A radiant wintertime in Second Life

Dawn of Radiance
Dawn of Radiance

I’ve had Dawn of Radiance on my list of places to visit for a while, but have only just managed to move it up the list and hop over to take a look. A Homestead region, held and landscaped by Silvermoon Fairey, it’s a place which changes looks to suit the season, and right now is in the grip of winter, presenting a gorgeous world of show-covered hills and valleys, rustic scenes and much to see and discover, be it the Romany encampment, the cottages with their steeply-pitched roofs laden in snow, the frosted sands of the beach or the rugged coastline, to name but a few of the picturesque spots to be found here.

As you arrive in the centre of the region, everywhere is within easy reach – but do remember that there is a lot of “everywhere” to be seen and enjoyed. A lot of care has been put into Dawn of Radiance to create a series of individual settings ripe for appreciation and photos, all interlinked with footpaths, avenues of trees, tracks and wooden board walks.

Daen of Radiance
Dawn of Radiance

This is once again a very photogenic region, as many before me have already discovered, and it is worth taking time to look around as you wander, as there are some very subtle touches which help to bring it to life. It’s a place which looks good with the windlight preset, and which can also come to life under and range of viewer-side windlight settings – I personally found that those offering an early morning or an evening look and feel worked really well, but as these are my favourite times of the day in winter, I am a tad bit biased.

Being wintertime, the beach is looking a little forlorn. The shutters on the beach shop might be open, but a sign outsides tells visitors it’s closed (presumably for the season), and the coastal snow is piling up on the sands. Up on the hills overlooking the beach is a frozen pond – keep an eye out for the skates dispenser if you fancy going for a spin on the ice.

Dawn of Radiance
Dawn of Radiance

One of the clever aspects of Silvermoon’s design is in her use of hills to break up the region, allowing her to create the individual scenes found across the landscape. This enables each scene to be individually present to the visitor and to the photographer when walking through the region.

In many respects, I’m sad I didn’t visit Dawn of Radiance sooner, I would have loved to see it dressed for autumn and Halloween; the photos I have seen from the pre-snow period have been stunning. As it is, I’ll be sure to be coming back again and again to see how Silvermoon dresses the region through the year.

Dawn of Radiance
Dawn of Radiance

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Drax Files Radio Hour launches in January

radio-hourJanuary 2014 will see the launch of The Drax Files Radio Hour, a new weekly radio / podcast to be hosted by Draxtor Despres and Jo Yardley.

Tooting my horn a little, I’ve actually known about the series for a while. It’s pretty fair to say that the seed of the idea was likely planted during one of the many back-and-forth discussions Drax and I had and have about each segment of The Drax Files (he prodded me a number of times to do a podcast with him. While I passed at the time, I may still contribute to the show if there is interest from Drax and Jo in having me do so).

Balanced discussion of Second Life tends to be in short supply nowadays. While Metareality has returned, I have to say that I’d personally found that show to be increasingly biased (and at times under-informed) prior to if going off-air over summer, which is a pity. Hopefully, The Drax Files Radio Hour will be able to shine a light on the good, the bad, the strange and the wonderful within Second Life and virtual worlds as a whole and provide good, informed discussion across all.

The show is set to be broadcast “without permission somewhere from an attic in 1920s Berlin”, and will feature discussions, guests, visits to regions in-world, looks at emerging technology, and so on. I’m laying odds that two hot topics on the tech side which will be featuring are the Oculus Rift and Leap Motion, particularly given both Jo and Drax have an interest in each, and both are set to be coming to Second Life in 2014 :).

If you want to stay abreast of plans, there is a Facebook page for the show, but no website (as yet – I might prod Drax on that as well on behalf of all of us Facebook avoiders :)).

The first broadcast for the show is currently scheduled for Thursday, January 10th, 2014. I’ll be following things here, and will hopefully be able to help people keep up-to-date on things as the show develops and we move closer to the premiere. In the meantime, make a note in your diary!

Londo Mollari joins the cast of The Blackened Mirror

Blackened MirrorUpdate, December 1st: Oopsie on my part. I mis-read information on the show, and Juliet Ceasrio will not be re-joining the cast. Peter Jurasik will, however be joined by Gameela Wright, and I’ve updated the article to reflect this. My apologies to Gameela and the cast and crew!

Sunday December 1st sees the re-opening of Harland Quinn’s toughest case to date, the mystery of The Blackened Mirror.

Those who watched season one of the show will know that things all began when the mysterious Ms Alais Alleyn (Aisling Sinclair) and her faithful companion, Mr. Biggins (Mavromichali Szondi) stepped into Quinn’s office seeking his assistance to “find their way home” – home being something entirely unrelated to what you or I might consider it to be. By the end of the season, Quinn, Ms. Alleyn and Mr. Biggins were trapped in a bar surrounded by murderous zombies when in walks none other than Quinn’s own bespectacled doppelgänger, complete with a sinister greeting.

