A Week With My Superpower [en]

[fr] Une semaine avec mes super-pouvoirs qui me permettent d'entendre aussi bien qu'un chat ūüôā

Last Friday, I stepped into a small shop in the mall near the motorway exit. I walked out with two magic amulets. The moment I started wearing them, I started hearing sounds like I had never heard them before.

I have a superpower: I can listen in on conversations I am not taking part in; I can hear the noise the cat litter makes as it trickles back into the box when I scoop things out; I hear my cat lapping water in the next room, and people moving in the other flats; birds sing so loud and clear they seem to be perched on my shoulder; the rustle of a paper bag or my clothes fills the whole room; I have the ears of a dog.

Best of all, instead of having to reach out to grasp the sounds of speech when I’m talking with somebody, the sound comes to me, crystal clear — right into my ears. I am no longer trying to catch others’ words. They find me, even when I’m not expecting to be talked to, even when I’m not looking at the one producing the words.

OK, I lied a bit — the amulets are not magical, they’re technological. They look like this:

Hearing aid.

(I am thinking of swapping metal grey for pink, though — that part isn’t visible, of course, but I like the idea.)

Those of you who know me well enough know that I do not hear well. I never had. My hearing is particularly deficient in the frequencies used by speech. (I’ll post my audiogram here later, it’s at eclau and I don’t want to walk down the whole two floors to get it ;-)) After a disastrous attempt at getting me hearing aids when I was fourteen (I wore them all of two days) I’ve finally decided to give it another go — and so far, I’m delighted.

I’m actually starting to realize how deaf I am. Or how badly I hear. (Pick your expression of choice.) The audiologist initially programmed the hearing aids to their optimal setting, based on my audiogram. I was shocked. When he spoke to me just after the setting process, I instinctively looked for the microphone he was speaking into. He wasn’t speaking into a microphone.

Imagine you arrive early at the stage, and the band playing the gig is rehearsing with being plugged in. And suddenly somebody plugs in the mikes and the amps. That’s what it felt like. “You have got to be kidding,” I told him. “It’s way too loud.” He told me he was going to run another test to confirm, and as he turned back to the keyboard his pen escaped his hands. You know the sound a pan makes when you drop it on the kitchen floor? Well, that’s pretty much how much noise his pen made.

After running the second test, he confirmed that the settings were right. I was hearing sounds the way somebody with normal hearing hears them. So loud! Way too loud! This is of course a common reaction, and the audiologist always decreases the settings to something more tolerable so the new wearer of hearing aids can get used to them. Usually, he decreases them by 4dB — in my case, by 8dB. And he also reduced amplification of weak sounds to cut out as much background noise as possible.

Given my strong initial reaction to the “optimal” setting and the traumatic teenage failure behind me, we weren’t taking any chances.

One thing I was really worried about was the physical discomfort of having something in my ear. My memory of my first attempt at wearing hearing aids is that they were hugely uncomfortable (of course technology has evolved in 25 years, but still!). I also know I cannot stand the completely occlusive inside-the-ear earbuds — I bought a pair once, listened to music 30 minutes with it, and had to bring it back. It hurt too much.

My audiologist recommended dabbing the part that goes inside the ear with sweet almond oil. It works wonders. The first day I had to remove my hearing aids a couple of times because my ears were tickling. After 2-3 days, no more, though I was happy to remove them at the end of the day. Now, I almost forget about them. I’m actually almost worried that at some point I’ll stop noticing them so much I’ll hop into the bath or the shower without removing them… oopsie.

Even with a setting 8dB below what I should have, it makes a stunning difference to me when I’m talking with people. I actually understand every word. I don’t need to guess anymore. I might even stop watching movies with subtitles, who knows! I keep hearing sounds that I don’t know how to identify yet, so I’ll often end up looking all around me in the bus or street to try to figure out what it is I’m hearing. A friend commented that what I’m going through is probably a bit similar to what happens to babies when they realize that sound is stuff they’re hearing. It’s not all pleasant, of course (loud drunk teenagers in public transport are even louder), but overall I am already at a point where I do not want to not wear them. I’m hooked.

What amazes me, though, is to think that this is still way below how you (well, most of you reading this) hear. I’d love to be able to edit a recording based on my audiogram to make it sound to “normal hearing people” the way it would sound to me. And I’m looking forward to getting sufficiently used to my current settings that we can turn the volume up even a bit more!

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Barcelone: un peu de nostalgie voyageuse [fr]

[en] As the editor for ebookers.ch's travel blog, I contribute there regularly. I have cross-posted some of my more personal articles here for safe-keeping.

Cet article a √©t√© initialement publi√© sur le blog de voyage ebookers.ch (voir l’original).

Cela fait un bon moment que j’ai envie d’√©crire un article sur Barcelone. J’ai visit√© cette ville une fois, et je l’ai ador√©e, et j’ai envie de vous faire envie.

Je suis all√©e fouiller un peu dans mes archives personnelles pour voir si je n’avais pas des photos pr√©sentables √† vous montrer, ou m√™me un article ou deux sur mon blog. H√©las, non: c’√©tait il y a bien des vies de cela, il y a presque exactement six ans.

Du coup, je vais me permettre un peu de nostalgie voyageuse avant de vous offrir l’article sur Barcelone en personne.

Il y a six ans, si j’avais d√©j√† un blog depuis belle lurette, je n’avais pas d’ordinateur portable, et je d√©couvrais la photographie num√©rique avec mon r√©volutionnaire (√† l’√©poque) SPV, g√©n√©reusement offert par mon employeur d’alors, qui m’envoyait d’ailleurs √©galement √† Barcelone participer au Forum Avaya. Comme aujourd’hui encore, je me baladais avec un cahier/carnet en papier dans mon sac, mais √† la diff√©rence d’aujourd’hui, j’y √©crivais parfois des textes avec l’intention de les retaper une fois pr√®s d’un clavier.

titre barcelone

Je suis all√©e d√©terrer le cahier de l’√©poque, et j’ai regard√© (en fr√©missant d’horreur) les photos que j’avais prises avec mon fid√®le t√©l√©phone (terriblement rudimentaire six ans plus tard — non je ne vous les montre pas, si vous avez le lien, tant mieux pour vous!). J’ai relu mes notes gribouill√©es, et je me suis souvenue…

En 2003, on √©tait bien avant mes ann√©es de “terrible voyageuse”, 2006-2008. Oui, j’avais v√©cu en Inde et fait des vacances ici et l√†, mais bon. Alors partir √† Barcelone quelques jours, c’√©tait une grande aventure. Et j’avais fait ce que font de nombreuses personnes qui ont l’occasion de voyager professionnellement: rajouter quelques jours sur place √† ses propres frais, quitte √† payer la diff√©rence de prix du billet d’avion.

