Turning Point

The last few weeks have had me filled with anxiety - about getting the place built, about the opening, about the reception, about how the business might be affected. A million details, a million concerns, a million considerations. Fortunately, it appears we’ve reached the point where I can relax and breathe a sigh of relief.

Friday marked a turning point at the new Main Store. It was a minor measurement, but a major milestone. For the first time, traffic at Reachra surpassed the traffic at the old main store in New Babbage. That, combined with strong sales from the start and some truly wonderful compliments from friends and visitors, have sent me all the signals I needed - we did the right thing, and everything is going to be all right.

I have been making some progress on the island, with an additional building starting to take shape, and the gazebo in the picture above being placed this morning. I’ve also been toying with the foundations for some of the additional structures, and will hopefully start to get a few of those in place soon.

I’ve also made good progress on winter-izing our place in New Babbage. While the current state of the city-state leaves an awful lot to be desired, I intend to make the most of it. The picture below was snapped a few days ago, since then snowdrifts and additional texturing has been done. I still have a few more things I’d like to, and will hopefully get to that sometime this week.

Discovering Reachra

Over the past six months or so, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about trade routes. As you can probably imagine, supplying a string of shoppes scattered across the grid is no small undertaking. It was during the many expeditions into the desert to establish the Eridu Society’s Airship Outpost that I started to study the maps and think about establishing ourselves in a place that catered to trade.

I began studying the maps and charts, searching for an island. Not just any island, but one that could serve as a port for ships of the air and sea. I pored through countless documents and found dozens, if not hundreds, of towns and villages that had great potential. So I packed my gear and decided to go exploring.

Each week seemed to bring new leads, and off I’d go to see if the town might suit my purpose. But each week I returned in disappointment. Incredible sea ports. Amazing ports of the sky. But never, it seemed, in the same place. I have to admit, I very nearly gave up on the idea. Naturally, it was at that low moment, as I was drowning my frustrations in drink, that I first heard about Reachra.

I was into my fourth or fifth round with the publican and two of his friends, and we were sharing stories of the places we’d been, and one of the gents started talking about a place he used to go. Airships and sailing ships, there was always work and good drink to be found. At first I thought he was spinning a yarn, then my friend behind the bar nodded in agreement. He’d lived there as a younger man, but moved on after the airships left.

Despite having had a bit to drink, I suddenly felt quite sober and excited. This place wasn’t on any map I was familiar with, yet it sounded like a dream. But why did the airships leave, I wondered. I didn’t wonder for very long, as my friends knew Reachra’s history well. It seems there was a bustling airship outpost, with a great mast made from the biggest and strongest of trees from the mainland. I cringed upon hearing it, for I knew how the story would end. Any builder worth his salt knows you don’t build an airship mast out of wood. Not these days, anyways. Sure, you could use a strong wood for a sightseeing balloon, but for ships of any consequence you need iron or steel. But a great ship or a great storm would snap a wooden mast, and that is exactly what happened.

Apparently, way back in the great storm of ’42 (one the locals still refer to as ’the storm of the century’), a pair of merchant vessels were tethered to the old wooden mast. The pilots had been waiting for a boat coming in with some cargo or another, and thought they’d be able to get out before the storm came in. They’d been wrong, disastrously so, and in one cold dark night both airships as well as the tower had been destroyed. Without an airship tower, the boats stopped coming, and the town was all but abandoned.

While it was a tragic tale, I don’t think I could have been more excited. The very next day I stocked up and set out for Reachra. With fair seas and the wind at my back, I made it in a few days’ time. Exercising great caution (the name Reachra translates in gaelic to ‘place of many shipwrecks’), I approached and attempted to make land.

The eastern shore is a rocky, craggy mess - I can see where the place got its name. But the western shores were gentle, and a sheltered cove to the North where a great pier had been built. An old, run-down warehouse stood in a terrible state on the western side of the island. Still, it looked to be of solid construction, and the building looked quite salvageable. In fact, the whole place seemed rather perfect for my needs. Sure, it would all need quite a bit of work, but that’s never frightened me off.

I conducted a bit of a site survey, then did my best to make a map and update my chart with the island’s location, and then sought out the owner of the place. As I’d suspected, the owner had died some years ago. The loss of the airship outpost had all but destroyed him financially, which is why no attempt had ever been made to rebuild. His wife and son had survived him, but they wanted nothing to do with the place. Indeed, his widow had been getting on in years, and her loving son had been providing her care. We met over tea and then several dinners, it seems both were quite amenable to selling me the place. My offer was accepted, and before I knew it construction had begun.

The hilltop was perfect for an airship tower, and I soon found that the one I’d recently designed could easily be adapted for this place. An iron and steel framework, covered in brasswork, providing both form and function for the task at hand. Getting up the hill was another matter, but soon the rickety wooden steps had been replaced with stonework. The docks were in better shape than I’d imagined, but still took quite a bit of effort to bring up to snuff.

The warehouse would be a perfect place to base centralized operations - I’d be able to dispatch goods to any of our shoppes from there by sea or by air, as well as use the place to bring in raw materials and assorted supplies. Of course it made sense to open a shoppe here as well, a grande showcase of our latest and greatest works.

While I had given some consideration to the idea of designing a completely new building, those thoughts quickly vanished. Our tried and true shoppe would suit the place perfectly, and besides I would have my hands quite full tending to all the other tasks at hand. In what seemed like no time at all the island was habitable and functional again, and ships have been coming by air and by sea. While there is still a lot of work left to do, I’m proud of what has been accomplished in so short a time. A new trade route, a new shoppe, a new place to call home.

