Falcons, leviathans, creatures and wizards in Second Life

Seanchai Library

It’s time to highlight another week of storytelling in Voice by the staff and volunteers at the Seanchai Library. As always, all times SLT, and events are held at the Library’s home in Nowhereville, unless otherwise indicated. Note that the schedule below may be subject to change during the week, please refer to the Seanchai Library website for the latest information through the week.

Sunday, August 1st, 13:00: Tea-Time At the Movies: The Maltese Falcon

Corwyn Allen, Gloriana Maertens, Caledonia Skytower, Kayden Oconnell, Da5id Abbot,  & Elrik Merlin turn to the writings of Dashiell Hammett. Or rather, John Huston’s take of Dashiell Hammett’s classic The Maltese Falcon.

Written in 1941, a decade after the book was published, the screenplay marked Houston’s directorial debut, and drew a stellar cast: Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Loire and Gladys George, rounded out by Sidney Greenstreet making a most memorable of screen debuts.

What may be less well-known about the film, however, is that it was not the first to be based on Hammett’s novel. That honour goes to Roy Del Ruth’s 1931 version, which arguably keeps closer to the novel’s characters and plot, and which actually formed the basis for Houston’s own screenplay. It is also, by way of an aside, immortalised by Jon Anderson and Vangelis in their brilliant song, The Friends of Mr. Cairo (even if the song does reference Mickey Spillane over Hammett), a celebration of the golden age of US mid-20th century cinema with a focus on the tale of the Maltese Falcon.

The film is the story of a P.I. (Bogart as the hard-boiled Sam Spade), a femme fatale Ruth Wonderly/Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Astor) and two unscrupulous  “business men”, Joel Cairo and Kasper Gutman in a tale of double-cross, intrigue, murder and the hunt for  “black figure of a bird”, the fabled Maltese Falcon, described thus in the film’s opening:

In 1539 the Knight Templars [sic] of Malta, paid tribute to Charles V of Spain, by sending him a Golden Falcon encrusted from beak to claw with rarest jewels – but pirates seized the galley carrying this priceless token and the fate of the Maltese Falcon remains a mystery to this day.

To find out more, join the tea-time team!

Monday, August 2nd 19:00: Goliath

The third and final instalment in  Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series, Goliath takes us once more to the alternative past history of Earth at the time of the First World War. It’s a world divided between the Darwinists- those who have evolved genetics to make animals more useful to humans and the Clankers, who have built their society on machinery technology.

Once again we join Alek and Deryn in their adventures, this time with both of them aboard the living airship Leviathan. Unexpectedly, the ship is diverted mid-flight over Russia with orders to pick up a single large create being transported overland by a fighting bear. Once aboard the whale-ship the crew set about constructing the machine as the ship continues on its way.

Passing over Siberia, the Leviathan comes across an area of great mystery: a devastated region where the trees have been flattened to form a great series of rings, the corpse of another whale-ship lying near its centre, the beleaguered survivors needing rescue even as they are protected from out-of-control and starving fighting bears by a strange machine.

Bringing them aboard the Leviathan, the crew discover the survivors have been protected by the work of one Nikola Tesla, a scientist and inventor who may have the weapon that can bring an end to the Great War.

As the adventure continues, Deryn, still disguising herself as a boy in order to be a part of Leviathan’s crew, struggles with her feelings for Alek and whether she should reveal the truth about herself to him…

Tuesday, August 3rd

12:00 NOON: RUSSELL EPONYM, LIVE IN THE GLEN

Music, poetry, and stories.

19:00: Dragonfly

Willow Moonfire reads a short story from Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea sagas.

Wednesday, August 4th, 19:00 Creatures of Light and Darkness

Two gods, two houses, one quest and the eternal war between life and death. To save his kingdom, Anubis, Lord of the Dead, sends forth his servant on a mission of vengeance. At the same time, from The House of Life, Osiris sends forth his son, Horus, on the same mission to destroy utterly & forever The Prince Who Was a Thousand.

But neither of these superhuman warriors is prepared for the strange & harrowing world of mortal life. The Thing That Cries in the Night may well destroy not only their worlds, but all humankind.

With Caledonia Skytower.

