Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Home Improvements: Random Prim Drift in a Large Build

Inner Wall Linkset
Location: Caulking Seams

It's ironic that I talk about this on a day when, in real life, I need to caulk a seam between our house and a not-so-well-made addition. The building settles unevenly, and mortar joints love to crack. Good-quality exterior masonry caulk stops those cold drafts.

But there's no HGTV for avatars (though Prim Perfect comes closest). Even that fine magazine focuses more on style and design and not repair and renovation.

Renovation? In a fake building? Should be as simple as deleting prims or moving them, right?

Viv Trafalgar and I were touring the Second Life House of Usher in the guise of Madeline and Roderick, in order to shoot Viv's machinima I featured here a few weeks ago. I noted a rather large gap in a wall, and Viv, ever the master builder, noted that large builds do that. Elements creep apart over time. I don't know the reason; perhaps it's an infinitesimal rounding up or down when linked prims overlap ever so slightly. There's a JIRA at the Linden Lab Web site about this.

Torley Linden, who cares and knows a lot about technical issues in the code, asked a resident to give examples or reproduce the problem so Linden Lab could investigate. Here's a technical but vexing reply from Khamon Fate:

 It's a floating point error that is seen nearly every time one edits a prim's location, rotation, cut et al by the numbers. Type 35 degrees Y rotation into a prim and watch it magically adjust itself to 34.97 degrees. Doesn't seem like much really, but when that same calculating error occurs as the sim places, and replaces prims, they seem to drift. Those same miscalculations cause textures to be suddenly offset. The list goes on to include misplaced telepoints, odd ground configurations and really just anything the server has to manage mathematically.

It's a deep, fundamental problem in the server code and really must be fixed for these types of problems to be resolved.

I have not noticed the math error in our SL or Jokaydia Grid build, but I'll try an experiment of noting the position of some prims and then checking with my next log in. And, yes, it happened at Jokaydia Grid too. I found that a linked set of prims for Usher's interior walls had crept away slightly from some unlinked parts, including doors and "headers" over them.  Fixing that was easy--I had to realign the doors' headers and match the texture to the main wall's settings. Then I linked them.

As I did this, I was reminded of another "101" lesson: don't link scripted items to the linkset. I know that when I blogged about making a fireplace; the scripted prim needs to be the root. So I left doors and chimneys unlinked and floating free, as the rest of the House drifts.

My fix is to link the entire House in a few segments: roof, interior walls, exterior walls, crypt. I can then tweak each one a few hundredths of a meter to re-align the ancient manse.  If only it worked so well, on a cold December day, on a brick-and-mortar home!

My posts on building in virtual worlds are aggregated here. Happy home improvements!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Under a Virtual Moon: Healing and the Light of the Moon

Dancing in my Moon Temple.
Location: Second Life

Things settled down in the Anam Turas group, with regular Sunday morning Open Pagan Discussions, Tuesday night healing ritual, and Friday evening Tarot discussions. In fact, it got a touch boring making my weekly rounds. Then, due to scheduling conflicts, the Tarot discussion stopped. The Tuesday healing ritual got a little spotty. I thought the group was pretty much over.
Before I could give up completely, Aoife Lorefield started an astrology discussion. This wasn’t generic what’s-your-sign stuff. There was deep planetary tracking interpreted by Aoife’s penetrating insights. Before each new moon we learned about  that month's particular astrological focus for “Yin Intentions”, or wishes. She created the Rising Moon group for moon location updates. New moon rituals were held.
I’ve had varied results with the New Moon Wishes. Usually about half of my wishes come true. One month I got all of my wishes! On the down side, for six months I’ve been waking up when the full moon is directly overhead. Its an inconvenient yet nice-to-have energetic connection. Hopefully I’ll get a notion about how to use that energy. 
United Healers of Second Life
About the time Aoife started her group, ConnieJean Maven came along with a Reiki Meditation Healing Ritual and spun off another group, United Healers of Second Life.The Anam Turas healing circle involved dancing and heavy emoting. ConnieJean’s ritual involved quiet, seated meditation on pads laid out in an energy grid. I found the contrast instructive and learned to recognize energy whether active or passive. 
The first time I took part in the meditative healing circle I was filled with calming energy for days afterwards. The second time, the first life people whose names I placed in the healing circle were healed and energized. As a bonus, the good energy I had sent out came back to me. And that keeps on happening. There was also a chakra healing meditation focusing on the throat chakra. The next day I was talking my head off. 
The Anam Turas Tuesday night healing circles have returned. Although the scheduling has been a bit bumpy over the holidays, the Rising Moon meetings and United Healers circles are still happening. All of the groups are open groups. You should be able to find them with in-world search. Join up and try the energy. You could have a better New Year.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Holiday Wishes to You Avatars

The signs say it all
Location: Egg-Nogged Torpor

I really enjoyed the holiday party at VWER yesterday; not only did I get to wear a wonderful white-tie-and-spats outfit Viv Trafalgar makes, but I got to pelt folks with snowballs, ice skate with my colleague Anetha, and dance to the fine blues-rock of Kelvinblue Oh.

To my friends in Second Life and other virtual worlds, I wish you the happiest of holidays.

The new year brings new joys and challenges, and Linden Lab will begin it with Rod Humble, a veteran of Electronic Arts. I have a lot of warm-fuzzies for EA, since their subsidiary Maxis released Sim City and Sim City 2000. The latter was the first game I ever used in a classroom.  If Rod could not only make the physics work, but have a Godzilla from SC 2000 romp through the mainland once in a while, I'd be a happier boy in SL.

