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!

Sense And Stability

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I’m very pleased to report that it looks like the Second Life Viewer 2.6.8 appears to be a stable release.

We (the SL residents who participate in testing and development, as well as Linden Lab staffers) put a lot of time into checking and testing viewers, and then reporting results and documenting any new or returning headaches, and it has been driving me crazy that with the last few releases, the person(s) responsible pull the trigger just a little too early, or they pick the wrong build number to bless as an official release. When that happens, it feels like SL is taking two steps forward, and then one or two steps back. I really don’t want to dish any dirt or get into the particulars, but let’s just say that there have been some challenges with the last few releases.

That said, I am very pleased to report that SL Viewer 2.6.8 appears to be a stable, solid release. Voice support in Basic mode is the only big feature (and that has little to no appeal to the existing SL user base), but in my opinion 2.6.8 is more of an interim release. After 6+ hours testing the release version, it appears stable and solid, and addresses the known serious problems with the previous versions. If you haven’t been riding along the crest of each new release, think of 2.6.8 as your ‘best-of’ update. It’s got the render engine overhaul (faster rezzing of textures), http inventory support (which means less lag and fewer failed teleports if you have a large SL inventory, as well as faster inventory load speeds), and of course let’s not forget avatar physics. Multi-wearables (multiple attachments per attachment point + multiple clothing items per clothing or tattoo layer) works beautifully, too. Check out the release notes for details on what’s changed, you’ll also find download links on the page.

FYI, I’ve run into a few people in-world lately who wish they could turn off the automatic download and update of the SL viewer. There’s a Preferences option for that! Go to Preferences -> Setup tab, and on the bottom of the screen you’ll see a drop-down menu for Software Updates. Change it from “Install Automatically” to “Download And Install Updates Manually” and you’re good to go. Now the Viewer will still notify you when a new release becomes available, but you can download and update at your convenience.

New 2011 iMacs and SL

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Apple just announced new iMacs yesterday, and I’ve already gotten tons of questions about the new machines and how they’d handle SL. In an effort to offer some more detailed information, and to save myself from having to type the same thing over and over again in chats and IM’s, I’m posting it here.

For those who don’t want to do much reading....


The new iMacs are awesome. Even the base model has a pretty powerful GPU, and the high end is a powerhouse.

And now for the detailed bit.


When you’re looking for any computer, there are 4 main components to consider: processor (CPU), graphics (GPU), memory, and storage. For Second Life, the two features to really pay attention to are the CPU & GPU. It’s not that memory and storage don’t matter at all, it’s just that SL doesn’t have demanding requirements in those areas, and just about any machine you could buy today will have the bases covered. Let’s take a look at each of the four components.

In the CPU department, even the base model iMac has more than enough horsepower to handle whatever Second Life can throw at it. On a machine with only 1-2 processor cores, you’d want to pay attention to the clock speed and look for something ideally 2.2GHz or higher. Anything less, and the machine would struggle to keep up with SL, and multi-tasking (switching between a few different programs) would likely cause problems (most likely in the form of freezes and crashes as your computer came up short on resources). But all these new machines all have quad-core chips that can easily handle Second Life as well as other applications you may be interested in using at the same time.

GPU is where most people have struggled in the past. iMacs (as well as other Macs and PC’s) from several years ago often struggled with running Second Life even with quality settings turned way down, and the culprit was almost always that the GPU was lacking. In 2006 and 2007 high performance graphics power was just starting to become available, so getting something that could do everything you wanted meant a very expensive graphics card that consumed a lot of power and generated a lot of heat. Things have improved greatly in the last few years, and in 2011 each of the choices is a powerhouse.

In case the brand name confuses you, ATI and AMD are one in the same. AMD bought ATI several years ago, and kept using the ATI brand name on the graphics cards and chips. Last year, they decided that it was finally time to retire the ATI name, and starting with the Radeon 6000 series, they would only use the AMD name. But it’s the same group of people behind the designs and the drivers. Since the launch of the Radeon 4000 series, AMD/ATI has been firing on all cylinders and really doing a great job with their products, and their latest generation of GPU’s is no exception.



The first thing to point out about the GPU’s in the new iMacs is the letter M. Each of the chips has an M in its name (6570M, 6770M, and 6970M) - what does that stand for and what does it mean? M is for mobile. It’s a version of the desktop chip that uses less power and generates less heat, designed for mobile computing. Why would Apple want to put a lower power laptop chip in a desktop? Very simple - heat. Using more power and generating more heat would mean you’d need a lot of cooling fans, and you’d need a bigger case design in order to get enough airflow around all the components to keep it from overheating. In 2011 low power doesn’t mean under-powered, and each of these packs quite a punch.

On the low end, you get the Radeon HD 6570M, the same chip that’s in the most powerful MacBook Pro. It packs 400 vertex shaders, 20 geometry shaders (that’s a lot, and more is always better), has an incredibly fast fill rate (how fast it can draw pixels and fill textures), and has 512MB of dedicated video memory (256MB of which you could use for SL, the other half would be reserved for Mac OS and other applications).

The mid-range machines (the ‘big’ 21.5 inch model and the ‘little’ 27.5 inch iMac) come with the Radeon 6770M, which adds 80 more vertex shaders and 4 more geometry shaders, and has an even faster fill rate. Most measurements put the 6770M at around 15-20% more power than the 6570M, making it a very nice upgrade. It’s also got 512MB of dedicated video memory (256MB of which you could use for SL, the other half would be reserved for Mac OS and other applications).

The high end 27 inch iMac comes packed with the Radeon HD 6970M, which is an incredible GPU. It has double the number of vertex & geometry shaders of the Radeon 6770M (960 vertex and 48 geometry), nearly double the fill rate, and it packs double the video memory at 1GB (letting you use the max of 512MB for Second Life, and still have plenty of video memory for the OS and other programs). Serious content creators can even optionally go for 2GB of video memory (SL will still max at using 512MB, but you’ll have an extra gigabyte of video memory for running graphics intensive programs like Photoshop, AfterEffects, Premiere, Blender, Maya, Cinema 4D, etc). This machine is quite a content creation powerhouse in its own right, actually packing more punch than a quad core Mac Pro from a couple years ago (in fact, the Radeon HD 6970M has more shaders, a faster fill rate, and double the video memory of the ATI Radeon HD 4870 card you could add as an upgrade at the time).

Click here for an ultra-nerdy technical comparison of the GPU’s, along with listings for nearly every AMD/ATI offering in the last decade.

Memory is a much smaller issue these days, both because Macs come with plenty and because Macs handle memory fairly well. All the new iMacs come with 4GB standard, and can be upgraded to 16GB. 4GB is more than enough to run SL as well as a few background apps, but if you do a lot of multi-tasking, and like to have beefy apps like Photoshop running in the background, I’d strongly consider the upgrade to 8GB. If you do a lot of video production work or are a serious SL content creator (who would likely be getting more involved in 3D rendering over the next couple years, if you aren’t already working with it) you may want to consider stepping up to 16GB, but 90% of even the biggest SL ‘power users’ won’t need to go beyond 8GB.

Storage is almost a non-issue. Second Life doesn’t take up much disk space, and even the smallest 2011 iMac has enough room to install a copy of every viewer you could ever want to run many times over. The major decision to make with the new machines is whether you want an SSD or not. SSD’s use flash memory for storage (like an iPad or iPhone), and load much more quickly than a hard drive. How much more quickly? On a machine that would normally take 30 seconds to go from the power completely off to being completely loaded and ready to run at your desktop, an SSD cuts that time down to 15 seconds. An SSD doesn’t make your CPU or GPU or memory work any faster, but because it can get to the files stored on it almost instantly, you end up with faster performance in just about everything. SL users who’ve made the switch from hard drive to SSD (or use an SSD and a hard disk) report an increase of around 5 fps (frames per second) in Second Life. SSD’s are a lot more expensive than hard drives, so depending on your budget you may or may not want to go that route just yet.

That covers the four components, and I think you’ll agree the new machines have a lot to offer.

But what about shadows?


The short answer: Not yet. Shadows (and the newer depth-of-field feature) are still considered experimental in Second Life (click here to see a video that shows dynamic shadows and depth-of-field in SL). In the earliest stages, they only worked with a limited number of nVidia graphics cards, and not at all on any Mac (regardless of the video card). But with the release of Viewer 2.3 last fall, Mac users with nVidia cards finally got working dynamic shadows, projected lights, global illumination, depth-of-field, and other cool ‘bleeding edge’ SL features. Linden Lab has continued to hammer away at it, and does have plans to get shadows working for ATI users as well. They’re finally working for some PC users (and should work on the new iMacs running Windows under boot camp), and in the not-too-distant future I hope to see an SL update that adds dynamic shadow support for ATI users.

