Saturday, December 26, 2009

Boxing Day at Mildew Mansions

Mildew Mansions was what a friend christened the family home when I was a teenager. He helpfully painted the fridge green to follow through with the mildew theme, something which did not endear him to my mother. You will gather, dear reader, that she still lives in the family home, which is a rather oddly rambling house, fashioned from a labourer's cottage core, which has all but disappeared under the ravages of several families with no taste and one with no money (mine).

We arrived around midday for the traditional cold buffet, clutching our contribution, a beautiful pasta salad made by my son. I usually make the pasta salad, but I was feeling a bit rough this morning and didn't want to risk preparing food for the consumption of others. It was probably a hangover, as I did have a couple of glasses of Asti yesterday.

My sister Sam and Nige, her husband had stayed overnight, along with my sister Amanda, her children Lucy and Peter and Lucy's boyfriend Ryan, forever known as Byron in our family because my mother constantly forgot his name when he and Lucy were first together. A couple of bat-eared bushbaby creatures which they tell me are dogs, but I do not believe them, completes the family.

My brother Adrian had already arrived. His wife Gerry is unfortunately ill and has been vomiting frequently since Tuesday, and so decided not to come to lunch. Good call. Vomiting lunch guests are rarely welcome - I hope you feel better soon! My brother Mike was already there, although his partner Mel and partner's son Barney didn't join us until later. Amanda's daughter Holly and her boyfriend phoned from the other side of town to say they were lost. I heard Amanda say "stop saying house names to me, they don't help at all!" Holly arrived and then eventually my sister Lisa arrived with husband Valerio and children: twins Alex and James, aged nine, and Becky, aged 14.

Conversation during the day frequently returned to the subject of Lucy's breasts, which may seem extremely odd until you know that she has recently had a breast enlargement operation at the age of 22. Although I think those sort of decisions are personal, and nobody's business but your own, there was a surreal element to the freedom with which family members would prod and poke her breasts, and invite others to do so... rather the way pregnant women suddenly find themselves public property for complete strangers to feel their stomachs, a woman who has had a breast enlargement operation apparently has to put up with people constantly wanting to compare the feel of natural breasts with the enhanced ones.

At one point her grandmother encouraged her to show her aunt her scars, in full view of two startled uncles and her sister's boyfriend, but although she is extremely proud of the result from her operation, and hasn't had to buy a drink since it happened, even Lucy seemed to baulk at the general flaunting of her figure to all and sundry and so she didn't reveal more than a bra strap.

As is traditional, lunch was very late while we waited for Mike to fetch Mel and Barney, and then we all fell upon the cold turkey and ham, which was augmented with relishes, salads and aforesaid pasta salad.

The pudding course was even later, with my mother's famed alcoholic bread and butter pudding, and some experimental dishes such as mars bar cheesecake, which I didn't fancy.

Once all the food was cleared away, the traditional present giving took place. For the last few years we have tried various systems for present giving. We had a secret santa for the adults and everyone bought presents for all the children for a while. Then we went to a system where the adults did a secret santa, and the teenagers too, and only the children under 10 got a present from everyone. But - surprise - teenagers don't seem to be very good at buying presents for each other, so they mostly put ten quid in a card. Then they grumped about only getting a note in a card for Christmas....

So this year we decided each family would buy for everyone, spending £3 per person. This was interpreted widely, with some people making foodie presents... my brother Adrian gave some chilli vodka or ginger vodka, my brother Mike had made home-made biltong, and a variety of biscuits, my sister Sam had made fudge and chocolate truffles and packaged them beautifully with cellophane and candy cane decorations.

There was a general crackling of paper as people tore the wrappings off their presents, and then a party popper fight broke out for a while. The twins received a number of foam bullet guns and disc-throwing guns for Christmas, and rallied with a number of supporters, bursting downstairs to rake the assembled family with a combination of plastic disks and bullets, empty party poppers and glowsticks.