My resolution to be not be so snarky about the Lab continues. I will resume my road-trips, monthly if possible, and after last night's party, I should get out more to hear live music and support the talent to be found in-world.

See you all in 2011.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Looking Backward: Sandbox

Looking Backward: Driving Less...
This is one of my all-time favorite "new to SL" moments. Nowadays I could be a terror in a sandbox, having learned these various tricks.  One tip: do not try to learn to drive in SL in a Sandbox.

March 25, 2007 8:43 PM
Location: Sandbox Island

A house just fell on me.  Then cars started to rain out of the sky.  I am buried by the word “HELLO!” in letters the size of garage-doors.

Public Sandboxes permit items to be made and modified.  I did not know, however, that in a Sandbox I’d be attacked by players with the power, and immaturity, of newly minted gods.  I only wanted to make a little content of my own. . .creating items makes SL a unique gaming experience.  Early on, Linden Labs decided that the players would be the world-creators.

I was also hoping to drive a white moon-buggy that I’d found in a “Free Stuff” store on Orientation Island.  I drove to a group of avatars waving their arms and making things—big things—out of thin air.  A house tumbled by. . .tossed between two avatars like a baseball.

“Tsunami!” a female avatar typed.  The big wave washed over me, without sweeping me away.

“Cruise Ship!” she next yelled, dropping a gigantic boat on me.  I had to crawl out from underneath; my buggy was stuck.

Was she flirting? I stood up and typed in her direction.

“Duck?”  I have always wanted someone to yell it, so I could ask “Where?”

She replied “No duck. Buffalo!” and in a cloud of dust, a stampede was upon me.

When the dust cleared, I hopped on a free motorcycle and roared off, pursued by Linden knows what.  A woman like that is dangerous. . .

Iggy's Note: My "Looking Backward" posts are aggregated here, if you want to see the fool I made of myself in 2007. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

My 2011 SL Resolution: Instant & Epic Fail

Location: VWER Meeting

We just gathered to share our resolutions for 2011 plus our accomplishments and sorrows in 2010.

What was in my head? Here it is, readers:

"I'm going to be less harsh to Linden Lab as I move on and do a lot more at Jokaydia Grid. Time to move on and all that."

Someone wave the "BS" flag, please.  Well, I'll try to be less harsh, since I'll be in SL a lot less.

How's THAT for a New Year's Resolution!

Happy Solstice to all. A new year is just around the corner.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Iggy Strangeland Visits InWorldz

InWorldz Arrival
Location: Desert Island Welcome Area

Ruth again! Unlike Second Life, however, mentors were awaiting my sad Ruthy arrival at this up-and-coming grid.

I got directed to a newbies store, and a well-stocked one, by an avatar named Doctor Gascoigne. Uploads of textures are free, so I equipped Iggy with my usual T and Jeans, then found some hair and shades. He's a bit of Andy Partridge from XTC, so I'm playing that band--one of my favorites--on iTunes now.

The result of this ramble will be a piece for the January 2011 issue of Prim Perfect, where I do features on non-SL grids. So far, InWorldz is indeed promising. It seems a major stop for those leaving SL or simply branching out. InWorldz residents are in the midst of their Winter Festival, so if you don't think snowballs are painful enough to toss at the Lindens who so badly screwed up this annus horribilis in SL, go over to InWorldz for some actual wintertime fun.
Ruth No More
More on this grid soon here, but here's a note: a grid passes my Tophat Test when I can adjust a worn prim-based item. I found a topper and made it fit right away!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Under a Virtual Moon: Becoming a Pagan Groupie

A Lammas ritual on Gaia Rising.
Location: Gaia Rising

As a shy and hesitant neo-pagan solitary, finding and practicing with others was a little scary. It was much easier to find a group in Second Life where an avatar could stand in for the real me. Although the partying pagans of Artemis Tavern were friendly, I craved quiet and reverence. I found that in the Anam Turas group
On their sim, Gaia Rising, I found a sacred grove area. Seeing an altar with nicely detailed tools laid ready for use was much better than the line drawings or descriptions I had found in books. While the tools were decorative and unscripted, the ritual area had a magical cauldron to incinerate notecard wishes, a clickable ball that closed the circle with white particles, and stone bowls on pillars (which fired up colored particles on a click) at each of the four directions. 
I practiced there and in the circle dance areas, the singing chakra meditation bowl gazebo, and at a grove dedicated to the Green Man. Paddling along in a canoe, I discovered a shamanic journeying blanket. Seeing all these ritual areas laid out in a matter-of-fact way and being able to try them dispelled my fears.  
I remember quietly sitting in my first Anam Turas ritual hoping no one would ask me to do anything and yet wishing I could. There I was in quasi-fairy blue-skinned winged avatar with a monk, a dragon, a few robed human AVs with pentagrams, a humanized otter and an AV covered in a violent shade of violet. I felt right at home. And I did finally get the courage to call a quarter for a subsequent ritual. 
Those SL experiences gave me the confidence to participate in first life groups such as: the Earth Centered Spirituality workshop and group in my UU church, a local urban pagan church and a local rural pagan church. Eventually getting the courage to become immersed by participating in a pagan festival and retreat.

Gaia Rising is still a welcoming place for exploring paganism. Their one sim has expanded to four. Each Sunday there’s an informal discussion of all things pagan. Avatars from around the globe chat, in voice and in text, about their lives and direct experiences with natural energy. Perhaps I’ll see you there. 
Weekly informal pagan discussion on Gaia Rising.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Reply From the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation

Mr. Wright & Mr. Wrong
Today this appeared in my university in-box. After the furor over the closing of the Virtual Frank Lloyd Wright Museum in the last 10 days, I was pleased to see the Foundation reply. My protest over the closing in my e-mail was civil, and I appreciate the civil and detailed reply given here.  If you want to editorialize, have a go in the comments.

