Monday, December 31, 2007

Jopsy Pendragon's particles - the most fitting way to bring in a New Year - Happy 2008, everyone!

I have a confession to make. You know how some people take on what can only be called celebrity status in Second Life? Generally speaking, they have a few things in common. Their rez date goes back to 2005 or before, and they are terrific and knowledgeable content creators in some special way. Now, I’ve had the good (or bad, depending on the person) fortune to work with many celebrities in Real Life throughout my career, but never have I been more excited than the day I met Jopsy Pendragon. Happily, he turned out to be everything I imagined and so much more. Not only is he gifted at content creation, and teaching, but he is also one of the nicest celebrities in any life.

Jopsy Pendragon (aka John P. Crane, rezzed 1/15/04) is the founder and owner of the Particle Laboratory in Second Life... a mecca for particle lovers and script learners in the metaverse, largely because of the seemingly exhaustive and excellent tutorials available there, as well as its intimate sandbox for "script tinkering." Teleport directly from here, and take the hot air balloon to any of the local destinations offered there.

The San Diego Reader recently published an extensive interview with the Real Life man who operates his avatar, and while there are some inaccuracies, it is well worth reading.

I met with Jopsy this weekend at the Cloud Chateau, one of two places at Ethereal Teal - Jopsy's sim - where you can experience his gorgeous particles... to learn more about the man and his work.

Bettina Tizzy: According to The San Diego Reader article, you were already on BBSs and involved with other virtual worlds before you rezzed in Second Life. Were you on The Well, for example? And what brought you to Second Life?

Jopsy Pendragon: I was near and by and around the Well, but never actually in it... In the days when it was hot and hopping, I was nurturing my own fledgling text-based VR, (a TinyMud called DragonMud, which turned 18 years old a month ago), so any time I spent away from there made me feel neglectful.

I was dragged into Second Life kicking and screaming, protesting all the way, "No, I'd rather not try yet another lame VRML hack with blinking textures and kludged- together-features..." but my friend insisted, gave me a demo and I grudgingly admitted that there might be promise.

My early days... wow, well, I went a week, maybe two, before I found and bought land: 512m for the-then-high-price of L$2 per square meter. From Stroker Serpentine, if I remember right. I still see him around. I built a small home and lurked, trying to create interesting things to get people to stop and visit.

It was very quiet and lonely in Second Life back then, honestly, but I like to tinker so that let me be creative with fewer distractions =) I'd build things and stick in strange functionality hoping people would discover them... walls that opened, fountains that launched people into hidden rooms... all sorts of silly stuff. Most folks didn't explore thoroughly, but it made giving tours fun. :)

Bettina Tizzy: Your first particle... What was its genesis? Were there any particles in Second Life when you arrived?

Jopsy Pendragon: Particles were one of those things that just seemed to have no useful documentation at the time. I hadn't done much scripting at that point. A few modified door scripts, some animated texture stuff... so my friend (the one that dragged me into SL) and I were beating our heads against this particle thing.

We had a *very* early version of Ama Omega's particle script, which helped, but there was so much guesswork still. Our first particles were awful... imagine a hat with exploding bacon.

There were particles, but mostly it was the old llMakeExplosion, llMakeFire, llMakeFountain, llMakeSmoke kinda stuff. llParticleSystem was still a new function, apparently.

Back then we had 'dwell income,' and since I liked to upload textures, and wanted to buy more land, I was doing anything to get traffic to my space. Holding particle classes back then was *VERY* effective at that.

And then... my life shifted. I got a new job, one that I knew would hold me away from Second Life for several months. So before I started the job, I put all my class notes into a standing exhibit, called it The Particle Laboratory, and pretty much vanished for a year... (between June 2004 and June 2005)

I checked in from time to time, but went from 18 hour days here to 1-2 hour days in Second Life. I'm wrapping up that job now, (and trying to find my replacement so I can resign with honor. ;) and then I'll be back to my foot-loose and fancy free play-in-SL all day mode. I still go kinda dormant in the summertime. Hard to be indoors and online when it is nice out.

Bettina Tizzy: So you left your scripts in a place you hastily called "The Particle Laboratory?" Still on that same 512m parcel of land?

Jopsy Pendragon: It was kind of modelled after the Exploratorium in San Francisco... exhibits to interact with and such. Oh no... I was already up to the half sim allocation I'm at today by then. I was worried at first... nothing to 512sqm, 2 weeks. 2-3 weeks later, I went up to 1024. A month later 2048, a week later, 4048, 2 days later 8096sqm...

Today, the Particle Laboratory is a busy destination for scripters and particle lovers and, of course, anyone who wishes to learn how to make these totally Not Possible in Real Life miracles of beauty

Bettina Tizzy: The Particle Laboratory has a long and important history in Second Life. Did you ever record its milestones on a notecard or celebrate anniversaries and have 'cocktail parties' and such?

Jopsy Pendragon: (No notecard or recording of its history) and there's been no real anniversary party for the Lab. I have held a grand opening (even had a ribbon cutting ceremony, complete with particle ribbons. =)

While the Particle Laboratory has always been where it is now, it has grown, and been almost completely rebuilt 3 times now. I'm often changing minor things, the fencing and such. It didn't always have a dedicated sandbox in the middle; it used to allow creation anywhere but too many griefers made me lock things down. Not deliberate griefing... more the self-replicating-waves-of-annoying-objects-passing-through kind of griefing. I tend to get very few hostile types looking to grief up this way.

Honestly, I was really surprised that the Particle Laboratory became so popular. I didn't advertise, never took out a classified for it... it's all just word of mouth =)

That "word of mouth," led to my own discovery of the Particle Laboratory, a place where I have spent blissful hours hacking away at someone else's scripts - most often Jopsy's basic free ones - to make my own little pretties.

