A pause for a personal ad: landscaping and design

Our home: Isla Pey – click any circle to view image / enter slide show

One of the things I’ve always enjoyed doing in Second Life is landscaping. I’ve done so on both a parcel basis with the properties I’ve had and still have in Second Life and with for parcels held by friends. I’ve also designed assorted regions – most notably, Holly Kai Park, which is still open to public visits.

As a result of this, I’ve built up a good library of landscaping sets from various designers, and gained a good familiarity with designers work as well – so I’m pretty well placed to provide advice on what to buy, what to mix’n’match (so you have full control of the finished design).

Holly Kai Park – click any circle to view image / enter slide show

So, this being the case, I’ve decided to test the waters and offer my abilities to those who would like to have the regions or – most particularly, their home parcels – landscaped.

I don’t intend to make this a full-time thing, and may not be able to fulfil all requests, however, if you are interested, feel free to contact me in-world via note card (please, no requests via the comments section!) and we can discuss ideas and terms.

In the meantime, the embedded slide shows will, I hope, demonstrate some of my work. Simply click on any of the images in the circles to see a full version, and scroll through each set.

“Impression”, LEA 6, 2016 – click any circle to view image / enter slide show

And as the saying goes, “we now return you to our regular broadcasts” – or in this case, articles 🙂 .

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A no-nonsense hovercraft in Second Life

The Foilborne MW47L HoneyBadger

Ape Piaggio is a keen builder of assorted vehicles in Second Life – and I admit to being rather partial to several of them (see my pieces on the FoilStream, Little Bee and Orion). Her latest, which she asked me to test prior to its release on May 26th, 2018, combines the fun of several of her earlier designs with the utilitarian nature of a number of others.

The MW47L “HoneyBadger” (named for the ferocious Mellivora capensis, or ratel,  made famous in a 2011 viral YouTube video) is a cargo carrying hovercraft that incorporates Get The Freight Out! capabilities, can carry up to six avatars and – despite its workman-like looks – can offer a lot of fun.

Marketed under Ape’s Foilborne Industries brand, the MW47L is delivered in Ape’s familiar “toy box” approach: a neatly boxed miniature of the vehicle, visible through a clear plastic screen in the box. It also has an unusual approach to unpacking. On rezzing the box, you’ll be greeted with a number of local chat comments, one of which will ask you to wait for the “Ready” notice. When this is displayed in chat, touch the box to display a menu with the options to PLAY or UNPACK. If you’re only interested in getting to the hovercraft, click UNPACK; however, if you want to have a little fun, click PLAY and then try the follow-up menu.

The Foilborne MW47L HoneyBadger

When unpacked, the box delivers the hovercraft itself, an instruction manual, driver’s HUD, a customer paint applier,  and an “extras” box (of which more anon). Note that if you unpack the box by the usual means, you’ll also end up with an animation and three scripts in the hovercraft’s folder. These can all be safely deleted.

On rezzing, the MW47L is quite a sizeable vehicle – not surprising, given it is intended to carry cargo. However, it can be manually resized (with a couple of caveats: the refuelling animation is best disabled after resizing; resetting the scripts will result in the vehicle reverting to its default size) for those who might wish to do so.

The controls are simple enough, with chat commands and a vehicle menu for additional / alternate options. To get started, right-click and sit on the MW47L, this will position you in the driving “seat”. Type “s” or “start” to start the diesel motor (“s” or “stop” will stop the engine). This drives both the big vertical fan that propels the hovercraft and the two horizontal fans that draw air down into the vehicle’s skirt to form the pocket of air on which it rides. As the fans spin-up, the skirt will inflate. You can then use the UP / DOWN keys to advance / retard the throttle and the LEFT / RIGHT keys to operate the two rudders aft of the vertical fan to turn left or right.

The Foilborne MW47L HoneyBadger at rest

Note that once in motion, the MW47L becomes more responsive with speed. As such, it can be a little sluggish in turning at low speeds – but at higher rates of knots, it can be quite entertaining, offering lots of opportunities for turning, slewing, and generally having fun. It’s also compatible with the Foilborne wakeboard Ape also sells and with tube rides, if you fancy having fun towing friends around. Hovertext displayed over the rear fan will keep you appraised of your throttle setting, speed, skirt inflation and remaining fuel.

