Using SL for RL Design Mockups

This is hardly ground-breaking SL news, but it is a fun project that I wanted to share. On top of all the fun SL stuff that BlakOpal and I use prims to build using Second Life, we’re also using it to help design the art for our RL camp at the Burning Man Arts Festival. I’m not sure if you’ve ever worked on DIY art installations in remote (2+ hours from civilization), isolated (no running water or power), and somewhat hostile areas (high altitude desert with high temperatures by day and cold by night, plus occasionally high winds and crazy dust storms), but it can be tricky. It is a huge challenge, but we’re big arty dorks who enjoy that sort of thing quite a bit. One of the keys to success is to have a good plan communicated clearly to team members, updating and making changes as necessary. This can really help when it comes to making sure the advance work gets done, and that when you get out there everyone has an idea of what’s supposed to happen.

On the first big desert art project I’d helped work on, the leader of the team had built a couple physical architectural models. That was a huge benefit for the project - in addition to any scribbled notes or sketches, we had a way to visualize it in three dimensions. As computer hardware and software capabilities have increased over the years, I can now get the same result with a 3D model. Sure, I had wanted to use this project as an opportunity to learn more about modeling and working with Cinema 4D, but I just do not have the time to do that. June is approaching, and BlakOpal and I both want to avoid getting buried in last-minute Burning Man preparations. So I decided that how I built the model wasn’t as important as getting something done quickly.

Enter Second Life. Prims are easily squashed, stretched, and mashed as needed, with the added benefit that you can walk around and virtually inhabit the space as well. It’s a very rough draft (think of it as a 3D sketch), but as we bang around different ideas and work out details I can update the model fairly easily. Fun!

Marching Forth

Despite us being relatively low key in the new release department in the month of February, it was quite a busy month. Starting with getting things established on Avatars United, we had a couple of our best-ever days in the shoppe, appeared in the Modavia Fashion Directory XIV, and even made our first appearance in the Second Life Destination Guide! I also spent quite a bit of time doing some software testing, ranging from projects I can’t talk about to Snowglobe 1.3 and then towards the end of the month with the SL Viewer. There were a few other bits and bobs in-world, but a lot of time was also spent with upgrades here in our RL studio. I’m happy to report that BlakOpal’s machine is running beautifully and exceeding all our expectations, plus my redesign of our wired and wireless networking, and backup strategy seems to both be running well and ready for the next steps.

In getting ready for those next steps, I think it’s time to pull a few things off the fire. Linden Lab will be retiring the Battery Street Irregulars (viewer testing group), and the time seems ideal to back away from a few other testing programs as well. There are a couple I’m very interested in, and will not only continue with but likely become more involved with them. And I’ll likely continue to fumble my way through the Viewer 2.0 Open Beta, wrapping my head around its features and functions. But involvement in too many projects starts to stretch me thin, and worse it seems to invite some people to treat me like a personal tech support department or target me as a person to sound off on when they feel the need to vent regarding something LL does or says (and believe me, there have been some doozies). I’m happy to participate in technical group chat conversations from time to time, but that’s about the extent of it. Except for Miss BlakOpal, of course, as I do happen to be her IT department :-)

That said, I’m very excited indeed about the next steps ahead. BlakOpal’s first machinima video on her new machine came out looking great, and I’m looking forward to seeing more videos from her soon. Additionally, we’re both bubbling with excitement over ideas for outfits and builds, and I’m looking forwards to some big improvements in computing/rendering power on our next system upgrade (once certain hardware is released and we’ve saved enough lindens). There will hopefully be a couple new shoppe locations in there as well. It’s going to be an exciting month - I’m excited.

January Wrap-Up

The month of January seemed to fly right by. Feels like my last blog entry was only a day ago, not a month ago. I don’t really have any major announcements or revelations, so instead I’ll share with you a bit of a progress report.

At the shoppe, January started off with a bang. We had decided to participate in our first ever grid-hunt, and the Just For The Guys Hunt got started on the 3rd with a flood of people coming to visit. People seemed to enjoy themselves, and we both got plenty of compliments about our hunt item, so I consider the effort to be a success. While it’s not something I’d want to do too frequently, it is something I’d consider doing again at some point.

Shortly after the start of the hunt, it was time for Menswear Fashion Week. We had been getting excited about this event for the last couple months, and all the planning and preparation really paid off. The exhibition booth at the event sim looked great, people enjoyed themselves, and our feature runway show was a hit. Click here to see pictures taken by event photographer Tillie Ariantho.