For weeks I became obsessed with learning how to make this particle effect (shown here at the Cloud Chateau), and I have both Vandalite Defiant (and Jopsy's tutorials, of course) to thank for guiding me - a scatterbrain when it comes to scripts altogether - through the process

Jopsy Pendragon: My first brush with voice chat was with two Lab visitors who were curious what it was all about... not really ready to start learning but just exploring. They were talking about me saying things like "Wow, he must have a lot of free time... " and other such things, not realizing the person next to them was the person they were talking about. ;)

Bettina Tizzy: Ha! People who make particles today are often called upon to do "shows" and such... did you ever? And what has driven you to create such extensive particle script tutorials?

Jopsy Pendragon: I've done a few utterly unplanned, unannounced tinker-jams. Sometimes I get caught up in the music and playing with particle scripts... and just go a little crazy. The workshop deck used to be a big black box that I would create particle-scapes in for anyone that happened to be with me at the time.

Bettina Tizzy: Please send me an unannounced TP if ever you do that again!

When you visit Jopsy Pendragon's Teal sim, be sure to explore everywhere. If you are lucky, one of his "followers" may decide to tag along

Jopsy Pendragon: And why do I keep putting more effort into the tutorials and such? Hmm... I figure the better I explain things there, with visual examples that really show what's going on, the faster people will pick up the material... so that the questions I do get are the interesting ones and not the mundane ones. =)

A lot of the stuff I came up with has ended up in here, in the Cloud Chateau =)

The Cloud Chateau! Simply my favorite hiding place in Second Life! It was here, in this fantastical room filled with swirling, colorful particles, that I completely fell in love with virtual worlds. It was... love at first sight.

I'm not the only one who likes to dance and spend hours at the Cloud Chateau, as these three photographs (above) by NPIRL Flickrite Suzanne Graves will attest

Bettina Tizzy: So you have learned from this process of teaching, too?

Jopsy Pendragon: Of course! Like any fluid medium, practice is essential =)

Let's hope that Jopsy continues to "practice" for a long, long time...

Bettina Tizzy: Is there anything *new* happening with particles?

Jopsy Pendragon: Actually yes... Thanks to Blakar Ogre and Nicholaz Beresford (and several others), a whole slew of particle issues have been tuned up. I'm seriously in awe of their efforts. I've yet to peek at the open source client... I can and will at some point, but there are projects ahead of that. They've actually submitted fixes and patches that have had a phenomenal improvement on particles.

While it's hard to point at any one thing and say "That... there, that's what's better"... I can tell. Density is stronger, transparency is more controllable, speed seems better... and, well, particles can fade into existance now. Before they could only fade away...

Bettina Tizzy: Interesting... these are two modest fellows. You would never know about these activities from their profiles, but that's awesome news.

Jopsy Pendragon: They're deep into the internals of the client... I think that's where they have their fun with SL. Some folks socialize, some create, and some lift the hood to see what makes it run. :)

Bettina Tizzy: Particles and Windlight... your thoughts?

Jopsy Pendragon: Love it. With 'glow,' particles really pop nicely. Fire looks like fire, finally. I still can't get over how great water looks. The most recent Windlight finally fixed the "my face is made out of rough clay" effect that previous Windlight clients had.

There are changes though, which I'm very happy to go back and tune for. As I said earlier, particle density has increased... effects that were ephemeral and wispy are now more like heavy smoke or blinding glare.

The two photographs above were taken at the Cloud Chateau by ColeMarie Soleil who has reveled in Windlight

Bettina Tizzy: All FIC jokes aside, do you work closely with the Lindens?

Jopsy Pendragon: I love that a certain infamous someone thinks I'm FIC. I do know that a few of the Lindens know me by name and vice versa. I respect what they're trying to do enough to try to use their support system just like anyone else would.

The only exception to that is when people come to me with a discovered exploit. I've yet to find a consistent way to escalate exploit style bugs to Linden Lab privately and effectively... You don't want to just throw them in JIRA for everyone to see.

Bettina Tizzy: You make the best particle textures in Second Life. Are you going to make us more?

You can buy Jopsy's amazing particle textures for a handful of Lindens at the Particle Laboratory.

Jopsy Pendragon: =) Thank you... I have every intention to do so.

One of the biggest sticking points for me with SL... and one of the few issues over which I actually got a little snarky at the powers that be, is over permissions... and, on their recommendation, I'm going forward with a different kind of DRM (digital rights management) method. Granted, it's an honor system, not programatical, but perhaps that's not so bad after all.

The problem is this: You have scriptors, 2D artists, modellers, soundsmiths, animators, etc., and while each of them may excel at their narrow speciality, few people are talented in all the areas that go into creating a superior Second Life product. Then, add in the power to market, advertise, manage sales and support...

Bettina Tizzy: Truer words were never spoken... yep yep...

Jopsy Pendragon: I dabble in everything. I can muddle by on my own fairly well.... but I would prefer to be a supplier. Someone that has scripts and textures that other people aquire rights to and incorporate in their products.

As things are now, the DRM in SL pretty much says that if I give you rights to incorporate my work into your product, your customers can rip my work out and then incorporate it into their products, and the deal "you and I" negotiated did not specifically say all your customers and their friends could sell my work.

The particle textures I sell have traditionally been no-transfer. I get a fair number of requests for full perms and handle them individually, but I'd prefer it if I could sell "Re-seller" friendly versions that were no-transfer to their customers.