The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation (the Foundation) has received numerous inquiries regarding its decision to terminate the license relationship with Virtual Museums, Inc., the builder of the Frank Lloyd Wright Virtual Museum in Second Life. Misinformation directed towards the Foundation regarding the situation appears in press releases, blogs, and throughout the Second Life community and is perpetuating an incorrect and misleading perception of the Foundation’s position with respect to an educational presence in Second Life.

The Foundation and the owners’ of various Frank Lloyd Wright building sites own copyrights that give the Foundation and others the exclusive rights to copy and display Wright’s buildings and designs. The Foundation entered into a licensing agreement with Virtual Museums, Inc. (VMI) for installation of a virtual museum in Second Life that allowed VMI to reproduce the architectural designs of the homes and buildings created by Frank Lloyd Wright and protected by copyright and trademark law. It was the Foundation’s hope and intention that a virtual museum would be a positive and educational undertaking to allow architects, scholars, students, and a younger generation to be able to learn about the many aspects of Wright’s architecture.

The Foundation terminated the license agreement with VMI for numerous reasons, including the fact that several of the buildings as constructed in Second Life and displayed by VMI did not accurately reflect the buildings as actually designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Foundation further offered a new and revised license agreement to VMI’s new board and management but it was declined. The Foundation was disappointed that they could not obtain agreement with VMI as to the license agreement terms, but the Foundation and the real world Frank Lloyd Wright building site owners have a duty to protect the intellectual property and works of Wright.

The Foundation will continue to look for creative ways to work with academics, authors, scholars, reputable organizations and online and virtual communities to educate the public about the work and teachings of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Avoiding Boredom and Needing Solitude: Why We Build?

Mr. Roman Nose Does the Roof
Location: Fixing a Virtual Roof

When I am social, in either my physical or virtual lives, it tends to be with folks as smart and, believe it or not, broadly learned as my colleagues in the sciences. I'll party with those wild-men from our Physics Department this weekend. Woo hoo! Pass the tortilla chips and don't ask me to do any integrals!

I eat lunch daily with them, and a sampling of mathematicians and chemists, every day.  Otherwise, I don't "hang out" too much, go to virtual or brick-and-mortar clubs, or get too involved in in-person or virtual forums beyond the handful of blogs I follow and the events at my UU Church.

So Robert Hooker's post about identity in Second Life and his feelings that it does not capture one tenet of Postmoderism, Donna Haraway's "Cyborg" from her famous manifesto, got me thinking about what virtual worlds do mean for me.  Sometimes I'm happiest when there's not another avatar in sight, as has been the case for my SL road-trips (I'm considering continuing that little series, since I rather miss it).

I discovered a connection that I've been trying to articulate for a while in two articles, one in press and one about to go to the editors, about collaboration. Here's what I said in reply to Robert at his blog, as Hiro Pendragon and I both sought clarity about some of Robert's claims:
I'm not in Hiro's league as a builder, and I cannot script, but whenever I get bored with virtual worlds, I build. If you want social-constructivist epistemology that's at the core of Postmodern pedagogy in my field, writing, do a collaborative build with others and then make an immersive simulation.

That's a pretty Postmodern move, appropriating the tools a corporation provides to make something new, even subversive, and ephemeral, one of Hakim Bey's TAZs.

So I've begun to focus less on the avatar and more what avatars (and the users driving them) create.
I had been bored in SL for a long time before I moved my educational activities to Jokaydia Grid, where I'm building everything almost from scratch.

At the Virtual House of Usher, I've done little with the avatar of Roderick Usher, other than making his hair messy and giving him a nicely "Roman" nose. He is bone-stock. Instead, the build has been the identity I'm crafting. Poe's House appeared to be sentient, and its "leaden" presence influences the fate of all three characters in the tale.

I've never been bored, even once, while making things. Next week I'll be helping to build a cedar closet in the physical world and sticking the final bits on the exterior of Usher. Both will be nearly solitary pursuits and, like writing itself, rewarding only insofar as they lead to more creations.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Under a Virtual Moon: As in Second Life, So in the First

After "Belief-O-Matic" revealed my best religious fit as Neo-Pagan, I was eager to find out more. Coincidentally, I signed up for Second Life. Since Neo-Pagan was much like Pagan, searching on that term quickly brought me to the partying pagans of Artemis Tavern. When the tavern DJ, who also happened to be a landlord, heard that I was looking for a quiet plot to build a grove, he prepared a vacant parcel for me.  
Elaine Mumfuzz, noob neo-pagan.
I added a bunch of free and reasonably priced prim trees, building my grove with a clearing in the center. There I placed a meditation pad, a freebie magical goddess fountain and a field of particle flowers. After a few weeks of dancing the ubiquitous "dream dance" in my sacred grove, I felt more grounded and peaceful in first life and more tuned in to the ebb and flow of energy. 
Borrowing from rituals in world and resources off world, I created simple rituals to manifest intentions in both worlds. Sometimes I performed a ritual in SL and repeated it in first life and other times vice versa. The energy barriers between SL and first life dissolved. To explore those changing energies, I transformed the plot variously into a standing stone circle, a fire altar with candles, a simple prim cave, and covered it with sculpty water. My first life practice areas did not correspond exactly but that didn’t seem to matter as long as I worked similarly with the energy in both realms.
I moved on to terraforming, having found a water parcel in a quiet residential neighborhood. I transformed the parcel from a grove with a tree house, to beach property, to goddess meditation temple, and then to underwater nature center. In first life, my practice became increasingly complex as I began working with the cycles of the moon. In SL, I built a moon altar at 1400 m, leaving the ground area for public display.
I can tell you it is possible to do too much. I remember one new moon when I performed two in-world rituals and two off-world rituals within 24 hours. Instead of multiplying the energy into a frenzy of manifestation, I was becalmed. The energy stopped and nothing happened – fortunately. Since then I’m a little more careful, experimenting gently to balance in-world and off-world practices. 
So, I have learned whether in SL or first life, it is the same. What matters most is intention and infusion, whether in electrons and pixels or earth and moonlight. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Looking Backward: Awkward Island

