Thursday, April 16, 2009

All that Jazz

This morning, I was out of a photo shoot for a new fashion post. This is an outtake with my two lovely friends, Lulubelle Muircastle and Selina Heron. Life does go on after Open Latte, and it is good as long as I have my friends.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Open Latte at Mill Pond: The Final Chapter

Micala Lumiere, Owner of Mill Pond
Today, I logged into Second Life and teleported myself to Open Latte in Mill Pond hoping some of my friends would be hanging there. Open Latte is a popular coffee house and a Second Life institution. Rezzing outside Open Latte, I found my self in the middle of a large agitated crowd. I looked around and saw my friend Lulubelle. I asked her about the cause for all the excitement. She said that Micala Lumiere, the owner and creator of Mill Pond, had just banned Random. Random Mefusula is a popular fixture at Open Latte; a resident, barkeep, craftsman, promoter/enthusiast of Mill Pond and an iconoclast.

Random Mafusala, Mill Pond Resident and Barkeep
Both Random and Micala had engaged in an unfortunate and ultimately destructive incident that resulted in the demise of a significant Second Life institution and the diaspora of a large, active community. But the conditions for this implosion were long in the making and neither of these individuals can be held solely responsible for the closing of Open Latte and Mill Pond. To begin, one must know Micala’s vision for Mill Pond which was to ‘provide a relaxing, beautiful space where people could enjoy live music and intelligent conversation’ and where they could form a community that ‘valued expression and creativity’ and ‘valued the serenity of the environment’. When I first discovered Mill Pond over a year ago, its community largely reflected Micala’s vision. But the last six months brought developments that would compromise that vision.

One development was the natural turnover of the community. Over time, people will leave the community having established interests outside of Mill Pond and people will leave Second Life for the exigencies of their real lives. Of the Mill Pond regulars that I have known in my first six months, a handful remained. A development more significant than the turnover of the community was the unprecedented increase in the crowd at Mill Pond. Mill Pond has long been ‘a place that was a great starting point for people new to Second Life’ and its convivial and active society attracted greater numbers of new people into the community as well as a larger number of visitors. Even with the larger crowd, Mill Pond remained the friendliest and most welcoming collection of individuals in Second Life. But a large crowd by the nature of its diversity and dynamics can be disruptive to the serenity of the environment that was an important part of Micala’s vision.

Architects and urban planners assert that the layout and design of space influences the dynamics of the community. Micala’s last two revisions of Mill Pond dramatically changed its social dynamics. Mill Pond was transformed from a quaint rural village to an urbanized town. Asphalt replaced the cobblestones. In the earlier Mill Pond, Open Latte was the central meeting place, and the majority of social interactions occurred inside the coffeehouse. Open Latte was comfortable, intimate and well suited for the small community that was then Mill Pond. The transformations of Mill Pond and the redesigns of Open Latte altered the social dynamics in a manner that resulted in far more socializing outside in front of the coffeehouse than inside. Socializing outside the confines of the coffeehouse broadened the possibilities for amusing activities and fostered a different set of behaviors. The change from rural to urban may have also fostered a different attitude toward Mill Pond’s environment. The nature of the community had definitely changed; but, this change was not necessarily negative. On the positive side, life in Mill Pond became much more vibrant and a lot more fun. This vibrancy and brought more and more people into Mill Pond including many endearing personalities.
But growth and change are difficult things, and, in time, their negative aspects became quite evident at Mill Pond. The increased scope for amusing activities also provided for annoying fooleries such as cars racing the around the streets, raving with particle emitters, gestures accompanied by loud noise or music, brandishing of weapons, and manipulations of the surroundings and the weather. None of it was mean spirited. Some of it was fun. But they were escalating in their frequency and, cumulatively, a detraction from Mill Pond’s peaceful environment. There were also more visitors coming to Mill Pond exhibiting rude behavior and spouting foul language. I found myself muting more individuals than I have ever done previously. Even more disturbing, Open Latte was attracting more than its share of griefers; some of them, thugs. Mill Pond could be a dangerous place as a consequence. Twice at Open Latte, I was targeted and viciously assaulted by griefers. The ferocity of the assaults was terrifying. The incidents left me as shaken as one can be in Second Life.


