LEA open round seven of AIR land grants – and more!

LEA_square_logo_60On June 1st, 2014, the Linden Endowment for the Arts Committee announced the opening of the seventh round of land grants for the Artists in Residence (AIR) programme.

Twenty regions (LEA10 through LEA29), donated by Linden Lab and managed by the LEA, are generally offered under the AIR programme, and successful applicants will be given the use of one full region for a period of five months. The region may then be used on an individual or group basis for such diverse activities as:

  • Full sim exhibitions and / or immersive installations
  • Curated projects, especially those which have a connection to physical exhibitions and events (mixed reality).
The Timewalkers, LEA AIR entry, LEA15, May 2014
The Timewalkers, by Solkide Auers, and LEA AIR entry, LEA15, May 2014

Artists are asked to take no more than 3 months to execute their build, so that their installation is open to the public for at least the last 2 months of their grant. However, artists may also open their installation ahead of the three-month build deadline, and many artists in the past have used their land to have multiple exhibits.

The timeline for application as it currently stands is:

  • Application deadline: June 30th, 2014
  • Notification by: July 15th, 2014
  • Sim handover and public announcement: July 31st, 2014
  • End of round: December 31st, 2014.

Artists and performers wishing to apply should read the round announcement and complete the application form at the bottom of that page.

Other LEA Opportunities

A Cathedral Dreamer by Gem Preiz, a Full sim Art series entrant, January 2014
A Cathedral Dreamer by Gem Preiz, a Full sim Art series entrant, January 2014

A blog post by LEA Committee member Honour McMillan, outlines other available LEA grant options, and how to apply for them. In brief, these are:

  • LEA6 hosts the Full Sim Arts series, curated by JayJay Zifanwe. The region is made available on a one month basis to artists, with slots now open from July 2014 onwards. Applications for the use of the region should be made directly to JayJay in-world
  • Five additional core regions (LEA1, LEA2, LEA4, LEA8 and LEA9) are available. These offer the most flexible use of LEA regions, and can be used for periods of approximately 3 months duration, the time and amount of land provided dependent upon the use defined in the application form, with applications accepted on an ongoing basis
A part of the LEA Gateway at LEA3
A part of the LEA Gateway at LEA3

The remaining three regions of the LEA are all “special purpose” regions. these are:

So whatever you needs arts  and / or performance-wise, the Linden Endowment for the Arts may well have you covered, land-wise. So why not drop them an application today?

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Drax Files 20: Flokers – a portrait in colour and words

The latest edition of The Drax Files: World Makers focuses on the life and art of Second Life resident Flokers, a young woman from Sicily, now based in the UK, who has a remarkable story to tell. So remarkable, in fact, that the show forgoes the usual teaser  / titles and end piece featuring Drax talking to his guest, and instead lets Flokers tell her story, straight from her lips to our ears.

That the story is presented in this way makes it all the more powerful to the viewer; in just under five minutes, Flokers beautifully encapsulates the breadth and depth of Second Life in so many ways, and reveals just how relevant it can be to people’s real lives and interactions. She also provides a touching insight into synesthesia – and even offers-up an opinion on the value of the humble keyboard at a time when some caught in the renewed enthusiasm for VR are calling for it to “get out of the way”.

As an artist, Flokers presents a unique view of the avatars inhabiting Second Life. Rather than photographing them, she digitally draws them in real life as they pose in her studio in SL, and then later uploads the finished portrait back to Second Life.

“I am going to paint them as if it were real life,” she explains. “I know that avatar represents the inner persona that’s inside the person who is sitting in that computer. I want to represent them the best I can. Doesn’t matter to know who they are in real life, because I know them in Second Life; that’s what I see with my eyes.”

The care Flo takes with her portraits and the success she has in not only capturing the image of the avatar but also something of the personality behind it is clear the minute you enter her studio in Second Life and see the prints of past studies hanging on the walls. Not only that, but to anyone reasonably familiar with Second Life, it is clear she has also captured the essence of the SL avatar itself, making it clear where her subjects reside.