New Basic Avatars in Second Life

Short clip showing all the new 'default' avatars available in Second Life's basic mode, plus a couple extras! 12 male and 12 female looks to get you started. And then go beyond basic and switch to Advanced mode, where you can get free clothes and gifts (like the Tramontane Outfit shown in the clip) or go shopping for other great looks (like the Swashbuckler Pirate Outfit at the end of the video).

The video has a slight promotional vibe to it, though that wasn’t necessarily the initial intention. My original plan was to create something that shows new folks and the existing SL user base (and content creators) what the new residents are getting ‘out of the box’ now. Linden Lab has definitely stepped up the game, the new basic avatars are amazing. It also teases new residents that much more is possible, it they’re willing to ‘go beyond basic’ and jump into advanced mode.

Avatar Physics in Second Life Viewer 2.6.3

Demonstration showing how Advanced Avatar Physics works in Second Life, Viewer 2.6.3 (and later). Great controls, easy to use, and respects your privacy and personal settings - awesome! Dress worn: Fiorente Gown in red (with the included short skirt option). Music: "In Chaos (Paper Crows Remix)" by Strangers.

Another Multi-Wearables Clip

BlakOpal demonstrates Multi-Wearables in Second Life. Multiple attachments and multiple layers has been supported in the SL Viewer 2.x since last summer, and is an great feature for customizing the look of your avatar. Demonstration features the Josephine Outfit. Music: "The Gallery" by Muse.


Multi-Wearables In Second Life

Video demonstrating Multi-Wearables in Second Life. Multiple attachments and multiple layers has been supported in the SL Viewer 2.x since last summer, and is an great feature for customizing the look of your avatar. Demonstration features the Josephine Outfit. Music: "Bad Wings (Deru Remix)" by The Glitch Mob, original version appears on the album Drink The Sea.

Logging In To Favorite Locations

This video shows you how to configure your Viewer (2.5 and later) so you can log directly into Second Life at one of your favorite locations. Great new feature! The music is a track called "Cinder Core" by Tipper, from his excellent album Broken Soul Jamboree.

Video from the Steam Santa Ball

Here’s a video I shot from the 3rd Annual Steam Santa Ball, held at Piermont Landing on the 18th of December, 2010. Hosted by Miss Breezy Carver (author of Virtually Classic Fashion), with music at the event provided by DJ Bats Enoch. And a special holiday appearance by Steam Santa and the Boiler Elf. I wish I could have gotten even better footage (smoother animation, fewer gray textures, etc), but it was a busy event (more than 60 avatars at a couple points there), and there were a number of additional technical considerations (ranging from drivers and bug-chasing to my still researching and learning how to optimize my settings at large events). All things considered, I’m pleased with what I was able to capture from a really terrific evening. You can click here to see a great series of photos taken by Miss Bookworm Heinrichs. Music is "Deep Inside (VIP Mix)" by Future Funk Squad. It’s an unreleased version, but you can get the original (and a bunch of other great tracks) on the album Audio Damage.

Viewer 2.4 Immersion Improvements

Here’s a video that shows some of the features in Second Life Viewer 2.4. Nice immersion improvements, like better support for custom sea levels on private regions and new preferences settings to let you customize how the Viewer works for you. The music is a track called "Cinder Core" by Tipper, from his excellent album Broken Soul Jamboree.

Visit The Vernian Sea in SL

FAQ: Buying Gifts

Short video explaining how to buy an item as a gift from BlakOpal vendors. Music: "Big Question Small Head" by Tipper. No, the song title isn’t any kind of insult to customers, it’s just a great song off of Tipper’s new album “Broken Soul Jamboree” that works nicely in the background. The avatar in the video is our shoppe model Opalnera Bolissima, an ‘alt’ account that we use for photoshoots. This will hopefully come in handy for new residents and people who are new to our shoppe.

FAQ: Making Purchases

Short video explaining how to make purchases from BlakOpal vendors, and how to open a package. Music: "Big Question Small Head" by Tipper. No, the song title isn’t any kind of insult to customers, it’s just a great song off of Tipper’s new album “Broken Soul Jamboree” that works nicely in the background. The avatar in the video is our shoppe model Opalnera Bolissima, an alt account that we use for photoshoots. I know this info may seem obvious for many SL veterans, but will hopefully come in handy for new residents and people who are new to our shoppe.

Bundle Up For Winter!

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For a little fun, we’ve created a winter-themed mini-shop called Bundle Up. It features our winter clothes, holiday items, and seasonal freebies all in one spot, and helps us to add a bit more to our lovely little island of Reachra. As gifts, we’re offering our winter scarf and gloves as well as this beautiful sculpted holiday gnome (see below). Bundle Up is located just down the street from our Main Store, but you can click here to visit the shop directly.

Gnome-tastic

Depth-Of-Field in Mesh Project Viewer

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Recent builds of the Mesh Project Viewer beta have been including another surprise for users with nVidia GPU’s (well, the 9xxx series and above). Depth-Of-Field! You may have seen pictures like the one above in blogs and on the internet before, but those involved someone working on the SL snapshot after they took it... but now it’s happening in real-time in the viewer!

Admittedly, it may not be something you use every day, and it is still VERY MUCH in an early beta stage. But it’s definitely got a certain wow factor, and made exploring the beta grid a lot of fun.

For those who head over to see for themselves, first make sure to download the latest Mesh Project Viewer. While you’re checking it out, there are three Debug settings to play with that give you some control on how the feature works... CameraCoC, CameraFNumber, and CameraFocalLength. For more info and details, you can check out the SL WIKI!

OpenSource Obscure has put together a great clip showing the new feature in action, check it out below

Super-charge your SL Viewer with Draw Distance Slider and About Land/Advanced Sky buttons!

Tutorial guiding through the process of adding controls for Draw Distance, About Land, and Advanced Sky to SL Viewer 2.x. Has also been tested with Snowglobe 2,x and Kirsten's S20 Viewers.

XML file can be downloaded here

This tutorial is done on Mac OS, but it works on other operating systems! Windows users, place the XML file in the skins\default\xui\en subdirectory from where you have your Viewer installed.

XML code based on tips and tricks from residents Opensource Obscure and Hitomi Tiponi (based on an original idea by Avi Arrow). Shot on location in Second Life at Caledon Oxbridge Village. Music: "The Alienist" by Random Rab.

FREE Boots Upgrade!

After extensive testing and tinkering, we've upgraded several pairs of boots to make use of Viewer 2.x’s Alpha Layer technology. Using the avatar Alpha Layer, we can make awesome boots that don’t need invisi-prim scripts, and look great on any surface (no more alpha glitch issues when walking on certain textured surfaces or flying over water). The video below explains alpha layers in our new boots.



You can get your upgraded boots FREE using the terminal at our Main Store, located just inside the entrance (additional terminals are at the back of the store). Touch the terminal, and select your boots from the list.

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Which boots have been upgraded?

Laced Boots For Men
Laced Boots For Ladies
Laced Spike-Heel Boots For Ladies
Riveted Low Boots
Rogue Lady Pirate Boots
Sculpted Riding Boots

(Sculpted Riding Boots were re-textured/re-sculpted as well)

What if some of my boots/shoes aren't on the list?


That means they did not use invisi-prim scripts, and did not need an upgrade.

What if I got my boots from the SL Marketplace/XStreet?


Please send a notecard to TriloByte Zanzibar and he'll be happy to assist as soon as possible.

What if I have trouble using the Redelivery Terminal?


Please send a notecard to TriloByte Zanzibar and he'll be happy to assist as soon as possible.

Improve Sculpty Performance

A quick tutorial explaining how to improve sculpty performance in Second Life. This tutorial applies to all versions of the Second Life as well as other third party viewers.

Please note, if your computer has Intel integrated graphics or you are using a netbook, DO NOT make changes to the default settings.

Music: "Throbbin' The Light" by Quade.

Videos and Tutorials

Over the summer, one of the things I got started with was creating a BlakOpal Designs channel on Youtube. The intention was that we would produce short clips showing some of our outfits in motion. Sometimes the sign in a vendor or the still pictures in a notecard or on a web site just aren’t enough, and this would give shoppers a way to get a better idea of how the outfit looks in-world. Beyond that, we hoped to be able to put together some short tutorials and demonstrations, with the goal of sharing tips and tricks we’ve picked up along the way.

The plan was that I’d post blog entries here when new tutorial videos were added, but I’ve been slacking. But now that I’ve gotten the site redesigned and updated, it’s time to start getting caught up. Over the next several blog posts you can expect to see links and video embeds on the tutorials we’ve already made available, and moving forward I hope to keep things up-to-date.

In Motion

It’s been a long time since my last post, but there have been some good reasons for it. I have been buried in a number of projects, and couldn’t be happier about it. Some projects can’t be discussed at all under the terms of Non-Disclosure Agreements, while others have either partial NDA’s or aren’t governed by legalese at all. While that may sound like it would be confusing or limiting/frustrating, it’s something I’ve grown accustomed to over many years working in the tech & entertainment industries in RL. Posts that effectively say “ha ha I know something you don’t know but I’m not going to tell you” aren’t any fun to read, so let me focus on what I can talk about, it’s pretty exciting stuff.