Thursday, August 5th, 19:00 Galaxy Quest PART 1

Join Shandon Loring for a trip aboard the NSEA Protector, together with her crew (or cast, if you prefer!).

Friday, August 6th, 14:30: Terry Pratchett’s Unseen Academicals

Football in Ankh-Morpork is not as we might know it. Rather than being comprised of rules and played within a recognisable ground, it is far more akin to the somewhat violent mob football of medieval Europe.

Not that this is a concern for the elderly, mostly indolent and (some might be tempted to think) somewhat inept old wizards making up the faculty staff at the city’s school of wizardry, the Unseen University. Until, that is, their very handsome annual endowment becomes subject to their playing the game themselves.

Thus, Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully sets out a two-pronged strategy: to ensure the city’s version of football is restructured with proper (and favourable?) rules, and to put team preparations at the university in the hands of the talented candle dribbler, Mr. Nutt and his assistant, Trevor Likely, the son of the city’s most famous (if deceased – did I mention the game can be violent?) player, who are in turn supported by Glenda Sugarbean, who runs the university’s night kitchen and her assistant Juliet Stollop.

Except Mr. Nutt soon discovers he has problems of his own to deal with, and Trevor has promised his Mum he’ll never get involved in the game.  Meanwhile, Glenda has the daily responsibility of baking the Discworld’s best pies, and Juliet is about to find herself whisked towards the heights of fame as a fashion model, thus potentially leaving the team a little short on practical advice…

Join Caledonia Skytower as she presents the 37th novel in the Discworld series, and possibly one of its greatest satirical undertakings encompassing football, academia, traditions, the fashion industry, politics, love, fandom, and which mixes in more serious themes of identity, crab mentality and self-worth.

 

To wander the subconscious in Second Life

SenKonscia: Cherry Manga

This article comes with an apology. A couple of months ago, Selen Minotaur invited me to pay a visit to to her latest endeavour, located in a small (4080 sq metre) parcel tucked into the corner of a Full region. Entitled SenKonscia, the parcel was introduced to me by Selen as “a place for photographers, dreamers, lovers of 3D art and surreal environments. It is unfinished – and will always remain unfinished, because I intend to add and change things regularly”.

Senkonscia is the Esperanto for “unconscious”, and is here used in the psychological definition of the word, rather than the medical, referencing that part of the mind said to lie beneath the subconscious; the home to the darker aspects of our personalities and the place where fears, feelings, and so on are repressed in an attempt to contain them, as well being as the repository of subliminal perceptions and automatic reactions. It’s the part of the mind we’re never directly aware of, but which (it is believe) manifests itself through our dreams, which can be a mix of the attractive, the surreal and the frightening.

SenKonscia: Cherry Manga, Eric Bloodrose, Harry Cover (impossibleisnotfrench), and Willem Koba

Thus the parcel presents a multi-level setting, from the ground through a set of three sky platforms – Water, Sky and Desert – Selen presents a series of minimalist settings in which 3D art from her personal collection is set out. Multiple artists are presented, including Cherry Manga (whose work can be seen throughout, but receives special attention in the Water platform), x1XDanteX4x, Eupalinos Ugajin, Eric Bloodrose, Harry Cover (impossibleisnotfrench), Willem Koba (willem Koba), Noke Yuitza, Bryn Oh, Stabitha (What88 Zond), Haveit Neox, and Keira Blackthorne.

Movement between the ground and the sky platforms is achieved via a “trapdoor” teleport network: left-click on a trapdoor to display a dialogue box of destination options. Click the name of the desired destination and then wait for the the hover text above the trapdoor to update, then click it again to display the World Map, and use that to teleport.

SenKonscia: Moebius9 and Noke Yuitza, Keira Blackthorne, May Tolsen and Stabitha (What88 Zond)

Each of the levels from the ground up offers a minimalist setting that uses its own environment settings and lighting, so it is important you have your viewer set to Use Shared Environment (World → Environment and check Use Shared Environment) and that Advanced Lighting Model is active (Preferences → Graphics and make sure Advanced Lighting Model is checked).