The men in the family gathered in the kitchen to discuss special recipes for biscuits, while everyone else gradually sagged and fell asleep. My sister and son joined the cat in the bedroom and had a chat. She told me I must be proud of him, and I am, I am proud of all my children.

We left with bags and boxes bulging with presents, and came home in Sam's car, exhausted. It's the same weird feeling every year... weeks of anticipation, then over in a flash.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Christmas

Spent the day at my mother's, with a few of the family. Only 11 to lunch today, 23 expected tomorrow. Took some spooky pictures of Kate with my cameraphone. Like this one the best.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

And now for something completely different....

The BBC website used to be my main port of call for information about breaking news, and for background information on news stories. Indeed, when I first came online in 1998, they were about the only source of information in the UK - nearly all the other websites used to be American.

It saddens me that the news service seems to be going rapidly downhill... I am noticing more and more grammatical and spelling errors on the site. OK, I know, pot calling kettle black, but a) my keyboard is demonstrably the worst in the world (as shown by consumer polls/scientific testing) and b) This is a private website, not a professionally written and produced one.

Most worryingly, I see things which I think are of national importance, and require national debate, and they barely warrant a mention on the BBC site. They seem to be content to stick a few headline stories on the front page, and never to mention others at all.

The recent publicity over the family in Scotland who lost custody of their newborn baby - and all their children - allegedly due to a weight problem in the family, warranted no reporting at all. The many cases of Social Workers stepping into cases where any reasonable person would not, or conversely not intervening in cases where the man on the Clapham omnibus would have done, (which have been thoroughly reported by that bastion of news reporting, The Daily Mail) have not rippled the surface of the BBC website at all.

Their perverted sense of "balance" seems to mean that they are driven to offer balance where no balance is required. To me, balance implies a fair, non-subjective reporting of a case. It doesn't mean that if you wheel out a creationist to comment on something, you have to drag out Richard Dawkins at the same time. There are many circumstances in which no balance is the balanced way to report. It's hardly likely that a report on an anti-racism initiative would need a racist to balance it, for example.

A story I noticed this morning which seemed to offer promise of being interesting, about an apparent window of opportunity to deal with distressing memories, was grammatically incoherent in places, for example: "In the study, the volunteers were wired up to electrodes and given a shock each time they were shown a picture of differently coloured squares to make them fearful of the image - which they did." Which they did? Which they did...what? Argh. It puts me into grumpy old woman mode.

I think the editorial policy is changing to introduce more and more entertainment stories, and their editorial values seem to be dropping rapidly in inverse proportion to the sensationalism of the stories. There was a non-story on Tuesday about how David Furnish (partner of Elton John, popular singer/songwriter) was worried about George Michael (popular singer) and how unnamed mutual friends were asking John to intervene in some unspecified way. It was the most ridiculous non-story I have ever read, and it's barely even gossip, let alone news. Oh look! It's still there!

Then again, suddenly you find something wonderful on the BBC website: this is a slideshow with a voice over about the XMM-Newton observatory's first ten years. This is where I find it hard to remain grumpy. Perhaps it's rather English to have such an eclectic and eccentric mix of the amazing and the awful, on one site. I'd happily give up the awful in favour of a properly editorial approach to the news, however. Bring back the BBC news site! I miss it.

Gothic pleasures

I went to Gypsy Moon to see what was happening with their store. Most real-life clothing works very badly in Second Life, as American Apparel and others have discovered. Most people appreciate the chance to dress their avatar in things which they wouldn't wear in real life, and are looking for something different.

Gypsy Moon is different in real life though, and I think the clothes could potentially work very well in Second Life. I've been a bit disappointed with the things I have bought from them before... skirts look a lot longer on the box than they do on the avatar, their model must buck the trend and be petite instead of 8 feet tall.

Arriving at Gypsy Moon I discovered it was under construction still, and the build is marvellously gothick, dark and brooding. I right clicked a piece of the build to see who made it and found the name Morphe attached to it.

Teleporting to their store, I found myself on the Snow Crash sim, in what appeared to be a gothic builder's yard. There are some fantastic builds here: stone dragons, dramatic shield maiden statues, crypts in all shapes and sizes.

It's clear the builder, Abel Dreamscape, cares about his work. There is an explanation of the name Morphe, instructions for increasing the level of detail on sculpts,

and in his profile, the advice: "take what you do well, and perfect it".

I was finding that it took a long time for the detail on sculpts to pop in. I stood for some time in front of this carriage and still couldn't see the wheels properly, so I followed the instructions and it did make a difference.

There are complete castle prefabs, builders' full perms packs of components like arched windows and doors, and a whole lot more. If you're looking for a castle, or a small crypt even, I recommend you go and see the things on offer here.

In SL, as I have often said, it is a question of balance: you have to balance up what you want to do with the possible lag and problems of usability, and that's still the case. That means trying to limit the number of textures, sculpts and scripts which you use in a small area, to try to make the experience a good one for your visitors. I think castles lend themseves to the sort of compromise you need to make, because it is possible to limit the number of different textures used, and keep to the same group of sculpties, while still being able to indulge your imagination.

The building packs I picked up sorely tempt me to build a castle. It's been a long time since I had a castle to call my own....

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Please advise

Staring at a book I was entering on a web page, I realised that my brain had recognised that there was a spelling mistake on the cover: Practicing Peace ought to be Practising Peace. Knowing it, and yet having to double check (because surely the author/editor/publisher would have checked?), I found a page with grammatical information, which noted that Advice and advise work the same way as practice and practise. The -ce form is the noun and the -se form is the verb. I've never connected the two/four words before.

Why is it that people rarely mix up to advise and advice, but often mix up to practise and practice, then? Interesting.

Edited to add: My son says it is simply the fact that the sound of advice and advise is different and the sound of practice and practise is the same. This raises a lot of questions I am interested in, about why I had never connected the two in my head before, as it offers an easy way to remember which spelling is appropriate for practice and practise. It indicates why English is such a nightmare for people to learn, when practice and practise sound the same and advice and advise do not. And makes me wonder again whether people are right to draw instant conclusions about people based upon how they speak or how they spell.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Creative commons images: war and medicine

The Wellcome Institute has recently released a library of images under a creative commons attribution license. I had assumed that these would be medical pictures and of limited appeal to genealogists and family historians, but in fact they have a large category on the subject of war which includes general shots of soldiers on the battlefield, being transported by horse drawn stretcher, in the trenches.

Their "war" category covers historical wars and battles, such as the Boer war and the Boxer rebellion, and includes paintings and drawings too. There may be much to interest anyone, but particularly family historians who are looking for general illustrations for their websites and printed histories may find something to fill a hole.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Young Geoffrion Opening

I was fortunate to be online at just the right moment to be summoned by my friend Enjah Mysterio to the Mysterio gallery in Grignano, to see the opening of Young Geoffrion's show there.

It was a little difficult to find my way in; once the gallery rezzes properly one can see an entrance on the first floor and another on the roof.

I was stunned by the glowing colours of Young Geoffrion's work, and spent some time looking around at the variety of work. Some of the pieces reminded me strongly of Hundertwasser, one of my favourite artists. My favourite, which is called Florence, can be seen over Enjah's shoulder in the picture above.

There was a crowd of fahionable young residents looking through the scripted sketch book and around the exhibits, sipping wine or, Young Geoffrion's preference, cider.

At one stage a young man with a hammer and sickle welded to his back came in and started a political discussion.

The show will be on for a couple of months, and I fervently hope that Young Geoffrion will allow prints of the work, which would make wonderful Christmas presents, to be sold. Please do go and see it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Watch out, we're about

Great post about the CRB madness on one of the unschooling blogs. You can read it for yourself, but it poses the question why a group of women would be seen as a threat to children.

I supect that the writer probably intended to question the idea that any adult is a necessary danger to children, but the question is even more significant when asked about women.

There seems to be a movement to identify women as offenders at the moment... maybe it is a natural reaction to the Little Ted's scandal, to look for women behaving badly. Maybe it is a change in the way women behave. But after 20 years in a criminal defence office, my sister says she has never been involved in a case involving a woman.

