Sep 192014
 

Episode 37 Of The Drax Files Radio Hour has a main feature this week regarding virtual therapy with an interview with Dr Tammy Fletcher. There’s also discussion of some hot topics such as Innsmouth,

However the episode opens with an excellent interview with Jeska Dzwigalski (AKA Jeska Linden), regarding the late Joe Miller with whom Jeska was a work colleague. Jeska talks of the introduction of voice in Second Life as well as talking about how passionate Joe was about Second Life. This is an excellent perspective of the contribution Joe made to Second Life and is well worth listening to. Jeska left Linden Lab quite a while ago now but she’s still a well known and liked name. She also runs a pretty cool site : Geeks With Drinks. Jeska earns extra kudos for knowing the difference between Whisky and Whiskey.

The episode also touch upon a subject close to my heart, Facebook’s absurd real names policy. This time they are mainly talking about drag Queens petitioning Facebook to change their real name policy and allow people to use stage names. Facebook’s real name policy is simply absurd, a name people known as is a far better policy. I’m tired of trying to encourage Linden Lab to embrace Google + now that they allow people to use any name they want to. Facebook has reach, Google + currently has far better ethics in this area.

They talk about many more issues including the High Fidelity Alpha users and a revelation that Draxtor Despres may well be entering High Fidelity for a special broadcast, with a special Draxtor Despres avatar. I hope they realise the perils Of Draxtor’s long hair! This may be more challenging than Rock, Paper, Scissors which they have been having fun with over at High Fidelity.

However the main feature is a fascinating interview with Dr Tammy Fletcher. Dr Fletcher talks about therapy within Second Life. This is a fascinating interview because a lot of people will think that any sort of therapy within Second Life will be artificial, ran by charlatans and not worthwhile.

Yet Dr Fletcher explains not only how therapy in Second Life can be useful and valid, she also explains why Second Life can highlight issues that are specific to spending too much time in Second Life, or using alts, or associated drama and how these are real and not virtual issues.

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Sep 182014
 

Innsmouth Bar And Cinema

Innsmouth in Second Life is a dark place, abandoned in the 1930’s and with a mysterious sea creature off the coast, it’s a town with a secret. However the dark forces that have plagued the town have not put everyone off, there are still a few hardy souls around. However now Innsmouth faces it’s greatest peril yet, a peril that many have fought within Second Life. Innsmouth may very well disappear from the Second Life grid.

A  blog post on the HP Lovecraft Festival site has issued a call for help : SAVE INNSMOUTH SIM in SL. The post explains the very real peril Innsmouth finds itself in :

On September 15th, Darmin Darkes, the owner of the Innsmouth-themed Sim announced the following: “Innsmouth sim is for sale. I’m giving first dibs to you folks in the hopes that someone will want to keep some of the build. Worst case is having to flatten it and sell it. I just can’t afford it any longer. I’m not leaving SL, but I have to cut back my sims. Thank you for your years of support and friendship and the passion you’ve given to Innsmouth. It’s only pixels and I’m sure there are better versions waiting to be built.” — Darmin Darkes

As a result of this notice, a number of Second Lifer have been working together, through a group called, “The Innsmouth Preservation Society,” to help with the upkeep and potentially to purchase this sim, then maintain it.

If you would like to be a part of this important group, please contact Arik Metzer or any member of the group who can invite you. More updates on our progress will be posted here.

**IMPORTANT FIRST MEETING TO DISCUSS THIS ISSUE**: Thursday 18 September 2014 — 2 times: 11 AM SLT and 7:30 PM SLT, both at the Innsmouth SIM .

The first meeting was taking place as I blogged this piece. A second meeting will take place at 7:30 PM SLT today. Whether Innsmouth can be saved only time will tell but it’s a fascinating sim with a theme that is better viewed inworld than in snapshots.