Looking Backward: Orientation ...
Flashback madness continues! Lesson learned way back then: be fearless. I'd fare much better today, but even on Orientation Island, I feared "not doing something right." At least I had a sense that a coherent culture did exist in Second Life's irreal spaces. I chose the image above both for its insight into the native culture as well as hint that Linden Lab used to have a sense of humor.

March 10, 2007 6:02 PM

Location: Wooded valley, Orientation Island

I tried to have my first conversation with another person and I failed, miserably.

Once Ignatius had his appearance more or less correct, I walked away from the central plaza on Orientation Island, flew into the air like Superman (a favored way to travel “in-world”) and landed in a well designed forest.  A much later snapshot (I didn’t know how to take them when this happened) gives some idea of what the landscape looks like.

After crossing a small stream on stepping-stones, Iggy sat in the shade of the trees and thought about the utter strangeness of the virtual world.  Soon enough, a female avatar walked by. I waved, shouting “hey,” using a pre-programmed animation from a set that all avatars possess.  She walked over.

Once you get close enough to another avatar, you can type short messages.  I began to type, and Iggy’s fingers obediently made little typing motions in mid-air.

Being no stranger to MOOs and MUDs, the text-only virtual worlds long popular in academia, I figured that I would have no trouble at all.  My style is right: articulate with just enough shortcuts to keep the typing swift (lol for “laughing out loud,” btw for “by the way,” and so on).

Here is what I typed; I will never forget: “I am utterly new to this. What about you? Can you tell me anything?”

Reply: “???” followed by the other avatar swiftly walking away.

Jean Baudrillard, where are you?  He’s the French philosopher who predicted that we prefer simulations to reality.  Wait. Baudrillard just died.

I wonder if I can get a virtual T-shirt that reads “Dork. Utterly”. . .

Iggy's Note: My "Looking Backward" posts are aggregated here, if you want to see the fool I made of myself in 2007.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sprial Staircase! The Strange & Twisting Case of Roderick Usher

Spiral Stair 3
Location: Jokaydia Grid, Virtual House of Usher

As the interior walls rose in Usher, I realized that not only do I have a generous prim-allowance, but I also have a book that I've rarely cracked: Creating Your World: The Official Guide to Content Creation in Second Life.

SL made me lazy. I could just buy stuff. Now I have to make it. So, I opened the book!

I thumbed through the text in search of good tips for building components we did not have, or did not know how to make, in the Second Life House of Usher. Then I hit upon it...the visual element from all classic film noir, the spiral staircase. It's also the title of a wonderful thriller from 1945.

Given Madeline Usher's afflictions, I thought I'd have her isolated chamber atop a spiral staircase. So I made one and here's my cautionary tale.

Lazy-bones take note: there's a free staircase-generator script at SL's wiki. I've not tried it.

Lesson 1: Watch the rise on the stairs.  

My manual method, culled from the book, went slowly the first time but now I think I could generate new sets very quickly, once I found the necessary rise from stair to stair; .1 or .2 meters worked; .3 for each stair's "riser" was far to tall for the avatar to climb. The instructions were clear but too complex to repeat here. You can read them at this Google Books page.

I made individual steps and attached a "pivot point" to each, colored red so I'd be able to unlink all but the bottom point when I was done.  That final pivot gets turned into the column to which the stairs attach.

Suffice to say that the pivot point, as a root prim, becomes the point on which each stair rotates a set number of degrees. I started with 10 degrees of rotation and that worked great. I then made a ton of stairs that way, coiling like the shell of a Nautilus.
Spiral Stair 2
When I tried to climb them....oh oh. Maybe the stair dimensions work in SL, but in OpenSim Roderick could not get up the first step. I'd copied the staircase into inventory, so I played a bit with the original, shortening the rise to each stair's "tread" (the part of the step you step on) and lengthening each tread. My final staircase was half the original height, but it worked!  I stretched the Z dimension of each step to overlap the one below, to get the effect of the stone stairs I have seen in castles.

Whether the effect desired is open-air Moderne or dank and spooky Gothic, I'd recommend making a few stairs first, then trying to climb them. There's an advantage to in-world building that way. I could take the avatar up the stairs, into a room, under a ceiling to check it's height and what that did for the camera. With off-world tools like Blender or Maya, can that be done?

Lesson 2: Place the stairs carefully.

I had many bumbling adventures trying to climb the spiral and falling off. Luckily, once I placed walls around the stair, the results gave a mysterious peek at the spiral and kept the avatar from tumbling down. In castle turrets I've climbed in England, the spiral stair winds that way nicely, leaving one guessing what might be around the next bend. Although I used a square rather than round enclosure, the effect in OpenSim was similar. I also found a small opening at the bottom of the stairs, a perfect place for hiding clues.

