Drax Files 16: Live, learn and feed

The 16th episode of the Drax Files has premiered,  showcasing the work of Brique Topaz (Brique Zeiner, RL) and her organisation Live and Learn in Kenya (LLK). They are engaged in work to feed and educate poor children in Kenya, including covering fees, uniform, shoes, textbook and school supplies and now, even building a school of their own.

Brique Topaz (Brique Zeiner RL) and Kenyan children in the Feed a Smile programme
Brique Topaz (Brique Zeiner RL) and Kenyan children in the Feed a Smile programme

Feed A Smile is a programme run by LLK to provide nutritious warm lunches for over 400 children every day, paid for entirely from donations to the project. Over a third of the money directed at the programme comes from donations received through Feed a Smile in Second Life – and that’s a remarkable figure.

The money is raised through live music played at the Lavender Fields club, which stages around 5 or 6 events weekly and to which musicians donate their tips and visitors are asked to donate just L$100 ($0.30), which is enough to purchase a filling meal for a child in Kenya, a fact that within itself is quite mind-boggling.

The Lavender Fields club at Feed a Smile in SL
The Lavender Fields club at Feed a Smile in SL

“I keep waiting for the mainstream media to realise that Relay in Second Life is the greatest human interest story,” Zander Greene commented when discussing Fantasy Faire and RFL with Drax in 2013.  “I just don’t understand why CNN and forty other media outlets aren’t beating down our door to try to tell this story.”

Those words apply equally here; who would have thought that people creating digital avatars and logging-in to a virtual environment and sharing time listening to one another’s music, could have such a profound effect on the lives of young children in Africa?

This is very much a story which should be highlighted and pushed out before the mainstream media; not because it is “feel good”, but because it is a clear demonstration of the positive and lasting influence virtual words can have on the real world, and more than an antidote to the hoary old view the media has that those involved in such spaces do so because they “lack” a life elsewhere.

“There are a lot of people out there who really want to do good things,” Brique observes, “but they don’t know how … in Second Life, it’s all there. It’s all possible.” Indeed. Where else has such an immersive, engaging and free-flowing environment become the conduit for so many from around the world to help support others?

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Silence may be golden, but it also weighs heavy

I keep promising myself I won’t start banging  on about Linden Lab’s inability to openly communicate. That was more-or-less the tone of things in this blog back in 2011 (see my views on business, communication and growth, and the growing frustration over the Marketplace situation in 2012, and weel as point in between and after, if interested). However…

Rod Humble may have gone, but the Lab apparently has yet to issue any statement in reponse to enquiries from the media
Rod Humble may have gone, but the Lab has yet to issue any statement in response to enquiries from the media

Friday 24th January saw the news break that Rod Humble had departed the Lab. According to his own comments pass to others at the time of the announcement, he’d left the Lab “last week”. If so, this could mean the Lab has been absent a CEO for about two weeks, and they have yet to say anything on the matter.

It’s not just the fact that repeated enquiries from the likes of Hamlet Au and I (among others) have gone without response – we’re still small fish in the ocean of blogging / journalism. Where the story has been picked-up by the games media, it also appears that enquiries made to the Lab also remain unanswered.

True, the message has been somewhat slow in spreading to the media at large; only Gamesbeat picked-up on the news in the 24th along with as did Games Industry. Since then Gamasutra covered the news on January 28th, as did  Massively. Nevertheless, one would have thought some message would have been forthcoming from the Lab in order to squash the potential for speculation or negative rumours to become established as fact.  Or could it be that Rod Humble’s annoucement was a knickers-around-ankles moment for the Lab?

See what I mean about speculation?

Beyond this, as Ciaran Laval observes, there is still ongoing confusion and upset relating to attempts to cash-out and  / or tax ID requirements.  A part of this seems to be down to the Lab possibly being overwhelmed by the inflow of documentation, and it is taking time to clear things up. However, the fact that noting is  – once again – being done to communication matters and provide some form of open feedback really isn’t helping matters at all.