Innsmouth Fair

Innsmouth featured on the Eureka Destination Blog back in February 2010 when Limey Linden spoke to the owner Darmin Darkes. Those Eureka posts were good. Anyway, Limey visited back in 2010 and was impressed. At the time, Darmin, who had been a driving force in creating the sim had purchased the sim for herself. At the time Darmin said :

I’ve just purchased Innsmouth, so it will stay as it is until I think of something to tweak and improve. I hope it lasts forever! I like that it’s so low key… no club or shopping to detract from the atmosphere… but that may have to change. I get so many positive comments from visitors and it pleases me to be able to make something they appreciate so deeply. When you see something you love about SL, you should always try and thank someone.

Alas it seems that that will not be the case and I can completely sympathise with Darmin over her decision.

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Sep 172014
 

A Clockwork Spiral

Welcome to the Clockwork Spiral! This benefit aims to help the National Kidney Foundation, so prepare yourself for sixteen days chock full of steam, diesel and dark Victoriana. Everything opens September 15th at 6:00pm. With music, events and gifts, this is a benefit you won’t want to miss.

Visit in Second Life

A post on the Second Life Blog caught my eye : A Clockwork Spiral – Steampunk Event to Benefit National Kidney Foundation. Intrigued I decided to pop along and take a look around and it’s quite a busy place with people arriving on a regular basis.

An Image Should Be Here

Advert For Event

This is also a place with some impressive scenery. There are stairs in the train station that lead to lower levels, tunnels, strange and mysterious objects in the middle of the streets and much more.

Will Anyone Dare Enter Those Tunnels?

So what exactly is A Clockwork Spiral? Well for more information it’s best to head to the website. There we one can find the press release :

A Clockwork Spiral is a shopping and music event featuring steampunk, steamgoth, dieselpunk, dieselgoth and dark Victoriana in Second Life to help raise money for the National Kidney Foundation.

It will be held September 15th – October 1st, 2014 on Cursed. (It should be noted that Cursed is an Adult rated sim.) The Spiral opens at NOON on September 15th and closes at MIDNIGHT October 1st. Both times are Pacific Time (SLT).

The Spiral hosts 40 merchants bringing in their interpretations of the theme for the visitors to shop while enjoying the atmosphere and the music of the event. As always, Club Gothika’s Mobile Unit will be present in the event area and will be the heart of the music events.

More information at: https://aclockworkspiral.wordpress.com/

So a noble cause indeed. The event itself is advertised as a music/shopping event. I like music, shopping … anyway!

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Sep 162014
 

The word on the street is that some of the High Fidelity team will be heading to Hollywood in a few days for the Oculus Connect event. I would imagine that some of the Linden Lab team may be heading there too. However before that happens, the High Fidelity blog has been been having A Look at Alpha Projects in Hifi. The picture in the blog post is particularly impressive, especially when enlarged.

Dan Hope, who I believe is a new member of the High Fidelity team, highlights the work of three Alpha testers, Judas, AI Austin and Ctrlaltdavid. This is virtual space, so people have virtual space names.

Judas has been working on models created in Blender. High Fidelity currently supports the FBX format, rather than the Dae format that Second Life supports. However as both have their roots in Blender, the basic workflows are going to be somewhat similar. High Fidelity is in the Alpha stage and this is highlighted in the blog post as Judas explains how a recent update has allowed him to import avatars from High Fidelity into Blender without destroying the rig to animate them. However Judas also hits the mark about the nature of virtual worlds in terms of being social platforms. I’ve said many times that Second Life is where it’s at in terms of virtual worlds because Second Life has the people. Any new virtual world has to have that social aspect and Judas acknowledges this in a quote on the blog post :

High Fidelity is about people. A grin, a smile, a hand gesture, a wave — not some pre-recorded gesture — breathe personality into lifeless avatars. [We’re creating] an environment that normal people want to gather in, not because of polycount, latency, or server technology, but because their friends are there. Every game has amazing graphics; HiFi should have amazing people.