Stairs consume lots of space in real or virtual buildings. Spirals and multi-landing stairs conserve space while providing places to meet, fight in a combat simulation, or hide clues in simulations like Usher.

Lesson 3: Randomize the Look.

My finished stairs, shown in the first picture, looked awful. The stone textures, while impressive on a span of wall or floor, looked cookie-cutter on duplicate stairs. I so chose another more uniform texture of flagstones, tinted it dark, then made sure the repeats for the textures on the top of the pillar and visible sides of the treads looked good. Here's the final result. All I need is a mournful statue for the top of the pillar supporting the stairs and some a tapestry for the wall.  Since I took this shot, I went back to place a tapestry on the far wall, and I tweaked the horizontal offset and flip direction on a few treads to add more variety.

Spiral Stair 1

This process educated me in several ways. First, I learned about the builders' grid and some of the useful features such as planar drag-handles that let me quickly duplicate my steps and keep their Z-axis distance right.

Finally, it also helps that I'm redoing a physical set of stairs at our farm. We have too steep a rise there, too, but we're going to live with it, and our new oak treads are much harder to shape than prims. For all the fuss over building in virtual worlds, it's much easier than shaping and cutting actual wood.

Slide Show: Virtual Frank Lloyd Wright Museum

Location: Sorting Photos

I prepared this Koinup slideshow of a few locations at the recently closed museum. I hope the builders kept it all in their inventories against the day when a smarter board is elected at the FLW Foundation.

<a href="">Koinup</a>

Monday, December 6, 2010

Looking Backward: My First Second Life Login

My first in a series of flashbacks to 2007, when I first logged on to Second Life. Unlike Edward Bellamy, from whose Utopian novel I borrowed this title, I am not so sanguine about how things have gone over the past four years. And now, to turn on the time machine. . .

March 07, 2007 8:49 AM

Location: Keyboard, my office

I am ready to log in, for the first time, to Linden Lab’s Second Life. When I describe it many listeners shrug and get odd looks on their faces when I say “Second Life isn’t a game. It’s an alternative world.” Writers William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, and Neal Stephenson imagined these worlds in the 1980s, and now coders and I.T. millionaires like Mitch Kapor went ahead and made what Gibson called a “consensual hallucination.” Once broadband became common enough, it had to happen.

Unlike other online games, Second Life does not have clear-cut goals or even that many rules. It is less a competition and more a new way to communicate. It’s a paradigm-buster like e-mail, chat, or the Web. This may be hyperbole or it may be a moment that we’ll long remember: the first virtual reality for the masses.

Evidence? A meteoric growth in Second Life’s online population and the million dollars laid down every day by over 20,000 players, some of them running virtual businesses “in-world.” What are they “buying”? Imagine virtual real-estate, clothing, vehicles, chips at the casino, and tickets to virtual events. Yet SL is free to use.

Or is this just more hype? Is Second Life just World of Warcraft for bored Yuppies?

When I dive in, what will I find? Stay tuned.

March 09, 2007 8:53 AM

Location: Orientation Island

I needed an identity for this world; you may not use your own name. In fact, players must choose a last name from Linden’s list. I picked “Onomatopoeia”; this was the one word I was beaten (repeatedly) by Father Raymond for never learning in 11th grade English.

I’ve chosen “Ignatius” as my first, after John Kennedy Toole’s Ignatius Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces (to reflect my fears) and Iggy Pop (to reflect my attitude of “why not?).

After downloading and installing Linden Lab’s free player (for fast Mac, Windows, or Linux systems) my next step was to design Iggy’s avatar, the 3-D manikin that walks, flies, or drives its way around Second Life’s virtual world to meet, greet, flirt, or shop with other avatars. I chose a stock image from several, and like most players, the next step was to customize Ignatius to make his face, hair, body, and clothes fit some ideal.

I chose to make Iggy look as much as my first-life self as I could. But here there is a snag; I cannot be nearly bald and gray. In fact, when newly arrived avatars appear in the segregated starting place that Second Life calls “Orientation Island,” it’s hard to find an avatar who is not smooth and polished in a bland-but-a-tad-edgy, Barbie-meets-Ken, or maybe Paris-Hilton-meets-GWAR kind of way.

There are shiny, happy, bone-stock avatars all around me, bumping into others as they learn to walk and begin their second lives. So, it has begun. . .more pictures soon!

New Features at In a Strange Land

Four Years On
Location: Like Janus, looking two ways at once

I advise readers that I'm going to run a couple of new features here.

One of them will be "Looking Backward," my account of some of the notable posts from my first year in Second Life, 2007; I rushed in like a fool should do, made mistakes, made friends, had fun, dragged my students along. Lalo Telling's recent reflections on the past twelve months in SL and OpenSim grids inspired me to take my own look backward as Iggy comes up on his 4th Rezz Day.

FYI Lalo, I started to call my series "Four Years On," until I saw your post's title and quickly changed things. I'm not into one-upmanship unless we are playing a board game, which we are not.

These posts were originally published at the Richmond Time Dispatch's Web site, before they deemed SL coverage to be a passing fad and buried the blog on their site. That earlier version of In A Strange Land ran until April 2009. I'm rather glad that these posts never moved to the newspaper's attempt to reach a younger demographic online. The results have been shallow and unfortunate.

The second new item at this blog will be a series that, for now, has the working title "Under a Virtual Moon." Elaine, the latest co-author at this site, is a member of my Unitarian-Universalist Church in Richmond, as she's a neo-pagan who has been active in the spiritual side of SL. I'm looking forward to her guest columns!

Welcome Elaine...and now I'll glance over my shoulder for a next post.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Copyright Sniffing at Second Life Marketplace?