A point of note here is that the HoneyBadger can be operated with or without the additional HUD or in Mouselook mode. In the latter regard, I’d suggest driving with the HUD first – the switches re not clearly labelled on the dashboard, so using the HUD will help familiarise you with the dashboard buttons (although note the HUD has an additional button for displaying the menu).

The forward ramp can be lowered / raised using the chat command “ramp”  or using the lower / extreme right button on the HUD / dashboard. Note you can pause the ramp at any time by typing “ramp” again or clicking the button. This allows it to be correctly angled when taking freight aboard from a pier or other raised surface, for example.

The Foilborne MW47L HoneyBadger – fully GTFO! compatible

Which brings me to Get The Freight Out! (GTFO) and freight carriage. The HoneyBadger is fully GTFO! compatible, and a menu option will allow you to display a “pre-loaded” cargo crate. You can also carry other GTFO! cargo with the hovercraft as well.  Nor is that all. The “extras” box supplied with the HoneyBadger includes the MW47L HoneyBadger Payload Plugin script and a configuration note card.

The script and the note card can be used with modifiable goods / vehicles you might wish to transport using the hovercraft. Full instructions are provided in the HoneyBadger’s manual, and I strongly advise that you follow the recommendation that when carrying goods in this way, you hold the hovercraft’s speed down. It might also be worth having someone (an Alt account?) sit on the object to further help it maintain its position relative to the hovercraft. Both the script and the note card or transferable, and so can be given to friends for you to transport their goods.

The Foilborne MW47L HoneyBadger – you can carry your own suitably prepared cargo and goods

Handling on land is very similar to on water, although rough terrain can be a little awkward, and getting up some banks from water to land can require additional power (some might equally be too steep / high to climb). Other options include the custom paint capability (PSD, etc., files are available via a download link in the instruction manual), the aforementioned options for towing wakeboarders, etc., and a wide range of additional settings options (including a parkcam for mooring and a race mode).

At L$800 (at the time of writing), With the ability to let others drive it, the MW47L HoneyBadger offers a rich mix of opportunities for vehicle enthusiasts – and this review barely scratches the surface. So, if you are looking for a vehicle this is that little bit different and which has GTFO! capabilities, the MW47L might be just the ticket. Like its namesake, it’s a no-nonsense vehicle, pretty much up for anything.

Now, if I can only get Ape to finish her long-awaited take on the Icon A5 …

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Getting back to filming in Second Life

Isla Pey: Garden and pond

One of the things I’ve enjoyed doing in Second Life is filming short video pieces. Most of my work, such as it is, is available on my YouTube channel.   This contains a mix of videos of regions I’ve visited, art exhibits and installations I’ve enjoyed and the odd promotional piece.

My video efforts largely tailed-off in 2015/16 as a result of the software I was using to capture footage deciding it didn’t really want to play nicely with the Second Life viewer any more. Essentially, while flycammig would appear smoothing during the capture process, on playback I’d suffer a lot of dropped frames (with no indication they were being dropped during capture), and just get general choppiness.

After a lot of fiddling around, trying different CODECs, trying different versions of the software I prefer to use and so on (not all at once, but as and when time has allowed, which actually hasn’t been that often), coupled (perhaps) with recent updates within the viewer has encouraged me to try again here and there with mixed results.

I recently updated my capture software (Bandicam) to the latest release (May 2018), and this seems to have smoothed out a few more issues. I’ve also recently picked up the latest release of my preferred editing software – Cyberlink Power Director – and have been finding my way around it. So, with both in hand, I thought I’d have a go with a short video of our Second Life island home to see how things turned out. More projects may now follow!

If anyone watching this piece is interested in having their home parcel / region landscaped, feel free to give me a shout in-world to discuss.

A nifty Bandit at sea in Second Life

The Bandit SRV 210, finished in my own “Serenity” paint scheme and with the tower and Bimini sun shade visible

So I’m a bit of a boating enthusiast, as I’ve covered in various articles in this blog. When it comes to powered boating, I’ve been especially partial to boats by Ape Piaggio. However, I recently added a third speed boat to my modest collection – the Bandit SRV 210; and it is a truly delightful little vessel.