We’ve created a Youtube Channel for BlakOpal Designs. I was opposed to the idea for a long time, since BlakOpal and I each have our own accounts (here and here) and don’t really make any effort to keep our RL and SL separate. We’re real people, we spend time in SL. To me, the idea of creating a separate account just for our Second Life-related videos seemed like it was building a wall between the two and not something I wanted to spend any time and energy on.


What changed my mind, and made me suddenly rush out and create an account for the shoppe? The new SL Marketplace. I can share that I’ve been working with Linden Lab since springtime to help develop and test the new site (more on that in the coming weeks), and one of the features that intrigued us both was support for product videos. Of course, the existing site allows you to include a link to a product video (and we’ve done that with a few outfits), but with the new site the plans are to take things further.

In the initial phase (where we are now), merchants can post the link to the video clip they have posted on a site like Youtube or Vimeo, and the site will display the link at the bottom of the listing. Customers can then click the link, and it opens a new browser window on the video page. The next phase (which will likely happen within a few months of the Markeplace beta wrapping up) will see the videos go from being links to being embedded right on the product listing page. Sounds like such a small thing, but I think that’s going to be huge! A third phase (which is much further out and is still in development) would hopefully function as a sort of like a home shopping channel showcasing some of the wondrous creations in SL. People would be able to browse and skip through SL videos and click on over to the product listing if they like something they see.

No, I’m not embracing it as any kind of get rich quick scheme. First, there’s nothing quick about it, and second, I doubt it will lead to any kind of riches. We’ve posted and linked some videos of outfits before, and while we’ve enjoyed making them and people have enjoyed seeing them, they haven’t caused sales to skyrocket. BlakOpal and I think it will be a lot of fun, and make for an even better experience on the new marketplace.

Ideally, we’d like to have a video for each of the items in the shoppe. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Yeah, well as it turns out we now have over 250 items - that’s a lot of videos! Aside from the work that will go into shooting, editing, posting, and linking each of the pieces, it becomes an issue of bombing our individual Youtube accounts with videos that the average person might find a bit boring. Enter the BlakOpal Designs Youtube Channel. A perfect place for us to post shoppe-related videos.

The product videos will be fairly basic. Aside from having a lot of videos to produce, I want to avoid using glitz and effects to make the outfits seem better or more exciting than they are. No camera tricks, no fixing texture or alpha glitches in post production, no color correction... none of that. Each piece will consist of a few shots that show the outfit ‘in motion’, and possibly show some close-ups of the outfit’s details. The clips will be set to music not only so we can share some music we love, but also showcase the work of my RL friends/artists/producers. If you like what you hear, please check the description for credits and support the artists.

Over most of the last year or so BlakOpal and I have been slowly upgrading our studio setup, which is helping to make this project come together much more smoothly. We’ve got the hardware, software, network, and storage capacity for the job, it’s now just a matter of time for me to go through all our outfits and get something put together.


Space Navigator



Following the advice of a friend, BlakOpal picked up a 3D Connexion Space Navigator to use as a tool for filming and recording video in Second Life. While it doesn’t do any of the recording, it serves as a 3-dimensional camera control within SL. It’s a weird little device, but after tinkering around with the settings and playing around with it in-world it’s become an indispensable part of her SL-related gear. Even though she does the majority of the filming (so far, anyway), I kept finding myself sneaking over to her desk and grabbing the controller and experimenting with it on my system. I also started to notice that support for it was popping up in applications like Motion (part of Final Cut Studio), Adobe Creative Suite, and even Maya.

With the advent of the new machine, it was high time I went out and got one for myself. While I suppose I could have set up my own custom settings on my machine during any of the times I borrowed BlakOpal’s controller over the last year, I didn’t. Now, of course, it was time to remedy that. My first stop was the Second Life Wiki page devoted to the device, which has solid info, tutorials, and links.

My next step was to just spend some time fiddling around in SL, playing with the numbers, and coming up with some settings that felt comfortable for the way I use the controller. For those of you either considering a Space Navigator or new to the device yourself, let me share my findings with you in the hopes of saving you some time or helping you to get started. In Second Life Viewer 2, press cmd-P (ctrl-P in Windows) to bring up Preferences, and then click on the Advanced tab. There, you’ll see a button marked Other Devices. Click on that to bring up the joystick configuration screen. You can use all kinds of joysticks and controllers with SL, and this is the screen where you configure how they work. My advice is to do a screen capture before making any changes (in case you need to restore it back to this point), and then start playing around. If you’re not sure where to start, you can check out the screen shot below - it’s the settings I’m currently using.



There’s another neat trick I picked up that you might want to try - setting up a macro. With a little bit of playing around, I’ve been able to combine all the shortcut keys I need to use to hide not only my HUDs but my entire SL user interface into one button click on the Space Navigator. Windows users will want to check with the 3D Connexion web site for details on where to go and how to do that, but for Mac users it’s pretty easy. Running System Preferences in Mac OS, you should find an icon along the bottom row for 3D Connexion. Click it, then click on the Buttons tab. Next. click the Custom Functions button, and you’ll see a screen like the one below.



It’s blank to start with, but by clicking on the + sign next to Macros, you’ll be able to type in a name. I used “SL UI Toggle” and then entered what you see above in the notes. Now, next to Macro Steps: you want to click on the + button twice, to make two steps. In the first step, click and hold in the left column to see the drop-down menu, and choose Keystroke. Then double click in the column to the right and press the fn-ctrl-option-cmd-F1 keys all at once (depending on which machine you’re using, that’s either a handful or nearly impossible to pull off). If you got it right, it’ll look like what I have above. Line 2 is much easier. Again, click and hold to get the drop-down and choose Keystroke for the left side, then double click and press option-shift-H. Just like before, if you got it right your screen will look like what I have above. The first shortcut combo tells Second Life to hide all the User Interface elements, and the second combo tells SL to hide any of your HUDs. While some people prefer to leave HUDs turned on, for me they get in the way and putting the shortcut in here lets me take care of both in one step. Now you can click on Done to close the Custom Functions dialog. Back in the Buttons tab of the 3D Connexion preferences screen, click on the drop-down menu for Configure: and choose Any Application (if it’s not already selected). Then click in the drop-down next to the letter R and choose “SL UI Toggle” from the list. Finally (whew!) click the OK button in the bottom right.



The screen shot above is what the window looks like (running Second Life 2.1, other viewers/versions may vary slightly). If you got the shortcut set up properly, you should be able to click once on the right button of the Space Navigator, and your SL window will look like the one below.



That’s it! The Space Navigator’s left button defaults to turn on/off the ‘joystick flycam’ mode (so your camera can move independently of your avatar), and with the right button you now have one-click access to show/hide all the SL elements that you don’t want to have on screen when you’re filming or recording.

Construction Time Again

Nothing specific to report, but a whole has been going on. For starters, I’ve updated the software and most of the plugins that are used in the creation of this site. Additionally, Adobe has finally released the long-awaited update to their Creative Suite family (BlakOpal and I both use Adobe apps extensively for RL and SL projects). Aside from simply updating what we use, I’ve been looking to expand my horizons on programs I use for RL projects, and I’ve been making use of some of the excellent courseware at Lynda.com to help.

I’ve also had my hands full with testing other assorted pieces of software, the details of which I’m not liberty to get into. SL-wise, I’ve had great results using both Snowglobe 2.x and Kirsten’s S20 viewers, in addition to the official viewer. I’d also like to point out that, contrary to the spreaders of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (or FUDdites as I prefer to call them), the 2.x viewers are not completely unusable for builders and content creators. Once you take a little time to get acclimated, they’re fine. I’m actually at the point where I prefer them to 1.x viewers.

I’ve also gotten lots of shopkeeper stuff done lately, as well. Servers and vendors have all been recently updated, and have better SL region communications than ever. I’ve also had some fun with a number of construction projects, ranging from designing a bunch of row shops, a complete re-work of our space in New Babbage, re-doing the landscaping on Reachra, setting up a new shoppe building, and playing around with a few other primmy projects that haven’t yet made it down to ground level. We’ve also just opened up locations in Sapphire City, at The Carrington in Seraph City, and Triborough NY, and there are some exciting new outfits on the horizon too. On top of that, we’re gearing up for the International Fashion Fair and a major upgrade of the XStreet shopping experience (seriously, it is about to get much more awesome).

One thing we don’t have coming up in the weeks ahead is the SL7B celebration. Yes, we’ll both probably be there during the event, but we’ve decided not to apply for a build site. The parcel sizes and prim limits are much smaller than last year, and realistically we don’t have the time and resources to start the process from scratch and come up with something that we’re both excited about. We think sitting this one out is the right thing to do, and we look forward to future large scale community events that we will have the opportunity to participate in.

