First Flight

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Two days ago, I flew as a dragon in immersive 3D. As otherkin, this satisfied a personal goal of mine, and it was wonderful.

This bears some explanation: I recently acquired a copy of the Oculus Rift Developer Kit 1 from a good friend of mine. Hooking this up to a copy of the CtrlAltStudio’s modified Firestorm Viewer for Second Life, I then proceeded to buy one of these to fly around in:

Image Credit: Seawolf Monsters Wiki

Seawolf Dragons have a bit of personal history for me. Specifically, they’re based on (and were eventually endorsed by the developers of) the dragon models from Horizons: Empire of Istaria (now Istaria: Chronicles of the Gifted). Istaria was where I flew as a digital dragon for the first time, albeit while watching a third-person render of my dragon protagonist moving through the skies as I played via mouse and keyboard.

At the time, Istaria was important enough to me that I had gotten in on its initial closed beta nearly a year prior to its official launch. When the first Adult Dragon Rite of Passage went live on all shards on March 12th, 2004, I pulled an all-nighter to be among the very first group of dragons to attain flight on the Life server cluster.*

The Rite of Passage succeeds as a soaring spiritual experience for fledgling dragons, and that tradition continues even today, as YouTube attests. For the young dragon, it’s a graduation ceremony to (literally) bigger and better things. I, of course, immediately used this to fly up along the game’s trademark sheer cliffs and jagged mountains to surprise crafters whom, alarmed by seeing a huge dragon flying towards them for the first time, cheered me on once I’d landed in their midst.

By contrast, this flight was quiet and personal, but just as moving. I watched through my avatar’s eyes as I flew, looking down on a tiny facsimile of the Istaria I knew and loved a little over a decade prior. As I twisted and tilted my head to see the digital equivalent of a rising sun, I could crane my neck to look and fly wherever I wished to go. Even though my primary controls remained mouse and keyboard, the verisimilitude was beyond incredible.

To fly as a dragon has been one of my goals for most of my life. It’s why I chose to program in the first place, why I’m a technologist and computer scientist, and why I pursue 3D and game design as my occasional trade and hobby. Being able to achieve it in such a simple and mundane way elates me, and makes me wish for VR to only continue to succeed. Not bad for a tiny video monitor and accelerometer connected to a set of fancy goggles.

I just hope that Facebook doesn’t ruin this for everyone. I am convinced that everyone, otherkin or not, should be able to experience this.

* Technically second; our party leader ascended first.

First Post Once Again

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So, I’m starting yet another blog.

Doing so is a concession: every blogging platform I’ve tried to share long-form thoughts on has failed me in some critical way. I am exasperated that I need to write this, because I don’t find the problem terribly hard: I just want to write unbounded text to a URL on the Internet and discuss it with the people I enjoy talking with.

Here’s where the services I know and love have failed me at this:

  • Twitter and Tumblr are too uncategorized, noisy stream-of-thought for me to organize any ideas effectively, full stop.
  • Medium has this beautifully simple content editor stapled to a terrible website for discussion. I also feel miscategorized and misrepresented when using their service, as if any post I make gets lost in the existential angst of first-world problems that I don’t fit into especially well.
  • Facebook and Google+ fail to represent me as anything other than this false wallet-person that they really want me and all of my friends to be. To say this has a chilling effect on everything I write to these services is a dramatic understatement. No thanks.
  • LiveJournal and Dreamwidth haven’t aged especially well. Fractured communities and poor, bug-riddled mobile posting prevent me from sharing the ideas I’d like to from anywhere, with the people I’d like to share them with. Which is a shame: both services gave me hope and worked pretty well in earlier days of blogging.
  • Newer microblogging services like ThoughtStreams miss the point of deeper thought and prose entirely, by assuming thread-organized stream-of-thought substitutes for editorial quality and nuance. These fail to allow me to tell a story that isn’t a stream of consciousness Joyce or Hemingway narrative.