The alternative method I'm adopting will finally allow me to automate the sales of full perm textures, copyrighted and such, so that the customer gets the texture KEY itself to use as they like... so long as they don't pass it on.

The funny bit, of course, is that I can't copyright the texture KEY... that's assigned by Linden Lab - their bits, their property - but to have permission to use the copyrighted work (the image), the secrecy of the key needs to be preserved.

I'm almost to the point where, for my higher end stuff, I might upload the same image multiple times... so that it'll get different keys... one unique key to a customer. If they let their key get compromised, ... I *THINK* I can use the DMCA to request that Linden Lab void out the image pointed at by that key... an extreme case to be sure... but still.

Bettina Tizzy: What are your plans for Teal (the sim on which the Particle Laboratory sits)?

Jopsy Pendragon: Since my early days in Teal, I've always wanted to make it more "Dark Crystal" like... (the Jim Henson movie from the 80's.. ). There have been several from the early days (who) were enthralled with trying to bring that world into this one with little to show for it (unless I've been uninformed!). There are themes in that movie I would love to adopt into Teal... paraphrased somewhat so that it's not a direct rip off... but still somewhat of an homage =)

Bettina Tizzy: Do you get bored with particles and want to stray a bit from Teal and go do other things? If so, what might those things be? Would you consider project collaborations with other content creators?

Jopsy Pendragon: Particles are atmosphere and illusion. I totally love them; wish I had them in Real Life, but I am sort of feeling I've kind of tapped out. Finding new things to do with them often depends on changes in Second Life which makes new things possible.

I still love playing with them, though. At this point I'm looking into vehicles and such as well, and having tremendous fun with them... and eagerly looking forward to Havok 4. =) I have played with it in beta, it's a vast improvement. Sim crossings are still sticky, but that will likely always be an issue. But otherwise, it's like silk. :)

I have built elsewhere, but not much. As for collaborations, I must admit (that) I'm a bit of a control freak. I'm either in the drivers chair and I pick the station, speed and destination... or I'm in the passenger seat and I help navigate. I'm weak at 'partnership.'

Bettina Tizzy: Your avatar...

Jopsy Pendragon: The simple short version? People in virtual worlds either play an idealized version of themselves... OR, (quite often) they play with a character that they find attractive. (Why else would straight guys play a game where their character is Lara Croft from Tomb Raider? Because they identify with her? uh... Nooooo)

In my case... well, it's both. ;) though I admit an "idealized version of myself" has been granted a lot of artistic license. ;) In the other realm I run - DragonMud - the founder/creator spirit is a dragon. I'm solitary, territorial... I hoard, I know how things work, and tend to be firey when provoked... It's not that I feel like I'm some dragon spirit, I just have traits in common with them... so that's what I identified with.

Here however, elves age slowly. They live a very long time. They tend to specialize in various things... particles being my 'mystical art' as it were... That's pretty much why I've got the long ears and fae/somewhat androgynous style: Hermetic Elf. I don't get bogged down in court intrigues. ;)

Jopsy Pendragon as satyr in his early Second Life days...

As this is surely my last blogpost of 2007 (it's almost 2008 in Europe as I hit the "publish" key, and the new year has already arrived in Asia and Australia and New Zealand), please accept my best wishes for a year in which all your First and Second Life dreams will come true. Many thanks to Suzanne Graves and ColeMarie Soleil for allowing me to use their photographs for this blogpost...

...and, may you embrace the dance of life!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Turning the page on 2007 in virtual worlds - What happened and what's next

Virtual worlds are at the heart of what Not Possible IRL is about. Without them, our group and our cause would cease to exist. 2007 was the year I discovered Second Life. I am too new to look back and too new to look forward - with any real sense of perspective - so I turned to three thought leaders and veterans of virtual worlds who are deeply in touch with the ups and downs of the metaverse in very different ways.

Larry Pixel (aka Larry F. Johnson, Ph.D.) is the CEO of the New Media Consortium (NMC), an international consortium of more than 250 world-class universities, colleges, museums, research centers, and technology companies - and the largest educational body in Second Life - dedicated to using new technologies to inspire, energize, stimulate, and support learning and creative expression. He is also the founder and chief instigator of the prestigious Horizon Project , an annual status report on emerging technologies and education.

Forseti Svarog (aka Giff Constable) is the COO of The Electric Sheep Company, the largest startup dedicated to the creation of 3D content and sticky experiences in virtual worlds Second Life and, including the "I am Legend" survival game on behalf of Warner Brothers, and the "CSI NY: Virtual Experience" - both in Second Life - as well as the OnRez viewer, a User Interface that makes navigating the metaverse more intuitive and accessible.

Seifert Surface is a post-doctoral mathematician who is probably best known in Second Life for creating a tesseract house inspired by Robert A. Heinlein's short story "--And He Built A Crooked House--," as well as his math-inspired sculpture, but I will likely think of him first and foremost as the winner of the Not Possible IRL logo contest.

Bettina Tizzy: Insofar as virtual worlds are concerned, what are you looking forward to?
Larry Pixel: I am pleased to see the work Linden Lab (LL) is doing to address stability and quality issues -- I am seeing real progress, and many signs that indicate that it is a major focus for them. I am also excited by the large number (50+) of players in the larger virtual worlds space, many of them new in the last few months. LL has been especially supportive of the work education is doing in Second Life, and that, along with the clear successes we are seeing in the edu space, makes it easy to be excited.