Falling Water in SL
Location: Frank Lloyd Wright Virtual Museum in Second Life

Cry, "Infringement!" and let slip the dogs of copyright!

This is quite the black Friday for those fearing over-zealous IP enforcement.  Tateru Nino and Hamlet Au have covered the snafu of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation's decision to not renew permission for The Frank Lloyd Wright Virtual Museum, an homage to the architect's work built in Second Life. I won't cover that, since both bloggers have done such a good job already.

Neither of them note, however, the red meat Linden Lab has thrown to prowling law-dogs, when LL pushed commerce to their online marketplace.

Hamlet notes that one reason for the reversal of an earlier decision to endorse the SL build was the Foundation's outrage over Wright-themed items on Second Life Marketplace. Never mind that the items were not made, sold by, or endorsed by the group in Second Life.

A concurrent event could make this situation far worse for, say, anyone in SL who makes a sneaker that resembles, not that I've ever seen such, a Converse All-Star. Tateru also reports, in another post, on a bill in the US Senate, "The Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prevention Act," that would permit "prosecution of similar designs for clothing, which need not be limited to physical clothing, but also of virtual items. Formerly, only the trademark text, logos or other iconography on clothing was protected – but now the whole design" would be.

By making changes to search in SL that made many merchants close their in-world stores and migrate the online marketplace, Linden Lab began to reap revenue for each transaction in a way they could not from in-world locations. Of course, it lost tier payments for those merchants who closed their shops. What the Lab probably did not anticipate is how easy it can be to comb through a Marketplace search for "sneaker," even without a SL account, then flag copyright violations. Many interns and junior partners at law firms will be busy for years on this.

I suspect that the quarry will simply find a new home.  Such a waste of legal talent, when copyright holders, such as Wright's Foundation, might instead encourage homage in fan-created items.  After all, no one is making a replica of Falling Water in the world outside my window, then putting it up for sale as "just like Wright's masterpiece!"

It's ironic that Wright chose the term "Taliesin" for his studio.  In Welsh myth, the trickster/demigod/bard stole wisdom from the Goddess of the Underworld, Ceridwen. The goddess pursued Taliesin, who kept changing forms to evade her and her wrath. She finally got him, changing herself into a hen who ate the trickster, who had become a grain of wheat.  Ceridwen became pregnant and birthed a beautiful child, and she was unable to slay the reborn Taliesin.

Ultimately, Taliesin got away with his affront to a deity. I suspect that the sleek and greedy hounds of Copyright Law will make a lot of money chasing the protean figures who follow Taliesin's example. And yet, after a long chase, the hounds will lose their quarry in the wilds of the Internet.

Will Linden Lab lose business? No doubt. More commerce may come back in-world, but some will just shimmer and vanish, like Taliesin's becoming a salmon and swimming away.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Prometheus' Other Sin: Stealing Fire

Making a Fireplace, 4
Location: Virtual House of Usher

"Stealing" is a bit harsh, since I did locate scripts licensed for non-commercial use from FoxSan and The Online Script Library.

Making a fireplace has stymied me for a while. Jokay Wollongong kindly provides Azzura Supplee's excellent heavy smoke script at her Newbie's Dome, so the top of each chimney was all set. But what about the fire? Even when I had the scripts in hand, there was the problem of putting it all together.

This account is for you novice builders. Pros know these tips. I still fumble somewhere in the middle.

1) Root-Prims are Just That: This prim is the one to which others get linked and, when linking items, is the last one to be selected. In my case, I wanted a prim containing the fireplace script, so I made a small prim, put the script inside, and textured the prim to be transparent. My fire-box, chimney, and logs (a few with a little particle script to make sparks fly) got linked to the root.
Making a Fireplace, 1
Here Roderick links a smoke-emitting prim to the top of the chimney. he clicks the newest prim first to edit, shift-clicks to the already linked chimney, then links them. This preserves the root prim's primacy. I found on some objects that I'd otherwise lose the root-prim's primacy, a very important feature when, say, the root has a script that activates on touch.

The next image shows the root prim in the center of the fireplace's linked-set.
Making a Fireplace, 3

2) Texturing Tricks: Viv Trafalgar gave me a hard time once about getting my builds properly tinted. I didn't know what she meant, and though I still may have it wrong, I found that having my one-prim hollow "firebox" tinted slightly orange inside have the illusion of reflected firelight. You can see it in the image above, at the inner right face of the firebox.

Since the firebox was a prim hollow at each end, I also noticed another problem that a tinted prim solved. I placed a charcoal-tinted fire-back inside and at the back of the opening. That avoids the common issue of how the OpenSim and SL clients render transparent images that intersect. Without my fire-back I'd lose part of the fire...just as in in real fireplace. Instead of heat escaping up the chimney, however, in the virtual fireplace parts of the fire would simply vanish, depending upon the camera's angle.
Making a Fireplace, 2
My Promethean sin will be complete when I box up the Usher fireplace and put it at the Newbie Dome at Jokaydia Grid. I hope the gods are kind; they have been to all of us who make our virtual people: Prometheus' other sin.

I'll be content as long as vultures do not come to feast upon my liver. I suspect a few will flap around, perhaps in the comments section of this blog, but pesky and nattering carrion-birds are part of life online and in new spaces such as virtual worlds.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Virtual House of Usher: Viv's Machinima

Location: Brooding in the Crypt

As part of an article Viv Trafalgar and I are co-authoring, she produced a video of our soon-to-vanish Second Life build of Poe's House of Usher. Many thanks to Jake Rose for composing an original theme for this video.