As I work, I find myself occasionally taking lots of snapshots and screen grabs (either for my own purposes or to share with BlakOpal). This post seems like as good a place as any to share some of my favorites from the last few weeks.


































Acceptable Violations?

By most accounts, people are very concerned about their privacy these days. Specifically, they don’t want people violating it. I can’t say that I blame them. While I don’t lead any kind of ‘secret internet double life’ (I’m known by Trilo in RL), I do like to keep my personal account details to myself. I don’t want to have others automatically creating accounts in my name on other web sites, putting me on mailing lists without my permission, sending me promotional offers, or getting at personal data that could help them steal my identity.

There have been two major breaches of privacy within the metaverse in the last few weeks, and I’m a little surprised that more people aren’t up in arms about it. Almost hilariously, more people are expressing militant outrage about changes to the LL viewer’s UI than they are about very serious and real violations of thousands of users’ privacy by organizations that really should know better.

The first one was with the SL Bloggers Ning site (no link, it’s not a public group and you don’t want to risk signing up). The backstory is that Ning.com recently announced the failure of their ad-supported business model. Ad clicks weren’t paying the bills, and they’ve been losing money on the free Ning sites hand over fist. To change course and save their company, they recently announced that they’ll be shutting down the myriad of free Ning sites (inciting civil unrest amongst those who feel entitled to something for nothing). They of course do offer a few reasonably priced premium Ning site upgrade options, enabling those who believe in the communities they’ve built to stay the course (or even improve service & remove unwanted ads). The leader/founder of the SL Bloggers Ning chose the option of moving to another free social networking site and starting over. The problem, apparently, is that she didn’t want to start over. And Group.ly, the new service provider, was so eager to build up its user base that they went to the length of providing tools to help violate members’ privacy. What they did was create and use a tool to scoop all the SL Blogger ning account info (at the very least user names and email addresses, though more data could have been mined) to populate a new SL Bloggers social network on Group.ly’s site. That’s right, without having given permission of any kind, SL Bloggers Ning site members now suddenly found themselves with accounts on some completely different social networking site. Even worse, it all went horribly wrong, and literally overnight the members found themselves being sent between dozens and hundreds of unsolicited emails. I’ll link you to a blog post about the aftermath, but not to either Ning’s or Group.ly’s sites, seeing as right now one of the last things you want is to have an account on either one of those sites. Ning’s user account info needs to be more secure, and Group.ly shouldn’t even be attempting such an underhanded way to grow its user base. And shame on the SL Bloggers’ founder who made the decision to use those tools. While she may have had honorable intentions (keeping her community together during a transition), she completely failed to think about the privacy implications or consider the best interests of the members of that community. The strangest part of it all (at least to me) is that more people aren’t outraged about it. Some folks have expressed anger and frustration about Group.ly’s handling of it all, but hardly anybody seems to care that they made such a tool in the first place, or that Ning’s user account info is so easily scooped by third parties, or that the person they trusted to lead their community would act so thoughtlessly.

The second one, which seems far more sinister, concerns Modular Systems, the makers of the Emerald Viewer. It has recently come out that Modular Systems has been involved in data mining. In a nutshell, they’ve been compiling a list of avatar names, IP addresses, and other information about users without their permission, for whatever reason. This information only became known because their site was hacked and someone got that list. It has now been posted on file sharing sites, there is no way to get that data off the internet now. Regardless of how evil or wrong the hacker(s) were who broke into their site and accessed/copied that private info... Modular Systems should never have been compiling it!!! It is important to point out that:
  • The data that’s been leaked & published appears to have not been a list of users of the Emerald Viewer.
  • You have no way of knowing that Modular Systems is not similarly tracking & logging data for all Emerald Users without their permission, for whatever purposes they choose. Modular Systems has already clearly demonstrated both a lack of respect for user privacy and a lack of website security.
I’m completely baffled as to why people (particularly Emerald users) would not be paranoid and outraged over this. There’s a good chance Modular Systems is compiling that data (even if under the guise of helping to craft a better performing viewer, it’s still wrong), and it’s also entirely possible that they could fall victim to another hack in the future. My advice to anyone who’s ever used that Viewer: Go change your account password on the official Second Life site now (for all your accounts if you have/use alts), and never use the Emerald Viewer (or any viewer from Modular Systems) again. No amount of extra attachment points, temporary uploads, sim-lagging radar functions, or boob jiggling is worth the risk of having personal details of your accounts published online. In my opinion, Linden Lab should not only seriously reconsider allowing Modular Systems to sign up new Second Life accounts on its site, they should think long and hard about allowing them to be on the Third Party Viewer directory.

Ultimately, of course, people are free to make whatever personal decisions they like about privacy and security. It just seems surprising that at a time when sites like Google and Facebook are being taken to task for what they do with user/customer data that these fixtures of the metaverse are getting away with the things they do.

New MacBook Pros and SL

Earlier today, Apple released new MacBook Pro computers. For the benefit of anyone considering a new system anytime in the near future, it's probably worth talking something they never seem to mention in the reviews.... how they'll handle SL.

Processor-wise, there isn't a whole lot to note. I'm of the opinion that once you get to a 2.4GHz or faster CPU, you have more than enough CPU power to run Second Life. Since the least powerful machine in the new lineup is at 2.4GHz, you can't really go wrong.

Of course faster doesn't hurt, and if you're considering running SL and other apps simultaneously, you'll definitely want to get one of the Core i5 or Core i7 models. All the machines have 2 processor cores, but the Core i5/i7 have two key features: hyper-threading (which creates twice as many virtual cores and really helps when multi-tasking) and turbo boost (which can at times concentrate power into fewer cores and give you a significant speed boost). Sounds nerdy, but the features don't require any input on your end and you just get better performance.

Memory-wise, you should be good to go. All the machines come with 4GB standard, which is more than enough to run SL and a few other apps. Better still, the machines can be expanded to 8GB (either right out of the box for serious power users or as a future upgrade for most users).

Graphics-wise, this is where it matters the most. The GPU (graphics processing unit) is where most machines (Macs as well as PC's and Linux boxes) struggle the most with SL. The 13-inch MacBook Pro's come with the nVidia GT320M integrated GPU. Like the 9400m chip that was in the entry-level MacBook Pro line before it, this does not have dedicated video memory, and instead makes use of your system RAM for SL textures and the like. While this isn't going to give you ideal performance, it's great bang-for-the-buck. The nVidia 9400m chip did a good job with SL, and the testing and benchmarks that have been done on the new GT320M chip are showing that it's 80% faster than the 9400m. Cool!

On the 15 and 17 inch MacBook Pro's, you get a 1-2 punch of graphical awesome. When Apple released the aluminum unibody MacBook Pro's at the end of 2008, one of the key features was two GPU's. You had both the nVidia 9400m integrated GPU, and the more powerful nVidia 9600m GT. Choosing the lower powered chip gave you an extra hour of battery life, and choosing the more powerful GPU gave you much better fps in SL. The only down-side was that switching between one and the other meant rebooting - not exactly convenient. With the new machines you not only don't have to reboot, you don't even have to choose. When you start running a graphically intensive app, the system switches over. When you quit, it shuts it down and goes back to the lower power chip. Awesome.

The chips themselves are impressive. For the integrated chip, Apple has gone back to Intel. While most Mac users will cringe at the mention of "Intel Integrated Graphics" - this is completely different. In the past, Apple used Intel's 'GMA' technology, which struggled to handle SL (to put it kindly). Since then, Intel has gone back to the drawing board a few times, and the current Intel HD Graphics appear to have a lot of great features. Hardware support for HD video scaling/resizing and H.264 video decoding, and the ability to use up to 1.70GB of system memory for shared video (aka texture) memory, up from 0.25GB in the past. On the higher end, Apple is using the nVidia GT330M GPU which features 256MB (on the base model 15-inch) or 512MB (on all the others) dedicated video memory and a whopping 48 cores. Looking at benchmarks, the GT330M has just about double the graphics power of the the best MacBook Pro available up to September 2008, and a third more powerful than the best aluminum unibody MacBook Pro that were available through yesterday. Despite all the added power, the automatic battery switching technology and other improvements results in a longer battery life - a full hour longer than the previous models.

If you use Adobe's professional apps (Photoshop, AfterEffects, etc), you'll reap some huge benefits when you upgrade to the just-announced CS5 versions, which not only fully supports 64-bit on Mac but can also put those 48 cores to use in cranking through your renders and other processor intensive tasks.

What might be the most awesome SL-related feature, though, is SHADOWS. While dynamic shadows is still in its earliest stages, it's something most (if not all) of us are interested in. At present, shadows aren't possible on the Mac with an ATI card. Not ATI's fault, just that the software support isn't there yet. Shadows are possible on the nVidia side, but in my tests the 9600m GT in my aluminum unibody just wasn't quite powerful enough to get the job done. There is a very good chance that shadows will work out of the box on the new 15-inch and 17-inch MacBook Pro systems. I'll keep my eyes open in the Macintosh User's Group and other spots, and report back/update once I can confirm whether they work or not. UPDATE! The new machines are currently unable to render shadows using a Second Life Viewer on the Mac. As with many other Macintosh models, this does not appear to be a hardware limitation as much as a software/driver limitation.