The statistics are difficult to disentangle, but they show that men are hundreds of times more likely to offend than women, and that women are more likely, not less likely, to be imprisoned once found guilty of an offence.

I feel that it is only a matter of time before this government requires parents to pass some sort of test before they are allowed to procreate... or maybe when it comes it will be necessary to pass some sort of fitness-to-parent test before you will be allowed to procreate at all. When ARE people going to be starting to say NO?

Christmas on Nemesis

The Christmas shop is open on Nemesis Sim in SL. As usual we have high-quality candles and giftboxes and trees. This year there's something new for people who struggle to afford the prims for a tree... I have made a dressing for Linden pine trees, which, though I say it myself, works really well.

There is also the ice Cathedral and Ice rink and ice caves to explore. Type Nemesis into the map and teleport there now!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

You're next

I make no apology for writing a blog about the real world once again. The government is currently considering the recommendations of the Badman report on home education. I expect the 99% of you who don't home educate are planning to surf to another page at this point. But hold on! This affects you too!

For the whole of recorded history, there has been an assumption that the local authority will not break in and enter your property unless they have evidence that you are up to something illegal or are in danger of harming another person. Basically, if you adhere to the law of the land, an Englishman's - or Scotsman's, or Welshman's, or Irishman's - home has been his castle. They have no automatic right of entry without information or evidence that compels entry.

In relation to home education, that rule is proposed to change: the government is proposing that the LEA should have automatic right of entry, in order to see and interview the children, in the case of home-educated children. This is a BIG change to the law. Can it only be applied to home educators? I don't think, in all conscience, not that I think they have one, the government would be able to apply this rule to home educators alone without an immediate challenge on the grounds of discrimination. Thus, I think that if they go along with this recommendation, it will apply to all parents.

Now... we've all looked on, horrified, as tales of children being beaten and killed have surfaced in the press. The child who was starved to death by her mother and her boyfriend - how horrifically awful is that? The authorities present their case for access as though they had no right at all to gain entry to the child's house, and *that* was the reason they loitered around outside and didn't get to see her before she died.

Hold on a moment though. Concerns had already been raised by neighbours and others about the state of the children. The local authority has for a long time had the right to enter the home and seize the children if they believe that they are at risk of harm. They could have done so in this case, had they chosen to. The fact that they got it wrong and didn't is not anybody's fault but their own.

What they appear to be saying is that in order to fulfil their responsibilities towards children who are being harmed, they need the right to enter *anyone's* home, in order to talk to and ascertain that the children in our homes are OK. Does that seem right to you? Would you be ok about being frisked every time you left a shop in case you'd shoplifted? Or having a forensic accountant look over your bank accounts when you put in your tax return in case you hadn't declared some income? Of course you wouldn't. The whole of our system of law is based upon people being innocent until someone has the evidence to prove them guilty. Are we really wanting to change that?

I am appalled by how dishonest the whole system appears to be. Since the amalgamation of social services departments with education departments in LEAs, they don't seem able to decide how to monitor welfare and education and have begun to mix them up in a horrible concoction which means that parents will have no power and no means of satisfying authorities if the authorities choose not to be satisfied.

For most parents, losing their children is the very worst punishment they can imagine. For home educating parents, doubly so, as they actually enjoy the company of their children. Is the government really proposing to oppress parents in this draconian way, and can anything but bad come from it?

Bear in mind they want access to homes even if they are totally satisfied that the children are being educated suitable to their age, ability and aptitude, and even if they have no suspicions or concerns about the welfare of the children. I have just one question, why?

I believe that the authorities see parents who are home educating their children as a dangerous anti-social fringe of society. They read reports every day which link non-attendance at school with anti-social behaviour and the likelihood of getting into trouble with the police, and they appear to make no distinction between an electively home-educated child and a child who has been expelled or is truanting, even though they are very different.

I cannot agree that it is in the best interest of families or children to increase the powers to intervene without evidence, and I hope the MPs trusted to examine the Badman report feel that way too.