All of the levels present surreal settings in which the art has been laid out in a seemingly random manner, and where visitors can wander as they chose to witness it. In this, the settings add to the idea that SenKonscia is a trip through a state of dream, individual pieces of art a flash of an image conjured by the the unconscious and pushed into the conscious mind unbidden.

SenKonscia: Cica Ghost, Vincent Priesley (sweetvincent), Silas Merlin, and Willem Koba

Intriguing, surreal, perhaps in places a little disturbing – again like the very nature of our unconscious rearing up through our dreams or in times when primal instincts (“fight or flight”, etc.), take a hold – and sent to constantly evolve through changes to the art on display, SenKonscia is a fascinating trip through art into the landscape of the mind.

SLurl Details

Exploring Exhalt in Second Life

Exhalt, July 2021 – click any image for full size

Update: As I posted this, L̶i̶n̶L̶i̶n̶  was preparing to open a new sky level – Western World -, so this article has been updated to reflect this. 

It was off on a visit to a far East themed region for me this week, as I finally got around to dropping into the Full region that is called Exhalt, designed and held by L̶i̶n̶L̶i̶n̶ (Lyndy Lockwood).

In its current iteration, the ground level of the region offers a taste of the Far East, ancient and modern, but with a few twists – as seen by the African elephants, the giraffes the lions and the Indian tigers that can be found at various points throughout – and it does so with a certain flare that makes it both a destination that offers a fair amount to do and see, and which also offers a range of opportunities for photography, be it landscape or avatar focused.

Exhalt, July 2021

The first thing to note about the region is that while the majority of it is open to the public, there are rental properties within it, so some caution is required to avoid trespass on people’s homes – although most of these have been kept to the north side of the region (with the exception of one), so can be avoided by not straying off the paths that wind their way through the region. A further point to note is that the region utilises a local Experience; this is not vital for ground-level explorations, but as there are additional settings in the sky over it, visitors will need to accept the Experience to reach them.

The landing point lies to the south of the region, a waterside wharf watched over by an octopus and bounded on one side by a little marketplace and the rentals office and on the other by the local stables, where a horse can be obtained for those who would like to ride around the region and make use of the small riding track off to the west.

Exhalt, July 2021

The majority of the region presents something of an ancient Japan vibe, the land they stand upon cut by a series of waterways that effectively break it up into a series of islands, both high and low. These channels, spanned by stone bridges, mean the the best way of exploring really is to follow the earthen paths as they meander their way around the landing, linking the bridges and running past the major points of interest, with one in particular leading to one of the more hidden places within the region, a water garden tucked away out-of-sight.

While the majority of the region takes its led from Japan in terms of architecture, there are two exceptions. The first sits atop the highest point of the setting- and is called, appropriately enough Tibet. The other lies to the west of the region, but it isn’t accessed directly by any of the paths. To find your way into it without scrambling up a steep slope, you’ll need to locate the stairs and arch that lead to it – just be prepared to get a little wet (hint). When you have reached it, you’ll find you’ll pass from a sense of ancient Japan and into modern southern Asia, a setting dominated by elements of Eliza Wierwight’s superb PATRON builds that form a suite of exotic bath houses, with a small beach facing the sheltered southern waters.

Following the paths around the region will also reveal the smaller touches that add a living depth to it, such as a further water garden in the middle of the riding trail and the pavilion where you can play the harp to an audience of one – panthera tigris (although the giraffe standing in the shade of a large cherry blossom might eavesdrop)also be listening.

Exhalt, July 2021

More animals can be found during explorations, ranging from swans and horses to bears, foxes, pandas, stags, deer, lions, and more. A whale circling in the air over the central buildings adds a touch of fantasy to the setting, as does the presence of giant (but friendly) trolls. For those perhaps not so taken by animals, there are table games available in the building up on the central ridge (with backgammon available just outside), while a high hive platform offers a sporting element. Art also waits discovery, with pieces by Cica Ghost, Mistero Hifeng, Qutsal Alex, x1XDanteX4x, L̶i̶n̶L̶i̶n̶ herself, and more.

As noted above, Exhalt includes several skyborne settings. At the time of my visit, three of these were accessible via Experience-based teleports, and a fourth – The Roxy Club – reached via a teleport board mounted on a wall above the landing point, although I didn’t spot an obvious TP back to the ground.