It's delightful to record the feeling of the House and more delightful still that an editor for an academic publication wanted machinima and still images in an online article. The scholarly world does change, slowly, and some things cannot be fully apprehended in print. Poe knew that; his most evocative work often stretched language to its limits.

A I watch Viv's video, I sense how much I will miss aspects of this House, and of course the wonderful content by builders such as Morris Mertel and several Steampunk geniuses.

We'll have a new House in Jokaydia Grid next year, ready for another group of students to try to save Madeline from her brother, and Roderick from himself, in an immersive re-imagining of Poe's shadowy masterpiece.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Future That Almost Happened: A Review

Location: Looking Skyward

I've really been enjoying Megan Prelinger's book Another Science Fiction: Advertising the Space Race 1957 - 1962. I've lamented the end of America's "reach" in space before in this blog, but Prelinger's book is more than a eulogy for a dead set of dreams. She shows us clearly how the aerospace companies of the Space-Race era recruited employees, wooed politicians, and projected a can-do spirit for technologies that seem alien and exotic to us, like the Nerva Nuclear Rocket. Even companies making ball bearings sexed up their ads with moon bases.

It's all a hazy memory from childhood for me, and those are the sorts that so often retain their power best. Madison Avenue was not interested in prediction, in the ads that Prelinger presents. The clients for the era's "Mad Men" wanted to hire the best engineering talent and beat any competitors in getting the next DoD or NASA contract. Showing what might happen in ten or twenty years was a great way to tap the talents coming suddenly out of engineering schools post-Sputnik.

I'm certain that Republic Aviation or Sperry did not care, or even conceive it possible, that they were going to break the hearts of hundreds of thousands of geeky kids who saw their ads in the public library, skipping copies of Hot Rod and Sports Illustrated to hunt down ragged back-issues of Aviation Week. There was money to be made in beating the Reds to the moon and even in preparing for what would have been humanity's final technological war. Along the way, we got some amazing space art, some of it heavily inspired by the covers of Astounding, others seeming sprung from the walls of exhibitions by Abstract Expressionist painters.

The images in the text, and Prelinger's analysis, reveal a sense of inevitability that the industry sought (and needed) to project, as well as insider information from the post-Apollo days, such as this pronouncement at engineers of NASA's Project Rover with its NERVA engine:

"Long-range research and development work that cannot be expect to have a real need or application until the 1980s must be terminated at this time."

To think that, for a shimmering moment in the last years of the 1960s, alongside the wishes for a Woodstock Nation (who became the ever-more-conservative Boomers of the 80s and went for Reagan) we had promises of a lunar base and Mars landing by 1985. I'll never forget the lonely and dog-eared copy of a NASA book on human-crewed Mars exploration that somehow made it onto a table with Apollo documentation in 1973, when I met the Apollo 17 crew in Richmond. It was an artifact for a future that almost happened.

At this distance this "other science fiction" of the years before Watergate all seems improbable. Yet had public interest and America's economy not waned in the 70s, a great number of these visions would have come to pass. Others, like nuclear-powered projects that exploded a series of small bombs in earth's atmosphere to reach escape velocity, would have run up against the potent dangers they posed to the earth's biosphere. If anything, such schemes prove that the engineering minds employed by the aerospace titans back then were not holistic thinkers and did not reckon with long-term costs.

In 2010 "routine" space travel seems unlikely, America has no concrete plans after the last shuttle retires, China manages a 1960s-style orbital mission every few years, Europe needs to bail out economies and not dream of space. Of course, millionaires can pony up a stack of cash for suborbital joy rides with Richard Branson, touching the Void for a few very expensive moments.

Perhaps I'll always be too much a creature of the 20th Century to find solace in other technological developments and too much a Peak Oiler to believe that our species will reach so far again with anything aside from robotic explorers. Experiences in virtual worlds can be immersive, but I'm still chair-bound as I manipulate pixels, not headed out with the first group of colonists to establish the Lunar International University's first campus.

The type of future on Prelinger's advertisements provided a dream of a transhumanism unlike that of today's merge-with-the-computer futurists. As a spacefaring race, humanity would be one with its spacecraft and colonies. We'd have left the cradle and have transcended our biological origins with hardware. Perhaps today's Transhumanists can upload their intelligences into robotic probes and reach for the stars.
Apollo 11, 40 Years On
Forty Years on, that possibility repels me, so I'm still waiting for my "ride" to the final frontier. In another forty, I'll get it, but it won't be in a spacecraft and I won't be able to blog about it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Here Come The Teens (Hide Your Pose Balls & Censor Your Profiles)

Public Orientation Island
Location: Linden Lab Blog

Terrence Linden seems to be assigned the tough jobs by his employer. He's an urbane man who visited the Virtual Worlds Roundtable a while back, just before the price-hike for education and nonprofits. We all liked what he said to us, then, though a week later I'm sure a few educators were saying entirely different things.

Now Terrence got the short straw and has to explain to residents how safeguards will work when 13-17 year old teens are permitted on Second Life's Main Grid next year. I waded through the comments to Terrence's post, I wondered what the changes might mean for those who teach, host sims, hold events, or develop educational content.

Our Profiles

First, we'll have to police not only our profiles but also those of visitors who come to our events on any sims zoned "General." Linden Lab is clearly not doing this, and though certain terms can be blocked automatically in classified listings, does the Lab have the ability to consider every photograph in a profile pic?