J’√©tais donc une voyageuse novice (voire d√©butante) et j’ai commis l’erreur fatale de ne pas r√©server d’h√ītel pour les nuits qui √©taient √† ma charge. Couchsurfing n’existait pas encore, et je me suis retrouv√©e √† trimbaler ma valise (√† roulettes heureusement) √† travers le centre-ville chaque matin √† la recherche d’une chambre pour la nuit durant les quatre premiers jours de ma visite. Dans le genre, on fait mieux!

barcelone hotel 1

A me replonger dans ces souvenirs, je r√©alise combien de chemin j’ai fait entre-temps, en tant que voyageuse. Si je refaisais ce voyage aujourd’hui, qu’est-ce qui serait diff√©rent?

  • J’aurais des contact locaux sur place: soit que je conna√ģtrais des autochtones (mon r√©seau international est bien plus fourni aujourd’hui qu’alors), soit que j’en trouverais via Twitter, Facebook, ou surtout, Couchsurfing.
  • Couchsurfing, justement: je ne vivrais pas le calvaire de la recherche d’h√ītel, parce que j’aurais d√©nich√© auparavant un logement chez l’habitant via ce r√©seau social (si mon r√©seau ne l’avait pas d√©j√† fourni).
  • J’aurais pr√©par√© un peu ma visite gr√Ęce √† WikiTravel (qui d√©marrait tout juste en 2003) — voir leur page consacr√©e √† Barcelone. J’aurais aussi fait un tour sur la page Barcelone de Wikip√©dia, et je me serais renseign√©e un peu √† l’avance sur Gaud√≠ et son oeuvre.
  • Je partirais avec mon MacBook et mon appareil photo num√©rique (digne de ce nom), je mettrais en ligne mes photos sur mon compte Flickr, et avec un peu de chance je publierais quelques articles durant mon s√©jour sur mon blog (plus facile avec un ordinateur portable que lorsque l’on est tributaire des caf√©s internet).
  • Je donnerais r√©guli√®rement des nouvelles (√† coups de photos aussi) via mon compte Twitter, sans pour autant faire p√©ter la baraque avec les frais de roaming pour les transferts de donn√©es.
  • Je stockerais dans Evernote les adresses des bons bistrots que j’aurais trouv√©s, en photographiant leur carte de visite avec mon iPhone.

Comme vous pouvez le constater, une grande partie de mon “√©volution de voyageuse” tient √† l’√©volution technologique. On pourrait palabrer longtemps l√†-dessus (mon ann√©e en Inde, en 1999-2000, se d√©roulerait tout autrement si elle avait lieu aujourd’hui, avec t√©l√©phones mobiles, ordinateurs portables, et bancomats Maestro √† tous les coins de rues).

Est-ce qu’il y a des innovations technologiques qui ont radicalement chang√© votre exp√©rience de voyageur ou voyageuse au cours des derni√®res ann√©es?

(Oui, promis, je vous parle de Barcelone et de Gaud√≠ tout bient√īt. Avec des photos. Mais pas les miennes, promis aussi.)

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Stephanie's October Conference Tour: <head> [en]

[fr] A la conférence en ligne , je parlerai de mon expérience d'indépendante et d'organisatrice d'événements. Lessons apprises. Je vous encourage vivement à vous inscrire à cette conférence, et à la suivre depuis le hub de Liip à Fribourg si vous en avez l'occasion.

After I gave my [Going Solo speech at LIFT](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2008/02/07/lift08-my-going-solo-open-stage-speech/) earlier this year, I was approached by Aral Balkan, who asked me if I would be willing to speak at the online conference he was organising, then named Singularity. I immediately accepted.

<head> web conference: October 24-26, 2008

<Head>, 24-26 October, everywhere

Since then, the conference was renamed <head> (following some letter from some lawyers), and the speaker roster has filled up nicely.

<head> is an online conference. That means you can attend from anywhere in the world, watch the talks through your web browser and interact with the speakers and other participants. There are offline “hubs” in various cities around the world (including Second Life) — if you live in Switzerland, I recommend you head over the Fribourg where Liip are hosting a hub.

Eight months after my Going Solo speech at LIFT, I’m going to take the opportunity to look back at what I’ve learned. Both Going Solo and SoloCamp are great concepts and were much appreciated by those who attended them. However, they both left a dent (to be polite) in my already suffering bank account, and I’m aware I made a series of mistakes I was actually warned against when I announced my project. On being human and not listening to other people’s advice…

This talk will by my story as a freelancer and an event organiser. Success, failure, and heading forward — sharing my experience, whilst knowing that the best experience is the one you earn directly.

Wherever you are, as long as you have an internet connection, you can take part in <head>. No travel or accommodation expenses, and a great conference! Plus, as it’s an online conference, the price is very reasonable. Head (!) over to the conference site to register.

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Healthcare in San Francisco Experiences [en]

[fr] Expériences nettement plus positive avec le système de soins ici à San Francisco.

After my [trip to Walgreens in Austin, TX](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2008/03/10/a-trip-to-walgreens/), I honestly hoped I wouldn’t have to deal with anything healthcare-related in the US, ever again. Oh well, I was wrong.

A few days ago I started having a sore throat, and went down to the Walgreens on First and Mission (I’m in San Francisco) to ask about some antiseptic spray or something. I had braced myself for another less-than-pleasant experience, and was positively surprised when a nice and smiling pharmacist listened to me, discussed options, gave me advice, and made me feel like she was happy to do her job. Quite a change from the grumpy guy in Austin, who maybe needed a job change!

A day or two later, I realised that one of my toe nails was starting to become way too painful (said toe nail was traumatized on the judo mats some 10+ years ago, and has been bothering me at times since then — but this was starting to be really problematic). I tried heading for the pedicure first, who politely turned me away after a few prods at it and a few yells on my part: it was already infected, and I needed to see a doctor. Oh, heck.

There was a Walgreens nearby, on 4th and Townsend, so I dropped by to ask about doctors. Where/how/what? A very nice and friendly pharmacist (wow, two of them in the same city!) told me to head for the clinic behind the AT&T ballpark (24 Willie Mays Plaza) to see a Dr. Zee (or Zak — short for Zacharewicz, and easier to pronounce). I found the clinic quite easily (between the ballpark and the canal), checked in as best I could (forms are clearly not designed for patients visiting from abroad), and waited — quite a bit, but hey, I was a walk-in.

A friendly nurse/assistant (?) showed me in, asked me a few questions about what brought me here (I got to tell her the sad story of my poor toe nail) took my blood pressure, and left me to wait a few minutes for Dr. Zee.

Dr. Zee was as nice as I’d been told. She listened to my story, prodded my toe nail a little, thought a bit, and gave me instructions for warm soapy foot-baths, keeping me toe out of the dirty San Francisco street-dust, and a prescription. A really lovely doctor that I heartily recommend if you’re in SF and in need of one.

