Monthly Archives: January 2007

Not the RPG of Our Forefathers

I’ve been using Second Life (SL) recently in an effort to veg out a bit before I get busy at work again. It’s nice as far as chat programs go because while many people use it, it’s not hopelessly infested by bots advertising porn (i.e. like AIM chat rooms). I’ve been logging into SL on a semi-regular basis basically just looking for something to do. For those of you who don’t use it, here’s a typical snapshot.


You can’t tell from the pic, but the people in the “Elbow Room” are dancing. The dude in jeans in the foreground is “me”.

So anyways, my usual modus operandi is to log in and fly (yes, fly) around to arbitrarily chosen locations and see if there are any interesting conversations going on. Sometimes I’ll just open up the world map and randomly select a spot to visit, just to find something new. (Note: the SL world is huge — it’s population is on the order of that of Rhode Island). They say you can do anything in SL, and that may be true, but on my “random” explorations the most frequent things I encounter are related to people creating/selling either SL content or pornography. There are definitely activities for those interested in the arts or education or other pass-times, but for me they have been hard to find consistently. More often then not I end up logging out more bored than I was when I logged in.

Last night I was on my random patrol when I ended up in a quaint medieval-looking area. As I entered a window popped up that told me the rules of this area… Alot of it was pretty standard, though perhaps more strict than most communities. They had a lot of weird restrictions for visitors. It also kept mentioning something about slaves that I didn’t really pay attention to. What I did gather was that the residents of this area were into some kind of role playing game. “Cool” I thought, “I used to be into the RPGs. Maybe this will be neat.”

So I obtained a visitors permit for this area (something you don’t usually need to visit a new area) and proceeded with my regular exploration. The permit was publically viewable in the form of text that floated over my head reading “VISITOR”. Pretty quickly I ran into a woman named Jewell who was dressed in-line with the medieval decor… Jewell greeted me with some words I didn’t recognize as English, which I soon realized were part of a mini-language they had created for the RPG. “Cool” I thought, “this is probably too intense of an RPG for me, but I should still take a look around and see what it’s all about”.

When Jewell realized that I was not going to answer her unless she spoke English, she welcomed me to the area and offered to give me a tour. “Cool” I thought, “this could be fun. At least they are nice.”

When we were about to leave, another avatar came onto the scene. He was dressed as I would imagine a “fighter” in Dungeons and Dragons would have dressed, right down to the armor, sword, and hunting horn. Jewell introduced him as Adham and told me that he could give me an even better tour than her because he had keys to locations that she did not. “Cool” I thought, “I’m gonna get a VIP tour!”

I’m going to try to recreate the ensuing conversation.

Adham: Tal.

Me: Pardon?

Adham: Do you know Gor?

I had gleaned from the “house rules” that Gorean was the language they used.

Me: You mean Gorean?

Adham: Yes.

Me: I apologize, I do not.

Adham: What are you doing here?

Me: I’m a visitor, I’m just exploring.

Adham: Why exactly are you here?

It’s very common in SL that when you tell someone you’re looking for something to do, they’ll ask you what your interests are and try to help you find a community that you’ll have fun in, so there wasn’t anything so odd about his question. Continuing on:

Jewell: Adham, why don’t you explain it to him, nicely.

Adham: Okay…

Adham: Do you prefer domination or submission?

This one caught me a bit off guard, but I was willing to role with it. Something about slaves in the house rules crept into my consciouness for an instant and then was gone.

Me: I really haven’t tried either. So what do you guys do here anyways?

Adham: Are you interested in BDSM?

A few things started to make sense.

Me: (silence for 30 seconds or so)

Me: (meekly shrugs shoulders)

Me: (30 more seconds of silence)

Me: I’m.. not really sure… what I’m interested in. I suppose I should think about it and get back to you.

Adham: That would probably be best.

Me: Thank you for your time, have a good night. (begin to walk away)

Jewell: If you’d like you can add me to your list of friends and let me know if you have any questions.

Me: That would be fantastic! (Please don’t hurt me!)

