R. Fink | The Packet Rat: Reality creeps into a virtual world

The Packet Rat

Michael J. Bechetti

While the real world prepares for'or, in some places, panics about'Election Day, the Rat has taken refuge in a somewhat less cacophonous place, free (so far) of political attack ads and voting machines that don't work. He's logged onto Second Life.

The alternative reality, now three years old, is run by Linden Lab of San Francisco. It allows people all over the world to meet in a three-dimensional world where programming and Photoshop skills rule. Users become residents and take part in Second Life's virtual world and economy. Where people go, businesses often follow, and companies are increasingly turning to Second Life to reach their audiences.

Sun Microsystems Inc. recently opened its own virtual pavilion in Second Life to stage marketing events for its true believers spending their time online. And educational institutions have opened up shop in the space as well, using it as a platform for online and distance learning.

The Rat, in fact, signed up for Second Life in order to get access to the latest in Cisco and Microsoft certification training, one of the most popular 'locations' in Second Life (or SL, as its 'residents' call it).

Thompson NetG runs training programs on the site, with virtual conference areas where people can share a view of Web content, streaming video, slides and podcasts. And the experience was less underwhelming than the Rat had expected.

Then the Rat started using SL's modeling tools to do ergonomic walkthroughs of layouts he had created for the upcoming redux of his network command bunker.

SL is well suited to such activities, if you can get past the little idiosyncrasies, like people's 'avatars' occasionally coming along and unleashing the Second Life equivalent of a weapon on your avatar.

With articles in Business Week, Wired and countless other magazines pointing hundreds of thousands of people to the simulated universe, 'noob' hazing has become the most popular pastime of the virtual elitists who first colonized the place.

And like any wild frontier, SL has its seamier side.

'Yeah, sure, sure you're using it for work,' his wife scoffed. 'You can't tell me you don't know what's going on in that ... place.'

'What does that mean?' the cyberrodent asked defensively.

'C'mon. Why do you think they have that song in Avenue Q'you know, that puppet thing on Broadway? 'The Internet is for Porn.' '

'Really?'

The Rat's spouse took his keyboard and mouse, and clicked on the 'search' button in the SL client (which, for the geeks out there, is based on Mozilla).

'Look at what the most popular sites are. They're all virtual strip clubs!'
She clicked 'teleport.' 'Now, tell me THIS is work-safe!'

'Geez, look at the detail!' the Rat gushed, just before his wife hit him across the back of the head with his keyboard.

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@postnewsweektech.com.

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