I just was at a VWER meeting with a woman whose name and profile noted her BDSM interests and even status as a teacher of these erotic arts. At a meeting with teens, I'd argue that she could not stay, nor could those with naughty group-titles or pictures in their profiles. Are we to AR such folks to prove due diligence? While I could care less what an adult does in private, once teens are legitimately "in the house," inaction will no longer be an option. Could a group who hosts events be sued in a US court? The sim owner? Linden Lab? All of above? We'll soon find out.

Naughty Cam, Naughty Click

For 13-15 year olds, to me it seems that Linden Lab's safeguards are sufficient. They will be locked down to estates where they have been sponsored.

But for 16 & 17 year-olds, who will be able to come to the Mainland, I agree with Ceera Murakami, who opined "Parcel bans to NOT prevent someone from camming into a parcel and buying content from vendors. They do NOT prevent anyone who is banned from interacting with content in the parcel they are banned from. The only "safe" thing to do with the arrival of the teens is to remove 100% of the content that is not G-rated from the mainland. Period. The vast majority of the Mature sims on the Mainland are within camming distance of one or more G-rated sims."

Linden Lab currently lacks the ability to police camming and clicking. One of my students, in Fall 2009, found many adult items in plain view on the Mainland just walking down the Linden-built roadways.

After the Teen Grid merges, no teen, in theory, will be allowed into a "Moderate" sim, the analog to the Mature sim. This, too, needs to be tested carefully before teachers bring their teens to the Mainland. My student later walked into a night club in a Mature sim to find a couple on a pool table, talking very dirty in public chat while warming up to have cybersex in front of the other patrons. Only my student and the loving couple can be seen here.

My student was not looking for this sort of content. He was part of my gender-or-race-change assignment, and he used in-world search to find popular social spaces to see how other residents would react to his female avatar. Not wanting a turn on the pool table, after an "Ewwwwww! Old folks doing it!" (and a snapshot!) he left. He was also 18 years old.

The Logical Fallacy of "It's No Different from the Internet"

How is our diddling among the pool balls different from what a minor might see on the 2D Web? A lot tamer, if it were only snaps. But I want to head off a rather facile complaint that "SL is no different from the Internet." In a PG-rated word, bullshit.

As an interactive environment, SL's content can "talk back" and educators make a great deal of how immersive it all is. We cannot argue that the environment is both more realistic than other online experiences and yet, when it comes to adult content, no different.

As meshes come to the grid, we'll make a big step closer to a photo-realistic metaverse.

My European colleagues will be scratching their heads over a lot of my concerns, but while the USA is not Iran, we have many thin-skinned moral conservatives who would not mind filing a law suit or two. We have conservative-activist Attorneys General in states like mine with ambitions for national office. A few appearances on some law-and-order TV show "protecting our children from online smut" would further such careers.

And we are a litigious nation.

It May All be Moot

While 16-17 year olds will be able to register from home, at school it may not be an issue. Even after the change, many schools will not touch SL with a 10-meter prim pole. My wife's county does not let any flavor of SL through its firewall, and having exceptions granted is a tedious business.

Personally, I'm not even bringing my of-age students to SL in 2011-12, since I'll be using Jokaydia Grid and my Usher simulation. Any who explore SL for class research will sign my usual waiver. By then, this mess may be sorted out. Or not. Linden Lab needs new customers, and getting teens in-world seems to promise that. I'd argue that they could have already signed up in droves for the soon-to-close Teen Grid, had Linden Lab spent money on marketing.

If Linden Lab wants more concurrency and dots on their map, they should have instead encouraged in-world shopping and fixed some of the extant problems with their grid. Merchants like Morris Mertel have closed their in-world (and teen-friendly) shops to go to the online marketplace.

I'm just glad my colleagues and university won't be dealing with this legal jungle.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Roll Out The Barrel (And Give it Away)

Roll Out the Barrel!
Location: In the Hold of The Grampus

Poor Arthur Gordon Pym. He had to face hostile natives, starvation and forced cannibalism, the death (and rapid decomposition) of his best friend, and the not-so-deft hand of would-be novelist Edgar Allan Poe. Poe's one attempt at a novel is interesting, but hardly a coherent work. Like the poor man's mind and personal life, Pym is a mish-mash of chaotic events and violent outbursts.

At least the long-suffering Grampus, one of two sailing vessels wrecked and ripped to pieces, in an almost pornographic manner by Poe, can get some good flotsam and jetsam when I rebuild it.

In a tip of the hat to Yadni Monde, who made so many freebies that I used in the SL version of The House of Usher, I made a barrel for the wreck and the cellars of Jokaydia Usher. The process was easy, using two half-spheres streteched and "dimpled," with prim tops and bands. I'm not a cooper, but it was fun making them. Next I'll do some one-prim crates, another greatly appreciated gift of Yadni to SL residents.

To what end? I'm envisioning a terrible family secret not in the story, part of the experiments in intertextuality that my colleagues and I began in Second Life. Howard Usher, the father of Roderick and Madeline, knowing that the family was near bankruptcy, revised an old crime from his ancestor's past: Sir Howard became a wrecker, leaving lamps near the most treacherous spots on the Yorkshire Coast, then plundering what remained after the "accident."

I don't know how poor Pym will fit the expanded story spun on Nevermore. Perhaps someone or something devoured him!

The mystery will be solved, for the curious and persistent explorer. At seven prims a barrel (I know, I could probably get by with three and good textures) I could not resist putting barrels here and there and leaving clues in or under some of them.
Free to Copy

When I had a barrel done, I took one to the Newbie Dome at the grid's Welcome Area. It's free to copy, as are the ones at Nevermore. The nicest part of this new grid is the sense that we are all building things and giving them to colleagues for their projects.