An avatar’s story in Second Life

i.avatar - Dathúil Gallery
i.avatar – Dathúil Gallery

Opening at 13:00 SLT on Sunday, January 3rd, is the first in the 2016 season of exhibitions at the ever marvellous Dathúil Gallery, operated by Max Butoh and Lυcy (LucyDiam0nd), and it is a another fascinating show.

i.avatar presents 34 images by Io Bechir which might be described as avatar studies – but this would also fall far short of the mark; i.avatar is a deeply autobiographical piece, the story of Io’s experiences as an avatar and a person in Second Life.

i.avatar - Dathúil Gallery
i.avatar – Dathúil Gallery

“My hope is to communicate my impressions with regard to my experiences here over the past three years,” Io states in her exhibition notes.

“During this time period I fell in love. I met some amazing and wonderful friends. I suffered a broken heart. I came to realise my own strength. I took up sailing. I found my voice as an artist, and discovered new ways to express my Self in this limitless space of ethereal light and imagination. Probably, many of the same experiences you have had.”

So it is, for example, that the images are placed almost as chapters within a book. To one side of the ground floor of the gallery, for example, is a series of images of Imogen, of whom Io notes, “If you know me for a time you will eventually encounter Imogen. She represents a slightly different facet of my personality. You’ll probably notice small changes in me when I’m manifesting in this form.”

Io-8_001
i.avatar – Dathúil Gallery

Facing these from across the gallery are a set of images, representing a time when Io was facing the end of a relationship, the darker tones and framing reflective of the emotions  she doubtless encountered during that period.

And this is where the power of these images lie; these are not pictures posed for the benefit of an audience; they are images created to express deeply personal feelings, responses, needs, and emotions.  They are a very personal exposure of Self and the discovery of who “Io Bechir” really is within; hence why, perhaps many of the images are of Io unclothed – a physical reflection of her baring her soul.

i.avatar - Dathúil Gallery
i.avatar – Dathúil Gallery

I never fail to be stunned at the quality of the art displayed at Dathúil; each and every month seems to build upon and exceed the last in terms of my response to the art displayed here, and I’m constantly left in awe of the skill Lucy and Max exhibit in selecting the artists they display here. However, with Io, who is presenting her work here as her first solo exhibition, I have to confess I feel they’ve achieved something very special; the autobiographical narrative in the selected pieces is quite extraordinary;  I’m sure you will find so as well. And don’t miss Io’s Flickr stream.

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The Drax Files Radio Hour 100: of gateways and Bento

tdfrh-100The 100th segment of The Drax Files Radio Hour  went out on Christmas Day 2015, the last new podcast for the show for the year.

To make it special, the show was a live recording featuring members of the Firestorm Team and MadPea, discussing the Firestorm Gateway and the Lab’s trial gateway programme, and Oz and Vir Linden talking Project Bento.

The first part of the show focuses on the Firestorm gateway regions. These from a part of the Lab’s new gateway programme,  which in a nutshell is a revamp of he community gateway programme which was operated up until September 2010. The idea is to allow groups and communities to build their own in-world and web presence, which they can use to bring new users into Second Life (including taking them through the account sign-up process), and then when they are in-world, help them with gaining familiarity with the viewer and accessing guidance and support from established users, etc.

The re-vamped programme is currently running on a trail basis, involving a number of communities and groups beside Firestorm, although they are perhaps the most visible. Their offering is quite expansive, folding-in their existing new user orientation island and their in-world support presence, both of which have been on-line since 2012, as well as providing a range of activities typical of those newcomers can find in SL, and free-to-play games, all designed to engage the new user and encourage them to return to Second Life and explore the grid as a whole.

Drax talks gateways with (l-to-r) Kiana Writer and Kess Crystal from MadPea and Jessica Lyon and Ed Merryman from Firestorm
Drax talks gateways with (l-to-r) Kiana Writer and Kess Crystal from MadPea and Jessica Lyon and Ed Merryman from Firestorm

Marketing such gateways isn’t easy; it requires a budget, and that’s something most communities don’t have. Firestorm is trying to address this by leveraging their existing user base and getting them to promote Second Life to family and friends. There is actually nothing wrote with this approach – I’ve frequently said myself that are no better ambassadors for the platform than those of us actively engaged within it. However, there are potential limits to how effective this can be over the longer periods of time, so broader-based approaches may be required down the road, but it is a good place to start.