Season two picks-up the story precisely where season one left-off and promises more twists and rides. As I’ve hinted at in previous posts, the show also features a special guest star: none other than Mr. Peter Jurasik.

Peter Jurasik

While perhaps best-known for his role as the tragic Centauri Ambasssdor (and later Emperor) Londo Mollari in Babylon 5, Mr. Jurasik has had a long and distinguished career on stage and in film and television, including several recurring roles on popular television series over the decades, such as that of Sid “the Snitch” Thurston in Hills Street Blues and its spin-off series, Beverly Hills Buntz.

Interestingly, he also appeared alongside future Babylon 5 co-star Bruce Boxleitner in both Boxleitner’s own TV series The Scarecrow and Mrs. King and in the feature film Tron.

He is also no stranger to Harland Quinn’s world. In 2012 he guest-starred as “George” in the radio show featuring Quinn, Death in Velvet.

Gameela QuinnAlso accompanying Peter Jurasik in joining the cast is Gameela Wright. Based in New York, Ms. Wright has over 15 years experience in theatre, television, voice overs, film and commercials. She has appeared in such top-rated US shows such as Blue Bloods, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, and Orange is the New Black.

As in AvaJean Westland in Second Life, Ms. Wright has worked with the Avatar Repertory Company, and also developed projects as Virtual Girl Productions in Association with Running Lady Studios. In 2013, she took over hosting duties for the Second Life leg of the 2013 Relay for Life. As well as appearing as the character of Martha Pearse later in the season, Gameela Wright played an invaluable role in the show’s production, puppeteering a number of the characters on behalf of those actors unable to be in Second Life for the actual filming, creating a physicality to the characters to match the voice performances.

Both Mr. Jurasik and Ms. Wright will be joining season one regulars Scott Simpson (Zander Greene in SL) as the enigmatic Harland Quinn, Aisling Sinclair  as the mysterious Alais Alleyn, and  Mavromichali Szondi as the light-on-words Mr Biggins, as well as a host of guest stars.

Scott Simpson

Star of stage, screen and television, Scott Simpson has appeared alongside the likes of James Earl Jones, Teri Hatcher, Katie Holmes, Charles Shaughnessy, Charlotte Ross and Ellen Burstyn, to name but a few. He’s been directed by Michael Apted, and has played the lead in Richard III for NYC’s Looking Glass Theatre, as well as “Vanek” in Audience as part of New York’s 2006 Vaclav Havel Festival. He is also an accomplished voice-over artist.

In Second Life, through his alter-ego, he is an educational and non-profit environment developer for organisations including the American Cancer Society and Valdosta State University and the original moving force behind Fantasy Faire. Not only does he play the hero of the piece in The Blackened Mirror, he also creates the music for the series.

The talent involved in The Blackened Mirror isn’t restricted to in front of the camera, either. David (or Da5id, if you prefer – all the v-spellings had gone when he signed-up, so he improvised), is a writer who has published both fiction and non-fiction and worked in radio. The Blackened Mirror stands as a perfect example of the subject for his next book, You CanNot Do It: The Power of Procrastination, which he would have been writing but for the fact he put it off to write the The Blackened Mirror.  The show is directed and produced by Saffia Widdershins, co-host and executive producer of the show Designing Worlds and CEO of Prim Perfect Publications.

It was Saffia who coaxed Aisling Sinclair, who among many other talents directs the Designing Worlds show, out from behind the camera to star in The Blackened Mirror. Saffia also helped introduce us to the character of Mr. Biggins (now voiced by builder-creator Mavromichali Szondi as noted above) through the New Babbage comic series produced by Prim Perfect.

Alais Alleyn reveals the secret of a blackened mirror to Harland Quinn
Alais Alleyn reveals the secret of a blackened mirror to Harland Quinn

Other talent involved in the show includes Honour McMillan, Petlove Petshop and Emmo Wei, and you can read more about all of the season one cast and crew on the show’s website.

The first instalment of season two of The Blackened Mirror airs at 14:00 SLT on Sunday December 1st, 2013, and you can catch it on Treet TV.

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The Drax Files 14: Immersiveness and creativity

rose-1Second Life has always been a powerful medium for artistic expression, whether it be 2D (through the creation of photographs and machinima  taken in-world, or the use of SL as a means to display paintings and drawings, and so on), 3D (in the form of sculptures, models, etc.), or immersive (such as partial or full region builds).

Such is the platform’s versatility, that it has always attracted amateur and professional artists, who have formed one of Second Life’s strongest and most vibrant communities of users who have created some of the most stunning pieces demonstrating the creative power inherent within the platform.

