The Eskol Photo Contest in review in Second Life

Eskol Gallery: Eskol Photo Contest

In December 2021, I wrote about Eskol, Morlita Quan’s art and event space in Second Life (see: Eskol: music, art and sound (& a photo contest) in Second Life). Within that piece, and as referenced in its title, the review also included information on the Eskol Photo Contest Morlita was running through December to the start of January.

On offer was a single prize of L$5.000 to be awarded to a single winner, as judged by a panel of three judges – Morlita, Lanjran Choche and myself. To enter, photographers could submit up to two images taking using one of the six photo booths Morlita had set-up specifically for the contest.

Eskol Gallery: Eskol Photo Contest – one of the 6 photo booths

In all 12 photographers submitted entries, comprising Mo Trill (1 image), Mystera Bloodbane-Ragnarok (Mysteria0402 – 2 images), Lucid (Photodoll77 – 2 images), Rya Santana (2 images), 4pril Resident (1 image), WuWai Chun (2 images), 04Noir (C1haos Resident- 2 images), 01NoirA Resident (1 images), Allanpoee Resident (2 images), Cielo Negro (Cielonegro Avril – 2 images), Néstor (NestorXX Resident – 1 image), and Iono Allen (1 image).

Each of the six booths offered its own setting in which pictures could be set and framed, and photographers could dress them as desired, and entrants submitting two photos could either take them in one of the booths or use two booths.

 Eskol Gallery: Eskol Photo Contest – Allan Poe and Cielo Negro

Unsurprisingly, most of the photographers opted to concentrate avatar-centric studies for their entries, with only a couple avoiding avatars entirely. Not that focusing on avatars lessened any of the entries; rather the reverse in fact: several presented very unique uses of the avatar and / or unique perspectives on a particular booth and avatar (as is the case with WuWai Chun’s Eskol 1 entry). whilst Iono Allen chose to offer a moment from a certain iconic 1969 motion picture (or as the director referred to it, “the proverbial good science fiction movie”).

While I cannot speak for the other members of the panel, I approached judging the submitted pieces on a set of criteria I’d settled upon before seeing any of them: composition (use of space, colour, lighting), framing, originality and narrative. However, given we all three each came up with a selection of seven initial finalists that were somewhat similar, I’d say we all used similar criteria. And certainly, the winning entry, C1haos Resident’s Eskol 2 was a piece we would all agree on as being a worthy winner.

 Eskol Gallery: Eskol Photo Contest – WuWia Chun and C1haos Resident

Currently, all of the entries are on display at Morlita’s main Eskol Gallery, and will be until early February, so why not pop along and judge them for yourself?

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Lost in time, emperor cats and a story of Poe in Second Life

Seanchai Library

It’s time to highlight another week of storytelling in Voice by the staff and volunteers at the Seanchai Library. As always, all times SLT, and events are held at the Library’s home in Nowhereville, unless otherwise indicated. Note that the schedule below may be subject to change during the week, please refer to the Seanchai Library website for the latest information through the week.

January 17th, 19:00: A World Out of Time

After being cryogenically frozen in the 1970s to await a cure for his (then) incurable cancer, Jaybee Corbell awakes after more than 200 years – to find his own body destroyed and his mind and memories transferred into the “mindwiped” body of a criminal. And that’s is not all that has changed: the Earth is now overseen by an oppressive, totalitarian global government called “The State”, and Corbell’s existence is to be determined by a “checker”; if he is found wanting, he will be discarded.

However, Peerssa, the checker, recommends Corbell as ideal fodder in The State’s attempts to seek out exoplanets suitable for terraforming – whether he wants to join the programme or not. Disgusted by his treatment, Corbell works out a way to take control of his one-person ship on its otherwise one-way mission, and heads toward the galactic core. Entering suspended animation, he is unaware his vessel skims close enough to the super-massive black hole at the centre of the galaxy to experience time dilation.

Emerging from his suspended state, and believing only 150 years have passed, Corbell returns to the solar system to find it again vastly changed: more than three million years have passed, and the Sun has become a bloated red giant, and Earth – well, Earth appears to have been relocated to an orbit around Jupiter, whilst humanity itself had endured extensive changes; and Corbell must face an entirely new set of challenges if he is to survive.

Join Gyro Muggins as he reads the 1976 novel (and originally a short story) by Larry Niven.

Tuesday, January 18th

12:00 Noon: Russell Eponym

With music, and poetry in Ceiluradh Glen.