I left, $90 poorer but feeling almost warm and fuzzy about healthcare in San Francisco, and decided to drop in at the Walgreens which had sent me to pick up my prescription. That’s where I learned that I had to wait 15-20 minutes to get my medication (some antibiotic cream) instead of just being able to hand in the prescription slip and walk out with my meds (as I expected, based on my — limited and Swiss — previous experience). I decided to drop in later that evening as I was going out.

Fast-forward a few hours. I’m back at Walgreens to pick up my prescription. I’m told they can’t give it to me, because the doctor did not specify on the prescription if it was *cream* or *ointment*. They’d tried to call the doctor’s office but it was already closed, so I had to wait until tomorrow. I said I really didn’t care if it was cream or ointment, they could give me either. They said they couldn’t, that the doctor needed to confirm if it was the cream or ointment. I insisted, arguing that the difference in between cream and ointment really wasn’t important in this case, that all I cared about was to be able to start the treatment for my toe as soon as possible. The pharmacist (who was a different one from the one who recommended Dr. Zee to me) kept on like a broken record, telling me they couldn’t make the decision or give me one or the other. I insisted more, saying that no insurance would bother them about this because I was from abroad and would be paying myself, that I wasn’t going to sue them, etc. No success: the doctor had to decide, **by law** they were forbidden from giving me the medicine without her confirmation.

I stomped out, feeling powerless and furious, then stomped back in to ask for my prescription. If was going to have to wait until tomorrow for my prescription, I would go to a pharmacy closer to where I was staying, like the one on 1st.

So, this morning, after 11 hours of sleep (!), I went down to the Walgreens on 1st to get my prescription. I also needed some other medication for my cough and eye. The pharmacist (honestly not sure if she was the same one as the other day) was lovely. She actually took the trouble to explain me how the medication I’d been recommended for my eye in Austin worked (basically, does nothing else than shrink the blood vessels, so that it’s less red). Checked that there was no discharge, and said “OK, so it’s not conjunctivitis then” (a contrast with “I can’t tell you, you have to see a doctor” or some other stupid by-the-book answer). Discussed the other drug I needed with me too. Nice and helpful.

And when my prescription arrived (less than 5 minutes later — and I don’t know if they called the doctor’s office, but they didn’t bring it up) she mentioned that it was quite expensive: $70. I told her I was probably going to back out then, because it was just for an ingrown toe nail which had already started to get better with the soapy water baths. She agreed with me that the cream was maybe a bit overkill given that, and that I’d probably be OK with over-the-counter antibiotic cream. *Over-the-counter antibiotic cream?!* Yes, that have that here.

So, overall, a much more pleasant experience of healthcare services here in San Franciso (despite one episode of “we follow rules, here” broken-recorditis).

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Conference Experience Evolution and The Paradox of Choice [en]

[fr] Mes r√©flexions sur l'exp√©rience v√©cue lors de conf√©rences comme LIFT08, LeWeb3, SXSW, BlogTalk, √† la lumi√®re de ma lecture du livre The Paradox of Choice. Surcharge cognitive et sociale, trop de d√©cisions √† prendre. Evolution √©galement, entre les premi√®res conf√©rences o√Ļ je ne connaissais presque personne, et o√Ļ l'accent √©tait mis sur "faire de nouvelles connaissances", et les derni√®res conf√©rences, o√Ļ je me rends compte que je ne peux pas passer du temps (ni m√™me parfois dire bonjour) √† toutes les personnes que je connais d√©j√†.

There’s a lot going on in my head these days, and unfortunately I’ve been too [busy/exhausted](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2008/02/25/stalling/) (that damn anaemia is still around, fwiw) to blog about it. Since a week or so before LIFT08, actually, I feel like I’ve been desperately running behind the train, and the distance between my hand and the handlebar that will allow me to climb back on is just increasing.

One book I’ve been reading these last weeks (months?) is [The Paradox of Choice](http://www.amazon.com/Paradox-Choice-Why-More-Less/dp/0060005688). If you haven’t read it yet, take a few minutes to order it now. It’s turning out to be a really important book for me, on the one hand for understanding a few things about how the world we live in functions and affects us in the areas of freedom, responsibility, and of course, choice — and on the other hand for understanding myself.

I suffer a lot from having too many options to choose from: I’m really bad at being a “satisficer” in certain areas (somebody who will be satisfied with an option as long as it meets certain criteria) as opposed to being a “maximizer” — wanting the *best* option available. In particular in my professional life and my intellectual pursuits, each choice is agonizing, because my brain wirings keep me very focused on everything I’m possibly missing out upon each time I pick a particular option over others. I do my best to tone this tendency down, of course, but it’s there.

There’s a lot I could comment upon in relation to this book and all it is helping me understand (it delves deep into the mechanisms of choice, and that’s fascinating), but suffice to say right now that it’s colouring a lot of my thinking in general these days.

One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is conferences. Obviously, as a [conference organizer](http://going-far.com/) ([Going Solo](http://going-solo.net/) early bird price ends soon, by the way!), it’s on my mind, but I’ve also been attending quite a few conferences recently and reflecting of how my experience of these events has evolved (due to [“burn-out”](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/10/06/too-many-people/), increased [network and public profile](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2008/02/11/from-lift06-to-lift08/), and maybe other factors).

For online people like me, conferences are an occasion to see their usually scattered network of relations (friends or business contacts) coalesce in one single geographical location over the space of a few days. It can be very exciting, especially when you get to meet many of these people offline for the first time, but it can also be overwhelming. During my first conferences, I also got to know a lot of new people. People I wasn’t interactive with online. People who “grew” (ew) my network. People I liked and decided I wanted to stay in touch with. People who were interesting business contacts.

As conferences went by, I would find myself in a crowd of more and more people I already knew and appreciated and wanted to spend time with. I think [FOWA](http://futureofwebapps.com/) last November was a breaking point for me — I realized that it was impossible for me to catch up with all “my people” there in the space of two short days. It was quite distressing to realize this, actually.

A few weeks after that, I was in Berlin for [Web2.0Expo](http://climbtothestars.org/tags/web2expo/). A bit burnt, I took things way more lightly. Attended a few sessions. Didn’t even show up on certain mornings. Hung out with people I met there. Didn’t try to blog all the sessions I attended. It went much better.

Conferences are hard. There is a lot of intellectual stimulation (sessions and conversations), and a lot of social stimulation too. As I mentioned earlier in this post, I already feel life is simply too full of interesting things and people. In my everyday life, I struggle with the feeling that there is “too much out there” for me to “deal” or “cope” with — and a conference just concentrates this feeling over 2-3 days. Lots of fascinating (hopefully) sessions to attend. Great corridor conversations. Old friends to catch up with. New friends to make. Business contacts to touch base with. Dinners, lunches and parties. Take photos, blog, video the sessions or interview fellow attendees. To do all that well, you’d need to be superhuman.

