Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

Band of Brothers

Saturday, June 28th, 2014

Together Again

Together Again

(From left, William, David, Matthew, James, Andrew.)

Our far-flung family makes it difficult to get group pictures like this, but for special occasions it becomes possible. In this case a rare grand harmonic convergence occurred when my younger brother Dave married his Wendy. He’s the happiest-looking one in the light shirt.

I often reflect on how lucky I am to be a part of this family. Not everything in my life has gone the way I wanted, but the five of us are still here, still relatively healthy, and even on speaking terms with each other.

We have all taken different paths in life, but we are all still going. I love you guys.


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A Day To Thank All Mothers. Especially my own.

Sunday, May 12th, 2013

momIs it too much to ask, a day of thanks — in return for a lifetime of love?

I am a man.  I will never know the pain of childbirth.  My mother went through it five times!

She met my father at a Maryland College For Women dance in the fall of 1948. About 55 midshipmen were bused in for the dance from the Naval Academy.  He cut in on a Plebe and never let go of her.  They were married eight months later.

We all miss him; he logged out of the game in 2003 from natural causes after 54 years of marriage.  But my mother is still with us, still giving and caring. She never remarried.

He was a hard act to follow. She lives on, still strong, still driving her own car, still running the church library and its computer.

After my B.S. degree and some graduate school at FSU I moved North for many years.  Maybe I am an ungrateful jerk, but there were reasons we don’t need to go into here and now; maybe later. This is not about me. I have to keep remembering that. This is Mother’s Day.

Let me tell you a little about my mother.

When her first first son William was an infant, schools warned parents not to meddle in the business of education. She listened to them — at first — and soon discovered Bill was just not learning to read.  So she decided maybe the “experts” were not getting it right. My mother bought 3-by-5 index cards and even made flash cards from the sheets of cardboard inside store-bought shirts. When you have five sons you get a lot of those.

my brothersShe started teaching us English in earnest, buying Dr. Seuss books to read to us along with the flash cards she drilled us with. Her second son James had no problems with reading. My younger brother David learned reading early, watching over my shoulder as I learned. All of us can read. We read well. When I reached 9th grade I was tested and found to have a 14th grade reading level! Thanks, mom. No one ever gave me a greater gift than that.

And my brother Bill, who struggled at first?  Bill has a PhD now, in machine learning. He teaches and works at George Mason University.

Almost all of our extra instruction came from my mom. You see, my dad was out at sea a lot of the time, on aircraft carriers like the USS Enterprise, CVN-65.  (He became the Air Boss of it.)

It is not easy being a Navy mother of 5 boys. It can be hard to cope with such a brood of little hellions with Dad away at sea a lot when they are young. But she did more than cope. Sometimes she tells me she should have done better at it, when I disappoint her.

But I think she did just fine. More than fine. None of us went to prison. All of us attended college. Most of us did time in the Navy. We are all still alive, like her.

We all owe her our lives and the stable family environment she provided us and our father.

Thanks, mom. If anyone deserves a day set aside to remember the sacrifices they made and the love they gave, it’s you.

I hope you know we all love you.


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Identity Crisis

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

The journey continues.

Welcome back. Sorry I don’t update as often as I would like to. I’m new at this, and my struggles to earn money to pay bills have to come first when there is too much month at the end of the money. I make no money from this blog; I am a Web Developer and the recent U.S. recession hit me hard. I went from a $75,000 a year job to nothing…and have been struggling ever since.

A note to my comment posters: I appreciate feedback, but I am afraid I WILL delete comments that (a) contain long lists of commercial links or that (b) are in languages I personally cannot read.  I will not be responsible for indecipherable content, and, with ap0logies, that includes languages other than English. I appreciate that other languages exist and are preferred by many…but feedback that I cannot read myself does not help me.

This time, I’d like to explore the world of alternate identities. Some virtual worlds only support one current login per user, but many others allow you to run more than one instance of the client program at the same time. And most allow you to create more than one avatar.

This creates two types of virtual multiple personalities: (a) serial multiples and (b) parallel multiples.

