Sunday, August 26, 2007

First life Second life fame

The reporter from the Albuquerque paper said she'd been assigned to write a business article about the computer "game", Second Life. She'd gotten my name from google's UU World mention a few months ago, but was still quite hazy about Second Life and how it worked. So I tried to explain it to her. I gave her some names of other Albuquerque folks who were actually doing things on Second Life; it's been a long time since I was even there. I thought that would be the end of it, but a photographer called last week for an appointment; an article was to appear in the weekend paper, and they wanted my picture. Avatar and I appeared, top of the fold on the front page this morning.

News is slow in August.

My congregation was thrilled, and for whatever reason, church was packed this morning.

Here's the text. Considering the fact that I very foolishly let my "reporter-gard" down completely, I thought it came out pretty well.

People Do Business, Shop With Virtual Dollars, Even Worship in Internet-Based World

By Autumn Gray
Copyright © 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Assistant Business Editor
Members of a local Unitarian Universalist church know their senior minister as Christine Robinson. In her second life, she is Cathryn Cleanslate.
Albuquerque marketer Reid Givens calls his digital persona Reid Delaid.
And local software designer Lynne Whitehorn-Umphres assumes the name CoyoteAngel Dimsum in her virtual existence.
Each has taken up residency in an Internet-based realm called Second Life— a world of three-dimensional graphic design that imitates real life and has attracted 9 million users worldwide., created by San Francisco-based Linden Lab in 2003, offers a virtual society designed completely by its resident members. Members appear on-screen as animated representations of themselves, called avatars. They work, shop, play, dance— do practically anything they
can, or can't, do in this life. They even marry other avatars.
"It's fascinating how like real life it is," says Robinson, who has presided over a virtual wedding.
Second Life has also become a venue for business, networking and education. Even the University of New Mexico has property there, intending to expand its distance-learning capabilities.
International corporations like IBM, as well as small entrepreneurs, use the site to market their products and sell their wares— both virtual and real.
In one 24-hour period at the end of last week, Second Life residents had spent a little more than $1 million (yes, that's real money) on virtual purchases or activities.
The site has made national headlines recently due to its popularity. Last week, a Wall Street Journal story titled "Is This Man Cheating on His Wife?" wrote about concerns that users were neglecting their First Life to spend time with their Second Life.
That doesn't appear to be the case with Robinson, Whitehorse-Umphres and Givens— all appear to use it to enhance their real life.
Business opportunities are ultimately why Whitehorse-Umphres became a resident. Not only has she begun helping her spouse set up a jewelry store in Second Life, she also intends to begin her own high-tech, money-making venture.
Givens uses it as a continuing education tool— attending virtual meetings with others of similar professions to talk shop.
And Robinson says having a virtual church in Second Life gives her a chance to connect with a broader audience.
"We're basically in the business of helping people discuss their spiritual life," Robinson said of the church, "and this was just another way to do that."
Virtual worship
The First Unitarian Universalist Church of Second Life is an example of how the site works. It holds regular virtual services and has built a sanctuary on virtual property it purchased.
A three-dimensional visual wonder created by a UU artist, the church offers attending avatars cushioned seating, a flaming chalice, stone pulpit, lush plants and a waterfall flowing over rock walls.
Robinson found the church through a search engine on Second Life once she became a resident in the spring. On sabbatical from the First Unitarian Church of Albuquerque, she began ministering to the online congregation.
"They had worship services that were as real and as meaningful as anything I've felt in real life," she said.
Personally, Robinson says she has spent money for the virtual collection plate and has bought materials to make a virtual necklace for her avatar.
Be prepared to pay
Second Life has its own economy, based on the Linden currency, and real money gets exchanged. Roughly 275 Lindens ($L), which buy Second Life goods and services, can be bought with one real dollar ($US).
Registering for residency is free— if all you want is to exist and move about. Just create an avatar name and password, and you're in. A 3D graphics card, high-speed processor and broadband connection are helpful, too.
But, as in real life, property costs money, and if your goal is to start a business, own a home, or do anything of permanence, be prepared to pay.
Multinational corporations have gotten involved.
Pontiac and Nissan both have car dealerships in Second Life, and Nissan offers avatars a test-track to try out their driving skills on virtual cars; Coca-Cola recently launched a Hollywood-style premier there; and Microsoft has begun conducting interviews with the avatars of software engineers for real-world jobs, according to a recent segment on National Public Radio.
Avatars buy and sell everything from virtual sneakers at a store created by Nike, to textures for their hair and skin (avatars may have scales or horns, for example, as opposed to just looking human), to planes, and, yes, even sex. All are graphic renderings that can be used or worn or carried by avatars.
Software designer Whitehorn-Umphres is pursuing a job creating computer programs specifically for virtual technology.
She is also helping her spouse, Albuquerque jeweler Dana Whitehorn-Umphres, set up a gallery there.
The shop would allow avatars to try on virtual models of jewelry that exists in this world. An avatar could then purchase the graphically depicted item for wear online or a person might click an accompanying link allowing them to buy the real thing for the big bucks in this world.
Either way, Dana makes money.
"For people who are actual entrepreneurs, it's a brilliant environment to try this out," Lynne said.
Way of the future?
Futurist Lowell Catlett, a dean at New Mexico State University, has been speaking around the state about virtual worlds.
He says technologies like Second Life afford businesses one of the first living labs where social behavior can be watched and studied in real time.
Coldwell Banker earlier this year established an office in the virtual world, built more than 500 homes for sale and even purchased a helicopter to give avatars aerial tours of the subdivision.
Michael Wilsher, qualifying broker for the Rio Rancho offices of Coldwell Banker, has been encouraging his sellers— as recently as August— to create their own avatars and start networking and selling through the virtual land.
"I tell my agents, 'Guys, don't wait til everybody's doing it. Do it now. It's a no-brainer.' ''
"Yes, a lot of it is for fun," he says, "but people are actually buying things, and people actually make decisions (in Second Life)."
Educational uses
Second Life is also proving beneficial for education.
UNM's New Media and Extended Learning Department is interested in using the online environment to improve distance learning, says its director, Debby Knotts.
The department obtained property in Second Life through a national entity called the New Media Consortium, which bought an entire island in the virtual world for its members. UNM's plot sits adjacent to the Center for Digital Storytelling, Knotts said, though no UNM building exists yet.
Givens, who works in Albuquerque, uses Second Life more for continuing education than as a money-maker. He just became employed with a marketing company called MindSpace and says he attends a meeting called Coffee with Crayon developed by the marketing company Crayon.
The online forum attracts people in his profession nationwide.
"Everybody just talks shop," says Givens, who adds he also attends an occasional concert through a nightclub in Second Life.
"It is a tool," Givens says of the virtual world. "It's not going to revolutionize business and marketing, but it is going to have an impact. How much depends in part on the goal of the company."