I had two “different” conference experiences during these last six months, and they were LeWeb4 and LIFT08. Both times, I attended the conference with a rather clear [business objective](http://going-solo.net). It was tiring, but less overwhelming, because I’d decided in advance what I was in for. LeWeb4 (LeWeb3 actually, 2nd edition — don’t ask me why) actually turned out better than LIFT08 for me, because I simply didn’t attend any sessions (aside from half of [JP](http://confusedofcalcutta.com/)’s). At LIFT08, I had a press pass, so I did feel pressure to live-blog — and also, it’s my “home conference”, and I really like their programme. I was also [giving a speech](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2008/02/07/lift08-my-going-solo-open-stage-speech/), so, although this conference experience “went well”, it was [overwhelming](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2008/02/11/my-lift08-recap/).

So, what am I learning about conferences? They’re “too much”. So, you have to go to them knowing you’ll miss out (which brings us back to what The Paradox of Choice is about). The more connected you are, the more socially unmanageable it’s going to be. People you won’t see. Not saying goodbye. Not spending as much time as you wanted with certain people, but in exchange spending more time with others. So, I’ve come to accept that. I don’t know who I’m going to be able to catch up with. I know I won’t be able to catch up with everyone. I do my best not to plan — and if there is a small number of people (1, 2, 3) that I really want to see, I make plans with them, and that’s it.

The sessions are also “too much”. You can’t sit in sessions for the whole day, take notes, blog about them (or whatever you do) and then do the same thing the next day. Well, you can, but chances are your brain will fry at some point. I know that I can’t do it for two days in a row. At [SXSW](http://2008.sxsw.com/interactive/), I decided at one point to officially give up on attending sessions. I felt bad, because there were lots of them which sounded interesting, and lots of people I wanted to hear, but I also felt relieved because all of a sudden the pressure of making choices had been removed. If I happened to be hanging out with people who went to a panel, or if I stumbled into one — well, good. But I wasn’t going to make decisions about them other than on the spur of the moment. That worked out pretty well.

I did the same for the parties. Too much choice => I refuse to agonize on decisions before the last moment. All open. Go with the flow.

So, bottom-line: very little planning, lots of improvisation, and setting low expectations about doing precise stuff or hanging out with precise people.

To change the subject a little, I noticed at LIFT08 how at one point, there seems to be a physiological limit to taking in new people (certainly some relation to the [Dunbar number](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunbar’s_number) department). At LIFT08, I was just so socialed out (or over-socialized), between running around promoting Going Solo and being the object of some attention after my speech ([watch video](http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8270350768335569204)), that I realized at some point that I was doing horrible things like:

– trying to hand out moo cards twice to people I actually already knew (in this case, it was [Robert](http://scobleizer.com/)) in the space of a few minutes
– asking people for their name 3 times in a row
– forgetting I’d talked to people, even when they took the trouble to remind me what we had talked about a few hours before
– and of course, totally not recognizing anybody I’d been introduced to recently or at a previous conference

In this kind of situation, you can do two things. “Fake it”, as in “oh, hi! how’s business, blah blah blah” and hope that the person will drop enough info to help you out, or just fake it till the end. To be honest, I hate the idea of doing that, and I can’t bring myself to do it (plus, I’m sure I’d be quite bad at it). So, I prefer the second option, which is being honest. I apologize for not recognizing people (mention that I’m [hopeless with faces](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/12/14/badges-at-conferences/) — people who know me can attest), explain that I’m over-socialized and have simply been meeting and interacting with too many people. In my experience, this approach works out fine.

There’s also a lot to be said about “micro-fame” — the first couple of conferences I went to, the number of people I “didn’t really know” who were interested in talking to me (as in “walked up to me to introduce themselves”) was close to zero. Today, people show up out of nowhere, know me, want to speak to me. Friends want to introduce me to people they know (which is good, by the way!) My first conferences involved a lot of just meeting a nice person or two, and hanging out with them for the whole conference. This is more difficult today (except maybe at small conferences like BlogTalk) because I just know too many people (or too many people know me).

There also seems to be a subculture of highly-travelled, highly-conferenced people I’m suddenly finding myself part of — and I’m sure it would be worth taking a closer look to what’s going on here (hmm… [a conference](http://going-far.com), maybe?)

I’ll stop here, after dumping these thoughts in this not-very-organized post. It felt good to write all this down. If you have comments or thoughts, agree or disagree, experiences to share — my comments and trackbacks are yours to use.

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My LIFT08 Recap [en]

[fr] Un récapitulatif de ce qu'a été LIFT08 pour moi cette année. En gros, expérience très positive, mais un peu comme une déferlante. Trop de tout, mais c'était bien.

LIFT08 was great, but overwhelming. I think I’ve used this word a couple of times already to describe it. I’ve been thinking a lot these last months about my “conference experience”. I’m not quite a *conference butterfly* never touching the ground between them (expression stolen from [Tom Purves](http://www.thomaspurves.com/)), but between [FOWA](http://futureofwebapps.com), [Web2.0Expo](http://berlin.web2expo.com), [BlogOpen](http://blogopen.eu), [ParisWeb](http://2007.paris-web.fr), [LIFT](http://liftconference.com), and the upcoming [BlogTalk](http://2008.blogtalk.net/) and [SXSW](http://sxsw.com/), I’m spending a significant amount of my time preparing for, attending, or getting over conferences.

I plan to write a bit about LIFT08 first, and then come to more general stuff about these “tech” conferences and the worlds revolving around them — but you never know which way a blog post might decide to take you, do you? (I can already see I’m going to write it differently… fasten your seatbelts. Actually, I’m going to write separate posts. Or this one is going to turn into a 10-page essay. And nobody wants to read 10-page essays, do they?)

So, what do I take away from LIFT08 — knowing that this year, I’m looking at things through [an event organiser’s eyes](http://going-far.com/2007/12/16/why-events/)?