19:00: Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat

Klawde had everything. Sharp claws. Fine fur. And, being the High Commander of the planet Lyttyrboks (think about it if you need to!), an entire world of warlike cats at his command. But then he is stripped of his feline throne and sentenced to the worst possible punishment: exile to a small green-blue planet that is, as they say, “far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the galaxy”, known to its dominant bipedal race as “Earth”.

On that planet, Raj is a young man who had everything: a cool apartment in Brooklyn New York, his three best friends living in the same apartment block and comics and pizza always within easy reach. Then, courtesy of his mother taking a job on the other side of the country, he finds himself exiled to the community of Elba, Oregon.

These two lost souls, one seeking friendship (and, hopefully, pizza and comics) but forced to join a nature camp, the other a cunning, brilliant feline emperor, both exiled and seemingly lost, are destined to meet. And when they do – whether Klawde likes it or not – the emperor cat will find his plans for revenge on those who would oust him from his empire running somewhat secondary to becoming Raj’s new Best Friend as the two of them become bound by a series of new and hilarious adventures.

With Caledonia Skytower.

Wednesday, January 19th: Poe Special

The Library opens for a special to mark the anniversary of Edgar Allan Poe’s birth on January 19th, 1809 – by presenting a story about the time shortly before his death.

On October 3rd, 1849, Poe was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore, “in great distress, and… in need of immediate assistance”. He was taken to the Washington Medical College, where he died in the early hours of the morning of Sunday, October 7th, 1849. Throughout his time at the hospital Poe remained too incoherent to explain how he came to be in his dire condition and wearing clothes that were not his own, although he was said to have repeatedly called out the name “Reynolds” on the night before his death. But to whom he may have been referring remains unknown.

In Beyond Porch and Portal E. Catherine Tobler, offers an unusual but interesting explanation of why Poe was found, and what had led him to that point of distress. Join Shandon Loring to find out more!

Thursday, December 20th 19:00: The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones

Join Shandon Loring as he recounts the early adventures of a young Henry Walton Jones, Jr., who would one day become the famous Indiana Jones.

What’s in a name – or how I came to be Inara Pey

I was recently asked if I’d ever written a piece on how / why I chose my Second Life name – and the short answer is “no, not in one place”. But, for what little it might be worth, I thought I’d sketch out the core influences in how I became “Inara Pey”.

As some (many?) have likely already guessed, the short answer is my first name was lifted directly from the character of “Inara Serra” in the short-lived TV series Firefly, and as portrayed by Morena Baccarin in her first television series role. However, there is a little more behind the exact reasons for the choice.

I’ve made so secret of the fact that this account was not my first plunge into Second Life – I’d signed-up previously, paddled around for a while without really being sure what I was doing or why, or even really understanding much about the platform. I’d also put zero effort into my avatar name, simply picking pretty much the first name that popped into my head whilst looking at the sign-up pages, and then paring it with the first name that was shown to be “available” from the provided list on the page. As such, I never really grew into the name.

So when I decided to give things another go several months after I’d initially stopped logging in, I genuinely gave thought beforehand to the kind of first name I am could feel at home / identify with, and which might help serve my desire to spend some of my in-world time poking at areas of the platform I’d since learned about, rather than simply bumbling around like a square peg in a round hole. In this latter regard, I’ve also made no secret of the fact I have been involved in adult D/, including having several essays and assorted pieces published on the subject of D/s relationships and the psychology of D/s personalities, and so wanted to see how this world translated into SL.

The character of Inara Serra from Firefly, as portrayed by Morena Baccarin, served as a sort-of “inspiration” for my avatar name

These factors combined with my love of all things science fiction – including thoroughly enjoying Firefly – caused me to somewhat gravitate towards the name of Inara Serra. I already appreciated the character’s nature – strong, independent and insightful, and with a clear lean into Buddhism – and her backstory. As sometime who also likes to read / learn about mythologies, the name also had appeal due to its (primary) link to HittiteHurrian mythology (as the goddess / protector the wild animals of the steppe, a deity somewhat corresponding with the Greek Goddess Artemis) and because in some circles the name is said to have equated to “Exquisite Hero” in Ancient Egyptian.

Thus, not only did the name fit with my thoughts of what I might like to poke at in SL, it lay well within the sphere of several on my own interests, and the nature of “Inara Serra” was one I genuinely liked and could potentially identify with without wanting to simply appropriate it for the needs of any form of role-play, sci-fi or otherwise.