Of course, the Lab may well feel secure in its position that the majority of SL users are likely to be oblivious as to what is going on, and are happy knowing that SL is still there for them when they are ready to log-in. But in terms of those who are investing time, effort and money into helping make Second Life a place people want to log-in to and enjoy, not actually taking the time and effort to offer reasonable clarification of what is going on as requires things like cash-outs and tax (and, indeed, what is and isn’t required ahead of time) doesn’t tend to send a positive message, but does tend to add a little more weight to an overburdened camel’s back.

In writing about Rod Humble’s tenure, I pointed out that communications had started on a downward trend prior to his arrival, and had continued to sink throughout his time there, despite his own initial attempts to ramp things up. This smacks of a deep-seated cultural element within the company (driven out of the board?) which doesn’t see communications as having any real priority. As such, I’m not holding my breath in the hope that things will change, even with a new CEO, when (if?) we ever get to hear about one being appointed.

But even a short-term upswing, as witnessed in the months immediately following Humble’s arrival at the Lab prior to the downward trend resuming, would actually be better than we have at the moment.  I won’t borrow from Tateru again and use her Silence of the Lab logo, but I can admit, I’m sorely tempted to do so.

Lab Updates Bot Policy

On January 30th, 2014, Linden Lab updated its Bot Policy. The update is small, but potentially far-reaching, outlawing the use of bots for mainland parcel purchases.

Updated by Patch Linden, the revisions comprise two parts: a comment on the use of bots in mainland parcel sales, and an update to the policy itself barring the automated purchase of mainland parcels via bots, etc. In turn, these read:

Mainland parcel sales and bots

Some bots are used to automate the purchase of Mainland parcels priced below fair market values.

Using bots to purchase Mainland parcels is not allowed

The use of bots, autonomous software, scripting (manual or automated), scripted agents, or any systems or software internal or external to the Second Life service that circumvent, automate and/or remove the human interaction required to purchase a Land parcel within Second Life on the Linden Lab owned Mainland is prohibited.

The updated policy
The updated policy – click to enlarge (or follow link to read in full

With thanks to Mona Eberhardt.

 

EVE Online garners widespread coverage with epic battle

The battle of B-R5RB, EVE Online
The battle of B-R5RB, EVE Online

The media is all a-quiver at the news about a titanic battle which has taken place entirely within the virtual, but which has an estimated real-world financial impact (so far) of around £181,000 ($300,000).

The battle has taken place in EVE Online, the massively multiplayer online game set in space and encompassing hundreds of star systems, peoples and alliances, with players taking-on a range of roles including mining, piracy, manufacturing, trading, exploration, and combat (both player versus environment and player versus player).

It is with the latter that EVE Online has hit the headlines, following an epic struggle between several thousand Eve Online players from around the world which has witnessed the destruction of 75 of the game’s Titans. Those familiar with Titans know they are the biggest spacecraft in the game, each ten kilometres (6.25 miles) or more in length. They take weeks to construct and can cost around an average of £2,400 ($4,000) a pop in real money, depending upon exchange rates between real-world currencies and ISKs, Eve Online’s internal currency. To give some idea of the scale of the conflict, the previous record for destroyed Titans was 12.

The battle rages
The battle rages

Conflicts are not new to EVE Online and its 10-year history. They can be of varying sizes and triggered by a range of events. This particular one has its roots in a series of skirmishes and exchanges between rival alliances stretching back to October 2013, and which have been dubbed Halloween War. Just last week it saw the RUS Alliance gain something of a bloody nose from opposing forces in a further confrontation between forces.

