Those who go…those who arrive

So we have another round of departures from LL – among them Catherine Linden. Some have praise Catherine’s tenure at LL; I’m not entirely in the same mindset. As the architecture of the LL Trademark documentation, she opened up something of a can of confusing worm – particularly with regards to the use of every day words such as “Life” (which LL “banned” the likes of TPV developers from using, claiming it was a breach of their trademark / copyright). As someone with a degree of responsibility for communications (at least at one time), she also made a pretty poor communicator herself; although that is pretty much par for the course for many at LL.

Her departure is somewhat “balanced” by the announcement from Terrance Linden of the move to bring in younger teens to the main grid after the inevitable decision was made to come clean and close Teen Grid. And for once it shows a degree of common sense. Those who witnessed Philip Rosedale’s SLCC 10 address – particularly the closing minutes when he was challenged by an educator over the Teen Grid decision, could not help but feel his sympathetic ear was somewhat closed to her pleas: the move was a done deal. It is therefore refreshing that those at the Lab have taken the time to listen to a section of their community (educators) and take steps to ensure that needs of that sector of their community continue to be met. In a nutshell the move announced by Terrence means that 13-15 year olds will soon be able to access the main grid BUT – and before people start shouting and screaming, they will not be able to:

  • Move outside the educational sims / estates hosting their affiliated educational organisation(s)
  • Use search to make purchases via in-world stores or the Marketplace

This is still not an ideal solution – a dedicated Educational or “Teen” Continent would perhaps be preferable – but it does mean that risks of lawsuits etc., are drastically reduced so long as educational organisations themselves are restricted to private (and discounted) sims. It also means that there can be greater and more positive interaction between youngsters and others on the grid in a “controlled” environment: educators will have to ability to vet others on the main grid and invite them into their sims to give talks, presentations, etc. Undoubtedly, this could be a major boon for a range of educational projects that schools, etc., may undertake: one can well imagine in-world science lessons being enlivened by a visit from representatives from NASA, ESA or the International Space Museum.

Nevertheless, as others point out, it still begs the question why LL didn’t simply create the aforementioned “Teen Continent” that might have provided both a contiguous experience for youngsters that come in-world for educational purposes and an environment for those aged 16 and 17 (whose presence on the wider Grid is still very much a potential minefield for LL and adults alike). Indeed, if what I’ve been told is correct,that the Teen Grid was pretty much a Continent in its own right, albeit it one with additional access restrictions, why not simply merge it with the main grid as a “new continent”, complete with safeguards to avoid the pitfalls of the “wrong” kind of adult / teenage interaction (I’m not talking sex here necessarily…the “wrong” kind of interaction covers a broad spectrum of what might possibly happen – up to and including an adult “looking over” their teenager’s shoulder and getting completely the wrong impression of what goes on in SL). Doing so would have removed a “caretaking” headache for LL, removed the heartache for teens, still provided the environment Terrance has announced and – most beneficial of all – allayed the fears (real and perceived) of the adult community already on the main grid.

Sadly, however, we’re not going to get anything like a “teen” or “PG” (or even “G”) continent; that was made clear during the Adult Policy / Zindra fiasco, so campaigning for such – as some have been attempting to do since news of the closure of Teen Grid was announced – is a waste of time. It simply doesn’t fit with the LL “roadmap” – whatever that might be. But – in the case of 13-15 year olds, this move is perhaps the best compromise for all concerned. It doesn’t provide an answer for everything, but it is potentially enough to help reassure both sides of the youngsters-in-SL argument that things are not going to end up an unmitigated disaster; at least where those in the younger age range are concerned.

All change…yet again…

A few days ago, I posted about moving home to a new sim. At the time I mentioned that the house wasn’t *precisely* what I wanted. So guess what?

I’ve changed it. In fact, I possibly change house more times than Imelda Marcos ever changed shoes…

Anyway, the new place is much more along the lines I was trying to achieve the first time around, although it has moved very much away from the “inviting nature in” theme that Ari has managed so expertly with her home, and of which mine was but a pale imitation. Instead, I’ve gone more down the Geoffrey Bowa avenue, combining it with a bit of a Mediterranean feel.