Summing Up Shoppe Things

After having read loads of clatter over the last several days on message boards, group chat, and in-world it seems an appropriate time to sum up our position with regard to BlakOpal Designs.

  • We have no intention of leaving XStreet. We wish the best of luck to those merchants taking their business elsewhere, but feel that XStreet will continue to deliver the best shopping experience for our customers and our business. And that’s what really matters.
  • We have no intention of tacking on surcharges to our prices, either in-world or on XStreet. Regardless of where our customers prefer to make their purchases, we are simply grateful for their business.

With that said, it’s back to work playing the role of the builder, designer, and shopkeeper. :-)

Soft Opening of BlakOpal

At the end of another long day. Today, however, I am very pleased to report that the doors to the new shoppe are actually open and the proverbial cat is out of the bag. A lot of the island is still unfinished, but I think that we have enough done that it’s safe to let people come and have a look.

Our goal is to create a space that is more than simply a main store on its own island. BlakOpal and I have been working intensely on the background and the art theme and build concepts over the last few weeks, with the goal that in addition to having a space to house our growing business we’ll have a fun and interesting place to explore.

The shoppe itself should look familiar - it’s an iconic build, and one of my favorite projects in Second Life. We didn’t want to just drop the building anywhere, so the challenge became to create an environment that the building would fit. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Early on, I began to center around the idea of a trading post. I’d just spend a couple months working on an airship outpost for Burning Life, and the idea of taking that further excited me. During the golden age of piracy, there were a number of island outposts where the law-abiding folks peacefully co-existed with those outside the law, and you’d get a mix of prim & proper and rough-around-the-edges types walking the streets. I wanted something like that, but not just another tropical island. In doing some research, I’d learned that there were port cities in the north that had exactly this sort of thing going on, with residents doing business with all sorts of privateers and questionable types.

North worked better for me. Nothing against the tropics, it just didn’t seem to fit the shoppe building as well. Not too far north, as neither of us are fans of winter weather. And it needed to be different - there are already a number of wonderful builds and communities in Second Life, we certainly didn’t want to duplicate one of the existing communities we love. New Babbage always struck me as being based on victorian London (though Mr. Tenk has suggested a coastal town in Poland in a post on the New Babbage Ning), where Caledon is more English countryside. And Steelhead wonderfully captures the pacific northwestern United States. Each done extremely well in their way.

Looking back, you’d think it was planned from the start, but it was actually a matter of all the pieces falling together at exactly the right time. Ireland. The timing couldn’t have been better, and the trip wound up serving as an opportunity for field research. And research led me to believe that while inspired by Dublin and by Ireland, it should be something slightly different. The coastal islands caught my attention - sort of like Ireland, but on a more manageable scale. As we were making our approach to Dublin, the plane circled near Lambay Island (see below), which I took as a sign.

On the other end of the spectrum from the brautiful island wilderness is the city of Dublin, and specifically the Temple Bar, Grafton Street, and surrounding areas. From that point, everything started to click and I went from scratching my head and thinking about things hypothetically and wondering if there’d be enough to fill a space and make it work to chomping at the bit and wondering if there will be enough space to do all the things I want to try and do.

The first couple buildings are in place - the shoppe and the giant warehouse across the street. The docks on the north shore are done, and I’ve gotten the shipping office building built (though the insides need a lot of work). The Airship Outpost sits atop the hill, though as of this writing the stairs leading up to it have yet to be built. But I think it’s enough to get things started, and so today the doors opened softly. Expect something grand in the near future. Come see BlakOpal.

Back from Ireland

Back from another exciting adventure! Earlier this week, BlakOpal and I got back from an amazing trip to Ireland (her first, my second). While it felt like a whirlwind trip in many regards, we enjoyed a fairly leisurely pace. We based ourselves in the heart of Dublin’s Temple Bar district (at the place pictured, above), and found that just about everything we wanted to see on the trip was a short stroll (or at times, a drunken stumble) away.

Our time was spent exploring (the town and its many pubs), researching (clothing from the 16th century on and loads of architecture), adventuring (traveling out to places like Newgrange, Slane, and Tara), and enjoying wonderful music. In addition to the fun traditional musicians playing in nearly every pub in Ireland every night, we were fortunate enough to see the band Muse rock a completely sold out show at Ireland’s best indoor music venue.

Check out some pics from the adventure here, or take a look below for one of several videos BlakOpal shot at the Muse show.

What’s ahead? Plenty. It’s still too early to start talking about it all, but BlakOpal and I have spent a lot of time bouncing ideas back and forth for the shoppe, for the clothes, and for all sorts of fun, creative projects we’d like to work on. Now to find the time to get to it all....

Snowglobe 1.2!

Hey look, the new version of Snowglobe is almost ready! As a beta tester, I’ve been working with various builds and incarnations of Snowglove 1.2 since late summer, and I’ve got to say I’m really excited about this thing coming out. All the safety and security of a Linden Lab viewer, plus a lot of the innovation from the vibrant SL developer community - it’s a great mix.

As of this writing, Snowglobe 1.2 RC3 is the latest release, and offers significantly faster network connections (in preferences on the network tab, you can now set the slider to 5000kbps - more than 3x faster than the max of 1500kbps in the SL viewer), automatic language translation in local chat (using Google translate, it’s far from perfect but a very nice start), greatly improved texture handling (in the Advanced menu, enable Rendering -> HTTP Get Textures to let Snowglobe take advantage and drastically improve the loading of things like the SL map), a Worn Items tab (in your inventory window, you can now click on the Worn Items tab to see just the stuff your avatar is currently wearing), and more.

Get Snowglobe here.