Designed and built by Analyse Dean under her Bandit brand, the SR/210 is, as the manual notes, modelled after the fibreglass-hulled sports boats of the 1970s / 80s. with a deep V-shaped hull (which gave boats of this type a “super-V” designation) boats of this kind can cut through the water at speed and offer a high degree of manoeuvrability. This is certainly true in the case of the Bandit SRV 210.

Trying one of the boat’s animations with the full Bimini canopy erected over the boat

Costing (at the time of writing) L$2,500, the boat’s package comprises the SRV-210 itself, a towable, rideable inner tube, a trailer, note card manual, a note card of boating tips, and two texture packs. One of these contains a set of pre-made textures in .PNG format ready for application to the boat (and which can be used as templates for creating your own colour schemes), the other a set of flag textures for the boat’s (rather large) stern flag (and which I eventually scaled down somewhat).

Seating up to six people, the boat at first may appear little boxy in shape – but don’t let that put you off; it really does have a lot to offer. The controls follow the usual for a boat: LEFT / RIGHT for turning, UP / DOWN for the throttle. In addition, PAGE UP will open the throttles all the way to the stops – useful for a fast pick-up if racing or when towing someone on the supplied inner tube. Alternatively, pressing PAGE DOWN from idle will push the boat into full reverse and PAGE UP will drop the engine to idle. In addition there are chat commands – “start” to start the engine, “stop” to turn it off; “fenders” to deploy for mooring fenders and so on.

With the throttle open to the stops, the SRV 210 reaches around 24 knots. At this speed, it handles region crossings pretty well (when they are behaving!)

Key among these are the command to deploy the boat’s “extras”: the light tower, the Bimini cover, an a Get the Freight Out duffel bag. The tower can be used when towing someone on the inner tube or a wakeboard (the latter is not supplied with the boat, but can be purchased from Ape Piaggio for L$400 via her shop at Dutch Harbor, close to the SRV 210’s vendor). the Bimini cover has three options: sunshade; sunshade with over-the-windscreen spray deflector, and full cover. Each option and be displayed / hidden in turn with the “bimini” command via chat. Those who like speed / heading info can call the hovertext HUD via the “hud” command – the information will appear when the engine is started.

Initial handling can take a little getting used to; after starting the engine it is necessary to press and hold the UP arrow key to get the throttle to engage and get you moving (or you can use PAGE UP to go to full throttle, as noted). Once in motion, the throttle can be advanced or retarded via individual key presses.

The trailer is unscripted and static, but offers a nice out-of-water storage for the SRV 210. Remember to raise the propeller unit on the boat (“lift” in chat) to avoid damaging it!

One thing to get used to with this boat is it is very “physical”: it really will bounce through waves; as a consequence, you can suffer a fair amount of camera juddering. This can be lessened by using the mouse scroll wheel to push your camera back a little from the boat. And talking of the camera – the boat includes a reset option for those times when the camera skews and locks at a weird option on a region crossing. It may not always work – such is the nature of SL; but if you find your camera off-angle, type “cam” in chat.

Using the inner tube for someone to ride on is a matter of sitting in the boat, and saying “tube” in chat to ready the boat to attach the inner tube. Rez the tube close behind the boat and it should automatically connect via a particle line, with the boat acknowledging it is attached. The manual recommends doing this with the tower rezzed on the boat, but it’s not vital. Once the tube is attached, the person riding it can jump on and you can set off. Keep an eye out (if you can) for the tube rider’s animation when crossing regions 🙂 .

Caitlyn tries the inner tube

Using an optional Piaggio wakeboard is pretty much the same, other than the command is “wakeboard”; you might also want the tower deployed as well for this. In addition, the Bandit SRV 210 manual explains how to have someone else pilot the boat if you want to try the tube or a wakeboard for yourself.

For those who like first-person driving, the SRV 210 is again ideal – the dashboard is fully working, and the boat can be perfectly handled from mouselook. When at rest on the water, there are a range of animations and poses to choose from – including diving off the boat’s fantail platform and treading water close by. All of these add to the boat’s sense of fun – but do be warned that some of the couples animations can get explicit, so careful where you use them! The built-in media system may offer music to relax by as well.