The new house is more traditional in that it has things like “walls” and “windows”, rather than being open to nature on three sides. It also has a more traditional “upstairs” and “downstairs”. Like the first build at the new home, it is still built back into a wooded hill, but I’ve moved it further forward so that it embraces the infinity pool.

I’ve also kept to something of “earthy” tones – apart from the white exterior stucco finish – with wood panel on the back lounge wall and on the bedroom ceiling, together with a Japanese wood screen effect on the bedroom walls, carried over from the first build, and muted natural colours to interior walls, ceilings and flooring – with the exception of the Mediterranean tiling evidenced around the pool.

The lounge, slightly smaller than in the first build, does retain a frontage that is open to the world, with a tiled front patio area linking it directly with the infinity pool, which has now been extended back to almost join with the house – indeed, on climbing out of the pool you are practically *in* the lounge area – an idea I first came across in some of Geoffrey Bowa’s hotel designs in Sri Lanka.

The main reason for doing this is so that the full effect of the infinity pool can be enjoyed from the lounge itself – as I hope the picture to the right demonstrates. I hope also that, by drawing the pool “into” the house more, it will be something I can friends actually make use of, rather than it remaining purely decorative – as so many pools in SL seem to.

While the living room is slightly smaller than previously (15×15 compared to 16×16), the house is actually some 8 metres wider than the original build. This has allowed me to both move the stair case out of the lounge and provide space for a separate area where my laptop and “desk” can sit (the laptop cunningly disguising a few things).

The added width to the house means the bedroom is now much larger and lighter, and now benefits from covered balcony overlooking the front aspect of the infinity pool and the open sea beyond. Full length windows separate the bedroom from the balcony, with access between the two via a side arch. Additionally, the bedroom has a set of sliding doors leading to the “back garden”  – a lawned area on top of the hill the house backs into. How much this will be used, I’ve no idea – but I think it adds a little something to the place overall, and it’ll probably end up getting a couple of trees and flowerbeds and probably a retaining wall.

The revised house has other advantages over my first attempt: for a start, it is much lower than the original, allowing it to “blend” more easily with the landscape and trees – despite the white stucco. It also means that Kelly gets a much improved outlook from her house, which is more-or-less the same in overall style, just without the infinity pool.

Some re-working of the land was obviously necessary in order to “fit” the new design, but even this proved beneficial, as it has allowed me to better sculpt the hills and slopes and make things a lot more gentle and smooth overall. I’ve also been able to revise and improve the footpath linking the two houses. While this wasn’t vital, there were a couple of niggles I had with it which didn’t lend themselves to easy fixes given the style of the earlier houses. Away from this, one thing that hasn’t gone is the dance area … and I hope that will also be seeing a lot of use in the near future.

Overall, it is fair to say I’m finally pleased with the revised layout – the house “works”, the landscape is subdued and everything (to me at least) has come together quite neatly. I’m particularly happy that despite the drastic changes to the house build itself, I actually managed to get the new place done using just 2 prims over the first attempt; the new house design weighs-in at 84 prims, the “old” was 82.

Now, if I’ll just stop moving around long enough to actually enjoy it!

More on Mesh

An interesting forum thread has opened on the subject of mesh buildings. This is a subject close to my heart, as I’m a prim builder, and while I think that mesh will be a major boon to Second Life, it will not come without cost to many (including myself).

The thread contains much that is of interest – including much of what still has to be decided and insight into just how thorny an issue mesh is likely to prove in the technical side alone. It also contains a few hard-to-swallow but entirely fair home truths for those in the same boat as myself and find the whole world of 3D rendering a confusing morass of tools, terms and concepts.

I’d still like to try and dip my toe into the waters of mesh; I’ve even downloaded Blender…but I have to admit, that having looked at it (and remember that while I sometimes talk the talk, I am not a technical person in any way, shape size or form – I just (usually) learn quickly) – I can well understand the comments from the OP in the thread when he states, “On to Blender. First, you make your structure….Next, apply materials to your model. This is where you start swearing at Blender….Then you texture your model. This is where you abandon your will to live….”

My only difference of opinion with his view is that after commenting, “First, you make your structure”, he added “This is the easy part”, – something I found anything but, despite pouring over an on-line tutorial. Thus, I instead opted to skim through the swearing part and settle on the losing the will to live before spending an hour under my desk cuddling my (rather bewildered) cat…

Even so, for those interested in mesh, the thread is well worth a read; it may well answer many of your questions.

