The Drax Files 10: The magic of Second Life

[With] every single thing that has ever happened in Second Life people have yelled, “It’s the end of Second Life as we know it!” And in fact it is – because it keeps getting better.

So states Robin Sojourner. And if anyone is in a position to make that point, it is Robin. She has been involved in Second Life for just shy of ten years (her anniversary falls on September 16th). This being the case, and given this is SL’s tenth anniversary, it is perhaps fitting that she be a subject for an episode of The Drax Files.

I’m going to take a little time out here and confess that when Drax confirmed to me that Robin was to be appearing in the series, I was overjoyed. I’ve long been an admirer of her work both inside and outside of Second Life, and it was one of her products which formed my first “really useful” purchase in SL way back in time – and which I still use today. So I make no apologies for dwelling as much on her work outside of SL as in; Robin is someone very much worthwhile getting to know – even if I do only know her distantly – and she and her work very much deserve discussion.


As well has bringing the perspective of being involved in SL almost since the beginning, Robin also brings another unique perspective to the table when discussing Second Life. She is a member of what the UK media refer to as “the silver surfer generation” that is, a member of an older demographic of computer users. I say “unique” not in respect of her seniority per se, but rather because that on the one hand, she represents the very broad appeal Second Life can have with people, while on the other, she represents a demographic that – perhaps – the Lab is gradually shying away from in its push to build an audience among younger generations.

Robin came to Second Life as a result of suffering from Fibromyalgia, which impacted heavily on her ability to create and draw and, being a creative person, she sought alternative avenues by which she could continue to create, and SL offered her one of the most comfortable mediums.

Robinton, Masterharper of Pern
Robinton, Masterharper of Pern

As I mentioned above, I’ve long been an admirer of Robin’s artwork ever since I discovered it back in 2007, which I admit is rather late-on in the day.

If you’ve never visited her website, I cannot recommend it highly enough as a place to visit; it is a veritable Aladdin’s Cave. Within it you’ll find samples of Robin’s art, such as her magnificent Robinton, Masterharper of Pern, a piece which has gained worldwide recognition for its depiction of one of Anne McCaffrey’s most-loved characters from her Dragonriders series.

The image is stunning in its detail, and very evocative, perfectly capturing its subject in his later years, his glass of Benden wine raised in salute, his quizzical smile and eyes hinting at the depth and breadth of his intellect and his wry humour. Little wonder Anne McCaffrey bought the original!

Within the website you’ll also find information on Robin’s books which include a must-read for all cat lovers and owners, The Theory of Cat Gravity, as well as her titles on Tarot and Wicca. Robin’s essays are also to be found here as well, and they make thought-provoking reading for anyone prepared to approach them with an open mind, and reveal much of Robin’s heart, intellect and the warmth of her humanity.

As a content creator within SL, Robin started with the very humble  prim – basic shapes, no flexies, no sculpties. Since then she’s been able to observe each and every change wrought in SeCond Life in terms of tools and capabilities for content creation, and to do so objectively enough to be able to recognise their benefits without all of the ballyhoo which all too often marks change within the platform.  Instead, she’s simply accepted them, learned about them and been at the forefront of putting them to good use – as the shots of her use of materials in the video demonstrate.

Tehn an now: Robin's original 1-prim chair and her recent mesh "1-prim" creation: a stool draped with a quilt
Then and now: Robin’s original 1-prim chair and her recent mesh “1-prim” (1 LI) creation: a stool draped with a quilt

She’s also very aware of the empowerment latent within the platform for people to reach beyond themselves through it  – if they are prepared to make the effort. As she says of her own observations of the platform, and her real life experiences as a teacher, Second life offers people who have no idea that they are creative or who have convinced themselves, due to the pressure of society or through some inner self-editing process that they are not the “creative type”, discover that actually, they are.

In this, it makes no difference if people make the discovery using prims and then move on to other tools outside of Second Life. As she says later on in the programme, when talking about the so-called “Second Life / real life divide”, there is no dichotomy in starting out with in-world creation, then moving on to tools outside of SL. It is simply people learning skills, developing techniques and using tools, all of which combine to enhance their creativity, increase their pleasure and self-expression and  – ultimately – help to continue to make Second Life better.

