May 8, 2012

Pixels for Algernon

Ordinary people in #SecondLife doing extraordinary things.


If you’re savvy about middle school (highschool?) literature, then the title of this post raises a few eyebrows. After all, based on the premise of the much acclaimed book Flowers for Algernon (later made into a horrible movie), the premise was of a mentally challenged man named Charlie who was given a chance at being highly intelligent through some sort of gene therapy manipulation to unlock his true potential.



Pixels for Algernon Header

Artificially intelligent… if you will, and an excellent excuse to use this image for the post.


Throughout of the book, Charlie goes through the mental stages of growth that we would expect, in that he goes through the teenage rebellion years and quickly moves on to adulthood, but from there it gets interesting as his mental capacity continues to increase. No longer the dullard he was before the treatment, he begins to excel in the academic area and soon reaches a point where his intellect rivals the very scientists who unlocked his mind.


The problem was, for Charlie, that he soon realized that the very men and women he originally looked up to as intellectual giants increasingly were avoiding his questions and eventually just conceding that they really had no idea what he was talking about. Charlie had surpassed their ability to keep up and converse at the same level as he was. It was then that he realized the greatest truth about the whole situation that we, ourselves, often fail to realize in real life.


Simply put, even the smartest people are just regular people who happen to be pretty intelligent about a very narrow subject – but even they (we) have our intellectual limits. Clearly we don’t know everything, and this revelation is only vaguely apparent in everyday life as we look up to those in academic positions or business positions of self-appointed grandeur.


Sure, we’re contributing to some great things in the world, but at the end of the day we’re mostly just a bunch of normal people doing occasional extraordinary things.


Case in point, the virtual world industry.


I hear a lot about how intelligent and amazing I am, or how I am some sort of genius in the industry. There’s a lot of fanfare or just fan girls who go aflutter or get nervous around me for whatever reason. Maybe I’m famous in my own right, but I don’t really see it that way. I just see it as I’m an ordinary guy who sometimes manages to do extraordinary things (after copious amounts of coffee). More often than not, I chalk it up to Groundhog Day Syndrome – just being around long enough to have noticed a pattern and acquired some insight as to how it can be changed for the better. Is that genius or high intelligence? I suppose, in the narrow confines of virtual environments… however, aside from that niche, I’m actually just a red-neck southern boy who happened to get himself some sort of education in a highly specific technology field.



Kanker Sisters by Miimochi

The Kanker Sisters pretty much were my neighbors in the trailer park. Artwork by Miimochi



I know it may come as a surprise to most of my readers, but yes… I grew up in a redneck family, and spent a lot of time in a trailer park as a kid. I’m no stranger to the family goin’ out and huntin’ deer, and there isn’t anything like a good venison burger or stew. I’m not quite sure what happened along the way, but despite being raised a country boy, I took an interest in high academics and research. I’m quite comfortable around the redneck fire pit with a can of beer and a cigarette. Something you likely didn’t know about me before this post… I’m actually a regular person just like most of you are when the spotlight turns away.


Of course, I clean up quick and quite well. I happen to enjoy a good Merlot and cultural affairs such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I can fit in with the high class crowd just as quick, and (mostly) hold my own in conversation, as well as enunciate my words enough to where the southern accent doesn’t become glaringly obvious. Unless I’ve drank enough or am exceedingly tired… then all bets are off and I sound like Boomhower from King of the Hill.



No truer words have been spoken. Preach on, brother Boomhower…



We’re very different people between public perception and then in personal company of friends. I notice this a lot, much like Charlie realized this in the book Flowers for Algernon of his fellow colleagues, being that in the public eye we paint a very controlled and PG sort of picture for who we are (or at least many of us do), and I was surprised when I started interacting in the context of personal time with these same sort of people who, not surprisingly, are just normal men and women like you and I who happen to be involved with some amazing things from time to time. Though to be fair, some are ridiculous over-achievers and I definitely give those people serious kudos… such as Lyr Lobo in Second Life, who multitasks amazing things in her sleep and I would wager doesn’t necessarily know the concept of “down time” like us mere mortals.


