Editorial: Crypto/Blockchain is Becoming a Cesspool

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Image by TheDigitalArtist on Pixabay
Ever since I encountered my first blockchain-based virtual world, Decentraland, back in February, I have been watching the marketplace closely. Many companies have announced social VR platforms based on the blockchain; either they are selling a cryptocurrency for use in their virtual worlds, or are using blockchain technology in some another way, such as registering ownership of virtual land. I have joined the Discord and Telegram channels for the various metaverse-building companies and avidly followed the discussions and arguments taking place. I have scanned their websites. I have read through all their white papers.

The hype surrounding blockchain technology has now reached unprecedented levels. Some of the claims made by companies (or their cheerleaders) for blockchain-based virtual worlds have been misguided at best and deluded at worst (here’s just one example). Bold promises are being made for virtual places which you cannot even visit yet, or which only exist in skeleton form.

In some cases, the use of blockchain is a solution where there wasn’t a problem in the first place, as someone else recently pointed out when commenting on one product. In other cases, companies may be feeding the impression that their blockchain-based coin/token/land will only gain in value, without making the risk clear. Investors who have not done their proper due diligence have jumped on board many recent ICOs and ITOs, hoping to score huge profits similar to those who were early investors in Bitcoin and Ethereum.

Frankly, one of the few companies I have encountered in this area that actually has some substance behind all the hype is Virtual Universe, and I have given video proof as to why I am looking forward to their product launch. But the often-misleading and sometimes-shady statements of some blockchain-based virtual world companies are tainting the entire marketplace, including VU. If I were an investor, I wouldn’t touch any of them with a ten-foot pole.

As I have stated before, I am part of the Virtual Universe (VU) Initial Coin Offering Partner Program (I’m currently number two on their VU Token Leaderboard). The main reason I am participating in that program is that it’s the only legal way I can earn VU tokens before the social VR space launches later this summer (as a Canadian I cannot buy tokens). But I refuse to put one cent of my own money into any cryptocurrency at this point, and I advise anybody who wishes to do so, to do every single scrap of their homework before investing in any product or service. It’s simply too risky.

For example, I am currently a member of the Staramba Spaces Telegram community, and I has been watching with increasing dismay over the past week as numerous people report that scammers are trying to steal their money by impersonating Staramba staff and direct-messaging potential customers, posing as agents for the Staramba initial token offering. The entire Staramba ITO has been a shambles, with the company having to hurriedly suspend the buying of tokens by credit card until a later date. (And why would you choose to go deeper into debt to buy a blockchain token in the first place? It’s insanity.)

The actions of a few bad apples (both individuals and companies) are threatening to spoil the entire barrel. Also, greed is driving investors into ill-informed and risky speculation, and currently, there is a crypto feeding frenzy that is starting to remind me of Shark Week. I fear that this is a financial bubble that will hurt many investors when it implodes. Caveat emptor!

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Sansar Pick of the Day: The Secret of Mount Shasta

Today’s pick of the day is the grand prize winning Sansar experience created by Abramelin Wolfe, called The Secret of Mount Shasta.

You start off on a snowy mountain, where the winter winds howl and a deserted campsite is found next to the entrance of a cave. A note near one of the tents describes a search to find the Lemurian Ascended Masters that live deep inside Mount Shasta, and warns of danger ahead.

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Inside the cave, you must navigate a labyrinth and solve cleverly constructed puzzles to get, step by step, to the goal of your quest. I regret to report that I spent an hour, but failed to get past one of the tests in the middle of the maze. With every failure, you are teleported back to the spawn point to start over again (although the previously solved puzzles seem to remain solved when you pass them a second time).

I can certainly see why the judges picked this as the winner of the US$5,000 first prize! The Secret of Mount Shasta is wonderfully fun to play and fiendishly difficult to solve. Congratulations, Abramelin!

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NOTE: You can install the Sansar software client, if you don’t already have it, at https://www.sansar.com/download. And then you can visit and explore this experience by searching for “Mount Shasta” in the Sansar Atlas, or just by clicking this link: The Secret of Mount Shasta.

UPDATED: Why I Am Giving Up On AltspaceVR

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I’ve explored quite a few social VR/virtual world platforms on this blog, both old and new, but (so far) I have only completely given up on one product: SurrealVR, which was such a spectacular fail, after multiple attempts, that I simply gave up in frustration.

Today, I am reluctantly adding a second metaverse product to the list: AltspaceVR. It’s not because the company behind it has failed, or the platform has been shut down. I’m giving up on AltspaceVR because, since mid-May, when I upgraded to the latest version of the client software (where you get to choose your new “home” location), I have been unable to get the software to run at all on my high-end Windows PC.

Every time I try, the AltspaceVR client software locks up my computer so badly that I need to do a hard reboot by pressing the power button on my PC to turn it off and on again. I was hoping that one of their regular client updates via Oculus would fix the problem; no dice. I have uninstalled and reinstalled the software, and the problem remains. I have gone through this cycle multiple times now, and I have given up.

I have kicked the tires on a lot of social VR/virtual world client software, and this is the most serious recurring software problem I have come across since I first bought my Oculus Rift and Touch in January 2017. I’ve pretty much been able to get every other piece of software I’ve tried on this computer to run, except for SurrealVR, so I know it’s not a hardware problem.

The last time I was actually able to get into AltspaceVR, it crashed on me when I was trying to set my home. Maybe that’s the problem now, that it can’t find any home for me and it locks? But then a clean reinstall would fix the issue, and it hasn’t.

If Microsoft had bothered to create some official AltspaceVR user forums like most other virtual world platforms, I could at least post the problem and ask the group for a solution. (There’s an unofficial AltspaceVR Discord server, which has about 300 users.) The only option is to submit a support ticket from their support page.

So, until I can get some assurance from AltspaceVR’s tech support that it won’t continue to do this, I’m dropping AltspaceVR from the list of virtual worlds I pop into regularly. I mean, it’s not like there’s nowhere else to go! 😉

UPDATE June 25th: I have heard back from someone on the unofficial AltspaceVR Discord channel, who tells me:

Hey Ryan, you’re not alone. There is a workaround, if you’re willing, and they are aware of the problem. They should have fixed it by now, but it’s got something to do with the 2D screen mirror on your desktop while in VR. It only happens when you first enter a space. The consistently working solution is to minimize the app until it is loaded into a space and then leave it minimized while you play. Another option is to cover it with another window on your desktop, that has the same effect.

So, if Microsoft is aware of the problem, then why the hell haven’t they informed the userbase? Why is there no mention of it on their FAQs on their support page?!??

Not impressed.

2nd UPDATE June 25th: I have received an email message from the AltspaceVR community team in response to my bug report:

Hello Ryan,

This is a bug that we’re currently aware of. It is affecting a number of users, many of which are on high-end PCs. We’re currently investigating possible solutions.

I will be sure to let you know when we push an update targeting these issues.

A Tour of the SL 15th Anniversary Exhibits

Today, instead of the usual Saturday morning Atlas Hopping in Sansar, Drax and Berry led a group of avatars in Second Life to various exhibits on the 24-sim expanse of the SL Community Celebration going on all this week.

The following beautiful sculpture is from an SL 15th Anniversary exhibit called Cammino & Vivo Capovolto by Mistero Hifeng:

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Here is Strawberry Singh’s livestream of the event: