Stony Hill Vineyard in Second Life

Stony Hill Vineyard, Stony Hill; Inara Pey, June 2017, on Flickr Stony Hill Vineyard – click any image for full size

Update July 30th: Stony Hill appears to have closed. 

We were drawn to Ezra Locke’s Stony Hill Vineyard after catching it in the Destination Guide Highlights for Friday, June 30th. A homestead region, Stony Hill Vineyard offers a pleasing Mediterranean summer feel – or as Ezra puts it, “Spanish and Italian influences with a little hodgepodge” – a description as charming as the region.

Surrounded by lush green hills, the region sits as within a verdant valley, a rural setting crossed by dirt tracks which wind over and around the low-set hills and escarpments which sit around the region edges and which offer – from a eye-level vantage point – the suggestion that this land and most of the hills beyond are one.

Stony Hill Vineyard, Stony Hill; Inara Pey, June 2017, on Flickr Stony Hill Vineyard

A large villa set back into some of these uplands dominates the north-east side of the region, large terraces stepping down from it to the lands to the west, their red brick flooring contrasting with whitewashed walls. To the west and south, guarding the villa and terraces, are ranks of grape-laden vines, some of which have already been harvested. These can be pressed and stomped under the partial shade of a wooden trellis close to the landing point – just please do remove footwear beforehand!

A windmill and equestrian centre sit at the foot of the slopes which fall gently southwards from the villa, while west and north across the region three modest single-storey villas still atop grassy slopes and bluff-faced escarpments. Presented as furnished holiday homes, these are available for rent to visitors wishing to extend their stay at Stony Hill – so if any of them do appear occupied, please respect the occupant’s privacy. The villas are available at L$285 per day (L$1995 per week), with a minimum 3-day stay.

Stony Hill Vineyard, Stony Hill; Inara Pey, June 2017, on Flickr Stony Hill Vineyard

Weddings can also be held within the region, as can private parties. However, these are by arrangement only, and those interested should contact Ezra. Should you wish to rez props for photography, you can do so by joining the local group for a fee of L$250. Additional information on the region – including the local weather and the wine of the month from the villa’s cellars! – can be obtained from the Stony Hill Vineyard website.

Stony Hill Vineyard is an elegant region design which effectively suggests a feeling of the Mediterranean and gives a sense of space whilst still fitting a lot in – the main villa, the rental villas, the equestrian area and even a little waterside market spot (neatly sitting between the villa and high rocky shoulders, giving the impression that the waters beyond are a river flowing between the vineyard and the more distant hills). There are plenty of opportunities for photography, while the villa’s upper terrace offers places to sit and relax – and enjoy the local wine.

Stony Hill Vineyard, Stony Hill; Inara Pey, June 2017, on Flickr Stony Hill Vineyard

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July at Artful Expressions in Second Life

Artful Expressions: Cecilia Nansen Mode

The July exhibition at Sorcha Tyles’ Artful Expressions gallery opens on Saturday July 1st, and in keeping with the gallery’s recent expansion, features three guest artists exhibiting their work: Rose Hanry Jarom (RoseHanry), Lawrence D. Pryce and Cecilia Nansen Mode (Cecilia Nansen). All three present displays focused on avatar studies, each presenting an individual style and approach to their work.

Artful Expressions marks Cecilia’s debut exhibition, and on the strength of the images she’s selected, this will not be her last. As a tangential coincidence, her partner, Jes Mode, is exhibiting at DixMix gallery in his first public outing with his photography (see my recent review in these pages). Having now seen their respective work, I’d love to see them exhibit together – and may see if I can arrange that for Holly Kai Park!

Working in both colour and black-and-white, Cecilia’s pieces are exquisite, and I particularly like the  fact that within the nine pieces, she has presented three sets of three, each offering a narrative flow or thematic continuance between the images in each set.

Artful Expressions: Lawrence D. Pryce

Lawrence D Pryce says of himself, “I’m just a hermit who took up photography as a means to encourage my introverted personality.” Introverted he may well feel, but his art speaks volumes. We’re perhaps all used to seeing studies from in world which are carefully posed and framed to tell a particularly story, but while these are all clearly posed, each is so natural in setting and tone, there is not a single story to be told. Instead, each offers a host of tales in the making – and, perhaps, each offers a glimpse into the artist’s thoughts and his embrace of being alone.

Rose is not only a photographer, but a designer of poses for her work as well, noting that she likes to bring setting, windlight and pose together when taking photos. The result is some of the most natural images I’ve seen for a while. Carefully crafted again they may well be, but so to are they natural – and expressive of a story. I freely admit to being entranced by the lifelike depth present in Dream dreams no one else can see (below).

Artful Expressions: Rose Hanry Jarom

Once again, Sorcha has selected three outstanding artists who come together to present an exhibition linked by a central theme of avatar studies, whilst each offers unique perspectives and a unique approach to their work. The exhibition officially opens at 14:00 SLT, with music by DJ Julianna. Don’t forget when visiting the gallery, you can also enjoy Sorcha’s own photography.

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CastAR closes, IP for sale?

The CastAR dream: a slimline, lightweight set of glasses capable of projecting interactive 3D images onto a retro-reflective surface. Credit: Technical Illusions / CastAR

Augmented reality headset maker, CastAR (formerly Technical Illusions), and which I’ve been following and reporting on in this blog, has apparently closed its doors.

The company first came to prominence when the system – designed to use a glasses-like headset to project holographic images onto a retro-reflective surface users could then interact with via a hand-held controller  – was shown at the 2013 Maker Faire in New York.

At that time, the idea was very much fledgling and more spirit gum, soldering, tape and wires than it was a commercial venture – but that was enough to convince the pair behind the system, Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson they had a potential product on their hands, so they went ahead with a Kickstarter campaign to raise US $400,000 to start development in earnest – and ended up raising over a million.

The Head Crab – Jeri Ellworths’ initial approach to what became CastAR. Image courtesy of Jeri Ellsworth

The system, called CastAR due to its primary function of projecting images onto that retro-reflective surface, actually came about by accident. In 2012, Ellsworth was working on another project at Gabe Newall’s Valve when she accidentally found she could create holographic-like images on the surface.

The potential of the idea excited her and (then) fellow co-worker Johnson, so they started delving into the idea. Then, in February 2013, they were among a group of staff let go by the company – and in a generous move, Newall allowed them to take the IP for the CastAR system with them, even though almost the entire development up to that point had been made on Valve’s time and with Valve’s resources.


The Development Kit / Kickstarter version of the CastAR headset. Credit: CastAR

From here, the story does suffer the hiccups. The Kickstarter raised US $1 million, enough to fund development of an initial headset system, but it was not entirely what Ellsworth and Johnson were hoping it would be. There were delays,  funding seemed (from the outside) to be slow in coming in and delivery dates for the initial Kickstarter headset got pushed back, although there was sufficient for the company to establish operations, hire a CEO (initially David Henkel-Wallace), refine the headset design, develop games to run on it.

But the company kept doing the rounds of VR / AR shows and the like, garnering publicity, generating interest and towards the end 2015, secured US $15 million in funding. The majority of this came from Playground Global, co-founded by Andy Rubin of Android Inc. fame, and Rubin persuaded Ellsworth and Johnson to back to basics and design the system they wanted.

Playing a projected game using CastAR (simulation). Credit: Technical Illusions / CastAR

As a result, in 2016, the company announced a significant change in direction. The US $1 million raised via the Kickstarter was refunded, together with a promise all backers would receive a “consumer” version of the headset,  CastAR hired talent to open its own mixed reality studio in Salt Lake City and acquired entire Eat Sleep Play development team, responsible for the Twisted Metal series and God of War. All of this was done with the aim of developing a complete consumer package – headset, controllers, game surfaces and games – which would be low-cost and playable “right out of the box”.  2016 saw LucasArts chief Darrell Rodriguez take over as CEO, with former Disney executive Steve Parkis as its president and chief operating officer.