The new machines have several additional new features and options available, but that’s getting beyond the scope of this post (I’ll leave it to you to go check out Apple’s site or visit an Apple store and see for yourself). The new hardware represents a significant boost in performance over the machines they replace, and it looks like they’re going to do a great job running Second Life.

Second Life on iPad?

Folks have been wondering about running Second Life on an iPad since before Apple formally announced the device back in January. And now that iPad (and over 3,000 iPad-specific apps) are out on the market (in the US, anyways), it’s time to revisit the question. Can you use Second Life on an iPad?

Yes. There are two different ways of going about it.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll point out that I do not yet have an iPad. While I would love to tell you I’m holding out for the 3G model or some future version of the device, we have some other financial priorities and my iPad purchase is still several months away. Hopefully BlakOpal will be able to get one by summertime.

One is through remote access. In a nutshell, the program you run on the iPad is an app that lets you access a desktop or laptop computer that is running somewhere. Currently there are a number of remote access applications for iPad, with LogMeIn Ignition receiving high marks from some (a ‘first look’ review can be found here). Remote access does have its drawbacks. First, you’ve got to have a computer connected to the internet somewhere (of course, since you use Second Life you probably already have that), and second, you’ll need a fast connection for your iPad. Streaming what the SL viewer app sees on your desktop/laptop and your pointing and clicking on the iPad back to your computer will use a lot of internet bandwidth, and most likely choke on a 3G connection. But if you’re on a wifi network, things should be okay. They’ll be more sluggish than as if you were sitting directly in front of your full-powered PC, but it will work. Probably not the sort of thing you want to do if you plan on going in-world to fly airships or stage battles with friends, but for casual SL use, socializing, and even shopping a remote access application should be up to the task.



The other way to access Second Life on an iPad is through an app. Linden Lab does not have an iPhone or iPad Viewer (though that would be great to see), but there is a program out there. Pocket Metaverse and the premium version Pocket Metaverse Pro currently runs on iPhone, iPod Touch, and on iPads (since the iPad runs all the iPhone apps) and lets you do a lot of stuff. IM’s and chats, teleport, access your inventory, and even upload photos. And it works reasonably well even on a 3G mobile connection. Even better, the makers of Pocket Metaverse Pro have recently announced (via their Twitter account) that their iPad version (as well as the next bugfix release of the regular app) is coming soon. No word yet on what additional features or functionality the iPad version will offer, but even if all they do is optimize the layout and improve the graphics for iPad’s larger display it’s going to be a hit.

Are there any full-on 3D graphical SL Viewers for iPad? Not yet. But it’s still early - very early, in the product’s life. While iPhones have been on the market for a few years now, they’ve lacked the computing power to handle a fully functional viewer. Let’s face it, if full-powered laptops and desktops can sometimes struggle with Second Life, getting SL to run on a phone would be near impossible. On the back-end of things, each successive iPhone has been faster than the last. With the iPhone 3GS, speeds are around 50% faster than 2008’s iPhone 3G. iPad performance is about double that of the 3GS, and it’s well within the device’s capacity to render SL at up to 1024x768. It’s just a question of time before a native 3D graphical Viewer becomes available.

Viewer 2 Released

For your information, Viewer 2 was officially released today. If you care to download it, you can get it here. Fear not, it's not a mandatory upgrade by any means (it will likely be another 4-6 months before support for 1.x viewers is discontinued - by that time any of the third-party Viewers will have most likely updated to remain compliant).

Probably the first thing to know about the 2.0 Viewer is that the overhaul was geared towards making some desperately needed improvements for new and first-time users. This is because something on the order of 90% of the people who had bothered to sign up to SL, download the software, and log in never ever came back. From a UI design and business standpoint, that's just plain tragic. The continued existence, as well as success and growth of LL's business depends on improving that number.

Does this mean that LL doesn't care about those of us who are already in-world? Of course not, that would be stupid. Just about everyone benefits from LL improving that number, too. For merchants and land baron types, it means more potential customers to do business with. For artists and creators with no commercial inclinations, it means more people will get to see and experience your creations. For RP/gamers, it means more people to play with. For those here purely for social purposes, it means the party will get bigger.

Knowing that puts the rest of it all into much-needed perspective. With that said, let me talk about the new Viewer. For experienced users, it will likely be disorienting and confusing at first. The look of the interface has changed, and buttons and controls are in different places than they used to be. Have patience, you'll get used to it in less time than you think.



My impression of the re-work is that they went for a decidedly more browser-like feel. I think that's a good thing - just about everyone using the internet is already familiar with a web browser. The chat/communications functions appear to take cues from sites like Facebook. Complain all you like about Facebook, but with 400 million users worldwide there's something to be said for using what people probably already know how to use. While it's different from the 1.x Viewer, it's not that hard to get used to. Small square icons along the bottom right of the window represent any open group chat windows or IM's, along with a "conversation feed" (that tallies up the # of unread msgs) and "notifications feed" (that tallies up and organizes notification windows). A yellow dot on a button indicates that there's something unread. Gone are the annoying blue boxes in the top left corner. Click a button, the window opens up. Click away and the window is minimized. Or click another button and it swaps windows. You can 'tear away' the chat/IM window if you like, just click and drag it.

While I don't intend to walk through the entire viewer in this post I felt it was important to point out the above since in my experience over the last month that's what people seem to have the most trouble with. You do have the option of switching back to IM's in tabs (making the change requires a restart), but my advice is to have some patience and give it a little time. During my first experience I just didn't like it at all. The next couple sessions weren't so difficult - I felt like a traveler changing trains at an unfamiliar station, not quite sure what track I was on or how to find the platform. Soon after (in my case, once I made the Facebook connection) it started to make a lot more sense. Now I'm at the point where I miss the ease of use and functionality when I jump back to using Snowglobe 1.x for any reason.

During your first session, you'll want to give yourself a little extra time, as you'll likely need to re-adjust any custom settings you've made in the past. While it appears to try and retain most of your preferences, some things needed to be re-set. Viewer 2 was certainly usable the first time I ran it, but I prefer twisting some of the knobs and adjusting the dials to improve performance on my system and get it configured to my taste. For the more technically-minded user, a page of tweaks is available on the Second Life Wiki.

Permissions Glitchery

There have been a few incidents recently involving residents experiencing problems with permissions on objects they’ve created. It is extremely frustrating - you’ve been tinkering along on a project not just for hours, but days, weeks, or even months and then one day, inexplicably, you find that you no longer have permission to modify it. Across the grid, it’s led folks to curse, scream, shake fists in the air, bang on keyboards, and in a few cases just plain throw in the towel and leave Second Life in disgust.

I can certainly relate - I’ve had it happen with a few builds and projects over the last year. In an effort to help others and raise some awareness so that maybe it eases frustrations, I figured I’d share what I’ve learned so far about the issue.

First and foremost, I believe the problem to be a glitch in the server software. It isn’t some secret piece of Linden malware, and it’s not something anyone at Linden Lab is actively doing to ruin your day/week/life. I point that out because talking to folks in-world and reading posts on forums it seems LL employees are unfairly vilified, and I don’t think that’s helpful. While they don’t prioritize the things I wish they would on a lot of occasions, the people I’ve had occasion to meet are generally hard-working and trying to make SL a better place. That said, let’s talk more about the glitch.

What happens is that occasionally during a rolling restart, the sim applies what are called ‘next owner’ permissions on some or all of the prims that are rezzed on that sim. I say some or all because I’ve heard varying reports. Personally I’ve only experienced it happening to some of my objects, but others have had wholesale problems. Being a proper glitch, it’s sporadic and random like that. It also doesn’t appear to affect all residents or all regions at once.



What exactly does that mean? If you build things in Second Life, it means that you run the risk of losing full permission/control over your creations. When you rez a prim in Second Life, the object has default ‘next owner’ permissions of no modify, no copy, and transfer (as seen in the image above). You can bend it, twist it, shape it, link it, and even script it. But when you sell or give that object to someone else, that next owner will not be able to modify or make copies. They can sell or give the item away, but they can’t make changes. The glitch effectively locks you out of your own creations!



To safeguard your creations, I recommend that builders take a couple precautions. First, change the perms on your prims when you rez them. As soon as you see that plywood prim, click the general tab of the Build menu and check the Modify, Copy, and Transfer boxes. This way, should the unthinkable happen on one of your builds or a work-in-progress, you’ll still have full permissions on your creation. Second, back up your work. Well, back it up at least within the scope of SL. That part’s easy - just select the item and take a copy into your inventory. While it can be a bit tedious or take a while to get into the habit of doing that, it’s far less painful than getting locked out of your own work. Use the same rule of thumb for backing up SL builds as for backing up your computer data.... You don’t have to back up everything - just the stuff you want to keep.

It’s worth pointing out that setting an item’s ‘next owner’ perms does not mean that anybody can take their own full permissions copies of your work. If you look closely at the image above, you’ll see a separate checkbox that allows you to set whether anyone can copy your object. Once you’re finished with your creation and ready to give or sell the item, you can then modify the ‘next owner’ permissions to be whatever you’d like, and then you’re good to go. In an ideal world, bugs and glitches in computer code could be instantly found and someone could get that problem resolved and we’d never need to take precautionary steps or make backup copies - but as it stands we aren’t there yet.


When Sculpties Attack

Sculpties can be a great building tool in Second Life, particularly when you need to create organic shapes that may either not be possible with conventional prims, or would require dozens, if not hundreds, to achieve the desired effect. Unfortunately, there aren’t any rules governing their use, and as a result they often get over-used.

Over-used, you say? How is that even possible? Easy. While a sculpty only counts as a single prim for things like sim and parcel prim counts, they carry a relatively high price when it comes to computing. After some research, I’ve come to understand that a single sculpt requires the same amount of computing power on the Viewer end as rendering 12 tortured and twisted prims. Additionally, the sculpt map itself eats up a modest amount of texture memory. It’s usually tiny (under 256K per sculpty, depending on the resolution of the sculpt map used), but it’s there consuming a very limited resource nevertheless. And that’s on top of the amount of video memory that will be used for the actual surface texture. A sculpt that uses a 256x256 sculpt map and a 256x256 texture, for example, uses 512MB of video memory compared with only 256K of video memory on a regular prim using the same texture.

Individually, that may not sound too bad. And when you use them judiciously in a build, they look great and everything rezzes quickly for most visitors. But when used excessively in builds, it can increase viewer lag dramatically (each prim taking 12 times more computing power to render, and double the video memory consumption). The end result for visitors can be as extreme as causing their Viewer to crash (because the video card was overwhelmed), or more likely lower frame rates, a field of gray blobs, and untextured prims that takes an unusually long time to load. While some folks have patience and will come back, crash after crash, moving in slowly and dialing back settings & draw distance until they can get through, or on beefier machines just sitting it out and waiting the additional time it can take... most people don’t.

For my case study, I submit the photos below. Periodically, I like to try and “see the world through a visitor’s eyes” as much as my computer will allow. To do this, clear your cache and re-log into Second Life and then explore. While my current machine isn’t the latest and greatest CPU and graphics card combo, it is ahead of the ‘average’ system out there with plenty of RAM, discrete GPU & plenty of video memory and very fast internet connection. So my assumption is that the world is rezzing more quickly for me than it is for most others. It took just over 2 minutes to render the scene below (each shot is approximately 10 seconds apart).





























I’m not picking on any one build (either pictured, or anywhere else on the grid). It is worth pointing out that the scene above actually shows several different builds across a number of parcels, and includes a few of my own objects as well as those of the neighbors. These photos are intended merely to illustrate the cumulative effects.

New Music In Rotation



Believe it or not, the music you hear at the Main Store, Caledon Oxbridge, and New Babbage locations is from me. And a short while ago, I added a new mix into rotation. The set is a bit of a throwback for me, what I'd call a 'needle-drop' mix. While other mixes are beat-matched and feature lots of additional loops and other elements, this one has none of that. Everything lies in track selection and timing, just like in the early days.

I cut my teeth as a DJ with vinyl, eventually moved to CD's, and a couple years back went to a digital workflow (using laptop and other bits of hardware), which lets me blur the lines a bit as I remix and perform tracks during a set.
Going 'old school' was not only an exercise in basic skills, but allowed me to knock it out quickly for BlakOpal. She loves the band Muse as much as I do, and I thought it'd be nice to have something to listen to that included some of our favorite album tracks, singles, and rarities... and to share some of the music we love so much with you. If you aren't familiar with the band, we hope this gives you an opportunity to discover a wonderful band. If you do know them, we hope you enjoy the mix as much as we do, and get the chance to hear something you may not have heard before. :-)

A Glimpse Of The Future!

At last week's Game Developer Conference, nVidia was seen sneak-previewing their soon-to-be-released (March 26) graphics technology. While the cards may well be prohibitively expensive at launch, the nature of technology is such that within the next few years we may very well see this kind of performance on most video cards. The clip below shows a demonstration of real-time hair rendering:



That, my friends, is the future of prim hair. 18,000 prim hair, to be exact :) No, LL has not announced any specific plans to support that many prims, but this is exactly the sort of thing we'll see in a few years (assuming those Mayan chaps weren't right and things don't all end horribly before then).

For those with a more technical interest, I'd like to point out what happens as they zoom out from the head of hair - the frame rate increases substantially. What's happening is something called "tessellation" which will likely be a popular buzzword in the realm of graphics over the next couple years. DirectX 11 (and DirectX 11 compatible video cards, like ATI's Radeon HD5xxx series) have been calling the feature out, not only because it's remarkable technology but because it was something only they offered. In a nutshell, tessellation lets the graphics card reduce the complexity of a 3D object as it gets further away. Lower complexity means fewer triangles to calculate and render, and ultimately better performance and faster frame rates. It's worth pointing out that at last week's show, the OpenGL standards group also announced their OpenGL 4.0 standard (which will likely eventually be incorporated into SL), which also supports tessellation. Fascinating.

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.


Looking Forward



It’s that time of year again, when people look back at the calendar year that’s drawing to a close and then look forward to the new one that’s about to begin. While I’m not really one for default world holidays and traditions, I’m all for a good celebration and changes and improvements.

The time’s been flying by, it seems. A year ago, we had just opened our first satellite location (Winterfell), and were about to open our second flagship store (Caledon Oxbridge Village). Actually I believe that by New Year’s Eve the shoppe itself was done and stocked, but the region had not yet had its grand/official opening. It has been an amazing year. We’ve met some truly wonderful people, opened a number of locations (some were fleeting, while others established themselves quite nicely), participated in some remarkable shows and events, opened up our first full region, had incredible amounts of fun designing/building/creating, and received some incredibly flattering reviews and praise along the way. BlakOpal and I have also had our fair share of RL adventures that’s left us grinning from ear to ear. As with every year it’s filled with ups and downs, but I prefer to get over the bad stuff, move on, and stay focused on the positive.

And there is a lot to be positive about in 2010. In RL we’re improving and upgrading our studio space and planning some wonderful adventures (London!). I’ve got a bunch of exciting music projects sitting on the back burner (stuff that got pushed to the side because I was having so much fun in SL in 2009). In Second Life we’re overflowing with ideas and projects that we’re excited about, including the growth and expansion of Reachra. I’m also planning to revise and expand the web site a bit, adding more in the way of tips and tricks and tutorials. You’ll probably also see us in Avatar Reality’s Blue Mars in one form or another. We gave the platform quite a bit of time and consideration in 2009, and if all goes well we’ll have some specifics to talk about sometime in the first half of 2010. Don’t get me wrong, we have no intention of leaving Second Life anytime soon. I think there’s plenty of room for both platforms to be successful, and I think Linden Lab has some exciting stuff on the horizon.

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!




Slowly But Surely



Slowly but surely, things are taking shape. The builds are taking longer than I would like (ideally they’d be finished instantly, as soon as I think of them), but I’m really pleased with the results so far.

The plan - a short string of row shops, with apartment spaces up above. Drawing from a mix of Dublin’s Temple Bar district as well as the ‘urban’ area of many old towns and villages, I wanted things to be slightly off-kilter and have a little flavor. From the 18th century and continuing into the 20th century, these dual purpose buildings were extremely popular - retail/commercial space on the first floor, with residential space upstairs. In the days before modern transportation methods, it was an important and affordable way to cut down on commute time. While that’s not really an issue in Second Life, I wanted to create something that had the right kind of feel.

There aren’t any doors yet, and I’m still trying to sort out how I want to approach it. Generally speaking I’m opposed to having doors in public spaces in-world. During peak usage or laggy moments it seems people are always bumping into doors, missing a click, or otherwise having some silly issue - so I make it a design choice to keep public spaces as wide open as possible.

I’ve already had a number of inquiries regarding space rentals, and to answer that I can only say “not at this time.” First and foremost I want to think of the experience for visitors & explorers, and to that end I have been paying close attention to region performance over the last few weeks. I wouldn’t want busy times in our shoppe to take away from other residents’ experiences, or vice versa. It may well be that I don’t get around to having rental spaces until a second region comes online.

Many thanks to all those who’ve said kind words about the new space, and thank you to all who’ve visited and explored.


Working on the basic structures in the skies above.


Working on the second story


Stairwells and collision prims


Work continues at ground level


Reachra’s taking shape!


Sorting out signage


Bookshop window display


Outside looking in


BlakOpal and her curiosities




De-Sewerfication



After quite a bit of consideration, and with a slightly heavy heart, I recently undertook the project of removing the sewers from the New Babbage region.