Exhalt, July 2021

The other areas are reached by walking through Torii gates, one of which is alongside the landing point, with the other two a short walk from it through the main entrance into the ground level of the region. If you’ve not previously joined the region’s Experience, you’ll be prompted to do so when attempting to pass through one of the gates, which will take you, respectively, to the Old West (pretty self-explanatory), to Dark Tokyo (a modern urban setting with an adult lean), and to the Field of Dreams.

The last of these is close enough to be seen from the ground by those with a Draw Distance greater than around 150 metres. It presents a gorgeous walled garden with its own hints of fantasy and storybook elements that are enchanting to wander through – although the ghostly sasquatch wandering through it can be a little disconcerting! Both of these settings – Dark Tokyo and Field of Dreams – offer teleport loops back to the ground.

Exhalt, July 2021

With all this said, there is still more to be discovered in Exhalt – details that help to bring it to life and which might also be used in exploring; but rather than give away everything here, I strong encourage you to go see for yourself. And if you enjoy SL photography, trying playing with different EEP settings.

SLurl Details

  • Exhalt (Caligula, rated Adult)

Firestorm 6.4.21: catching up with the Lab

On Wednesday, July 28th, 2021, the Firestorm team released version 6.4.21 of their viewer.

The majority of the updates contained within this release are from recent releases of the official viewer, with a minimal number of Firestorm-derived updates, as Firestorm continues to move closer to a quarterly cadence of releases.

That said, as well as fixes and updates, this release includes a number of additional and new capabilities added by the Firestorm team, and these form the focus of this overview.

As is usual for me, this is not a review of every individual change to be found within this latest release of Firestorm. Rather, it is an overview of those changes that will be most noticeable to the majority of users. Given this, please refer to the official release notes for a complete list of fixes and changes.

Table of Contents

Installation

  • There is no need to perform a clean install with this release if you do not wish to.
  • Do, however, make sure you back-up all your settings safely so you can restore them after installing 6.4.21.
  • Again, please refer to the Firestorm 6.4.21 release notes for additional details of all changes and updates in this release.

Linden Lab Viewer Parity

Firestorm 6.4.21 incorporates updates from a number of recent Linden Lab viewer releases, as follows:

Jelly Updates, February 2021

Viewer release: 6.4.13.555567.

Most notably, this alters the behaviour of “jellydolled” avatars for better performance. Those avatars explicitly set not to render or have an Avatar Rendering Complexity (ARC) that exceeds the threshold set within the viewer (e.g. via Quick Prefs → Max Complexity slider):

  • Are now rendered a single grey, rather than appearing in a range of solid colours and as a basic humanoid shape.
  • No longer have any attachments or other customisations rendered and do not play animations.

Simplified Cache Viewer, March 2021

Viewer release: 6.4.14.556088.

This viewer introduced a less complex file caching system to save local copies of frequently used assets such as meshes, sounds and animations, but without the issues that impacted the original deployment of that viewer.

Custom Key Mappings Viewer, April 2021

Viewer release:  6.4.17.557391.

This release allows users to define their own key mappings for a number of viewer functions, via Preferences → Control .

The Custom Key Mappings panel in Preferences

Maintenance Eau de Vie, April 2021

Viewer release: 6.4.18.558266.

A further round of viewer bug fixes from Linden Lab. Perhaps most notable among them changes to the detection of Intel HD 2500 and 4000 and 400 GPUs (if running the latest drivers), that result in users of those graphics cards now being offered the 64bit version of the viewer.

Love Me Render 5, June 2021

Viewer release: 6.4.19.560171.

A maintenance viewer focused on rendering and graphics fixes, including a number of EEP improvements.

UI and Voice Updates Viewer, June 2021

New Guidebook

Viewer release: 6.4.20.560520.

This viewer introduced the first in a series of viewer UI updates, these specifically aimed at new users, notably a new Guidebook to getting started in Second Life following sign-up, and which is intended to be used within the new Welcome Islands.

The new user Guidebook, as developed by Linden Lab as a part of a new user experience
The Guidebook is access via a dedicated Toolbar Button, which if not automatically displayed in your viewer (clean installation) can be accessed by opening the Toolbar Buttons panel (right-click any button area and select Toolbar Buttons …) and then dragging the Guidebook button to your preferred button area.

Not that both the Guidebook and the new Welcome islands are subject to on-going testing and so may see further revisions.

Menu Updates

In addition, this release of the view included a number of menu changes to the official viewer. These have been implemented somewhat differently in Firestorm, and so are dealt with below.

EEP: Azimuth and Elevation Sliders

A further UI change with this viewer is the addition of new EEP sliders for those who have issues using the Trackballs in the Sun / Moon tabs of the Fixed Sky and Day Cycle floaters, and in the Personal Lighting floater. These sliders are:

  • Azimuth – which might be thought of as the east / west position of the Sun or Moon (technically, azimuth is more than this, but it’ll do for these notes).
  • Elevation – the position of the Sun or Moon over or under) the horizon, relative to azimuth.

They are tied to the Sun / Moon movement, so when used, the trackball locations for the Sun and Moon will also move.

The EEP Azimuth and Elevation sliders (Personal Lighting floater shown)
Voice Updates

Finally, this viewer brings a series of improvements to the viewer’s Voice settings a range of improvements to Voice handling, including changing to default Voice settings in the viewer intended to help prevent issues of drop-out when talking, and which have reportedly all but eliminated drop-outs for those using the new settings. Additionally, the VIVOX VAD options have been exposed via Debug Settings, and detailed notes on these can be found in the official viewer release notes, linked to above.

Continue reading “Firestorm 6.4.21: catching up with the Lab”

Legends in Art in Second Life

Art Korner Gallery II: Seduce – Legends

Currently on display at Art Korner,, owned and operated by Frank Atisso, is a truly stunning selection of art by an artist known as Seduce. And whilst I can use superlatives when writing about the art I appreciate, the use of “stunning” here is accurate: these are pieces that are truly exceptional in their composition, narrative and sheer beauty.

Hailing from France, and with a background in advertising, Seduce has been active in Second Life for over a decade, but has only – within the last twelve months or so – entered the world of Second Life photography. The latter is something that is hard to grasp given his work is easily among the most evocative of avatar-centric art to be created through the platform. Each piece, so beautiful composited and post-processed, carries a strong cinematic subtext that is glorious whilst being offered as a work that echoes some of the great masters of art in the physical world.

This is very much in evidence within the selection of pieces gathered for display at Art Korner under the title of Legends. Comprising 8 large-format pieces, the exhibition takes as its theme the tales of Ancient Greece and Rome – fact and fiction.

Art Korner Gallery II: Seduce – Legends

Around the walls of the gallery space – itself dressed to evoke a Greco-Roman flavour, and quite effectively so – several of the pieces allow us to witness Caesar’s fateful crossing of the Rubicon in 49 BC (the piece suitably entitled Alea Iacta Est – the words attributed to Caesar as he did so by the historian Suetonius), or to visit Pompeii at the moment Vesuvius erupts or become embroiled in one of Alexander the Great’s conquests. Others take us into the realms of mythology as effectively as a any blockbuster, so we might see Theseus confronted by the Minotaur and Poseidon rising up from the depths (possibly against Odysseus and his crew as they attempt to return home to Ithaca), whilst still others evoke Ridley Scott’s 2000 epic Gladiator.

But what makes these pieces so extraordinary is their depth, particularly those where multiple characters are featured – such as with Alea Iacta Est, Last Kiss in Pompeii and Alexander and Bucephalus.

A close examination of these three will reveal a certain likeness between several of the characters within them whose faces are visible. This is because Seduce has apparently use his avatar(s) numerous times to produce individual images (presumably against a white / green / blue backdrop) which he has then carefully composited into the main image layer by layer, so creating a marvellous story-within-a-frame that on first encounter is breathtakingly unique.

Art Korner Gallery II: Seduce – Legends

Painstaking the work might be, but the end results really are magnificent to look at – so much so that I feel somewhat guilty about only writing about Legends now, when the exhibit is perhaps nearer the end of its run that the start. Hence why I do thoroughly recommend that anyone with a love of SL photography and art as whole make sure they stop by Art Korner Gallery II sooner rather than later, so as not to miss the most extraordinary of exhibitions.