I think that some LEAs have been unhappy about their powerlessness in law to compel parents to comply with their rules on education. Many of them are completely ignorant about the efficacy of alternative methods of education, and there is a big education lobby of people who make money from education, who spend a lot of money trying to convince the government that this or that system works better or will work for children who are not achieving. I think there are a lot of vested interested in education from academics, institutions, companies, who don't want anyone to know that actually, doing nothing that looks like school is MORE effective in educating your children than school.

The authorities reject this idea without even trying to examine the very good evidence that exists that a loving parent who will talk to their children and support them in their endeavours, whatever they may be, will achieve more than schools. They look at an unschooling parent and make assumptions that unschooling means unparenting and uneducating and those things do not necessarily follow at all. They have until now been powerless to act if an articulate parent who knows their rights refuses them access to their homes, and they don't like it.

From my point of view, it seems highly unlikely that if a social worker can go into Baby P's home and leave him in the care of the people that tortured him to death, they could go into an average home educator's home and conclude that the children are at risk from a lack of curriculum, but this is precisely what I fear may happen: they may assume that they know what they are talking about in the realm of education because so many of the people who work in LAs in education are failed teachers and think that they know what education looks like.

It seems that hardly a week goes by without some injustice or other in the field of child welfare, and it invariably seems to me that the authorities are idle and do nothing in cases that require action, like Baby P, like the child who starved to death in Birmingham, Khyra Ishaq, like hundreds of others who have been beaten and abused... and then they take action when no action is required, such as the family who have lost their children do to obesity problems in the family, including a newborn who *may* have been returned, the child who was seized after a police raid on her family, the child whose mother went on the run because the authorities threatened to take her child into care because her ex-husband had moved near to her locally... the list goes on and on.

What shocked me when I read reports about cases which have ended in children being taken into care, is that more cases of emotional abuse have been brought than physical abuse. From the description of the case where the mother went on the run around Europe to avoid having her child taken into care, the authorities had already seized her son for some weeks because they accused her of allowing her alcoholic husband to shout at her in the presence of their son.

Show me a family who says that they have never raised their voices to each other in front of their children! I wonder what planet those social workers have been living on if they believe that a functional family never loses their tempers or raises their voices. If that's being dysfunctional, it's pretty amazing that most children aren't in the care of the local authority.

Of course, you are free to ignore this post, may already have surfed off into the sunset. But if you have children and don't want the local authority to be able to march into your home at the drop of a hat, I'd suggest that you support home educators now.

Edited 10 November to remove comment about parents needing a lie down after spending time with their children, which I accept may have been offensive to some.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Broken by fixing it up

Once upon a dark and distant time, I heard people mention BoingBoing and I didn't know what they were talking about. That was about six years ago. I was introduced to Boing Boing and lo! I saw that it was good.

Once upon a time, I couldn't imagine logging into my computer without checking BoingBoing. That was about a year ago. I knew the names of the bloggers, I could navigate my way around the archives or the past week, I posted the occasional comment - not too often, just when something grabbed me. I made a few suggestions, and some of them were taken up.

Boingboing is heralded as a directory of wonderful things... and it was. Not all of the things were wonderful, some of them were pretty devastatingly not wonderful at all, like the reports on miscarriages of justice, the growth of CCTV and the demonising of photography, but what was most definitely wonderful was the way in which you could sometimes see a story and know, just know that the comments would have you howling with laughter, or inhaling your morning cup of coffee - or blowing it all over your keyboard.

The people who met in the comments queue on Boingboing recognised each other, and could see who in the archives was a brother or sister soul who shared the concern about Guantanamo, or the despair at the re-election of Bush. Intelligent, articulate, clever, sceptical people, who wrote great one liners and better paragraphs.

But now, now... they redesigned it, and it seems irretrievably broken. Not for everyone, maybe. For me. I can't navigate around the new design, I can't find my friends, or at least the people I saw everyday and now can't find for the same stupid comments you find on 1001 blogs on a 1,000,001 webpages elsewhere on the internet. Instead of being elegant and simple and letting the blog content do the talking, it SHOUTS AT YOU really loudly, with LOUD colours and loud headings and even LOUDER people commenting.