Providing a bit of background, they were the city of New Babbage’s original sewer system. Last winter, when planning for the region and what I had hoped would be a secure future for the shoppe, the sewers were a key element. Since I wanted the tunnels to be at least partially navigable, it required that the surface level be raised to accommodate the larger tunnels. During different stages of the build there have been a number of other secondary tunnels and spaces to explore, including an enormous cavern connected to one of the warehouse buildings, complete with elaborate docks and half-gutted pirate ship (in the process of being re-fitted with steam-power). As word spread of plans for a city-wide sewer system in New Babbage, I envisioned the systems being connected, and thought of additional tunnels and retro-fitting that would create a vast network stretching through the city-state.

Alas, it was the future that never was. My suggestions and requests to connect the systems went without response, and it was soon clear to me where things were heading. The traffic measurement devices at the sewer entrances confirmed that as the new system was put into place, fewer people were exploring the old sewers.

I had given thought to a few different possibilities, including the idea of creating some sort of winter wonderland ice cavern. Such a build would have been a lot of fun to work on, but unfortunately would have either required significantly more resources than I had available or not fit well within the victorian steampunk theme.

With the sewers effectively redundant, the entire north side of the region needed to be re-thought. I was excited at the prospect of Babbage getting some elevation, but the clockwinder eventually decided that BlakOpal and I were the only ones getting any altitude. At least until the region to the north came online. Unfortunately that region has been pushed back a few times in the development of New Babbage, with the last comment I’d seen leaving me little hope that it was coming anytime soon. Having a great view and being on a hill is all fine and good, but being the only guy on a hill is a little weird, and definitely not my sort of thing.

The elevation and the sewers and tunnels also present some technical hurdles, not the least of which was that we had to use a forced landing point. Due to the nature of how SL teleportation works, if you don’t force folks to a specific landing point, you run the risk of folks arbitrarily winding up below ground, stuck between levels, or generally landing in places they didn’t want to land.

So as I began the winterization process last weekend, it became clear... Level it. Sounds simple, but execution is a bit trickier. Even though New Babbage is no longer the main store, it still has quite a bit of traffic from the folks who’ve got old landmarks. Terra-forming and moving thousands of prims is a challenge on even a good day (and as Murphy’s Law would dictate, yesterday was not a good day in SL), but becomes even trickier when folks keep dropping by.

So, slowly but surely, I made the move. Actually, hundreds of little moves. Every prim that wasn’t pulled completely was dropped by anywhere from 2 to 20 meters, and then all of the typical fidgeting and fussing to get things to look and feel the way they should. Miraculously, I was able to move the shoppe itself without disaster striking. Once the builds were moved, I began the process of re-winterizing and filling in some of the spaces. It’s still wide open in a few spots, I’ll likely use some fill for the short term. While it’s a shame to see some things go, I’m quite pleased with the results so far, and excited to see what will happen next.

The snapshot below was from a hilarious moment later in the evening. As I was finishing up some of the details and getting to work on the sidewalks, I heard a loud rumbling sound. Turning to see what was the cause of the commotion, I saw that the place was being visited by a 50 foot marshmallow man! He explored he new space and continued on his sugary way - I can only hope that any future visitors of gargantuan proportions are as friendly as he.




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.

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.

Taking Shape



After finishing things up with the fashion show and taking care of a long overdue remodel at the Jabberwocky Wonderland, I was finally caught up enough to spend some quality time working on the Eridu Society build for Burning Life. BlakOpal and I got a great parcel to work with and have some wonderful ideas for this year's event, but as you might guess there's a lot of work to do.

I've been working with some concept ideas of the building for weeks now, and have toyed with a number of ideas for a few elements of its design, but it was only this weekend that I've been able to pull it all together and get the main structure sorted out. It's still a bit premature to tell you all about our plans, but I can tease you a bit with a couple snapshots from this weekend's work sessions. More to come soon, and as the start of Burning Life approaches I hope to have a walk-thru video put together.

Close To The Edit



Whew, finally got that finished! I've been kind of busy lately, and while I've had the Final Cut Studio update since shortly after its release the discs were just sitting on the corner of the desk. But I was determined to try my hand at filming in SL with this event (previously, BlakOpal had done all the in-world filming), and so last week spent many hours on a clean install.

To record the video from SL, BlakOpal has been using iShowU HD Pro with great success. I found the app a little frustrating, but functional. I've been toying around lately with a program called ScreenFlow, which not only feels better to work with, but seems to have a better frame rate (the process of capturing and recording your screen adds some overhead, which in turn bogs down your SL performance a bit). While you can also do screen recording with Quicktime in Snow Leopard, I've found that to be really basic stuff, it's much more suited to creating a software demo or application tutorial than it is for virtual movie-making.

The Sunday event went really well, I managed to get some great shots along with lots and lots of bad footage (due to my own inexperience), and all-in-all I came away extremely excited for Tuesday. Both shows were special and had great outfits in them, but Tuesday was the main event as far as I was concerned.

Sadly, the show had some hiccups that were really heartbreaking as a designer. But a number of the outfits came together extremely well, and armed with what I'd learned on Sunday I managed to get a few really good shots. After giving myself a little time to get over what hadn't worked out about the show, I was in the right space to focus on the things that did go well. Incredible outfits. Better shots. Higher resolution (I was actually able to shoot in HD). Great music (I"ve been a fan of The Prodigy for years, and Future Funk Squad's not only an incredible producer but a friend as well).

The edit came together really quickly. So quickly, in fact, that I spent a fair amount of time contemplating playing around with some fancy effects and titling in Motion. I've been dying to get into using that program, but in the end opted against making the project over-complicated. As a rule of thumb, you want to get close to the edit (so that you know the material you're working with and can deliver a great cut), but not too close. I could see myself easily getting caught up in working out some clever effect or transition, only to find that months later I'm still not finished.

Fortunately I had the good sense to know when to leave well enough alone, and I'll save my experiments with Motion for another project. Meanwhile, you can check out the VLFW Sunday video here, and the Tuesday show highlights here.

Holy Crap!



I can think of no more appropriate title. Really. It's been that kind of day. But I mean Holy Crap in a good way, if not the best possible way.

As I mentioned earlier, I was lamenting the loss of so many great photos from Miss Breezy's amazing event and the combination of stress and excitement regarding our runway show at the Virtual London Fashion Week event. Alright, well if I didn't mention the stress part it was an oversight. It's been a point of vast quantities of stress for me. Even though the event was being produced by a capable team, I was stressing about all the ridiculous things - whether the models got everything and they were able (or even cared) to make adjustments for fit, whether they would look good on the runway, whether the folks in attendance (in person or on the other end of the streaming video) would appreciate it, and of course the music.

While there are some great DJ's providing music for the event, and they offered to handle everything or even handle any special requests, I decided to take a stab at providing a soundtrack for each of the shows. I wasn't sure whether I'd be able to pull it off, as I hadn't been spending much time in the studio or playing lately (not since early July, really), but hearing it today I'm really pleased with the performance and the music seemed to set the perfect atmosphere for the show. Afterwards we received some very wonderful compliments and stayed a bit for drinks and hello's before I made my way back to the studio.

It was around that time that I found my lost pictures from last night's ball. Woohoo! Long story short, they'd been saved to another location on the network entirely, and hooray they're all there. I've scrubbed through them all and gotten the gallery put together, you can check them out here. And speaking of galleries, BlakOpal grabbed a few high quality snaps from today's runway show, you can check those out here. Where are my pictures? I didn't take any, as I was attempting to shoot video. I've got plenty of footage to edit, and will hopefully have something put together from that in the near future. Whew - it's been a long day!




Soot-Filled Brain



Last night was one of the best nights yet at Piermont Landing, with the Engineers Ball. Wonderful hot air balloons, impeccably dressed folks, wonderful conversations, and with the recently upgraded SL seemed to be performing quite well (sim crossings and teleports are greatly improved, and lag seemed way down). I was even able to snap a few dozen stunning pictures. Or so I thought.

Due to some form of technical glitch (read as: user error), I had apparently been saving my snapshots to the aether instead of to my local drive. D'oh! How very disappointing, as I was convinced I had gotten some real gems and was excited to be writing a post about having just uploaded them. Now I feel a bit like a fisherman telling people about the one that got away. Members of the New Babbage community can, of course, check out the New Babbage Ning to see many wonderful pics taken by others who were there (and quite honestly, have better skills than I do), and of course if you're interested in the greater New Babbage community, then I suggest you head on over there and join (membership is free).

Waking up with my morning medicinal, my thoughts now turn towards London. Rather, towards Virtual London and Fashion Week. The last week or so has been a whirlwind of preparation for BlakOpal and I - our work is in two runway shows this week (the first is today at 2PM SLT, the second is on Tuesday). Oddly enough, many others are working even harder. The event organizers have been putting months of preparation into the event, and the other designers have all really been outdoing themselves - each booth I've glanced at has been filled with wonderful things. Go check it out here.