The explanation for “Pey” is much simpler. As noted at the top of this piece (and most users are probably aware), back in those days, anyone joining SL could select an account / avatar name through the use of the free selection of a first name and the one-time selection a last name from a defined list that LL would periodically update. “Pey” was a name that was available and which I liked. And so, Inara Pey was born.

If the above does sound long-winded, I would say the fact that I’ve remained engaged with Second Life for the last 16 is – in all honesty – thanks in no small part down to the fact I found the name some comfortable, and have thus been able to inhabit her to the point I cannot conceive of being without her presence in my life.

Postscript: I should have added this prior to publishing, and as part of the conclusion. I actually have an alt. It also has the first name “Inara”, and came about in 2008, after a severe issue with my account meant I was unable to stay logged-in for more than a handful of minutes at a time for a number of days – until LL support could clear the problem. Since then, that alt has never really advanced beyond a basic avatar, and while I use it for testing viewers, going to in-world meetings, etc.,  – as friends will confirm, I cannot identify with it to the point of referring it as “Ms. Breen”, as it feels like “someone else”. (and other folk can always identify me when I’m using it, as the avatar’s tag carries the cunning disguise “Inara Pey incognito”!).

Visiting Longing Melody in Second Life

Longing Melody, January 2022 – click any image for full size

Bambi (NorahBrent) is the owner of the Oh Deer brand and is also is well-regarded among Second Life bloggers for her Missing Melody region designs – I’ve reviewed several iterations of that region myself in these pages. However, in 2021, she launched a new region setting – Longing Melody – which I finally managed to visit at the start of 2022.

Utilising a Full region rather than a Homestead as seen with Missing Melody, Longing Melody presents three different but interconnected seasons / settings that offer little hints of England and the British Isles and plenty to see and appreciate.

Longing Melody, January 2022

Visits start at the Longing Town train station, where a train with a decidedly continental lean sits at the platform to form the landing point. Exiting the train places new arrival on the platform (no surprises there), where two maps on the London underground are mounted on the platform walls. One of these is likely to be very familiar to users of the Tube, the other somewhat older and offers a more “natural” look to how London’s underground lines actually sit under the city’s roads and reaches. On a second wall is what might appear to be a further Tube map but is in fact a stylised map of the region that offers clues to a form of homage Bambi presents in the design. Alongside of this map in an information giver for the Second Life Nature Collective club.

Beyond the turnstiles for the station sits Longing Town itself, there the homage mentioned above is largely located, taken the form of links to Liverpool’s Fab Four. The road leading from / to the station for example, is called Abbey Road, home of a certain recording studio and also the title of the group’s eleventh album with its iconic (and much imitated) cover photo – which is also reproduced in the forms of silhouettes of John, Ringo, Paul and George filing across the road.

Longing Melody, January 2022

Before reaching the silhouettes, the road also passes Penny Lane, an alley leading in to courtyard behind the houses lining the road. Beyond the four silhouettes, the road makes a 90º turn to the right continuing to to a waterside promenade called The Globe. This in turn might be a reference to The Globe Theatre, Stockton on Tees in the north-east of England, famous for being the venue for two Beatles concerts that effectively bracketed their “breaking into” the US market after a lot of resistance from US record moguls (and the first of which took place shortly after John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas).

Outside of the town proper, and reached via an arched passage, is a further reference to the Beatles, in the the form of Strawberry Fields, a broad concrete path runs north to reach the second element of the region. Here, beyond the gardens of some of the houses is a more rural setting, a place of meadows, sheep, a bubbling stream, rough footpaths and ruins. And where the town might be thought of as being caught  in a late summer, this northern rural area sits more in autumn, a place where the trees are turning a golden brown and sheep and deer roam free.

Longing Melody, January 2022

A canal cuts through this rural area; deeper than the local stream, it is crossed by a single hump backed bridge. The path beyond this continues eastwards, passing between more farm buildings and a large field guarded by drystone walls and home to sheep and cows. Once past these, the path starts a gentle climb to where a high brick wall bars the way, except for the open wooden door set within it.

This wall marks the point where the third of the region’s seasons commences, the hills beyond the wall being blanketed in winter. Snow cover the land, a narrow path winding up between the hills. Here the trees are either fir or denuded of there leaves, all equally frosted by the snow.

Longing Melody, January 2022

Cottages and more can be found on the shoulder and crown of the hill; one of the former cosily furnished, the other a shell. Watched over by foxes, snowmen and polar bears, this winter area offers further places to sit and pass the time and further opportunities for photography.