Taking a back flip off of the SRV 210’s fantail platform

I did find the “press and hold” to get the throttle initially open on start-up a little awkward if in a confined space with the boat, but practice makes perfect. Those who have the Piaggio / Foilborne AD25H Little Bee (see here for a review) might see little advantage in also owning the SRV 210 as the two offer a lot of very similar options, with the Little Bee offering wakeboard and parasail options “built-in”. However, for the enthusiast, the very different styling of both make them attractive: the Little Bee harks back to the days of classic tender-style speedboats, and the SRV 210 has the equally classic look and feel of boats from the 1980s, while there are more than enough options unique to each to keep people happy.

With its supplied options, handling, ease of painting and its overall looks, the SRV 210 is a great boat to have, and very suitable for everyone from beginners through to keen SL boating enthusiasts. In addition, the Get The Freight Out duffel bag potentially adds a little twist of running contraband for role-play enthusiasts.

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Bringing Fallingwater to Isla Pey

A modified Fallingwater at Isla Pey

As friends know, I have something of an obsession with Fallingwater, the rural south-western Pennsylvania house designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935 for Edgar J. Kaufmann, Sr. and his family. For several years I worked on a reproduction here in Second Life. I’m not the first to do so – although while most tend to only focus on the “main” house, I opted to try for the whole thing: house, guest house, servant’s quarters and garages. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of build that requires a region in size to properly lay out, so since 2015, when it last appeared as the setting for an art display, it has tended to sit in its rezzing system in my inventory.

However, I recently suggested to Caitlyn that given the lie of our island home, it might be interesting to build a house that is built against one of the cliffs, rather than on top of it. Problem was: what style of house? The Internet offered plenty of images that might serve as inspiration, but in the end I came back to Fallingwater. There was no way the entire house would fit on our island, but I wondered if the main house could be made to fit – if not as a “cliff house”, then at least as a house built out over the water.

I’ve taken a few liberties in removing the upper floor, the scullery and shortening both terrace wings, but overall, the house retains its distinctive shape

Turns out, it could – with a little modification.

Fallingwater is a big house – far too big for just two of us, and a little bigger than makes for a comfortable fit with the island. To make it more manageable, I removed the upper floor bedrooms, reducing the overall height, and shortened the two wing terraces,  dropping the height of one just a little. The back of the house needed a little re-working – a new “front door” on the ground level, the removal of the bridge spanning the driveway in the real house, and slight alterations to allow the house form one side of the island’s pond.

The Great Room is a big space to fill.. and yet, once you get started, it isn’t…

What particularly got me to use Fallingwater  – as well as a nagging desire to see the house in some form again – was an idea from Caitlyn. My thinking was to have the house at the south end of the island, overlooking the boating lanes. Caitlyn suggested using the north end of the island instead, and on trying it, I saw that the buttresses supporting the house as it stands out over Bear River actually makes a convenient covered mooring area for our motorboats and ‘plane, with room for our faithful Loonetta to one side.

A little tweaking of the grounds and garden was required to fit everything, but nothing too excessive. I admit to being rather pleased with the way the house revels itself when walking up from the southern end of the island; this wasn’t intentional, the lay of the path and the trees already there just leant themselves to a gradual reveal.

Walking up the track from the south end of the garden as the house gradually reveals itself.

It’s not the “house backing into the cliffs” I’d originally thought about, but it is nice to have my Fallingwater back in-world, even modified as it is.

Plane sailing in Second Life: the ReneMarine Ask 13

Topping a loop over Holly Kai Park in my ReneMarine Ask 13

Courtesy of someone crashing on a neighbour’s island I recently discovered the ReneMarine Ask 13 sailplane, a newcomer to Second Life (released at the end of March 2018), and built by Rene Underby, creator of ReneMarine yachts. The model brought back fond memories for me of taking sailplane lessons when in my 20s, initially in the physical world Schleicher ASK 13, so it became something of an impulse buy for me.

The Ask 13 costs L$1000. For that, you get the glider, instructions, thermal HUD, and a box of texture scripts with pre-set colours and registrations and a set of texture 1024×1024 textures – one for the airframe, one for the seats and interior and one AO.

