinked and backtracked after much criticism; you no longer need to set up a Facebook account to use the Meta Quest 2 (although you still have the option to link your Facebook or Instagram account to your Meta account, if you so wish). Instead, you set up a new Meta account for your device, as explained in the following YouTube video from six months ago:

It is now possible to have up to four Meta accounts per device, with one as an admin account, and you will be able to share some (not all, some) apps between Meta accounts using a new app-sharing feature. Note that Meta is still dragging its feet in setting up systems for use in business and academic circles; its “Meta Quest for Business” program is still in beta test with a (U.S. only) waiting list, a rather mystifying decision given the push Meta is already trying to make with Horizon Workrooms for corporate users. Then again, Meta seems to be just generally flailing (and failing) with its still-recent pivot to the metaverse, so who knows?

Second, as you may remember, I am still working on a project to set up a virtual reality lab within the University of Manitoba Libraries. While my original proposal was to purchase and install four high-end PCVR workstations using HTC Vive Pro 2 tethered headsets, we are now looking at offering faculty, staff, and students a wider variety of headsets for use in their teaching, learning, and research activities.

It’s probably not wise to purchase only one kind of VR hardware, which leaves you vulnerable if a company decides to shut down (although this is highly unlikely in the case of both HTC and Meta!). Best not to put all our eggs into one basket; life tends to throw all kinds of unexpected curveballs at you!

One unintended consequence of the coronavirus pandemic is that I had several successive years’ worth of travel and expense funds carried over and built up, some of which had to be spent by a certain deadline, or I would lose the money. So part of that funding went towards a brand-new work PC with a good graphics card, and an HTC Vive Pro 2 Office Kit, which of course is one of the models we are looking at purchasing for the virtual reality lab. However, I still had some money left over that I had to spend soon, and I decided to also buy a Meta Quest 2 as another testing unit, since we are considering also using that device in the virtual reality lab.

Third: while hunting around for easy-to-use, introductory demonstrations of virtual reality for those coworkers who have never experienced VR before, like Felix & Paul Studio’s excellent Introduction to Virtual Reality, I discovered to my great dismay that many apps were only available for Meta devices, and not available on SteamVR at all!

Unfortunately, some VR apps are exclusive to Meta VR headsets

In other words, some of the programs which students might want to use force us to purchase headsets on which they can run. This “walled garden” approach is antithetical to setting up an academic VR lab, where ideally we should be able to run any app on any headset. However, we have little choice, given the way the marketplace is currently structured (and especially given Meta’s outsized influence, with a little under 20 million Quests of various kinds sold, which makes it by far the most popular VR headset).

The University of Manitoba’s School of Nursing recently opened the first virtual reality lab on campus, and they are only using Meta Quest 2 headsets. This lab is currently training nursing students using UbiSim software, with plans to expand its offerings over time (more info here on Mastodon). And the U of M’s Computer Science department is also planning to use Meta Quest 2s in its planned VR lab.

The VR lab at the University of Manitoba School of Nursing

In other words, you can choose not to dance with the 900-pound gorilla in the room (i.e., Meta), but it will severely limit your choice of dance partners! And that is why, despite my lingering antipathy towards Mark Zuckerberg and his company’s business practices, we will likely be buying a number of Meta Quest 2 headsets to add to our planned virtual reality laboratory at the University of Manitoba Libraries, starting with a single test unit purchased on my travel and expense funds for work.

Wish me luck; I am off on yet another adventure!

Second Life Steals, Deals, and Freebies: The Hatter Is Mad Hunt at Meander/Me, Running March 1st to 31st, 2023

I have kept my word in significantly scaling back my coverage of Second Life on this blog, but today I chanced upon an Alice-in-Wonderland-themed hunt at a womenswear store called Meander/Me.

The proprietor of Meander/Me, Lemania Indigo, is someone whom I actually worked for, back in ye olde pre-mesh Second Life era of system-layers-and-flexiprim clothing! Yes, Vanity Fair once worked as a mannequin in Lemania’s first store, modeling new outfits and answering customer questions. I only worked there for a short time, but I do remember the experience fondly, and I often pay return visits to see what she’s been up to.

Of course, Lemania Indigo has moved on to embrace rigged mesh clothing, and she does such beautiful work! And you have a chance to sample some of her wares with a March hunt, which is fairly easy.

You are hunting for large pink Mad Hatter tophats, which are scattered throughout the store, with prizes ranging in price from L$5 to L$75. Here are the hunt legends: prizes 1 through 4 make up a whimsical Cheshire Cat outfit:

But prizes 5 and 6 were what prompted me to write up this quick blogpost! Behold the romantic Princess Alice ombre ballgown, which comes with a matching hair flower accessory, and it includes a texture HUD with 22 stunning colour options! (The Princess Alice gown prize is L$75, but I’m sure you’ll agree, that it is good value for the money; the necklace is a separate hunt prize, and costs only L$5.)

And here is my alt, Scarborough Fair, wearing the Princess Alice ballgown, which comes in sizes to fit Maitreya Lara; Meshbody Legacy; Slink Physique and Hourglass; Belleza Freya, Isis, and Venus; and the Tonic Curvy and Fine mesh bodies. (The hair flowers are an unrigged, adjustable attachment, which come with the gown.)

I mean, we all know by now, that Auntie Ryan is always a sucker for a beautiful ballgown! 😉

The Hatter Is Mad hunt ends March 31st, 2023, so, like the White Rabbit, don’t be late! Here’s your taxi. Oh, and I forgot to mention that the Princess Alice gown is a hunt exclusive, and not available for retail sale in the store.