All of the above just scratches the surface of things. In the town, many of the buildings are simple façades, other have interiors that can be viewed through windows or entered and explored. Similarly, the gardens, the promenade, the rural spaces, all offer places to sit and relax. and needles to say, the region in rich in opportunities for photography.

Longing Melody, January 2022

Sharing a spiritual design with many of the settings that have surfaced within Missing Melody, Bambi’s Longing Melody offers visitors its own richness and diversity that should be savoured during a visit.

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Invisible beauty: more art of the microscopic in Second Life

Desiderartum Gallery: Guille – Invisible Beauty

In November 2011, I wrote about an intriguing exhibition of images by Guille (Antoronta) entitled Unseen Beauty, held at the Annexe of the Limoncello gallery. It was one of the the most unusual, engaging and informative exhibitions of photographic art I’d witnessed during the year, taking us as it did on a journey into the world of the microscopic (see: The art and beauty of the microscopic in Second Life).

While (at the time of writing) that exhibition is still open), I’ll delighted to say that the Desiderartum Gallery, managed by Peru Venom is hosting what might be regarded as the “part two” of a display of Guille’s work, in the form of Invisible Beauty, which formally opened on January 10th, 2022 (and my apologies to Guille for not being able to attend the opening in person).

Desiderartum Gallery: Guille – Invisible Beauty

The virtual incarnation of Antonio Guillén, Guille is a doctor in Biology and professor of Natural Sciences, whose background is as fascinating as his art, given his research projects span the environment, microbiology and astrobiology. He also has a refreshing – almost holistic, one might say – perspective on art and science in which the two interact with one another sans borders, informing one another and helping to jointly educate students and the public at large.

In particular, and given his professional focus on the microscopic, he has become a noted photographer-artist who captures the tiny worlds of micro-organisms – bacteria, fungi, archaea and protists – in all their exquisite beauty. And by “noted”, I mean precisely that not only has his photography been exhibited across his native Spain – including the National Museum of Natural Sciences, Madrid -, it has also garnered awards such as Spain’s National Prize for Scientific Photography and the Giner de los Ríos Prize, the country’s most prestigious educational award. In addition, his project The Hidden Life of Water received the first world award at a Google Science Fair (2012).

Desiderartum Gallery: Guille – Invisible Beauty

As I noted in November 2021, Guille’s work doesn’t just present images of these incredible, tiny and diverse living organisms, it takes us on a journey into their worlds, the images revealing them individually or collectively in the the most amazing detail, while the texts he has supplied to go with the images (obtained by clicking the title card either below or to the right of each image) reveal more of the realities of these micro-organisms – and not in in dry, scientific terms that are starved of emotion. Rather, Guille’s descriptions are wonderfully fluid, descriptive and in places poetic. It thus offers further life to the tiny creations his microscope has captured in still form, whiles also underscoring his belief that art and science should freely interact.

Like most of the algae of the desmids family “Euastrum” it seems to look at itself in a mirror creating a pair of green Siamese joined by the same heart in a game of symmetry in which survival today and that of the future are bathed of this simple and intense beauty.
A thick transparent layer, adorned with winding valleys, spines or sculpted buttons and made with cellulose and pectin protects the body from these beautiful algae and helps them to float and move slowly both floating and on the bottoms where they live.

Guille’s sparkling description of the supernova-like Euastrum Verrucosum

Desiderartum Gallery: Guille – Invisible Beauty – Euastrum Verrucosum

Split across the two levels of the gallery building, Invisible Beauty mixes some of the images seen within Unseen Beauty with those specific to this exhibition, providing a natural overlap between the two, and making a visit to both a natural experience.

In addition to the  journeys into the worlds of prokaryotes and eukaryotes presented by Unseen Beauty and Invisible Beauty, more of Guille’s work can be found on his Flickr stream, whilst in-world, his has – with the support and assistance of Kimika Ying – created El Universo en una Gota de Agua (“The Universe in a Drop of Water”). There, visitors can see more of Guille’s photography as well as learning about the history of the microscope and about the study of micro-organisms – and even enter their world, where a human hair offered at a scale to represent its magnification by a factor of 10,000 helps put all of this tiny life into perspective.

Universo en una Gota de Agua

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January 2022 Web User Group summary: Premium Plus, Search

The Web User Group meeting venue, Denby

The following notes cover the key points from the Web User Group (WUG) meeting, held on Wednesday, January 12th, 2022.