By the numbers
9 million
Number of residents on
Number of people in-world in a recent seven-day period
$1 Million
Amount spent in a 24-hour period

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Happiness Is

My 18 year old apple tree, which had for several years been so overcome by coddling moths that we didn't get a single apple, has recovered to the point where almost half of the crop is worm-free and another quarter only lightly damaged. I had tried every organic thing I could try over the years; spraying is out because the tree overhangs our neighbor's narrow patio. In the end, I guess, the trick was several years of cleaning up under the tree (coddling moths bore a hole in the developing apple, eat the core leaving a disgusting mess, and when the rotting apple drops to the ground, burrows in the soil for the winter) and something called sticky traps; red apple-sized globes which are coated with the most remarkably sticky stuff ever invented. They're awful to deal with; the sticky stuff gets in everything, but they seem to be working, and I have apples again! I have such a sense of accomplishment: I've nursed a tree back to health. You don't do that every day! Joy, joy, joy!

Apple Sauce, apple butter, baked apples, fried apples, apple crisp, apples in hand, apple bread, apple cake, apple juice. Glory, Hallelujah!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Daily Prayer Books

mjae left a comment below asking about daily prayer books. The one I've used for years is to the right: Sounds of the Eternal by Phillip Newell. It's a non-Christian, Celtic Spirituality-based book, meant for interfaith worship. Phillip Newell is from Scotland, but spends a couple of months in residence at Casa del Sol at Ghost Ranch here in New Mexico, and after spending some time with him last Summer, I started working through Celtic Blessings..also to the right. It has daily Bible readings...beautifully rendered, about 6 weeks worth. I'm enjoying it as a structure to my morning time.

I'd love to hear more (see comments!) from readers about any daily prayer/meditation/reading they use!

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Postlude to Deathly Hallows

If you don’t want to know the ending of this book, don’t read on.

Several people in my church have told me how disappointed they were with the epilogue to Deathly Hallows, when Rowling relates the small doings of all the people who survived the era of Voldemort. What they named their children, what those children’s lives and anxieties were like, a few hints as to what the parents did for a living…it’s a domestic scene so utterly unlike the ferocious unreality of the body of the 7 books that, frankly, it’s a bit hard to take. All that blood, sweat, and tears, so that we’d know that 19 year old Teddy is kissing 18 year old Victoire, (oh, how I hate that Brittish expression “snogging”: I refuse to use it!) and that little Albus Severus is worring himself sick that he will be sorted into Slitherin House at school? It just doesn’t seem quite fitting. It just goes against our ironic natures; it’s a little too happy for UU’s, I think. It’s better suited to our neighbors in the Church of Religious Science from which we return, when we stray, shaking our heads saying, “They’re so….optimistic!” We want a few more scars, more PTSD, another generation family dysfunction. We think that is “realistic.” We UU’s didn’t fall very far from our Puritan tree.