I did a lot of back-end work on the shoppe as well. A few locations were remodeled, one was moved, and (sadly) a couple small satellite locations were closed. I’ve also updated some things on the back end, including some server improvements and new redelivery terminals, and continue to work on refining and updating vendors. We received countless notecards with a range of business offers and invitations to open locations all over the grid, as well as a number of requests for a diverse range of fundraisers. I’m not sure how ‘pay my tier’ has managed to become a legitimate fundraising category, compared with real charities and humanitarian efforts out there, they just seem selfish and greedy. After looking at different charitable options in SL, we decided to make our donations directly in RL in 2010. This way the money we give goes directly to that organization without overhead, without SL cashout fees, and without question. We’ve already made donations to Doctors Without Borders, and will continue to make contributions to them and other organizations throughout the year.

In the world of software testing, January was a very busy month. I installed and tested 9 different builds of things, learning a lot and having more fun than frustration, with the net result hopefully being that whatever gets released will be a better experience for everyone.

January also began with us starting to work on content for Blue Mars. It was an exciting step, since we’re already familiar with and use the professional 3D tools to create content. However, Avatar Reality’s developer program just didn’t make sense for us and by mid-month we halted development. I’m sure they’re swell guys and have no doubts they’ve invested plenty of time and effort into creating the virtual world, but with no compelling content of their own, an unfinished developer’s toolset, and no large installed user base, I can’t justify handing over 25% of our gross sales (plus land use and other fees). I’ll revisit the situation in the months to come, and hopefully either they’ll revise their program or the tools and user base will mature and expand significantly.

The planning phase continues for our second region, though I decided to slow things down a bit and not rush into anything. While other estate managers may make the job look easy, running a region and fostering a community (however small) takes considerable effort, and I want to try and take my time and make as few mistakes as possible. We’re probably looking at the second region happening sometime in Q2.

Our studio space continues to evolve and improve. BlakOpal’s new sewing machine is just waiting for her to dive in, and we’ve finally sorted out the mechanics of a vertical light table so she’ll be able to properly light and shoot fabrics. Next up is a new machine for her to have at home, which was ordered today and should arrive by the end of next month. Her workspace is shaping up really nicely, and now I find myself looking forward to upgrading a few things in my space as well.

While we missed this month’s spectacular Black & White Ball at Piermont Landing, we enjoyed the Eddie Izzard show tremendously. Both BlakOpal and I have been fans for years and seen most of his videos, this was the first time we’d seen his show live and he had us laughing so hard our sides hurt.

Musically, January was filled with elation as a few different friends released albums and singles and had some great achievements. While a small part of me wishes I were at all the shows and producing events or even performing, a much greater part is happy to be laying low and staying in. As I finish up a few other projects, I’m looking forward to spending some quality time in the studio, rewiring and reprogramming some racks, and making a little noise.

It’s been a great 2010 so far, I hope yours has too.

Behind The Scenes

Even though folks haven’t seen a lot of me, I’ve been ridiculously busy in the days since my last update. Let’s see, where to begin.

First off, BlakOpal and I finally decided to make the move to high definition in the loft. I know, the rest of the US made that move some time ago, but seeing as we don’t really watch broadcast television or subscribe to cable, we weren’t hard-pressed to replace the equipment we had. It seems our patience paid off well, as we ended up with something bigger than we previously had, for less than we had been expecting to spend.

That upgrade in turn led to the next project, designing and building a new HD media server. This would let us keep our favorite films and documentaries just a few clicks away (and turn the DVD’s on the shelf into backups), as well as give us an additional place to back up work/art files. I know that starts to sound paranoid (seeing as we already have hourly wireless backups of each of our machines), but we’ve both suffered enough fatal crashes where crucial files were lost that the additional peace of mind is worth the price of admission.

There have also been some assorted OS updates and testing, and in the last couple weeks I’ve been spending quite a bit of time working on Snowglobe testing as well. Version 1.3 is coming along nicely, with a number of fixes and behind the scenes improvements as well as the addition of double click to teleport and panning the mini-map (both of which work great). There are some additional things planned, but nothing yet for me to start testing, let alone report on.

Construction at Reachra has been happening more slowly than I’d like, but on the few occasions where I’ve had the chance to spend time in SL that wasn’t devoted to testing or basic shopkeeping, something else has come up. I’ve managed to get caught up on putting new things in the shoppe and putting out the holiday freebies, and now that the media server project is finishing up I should have additional time for building. I’ve also got some things to get ready for - in addition to a fashion week event in January, we’ll be participating in our first ever hunt (more on that later). I’ve also had a few ideas for an update to the vendors I use in the stores, and want to get around to remodeling Caledon Oxbridge in the near future.

I’ll leave you with a clip from last week’s Muse concert. BlakOpal and I had a great time at the show, and can’t wait until they return to SF again in the spring. Cheers!

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....

The Cat's A Genius!

The end of what seems like a long day, and there's a kitten sitting in a beer box. What's she trying to say?

It's been a long several days for me - filled with back end projects. While it's not as exciting as something like skydiving on the moon or going to parties with monkeys, I've been enjoying myself. Testing is underway on a few different projects, and while I can't discuss specifics, I can say that everything has been going well.