Now, according to an article appearing in Polygon on Monday, June 26th, and since widely circulated in the tech media, CastAR has closed its doors with up to 70 people being laid off. There has been no official statement on the matter from either CastAR – the corporate website continues to reference a consumer product launch in 2017, although it doesn’t appear to have been updated since around the start of the year – nor Playground Global, despite attempts by a number of outlets to secure a comment. However, the Polygon piece suggests the reason for the closure is Playground Global’s refusal to provide further funding for the venture after CastAR failed to obtain investment from other sources.

The CastAR headset and “wand” hand controller as they looked in November 2016. Credit: CastAR

Following the story breaking, Polygon later updated their article to reflect sources stating that a small team has been retained by CastAR to oversee attempts to sell the company’s IP. But again, there has yet to be an official statement from CastAR.

This might be seen as a blow to the fortunes of AR. However, as innovative as CastAR was (and as much as I found their approach fascinating), the system took a markedly different approach to AR / MR than is the case with the likes of Qualcomm (see here) and others, simply by its reliance on a retro-reflective surface. While the latter is well suited to gaming, and the company tried to suggest it could have practical applications through their promotional videos, it still might have been seen as a limiting factor in the system’s broader appeal.

UWA to remain in Second Life for two more years

UWA: Winthrop Clocktower and the Reflection Pond, with the SLeducate area on the right (which you can read about here) all now set to remain in Second Life for the next two years

On Friday, June 30th, Jayjay Zifanwe contacted me with some excellent news: the University of Western Australia (UWA) is to retain a presence in Second Life for a further two years – albeit on a reduced scale.

UWA has enjoyed a long presence here in Second Life, operating multiple regions and becoming a stalwart supporter of virtual arts through its grand challenges and other competitions and opportunities offered to artists to present their work, as well a through support of machinima in physical world film challenges, such as those run by Screen My Shorts.

However, in September 2016, it was announced that due to changes within the UWA, its digital presence was to be largely shut down, with all but one of the five regions being removed from the grid at the start of October 2016, and the last given a stay of execution for at least a year.

Then, in October 2016 came word that one of the regions would transfer to the management of Sonicity Fitzroy (aka Dr Phylis Johnson) of the San Jose State University (and is now called SJSU Virlantis), while the four remaining regions – University of WA, UWA, UWA Winthrop and WASP Land would remain in place in-world until July 2017 before finally vanishing into the night.

Noke Yuitza: Transcendence Despite Falling Rain – an entry in the last UWA Grand Challenge style of art competitions, Transformations. You can see all the Transformations entries at the UWA Gallery

Now, two of the regions will be continuing for at least two years, as a jubilant Jayjay informed me via IM:

“I’m pleased to be able to tell you that thanks to the ‘UWA Community Partnerships Programme’, the University of WA and UWA regions will now be remaining in Second Life for the next two years,” he said. “This is absolutely wonderful news, and I’d like to thank everyone who have believed in and participated in all we have done and achieved over the years.”

Nor is that all. As noted above, one of the things UWA is famous for in it patronage of the arts, is its series of grand challenges involving 2D and 3D art and machinima – and there is good news here as well.

“A benefactor has donated L$300,000 for a machinima challenge,” Jayjay went on. “So we will be running one with art as the theme. Participants will be asked to select one or a number of artworks on display at UWA and weave a story around it or them.”

The Transformations exhibition space, UWA Gallery

Full details on the news about the extension to the two regions, and detailed information on the machinima challenge will be made available via the UWA of SL blog in due course. In the meantime a hint of the coming news can be found on the blog.

For now, congratulations to Jayjay, FreeWee Ling and everyone involved in making this happen.

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