These meetings are generally held on the first Wednesday of the month, with dates and venue details available via the SL public calendar. A video of the meeting, courtesy of Pantera, can be found embedded at the end of this article (my thanks to her as always!). Again, the following is a summary of key topics / discussions, not a full transcript of everything mentioned.

2022 “Roadmap”

In the 2021 year-end review blog post the Lab issued in December 2021, several projects for 2022 were mentioned, some of which fall wholly or in part under the Web team’s responsibility. Reed Linden used this meeting to discuss some of them, as summarised below.

Premium Plus

  • The Lab has a full list of features and options they would like to include in Premium Plus. However, what is actually delivered (and I assume when / how it is delivered) is still subject to a number of factors.
  • Because of the above, Reed could not offer definitive statements on what “will” be included, only hints to what might be present when the option is rolled out, such as:
    • The potential for a higher amount of free tier than Premium’s 1024 sq m.
    • The potential for specific Marketplace options to the available to Premium Plus subscribers.
    • The potential for reduced upload and other fees (Name Changes?) for Premium Plus.
    • The potential for a high-than-the-current Premium weekly stipend.
  • Also, because the final list of what is to be released is potentially still subject to change, final pricing has yet to be agreed, although it will be higher than the current Premium subscription fees.
    • The current plan is to introduce Premium Plus as “single level” offering at a set fee level (presumably monthly, quarterly, and annual, as per the current Premium). However, functionality has been provided to allow the Lab to offer further levels of “Premium” options, should this prove to be wanted.
    • However, Reed also indicated that Premium offerings might and in an unspecified future become à la carte, allowing users to pick and pay for the options they want.
  • The introduction of Premium Plus will not see any “downgrading” of current Premium subscription benefits or any changes to the current Premium subscription fees.
  • A major question still to be answered by the Lab is how are upgrades / down grades handled (e.g. a user goes from Premium with grandfathered stipend (L$500) to Premium Plus then back down to Premium; does their stipend revert to the current L$300 a week, or go back to the grandfathered amount?).

Search Improvements

  • The “next few quarters” will be focused on an overhaul of Second Life Search, with the aim of “making it work “the way we expect it to work, with all the little features we all as good Internet residents have come to expect from a robust and well rounded search engine”. This includes, but is not limited to:
    • Making the search filters more universal and offering more options for searching for things (e.g. such as being able to search for a region through Search → Places in addition to via the World Map).
    • Improving both the relevancy and the ranking of Search results.
  • To achieve this, the Lab has hired in specific experts in Search systems to carry out the work.
  • Specifics on precisely how changes will be made and implemented are currently unclear, as a lot is dependent on further metrics gathering on the way Search objectively functions and then working with the incoming expects to recognise where and how things can be improved.

Marketplace Variants and Performance

  • Described as the “big ticket item” for the Marketplace in 2022, is listing variants
    • This will introduce the ability to have variants (e.g. different colours of an article of clothing) within a single listing – perhaps the single longest-running request for Marketplace functionality, reaching back to beyond the days of Pink Linden.
    • The focus for Quarter 1 2022 (January through the end of March) is on putting in place the back-end support for this, including ensuring all of the required infrastructure is in place to support the functionality.
    • Work will then switch to build-out the user-facing aspects of the capability, with the expectations that new features could start surfacing for users in late spring / early summer, with work then continuing.
  • It has been noted that Marketplace performance can be very variable, depending on overall usage at any given time, and it is hoped that time in 2022 can be allotted to making some performance improvements.

In Brief

  • Another aspect of work that will be continuing through 2022 is the revamp of SL web properties to bring them more into line with the flat design seen within the web search pages, splash and log-in pages, etc.
  • Opening grid-wide experience capabilities to users is still under consideration, as is allowing larger script sizes – although technically, neither of these capabilities are the remit of the Web Team.
  • Marketplace:
    • There appears to be some confusion over the current status of commenting on reviews left on the Marketplace after recent changes. It keep things before, at present, only the seller of an item can leave a comment (reply) to a review of their item; all other changes were rolled back.
    • Marketplace Q&A option: as noted in a couple of past meeting summaries, it has been suggested LL provide a facility where questions concerning products on the MP can be asked and responded to by the seller or those who have purchased the item (similar to the “Customer Questions and Answers” section of many Amazon listing pages).  Precisely how this should look and be managed is to be a topic for discussion at the next WUG meeting.
  • Events (including searching events and how they are presented on the Event page) is also something that has been earmarked for possible work during 2022.
  • Date of next meeting: Wednesday, February 2nd, 2022, starting at 14:00 SLT.