– **Many hats:** I’m a live-blogger, I’m a “speaker” (workshop, open stage, and an informal discussion), I’m a friend, I’m a freelancer on the lookout for new gigs, I’m promoting Going Solo, and looking for anything or anybody who can help me put on a great event. Too many hats.
– **Live-blogging:** I’m not happy about my job as a live-blogger this year. I think I was too stressed by my many other hats to really concentrate well on what I was doing. Also, as I had a press pass for it, I felt under pressure to do it seriously. Lots of partial notes, not “live” enough, didn’t tag [my photos](http://flickr.com/photos/bunny/sets/72157603867123817/) ([help me!](http://climbtothestars.org/archives/2007/06/20/flickr-open-up-tagging-your-photos-to-the-community-please/), and lots of talks I skipped. I want to post some slideshots still, and notes I took during the workshop with real live teenagers (e-mailing first to make sure I won’t publish stuff that might get them in trouble). I’ll write a summary post with links to my notes.
– **One track:** really really great that there was only one track (as in, no separate rooms, no choices to make in the programme). Just sit down somewhere and the choices are made for you. Thanks for having the courage to make those choices for us, Nicolas and Laurent.
– **Water:** bottles are really better than fountains. I’m not going to walk around with a glass, and I always forget to bring a bottle with me. I didn’t drink enough. Not sure Going Solo will be “as I’d want” in that respect, though we should have big bottles of water on the tables in the conference room.
– **WiFi:** up and down, of course. *Why* does conference wifi always have to be so wobbly? There’s room for some serious analysis and reseach about that, in my opinion. Getting wifi for Going Solo is one thing I really worry about. There will “only” be 150 people there, but still… Given my track record for criticizing, I’m going to be lynched if Going Solo wifi fails.
– **Videos:** [great videos](http://nouvo.ch/liftvideo), but. No permalinks to each video (I e-mailed Nouvo about that). Also, some organisational (?) glitch which prevented the open stage talks from being edited and uploaded at the same time as the other videos — as an open stage speaker who was relying on that swift publication, I find it very frustrating. The tapes are safe, Laurent tells me — but had I known, I’d have asked somebody to quick-and-dirty shoot and upload to YouTube.
– **Content:** I think the two-many-hats problem prevented me from fully getting all I could out of the various talks. I’ve also noticed a shift in content (the audience reflects this) from “more web” to “less web”. It’s a good thing, because it broadens my mind, but it also means there is less pointy stuff I’m directly fascinated with. (Don’t change anything guys, though, I like being stretched.) Maybe this had an influence on how easy (not) my note-taking was.
– **Speakers:** at one point I started wondering if it was a new trend for speakers to read their talks. Please don’t do that! It makes it very hard to follow what your saying. Lots of really great and entertaining speakers, and general level was very high (despite the reading).
– **Food and drinks:** nice! nice! yum! No breakfast though, I missed that. And also, no orange juice during the breaks?! I didn’t find it if it was there. Not everybody drinks tea or coffee — and I had a really hard time finding the tea.
– **People:** lots of them, lots. My “conference experience” is changing, as I said above, and I need to blog about that.
– **Intense:** LIFT is intense. Great people everywhere. Great talks you should meditate upon during a month.
– **LIFT experience:** I was too busy running around to enjoy all the “offline stuff” LIFT08 offered, and I really really regret it. I didn’t even get around to having my own handwritten font made, and didn’t send anything to the editor of the not so empty book (I blame the wifi — it was just too much effort to send an e-mail). I really think that the not so empty book should go and tap into technorati and flickr tags to steal content which has been published online. I had my photo taken though… not sure where it is now, however.

So, still landing. See you [tomorrow night in Morges](http://www.liftconference.com/liftdebrief) to talk more if you’re in the area.

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Berlin, Belgrade: Two Contrasting Airport Experiences [en]

[fr] Je déteste vraiment la sécurité dans les aéroports. C'est d'une hypocrisie primaire et le résultat principal en est une péjoration du comfort des voyageurs. Je raconte dans ce billet deux expériences contrastées (mes deux derniers vols).

L'a√©roport Tegel a Berlin, o√Ļ tout s'est pass√© comme sur des roulettes, m√™me si j'ai eu bien peur de rater mon vol (imaginez: je me suis point√©e au faux a√©roport, moins de deux heures avant d√©collage). A Tegel, le taxi vous d√©pose directement au terminal. Le check-in est √† 5m de la porte. Le contr√īle des passeports est √† c√īt√© (vraiment) du check-in (disons 3m). Le contr√īle s√©curit√© est droit derri√®re. Et la zone d'attente pour la porte est juste apr√®s. De check-in √† salle d'attente, 10m et 5 minutes √† tout casser.

A Belgrade par contre... Ce fut moins fun. Personnel peu agr√©able, renseignements m√©diocres, vilain sandwich tout sec... et pour couronner le tout, "double" s√©curit√©. Eh oui, non seulement faut-il faire la queue pour faire passer aux rayons X toutes ses petites affaires avant le contr√īle des passeports, mais encore faut-il passer par le m√™me cirque √† la port, pour acc√©der √† la zone d'attente. Je vous passe les chaises en m√©tal et les courants d'air...

Inutile de dire que je suis ravie de rentrer à Lausanne en train depuis Paris, et que j'espère que les grèves continueront à ne pas avoir d'influences sur les TGVs à destination de la Suisse!

Flying out of Berlin could have been a nightmare. It actually turned out to be a rather smooth experience. The nightmarish bit is that I went to the wrong airport to catch my plane. I flew in to Shönefeld (?), so naturally assumed that I would be flying out from there two.

When I arrived at the airport less than two hours before take-off, I checked the departure board and couldn’t find my flight. Suddenly, it hit me: this wasn’t the only airport in Berlin. A brief panicked enquiry at the airport information desk later, I was grabbing a taxi, calling the JAT office in Tegel Airport to explain the situation (they had my ticket waiting there for me), and deciding that 70‚ā¨ to take the predictable but longer motorway route (it was peak hour and the town was gridlocked) was better than missing my flight.

My taxi driver was nice, reassuring, and cut quite a few lines to get me there on time.

Here is where it became smooth. Like most of you I guess. I’m used to airports where you need to wait in line for check-in, then walk to passport control, wait in line again, then walk to security, wait in line again, then finally, walk to the gate.

None of that nonsense at Tegel Airport. I had been given the terminal number by the person I spoke to at the JAT office, who told me my ticket would be waiting for me at check-in. My taxi dropped me off at the terminal.

I went through the door.

I walked 5 metres.

I waited 2 minutes at check-in, was greeted by a smiling hostess, given my ticket, and checked in.

The door to security — no kidding — was *just next to the check-in desks*. 10 steps away. And passport control was *just before the door to security*. And the gate itself (the waiting area) was *just behind security*. From check-in to the gate: less than 10 meters. Within 5 minutes I was through all of it.

And I wasn’t (by far) the last person to check in. I was early, actually.

Contrast that with my departure from Belgrade, five days later. (Oh, let me mention in passing that I had the most frightening landing of my life in Belgrade. I’m not a frightened flyer, but the weather was really very rough and stormy, with the plane rocking left and right and dropping abruptly as we were approaching the landing strip. And once on the ground, it didn’t stop either — precisely because the plane wasn’t slowing down, and was making dreadful noises. We stopped OK in the end, but from my point of view we were moving way too fast on that runway for way too long.)

Back to my experience this noon in Belgrade Airport. First, I have to say it was overall not very friendly.

I asked the check-in woman where I could change money and eat. She indicated two places for that, which meant I had to change money (lots of dinars) first and eat (paying in dinars) second. Great. Then, the change office didn’t have Swiss francs. Even greater (I now have enough euros to settle down in Paris for a month, nearly.)

I got a really nasty sandwich for a small fraction of the money I had been advised to keep for the meal, and then realised that I could change money on that floor too. *They* had Swiss francs, but with the amount of dinars I had it was more interesting to change in euros. Then, once I’d gotten rid of all my dinars, I noticed there was at least one other food place — nicer than the one I’d been to, of course.

Oh well.