Rose Borchovski an artist in both RL and Second Life is renowned for both her immersive works in the latter and for her multimedia music theatre performances and multimedia art installations in real life, of which perhaps the more internationally recognised being The Blue Planet, produced in collaboration with her RL spouse, director Peter Greenaway (with whom she is also collaborating for a new installation in Rotterdam entitled Sex and the Sea).

Within Second Life Rose is perhaps best-known for her Susa Bubble creations.  Susa,  is child-like character who “went to bed single and woke up double”, came into being in Second Life when Rose’s own daughter was ill, and Rose created the first story for her.

Rose Borchovski: The Arrival
Rose Borchovski: The Arrival

Since then, of course, the Susa Bubble story has become famous across Second Life, and Rose sees the platform as the means by which she can carry forward the developing story of these small, fragile-looking but nigh-on indestructible characters as then go about their own explorations and mischief.

Along the way, she has created some of SL’s most memorable immersive spaces, such as The Inevitability of Fate, The Arrival and Echoes in the Garden.

Rose sees SL as a means of expression on many levels; not just in what we might regard as “art” in the usual sense, as demonstrated by her one pieces in-world, but also in how we chose to present ourselves through the medium of our avatar, it’s appearance and what we bring to it from the real world in terms of our own thoughts, desires, ideals and physical attributes, such as our own voice, touching on all this combines to affect how other react to us and identify with us.

“I still would like to convince you that you’re going to film Rose, my avatar, and not me. Because Rose is handsome and she’s slim and I have a charming accent, so Rose is much more sympathetic as an image,” she tells Drax at one point. In many respects, the creation of our avatar presents a level of freedom in how we express and present ourselves which simply isn’t possible in real life for a variety of factors, external and internal. As such, the artistic and emotional involvement we have in the process of creating and refining our avatar is a means by which each of us can artistically express ourselves, if we so wish.

And of course, how we opt to behave when using our avatars might also be seen to be reflected  in some of the tales Rose tells through her Susa Bubbles stories …

Second Life is also very much as practical tool for Rose. While she has stated elsewhere that as a means of artistic creation, SL can be a slow and time-consuming medium in which to work, it is one that nevertheless greatly assists her real world art; allowing her to visualise and model her real life installations and walk through how she wants to stage them and have them appear to the visitor.

Rose Borchovski: The Inevitability of Fate

In this she touches upon two other aspects of Second Life which lift it above the “mere” definition of it being a game or simply an open sandbox: it can have both a practical feedback into our real lives, much as it helps her visualise and build real life installations, objects and models, and it can form an even greater channel for emotional and creative release because it can feedback equally into our real lives as much as we feed into it from our real lives; something I believe I’ve been experiencing in my own small way through SL photography, which has started to feed back into my real life activities.

For the artist, Second Life has always, and in so many ways, been at the cutting edge of expression and development. That is as true today as it was back when SL burst into the public consciousness. Almost every visual development and enhancement to the platform adds yet another opportunity to the visual artist. As Rose herself says, more fool those outside of the platform who could benefit from it in their refusal to accept it as a means of expression; given its global reach, they are only denying themselves a new, and potentially huge, audience.

Continue reading “The Drax Files 14: Immersiveness and creativity”

One Christmas Night: the Calas Christmas sim 2013

December is almost upon us, bringing with it thoughts of Christmas, winterfest and other seasonal celebrations, and the end of the western calendar year. Many regions in SL are already reflecting the time of year and bringing with them scenes of snow and frosted trees as is traditionally the case – at least in the northern hemisphere.

However, no winter in Second Life is complete without two things: the winter landscapes of Calas Galadhon (which I’d be visiting soon) and the special Calas Galadhon Christmas theme at SilverMyst, so recently the home of Truck and Ty’s Halloween-themed Veil of Darkness.

One Christmas Night
One Christmas Night – click to enlarge any image

While SilverMyst had then been to home to ghouls, ghosts, the undead and monsters, all amidst deserted towns dark and mist-filled bayous, tall castles and more, with One Christmas Night it has been transformed into a gorgeous rural winter scene, where reindeer, brown bears, weasels, penguins, polar bears and more roam beneath a wintery sky from which big, soft flakes of snow fall to cover the ground in a thick blanket.

Ty and Truck kindly invited me over to One Christmas Night to take a look around ahead of the opening, and for anyone with a romantic inclination and / or a love of winter scenes, it is very much going to be the place to visit. It’s also likely to be very much photographed – I felt I wanted to travel around with an easel, canvas and paints, a feeling I’ve tried to capture in the images here.