It isn't that they have changed the content particularly, but they seem to have taken away my ability to navigate easily from place to place, and somehow it looks all wrong, and isn't something I want to spend time looking at. How can this be? It's amazing what a huge difference it has made... it has turned it from a place I coudn't imagine not visiting regularly, to somewhere I never want to visit. Very strange. I expect that they want younger readers, more readers, to attract attention. Maybe they've achieved that. But they've lost one regular reader, and I miss my old BoingBoing. I'm off to the internet WayBack machine to see if I can find it anywhere.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Heritage Key: Tutankhamun

Successfully visited Heritage Key for the first time today. This is a new virtual world venture by the Rezzable people, run outside Second Life, but using Second Life technology. Avatars have been deliberately handicapped by being unable to build or create in world.

I had been able to get in and set up an avatar before, but the teleportation didn't appear to be working when I had been there previously. I dislike the clothing, skins and hair which is provided, as I am used to much more sophisticated products in SL, and I particularly missed my animation override, as I hate walking like an SL newbie, because it always has been extremely jerky and badly done.

Heritage Key is in alpha testing (so it says) and purports to show you the treasures of the Tutankhamun excavation. When you walk into the teleport spiral, you end up in a gallery where you can pick up some slightly less awful clothes, and in the future will be able to buy things with points gained by answering quizzes.

I somehow blundered to the compass point and found the balloon to travel to the valley of the kings. This isn't as impressive as it sounds, as the valley is just a few mountains and some gateways to excavations which are all apparently closed, except for the one for Tutankhamun. Even that one only seems to have a couple of rooms open to the public. There are a lot of things to click on, but these mostly seem to be audio clips of someone reading information in general about the Carter excavation or the Pharoah and not specifically about what you can see in the world. A lot of the things around the excavation site seem to be very skin deep scenery rather than interactive.

There is a game to play, which infuriatingly advises you to take a pickaxe to the dig areas denoted by orange flags, and to dig for things - and then tells you off for doing that. In a few of the locations this gains you some (modern) objects that you would have had to pay good points for. This seems to lack logic - it would be a lot more fun if you found ancient artefacts that might be useful, like a lamp, jewellery or a clue to something else. In some of the designated pits it tells you that you have destroyed the artefacts by attacking them with a pick!

I thought I would be able to explore the Carter dig, and to go into the tomb to see the things he found as he found them. In actual fact there is a strange teleport halfway down the tunnel to the tomb, and then only two rooms with a few artefacts able to be explored.

To see the sarcophagus and fabulous coffin of Tutankhamun, one has to travel to the gallery, which is laid out for all the world just like a real life museum, which seems to miss the point of having it in SL at all. There is a facility to enlarge the items in the gallery, but this immediately kidnaps your camera under the ground - not ideal for newbie visitors.

Finally I travelled to the Life on the Nile area, but once again, this was laid out as a museum exhibit, instead of being the living example I was expecting. There were a few families of hippos and the odd crocodile, and a few desultory artefacts lying around on the river banks... a seat here, a bowl of eggs there and a basket in a few places.

It would have been so easy to make the use of things clear by allowing visitors to sit on and activate them. I had been expecting cooking, fishing, farming, living to be going on in this place. Maybe a home of the time and place to explore with the living and eating areas. Instead of that I found a couple of wildlife tableaux and a shop for free clothing.

Make no mistake, there are some breathtaking exhibits in this virtual world. There are some fantastic objects which are very close to the real life version, I imagine. But they are exhibits in a very old-fashioned museum sense, and don't - in my view - use many of the advantages of a virtual world in which *anything* is possible.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Sorrento

My friend Quantum Destiny has released his epic prefab "The Sorrento" for sale to the general public. It's going to be very hard to do justice to this amazing build... it's huge, detailed and... and... amazing. It's out on his Quantum Destiny sim for all to see and marvel at. He's my friend, but I hope you know that I wouldn't tell you it was amazing unless I believed it was. It is.