These problems were inevitably brought to Micala for solutions and resolution. It was obviously not pleasant for her as she once confided to us, “Believe me, there have been many MANY times lately where I've thought about selling it (Mill Pond). It's not been fun for me lately. Especially when I have to spend time breaking up fights about VOICE."

.One of the more trying controversies concerned the use, abuse, and social consequences of voice chat at Mill Pond. Voice had become the rage among a group of Open Latte regulars; a minority of the community, but not an insignificant number. This development was having a profound impact on social interactions. Of course, it was delightful discovering that many of our acquaintances have attractive voices. Poetry readings and story telling expanded our cultural venue. But voice was leading to a decidedly less inclusive community. Micala observed, “what I found was happening was that new people would show up here, and everyone would be using voice and they'd ignore the new people. I didn't dig that.” A Mill Pond resident also observed that “voicing gets very cliquey.” Others found the interminable ‘giggling contests’ particularly annoying. More disturbing, the poetry readings and oral stories were trending blue. One Open Latte regular recalled, “…they were offensive for the sake of being offensive. And since they did it in earshot of the crowds, they made people uncomfortable.” Many were offended and brought complaints to Micala.

.Micala acted, and voice was disabled at Mill Pond. I believe that the majority of the community supported Micala’s decision. As one Open Latte regular commented, “there was abuse of it here... glad it is gone.” The voice enthusiasts were naturally disappointed, and perhaps some, resentful. A few days later, a new group called the Mill Pond Voice Group was formed by Random Mefusula to take advantage of the Group Voice Chat feature offered by Second Life. The group’s stated purpose was “To get around the voice ban at Mill Pond…” This was very telling. A group of Open Latte regulars would have it their own way in Macala’s sim and determined that her wishes and rules need not be respected. This marked the beginning of the last chapter to Mill Pond.

It must have been obvious to Micala that her vision for Mill Pond was giving way to a different reality. And the problems being brought for her attention were added to her already considerable real life work load. So again she acted. A sign announcing Mill Pond Rules and Guidelines was posted at the entrance to Open Latte. Micala, like other sim owners, always had rules governing the conduct of residents and guests. However, they were not well circulated among the community. At most sims, upon entering, a visitor is automatically greeted and given a notecard with information and rules. There was no such greeting at Mill Pond. One received a notecard with Micala’s rules when becoming a resident by renting property. But the larger part of the Mill Pond’s community were not residents but people for which Open Latte was a home base. The sign now put Micala’s rules upfront and very public. They were essentially the old rules rewritten with a few new items added. They were also similar to rules that could be found for almost any other sim open to the public. Moreover, some members of the community requested that the rules be made widely known so they might know what was and was not permitted. But for many at Mill Pond, this was their first exposure to their community’s rules. To have a complete record, I have placed Mill Pond’s rules and guidelines below.
The following are the rules, guidelines and expectations of behavior while at Mill Pond:.Rules:
1. At no time are any motorized or loud transportation devices allowed on the sim. This includes but is not limited to cars, busses, motorcycles, helicopters, motorboats, alien ships, and any other thing that creates noise or detracts from the peaceful environment. Other transportation devices such as bicycles, roller skates, hot air balloons are allowed, but must be used with consideration of other visitors and guests.
2. At no time is nudity, sexually suggestive behavior or solicitation of sexual services permitted in any public area of Mill Pond. If you are wearing an 'escort' tag, please remove it upon arriving at Mill Pond and conduct yourself appropriately.
3. At no time is harassment, stalking, or 'griefing' of any kind permitted at Mill Pond.
4. Being rude and disrespectful of others will not be tolerated.
5. Age play and child avatars are not permitted at Mill Pond.
6. The use/wearing/creation of any device used to manipulate the environment of Mill Pond (weather devices, rain, etc) are not permitted at any time.
7. The use/wearing/creation of any drug-related paraphernalia is not permitted at any time.
8. No 'deeded' objects including televisions, radios, media systems, cars, etc are permitted at Mill Pond.
9. No dance floors or "rave" attachments such as (but not limted to) particle emitters, fog machines, silhouette orbs, etc. are permitted at Mill Pond.
10. Gestures should be used sparingly and gestures with sound effects are strongly discouraged, once again, because it detracts from the overall atmosphere of the sim. Please keep in mind all other rules when using gestures.
11. No weapons are permitted at any time.
12. No advertising of other sims, shops, or venues outside of Mill Pond is permitted.
General Guidelines:

Mill Pond is designed to be a peaceful, relaxing place where people can enjoy intelligent conversation and a community atmosphere. I expect that all visitors and residents will respect the vision of Mill Pond as it was designed and will be respectful and tolerant of others. Behave as you would behave at a coffee shop or creative community in real-life. Respect each other and the environment and be aware of your surroundings and the others that are also trying to enjoy the space. I expect that people will refrain from excessive use of foul language and rude behavior. Remember that you are a guest at Mill Pond and are, at all times, expected to comply with these rules and guidelines.
.Mill Pond is not voice-enabled because of prior issues with the use of voice on this sim.


There is nothing draconian here or highly unusual; nothing that would greatly inhibit one from enjoying Mill Pond. Some found the rule regarding gestures as out of the ordinary and ambiguous. But no gestures are prohibited, even those with sound effects. All Micala required was being sensible in their use. Indeed, the essence of these rules and guidelines is that Micala would have us behave as adults and respect others at Mill Pond.
Naturally there was a reaction within the Mill Pond community. Most acknowledged that, as owner of Mill Pond, Micala had every right to insist on her rules and guidelines. For many, their posting was a welcomed development. But a vociferous uproar came from those who resented their imposition. Some people will naturally resent any open display of authority. Perhaps, others were resentful because they perceived that the rules were directed at them in particular. Indeed, the posting of the rules were a response to the behavior of some at Mill Pond (and I admit that I am not entirely innocent). Still others did not take the rules seriously and were amused by their public posting. The rules were openly ridiculed by some of the resentful and the bemused and critical comments brought to Micala. Some of those ridiculing the rules were the same people who requested that they be made widely known. Perhaps feeling under siege, Micala confided to one Mill Pond resident that the past two weeks were ‘living torture’. And as a portent to the drama that was to transpire, Random had taken to sitting on top of the posted sign.


I have laid out the background leading to the closing of Mill Pond. I attempted to be accurate. I hope that I have been fair. What follows is the complete Local Chat record of the incident involving Micala and Random with unrelated conversations removed. It is divided into three segments. I have provided a prologue to each segment with my commentary.
A large crowd has gathered in front of Open Latte. Just prior to Micala’s appearance into Mill Pond, her rules and guidelines were the ongoing target of jokes and ridicule by some in the crowd, mostly good natured. But this set the scene for the coming drama. Micala enters.
[14:57] Micala Lumiere: Hi everyone!
[14:57] Syene Cela: MICALA LUMIERE!
[14:57] Syene Cela: why HELLO to you!
[14:57] Micala Lumiere: SYENE CELA! :)
[14:57] Micala Lumiere: Hello! :)
[14:58] Kirra Sirnah: ...Helloooo
[14:58] Micala Lumiere: Hello Kirra :)
[14:58] Random Mefusula: hi Micala... welcome to Mill Pond
[14:58] Micala Lumiere: Um, gosh thanks Random.
[14:58] Random Mefusula: lol
[14:59] Micala Lumiere: Nothing like being welcomed to your own sim.
[14:59] Reginald Golding: we should hire random, he's a fantastic greeter
[14:59] Random Mefusula: well... I try
[14:59] Kirra Sirnah: lol random
[14:59] Caudia Balbozar: Hi micala feeling better?
[14:59] Micala Lumiere: I'm fine thanks
In the next segment, Micala is deliberately provoked. The humorous jesting targeting Micala’s rules and guidelines that preceded her appearance is resumed. But Micala herself is made the fall-person of the joke. A joke it may be, but, it is an in-your-face moment and a challenge to her prerogatives as owner of Mill Pond.