One Christmas Night
One Christmas Night

From the arrival point, you are free to wander on foot or, if you prefer, hop into a magic sleigh which will take you around the region before delivering you to the Christmas Pavilion. There are actually two sleighs available: the first seats up to four people, while the second offers more intimate cuddles for couples. Just jump in and touch to start.

Both provide a gentle ride along snow-covered tracks, passing winter scenes, several of which encompass Ty and Truck’s eye for humour – such as mother brown bear, obviously worn-out by the kids, is slumped across a log as her energetic cubs continue play in the snow. Keep an eye out, as well, for the flying reindeer ride, which offers another unique vantage-point from which to see the region.

One Christmas Night
One Christmas Night

When you arrive at the pavilion, there’s more to do. Step inside and avail yourself of a glass of Cognac or goblet mulled wine, admire the Christmas tree or sit by the warmth of the fire. For those who like a challenge, a harpsichord invites people to sit and play it for a while. For the very active, and a short walk away outside, is a frozen lake where you can dance and skate, or sit by a small log fire and simply watch others on the ice and wait for the huge kettle of hot chocolate to come to the boil while toasting marshmallows and hotdogs.

As with all of Ty and Truck’s celebratory builds, there are a few things worth pointing out in order to fully enjoy a visit. The first is that if your system can handle it, make sure Advanced Lighting Model (Preferences > Graphics) is active. You don’t have to have Shadows enabled, but if you can, it’s also worth giving it a go, depending upon how busy the region is. On that latter point, do please make sure you travel light to the region, script-wise, particularly if you’re attending one of the special events planned for the region (check the Calas Galadhon website or join the Calas announcement group for details).

One Christmas Night
One Christmas Night

Most importantly of all, do make sure you accept the region windlight on arrival or, if you’re feeling particularly romantic, sent an evening / night windlight in your viewer and do accept the region’s media streaming. Once again, Truck has hand-picked the music for the stream, and it greatly adds to the mood :).

One Christmas Night opens to Calas Galadhon group members at 14:00 on Thursday December 28th, and will open to the public over the course of the weekend. Enjoy!

One Christmas Night
One Christmas Night

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LL give further clarification on tax requirements via e-mail

secondlifeOn November 21st, I posted an article about LL requesting tax information from some customers. Specifically, people had started receiving e-mails from the Lab asking them to complete IRS form W9, Request for Taxpayer Information, which caused some concern and confusion.

As a result, on Tuesday 19th November, Linden Lab moved to try to clarify matters, issuing a blog post entitled Required Tax Documentation. This indicated that the Lab is required by the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to collect and retain either Form W-9 (for US citizens) or Form W-8BEN (for non-US citizens) “at certain transaction volumes”. The blog post also noted that  those falling under the criteria who fail to submit a completed W-9 or W-8BEN  risk having 28% of their gross amounts received withheld. Finally, the post indicated that the Lab is required to file Form 1099-K with the IRS for US residents “with 200 or more transactions with a total amount in excess of $20,000” in a calendar year.

While this went some way towards clarifying the situation, it still left a number of questions and concerns unanswered; one of these being what exactly constitutes a “transaction”, as I noted at the time:

Is it related solely to cashing-out from Second Life, or is it based on the number of user-to-user transaction through the LindeX (i.e. the number of L$ sales a person makes per amount of L$ they offer on the LindeX? Or is it somewhere in between?

Long-term SL user and LL customer Desmond Shang decided to try to seek further information and answers from the Lab. As a result, he’s posted a couple of useful pieces on the SL Universe thread where some of the discussion on the matter has been taking place.

In the first, he recommends that anyone with specific questions / concerns should contact Linden Billing, noting that they have been reasonably responsive. He also points-out that while circumstances will vary from individual to individual, depending upon a range of factors, those who might be regarded as a “hobbyist” in SL might be able to claim some relief on revenue they receive through the platform. In particular he suggests IRS Publication 529 Miscellaneous Deductions might be worth a read, together with Can You Deduct Your Expenses From a Hobby? from Nolo.com.

More specifically, Desmond posts the Lab’s definition of a “transaction”:

Transactions are currently defined as sell orders placed on the LindeX and applies per person not per avatar. How that order is filled does not currently impact the transaction count. For example, if you place a sell order for L$5,000 and that order is matched with three different residents while being filled, it counts as one transaction.

The Lab also note that IRS criteria on withholding taxes is only on the transaction count itself and is only required if they do not have a valid W-9 or W-8BEN on file.

The key points here remain that firstly, these requirements will not impact everyone in Second Life. Secondly, if you have received a request for tax information from the Lab, it is important you do not ignore it, as you risk 28% of your gross amounts received withheld if you do. This applies whether or not you are a US citizen.

Additionally, those who have received a request from the Lab and who have questions / concerns should consider: a) contacting Linden Lab Billing for further information / with specific questions; b) seeking the advice of a tax professional.