The vendor machines in the stores have been getting updatd as well. Hippo Technologies released an update to their vending system that, among other things, improves communications. While their vendors have performed well for us, I'm all for reducing lag and fewer delivery problems. I've wandered to most of our locations to update and test each vendor, and also spent some time in the studio working out a revision to one of my own customized vendors. Maybe soon I'll be ready to pull the trigger on the remodel of the main store in New Babbage.

Maybe she wants me to ship her somewhere? No, that's not it...

I've been working on the site quite a bit lately, too. I suppose it's the nature of the internet, a never-ending project with limitless possibilities and limitless to-do lists. Progess!

BlakOpal finished a new gown that she's been working on for the longest time, and I was able to get that one into the shoppe and on XStreet last night. It's a really fun piece, I love the flow of the garment. To show that part off a bit, she even shot a short video over in Steelhead Shanghai - you can check out the dress and the video here.

Maybe she's thirsty? Why that's silly - not only is her water dish full, but she doesn't even like that brand!

We've also been tinkering around with a bunch of ideas for Burning Life, and I believe our theme camp application has been sent in already. My fingers are crossed, can't wait until we hear back. Between that and a few other fun build ideas, I only wish I had more time and energy available for playing with prims.

The last couple days have been crazy with notecards. Maybe it's me, but it really seems like something happened in the last couple weeks, because I'm getting more notecard/offers than ever before. Some of them are great, but an increasing number are just not even remotely a good fit. Hopefully it will pass.

Oh wait, I get it. She wants ME to knock off for the day and get myself a drink! The cat's a genius!

Steampunk Music, You Say?

Monday seems like it was just moments ago. But here we are, at the week's end. Having gotten the more pressing matters of getting the flagship stores updated and tended to, I'm happily playing with some prims and working out some ideas for new structures.

I've had a couple interesting conversations this week regarding the notion of "steampunk music." While most RL friends I talked to agree the whole idea is ludicrous ("it's more of a visual art style... is there impressionist music too?"), SL friends have some specific ideas. While I wouldn't dispute that Abney Park and the like are steampunk bands, I think the moniker fits because steampunk is their visual style as well. Otherwise, people seemed to have flocked to a few misguided notions that circus/cabaret music is the official sound of steampunk. *shudders* No offense to Nick Cave and the like it's just not my cup of tea.

Personally I've enjoyed exploring different sounds and styles as I've explored the steamlands in Second Life. I've been meaning to do some experimenting and toying around with video for the last several weeks, perhaps I'll play around with a few different soundtracks and see how things come together in the cutting room. *Adds to the ever-growing to-do list*

Moving on, I have mixed feelings regarding all the posts and live streams coming out of this year's Burning Man arts festival. On one hand, everyone should be free to do what they want. Even if that means playing with web cams and removing yourself from the event to sort through and process and then post your pictures ahead of everyone else. But on the other hand, a big part of the event's appeal is its isolation. Going to a faraway place, disconnected from the rest of the world, and seeing what happens. I'm still very interested in returning to the playa in 2010, though with every live feed link I see that interest wanes just a little bit. I'm not exactly sure why, but we'll see how that plays out over the next eleven months.

In the nearer term, BlakOpal and I are excited about Burning Life. The event doesn't happen until October, but we've been tossing around ideas for a while and are about to start more serious planning. Beyond that, we're also looking at another Gothic Fashion Fair event, though juggling the SL events with our RL travel plans this fall will be a bit of a challenge. Should be fun :-)


Perhaps it's sleep deprivation (less than 5 hours since 7am SLT on Friday), perhaps it's residual fun and excitement regarding Doctor Obolensky's Evil Party at the observatory... but a villainous laugh is often in order.

Lost in the mania of new site design, I very nearly altogether missed the opening of Steelhead Shanghai on Friday night. As it was I arrived late and didn't get a single photograph from the event. Still, good fun and such a beautiful space. Cheers to Lunar, Tensai, and all our new neighbors over there!

Saturday involved all kinds of RL fun with brunch and a farmer's market adventure, followed up by the Steampunk/Cyberpunk Festival's masquerade ball. Good fun, and I snapped a few pictures.

Instead of taking my time, excitement got the better part of my senses and I spent much of the last several days pulling together the new site. Most of Friday night and all of Saturday night were sacrificed.

Sunday has been a bit of a challenge. What with being out of steam (pun intended), running around helping friends with last minute emergencies before they head off into the desert, and sorting out a few technical issues, I had trouble keeping up at the Evil Party. But man, was it a great time - fun event, evil plots, creative dress by all in attendance, and wonderful tunes courtesy of the Evil Duke of Argylle (archduke?). While I did miss a few spots here and there, I did manage to snap a few great pics.