Avatars disunited

A semi-interesting e-mail pinged up this evening, thus:

Dear Avatars United Member,

In January of this year, Linden Lab purchased Avatars United for its underlying social technology and to integrate powerful social networking capabilities into the Second Life experience.

Today, we have made the difficult decision to discontinue Avatars United and will be taking down the site on September 29, 2010. Over the next week, we encourage you to save any pieces of content (such as pictures, friend’s names, etc.) that you want to keep. We will also soon update you on your AU Coin refund, if you have an account balance.

Over the two and a half years since launching Avatars United, we have welcomed avatars from many virtual worlds and MMOs to connect on our platform as the only social network catering to the needs of virtual identities. We are proud to have served those needs and honoured to have shared this journey with you all.

Going forward, pieces of the Avatars United technology will be integrated into the Second Life platform to support a richer, and more dynamic, community experience. Read more about these efforts on theSecond Life blog.

Thank you for being a member of the Avatars United community, and part of the Second Life family.

The Avatars United/Second Life Team

Am I surprised? No. Even at the height of the Mark Kingdon “inspired” (if wrongly attributed) push that “SL = Facebook = SL”, the purchase of Avatars United seemed a little odd, even for Linden Lab, despite the latter suffering an identity crisis of its own at the time.

While there was some potential for Avatars United to enhance Second Life, the fact remains that it always was the square-peg-meets-round-hole situation for Linden Lab in terms of offering those of us already engaged in Second Life with anything truly beneficial. Similarly, as a marketing tool to draw others involved in on-line games into Second Life, its value was perhaps less than useful.

That LL had no idea as to what they should do with their new shiny once they had it was perhaps most clearly indicated by the massive flurry of Linden activity over on AU that dropped off faster than a rock disappearing over the cliff as the novelty of the new toy wore off to be replaced by the taxing question, “OK, so we’ve got it, not what do we actually do with it?” In fairness LL were not alone; the number of us who probably did the same is likely to be legion.

I’m actually surprised that AU has lasted this long; to be honest, I can’t even bid it a fond farewell.

All change…again…

Yep…I’ve moved. Again.

Santos Isle, the last home location was comfortable, but suffered in two major respects: it was east facing (and I prefer sunsets to sunrises) and the sim itself suffered from the arrival of a *huge* Ozimal bunny farm and a skyhome rental business, both of which impacted the sim – and our privacy – in various adverse ways. Still, when you are opting to live on a unzoned sim, you have to take some of the rough with the smooth.

The new sim is also unzoned, so carries with it some of the same risks inherent with Santos Isle- but its scores in that the parcel is west-facing, and the sim has fewer parcels overall, the majority of which are well-settled.

A third benefit is that the sim is not themed as a sandy tropical island. For me this is important because for a while now I’ve wanted to do something different in terms of living space, and sandy islands, nice though they are, don’t fit the bill environment-wise.

In this latter regard, I have to admit to being influenced by two things: my love for and of Sri Lanka, where a lot of the architecture – particularly as designed by the late Geoffrey Bowa – blends beautifully with the environment (and in some cases works with the environment) – and also the home of my very close friend Ari.

Even so, getting something built at the new place was harder than I’d expected – as several friends are aware. Normally when I have an idea for a place it’s move in, build, settle. No this time: after moving on a Sunday, it was not until the following Wednesday night that I finally got things sorted to a point where I feel comfortable with the new home; in between lay close to 20 builds that were started and abandoned as I tried to make what I had in mind fit the irregular shape of the new parcel.

The new layout features a couple of houses – one for myself, one for Kelly and Vina – and this time I’ve been able to work in some other features I’ve missed recently from other homes in SL – notably a pool area and a “dance floor”.

The houses are an identical build – possibly the first development of an idea I still have in the back of my mind and have yet to achieve – and draw heavily on the aforementioned influences from both Sri Lanka and Ari’s own home, from which I’ve borrowed the same basic concept, and very much hope she won’t mind me doing so; this is the first build I’ve made in SL that is so clearly drawn from the work of another builder.