Meanwhile in another part of the vast virtual space that High Fidelity engulfs, AI Austin is building I-Rooms: A Virtual Space For Intellectual Collaboration. Again we have a social usage exemplified here as well as the all important collaboration angle that virtual worlds offer so very well. I-Rooms are defined as :

We have developed the I-Room virtual environment—the “I” stands variously for intelligent, information, in- teractive, integrated, and instrumented—a shared persistent space, founded on process methodologies and offering intelligent sys- tems support for interaction and collabo- ration between users, systems, and agents.

AI Austin is also testing the boundaries of what is possible with mesh models in High Fidelity. This includes a Supercar with 575,000 vertices and 200,000. I can see people in parts of the virtual world sphere frowning furiously at this right now. AI Austin also has an International space station mesh that was provided by NASA. As it stands, space is a concept that High Fidelity captures very well. There are a lot of stars in High Fidelity.

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Sep 132014
 

Joe Miller (AKA Joe Linden) passed away on July 27th after a battle with cancer. Joe was Linden Lab’s VP of Platform and Technology Development between 2006 and 2010. The sad news was reported yesterday by Linden Lab in a blog post : Remembering Joe Miller and a further blog post by Hamlet Au over at New World Notes : RIP Joe Miller, Linden Lab’s Beloved Former Platform VP. Hamlet’s post contains a link to a memorial page about Joe.

Joe joined Linden Lab in 2006 and in a press release from Linden Lab he said :

I’m thrilled to join the team responsible for Second Life, the most interesting interactive platform in existence today. By drawing upon my background in product design and user experience, I look forward to helping make Second Life even more accessible to residents worldwide.

Joe was interviewed by Catherine Smith (AKA Catherine Linden) back in January 2008 regarding the work Linden Lab were doing in Second Life. The interview was part of a podcast series called Inside The Lab and can be listened to here. In the podcast Joe talks about how the Lab were moving away from their downtime procedure. Older residents will remember that the grid used to be taken down for several hours whilst updates were rolled out to the grid. Joe also talked about :

  • Sim stability – with the launch of Havok 4.6
  • Sim performance – with the introduction of Mono for script compiling
  • Viewer stability – by introducing a new crash reporter and graphics card drivers
  • Viewer performance – via Windlight and the new Dazzle UI

Whereas this podcast is more than six years old and many improvements have been made during that time, it still makes for interesting listening because it talks of the challenges of a user generated content virtual world and those challenges are still very relevant today.

Joe also worked on one of the large changes to Second Life, the introduction of voice :

For me, Second Life has always been more about human communication, collaboration, and spirit than about technology. When I talk to Residents about their experiences, one of the recurring themes is improving our communication methods. For so many, Second Life is a place to make and meet new friends and collaborate with others, whether that’s in a business, educational or purely social context.

That’s why today I’m pleased to announce our intention to bring integrated voice capabilities to the Grid. This will enable all Residents to speak with each other if they wish, in addition to the existing Instant Messaging and group chat functions.

Many of you know that voice has always been part of the long-term plan for the Grid, and we truly believe voice can be a transformative technology that will lend more immediacy and dynamism to the way Residents communicate.

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Sep 122014
 

Nara Malone isn’t happy; “It’s like being caught in your curlers” she purrs as I whip out my camera, but there’s a glint in her eye as she stands amidst the scene of an in progress exhibit from Fuscia Nightfire.

Nara Malone

Nara is showing me around the build which is an interactive exhibit featuring machinima, which is playing on the floor and surrounding walls. The finished exhibit will feature the use of Non Player Characters (NPC’s) and Nara has been demonstrating to me just how easy they are to create in OpenSim.

Nara rezes a poseball and then explains the process to me : “I click the ball once it records my appearance, it runs the animation I put in the poseball. I can change those out or run a string. This is our simplest character maker.

With that said Nara clicks the ball and few second later another Nara is in my view, this one sitting down tying her lace, which is the animation inside the pose ball. However how resource hungry are they? Nara explains that they are not that resource hungry at all : “Its just an animation running…very easy resource. We can have 20 or so at a time with 10 users online. We have more complex versions but this is the starter one. We can make them talk, Program them to interact so they are very helpful with storytelling and with the immersion. The characters draw readers in.