Now, I’ve spent an incredibly long time thinking about this. In order for me to be satisfied with any blogging platform these days, it needs to meet these basic criteria:

  • Accessibility: I want to read it and write to it from anywhere. Don’t ever force me to log in to read a public post. I want your site to degrade gracefully when I ask you to serve it from Chrome for Mobile or, heaven forbid, Mobile Safari. Don’t give me this basic app that’s hideously buggy and call it good.
  • Community: I want people to actually be able to reply to my posts. I don’t especially care where they reply from, but I’d like this process to be as painless as possible. If there is any barrier to them doing so other than a single login prompt, I won’t be using your service. If my readers are directly shamed by interacting with your service in any way or suffer side effects from logging in (I’m looking at you, Facebook and G+), I won’t touch you with a ten-foot pole.
  • Durability: I want my posts to stand the test of time, as representational snapshots of my thoughts and discussion. I want to link to them. I want a way for me to keep my old posts organized in my mind, so I don’t have to constantly repeat myself when the same discussion comes up. I don’t want these to somehow age off or disappear into the ether without warning. Give me tags and a pithy, human-readable URL that I can always refer back to and I’m happy.
  • Security: I want my blogging platform to treat my private information as private. Don’t give me every assurance that my information is secure and fail to meet them in your code. Don’t default what I consider private information to public and start building tools that compromise my identity. Don’t tell me that my private posts are private when anyone with a passable experience with Metasploit can read them. And don’t you dare store my password without taking proper precautions.
  • Representation: For quite a few reasons, I represent myself as a dragon on the Internet. More than half the services I use shame me for this, ranging from indirectly (who is this one nutjob that isn’t using a selfie in their profile and has all photo tagging disabled?) to egregious, service-breaking, open shaming (hi Facebook, hi Google+). This isn’t about hiding from “polite conversation”. I’m not trying to be “anonymous” so I can say “mean things” about people on the Internet. It’s about representing the identity I choose for myself without giving access to people that actively wish to do me harm.

Actually, that last one is kind of a big topic, so let me expand on it here: I don’t give wallet information to anyone online unless I have a business reason for doing so. This is just good practice: my wallet name, address, phone number, credit card number, email, and SSN are all privileged information that can be used singularly or in aggregate to access services other people shouldn’t be touching.

Try this exercise sometime: call up your bank, broker, cell phone provider… any arbitrary service provider, really, and step through their assisted process to recover from a lost a password. Phone assistance is critical here, because it’s usually the weakest link in the chain. Just listen. Note down the information you used to verify your identity. Then realize: this very same set of information can be used to steal your identity.

And this is in the best case: there are plenty of examples, far too many to list, about people who have suffered from active vendettas for having their information disclosed to the wider Internet. I just want none of that.

So, to service providers that should know better, please understand that I never want this information about me visible to the wider Internet. Ever. It’s a simple matter of good hygiene, and I really don’t care what your marketing objectives are. Don’t share it. If you do, I’m not giving these to you, and I’m very likely to take my business elsewhere. End sidebar.

Anyway, I’m selecting WordPress today because it fits my criteria reasonably well:

  • Accessibility: I can read it and write it from any of my devices. Links to my posts just work. The mobile site is fully-featured and works decently well, even though the apps aren’t great.
  • Community: I feel comfortable linking to and discussing WordPress posts. Accounts are free, advertising is less egregious and easily blockable, and I don’t anticipate side effects like a deluge of spam about what all your friends are doing if you decide to log in and reply.
  • Durability: I can link my posts with text, tag them responsibly, and tolerably expect them to still be here years from now. That’s all I want, really.
  • Security: Given the exploits that crop up in custom installations and so many third party plugins, I’ll stick to hosting with the website. I have substantially more confidence in WordPress than LinkedIn in the event of a breach, and I expect my blog would survive one intact.
  • Representation: At this writing, WordPress is one of the few services that doesn’t care that I’m a dragon on the Internet. It also isn’t predisposed to telling me which content is “right” for its blogging platform and community, outside of TOS and applicable laws that I have no intention of violating. That counts substantially in its favor.

So, I’m going to give this a try and see if it fits my ideas well. I guess I don’t have terribly high expectations, but as long as I can just throw links to this at people and not expect terrible side effects, I’ll be happy.

(In which some of you will see an ad below this post. Sorry about that. If I end up liking this service, I’ll do the responsible thing and actually pay for it.)