Forseti Svarog: I think 2008 will be a continued year of interesting experimentation for Second Life. SL will continue to see amazing creative exploration but its overall growth will slow until Linden Lab and the broader SL ecosystem are able to solve some of the things holding SL back such as stability, scripting limitations, limited APIs, usability, and more. I actually do not think that it is the visual capabilities (i.e. Windlight) that are getting in the way of its success right now, and LL needs to be careful not to focus on visual sexiness in such a way that they push the platform out ahead of most people's computer capabilities. SL needs more killer apps, i.e. more reasons for non-creatives to come, but the platform really needs to become more robust to get there. That said, I do expect SL to remain an interesting and active virtual world.

2008 should see a lot of virtual worlds activity around the youth market, more private worlds on a diverse set of platforms, and more "stepping stone" approaches where projects bridge 2D, flash-based worlds, and 3D. There will be continued corporate and educational experimentation in Second Life, Wunderland, and other tools as people try to understand how virtual worlds aid in team and group learning and collaboration. It shall be interesting to see what Google/Sketchup does in 2008, and if that consumes some of the architecture/design energy that has been pouring into SL this past year.

Seifert Surface: Lots of stuff. Better and faster scripts with Mono, and physics with Havok 4 should lead to lots of new ideas becoming possible to realise. Longer term, I think sculpties will be only the beginning in terms of better support for 3D objects.

Bettina Tizzy: What technologies or trends have you particularly intrigued?
Larry Pixel: I am very, very interested in social networking, something that is inherent in Second Life, yet still not implemented very well, especially when you compare it to some of the other major social networking platforms in common use on the flat web. An entrant that can bring the "user-built" philosophy and the openness to IP and ownership of virtual work that LL has pioneered, and mesh it with true ownership (ie backup to disk), easy compatibility with other 3D creation platforms, and rich social networking tools, will take over this space in no time. I have not seen that company emerge yet, but I am watching!

I am soooooo ready for SL on my iPhone. I hope someone is working on that client right now.

Forseti Svarog: There will be a host of private worlds built on emerging 2.5D and 3D virtual world platforms, but I'm guessing that many will not be as accessible to creative exploration as Second Life. Multiverse is quite interesting but my impression is that it is oriented around much bigger game and virtual world projects with larger teams and budgets. I think this audience should keep its eye on Metaplace, which should be a really neat avenue for creative exploration, albeit quite different from SL in that creativity will orient around 2D and 2.5D art and game design.

Seifert Surface: There are many interesting 3D interface ideas happening, particularly the Wii Remote and what people are doing with it. Imagine building in 3D by moving things around in 3D. Also, check out this video on head tracking for desktop VR displays using the Wii Remote:

Bettina Tizzy: What, if anything, has you especially concerned in regards to Second Life and virtual worlds' evolution?
Larry Pixel: Second Life, in particular, is already suffering from the perception of it as a "walled garden." We are seeing a move, among companies especially, to far less capable platforms, which are "open" and which they can "own" (ie, put behind a firewall). This may not be a bad thing for SL, but it is not a good thing for virtual worlds in general, as it will drive dollars to lesser platforms.

Linden Lab has said publicly several times that they want to go open, and have with the client. If they can open the backend in 2008, they will grow immensely. If not, we may be seeing them in 2-3 years as an interesting early player -- like CompuServe, or AOL.

Forseti Svarog: I remain very bullish on the entire virtual worlds space, but it is going to fragment in 2008 in more platforms and more private worlds. I think Second Life is going through a transition period where the technology, and our broader culture, has to catch up to the vision. SL's ability to succeed will depend on how well and how quickly Linden Lab is able to execute, and if and when someone puts forth a compelling competitive alternative.

Seifert Surface: Nothing really, I think the seed has been planted now, and no matter if it is Second Life or some other virtual world that becomes the de facto metaverse, it's going to happen. I guess the demise of net neutrality could be something to worry about.

Bettina Tizzy: Is there anything in particular that you wish Linden Lab was doing differently?
Larry Pixel:
1) See above re: open sourcing the back end.
2) Find some way to relax the Byzantine hoops and rules one must go through to do anything with highschoolers.

Forseti Svarog: This is hard to say without a clear window into their priorities and active projects. I know they are aware of all the problems and challenges, and complex software is not written or improved overnight. This stuff takes time.

Seifert Surface: There are occasional issues, I think, that could be handled better than they are, but generally I think they're doing a pretty good job.

Bettina Tizzy: Any personal goals or projects you'd care to share with us?
Larry Pixel: NMC Virtual Worlds plans a big announcement after the first of the year. It will come out first in the NMC Campus Observer, about January 10th.

Also, the NMC's highly influential Horizon Report (75,000+ copies downloaded or purchased in hard copy in 2007) will be released in late January. The contents of the 2008 report will be announced on the wiki next week.

Notably, this will be the first year since 2005 that some form of virtual worlds is not mentioned in the Horizon Report. I am not sure if that means it is now mainstream for edu, or if it is passe, but among my Real Life constituency, there are many many established projects, and many of these are clearly reaching mainstream faculty and other groups. Within the NMC, virtual worlds are still important, but are no longer considered the set of hot emerging technologies they once were.

Forseti Svarog: My own bandwidth for taking on creative projects remains extremely limited. In 2007, my only big creative project was the book of avatar portraits. In 2008, I hope to find time to either dive into a personal Second Life Machinima project, or try something completely new on Metaplace.

Seifert Surface: Well, there's my new sim, "xyz", currently (and likely for the rest of time) under construction.

Finally, I asked if they considered themselves optimists or pessimists. Turns out that all three identify themselves as optimists, but Larry added, "Clearly an optimist, but also a pragmatist. I am quite optimistic that good ideas will be adopted broadly -- it just takes time. Some fall by the wayside, but as someone who has devoted a career to implementing emerging technologies, the ride is always fun, and there is much to be learned by studying ideas that seem to have great promise, even if later it becomes clear they were a side road on the path to another set of ideas."