I beat a hasty retreat. I don’t have any a priori objection to people participating in BDSM play, but it’s not something I’m currently interested in, and it caught me a bit off guard. At the same time, I didn’t want to insult anyone by overreacting. After all, I had essentially wandered into their ‘hood. A retrospective google search for the word “Gorean” taught me that there were clues about what was going on long before I had any inkling of what I had haplessly wandered into.

Has anyone else had anything like this happen to them?


Posted by on January 22, 2007 in Entertainment



A Classic Holiday Tale

A Classic Holiday Tale

It reminds me of all things Christmas.

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Posted by on January 17, 2007 in Photos


Ethice ex Machina

“Ethics is important when goods collide. It’s no problem deciding between something bad and something good – where ethics really comes is when you have two good things two decide with and you must decide between them because it has consequences.” – Roald Hoffman, 2006

Do ethics arise naturally out of the pursuit of science? What, if anything, about the scientific process inherently forces scientists to confront ethical issues in their work? Last July, Professor of Chemistry and Nobel Laureate Roald Hoffman gave a talk (update: search for ‘ethics’ at the talk link) on this subject at the Annual Meeting of Nobel Laureates in Lindau, Germany.

There’s been an increasing spotlight on scandalous acts of fraud in the scientific community. Hoffman gives an elloquent overview of how the peer review process and the scientific method force scienctists to come to terms with their work, themselves, and eachother in such a way that ethical conduct arises natually, and in doing so marginallizes sensational scandals. Communication forces researchers to confront ethical quandries that must be faced, evaded, or navigated, and it is this negotiation that promotes ethical conduct.

The upshot of this is that while scientists may not necessarily be ethical, science itself acts as a set of rails for behavior in the scientific community. Having such a self-correcting system is important, because otherwise it may seem like the only reason for ethical behavior amongst scientists is the fear of being caught.

Hoffman’s talk raises some excellent questions about the motivation for ethical behavior, the critical importance (to ethics) of publishing experimental methods, and how our ethics need to be excercised so that they do not wither and atrophy. The talk is long, but if you can make it to the last 5 minutes he closes with a cool interpretation of the story of The Garden of Eden and how Original Sin was our first foray into the world of experimental ethics.

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Posted by on January 16, 2007 in Alchemy, Garbage In, Garbage Out


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This looks like a nice place to grow up.

This looks like a nice place to grow up.

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Posted by on January 9, 2007 in Photos


Tom Welling Weighs in on Politics

I just caught up on my DVR’d “Smallville”. The summary for the most recent episode caught my attention:

Clark discovers his neighbor holding migrant laborers captive and forcing them to work on his farm.

umm.. What? An episode of Smallville that deals with the problems of undocumented aliens? The best part of the episode is when Martha Kent insists on calling the sheriff to report the kid that Clark is harboring, and Clark pleads with her to wait since technically he’s an “illegal immigrant” as well.

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Posted by on January 8, 2007 in Entertainment



1024 x 768

I’ve been thinking of making a New Year’s Resolution, and it’s tied in to the purpose of writing this blog. 

I want to more openly express my opinion without worrying quite so much about what others think.  Recently, I took a “cognitive style self-assessment” administered by a human resources guru, and came back with the result “Introverted Sensing Thinking Judging” (ISTJ).  I won’t break down the results piece by piece because the descriptions are rather detailed, but one trait of the ISTJ personality is that they usually only express their opinion if it is directly solicited.  This is true for me, but beyond that, when my peers express their opinions I have a tendency to temper my own view in order to avoid conflict; in many cases such aversion results in missed opportunities for thoughtful discussion or self-development.  

Phoebe once told me that my housemate dislikes the fact that I have started vocalizing my opinion more often.  Whether or not Phoebe’s account of what he said is correct, my initial reaction was pride.  I want to confront people more, rather than shrink back and nod my head every time someone disagrees with me.  Honestly I feel like I’m being callous to even suggest such a thing, but as Mumbles teaches us, sometimes you do everyone a disservice by pretending to agree. 

My resolution, in short, is to grow a new spine for the new year.


Posted by on January 1, 2007 in Garbage In, Garbage Out