Nara is a storyteller and of course her stories must be told. However she’s not alone and the exhibit she’s giving me a sneak preview of is part of her group’s work for the OpenSimulator Conference in November. Whereas the big names are keynote speakers such as High Fidelity’s Philip Rosedale and Oculus Rift’s Steve LaValle, many from the general OpenSim community will be there too and exhibiting their wares.

Nara explains to me that her group will have a total of eight examples of their work running at the conference. Whereas there’s a lot of storytelling, there’s also a lot of scripting involved and Nara tells me that scripting guru Fred Beckhusen is on their team.

So just what are Nara and her team working on? Nara passes me a note with some preliminary but rather ambitious details.

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Sep 092014
 

Other Side Of Main Landing

This is all a bit outside of my comfort zone, it involves fashion and shopping in Second Life. These are two activities I’m not that enamoured with. Now if there were Orcs, Elves, Dwarves, fashion and shopping, then I’d be more interested in events such as The 24 Squared.

However for some reason this event, which has been running since September 5th and runs until September 13th, caught my eye. According to a blog post from Siren Productions the event features :

  • 1 Week…
  • 98 Designers…
  • Menswear!
  • Womenswear!
  • Accessories!
  • Skins!
  • Hair!
  • Make-up!
  • Oh My…

Unfortunately there don’t appear to be lions or tigers or bears. However there are models around.

Another Female Model

Now even if this really isn’t your sort of event it’s worth a visit because this seems to be a well designed location, low lag, plenty of wide spaces, but also making good use of scenery to prevent your graphics card trying to eat every texture on the sim too quickly.

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Sep 052014
 

Second Life Image - Friends

I am not quite sure how long Linden Lab have been pointing people to a Flickr pool for promotional snapshots, but I will say it’s a bloody good idea and I’m going to dip into it! Discover Magazine had the same idea as me for the above picture too … wait wait I’m getting confused, I saw it there first! Anyway, Discover Magazine have an article up regarding skin colour in Second Life : Skin Color Still Matters in Video Games . The headline is a little misleading, I’ll get to that shortly.

The article is based on research by Jong-Eun Roselyn Lee : Does virtual diversity matter?: Effects of avatar-based diversity representation on willingness to express offline racial identity and avatar customization. I haven’t read the research paper, only the brief information on that linked page but Discover Magazine delves into it a bit deeper and explains how the study worked :

Lee gathered 56 study participants — half identifying as white and half identifying as black. She then had them read a fabricated magazine story titled “Meet the Coolest ‘Second Life’ Residents.” The eight “Second Life” avatars profiled in the story were either all white, in the low-diversity scenario, or an equal mix of white, black, Hispanic and Asian, in the high-diversity scenario.

She then had them perform two tasks: Create and customize their own virtual avatars, and rate their willingness to reveal their real racial identity through the appearance of their virtual avatar.

She found that black participants reported less willingness in the low-diversity scenario, and that they also created whiter avatars, as judged by objective raters. By comparison, white study participants were largely unaffected by either the high-diversity or low-diversity scenarios.

So this is a small study and doesn’t involved enough people for it to be the sort of vibrant study many would like to see. Another interesting fact is that the 56 people did not actually engage with Second Life in a social sense. They weren’t left to wander around and report their findings.

However the problem with a study such as this is the environment. There are quite a few issues with skins in Second Life. I’ve often seen people bemoaning the lack of choice of darker skins. There are several reasons for this but the main ones seem to centre around darker skins being far harder to give life to in a world like Second Life. The textures don’t stand out as much and therefore fewer content creators want to make them and fewer customers find them appealing. This may explain why the black participants created whiter avatars, those avatars may have just looked more appealing on the screen due to the design challenges of darker skins.