Flokers' studio in Second Life
Flokers’ studio in Second Life

Flo offers those of us who have never experienced synesthesia a first-hand insight to the condition, of which she experiences in both its Grapheme-colour synesthesia and Chromesthesia forms. Not only does she describe the condition verbally, she provides the graphics in the video which allow us to see how she visualises letters, numbers, moods, sounds and even people. Her approach is to present the condition openly and in a matter-of-fact manner which speaks volumes about her own inner strength of character.

“I’ve never seen a city that had not a single child,” she says of her choice in keeping her avatar childlike. As with her description of synesthesia, she tackles the use of child avatars in Second Life head-on; offering a simple and clear message to all those who see anyone opting to use a child avatar as someone leaning towards more negative social behaviour such as edge play or age play: having a child avatar is fun. nothing more, nothing less; it’s a visual recapturing of the carefree fun and moods we experienced as kids and really shouldn’t be taken to mean anything else.

Carefree fun

Much noise has entered the airwaves of late about how the keyboard and mouse represent “the” barrier to the wider adoption of virtual worlds among the general public. Much of this noise has centred around the building excitement about new immersive VR systems and has focused on emerging technologies such as gesture devices.

It’s no real secret that I don’t entirely agree with the view of the keyboard as an obstacle. Not only do lean towards the non-adoption of virtual worlds as being much bigger than an issue of technology, I tend to feel that like it or not, the keyboard and mouse aren’t going to go away that easily, and Flokers offers-up a perfect illustration as why this is so:

In Second Life I can communication better, because I can filter the words that I want to use. The typing animation will tell people that you [are] actually formulating a sentence before sending it. I can re-read what I’m saying, and I can try to think if that in any way, shape or form could offend anybody else.

While voice is undoubtedly a wonderful means of communication, it can led to unnecessary misunderstandings or upset if we don’t give due consideration to what we’re saying and how we’re saying it – which is something we don’t always do; “speak in haste, repent at leisure”, one might say. The keyboard is a wonderful medium for allowing us that time to think; for those who may additionally be communicating in a language which is not naturally their own, it gives added time for consideration, none of which can be easily matched by either talking directly into a microphone or using a voice-to-text filtering tool.

flokersFloker’s Second life story is intimately bound to her current real life situation, not because she earns her living through SL – which is perhaps a story we’re all familiar with – but because she obtained her real-life employment as a direct result of her being in Second Life, where she met her current employer.

Now working as a graphics designer, Flokers sees Second Life very much an integral part of life and her work. In this, and in closing-out the video, she offers-up the perfect response to all those who would otherwise dismiss the platform as “fantasy”:

Second Life changed my life, because what people thought was just a game actually became a real life main source of money and fun. I am able to be myself here. It gave me the chance to become the artist I always wanted to be.

Each time a new edition of The Drax Files comes out, it is hard to imagine that the series could reach further or higher in terms of exploring Second Life and bringing genuine stories about it and the people who use it into the public eye. Yet each and every time the next segment appears, it does precisely that – reaches higher and further.

While a large part of this is down to the stories themselves – and possibly the luck of the draw in terms of the order in which subjects are selected and filmed – the production values evident in each edition cannot be overlooked, nor can the sensitivity shown towards the subject matter. Both of these points are wonderfully demonstrated in this segment, and it would be remiss of me not to mention them and underline the unique editorial skills Drax employs in putting these pieces together.

The magic in this piece, for example is that it really is Floker’s story. There is no need for anything else; no talking heads between Drax and his subject, no need even for an opening title sequence. Floker’s careful, precise and utterly honest discussion of her involvement in Second Life and her real life situation simply doesn’t need any embellishment; it reaches directly into the heart without manipulating emotions, and resonates perfectly.

The musical balance in this show is particularly fine in this regard; the soundtrack is mostly understated, acting as a gentle underlining of Floker’s comments, without ever getting in the way of what she’s saying. When it does come to the fore, it does so magnificently during the airship scenes, with a full-blown orchestral excerpt rich in emotional content which draws one into the scene, eliciting feelings of joy, just as those playing the game surely experience.