.[15:00] Mony Markova raises hand !!!
[15:00] Mony Markova raises hand !!!
[15:00] Reginald Golding: yes mony, question?
[15:00] Mony Markova: for Micala Regin... but thanks
[15:00] Micala Lumiere: What question?
[15:01] Mony Markova: Is it true that rules and guidelines were an April fools joke???
[15:01] Micala Lumiere: No Mony, it isn't.
[15:01] Loelia Zabaleta: grins
[15:01] Mony Markova: ok thanks :)
[15:01] Nash Lannock: .•*::: VIOLATION ::: *•.
In the next segment, Micala is clearly upset and seriously provoked. She announces she is at her breaking point and issues a clear warning. Random ignores the warning and adds his contribution to the humorous assault. Rather then directing his wit at the rules and guidelines, Random makes it personal. He practically calls Micala a Nazi. I don’t believe he realized how personal or vicious his remark was. He was being flippant, but it was bad timing as evidenced by Micala’s comment in answer to Loelia’s question, composed while Random was sending his own humorous response. Micala breaks. Random is banned.
[15:02] Micala Lumiere: Those are the rules/guidelines and you know, I'm getting tired of the attitude and comments :) If people don't like the rules, there are lots of other places to visit
[15:02] Micala Lumiere: I think I'll start getting rid of people that are just annoying too because I'm tired of hearing it.
[15:03] Loelia Zabaleta: getting rid of ppl?
[15:03] Random Mefusula: yes... like Gort in The Day The Earth Stood Still
[15:03] Random Mefusula: your choice is simple
[15:03] Random Mefusula: join us and live in peace
[15:04] Random Mefusula: or pursue your present course and face obliteration
[15:04] Micala Lumiere: Yes. People that have nothing better to do than sit here and make comments about why I'd make rules, why it's stupid, is it a joke, 'i wonder if this is REALLY Micala's vision"
[15:04] Kirra Sirnah giggles
[15:04] Micala Lumiere: ok that's it. it starts now.
[15:04] Micala Lumiere: Who's next.
[15:04] Micala Lumiere: I’m done :)
[15:04] Micala Lumiere: this is MY island, I'd love to have people here, but not if you're going to criticize every thing I do.
[15:05] Micala Lumiere has reached her limit.
[15:06] Reginald Golding: sometimes you can try 110% to make someone happy, and they just never will be. so, someone has to be in charge, make tough choices.
[15:06] Caudia Balbozar: hey where did Random go?
[15:06] Micala Lumiere: Just FYI, I'm not a mean person. I just can't understand why people are acting this way. If you don't like the rules, you don't have to be here! I cannot IMAGINE going to someone else's space and bitching and complaining about how they run their OWN space.
[15:06] Loelia Zabaleta: he got thrown off
[15:06] Nash Lannock: He probably went back to the bar
[15:07] Micala Lumiere: So I am done with that here.
[15:07] Micala Lumiere: He got banned.

It took just 10 minutes. And in those 10 minutes, the fate of Mill Pond was sealed. The crowd was stunned by what had just transpired. Some long time friends of Micala came to her defense – ‘She is a really kind and good person generous and selfless’…‘I KNOW Micala.... for many years... she is NOT a mean person’. But this line of defense implicitly acknowledged that the sudden banning of Random was shocking and cruel. Random was a rent-paying resident and retailer at Mill Pond and arguably deserved more consideration than Micala had given him. That is was Random who was banned made it all the more shocking and made it a seminal act. Random was a very popular member of the community and well known for his enthusiasm for Mill Pond.
But was this banning really spontaneous and precipitous? It appears that Random was not banned solely because of this one incident. He spent the previous week pushing and goading Micala, breaking rules and arguing with her about them. He insisted that he was the true leader of Mill Pond and that he even understood her vision better than she did. One Mill Pond resident observed, “That one incident was only the last straw. It's important to understand that he wasn't banned suddenly or without having been given many chances. It's speaks well of Micala that he lasted as long as he did.”
Micala left and apparently fled. The sentiment of the crowd waxed heavily for Random. All were saddened and many were angry at his treatment. People began leaving Mill Pond, and the crowd was dispersed. After a space of time, Micala returned to Mill Pond and wandered around her creation. She sent her final message to the Mill Pond community:

.Mill Pond Closure
Sat Apr 04 02:49:47 2009
Due to recent events, Mill Pond will be closing. Please understand that I know how much Mill Pond means to some of you, and believe me - I understand.
I have been struggling with this decision, but am sure it is the right one for me.
Mill Pond as it is today, will cease to exist, but the spirit will live on. The sim will be renamed, and will grow again with a new community that share the same values and ideals.
I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for being part of Mill Pond. - Micala.

In a post-mortem, one asks ‘what if’ questions. Random was clearly wrong. Micala was clearly harsh. What if Random had immediately sent Micala a sincere apology would Mill Pond still exist? Probably not. What was broken – the spirit of community - could not be restored. Besides, the chapters leading to the final chapter of Mill Pond were written long before this incident. If it wasn’t this incident, it would have been another. The final chapter would still end as it did.

.A long time Mill Pond regular believes that the end began when Micala ‘lost interest’ and no longer actively participated in the community. He fondly remembers a time when Micala was the heart of the community and organized many events and happenings. People have lately remarked they could not know Micala’s vision since she was never around. If she had a vision for Mill Pond, did she not have an obligation to guide the community? She largely took the role of an absentee landlord. One also wonders if Micala’s vision for Mill Pond might have adapted and evolved as Mill Pond evolved were she an active member of her community.
In many ways, Mill Pond was a modest sim. There was no popular dance club, no shopping mecca, no large live performance stage, no beach or maritime activities. There was just a coffee shop and a town. Yet there was always the presence of people; lots of people, people socializing, people in relationships and friendships, and people interacting in many ways. This was not a crowd attracted by superficial entertainments, but a living community, the most successful in Second Life. Couldn’t Micala be satisfied with her significant achievement? She created a viable and sustaining community in a virtual world – a truely pioneering achievement. Must she insist on her vision for it? Yes she must because Micala is a creative artist and as such is a visionary. So there was inevitable tension between Micala Lumiere and those who would have their own way in her sim. She was accused of being the ‘annoying one’ and creating ‘a huge uproar over nothing’ by persons who are guests in her sim. I have come to accept that Micala’s closing of Mill Pond was the correct decision.
The Last Picture of Open Latte taken just prior to the closing of Mill Pond
How to end this post on a place for which I have a strong emotional attachment? Perhaps by looking back at a better moment. My first posting on Mill Pond recorded another appearance of Micala Lumiere before a crowd in front of Open Latte. It was one of the most affecting scenes that I have witnessed in Second Life. And so I will close with it once again.

.Lulubelle Muircastle: people are congregating outside like never before. Indeed, we were. And the affection that the crowd had for Micala was evident as was her affection for us. Micala is ancient in SL time, and she has not kept her avatar up with the times. It is barely above the level of a noob. And don’t set me off on her clothes. But for Micala, having a stylish avatar is not very important. As she explained to us, ‘I love SL because I can build and create. To me, Mill Pond is a living, breathing, work of art. It truly is’ This set off cries for a toast:
.Lulubelle Muircastle: A toast to you Micala.
Forestwalker Flieg: here here... a toast!
Forestwalker Flieg: to Micala!!!
Lulubelle Muircastle: A TOAST
To which Micala graciously replied, ‘To all of you, actually. Without you Mill Pond is just a pretty spot - nothing more. You all make it a community.’.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Cheesecake Mariko

Art Deco
Serving an old fashioned cheesecake to be followed by an after-dinner brandy.