That said, one particular advantage in leveraging existing users is that it might help further boost retention rates simply because it could led to some of those coming into SL receiving the direct support of family and friends already using the platform (although I would perhaps suggest they wait on the other side of the orientation island, and let people complete this under their own steam).

 The Ghost Town is the first in a series of free-to-play games provided by MadPea expressly for the Firstorm Gateway and intended to further orient new users in using the viewer and HUDs, etc., while demonstrating some of what they might find by way of activities in SL
Kiana and Kess from MadPea provide a good overview of The Ghost Town, the first in a series of free-to-play games provided by MadPea expressly for the Firstorm Gateway and intended to further orient new users in using the viewer and HUDs, etc., while demonstrating some of what they might find by way of activities in SL – and reward them for doing so

A crucial part in assessing the project will be the data that demonstrates things like throughput rates and, more importantly, retention levels; particularly when compared to the Lab’s own new user experience. The Lab, via Oz Linden, indicates this is the kind of data they’ll be presenting to gateway operators. Oz also indicates there have been some technical elements to be fully ironed-out, particularly in matters of compliance and data security, which might not have been so prevalent during the time of the “old” gateway programme.

Continue reading “The Drax Files Radio Hour 100: of gateways and Bento”

Stargazing in Second Life

Bell of Firmament
Bell of Firmament

It’s no secret I’m quite into space exploration and astronomy, and within Second Life I’ve visited a number of planetariums and observatories, many containing interactive displays and educational information on the cosmos, stars and planets.

One of the more unique interactive astronomy-related  installations I’ve come across in Second Life, is the The Bell of Firmament by Maygray Riverview (Maygray Heron), co-owner of MayLou Designs.

Make sure you read the guide to using the installation
Make sure you read the guide to using the installation

This is a very clever interactive piece, allowing the visitor to interactively visualise the constellations in 3D, with the stars seen in terms of their relative size, colour and position to one another as seen from Earth.

Constellations can be seen individually, or you can build up a “star display”, gradually adding more and more constellations. It’s also possible to add lines between stars to help visualise the constellations as they appear in the night sky, and the display can be tilted and rotated or cammed around.

To use the Bell of Firmament effectively does take practice and patience, but the results can be interesting. A full set of instructions are provided, and I recommend reading through them beforehand. These are located on the lowest level of the installation and introduce you to the menu system, using the compass rings and drawing lines between the stars. Once you’ve done this, use one of the small blue teleport spheres to move up to the observation decks.

The decks provide access to the star menus, where you can define how you want to display constellations: either individually or adding each one you select to those already on display. When starting out, I’d recommend starting by displaying them one at a time; things can quickly get crowded – you can make sure this is set by clicking on Options > Replace Stars (use Options > Sum Up Stars when you want to add constellations to an existing display). Constellations are divided into three groups: signs of the zodiac, characters from mythology, and animals.

The in-world menu system provides the menu to set-up the display and select the constellation(s) you wish to view
The in-world menu system provides the menu to set-up the display and select the constellation(s) you wish to view

A model of Earth is provided in the display area, and can help you orient yourself; however, if you’re not overly familiar with astronomy and star naming conventions, I would recommend having Wikipedia at the ready; the stars are defined by a combination of their Flamsteed and Bayer designations, rather than their familiar names (so, for example, Betelgeuse is defined as 58α Ori).

You can link the major stars of a constellation to help better relate the display to how the stars appear to be aligned from Earth
You can link the major stars of a constellation to help better relate the display to how the stars appear to be aligned from Earth as with Orion, seen here

Once you have located the key stars in a constellation, you can can click on them to create lines of light between them, allowing you to better identify them as they are seen from Earth. Doing so also allows you to see first-hand just how subjective the constellations really are; simply cam around – even just a little – and watch how the familiar patterns quickly change. Should you need to, use the compass rings to adjust the position of your star display to position any stars you may wish to see better

There are perhaps a few things missing from The  Bell of Firmament. Offering the common names of familiar stars – Rigel, Betelgeuse, Aldebaran, Arcturus, Deneb, Castor, Pollux, etc.- would perhaps help the lay user, and it would be nice to seen a names of displaying information on a given “major” star. However, the latter is a major task in and of itself, and would require careful consideration on how best to achieve it (an in-world info panel? An ability to provide a link to an external web page / Wikipedia?, etc), and could complicate things.

However, these are really, really minor points. As it is, Bell of Firmament is one of the more unique interactive displays in Second Life, and if you do have an interest in astronomy and haven’t had a play with it as yet, it could well be worth a visit.

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