I queued through security, did my usual Empty Half Your Bag And Get Half Undressed stunt, waited in my socks while the person at security control searched the bags of the woman before me (one person per machine, takes care of searching too, so when a bag is searched, the machine stops too — efficient, isn’t it?), and headed to passport control.

A rather unfriendly woman there gruffly asked me for my boarding pass (it had slipped out of my travel documents into my bag) and put a nasty wet stamp on it before folding it back into my passport. I had to wipe the wet ink off the (thankfully plastified) page with all my personal details.

Once in the “sterile” area, I noticed there were another two places where I could have eaten (oh, well) but no board with flight numbers and gates. I asked a member of staff who was passing by, and she pointed me to the travel information desk where I got the answer I needed.

I walked down the corridor to the gate and was quite surprised to find the place rather empty (this was about 10 minutes before announced boarding time). There was an open door with a corridor leading somewhere cold, and a closed door next to the flight details for the gate, behind which I could see a security machine and a bored young man in a uniform.

There were a few metal seats in the draughty corridor.

I tried to open the closed door, but it was — closed. I made interrogative signs to the young man, who got up to open the door and tell me that this was the right place, only later.

I therefore sat on a draughty metal seat and waited.

Slowly, more people arrived. Airline and airport employees, too. The door opened. Closed. Opened. Closed. Passengers got up and started to form a line (boarding time passed), so I got up too.

And waited in the cold. And cursed at the security machine I could see through the glass door.

You probably know I’m sick of airport security. It’s hypocritical (there mainly to cover some people’s precious arses), basically abusing poor passengers and making our lives miserable when we travel under pretense of keeping us safe from “terrorists”.

Right. So when you make everybody entering one part of the airport (what I call the “sterile area”) go through security and show ID… and you do the same thing **again** later on… what kind of message are you sending?

You’re basically saying: oh, well, our sterile area isn’t really sterile, you see — we don’t trust our own security screening. So please, let us screen you again. You know, just in case one of you entered this part of the airport without going through security, or managed to sneak a gun or explosives past us.

What do you think my opinion of airport security is now?

The cabin crew went through first, and for a wild moment I thought that *maybe* this was just for them, because for some reason they might not have had to go through the same long line of waiting for bags to be searched as us.

But I was wrong. One by one, 15 minutes after announced boarding time, we put our stuff in the X-ray machine again. Did I mention it was cold and draughty? I wasn’t happy to be in my socks again. And no, I didn’t feel bad about holding up the line because I put my stuff in four different trays to make sure I don’t raise any flags (got searched for cables in my bag, once — now they go through separate).

Colour me grumpy.

So, now that everybody had been doubly screened and that we were doubly safe, we got to sit down in more draughty metal chairs and wait. And then, stand up in line again and wait.

I am *so* glad I’m going back to Lausanne by train from Paris.

I just hope the strikes in France continue to not affect connections to Switzerland…

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Diving Into Something New [en]

[fr] Pour se familiariser avec un sujet nouveau, il faut lire, et même si on ne comprend pas tout, continuer à lire. Au bout d'un moment, les choses commencent à tomber en place, et on peut reprendre avec plus de succès les premiers textes que l'on avait compris que partiellement.

I remember very clearly when I understood this: I was working on my coursework about gnosticism. I didn’t know anything about the subject and had a pile of about 10 books to go through.

I started reading, and felt completely lost: I couldn’t really understand much. But by the time I reached the middle of the pile of books, things started to make sense. I went back to the first books, and they were making sense too.

To learn about something new, one method is to dive in, and just read on even if you don’t understand. At some point, it will sink in, come together, and you’ll start to get it.

Something about [Agile](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agile_software_development) popped up this morning when I clicked [my Google Reader “Next” bookmarklet](http://www.stoweboyd.com/message/2007/09/the-google-read.html) this morning. This isn’t the first time I hear about Agile, and I have a rough idea what it is, but I thought that I should probably read up a bit on it. So I’m [reading this case study](http://www.agilejournal.com/articles/case-study/case-study:-how-bmc-is-scaling-agile-development.html), even though not everything makes sense. At some point, it will. I’m just starting.

*Note: don’t misunderstand. I’m not heading for a career change into software development. I just want to understand more.*

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Lausanne to Portland [en]

[fr] Récit de mon voyage de Lausanne à Portland, avec des hauts et des bas.

My trip was “interesting”. I got up at 5am, said bye to the cat, and took the bus. I had a really lucky connection (reminded me of the Knight Bus in Harry Potter). Then, another nice surprise at check-in: the longest leg of my journey (London to Seattle) was upgraded to business class. (Don’t ask me how I did it — I didn’t do anything. The flight was full, and then by a combination of a lottery and maybe other things like being a woman travelling alone, I was the lucky one.) Unfortunately, my flight from Seattle to Portland couldn’t be checked in there, as I was flying with a different carrier (Alaska Airlines) which was not associated to British Airways in any way.

There was no queue at passport control. I was in so early that there was no gate indicated for my flight. I did a bit of duty-free window shopping and worked hard at drinking down the huge bottle of water I had bought at the station.

I was copying down my hotel addresses when I discovered that I had left my flight itinerary (with hotel reservation details) at the check-in desk. The guy at the customer desk was incapable of reaching them, so I had little choice but to go back out and come back in again. There were two hours to my flight, so I had plenty of time.

I got my papers back without any trouble, and headed back to passport control. Gasp! the queue was stretching all the way through the shopping area, nearly to the top of the escalator. I queued patiently, calmed down after an initial panicky reaction by the fact the queue was moving along quite fast. I even got back inside shortly before the gate for my flight appeared on the board and I could start queuing for security.

I’m starting to find the way security checks are managed in various airports interesting. For example, I wasn’t asked to remove my boots in Geneva, but I was in London and Seattle. (In Geneva, however, I learnt that my solid silver bracelet was a beeper — now I know to take it off.) I’ve also learnt (after having to empty half my bag in Lisbon) to remove my laptop from my bag straight away (camera and hard drive can stay inside, though).

I had liquids with me this time, but there was no problem at all with them. I had made certain the bottles were 100ml or less, and had packed them neatly into one of the transparent plastic bags provided by the airport. I also had medicines packed separately in my bag, also in a plastic bag, just to be safe. In Seattle, however, this small “medicine-bag” triggered a minor security alert. “Is this your bag? I’m going to have to open it — don’t touch it!” But it was quickly behind.

Upon arriving in Seattle, I was surprised that they X-rayed (and sometimes dug through) incoming luggage.

But I digress. Back to the flight. I made a rather painful mistake on the Geneva-Heathrow leg of my journey. After sitting down in the plane and getting organised (book, iPod, starting to know the drill) I realised I needed to go to the loo. Remember that big bottle I had bought at the station? Well, I managed to finish it (with difficulty) before going through security. 1.5 litres. *And* twice 500ml of lassi-yoghurty stuff which was part of my breakfast.