Once again, another remarkable piece which is a joy to watch and which speaks volumes about both Second Life and the people who use it.

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Versu is reborn!

versuOn Friday June 6th, Emily Short announced through her blog that Versu, the interactive fiction engine she and Richard Evans developed while working at Linden Lab, and which was cancelled as a part of the Lab’s product review in February 2014, will now continue, and that Blood & Laurels, the interactive novel she has been working on for 15 years, will be launched on June 12th.

Following the announcement of Versu’s cancellation by the Lab, many of us speculated whether it  might be allowed to live on separately to the Lab’s involvement, and Emily herself confirmed she was talking to the Lab on matter of IP. However, hopes this might happen seemed to have been completely dashed in March, when the Lab said no to any idea of selling the IP involved. However, they’ve since had a change of heart.

The notification that this is the case came in the form of a blog post which first appeared on the  new Versu wesbite, and then reblogged on Emily’s site, which is where I came across it.

The announcement reads in part:

Nu-versu-1
Versu was lauched to considerable acclaim prior to being cancelled by Linden Lab. Now it is set to continue (image from the Versu website)

Until February of this year, the Versu project had its home at Linden Lab, exploring the possibilities of interactive storytelling with advanced character AI by Richard Evans (Sims 3, Black and White) and dialogue modeling by Emily Short (Galatea, Alabaster), as well as work by authors Jake Forbes (Return to Labyrinth) and Deirdra Kiai (Dominique Pamplemousse).

When the Lab decided to refocus its offerings and cut support for Versu, the project was only three days from launching a Roman political thriller called Blood & Laurels. Blood & Laurels represented a significant step forward in complexity and depth from previous Versu stories: a large cast of characters, a richly branched two-part storyline, and over 240,000 words of interactive content — of which a player is likely to see only about 7% in a given play through. Character behaviour and relationships were modeled with at least as much fidelity as in earlier examples, but in a context with much higher narrative stakes. What other characters think of you affect whether your character lives or dies, thrives or fails — and those relationships are driven by both large and small decisions.

After Versu’s cancellation, it looked for a long time as though neither the underlying technology nor the finished stories had a future. However, we are delighted to be able to announce that Linden Lab has negotiated a new arrangement that will allow us to release these stories and explore a future for the engine.

The Versu blog post reveals that Blood & Laurels has been made possible by a language called Prompter, which is used by Versu and has been designed by Graham Nelson of Inform fame. Graham is also now a part of the new Versu team, joining Emily and Richard Evans.

Emily Short and Richard Evans are joined by Graham Nelson, the man behind the Inform IF language, and the creator of the Promptor language used by Versu
Emily Short and Richard Evans are joined by Graham Nelson, the man behind the Inform IF system, and the creator of the Prompter language used by Versu

Blood & Laurels is set to be followed by Bramble House, an interactive fantasy story written by  Jake T. Forbes, the author of Return to Labyrinth, a four volume graphic novel sequel to the Jim Henson film Labyrinth, and the English-language versions of the best-selling manga series Fullmetal Alchemist, Fruits Basket, One Piece and others.

Bramble House focuses on the character of 15-year-old Penny, who is “bound in service to the witch Stregma, forced to deal with everything from mundane dishwashing to evicting monstrous guests”. In it, the reader takes on the role of Penny, progressing through various situations and events in two stories set within the Bramble House world.

There is no publication date available as yet for the title.

Blood and Laurels (due June 12th) and Bramble House will be the first two titles released under the new Versu banner
Blood and Laurels (due June 12th) and Bramble House will be the first two titles released under the new Versu banner (from the Versu website)

The new titles will be appearing on the iOS platform. At the time of writing, it is not clear as to whether there are still plans to make Versu and its titles available for the Android platform; the website only goes so far as to state, “While we would like to support Android, we do not currently have an Android version available.”