Disco Inferno



Looking at the picture above, I had initially thought to give this post the title "Burn Baby Burn" but then thought better of it. It's a go-to phrase that people who've been to the Burning Man Arts Festival tend to use, and after going to our campsite for this year's Burning Life in-world it just seemed like it fit. Then I remembered that a) this post will cover more than just me yammering on about Burning Life, and b) a friend of mine made a film about the festival called "Burn Baby Burn" so a slightly different title seemed more appropriate.

BlakOpal and I are both extremely excited about our theme camp being accepted for this year's Burning Life. We had one last year as well, it was our first real event in Second Life. It seemed strangely fitting for us, since we've both been to the RL event several times. It also helped us with our 'playa withdrawals' since we were taking the year off from Burning Man. While we were both 'fresh off the boat' new to SL, we still managed to build a fun space on the virtual playa and had a great time. This year we've learned quite a bit, and I've got a computer that can actually handle walking around without crashing once the event kicks off.

Last night was our first opportunity to visit the space. We're further back from the Esplanade this year, but I kind of like that idea. We've been tossing around ideas for the build for a few weeks, and soon enough we'll start playing with prims in the virtual dust. Stay tuned for more information on Eridu Society at Burning Life!

This morning I had a great meeting in Virtual London, in preparation for Fashion Week, which kicks off on Saturday. We've had the pleasure of participating in a few different fashion events and festivals, and while things can get a little hectic at times, it's a good kind of hectic. The organizers have created a really amazing space for the event and we're extremely excited to not only have a booth space but be participating in two different fashion shows. The first, to a broader audience, is on Sunday at 2PM SLT. The second, on a bit more of a 'theme' night (which seems appropriate considering some of our steampunk/pirate creations) is on Tuesday at 1:30PM SLT.

While we have the opportunity to request songs for the DJ's to play, I'm considering a slightly different direction. A couple friends of mine have recently sent advances of some of their upcoming releases, and I'm considering putting something together that showcases and teases some of that material, along with a few gems I've got in my collection. We'll see how that all plays out - with Virtual London Fashion Week kicking off on Saturday, there's an awful lot to do in a very short period of time.

I've also got some amazing pictures in my in-box. Yep, more photos for our photo contest! As soon as I get a chance, I'll go through them and update the Customer Gallery, and get some gift cards out to more people. Keep 'em coming!

XStreet Forums Makeover



While much has been said of the changes to the XStreet Forums (mostly prophecies of doom and mourning the death of a community), I've got to say that I'm pretty optimistic. In fairness, I was never a big fan of the PHP BB systems that have been all over the internet since June of 2000. While a few sites have done them well, they all have the feel of plugging in some standard package, and only a feeble attempt at implementing features or customizing the user interface. The SL Forums and old XStreet Forums were no exception, it's a shame to see a commercial operation using such a generic implementation.

The new layout seems nice and clean by comparison. Below the main SL header (and site-wide menus), you've got the forum indexes on the top left and helpful links below that, the welcome messages and general discussions right in the middle, and then notifications and top participants on the right. Personally I feel the top participants module should be a lower priority, but that's a minor complaint. It's ironic to note that many of the current top participants are some of the biggest critics of the changes - I guess it wasn't the death of the community they were predicting it to be ;-) If you scroll further down, you'll see most recent forum activity on the left, and a tag cloud on the right. I'm glad they kept recent activity from the old forums, and I'm extremely happy to see the tag cloud being added. The old forums had an almost completely useless search function, and if a tag cloud makes it any easier to find something you're interested in then I'm all for it.

Surfing the boards and making a few posts, I see a lot of potential. For now you can only put text in your auto-signature (that's due to change in the near future), which results in some unfortunate-looking signatures with lengthy URL link text just pasted in. Quick tip for forum members who want to link to a long/ugly URL (like a link to their merchandisse on XStreet)... use a URL shortening service like TinyURL! Readers/customers are more likely to copy/paste text into their browser window if it's short and painless. Creating/editing posts seems more friendly than on the old boards, you can add tags to your profile, and it looks like we'll soon get the chance to have our own blogs. And when you consider that all this is integrated within the main SL site, I think there's a lot of potential for community-building ahead. Not just customers reaching designers, but people from all walks (and flights) of SL connecting with each other. Sure, we can do that to a limited degree now through the use of random sites like LiveJournal, Ning, WordPress, Blogger, and the like... but this is something that's SL-specific, it's common to all SL residents, and you already have a member login (since it's the same thing you log into SL with). Then when you combine that with a more customized dashboard main page (where you can arrange modules the way you want them, and customize your view to your tasts), you've really got something interesting going on.

While part of me wants to see all these new features turned on and hurry up so we can all get to the next level, I'm glad LL is going in phased rollouts. Take a few big steps, then step back and see how everything's running, and make minor fixes and course corrections as necessary. Many thanks to Pink Linden, Collosus Linden, and all the other LL team members involved in teh XStreet upgrades.

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!

Tools



Following BlakOpal's lead in a post on her blog, I figured a post covering some of the software tools that I use is in order.

Let's start off with the hardware. The heart of it all is an Apple MacBook Pro. That plugs into and accesses an assortment of hardware - on the audio side I use an Akai APC40 and M-Audio Ozone controller, and run sound from the machine to an M-Audio FastTrack Pro and into a Pioneer DJM-3000 mixer, which in turn goes out to the Crown Amplifier and Bag End Speakers. Headphones are Sony. Storage-wise we have a number of external drives for storing archived projects, and use an Apple Time Capsule for combination wifi-access and wireless backup. That lets us get to the files on any of the drives or on any of the computers easily and wirelessly, as well as handles automated backups of both our computers. Input wise, we have a few different still and video cameras, an old (but still awesome) Wacom Intuos tablet (though BlakOpal uses it more than I do), an Apple Wireless Mouse (for when I need 3-button control), and a 3D Connexion Space Navigator that BlakOpal and I have been sharing (I keep wanting to use it more and more, it might be time to get a second one soon).

For audio software, I use Apple's Logic 9 Studio and Ableton Live 8 Suite, along with a handful of custom plugins, racks, and effects. Though I don't do any kind of SL DJ'ing, I use Rogue Amoeba's Nicecast when I need to stream/broadcast music.

In the world of video/graphics software, I use Adobe's Creative Suite 4. While the Production Premium edition has me covered for just about everything I'd ever need, primarily I spend my time with Adobe Photoshop CS4 Extended, along with a few custom plugins and fonts. I also use Apple's Final Cut Studio, and am very much looking forward to installing and working with the new version. I've got Apple's Aperture, but for SL purposes I've been using iPhoto '09 for managing my photo library.

In the miscellaneous applications department, I now use Realmac Software's RapidWeaver (along with an assortment of plugins) for site development, Apple iWork '09 for my word processing and spreadsheet needs, and TextEdit handles the job with simple text and those unfortunate moments where I need to write code manually. We also use the Mobile Me service, which does a great job of helping to keep everything synchronized and accessible from just about anyplace we'd need.

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 :-)

Muhahaha



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.

Welcome!



Welcome to this space, and the BlakOpal Designs site, version 3.0. It seems fitting to start with a bit of history.

While this site has only been in the production stage for the last week or so, it's been in the pre-production stage in my head for the last six months or so. Coming from a designer's background and having made my first web site back in 1994, the idea of having a web site supporting our SL adventures seemed obvious. We had hosting space available, and so early in the new year I built the first version of the site.

It started as a bit of an experiment, using the idea of a site for our SL presence and putting Apple's iWeb '09 to use and get firsthand experience of what the application can do and its ease-of-use. FYI, it's a great application that's perfectly suited for personal web sites, blogs, and basic podcasting.

We were both surprised and deeply honored at the success of BlakOpal Designs in Second Life, and with the success of the shoppe it felt appropriate to take the next step with the site. In the spring the 2nd revision of the site was born, living on the newly minted www.blakopal.com domain name. It's a strange twist, since BlakOpal Designs is a RL entity - we've been creating wearable art in one form or another for more than three years - but it took something like SL to get us off our butts and register the domain.

It was early in the planning stages for the second revision that I started planning this version of the site. While iWeb is great, it does have its limitations. But as often happens in the world BlakOpal and I live in, we've been juggling a number of different projects. Testing this and that, experimenting with different ideas and designs, and talking through different possibilities. Several conversations with developers later, and after testing new versions and squaring away an assortment of plugins.... here we are.

My goal is a site that not only showcases our virtual products, but also helps us show what we can do and experience in Second Life. Something that might be enjoyable to both our wonderful customers, as well as our amazing RL friends who scratch their heads and wonder what it is BlakOpal and I are doing with so much of our spare time these days. All of the standard internet disclaimers apply, of course. Pardon the dust, new (and sometimes unexpected) things are happening all the time. While there are many things I still want to add or include on the site, you have to start somewhere. :-)