I was disappointed too, but this odd little add-on is growing on me. A bit of a poem by my colleague Lynn Unger put it in perspective. She’s talking about the Lillies of the field and our obsession with our appointments. She ends,

Of course

your work will always matter.

Yet Solomon in all his glory

was not arrayed like one of these.

Life is supposed to be lovely and happy and free and focused on the small doings of our families and gardens. That’s what Jesus was trying to say. Lynn softens it to reassure us that the stands we take and the accomplishments of our appointments do also matter. But they are derivative. The lily itself is the important thing.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Wiki Wise

Yesterday, I had a little rite of passage; I edited my first Wikipedia article. (Wikipedia is a user-written, on-line encyclopedia) After avoiding Wikipedia for years because of its unreliable start up, and at the urging of my always correct (in matters of internet) 17 year old son, I started using it in my research and finding it useful and valuable. But then came a need to look up the details of the Half-way Covenant, an obscure piece of Puritan churchmanship which laid the foundations for Unitarianism. The Wikipedia article didn't explain the situation very well, and there was a banner at the top of the page begging for source material. So I got out of my chair, got my seminary American Religious History text down, looked up what I wanted, re-wrote the Wiki, and added chapter and verse. I wasn't absolutely sure I was doing it all right, but today when I checked, my edits and source were all there. It was a bit of a thrill!

Today's article comments that a web-based world might be good for liberalism in religion in the same way that the printing press was good for liberalism in it's day. When people started reading the Bible for themselves instead of just hearing sermons about it, it got them to actively thinking about what they believed and which church structures were biblical. Similarly, the information glut on the web and the user-activity of it all might get more people thinking actively about their faith. I hope he's right!

Friday, August 10, 2007


The book manuscript is IN!
All congratulations accepted!
Now the editors at Skinner House will do their magic on it. No doubt there's a bunch of work left, but this feels like a milestone. My co-author is celebrating with a vacation in England. I'm celebrating by getting back to blogging.

The book will provide resources for spiritual sharing groups, covenant groups, small group ministry, by whatever name. Most of the book consists of materials to help group members think about the topic, so that when they come to the group, they will not be speaking "off the top of their heads." Our title at the moment is Upon Consideration.

Now...back to the garden, the knitting, the reading, and the normal activities of Summer!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Hiroshima Day

The picture is the peace memorial in Hiroshima, depicting the child victim of cancer who died before she completed folding her 1,000th paper crane....which Japaneese folklore says gives the folder a long life.

It is so hard to hold two contrasting truths at the same time.

The suffering of Hiroshima was horrible, and the Bomb and its possible use has been a scourge on humanity ever since, hovering in the background of nightmares.

But it ended a war; a war which was justly fought against an aggressor. As my father (who, if I remember the story correctly, was boarding a ship for Japan when it happened) reminded me several times in my pacifist youth, if we hadn't dropped the bomb, I might not be here. The projected loss of life in the assault on Japan was very, very high.

It is hard, but it is possible, to mourn the terrible consequences of a thing that was rightly done. Indeed, I believe that if we are not to loose our humanity in the hurly burly of life, it is necessary to mourn the terrible consequences even of things rightly done.

Today is Hiroshima Day. With the now rebuilt city of Hiroshima, we must pray for peace.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Fruit Season

We're coming to the end of fruit season for the year. The blackberries are dwindling down to one serving a day. We've made our last blackberry sherbet for the year. The plums petered out last week, although the birds are still feasting on the remains. Peaches, cherries, and raspberries are long gone. The apple tree is heavy with fruit, but this tree is infested with coddling moths, so we'll get some apple juice out of it and perhaps one apple dessert.

We have several kinds of fruit pureed in the freezer, awaiting the smoothies which are a regular part of our diet. And we'll buy apples, oranges, and grapes through the year. I can't quite wrap my head around the experiment that Barbara Kingsolver made with her family and eat only in-season, local food, though I very much admire her values. (see side's a great book about food, cooking, gardening, and politics).

Still, the fruit season is a wonderful time of the year, and it's about over now.

Vegetable season is starting up. We have squash, peppers, and tomatoes, with cucumbers and beans on the way. But one does eat those last blackberries with great relish!