This is excellent news for all with an interest in or passion for interactive fiction. Congratulations are extended to Emily, Richard and Graham with the launch to this new venture, and kudos, as well, goes to Linden Lab for reversing their decision on the Versu IP and allowing the project to continue.

Be sure to listen-in to an upcoming edition of the Drax Files Radio Hour interviews, when Drax will be talking to Emily Short about interactive fiction, Versu and more!

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SL projects update 23/3: server news and issues

Server Beta meetings: a place for Lindens and residents to strut their stuff ...
Server Beta meetings: a place for Lindens and residents to strut their stuff …

Server Deployments: Week 23

“We had a rather ‘exciting’ week in server updates,” Maestro Linden announced, kicking-off the Server Beta meeting on Thursday June 5th. “Or rather, exciting day, yesterday.”

Things started well enough, following the planned deployment schedule, namely:

  • There was no main channel deployment on Tuesday June 3rd
  • On Wednesday June 4th:
    • BlueSteel remained on the AIS v3 inventory update project
    • Magnum initially received updates to the Experience Tools project
    • LeTigre initially received simulator updates for the Group Bans project.

Note the use of “initially” above.

GnuTLS Issue and Update

Following the deployments to the RC channels on Wednesday June 4th, it was discovered that the version of a library used by the simulators had a potential security issue. This issue lay in GnuTLS, a secure communications library implementing the SSL, TLS and DTLS protocols and the technologies around them. Maestro explained the situation thus:

The concern was that a 3rd party site could trigger the issue, which could be triggered by a LSL script doing llHTTPRequest() to an HTTPS URL. To keep things slightly more sane, we took the current version of the server code on the main channel, and rebuilt it with the newer version of GnuTLS.

After testing the new build on Aditi, it was deployed to all channels on the main grid, starting at 17:00 SLT on Wednesday June 4th and running through until 01:30 SLT on Thursday June 5th. As this build was functionally identical to the Main channel build, but with the GnuTLS update, the Experience Tools and Group Ban updates deployed to Magnum and LeTigre were overwritten.

As Aditi also had vulnerable server versions, log-ins to the beta grid were suspended for part of the time, as updates were deployed there as well.

While the issue has been resolved, it will have an impact on server updates, inasmuch as it is now anticipated that the scheduled deployments this week will be re-deployed in week 24 (week commencing Monday June 9th).

This problem was not connected to the unscheduled maintenance which also took place on Thursday June 5th.

LSL Functions for Materials

Maestro also reported that it is believed that the LSL support for materials is now functionally complete. There is still currently no throttle in place against the risk of the capabilities being abused, and thought is still being given as to what any such throttle might be. “I just barely got to finding out what bad stuff happens without one,” Maestro said in answer to a question on this very point. Simon Linden than added:

I think that if we do a throttle, it will only be to handle quite extreme cases. We haven’t figured out the best way to throttle it … because we haven’t really seen a problem yet, but I think most of them fail silently now. So we’re likely to do something similar.

One thing the Lab will do with regards to any throttle imposed, is to set it so that it cannot be avoided by adding more scripts to the offending objects which then generate changes to the maps being displayed without individually breaking any imposed limits.

 Other Items

Aditi Log-in Issue / Inventory Update Issue

As reported in week 15, The script which should synchronise people’s passwords and inventories between Agni (the main grid) and Aditi (the beta grid) has not been functioning correctly (see BUG-5563), with the result the password updates and inventory syncing between the Agni and Aditi grids has not been occurring properly.

During the Server Beta meeting on Thursday May 29th, Maestro indicated that it had been thought  Coyot Linden had identified and fixed the root cause of the problem, so that any password update would synch during the overnight run of the script (around 02:00 SLT). However, following that meeting it was found that inventory syncing was still not occurring following a password change.

A further investigation by Coyot revealed a further problem (unrelated to the first) preventing inventories between the two grids being synched, although passwords were. This additional issue has also now been fixed.

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