Overall, the design is true to early versions of the Schleicher ASK 13, with the single non-retractable wheel and nose skid (later models of the Schleicter were fitting with a small nose wheel). There are a couple of minor glitches around the tail of the airframe, but neither is generally visible unless specifically looking. The supplied scripted colour schemes are provide a degree of choice in look and easily applied – just drop a script into the sailplane either directly when rezzed or via the Build floater Contents tab (recommended), then touch the airframe to apply.

Easing my Ask 13 with initial (and now updated!) colour scheme into position ready for an aerotow, using the built-in “push” animation

Those who want something a little more personal can use the supplied airframe texture to create their own colour scheme / registration. I knocked-up a basic design (which I’ll likely enhance) in about 10 minutes. Just select the individual airframe faces on the model and  apply the texture via the Texture tab in the Build floater (use local textures to test before uploading).

So how does it fly? Well, first a little pre-amble.

The first thing to note about the ReneMarine Ask 13 is that it is designed for Mouselook flying (although 3rd person flying is obviously also possible). There’s no instrument HUD, no over-the-tail hover text; it’s just you and the instruments in front of you. Commands are given via chat (so make sure you have the viewer UI enabled when in Mouselook), and the WASD / arrow keys for up/down pitch and left / right banking. PAGE DOWN deploys the wing spoilers (up to three taps), PAGE UP retracts them. Note you should also have local sounds enabled, as these are part of the ReneMarine flight experience.

The ReneMarine Ask 13 includes a Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” to tow it into the air.

Sailplanes stay aloft via the lift provided from  thermals – columns of rising air, created by the uneven heating of Earth’s surface by solar radiation. SL also has its own thermals, and this is where the thermal HUD supplied with the ReneMarine Ask 13 comes in. Essentially a regional mini-map, it highlights local thermals using a red dot and shows the position of your glider via a yellow marker and allows you to navigate to, and circle around thermals to gain altitude. Do keep in mind that thermals occur far more frequently over land than open water (where temperatures tend to even-out a lot more).

Once close to a thermal, you’ll also get an audio tone from the vario averager, indicating you have a positive vertical airspeed (that is, you’re gaining altitude). The stronger, faster the beeping, the faster you are gaining altitude. When you have a negative vertical airspeed (i.e. your are descending), the vairo will fall silent. Thus, you can use the instrument and an audio indicator of your ability to remain within the influence of a thermal.

Turning over Isla Pey and admiring the view

When you’re ready to get started, attach the thermal HUD, rez your Ask-13 and jump in. Type “tow” and your aerotow – a vintage Curtiss JN-4 – will appear, and start pulling you down the airstrip – control both the sailplane and the “Jenny” via your movement keys.

When you’re ready to take full control, type “off” for the aerotow and cable to vanish. You’re now free to seek out thermals and glide gently over the countryside – and I do mean gently. The ReneMarine offers one of the smoothest region crossing experiences I’ve ever had in SL. As well as playing navigate-by-thermal (and offering a superb low-speed view of the landscape and islands of SL), the ReneMarine Ask 13 is capable of aerobatics – although some care is needed. You need to watch your airspeed: go too fast, and you’ll hear the wings start to flutter – an indication that they are about to fail, and you should reduce your speed.

Spoilers fully deployed (visible on the wing tops) and coming in at Foliage airstrip

Landing a sailplane takes a little practice. You don’t have engine or a throttle to play with, only the spoilers. Located in the wings, these can be deployed to three positions to disrupt the airflow over the wings, causing a loss of lift. This takes a lot of practice, particularly when knowing when to fully deploy the spoilers – and you will need them fully deployed for landing – but practice makes perfect. Use “sit” to bring the Ask 13 to a stop at the end of your roll-out as there are no brakes.

With flight controls easily interchangeable between front and rear seats (“swap” in chat) and a racing mode, the ReneMarine Ask 13 is a really nicely rounded-out product delivered in a package that can make a nice (if largish) display piece for those with the room. I’ve not tried other SL sailplanes for a direct comparison, but having flown the Schleicher ASK 13 in the physical world, I can say this is quite possibly the closest anyone will get to the “real thing” in SL, and at just L$1,000, it’s more than worth the price. An absolute delight.

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