If the virtual world only allows one client program instance to be running at any given time per user account, we have the possibility of serial multiplicity. That is user A can choose to log in as avatar A1, A2, A3, …etc. You can log in as Cyril the Conqueror, vanquish demons, log off, log back in as Princess Frogkisser and chat with handsome princes, and so on.

(Notice I slipped a sub theme in there….your avatars can be different genders, for men who want to play women sometimes or vice versa …)

This sort of thing is handy, especially in online games such as City of Heroes, where you might get bored with the powers of one superhero and decide you want to play another one for a bit. In RP environments such as Second Life, you may have different avatars built for different roleplay themes and may prefer to change avatars for different roles rather than go through the tedious beusiness of changing skins, clothing, weapons, hair, etc. to configure yourself for play in a particular sim.

This “serial multiplicity” brings up some ethical issues, however. In simulations or games where you can be captured by enemies, it can be too tempting to log out and log in as a different virtual person so that you do not have to spend your valuable time looking out of a cage at your gloating captors. A captures B1, but B1 pretends to “crash” and logs out and logs back in as B2, free as a bird.  The serious roleplayers in places such as SL Gor sims really hate this sort of thing, because it defeats the whole point of capturing anyone. It is like being able to teleport right out of a jail, and if everyone did that, what would be the point in working to capture anyone?

In addition to negating the effect of simulating capture, there are virtual military advantages to be exploited by using serial multiplicity. For in the situation above, for example, suppose A and B1 are in rival factions or armies of opposing cities. If B1 is captured, that reduces the forces his army can bring to bear in battles. But if B1 just logs out and logs back in as B2, who is in the same army as B1, then the military advantage of the other army is eliminated with the stroke of a key. The player they captured is back in action and attacking, and their prison cell is empty. You must admit that this is cheating, and the ability to do this makes many roleplayers announce that they will not have any dealings with players who have other alts.

Consider another possibility, maybe even worse than the foregoing. When B1 logs out of his captured avatar and logs back in as B2, maybe that B2 is a citizen of the enemy city that A is from. This allows B1’s army to spy on the enemy whenever they want. How do you fight an enemy whose members can blend in with your own…any time they like?

I am tempted to utter the commandment: thou shalt not play on both sides of any conflict. But it would be useless for me to advise this rule….since there is no known way to enforce it. It is once of the unresolved issued of multiple-avatar user accounts. I am open to suggestions as to how any virtual world can allow more than one avatar per account and still avoid these kinds of cheating.

Since we are on the subject of cheating, let’s open a related can of worms. People form relationships in cyberspace and some of these are supposed to be exclusive, in spite of the fact that the persons involved never meet in Real Life. if you invest time and energy getting to know a special someone, you might think it only reasonable to ask them to stick with you and not spread them selves too thin to have time for you, by seeking other virtual lovers.

Serial multiplicity destroys any assurance of cyber fidelity. if your cybermate is not online (or if you are just bored with him/her/it), you can always create a new avatar and take your alt in search of cyberlove also. Again, as above, there seems to be no way to avoid this loophole, apart from limiting users to single-avatar accounts. It is one of those features of cyberspace that you either accept or ignore, since it usually cannot be prevented.

Okay, let’s beat a new dead horse. Enough of serial multiplicity. Now it gets even weirder. PARALLEL multiplicity. With some virtual worlds you can alter the command line associated with the launching icon and enable the client program to run as more than one instance. Now, B can log in as B1 and B2 at the same time!

This opens a near-infinite can of worms. Those two ladies you see talking to each other over there? Be careful what you say to either of them — they might be the same person in real life. Oh, and that military conflict we were talking about? Guess what: the opposing generals are the same guy!

Parallel multiplicity offer endless ways to mess with people’s heads. If you break up with girl A and meet girl B…you might be just talking to “A 2.0″. She can get back together with you by pretending to be a different person. You can log in as guy B AND as girl C who appears to adore B, so to make other ladies jealous. And so on. Parallel multiplicity means that you appear as a couple.

Parallel multiplicity brings up so many issues it is hard to know where to start. You can go to a dance contest as a man + woman couple and win both the male and female prizes. You can beat yourself up in order to establish your street cred with a cybergang. You can buy products from yourself to inflate your product popularity ratings. You can secretly vote for yourself in surveys and elections. It is astonishing how many of our real world practices and values include the automatic assumption that every person has one and only one body. We carry these assumptions over into the cyberspace realms without bothering to remember that it might not be the same there.