Robin's Watcher in the Snow
Robin’s Watcher in the Snow

In terms of the idea that those engaged in Second Life somehow need to go out and get a life, Robin has a very simple response, one which also offers up a huge an essential fact about the so-called “SL / RL divide” – it doesn’t have to exist.

“I can go out and smell the flowers,” she says of the idea that people need to go “get a life”, “But if I spend all day outside smelling the flowers, I’m going to get a horrible sunburn. ”

She goes on to point out that life is about balance in things, and Second Life very much plays a part in achieving that balance. In her case, it allows her to create a quilt pattern through one programme, import it into Second Life and create a finished quilt there and use the pattern in the real world to create a quilt of her own. Thus, Second Life is a natural part of a blending of the creative process which mixes the real world and the digital world bringing a completeness to both. But as Robin points out, the ability for the platform to bring together the real and the digital goes further than that.

“I don’t think that there is as much difference between virtual stuff and real stuff as people seem to think that there is,” Robin continues. “Emotionally, there is not any difference between doing stuff in real life and doing stuff in Second Life. It hits you emotionally in exactly the same place.”

Which is why there is no need for those engaged in SL to consider going out and getting a life. The vast majority do have a life, and see Second Life as it is meant to be, as another vehicle by which they can express and enjoy themselves. In this, it is actually no different to the freedom and enjoyment some find in painting their faces and going to a large stadium with several thousand others to watch two teams kick  / carry a ball around a large rectangle of grass.

Providing one is prepared to approach it openly and honestly, Second Life can provide positive emotional fulfilment; that it can is no reason to shun it or depict the fact that it does as a weakness in those who use it.

Rather the reverse. It’s another aspect of the magic of Second Life.

A Conversation with Drax

Sadly, real life at the moment, coupled with extremely poor planning on my part meant that I didn’t have the time over the last couple of weeks to clear my schedule, sort out thoughts and questions as this episode of The Drax Files was coming together, and get to sit down with Drax and Robin as I’d hoped. So unfortunately, no conversational piece this time around :(. All things being equal, we’ll be back next time around.

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Print images © Robin Wood Ent, used with permission.

SL project updates week 35 (2): parcel access controls & particle system

Server Deployments Week 35

As always, please refer to the week’s forum deployment thread for news, updates and feedback.

  • On Tuesday August 27th, the Main channel received the update package which includes the “grey box” attachment fix (issue details here), together with an update to for “llListen in linked objects is listening at root instead of linked object local position”; the new code to stop avatars entering a region / objects being rezzed in a region during the last 60 seconds before a restart, and additional fixes for simulator crash modes  (release notes)
  • On Wednesday August 28th, all three RCs received the same update package, which has a fix for a simulator crash mode, a fix for a physics-related griefing mode, and which has a new capability so that region restarts initiated by region owners occur as soon as the last avatar has left the region. This package also includes server-side support for new parcel access controls (see below) – release notes: Magnum, LeTigre, BlueSteel.

Region Shutdown / Restart

In reference to the new capability rolled to the RC channels whereby region restarts initiated by a region owner occur as soon as the last avatar leaves the region (rather than waiting for the time delay to expire), Maestro Linden indicated that the capability will eventually be extended to automated rolling restarts as well.

New Parcel Access Controls

Maestro Linden likes to work-out during meetings
Maestro Linden likes to work-out during meetings

The original post for the RC server package made reference to “estate and parcel access controls”. However, this was an error on Maestro’s part, and he sought to clarify things in a couple of follow-up posts, in which he first made it clear the new controls only apply to parcels, not regions (hence the emphasis above), and then went on to say:

The new feature is to allow a parcel to be configured to allow users to enter a parcel if they are members of the parcel’s group *or* have payment info on file.  This is meant to be a big help toward keeping griefers out, as they often will not add Payment information to their account and group limitations are often managed by the land manager.

This access configuration, which is already available at the estate level, involves enabling 3 options in ‘About Land’->’Access’:

  • Allow public access
  • Allow access only to Residents who: Have payment information on file
  • Allow Group Access: <group>

With the current release viewer (3.6.4 (280048)), this combination of settings is not possible to set in ‘About Land’; enabling ‘Allow public access’ causes ‘Allow group access’ to become disabled.  The upcoming viewer change will make these two settings independent in the UI.