We all have our niche and in some context or another we’re all pretty well established in those areas, claiming the right to say we’re all pretty famous for something or another. Elisa Butler (Bevan Whitfield) comes to mind in this train of thought because she’s pretty awesome at social media but in an intellectual and thought provoking way. I could also cite Skylar Smythe in this same context for her particular spin on things. Then, of course there is the incomparable Crap Mariner who likely has more creativity in his ring finger than I have in my whole mind, writing 100 word stories and presenting them with the authority it deserves after all these years. He has mastered something I apparently have not as of this juncture; Telling the chaos in my mind to settle down and focus long enough to form coherent sentences, however much it seems the opposite in this blog.


But we are just people. Even Mr. Rodvik Humble is an average guy who arguably is doing extraordinary things in life. Whether he’s succeeding or failing at them really isn’t the problem, because chances are this guy is too busy being more awesome than you are in life. Win or lose, he’s still likely better off than a majority of you for it.


As for me, I readily admit I’m no better than the random computer scientist who happens to have a strange insight to many things in the industry, due of course from groundhog day syndrome. Much like the scientists who eventually had to concede to Charlie that they weren’t nearly as smart as he thought they were, and were in fact pretty mundane in intellect in comparison to the Wile E. Coyote Super Genius intellect that Charlie had become.






Quite honestly, nobody really has a clue about the virtual world industry. We’re all really just spit balling here the best we can, and quite often we’re just taking educated guesses. Some happen to be seriously good at this guessing game, while others would do better to go back to making video games before they hurt themselves.


If anyone really had the answers, you’d think the Metaverse would be made by now and we’d have solved all of these problems; which is only half true. I mean, there’s a Dilbert comic that explains this problem succinctly, and I’ll paraphrase here with: The people who are most capable of making the world a better place are usually in a position where they are too busy fixing the screw-ups of the people who aren’t intelligent enough to be in the position they are in. Namely, management. Which explains why the smartest people on Earth are too busy working for the idiots.


Luckily, this has been changing in recent years, because -


We’re all famous in the digital age


Or at least we have a much higher probability of being famous in our own little communities had we taken the time to contribute something of value in the world. The people who are Internet famous, or even Second Life famous, are really just people who went from being ordinary to extraordinary and stuck to it. As for the rest of you, well, you’d be famous too if you were willing to take a shot at it and really shine. That’s sort of the revelation we’re looking at here…


Well that and some sort of reconciliation here about how on Earth my name and work precedes me in the academic, military intelligence, and international world so often. I’m sure you hear the same thing over and again as well in your own circles… the “OMG it’s [insert name]!” moment…


It’s really odd and flattering for me, actually. If you don’t get those moments like I do, then what the hell are you doing wasting your life? Get out there and do something that will make a name for yourself and last long after you’re gone in the world.


I actually had a few people from NASA wishing me a happy birthday this year, and in the back of my head I couldn’t place who they were, but they apparently knew my name and were impressed by my works. That’s a really… hell, I don’t know where to place that one on a scale of 1 to WTF? I’m going to say it was both flattering and humbling simultaneously.


NASA is pretty friggin awesome, actually, and one of these days I swear there is going to be a television show where the grand prize is to shoot some kid into space. It seems like a logical extension for reality television (much better than Jersey Shore), and how to keep interest in the space program going for current generations without regular shuttle launches. Hell, I’d watch a show like that religiously – but only because I grew up in Florida a hop and skip away from Cape Canaveral where they shot people in to space on a regular basis. But I digress into silly and asinine things… I can’t even imagine the length of that field trip consent form.


Shuttle Launch

This was a normal sight during my childhood. Up close and personal.


My works, insight and involvements in computer science research and academics are admired to a wide degree by some really awesome people in the world. Ok, that’s pretty cool. I feel kinda like a rock star for that one. That being said, I usually turn the tables and say the same things about the very people who trump me up as Captain Awesome. I really think the whole lot of you are famous for one thing or another and in many ways I actually admire you for what you are doing far more than I believe you’re asserting about me.