The other passengers had more or less settled down, but the whole take-off process hadn’t started. As is always the case, the fasten seat-belts sign was on, and I decided I could wait until after take-off and the light went off.

That was the big mistake.

It took a while for us to take off, first. And then, the weather was pretty rough, and it took the pilot and excruciatingly long time to decide it was safe for us to get up and walk around. I think this was one of the worst “gotta pee” episodes in my whole life. I mean, it was really really bad before taking off. So imagine: plane take-off, bumpy ride, and rather quick worsening (if it could get any worse) of the situation, given how fast I had forced myself to drink all that water.

I really thought I was going to have to get up despite the seat-belt light. However, I held on, and the moment the light went off (I’d been staring at it for about 20 minutes) I was out of my seat and trying to negotiate getting past the trolley without having to squeeze between it and a seat (no squeezing, no).

The rest of the flight was uneventful, as was the transfer in Heathrow (I tried going to the Business Class lounge, as the connecting flights lady had pointed me there, but then learnt that I wasn’t entitled to ground goodies as I had been upgraded — just on-flight goodies.)

Ah, business class. I got a seat facing backwards, straight on the wing, by a window. The seats are huge! You can actually make them go so far back that they lie flat — and there is a footrest for the feet. I had barely arrived on board that I was served a glass of fresh orange juice. Yum!

Food was extraordinary. Smoked salmon, warm bread rolls, excellent salad, delicious fish pie (I chose that over the meat, knowing what the British tend to do with steak). Real butter and real cutlery. This is where I regretted not appreciating wine, as it was included.

I also got noodles, a sandwich, and fruit salad when I popped into the kitchen later on as I was hungry. All very nice. The flight attendant who had to put up with me and my appetite (both for food and water) was really very nice.

Sitting as I was with a view on the wing, I got to see exactly how flexible an aeroplane wing is. It really bends up and down quite a bit, particularly during take-off and if the weather is a bit rough. When flying, it curves upwards quite a bit — it really makes you feel the wing is holding the plane up in the air.

After we took off (late), I asked the flight attendant what our new estimated time of arrival in Seattle would be. I had 1h50 to catch my flight to Portland, and I was a bit concerned that I would miss it. She checked, and told me that I’d probably miss it, but that I shouldn’t run into much trouble over there if I explained what had happened — they would transfer me to a later flight.

I prepared to catch a few hours of sleep, and was just about dozing off when the flight attendant gently woke me up to ask for my Seattle-Portland flight number. She told me they would try and send a message to Seattle that I was going to miss my connection and see if anything could be arranged before my arrival. How thoughtful!

Near the end of the flight, she came to tell me that they had indeed managed to get the message through to Seattle, and that I had been booked on later flight. I had just to approach the British Airways attendant who would be in the customs area and she would give me the details. That’s what I call customer service…

I was one of the first out of the plane, as I figured it wouldn’t do for me to get held up in a long queue at immigration if I was to get my new flight. Immigration was a breeze (and seeing the queues that had built up, I was really glad I’d rushed out of the plane).

Luggage was much longer to arrive, though. I watched two airport employees energetically dump excess luggage off the conveyer belt into rather unorderly piles on the floor. I can assure you that this scene of luggage handling will remain engraved in my mind for all packing sessions to come. You do *not* want fragile or delicate stuff in your check-in luggage. Ever.

When my case arrived, I grabbed it and headed for the connecting luggage area (with a little detour through luggage-x-ray-and-do-you-have-plants-or-seeds-in-your-bags security check), as per instructions from the BA ground staff. There were roughly 45 minutes left before my flight (6.30pm local time = 3.30am internal-clock time). And this is where — luckily — the baggage handler noted that my luggage had only been checked in up to Seattle. Well, of course! He went to fetch the attendant while I waited, and she tagged it manually before they put it on the conveyor belt and I ran to catch the three different trains which would take me to the correct terminal.

I got there on time, slept all the way through the bumpy flight on a tiny and very empty plane with propellers (woken up by landing — bump!), and walked zombie-like to the baggage claim area. Long, long walk. Astonishingly, the baggage claim area is outside the secured area (so you follow the one-way streets almost all the way out of the airport before getting to your luggage).

Then, I waited. And waited. And waited. And tried not to fall asleep standing up.

And finally, my flight number disappeared from the belt, and my bag still hadn’t turned up. This journey was becoming increasingly challenging, and I was becoming less and less functional as time went by (8.30pm = 5.30am internal-clock time — over 24 hours since I got up, with 2-3 hours of solid sleep and a bit of dozing off in between).

I headed for the lost baggage desk. The lady there was very nice. Very. She filed a report, and before she had finished told me that my luggage was located, and would be coming over later that evening. She took my details to have it delivered to my hotel, and even offered me a toothbrush if I needed it (this is where I was glad I had packed my essentials in my maximum-size cabin luggage).

I managed to ask her how to get to the place I was staying at (my brain was almost at a standstill, and I was starting to have trouble formulating questions and recording answers by that time) and she gave me some indications. On the way to the cab/bus/whatever stand, I walked past the information desk, and asked again. *Another* very nice lady. She called the hotel for directions, and told me I could take the light train ($2, quite a bit cheaper than the cab).

By then, I’d realised that I’d forgotten all my dollars at home (sorry, Grandma — I’ll go back to the States, promised). Not to worry, the ticket machine takes credit cards, doesn’t it? Well, in theory — but not mine.

I went back to the desk to ask for a cash machine or a place to change money. Uh-oh. Not to be found around here, and particularly not at this time of day. The lady (*very nice*, remember?) gave me a five-dollar bill to get my ticket.

Unfortunately, the machine refused that too, so I was back at the desk for the third time. She told me the machines were often uncooperative, and I should just take my train and explain if there was a ticket check. Now, all this took a long time, because I was starting to be thicker and thicker and slower and slower. Anyway, I thanked her again, and got on my train. Managed to change at the right station (froze a bit in the cold and rain between trains). More or less slept at times on the second train (not easy with the permanent announcements on the loudspeaker). Half-dazed, explained to the guy who wanted my pass why I didn’t have one. He was quite nice, had a look at my ID (“Sweden!”), asked for some details about how I got here (“How long have you been in the country? 7 hours?!”), didn’t write me a ticket (“Next time… Do get a pass…”). Interesting, these guys looked like policemen, not train employees. Cried a bit once that was over (sheer exhaustion). Got off at the right stop.

No, not over yet! I had instructions: cross this street, and when you reach that street, there it is, and this is what it looks like. Straightforward enough. But when I got off the train, my first concern was: which way do I need to start walking? I walked through the rain to the nearest road, and it wasn’t any of the roads included in my directions. I went off in another direction. No luck either. I must have walked around in the dark and cold for about 20 minutes (even rang a doorbell in desperation, but nobody answered) when I saw the next train coming in. I headed back to the station, hoping maybe somebody would be there (I seemed to have really landed in the middle of nowhere).