He further explained:

The change is to allow group-based white listing which can parcel restriction based on payment info.  Here’s how the logic plays out:

  1. “Allow public access” means that avatars/groups do not need to be explicitly white listed to visit your parcel.
  2. The “Allow access only to Residents who: Have payment info on file” option is only available when (1) is set (this is also the classic behaviour). 
  3. The “Allow group access: <group name>” setting additionally allows group members to access your parcel, except for those on the ban list.

With only (1) and (2) set, only those with payment info on file can visit your parcel; there is no way to allow your friend/alt who doesn’t have payment info on file to access the parcel.

With (1), (2), and (3) set, you allow two sets of people in:

  • ‘trusted’ accounts, who belong to the parcel’s group
  • any account with ‘payment info on file’ (these users probably aren’t zero-day griefer accounts)

The viewer-side updates required to use these options are currently a work-in-progress. There is an internal viewer available within the Lab which is being used for testing purposes, and it is hoped that the necessary updates will be appearing in a beta or release candidate viewer in the near future.

Continue reading “SL project updates week 35 (2): parcel access controls & particle system”

Second Life viewer arrives on Desura

Update: Linden Lab sold Desura to Bad Juju Games on November 5th, 2014.

Alongside other quiet moves on the Lab’s part, such as Patterns appearing on Desura, then Versu getting some new titles, it seems Second Life has now also appeared on the Lab’s recently acquired digital distribution service.

Given the move to add Patterns to Desura, the arrival of Second Life isn’t that surprising. It’s more than likely been anticipated by most SL users since Desura was acquired in July.

Second Life on Desura
Second Life on Desura

The SL Desura page features the last promo video to have been produced / commissioned by the Lab (September 2012), which focuses strongly on the gameplay elements within the platform while touching on other aspects such as socialising and building. It’s not the strongest way to promote SL in some respects, given some of the images tend to play into stereotypes (the long zooms into bustlines, for example, suggestive of teenage oogling), but hey, SL is supposed to have seen a shift in demographics…

What is interesting about SL’s arrival on Desura is that it appears to have caused more people who use the service to wake up to the fact that it has been acquired by the Lab (announcements of the acquisition were somewhat muted elsewhere on the website at the time). Reactions to both the arrival of Second Life and the acquisition, visible in the comments on the SL page, have been mixed but swaying towards the negative.

Out of interest, I tried the download / install process using the Desura desktop service. It was fast, using a “local” mirrored site in the Netherlands, and handled both the download and initial installation of the viewer in a single pass.

Installing the SL viewer via Desura

The release version of the viewer is called Second Life Release Desura, and installs into a folder (under Windows at least) by that name. Interestingly, the viewer is built of a 3.6.5 code base, not the current 3.6.4. Once installed, the viewer fired-up – and had an oopsie with the media webkit failing.

webkitGiven SL has only recently arrived on Desura, I was a little surprised when clearing the error message left the screen displaying a mandatory update warning; perhaps this was to fix the webkit issue. I let the update complete, and the viewer restart … and was again confronted with the webkit failure message. As this doesn’t occur with any version of the viewer obtained directly from LL, I can only assume it is a problem within the Desura offering. Closing-down the viewer and restarting clears the message but even so, assuming others get the same warning, I can’t help but think it’s not the most confidence-building thing to see after a first-time install. Similarly, it’s a shame that the link on the update pop-up which supposedly offers more information (i.e. release notes) goes to a blank wiki page.

Once I had shut down and restarted, the viewer ran through the usual CREATE ACCOUNT / CONTINUE options. Out of curiosity, I created a throwaway account and logged-in to the new “Social Island” arrival points which are being tested, and landed on a stack of people’s heads – so it would appear a fair few are trying SL out (although not necessarily via Desura, admittedly). I didn’t go further than this, as I intend to take another look at the “new” new user islands in the future and perhaps update on my original report.

All-in-all, not a surprising move, although equally, one not without some rough edges which might cause irritation if seen by many. Whether this move is the final nail in the coffin of the Steam link-up (prematurely) announced almost a year ago remains to be seen.

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