I can't help wondering if all participants in virtual worlds... really, all early adopters, must be optimists in order to remain sane while embracing and exploring new ideas and opportunities.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The fertile mind of artist and writer elros Tuominen

I've spoken before about prolific artists in Second Life, but none that I know of produces a steadier stream of new creations than the Basque sculptor and writer elros Tuominen (aka Antonio Alza).

Every morning when I log in, there is a notecard waiting for me from elros containing a brief and beautiful piece of prose, always written in first person to a woman he unquestionably adores (not me, mind you :). Here is one example:

Good morning, new morning day, such a beautiful and almost perfect day. Time's stopped, time's over, time's far far far, time's a painting, an invention to organize our little walking through life, time belongs to the old days, time's a beast, it keeps on eating human minds, but time's days are falling down, it's turning into a hurt black bird, still looking for meat, fresh and bloody meat.... but time is hurt, it won't last too much..... time, just like a dying star, it will just eat itself, faster and faster and faster, they will be hard days I know, but time will leave us alone, at least, alone; of course, we will walk like lost children through the ruins of time, with no direction, it won't last, we won't remember what it was, and time will be just dust floating on the sky, pieces of dark feathers going up and down, little and dirty feathers, time... who will remember then... Good morning, new morning day, good morning heart, are you feeling alright? the world is going round and round, good morning heart, isn't it sweet, isn't it amazing, life's making sense, life's giving us jewels... no more black birds...

Good morning
elros Tuominen
elros also creates a new piece of interactive art or jewelry about every two days. 2D photography does not do justice to 3D interactive art, but I hope the following snaps will entice you enough to go and have a peek at his work. Two good places are Tayzia Abattoir's Crescent Moon Museum (teleport directly from here) and Morris Vig's Oyster Bay Gallery (teleport directly from here). You can actually purchase his work at elros' store, the Tubular Gallery (teleport directly from here), or online.

"Multiple planar perspectives" switches from blue to pink to aqua to purple.

Just before the holidays, elros generously offered two of his gorgeous kinetic sculptures to NPIRLers as gifts. I asked him if he wanted to issue a notecard as well, and he replied, "yes, but first I need some Floyd." After further inquiries, I came to understand that he was going to listen to some Pink Floyd for inspiration. I wish music had such a powerful effect on me!

This swirly thing is called "Dancers," and spins very gently on its axis.

Yesterday, elros sent me an unannounced landmark. I don't usually receive landmarks from him, so I immediately popped in for a look (see below).

His newest, very large piece is called "inside road to ovetum" and is made up of megaprims. It is rezzed in the sky. There's another large piece just above it. Simply fly directly up.

Most of elros' sculptures are low prim, and every single one of them is in constant, fluid motion. One can only imagine what elros' reaction was when he first realized that he could add movement scripts to his art work.

This piece is quite large and a good example of a running theme that elros has been exploring that I am simply wild about. Stop by his shop (teleport directly from here) to see his "teardrops in the rain" in-world. I can almost guarantee that you will be wowed.

Several of his sculptures gracefully "fade in/fade out," such as this fan-like piece called "Playing Harp."

Finally, I discovered this Machinima interview of elros by Magellan Egoyan, which makes it much easier for those who are not in-world to grasp what we are talking about when we refer to elros' interactive art.

Friday, December 28, 2007

More advice for newbies (but first time it comes from me)

this post by Lem Skall

I often think that joining Second Life is like emigrating to a new country. At least the challenges are very similar. First, you encounter challenges just the way you do when you move to any new place, even when it's within the same country: how to get around, where are the best places to go to, finding new friends. It's much more when moving to another country though. You will usually end up changing even your diet and your hobbies.

The most subtle changes and sometimes the most difficult ones to adapt to in a new country are the cultural ones. It's what is often called culture shock. And I believe that it happens when joining Second Life too. It's not necessarily as negative as it may sound, it may be even exhilarating for some, but it involves a steep learning curve nevertheless.

Joining Second Life is like moving to a new country because it is a social place and it has its own culture. It has its own peculiarities and an etiquette that take time to learn and to understand. There are no common rules, but I'll attempt a personal view on what are some of the most important things to learn as a beginner in Second Life that are part of the culture. They may be obvious to veterans of Second Life and they may be even intuitive to some beginners. But my gut tells me that these have been some of the biggest challenges that have made beginners give up on Second Life.

1) Augmentation vs. immersion affects many aspects of the Second Life culture. It is always an important topic that comes up in many contexts and it has been widely discussed. Gwyneth Llewelyn has given one of the best definitions for the two terms : "[Immersionists are] interested in Second Life as an 'alternate reality', one that is disconnected from 'real life' but bears some resemblance to it. In this alternate reality you would be able to be whomever you wanted to be — and requests for revealing your real life data are considered rude. [...] [Augmentationists] look at Second Life as an extension of real life — a tool, a platform, a communication medium, the 2nd generation World-Wide Web in 3D. For them, anonymity is as silly as faking your voice on a phone call; just because you’re a 'phone number' you’re not a different person." Both augmentation and immersion coexist in Second Life and it is most important to respect both augmentationists and immersionists, no matter which choice one makes for oneself.