But on January 27th, 2014, when the Nulli Secunda Alliance forgot a payment on a strategic space station in the otherwise unassuming B-R5RB system, things escalated rapidly as opposing sides sought to gain control of the system. In all, four major alliances werre involved, pairing off against one another: the Nulli Secunda and Pandemic Legion on one side and the CFC and RUS on the other, with neither side willing to back down, committing more and more forces into the battle in the space of some 12 hours. In the end, the outcome was only decided as America awoke as dawn broke across the Atlantic, and the CFC was able to secure reinforcements from its American members.

According to EVE Online developer, CCP, the overall cost is still being counted, and is expected to rise much higher than $300,000 – not in terms of actual costs from the battle, but in terms of the overall investment players have made in the game and in building things like the ships. The battle was so massive that EVE’s servers struggled with the load – but while they “sweated”,  with a few tweaks to the system – they stood up.


A portion of the battle filmed by a neutral observer

This is an incredible advert for a massively multiplayer online game; a scenario wherein several thousand players from across the globe have been able to come together and join-in, in real-time, an event of enormous proportions.  As Harvey Crabsticks points out, you have to admire the dept of participation on the part of the players. It’s a remarkable feat – and by no means the first; just the biggest so far. One which has ignited (or possibly re-ignited?) media interest in a platform as old as Second Life.

Makes you wonder what it would take for the media to respond to SL in the same way…

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A bed for all seasons? That’s PrimPossible!

The Primpossible Infinite Bed: it's an Asian-style with bedside tables ...
The PrimPossible Infinite Bed: it’s an Asian-style with bedside tables …

It’s no secret that I’ve been a fan of Ample Clarity’s  PrimPossible range. Sculpts they may be, but his furniture and other items offer incredible versatility and style for those on a land impact / prim budget. And as I think I’ve mentioned, I’m totally in love with his concert grand, which still graces the upper terrace at my home (and I have a number of his other items indoors and out).

When last reviewing his work, I covered his decor HUD, which can create in excess of 400 different items from a single sculpt. Now he’s extended that capability into the bedroom.

The 1-Prim Infinite Bedroom literally offers you a bed for all seasons (and styles). Whether you want a four-poster bed, something with an Asian or a Victorian feel to it, something a little rustic or very modern or chic – all are available from the one bed.

The "sleigh" bed in red, with bedside tables
…and now it’s a “sleigh” bed in red, with bedside tables…

Using the menu, the user can create one of ten different bed styles / looks, some of which include bedside tables and have different colour / texture options. Given my penchant for things oriental, I was drawn to the Asian bed styles, and particularly the “complete” version, which has bedside tables to accompany the bed (see the top picture). That said,  I do confess the wood finish is a little on the dark side for me;  something a little lighter and more towards a walnut or mahogany would settle on my eye a little easier – but that’s just me.

The Infinite Bed is supplied in two variants – PG and Adult – both of which include a range of individual and couple poses for sleeping, cuddling, relaxing, sitting, kissing, dance and, umm, nookie  (in the case of the Adult variant). There are apparently some 300 animations in total in the beds, and no, I haven’t tried all of them out! Both variants come as NO MOD / TRANSFER, with the NO COPY version costing L$950 and the copy version L$3,200.

How about a four-poster?
or how about a four-poster?

For those who are on a prim budget and who like to vary the furnishing in their homes, the PrimPossible range has always offered great value. With the introduction of the shape changing capabilities into the range, this is being enhanced even further, and the 1-Prim Infinite Bedroom is already proving popular among those familiar with Ample’s work.

I wonder if a lounge suite with similar capabilities is in the works … ?

And another Asian-style design for the bed
And another Asian-style design for the bed

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Singularity 1.8.5: Fitted Mesh, “mouse move” and more

singularityThe Singularity team have issued a new release of their viewer – version 1.8.5.5617 – which brings with it a host of new features, options, additions and fixes. There’s quite a lot packed into the release, so this is another overview of the updates, rather than an in-depth review.