The house is a simple split-level affair, built back into a hill, with the emphasis on blending with the surroundings. Finished in natural woods and more earthy colours and draped with vines, the house has an open aspect lounge area with a staircase leading to a galleried bedroom. Windows are entirely absent from the build, leaving it open to the  wooded surroundings, which I hope – as with Ari’s design from which this is drawn, gives an entirely natural feel – albeit one with more “traditional” living than her own outstanding build, which draws nature directly into the house itself.

The Sri Lankan influence is present in that many hotels and houses there have similar areas that are both open to the surrounding environs, while maintaining a high level of comfort for those using them – and I was hard-pushed not to include a “traditional” Sri Lankan-style open shower area that I’ve enjoyed in places such as the Deer Park and Saman Villas.

A more obvious Sri Lankan influence – or more correctly, a small homage to Geoffrey Bowa  – is in the “infinity”-style swimming pool I added to the west edge of the land. I first encountered such a pool at the magnificent Kandalama Hotel, near Dambulla in February 2000; and quickly learned that such pools  – whether for swimming or as ornamental focal points – are a trademark feature of Bowa designs across the island. It’s always something I’ve wanted to re-create in-world, if only on a personal level, and I’ve rather pleased with the way this particular pool turned out…

Alongside the pool, set back into the treeline, is something else I’ve missed from recent SL homes: a modest dance area. Comprising a flat rock, with lanterns hanging from overhead branches, and spacing hopefully suited to camming, this is a part of the new home that I very much hope will see a lot of use in the future; a place for friends to come and socialise, dance and / or relax around the pool.

While it didn’t turn out entirely as I’d planned, the new place is very much “home” now – the balance of openness an, natural appearance and privacy seems to be about right. I’m certainly very happy with how things have (eventually) turned out, and I very much hope that those who had to endure four days of me  bashing my head on the desk and being “too busy” for much else will equally enjoy the results of my growling….

Mesh-ing around with Second Life

Jack Linden has announced the next steps in the scheme of things to establish “full” Mesh imports into Second Life.

Mesh has been something of an elusive Holy Grail for many when it comes to content creation in Second Life; it’s been promised for years and various You Tube videos demonstrating it have been around for almost as long, yet it has always remained tantalisingly over the horizon, leaving those wanting it faced with gazing at tea leaves in an effort to guess when it would actually arrive.

For those unfamiliar, Mesh is the system used to create our avatars, using a complex series of polygons to render highly detailed forms. Mesh is common through the gaming world, and is alive and kicking in “rivals” to Second Life such as Blue Mars.

Unlike the current system of primitives, Mesh constructs are created using graphics rendering programs that provide a complexity of detail far beyond anything that can be achieved in-world – as the images and videos accompanying the announcement show. They could, quite simply revolutionise and revitalise Second Life.

Mesh properly entered the SL roadmap earlier this year, with Mark Kingdon and others indicating that it would be entering a beta phase around now, with a potential roll-out by the end of the year. However, following Kingdon’s departure and Philip Rosedale’s “return”, things on the Mesh front went quiet – almost ominously so, with barely a mention being given in various addresses, prompting some to wonder if the entire idea was once again vanishing over the horizon. It was not until SLCC 10 in July that Philip confirmed the plans were still moving ahead, although on a revised timetable.

Now Jack’s blog provides further – if sketchy – insight to further moves.

There is little doubt that given the capabilities presented by Mesh, that it could very well revolutionise the appearance  – and possibly the appeal – of Second Life; as such, its arrival should be largely welcomed; but that is not to say there are still concerns surrounding its eventual use. Question such as how it will be placed alongside the “traditional” means of prim-based design and construction of objects and what Mesh means to those who are proficient in prim building, but who are unable to move to 3D rendering for whatever reason. There are even questions around how it could impact in-world “building for pleasure” activities. Beyond this, as N, a good friend with considerable knowledge of 3D rendering, there is also the question of intellectual property and ripped content; there are already masses of rendered material out there, much of it in breach of established copyrights and IP rights: what mechanisms will be put in place to prevent such material flooding into SL?

It’s good to know Mesh is coming; but I think it far to say there are many who are as anxious about the answers to some of these questions as they are enthusiastic about the arrival of Mesh.