2) Instant Messaging (IM) is special. Use it wisely. It is a powerful tool that can be used to communicate with someone who is out of chat range or is even not logged in. It is also a very personal channel when used within chat range. Actually, it is always personal and that's why it should be used with caution especially with strangers. Just because everyone is listed and can be contacted in IM doesn't mean one should do it. And IM is so personal that when a male IMs an unfamiliar female within chat range it can make it a pick-up line almost no matter what he says. So it better be something important or it better be good. Don't be too shy either though and keep in mind that IM is used intensively even if it may not be obvious. For instance, a lot more goes on in IM in a large group as in a club where most of the public chat is bland stuff like "whooo!", "/clap" and "/me thinks he's in love".

3) The friends list is not a trophy collection. Offering friendship to someone in SL normally means "let's keep in touch!". You don't keep in touch with someone you've never been in touch with in the first place, so don't offer friendship to every stranger you run into, not without getting to know each other first at least a little.

4) There is no such thing as privacy in Second Life but there is such a thing as expectation of privacy. There are private conversations and there are private spaces. It is considered rude and annoying when people barge into private conversations or private spaces. Unfortunately for beginners in SL, it takes experience to recognize what is private and what is not. For instance, while a conversation between many people hanging out at an infohub is usually not private, a conversation among a small group of people in a low-traffic place (even if public) is usually private. A mall is obviously a public space, but residential sims are mostly private spaces. One may fly through someone's backyard and one may even enter a home but it is very bad form to stay in someone's private space while they're there without at least striking a polite conversation with them.

5) Anonymity affects social interactions in many subtle ways. This is common now in any social network on the web and it is valid also in Second Life even if the avatars may create false impressions. Anyone you interact with may still be anything in RL, young or old, male or female, no matter what their avatars may look like. There are so many such social clues that affect us in RL and yet in SL it takes longer to figure out people and to figure out what kind of rapport we can develop with them. This shouldn't slow you down though. It is possible to have very interesting communication and relationships with people in SL even without knowing the RL clues. Some would even say that interactions in SL are purer than in RL because they are free of such "preconceptions".

6) There are no social classes in Second Life. Actually there are, first of all, there are the Lindens. Plus, in time, there will always be people you will know of without them ever knowing of you. And most importantly, there is the great SL social divider: experience. There are 3 major social classes in Second Life: those who have been in SL much longer than you, those who have been in SL for a while but not much longer than you, and newbies. Still, that is all perception and there are no equivalents of Brad and Angelina or heads of governments in SL (mind you, there is the equivalent of a Donald Trump). No one is going to get mobbed by a crowd in SL and there are no bouncers or maitre d's who can pick someone before someone else based on their social status. Even SL age is relative because an avatar with a recent rez date can be an alt for a very experienced resident. In the end, no one can be sure of who you are in SL or in RL. All that creates a sense of equality in Second Life and everyone can therefore be approached equally. So there are no social classes in Second Life after all.

7) Exploration is the key. This is true of many aspects of Second Life and it is true also for meeting people, making friends, and finding a social life in general. Move around, go to events, join groups. Use all the tools that are available. Use the Search tool to find events and groups that may interest you. Read the profiles of people you meet, not only you will quickly get to know something about those people, but you will also find new ideas for things to do and groups to join. Go one step further and read the owners and/or the creators of objects and places that you find interesting and then read their profiles. Last but not least, talk to those people if you think there is something interesting about them. Talking to strangers in SL is much more common and accepted than in RL, just don't forget what I said about IM and privacy.

Of course, there is much more. I am intentionally leaving out sex in Second Life, griefers, and voice versus typing because those are complex topics in themselves. Augmentation vs. immersion is such a topic also but I decided that it has to be mentioned because it is so central to the SL culture. Bettina wrote up a list of "What every Second Life newbie should know" with great advice that addresses mostly technical and practical challenges that beginners encounter. This post here is the result of a challenge that Bettina made to me after I commented on her post. I have tried to add to what she wrote with elements outside the domain that she focused on even if we overlap in some places. And yet, our lists are not unique. There are many more like them out there on the web and by now also in printed books (and more elaborate there). There will also certainly be many more in the future. But every personal view counts and hopefully adds something new. I hope that our views achieve that.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

What every Second Life newbie should know - 10 secret tips that will boost your experience from the get-go

October, 2009 update: This blogpost is soooo old, and desperately needs to be refreshed with new links, slurls and photographs. I fully intend to do so as soon as I can find the time. While some of the information may not be current, and some of the links that are offered here, broken, the core message remains the same. - Bett

Let's face it, the first few days and even weeks in Second Life are friggin' hard. Whether you are a geek or computer-clueless, take my word for it... you are going to be challenged. Looking back, I can't believe I stuck around. I almost didn't make it.

Is it worth it? Oh yes. Whether you are looking merely to socialize, explore business opportunities, or exercise your mind... whatever your reasons may be, once you "get it," you will realize that it is the ultimate creative tool, and superlative fun.

There is very little about Second Life that truly parallels Real Life. Just as a day in Second Life is only four hours long, so goes the speed, the immediacy with which things take place once you become an active participant. It is also so much easier to expose yourself to new information. Fact is, Second Life is a library, a school, a conversation... on steroids.

Speaking for myself, nearly every sentence I uttered in my first few weeks in the metaverse ended with a question mark. You aren't alone in worrying that you don't have enough time in your Real Life, let alone a Second Life. I also worried that it was unproductive and possibly not the wave of the future that the media kept reporting on. I was quite frustrated with the technical glitches I was experiencing, too.

In my earlier explorations, I sometimes inadvertently found myself in the seedier areas of Second Life, which I hardly ever come across anymore, just as I don't elect to spend time in the back alleys or social wastelands of Los Angeles. You learn where to go and what to avoid as you become more experienced, but a word of advice here: avoid the areas that report the highest traffic numbers. They are nearly always traps.