Fitted Mesh

With this release, Singularity now supports Fitted Mesh. Reading FITMESH-6,  I believe I’m correct in saying this release includes the fixes from Runitai Linden which addresses those issues and FITMESH-20, although there may be a couple of outstanding points in the fixes.

Sadly, I can’t test the viewer against the fitted mesh test articles the Lab supplied to me in order to preview the release of the original project viewer as I, um, managed to accidentally delete said assets *cough* …

“Mouse Move” and Additional Mouselook Options

I emphasise “mouse move” is my term, not that of the Singularity crew, although it pretty aptly describes the function. Most people are probably familiar with the fact that we can left-clicking and holding the button down, it is possible to turn our avatar. In Singularity, it is now possible to point to your avatar, left-click (and hold) the left mouse button and then right-click (and hold) the right mouse button, move around.

This may sound odd, given the various ways avatar movement can already be achieved, but as I use a trackball, I have to say I found it particularly effective in moving around (although fingers did tend to get a little tired when moving for extended periods, but that’s more to do with the position of my trackball, rather than a problem with the implementation. I can see the option potentially being useful when moving around game / combat environments and when used with “worn” means of transportation.

Mouselook Options

Version 1.8.5 includes the ability to select which parts of the UI to show when in Mouselook. The options are floaters, menu bar and notices and can be toggled on / of via check boxes in Preferences > Input & Camera >UI Hidden in Mouselook. Note that checking items means they will not appear in Mouselook.

Select which UI elements you wish to hide / se when in Mouselook
Select which UI elements you wish to hide / se when in Mouselook

Also, when operating in Mouselook, you can now ALT-Tab  between Singularity and other open applications and back without getting thrown out of ML.

Camera Updates

There are a couple of very useful camera updates with this release:

  • Allow alt-camming and terrain parcel selection from farther away, easing tasks such as partitioning regions and zooming around
  • A Reset Camera Preset Angle to Default option has been added to the View menu for undoing changes made to camera angle by CTRL and/or SHIFT+scrolling. In relations to this, the release notes additionally state: option to change camera angle through this method is now off by default, and that if your camera angle had been messed up in the last release, this option can spare you a full reset

Underwater Shadows

Merfolk and those into underwater exploration can now have their time beneath the waves enhanced as  Singularity will now render shadows underwater (requires ALM and shadows to be enabled via Preferences > Graphics).

Underwater shadows
Underwater shadows

Rendering  / Graphics Updates

This release sees some significant updates to rendering / graphics, including:

  • Fixes to shader compilation problems and standards compliance issues
  • Enhanced support for Intel GPUs on Linux
  • Enhanced support for Nvidia cards (NVAPI) which among other things allows automatic use of discrete GPU in dual GPU systems
  • SSAO separated into its own shader allowing speed optimization by running it at a lower-than-native framebuffer resolution
  • Several improvements to the performance of the rendering engine.

Other Bits

The release also sees:

  • Support added for the new LSL linkset scaling functions (: llScaleByFactor, llGetMinScaleFactor, and llGetMaxScaleFactor)
  • Improved performance of glow and ribbon capabilities
  • Ability to display cost per sq. m. for parcels on sale on the map
  • Ability to resize the Appearance floater.

There are also a number of bug fixes and other enhancements, so please refer to the release notes for a full run-down of everything from the team.

Feedback

Quite an extensive update from the team again, and one which should more than satisfy Singularity users. The addition of Fitted Mesh, enhanced support of particle capabilities and the linkset scaling are liable to please a lot of people, and the list of fixes for issues should also keep users happy.

As noted above, I quite like the new “mouse move” option in third-person view; using my trackball meant I could wander around and adjust my camera height somewhat to give me a good variation when looking ahead a lot more easily than when using the cursor keys (which is usually how I move). This proved very useful when negotiating confined spaces, such as inside my boat. The underwater shadows are also a pretty (literally and figuratively) cool addition.

All-in-all a very tidy release, and kudos to the Singularity team.

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