If you’re contributing something interesting in this world, something that is for the benefit of everyone, then you deserve just as much credit for being awesome.


So what’s the deal here with the Flowers for Algernon reference?


It’s just that, really. The closest analogy I could make for the situation.


Back to the point about being a controlled image in public, in private circles we’re pretty normal. Except Elisa Butler (Bevan Whitfield) who somehow manages 16 million shades of awesome in her hair alone. But again I digress… The point is that privately, we’re pretty normal. Every day sort of folks who (gasp) swear like a drunken sailor, drink, smoke, and party pretty hard at times. It’s the sort of realization that your highschool teacher, Ms. Smith, also works at the local Hooters. More appropriately that Ms. Smith actually is a person to begin with.


It’s a monkeysphere situation… or for those in the know, we call it Dunbar’s Number


Despite Gary Vaynerchuk insisting that Dunbar’s number is fucked, which is partially true depending on context, there is still only a limited amount of people you can socially interact with in a meaningful manner before anything past that becomes a faceless non-entity.  This is likely the reason why I really have no idea who out of the 6+ Billion people on Earth are staring at an Aeonix Aeon poster and thinking I’m just dreamy, or how many are using that same poster as a dart board and plotting in an evil genius lair to assassinate me. But those people are apparently out there… just as they are for you as well. This is also why it’s probably a good idea to put out to the world the best you possibly can because you never really know who in the world is keeping tabs on you when you make enough waves.


It’s all about authenticity in the end.


Because I mentioned him, I’m embedding a Gary Vaynerchuk video below. Keep in mind, this guy definitely doesn’t hold back on his swearing, and tells it like it is. He’s definitely an example of what the concept of digital fame is like in this age. Most of you don’t even know who this guy is, but some pretty high-up people in the industry know his name and he’s definitely the guy to listen to. So in his community circle of interest, he’s a rockstar.



Like I wasn’t going to insert a Gary Vaynerchuk keynote video after mentioning him… you knew this was coming.



The best I can say is, every time I meet somebody that has read my works (past and present) and tells me how much they adore or admire me and what I’m doing in the industry, I’m just flattered and surprised that a complete stranger thought that much of what I had to contribute to the world and that it inspired them in some way to make the world a better place. As a matter of course, I also thank them for taking the time to really digest the things I’ve said or written, and I always welcome feedback as long as it’s intelligent, thought out, and respectful.


That’s what I’m in it for… just to make the world a better place before I die. Leave a dent in the virtual universe and help others to be more awesome. Well, that and it’s flattering to have random red-headed British women calling me on Skype and giggling like a schoolgirl because I’m actually… you know… talking to them! Yes, this actually happened yesterday morning while I was drinking my coffee and talking to Charles L. Perkins about the IEEE Virtual World Standard draft information. To say the least it’s surreal… but mildly amusing and highly flattering all at once.


I’m pretty laid back, you know… so you can breathe and not be so nervous. [laughs]


And now for something completely different…


Crap Mariner pops in my IM box the other night and tells me that I really need to be a guest on the Metareality Podcast. Even if I have to storm the building and just invite myself on. Seems like something fun to do, but I’m on the fence about it. I’d say Crap really wants me to hop into the show as a guest… but I’ve never been one to just invite myself onto a show.


Also, if you’re wondering about the Elisa Butler (Bevan Whitfield) Hair references, it’s because I told her that she’s so awesome that I could only really handle her hair without being overloaded, which constitutes about 10% of her awesome at any given moment. If you know her, then you would likely agree with the prior statement… she really is pretty awesome.


Oh, and somebody in Second Life really needs to commission a limited edition Crap Mariner action figure to be made in real life. Just saying…


So let’s hear it, readers. What are you doing in the world (virtual and real) to make it more awesome and a better place for all? Should I be a guest on the Metareality Podcast and make Crap Mariner happy? If so, how do you suppose I get invited to that as a guest?


Leave a note in the comments and let me know.


  1. Will, that was a great and insightful blog ! (And thanks for your lovely comments!)

    1. Of course, you are very welcome!