SLurl Details

Kokua: release 6.4.21 and Radegast 2.34

Kokua released version 6.4.21 of their viewer on Saturday, July 24th, bring it up to parity with the official viewer version 6.4.21 (formerly the Fernet RC viewer, version  6.4.21.561414), and which also sees a further porting of options from Firestorm, together with a series of updates and fixes implemented by the Kokua team.

As always, all of the information relating to updates and fixes can be found in the official release notes; the following notes highlight the more directly user-facing changes.

Lab-Derived Updates

Kokua 6.4.21 includes all Linden Lab viewer updates through to the Fernet release. Most notably these include a range of improvements to Voice handling, including changing to default Voice settings in the viewer intended to help prevent issues of drop-out when talking, and which have reportedly all but eliminated drop-outs for those using the new settings. Additionally, the VIVOX VAD options have been exposed via Debug Settings, and detailed notes on these can be found in the official viewer release notes.

Preferences → Graphics Redesign

Kokua 6.4.21 sees an overhaul of Preferences → Graphics that to eliminate the Advanced panel and instead incorporate its content on three new tabs within the Graphics panel: General/Avatar, Hardware, Level of Detail / Shaders.

In addition, one of the never tab ports the dynamic sizing of texture memory developed by Ansariel Hiller for Firestorm.. More on this below.

The updated Preferences → Graphics panel with the new tab-style layout

The additional tabs provide a logical and clear-cut breakdown of options:

  • The General/Avatar tab presents the options perhaps used most frequently by the majority of users: Draw Distance, avatar complexity / number of imposter avatars, post-process, detail and physics quality settings.
  • The Level of Detail/Shaders tab provides access to the controls for the viewer shaders, and general rendering quality sliders (terrain, trees, objects, etc.).

The remaining tab, Hardware, is the tab that incorporates the dynamic texture memory sizing option. The idea with this is that it allows the viewer to use more of the available graphics memory whilst still reserving space for other uses (subject to the overall dedicated graphics memory / system memory that is available – you obviously cannot use more memory than your system actually has!).

The Preferences Graphics tab, showing the new (to Kokua) dynamic texture memory options (from Firestorm)

KKA-878 Add Option to Always Pop-up Chat/IM toasts

This is a fix for a noticeable issue with how Kokua handles chat notifications.

Until now, the default pop-up / Toast behaviour is as toasts show unless the local chat panel is visible and not overlaid by another floater. This is counter-intuitive in that the purpose of pop-ups / Toasts are designed to inform because floaters / panels may be obscured.

The new option to Always Pop-up the message, which is common to all of the drop-down lists on the Chat → Notifications tab in Preferences

BugSplat Updates

This release also includes a number of fixes for Kokua crashing whilst attempting to send information to the BugSplat reporting tool, before sufficient information can obtained to help pin down what might have been happening leading up to the crash, rather than just reporting where a crash happened. Please refer to the release notes for more on this.

Radegast 2.34

Radegast, the lightweight client for Second Life and OpenSim updated to version 2.34 on July 26th.

The majority of the updates included in the release are “under the hood” changes, specifically designed to:

  • Paving the way for future UI changes.
  • Providing better non-Windows platform and mobile support.

However, there have been improvements  to image processing, with JPEG2000 decoding and encoding times now improved.

Radegast JPEG2000 decoding and encoding times should help with elements of in-world rendering

As noted in the release notes, these improvements also require the installed version of Radegast to be specific to your computer’s architecture (e.g. the x64 version on Windows 64-bit system).

Also note that the 3D world rendering can give variable results (as it always has), depending on aspects of the system on which Radegast is being run, etc. While it has been a while since I last used the client in anger, the 3D rendering appeared to be a lot smoother than I remember, although it still includes issues in rendering mesh clothing correctly rigged to the avatar, and also demonstrated a familiar issue of failing to render textures on all prim faces.

For the full list of updates and fixes, please refer to the official 2.34 release notes.

Given it has now been several years since I’ve reviewed Radegast in-depth (it’s actually been a decade since my first review, and just a month shy of that since me first review of the client’s rendering capabilities), I will endeavour to offer a complete refresh in the future.

Links