Now I am sure some of you might think I am advocating for single-avatar only cyberspace, perhaps one in which we all wear UPC bar codes or some other version of the Mark of The Beast to uniquely identify us. Far from it. To legislate mono-identity virtuality would be so sacrifice one of the key advantages of cyberspace: the freedom to reinvent ourselves.

Let’s try to hang onto freedom without driving each other crazy, ok?  –MRK

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Virtual Ethics 101

Friday, June 5th, 2009

OK, so maybe you are walking on the wild side. Maybe very wild. Don’t worry, I won’t tell.

Now, lets consider how one might go about constructing an ethics that could apply to such a mercurial and evanescent phenonenon as the life in virtual space. Party pooper! you scoff. We can do whatever we want!

Ok, maybe it is true that in many ways you can do whatever you want. And if you do not care whether you have any virtual friends, I am sure you will. Because in many virtual worlds, escaping any possible consequences is as easy as merely creating a new account, a new identity, a new avatar. Wasn’t me! That was some other guy/lady/monster.

I will address myself, however, to the (hopefully) majority of you who do care whether you are liked or not. Although I have had my “don’t give a fork” days, I usually classify myself as belonging to this non-sociopathic group — the society of civilized beings. Since I do not exist in a vacuum (oh all right, my background is in Physics, yes I know that technically we do all exist in a vacuum…I meant metaphorically) socially, I am affected in various ways by my interactions with other entities, whether they exist in real or virtual space. As they are by their interactions with me. That being the case, it would seem that one might suggest guidelines for behaviour (not thought, of course…we must be free to think whatever we wish in the privacy of our own heads) with respect to other entities.

It would be the height of facile simplicity to moan that we should all follow the Golden Rule: treat others as we wish to be treated. But let’s face it: not all others want to be treated the way we want to be treated. For example: suppose I meet someone who is role-playing being a slave. Presumably, this person would prefer, in the context of the role play (not necessarily in real life) that i treat him/her as if he/she were a slave. Now I, personally, do not want to be treated like a slave. So if I follow the Golden Rule, forgive the pun, slavishly, and treat this person in the way that I personally wish to be treated, i.e. as a free person, then I might claim I am acting properly.  But am I?

Here is a case in which in attempting to follow a common ethical principle I am, in actuality, acting contrary to someone else’s wishes. I am not treating the other person in the way they want to be treated….just in the way that I want to be treated. In such a situation, while I claim to be acting morally, the other person could retort that I am merely acting selfishly. (Incidentally, if you think that this is a purely hypothetical situation, then I suggest that you visit a virtual world such as one of the Gor sims in Second Life, where such situations are “real” and frequent.)

I am led, therefore, to propose that a more generalized version of the Golden Rule is required:

“When appropriate, treat others as they wish to be treated, as you would prefer that you be treated as you wish to be treated.”

What this boils down to is repecting the right of others to pretend. If someone is “wearing” the avatar-shape of a dog and going about on all fours, they probably do not want to be treated as if they are a wizard or a Elf. If someone is wearing wizard robes and waving a magic staff, they probably would not appreciate a lecture on the unreality of magic in modern society. If someone is wearing a collar and kneeling as a slave, they probably do not want you to insist that they act like a free person. It is a matter of respecting their right to play the role they have chosen. If you disapprove of dogs, wizards, or slavery, that is your right, and you do not have to be a dog, a wizard, or a slave. But when we are talking about pretending, about virtual as opposed to real worlds, it seems only fair to allow others to pretend whatever they want, if you want the same right to pretend to be what you want to be.

Now, notice that I inserted the phrase “when appropriate” at the beginning of this meta-Golden Rule. That was for obvious reasons. If a person is masochistic, and wants others to be cruel to them (or to pretend to be cruel to them), I do not feel that this obligates me to act in a way that is uncomfortable for me. I am not a masochist. To be forced or expected to beat everyone who cries “beat me!” would be painful to me psychologically, and thus I feel it is unfair and invalid to expect me to adhere to such expectations. If you want to pretend to be a god, then do so…but don’t expect me to worship you….unless that is the local rule, a rule that I have explicitly agreed to by joining a simulation in which such a thing is required.