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Sep 042014
 

The Fort Worth Weekly isn’t a publication I generally read. This is no disrespect to the publication, it’s just that it’s not on my radar. However this week’s edition has caught my eye because it has a feature about Matthew Broyles, a singer songwriter who performs in Second Life : Second Life’s a Stage. The tag line is also eye catching : Real-world performers are making real-world money in virtual reality.

The article makes one or two faux pas’ in the eyes of some parts of the Second Life community, the first is with calling Second Life a game :

Broyles and the virtual concertgoers are part of an elaborate computer game. In Second Life, their avatars are human-looking, and they interact across detailed replicas of real-world places like New York City and Chicago. Unlike most computer games, which emphasize fantasy universes and defeating opponents, Second Life is for folks seeking to re-create everyday experiences via virtual reality, including music concerts.

Personally I think people take the “Second Life is not a game” meme a bit too literally and it’s really not worth getting your knickers in a twist over, but hey that’s me. The more important part of that quote is pointing out that Second Life allows people to re-create everyday experiences via virtual reality, including music concerts. That’s the beauty of a user created virtual world.

The second part where the article rubs people up the wrong way is actually based on a quote from Matthew Broyles and again I don’t think this is worth getting your knickers in a twist over :

Broyles, who also performs in the hillbilly hip-hop outfit Shotgun Friday, said most of his friends dismiss his virtual pursuit as frivolous, but he’s quick to remind them that behind every “pixel person” is a real person.

“A lot of them are shut-ins, disabled, or otherwise unable to leave the house and see gigs,” Broyles said. “So I’m performing for people who aren’t ordinarily able to see shows. I find they are more appreciative than some bar crowds who are there to drink and make out.”

Really, all we’re seeing there is that Matthew points out there is a real person behind the avatar and that some people who enjoy the virtual world experience would struggle to see gigs outside of a virtual world due to personal circumstances. Again this is one of the beauties of virtual worlds. One use case cited for the more immersive future is the ability to see music concerts from remote locations. Obviously the idea is for the attendance to be far larger than Second Life can manage, but Second Life is already delivering this use case.

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Sep 022014
 

VHA Building

Episode 22 of The Drax Files World Makers – Virtual Health Adventures, has caught me somewhat by surprise as I thought the final edit was being published today, with the actual episode going live tomorrow. This is all my own fault as we can see from the blog post from Linden Lab, sponsors of the series and from the excellent review of the episode from Inara Pey, others understood that the final edit meant it would be published today! I’ll embed the video at the end of the post.

This episode deals with usage of virtual worlds, why their immersive nature can be far more productive than a traditional website and it even exemplifies people using The Oculus Rift for even greater immersion. Pay careful attention to that because you’ll see how that issue of where the keyboard is, is a very real issue when you’re using The Oculus Rift. However also pay attention to how important the immersive environment is to this episode and of course The Oculus Rift can help to make an environment even more immersive. The main theme however is one that people probably don’t associate with a virtual world such as Second Life, that theme is working with amputees to assist them to overcome emotional trauma.

Sandra L. Winkler, assistant professor at NOVA University in Florida, who teaches occupational therapy says :

“Second Life is the perfect place for amputees to overcome emotional trauma by sharing stories and realizing they are not alone!” 

Dr Winkler, who unlike her namesake Henry, hasn’t yet jumped the shark, is working on a three year study funded by the United States Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. That study is roughly halfway through its three years and whereas Dr Winkler admits that at this stage it’s too early to draw any definitive conclusions from their current work, she does feel that the virtual world environment combined with new technology is a significant next step in tele-healthcare.

Dr Winkler’s research is aided in Second Life by the development work in virtual worlds of Virtual Ability Inc. who have long had a presence in Second Life.

Admiring Scenery

In the episode we see amputees embracing the virtual world and going through exercises as well as putting a virtual wheelchair into a virtual car. There is scientific evidence that this sort of process does indeed help people to be able to transfer these skills to the real world and this was something we also saw in The Drax Files: World Makers Episode 13: Creations for Parkinson’s.

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