Second Life is so territorially immense that you could travel continuously, day and night, and never see it all. Yes, it is quite possible to be the only person in a region, but a quick teleport will land you amidst 70 other avatars, all doing whatever it is that you most enjoy... and this at any time of the day or night.

So... if you think you are ready for a taste, but want to skip a lot of the growing pains, take heed. Here are 10 rarely disclosed secrets - actually a lot more - that will greatly enhance your experience, right off the bat:

1) MONEY - Access to Second Life is free... so splurge a little and enter the metaverse with the idea that your experience will be vastly better if you are willing to spend $10 to $15 US dollars (less than the price of a movie ticket plus popcorn and a soda, if you think about it) to get yourself started off on the right foot.

It is fair to say that asking for money upon arrival in Second Life is shameful and akin to begging in Real Life. Realize, too, that your skills - especially in the first few days - make it nearly impossible for you to earn any real money. Later, yes, your chances are much better. Early on, no.

You get a much better exchange rate for your Real Life money at SL Exchange than you do in-world (sorry, Linden Lab and no, I'm not getting a kick-back from SL Exchange).

I'm still on the fence regarding the value of a premium account ($9.95 US dollars a month), though one benefit I really enjoy is the ability to see who is online even when you are offline. Only paying members can access this info on the Second Life website.

2) YOUR PERSONA - Choose your name wisely. Pick a name that is easy to type, easy to spell, and easy to remember. Nearly everyone experiments with who they are in the beginning. Consider the possibility that someday you may actually want to meet one or more people you've encountered in-world, face-to-face, in Real Life. You might fall in love, or develop genuine business relationships, and friendships in the metaverse can be as real and as deep as anything you've experienced before. On the opposite side of that spectrum, but equally important, I would advise you not to reveal much about your Real Life until you've had a chance to get to know the people you are interacting with.

3) TAILORING YOUR AVATAR: Ladies, before you begin customizing your avatar's chest (there's a little slider that goes from flat to humongous... just like that), consider Neil Stephenson's description of the three almost-standard-issue breast sizes on female avatars in his landmark book Snow Crash: improbable, impossible, and ludicrous. Too much can be ridiculous.

If you choose to be a human, you have the option of purchasing ready-to-wear shapes, though keep in mind that you will not be able to alter them later (they are rarely modifiable), and they are often very, and I do mean very (read: unrealistically) tall.

Some of the best known non-human or barely-human avatar creators give away a few basic and cool avatars for free or at very low cost. Flea Bussy's Grendel's Children, and Tooter Claxton always have fun things. You can also pick up free avatars (and scads of off-the-wall and/or practical and interesting things) at Hobo Village (teleport from here), Yadni's Junkyard (teleport from here), and the Gnubie store (teleport from here).

One other thought... less practical, but certainly droll... A friend of mine and his in-world girl friend amuse each other by donning the avatars of attractive celebrities, and yes, it is entirely possible to indulge your inner A-List yearnings and look like Angelina Jolie or Johnny Depp.

There are dozens of good websites and blogs that are devoted to fashion in Second Life, but one of my favorites is a column by Iris Ophelia on New World Notes.

4) PRIVACY: There is no such thing as complete privacy in Second Life. Once you learn how to operate your camera well (see the next tip), you will realize that your camera can look inside a house on the next island over, traversing through walls... with ease.

That said, here are some helpful privacy tips:

Teleport directly from here to Mystical Cookie's shop and pick up a free version of her Mystitool. Mystical just lowered the price on the full version of the Mystitool, and believe me, this is the best purchase your $396 Lindens can buy you. One of its many features is that it gives you the ability to always know who is within 96 meters of you, and how far away they are, and if they are coming closer. Use this tool immediately (you wear it) and never take it off.

Chime Desoto - one of the members of our Not Possible in Real Life group - created a Private Changing Room, and you can pick up a free copy of it, as well as easy instructions for its use, at my treehouse by teleporting directly from here.

5) SEE THINGS BETTER - Learning how to use your camera will turbo-charge your experience. In fact, learn how to do this first. It takes a little practice in the beginning, but later you will maneuver your camera automatically. The best instructions are available via one of our favorite Lindens - Torley - and can be viewed here.

6) RECORD YOUR EXPERIENCES BETTER - One of the pleasures of Second Life is the ease with which you can capture moments and places through photography. In-world snapshots cost $10 Lindens a piece, which doesn't sound like much, but ultimately adds up. After a few months, you'll find that your inventory is beginning to clog up with photos, too. In-world snapshots are good to have if you plan to share them with others immediately, but most of the time it pays off to save them on your hard drive or send them directly to Flickr or Snapzilla. Both of these services are free, although Flickr does offer a very reasonably priced premium account and you can retrieve your photographs for blogging or editing or duplication purposes whenever you like.

It is easy to keep a log of in-world text conversations, which you can later refer to, though it is considered a violation of the Terms of Service to share these records with anyone who didn't participate in them. It is also considered good form to secure permission from the person with whom you are "speaking," and whose conversation you are recording.

7) LEARN THE BASICS FIRST - As soon as you are able, learn at least a little about building and scripting. Even if you don't become a dedicated content creator, some notions of what's involved/elementary knowledge will serve you very well, indeed. Two people whom I'm extremely proud to know, have given generously of their time and land to provide stellar tutorials: Lumiere Noire's Ivory Tower - Library of Prim (teleport directly from here ), is essential when it comes to learning about building, and Jopsy Pendragon's Particle Laboratory, is a first-rate place to learn basic script and particle creation (teleport directly from here).

8) ASK QUESTIONS WHENEVER YOU CAN; FIND A MENTOR OR TWO - Nothing beats first-hand advice. Nothing. Also, never forget that we were all newbies in the beginning.