Honor the pretensions of others when you join them in their realms of pretense. If you do not wish to do so, then find your own venues and follow your own inclinations there. If you disapprove of even pretend slavery, don’t bother to go where it is virtually practiced — those who value such let’s-pretend scenarios do not appreciate moralizing as if they were actually oppressing people in real life. They find it either amusing or obnoxious. It interferes with their suspension of disbelief and their role playing. Similarly, people who like to pretend to be vampires or demons or various kinds of villains rarely appreciate do-gooders lecturing them on ethics….unless it is a discourse that is appropriate and natural for the roleplay situation you are in.

And please, do not dismiss this as all just a version of “play nice, kids”. While you could consider roleplaying in virtual worlds to be “merely” playing, some might insist that it is simply acting correctly in alternate realities, validly exploring other modalities of being.

As the saying goes, “be…all that you can be”.  And allow others the same freedom. –MRK

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Here Today…

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

Over forty years ago Star Trek greeted its viewers with the words “Space: the Final Frontier”. But is it?

Okay, geographically speaking, sure. Unless we find a way to get outside the Universe into some parallel reality, space contains all of the planets we will ever find, and, thus, can be said to be the Final Frontier.

But let’s not limit ourselves to mere geography. Cyberspace, the universe of data, contains or will eventually contain, all known information about all known or discovered panets, as well as all of the stories, theories, dreams, and conjectures of all planets that could be, might be, or may someday be. Cyberspace is the final frontier, IMHO.

Back to living in cyberspace. In my last post I asked how such an existence is affecting the perceptions, expectations, and relationships of the humans inhabiting it.

A lot can (and has, and will be) written on this subject. Let’s take one parameter as a starting point: the lifetime of a romantic relationship. How long will it last?

Okay, all you cynics can tune out now. For the rest of you who believe in, and value, a relationship between two caring individuals, this is a significant question. Those who are content to drift in and out of random assignations may not care, but the rest of us (I hope) do want something that lasts, that has more meaning than incidental pleasure.

I’ve had relationships in both real life and virtual life, and some that took place in both. One thing that I have noticed is, it seems that the majority of relationships that take place solely or mostly in virtual realilty are rather brief. Meet, greet, make with the sweet, then back on the street. Why is this?

Here is a perfect example of how virtual living is affecting the expectations of its inhabitants. I think it is a fast-forwarding of the grass-is-always-greener principle caused by the exploding multiplicity of alternatives.

Wow, vocab overdose! All right. What I mean is simply this: the fewer alternatives you have, the more stable your decisions are. You stay in a job until you find a better one. You stay in a relationship until or unless the feeling dies, OR you (c’mon, we’ve all done it, fess up) start to think that maybe there is a better alternative.

Long ago, when we lived in small isolated communities, people paired up in monogamous couples and alternatives dried up; the pairings were more or less stable. But nowadays, with our increased mobility and visibility, we can go places and see more…alternatives. And as our culture has become increasingly mobile, we seem to have become increasingly fickle. Divorce is common, when it used to be more rare. Living together, that easier-exit-strategy pairing methodology, has become prevalent. Commitment seems so come with an expiration date, like packaged food.

It is a no-brainer to extrapolate this principle to the Internet and relationships in cyberspace. The internet now contains, at any given second, more surfers than the population of the largest cities on earth. Online games and communities containing millions of users put people in contact with exponentially more “alternatives” than ever before. It would be astonishing if all this doesn’t have an impact on how those humans view commitment to a relationship.

Please hear me: I am not arguing for the correctness or desirability of emotional promiscuity. I like relationships that last. All I am saying is, the inevitable effect of existing in a cornucopia of potential mates is that many people will want to explore as many possibles as they can, and so it is a forgone conclusion that most relationships will be even briefer in cyberspace than they are in “real” life.

Some of this is, undoubtedly, due to the tendency of many onliners to take relationships in virtual reality less seriously, as if it were all just role-play. But I think that those of us who really want a long term relationship, one which grows and evolves, will have to find ways to be even more significant to that significant other. I’m working on it. Good luck. –MRK

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