Oh joy! two human beings were standing at the bus stop. I walked up to them and asked if they could help me. They couldn’t directly, but the girl’s father was arriving with the car to pick them up, and she asked him. He invited me to climb on board with my stuff, and we drove around for a while until we found the place. It was *much* nicer to be in a car with nice people who were taking upon themselves to find the place rather than be walking around in circles along with my rolling-bag in the rain.

Finally — finally! — I had reached my destination, checked in, got some food (frozen muffins with stuff inside them to stick in the microwave), free wifi, and a bed. Good thing I flew in a day early to have a chance to settle down a bit!

*Note: my luggage was there the next morning when I woke up. I’ll add links to [relevant twitters](http://twitter.com/stephtara) later on.

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First Steps in Second Life [en]

[fr] Mes premiers pas dans l'environnement Second Life. En trois sessions (hier soir, ce matin, et ce soir) j'ai tout de même réussi à changer d'habits et de coupe de cheveux. Je trouve l'apprentissage difficile. Ce n'est pas habituel pour moi de me sentir maladroite et submergée d'informations devant un ordinateur!

A few months ago, I signed up for Second Life. I spent one evening going through the “training” island, and then didn’t go back until yesterday (Second Life won’t run on my windows box).

Well, people, I’m finding it really hard. I’m not used to finding myself in an environment I have trouble using and which is confusing to me. Here’s the story of what I’ve been through and understood (or not) — with pictures, so that you can get an idea what’s going on in there if you’re not familiar with Second Life. I’m Stephanie Spicoli in Second Life — do get in touch in-world if you have an account.

One thing I’ve pretty much figured out is how to use the arrows to walk around. Sounds silly, heh? At first, I kept running into things. Now I’m getting used to turn left/right, and backwards/forwards.

Yesterday evening, I spent some time in the welcome zone — lots of weirdos there. A kind person helped me out a bit by giving me things and showing me some place I could go to which were nice.

Put this way, it sounds straightforward, doesn’t it? Well, it isn’t. What happened is I started having all sorts of little pop-ups appearing on my screen. I didn’t know for the life of me what to do with them. First I clicked “Discard” on all of them because I didn’t know what they were. Then I had to ask her to give them to me again, and vaguely understood I had to keep them in my Inventory (that’s where you store things in Second Life, kind of like a big handbag). But I couldn’t figure out how to put them in there. Actually, I just had to close the pop-up windows, they were already in my inventory. Gosh. Thank goodness chatting is pretty similar (albeit somewhat laggy when it comes to typing feedback) and I’m at least familiar with that part.

Very confusing I then teleported to New Citizens Incorporated, a place which gives classes and has lots of free stuff for newcomers. You can see the shops on this photograph. I went into one of the shops, and the shelves were absolutely packed with all sorts of stuff which didn’t make much sense to me. Well, one type of item I understood was “clothes”. I wasn’t really interested in clothes at first, until I saw another person wearing exactly the same outfit as I was! I was still wearing the default outfit they give you in the training zone.

That set me off on my first mission: try to get some new clothes. Not as easy as it sounds. I managed to get a box or two of female clothes off a shelf (Cmd-click on the box, and choose buy). Of course, I tried to wear the clothes directly and ended up with a box on my head. Then I understood I had to go in my inventory, drag the box out of it so it was on the floor, Cmd-click on it, choose open, then go back into my inventory, look at what items of clothing were in there, Cmd-click the ones I wanted to wear and choose “wear” from the menu. Sounds like a lot of trouble just to change clothes, doesn’t it? Well, it was. It probably took me an hour. Needless to say that in the process I ended up in my underwear — though hopefully I managed to avoid being stark naked in the middle of NCI Plaza.

Classes you can take at New Citizens

At that point I was ready to try to do something with my hair. Somebody told me there were classes organized for new Second Life citizens, so I went to have a look at the program. Unfortunately there was no class named “dye your hair pink in less than 30 minutes”, so I postponed that piece of fun to the next session.

Instead, I played around a bit with the camera controls (I desperately wanted to see what my face looked like) and tried to take a snapshot or two. Managed to zoom out! Well, I still have a lot of learning to do. Zoom in and out works now that I’ve understood I can use the MacBook trackpad scrolling technique (go up or down the trackpad with two fingers, and it scrolls/zooms). As for detaching the camera from right behind my avatar and moving it around and up and down… well, sometimes I manage, sometimes I don’t. It’s a bit hit-and-miss — again, not something I’m used to on a computer. I’m aware that for many people, normal computer use is just as confusing as Second Life is for me now. It’s an interesting experience for me.

As I’m writing this, I’m trying to remember when I did what. I’ve been on Second Life three times (last night, this morning, tonight). I’m honestly not certain which part of the story I’m telling you was last night, and which part was this morning. My memories are a bit confused and jumbled up.

Right, I went to look at the time I took the various screenshots I have: this morning, I chatted quite a bit with a bunch of people who were trying to build a Griefball.

Meet the Griefball!

A Griefball? Well, as one put it, mainly a statement — but the idea was also that this ball would then be programmed to get rid of griefers. Griefers are the Second Life equivalent to trolls. We had one this morning, by the way: he was dancing all over the place and making noises and stuff. Pretty irritating. I “muted” him (the equivalent of “ignore”) and then I think somebody else filed an abuse report on him. How do you mute somebody? Not too hard: Cmd-click on that person’s avatar, and click “Mute” in the menu that appears.

This morning, I also decided to do something about my hair. After a few random clicks in my inventory (I saw I had different kinds of hair in there) I finally landed in the hair style editing menu. Holy cow! There are **tons** of settings. You can literally spend *hours* doing your hair in Second Life.

Spend hours doing your hair

I also managed to make it pink (my initial goal). The magic slider for that is “rainbow colour” (don’t ask).

Tonight, I:

– grew a pink tiger-tail (not quite true, somebody gave it to me)
– swapped my red shirt (arghl, not nice with pink hair) for a green one (which I modified myself!)
– went for a stroll in the park by sunset
– got stuck in a mountain (no photos of that, I was too busy trying to get out).

Want pictures? Clicky below:

Stephanie Spicoli New green shirt Sunset

Overall, for the moment, I’ve met quite a few nice helpful people. What makes Second Life exciting is also what makes it really difficult to get into: it’s complex. I’m spending a lot of time learning stuff which isn’t really that interesting in itself for me (I have no ambition to become a digital hairstylist) but which is needed for what’s coming next. Feeling comfortable with your inventory, moving the camera about, doing things with objects… there are all basic skills and I’m not comfortable with them yet. But if you want a world where people can be digital artists, build businesses, organise live music performances or conferences, you need that level of complexity to allow users to be creative.

As one of the people who helped me out this morning said: “there’s not a lot of hand-holding”. Inside Second Life, of course, there are classes and coaching, but in my opinion the interface is complicated enough that it’ll get in the way from getting help in-world for many people.

I’m certain there is (will soon be) a market for introduction classes to Second Life… in First Life.

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