9) KEEP YOUR INVENTORY ORGANIZED FROM DAY ONE. Oh, oh, oh how I wish I had done this. Don't be like me and start thinking - and acting - this way from the beginning. Here's another gem video by Torley Linden, which will help you tidy up that inventory and keep it lean.

10) PEOPLE AREN'T ALWAYS WHO YOU THINK THEY ARE - Until the advent of Voice in Second Life, a surprisingly high number of men opted to portray themselves as women. Many, many still do. Do not assume that this means that they are transexuals or gay or any such thing. In fact, throw all your assumptions out the window. It's been my experience that most of them are straight. My advice: go shopping with them. It's fun, though they tend to have racier tastes than I do. :P

I'm sure I've missed oodles of good tips, and I won't be surprised - in fact I hope - that seasoned SLers will gently remind me of them. I'd like to learn more things! Seriously though, all comments are most welcome.

I'd like to especially thank Pavig Lok, Orhalla Zander, Arcadia Asylum, Thinkerer Melville, Wellington Bahram, Luna Idler, Corporate Jay, Alec Paragon and dozens of other people who didn't pitch me out with the bath water... and put up with my endless questions during those first few months. Thanks to them, I collapse in bed with a grin on my face every night and bolt out of bed the next morning, eager to see what the new day will bring. For now, I hope it will bring happy and informed newbies.

January 2 update: Ha! Just discovered this video about a "noob" - and clearly for newbies - via Caleb Booker's blog. Created by Akanjee Yongho and Anamkhaï Sodwind, it's a pilot for a series, and is set up for advertising. Pretty clever.

January 3 update: Since posting this piece, I've met over a dozen newbies who have read it! Nearly all asked me for suggestions on what to do in Second Life. Best answer I could think of was to suggest that they bookmark this blog since I make every effort to share our best findings here, complete with slurls (the equivalent of a Landmark), and that they join the Impossible IRL group in-world. It's free and open registration. I send about two or three notices a week with information on the best new builds and builders.

January 4 update: Just discovered what promises to be an excellent blog for men in Second Life. This is a first! Are We Not Men looks like it might have a real future, indeed. Men get short shrift in Second Life, especially when it comes to hair, but I have a feeling they'll give you some important leads on this and more... manly stuff for those teeming with testosterone. ^.^

February 10 update: Interested in art? Get your virtual life off to a bang-up start and make use of Sasun Steinbeck's extraordinary HUD which guides you from one gallery and museum to another (teleport directly from here). Hehe, that's how I got started!

February 26 update: Experiencing Second Life is not a requisite to understanding the wealth of information in the just-published book The Making of Second Life by Wagner James Au, the first embedded journalist and historian in the metaverse. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Little but good - Spiral Walcher's wearable environments

Spiral Walcher is doing some interesting things. You've all seen AM Radio's wheat field. Here's a new take on it, with UFO's and aliens actively abducting the table grapes.

This is inside something... hmmm

... and so is this familiar wheat field scene...

All of this and so much more is taking place on and inside three top hats.

Let's hope Spi will be putting these on the market soon.

I can't get enough of them. More, Spi, please more!

12/20/07 addendum: And here's the latest one.

Metaverse Journal interviews Pavig Lok - My thoughts: top builder, lead creative... but an even better mentor

There's an excellent interview and a good read today by Lowell Cremorne about Pavig Lok - one of the true Giants in Second Life (and height has nothing to do with this... my avatar towers over Pav's) - at the Metaverse Journal.

Being a Second Life Hobo, I had the good fortune to meet Pavig very soon after my rez day; surely in the first week. Pav's influence on me is incalculable. Yes, Pav's builds are always brilliant in concept, always executed to perfection and invariably great fun. If I were to choose collaborators for any build project, Pav would surely be somewhere on the top of that list.

Pav on the far left, at one of many fun Hobo field trips

Importantly though, since day one, Pav has been a mentor to me and to countless others, a go-to-person for any kind of question, whether technical or how to handle a prickly situation, and above all, Pav has been a friend. It's not been a sentimental or maudlin friendship, but one built on my deep respect and appreciation. Heh, I don't believe I've ever even hugged Pav! In fact, it's unlikely I would have stuck around had it not been for Pav's support, gentle but honest nudges to quit being (insert any infraction here), balanced and always fascinating insights, and unending nuggets of advice.

Pav on the far right at yet another Hobo event; always there for the important stuff

I can't teleport you to a build to show you Pavig's greatest work. I can only point to myself and scores of others who are better people because of this one extraordinary Pastiest Hobo.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Money: You can't have it... yet

all photography by Arahan Claveau

About a month ago, NPIRLers had a 24 hour preview of a mysterious sim that is part of an even larger mystery. Last week, I invited master of narrative photography, Arahan Claveau, to go back and capture just a few glimpses... mere hints... of what we saw there, to share with you.

It's as yet incomplete... about 60% there, I'm told. Creation dates appear to begin in December, 2006... and end in April of this year. Built primarily by Light Waves, with several important elements by Pavig Lok and a few by Littletoe Bartlett, this is the same team that gave us the Greenies, but it is not a Rezzable sim.

Doors are open. Someone came or left in a hurry.

Called simply "Money," the sim is dripping with atmosphere and intrigue.

It's clear that something terrible has happened, but we're not sure what or why.

Some discoveries, as you explore, are goose-bump-inducing.

Others seem to be important parts of the puzzle.

In a few days, I'll share a little more of what I've discovered...

...and the answers I have are surprising, indeed.

No slurl... yet.