He's been working on it for months, and has now released it in two versions: a full version which is 2554 prims, or a stripped down version which is 2179. As he says in his documentation for the build, it is suitable for a group of friends to share, or as a trophy house for those who wish to impress.

It's something which has to be seen to be believed. Quantum has cleverly provided a free footprint, to enable people to check whether they have enough room for the build, as it will likely take up at least a quarter of a sim. It is big... the swimming pool is beautiful, and if you look carefully, can get some idea of the scale of the build by spotting my avatar in the pool below. The picture is taken from a huge balcony. The size means that it is possible to hold a party more or less anywhere - and invite friends who are still having problems with moving around small houses. It is spacious and yet cleverly in proportion, everything is just so. If you're looking for a prefab which is way out of the ordinary run, you can't go wrong with this. At L$12,750 it isn't cheap, but the work that has gone into it more than justifies the price, as I am sure you will agree when you see it in the...prim.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

City simulations

Looking for something completely different (bio-processors) I found an article in New Scientist about city simulations from photographs posted by the public on Flickr. The simulations have a watercolour impressionist feel about them.

The simulations were constructed using photographs posted by people of landmarks, and took hours rather than the weeks or month that one would expect for people to find, organise and position hundreds of pictures. The future possibilities as the software evolves, are mindblowing. Maybe one day it will be possible to explore the world virtually without leaving your armchair... set training operations in real landscapes... the potential uses for this are quite amazing.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Come as You Are Party at Tiny Tin

I've been up to my eyes in work and so haven't found much time to blog recently. I decided to take the evening off yesterday when I received a "come as you are" party invitation from Elfod Nemeth and Canolli Capalini yesterday. Actually I was pretty pleased with how I was... in SL. In real life I was in my casual sweats and looking like an inmate of a home for the socially challenged, but fortunately they haven't linked up my computer webcam to SL yet, so nobody knew that. I'd been making poses again, and was casually dressed and looking pretty good, I thought. So I went along to Tiny Tin in the Vernian Sea... to the mushroom brewery.

There were quite a few people there. The hosts, Elf and Olli....

Hyasynth Tiramisu, the designer behind silentsparrow, which is a fantastic gothy victorian clothing shop for men and women, with gorgeously textured clothing. I love the fact that she makes things which are versatile: they can be used for RP Victorian Steampunk, or by choosing which elements you wear, can be made to look contemporary.

And a variety of good looking adults and a smattering of children....

They were all so frightfully photogenic that I spent my time taking pictures, instead of the inventory sorting I usually do when I go to parties on my own.

I shouldn't forget to mention DJ Dregg Gothly, who chose some great music to go with the party - music I only ever hear in SL.

It's hard to explain to someone who hasn't been to an SL party what fun they can be. The experience of being in the same place, listening to the same music, doing the same thing can be very immersive - yet would look very boring if you were watching another person at the screen doing that. It's something which is very hard to convey, it needs to be experienced. It was way past my bedtime when Val Trafalgar won the best dressed in...whatever contest, and I stumbled off to bed.

There's loads to do and see at Tiny Tin, even when there isn't a party, and I encourage you to go see it!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Any Pose

Some weeks ago I bought the gadget "AnyPose". So many weeks ago that when I rezzed it, the automated updater dropped a new one on me!

I'm making stuff for JeansForGenes at the moment, and one of the things I am making is a tote bag, for which I needed a certain arm position. I searched briefly for a full-perms version and then suddenly thought of the gadget I'd bought.

The manual does not make life easy - in fact I am considering writing my own, simpler version of this manual. It's a such a great, easy-to-use product, it's a shame that reading the manual makes one want to run and hide in a cupboard.

Most non-techie people faced with a gardget like this want to be taken step-by-step through the process. I found it quite hard to work out what to do, even once I had worked out how the things worked. How do you save a bvh file, again?

The product consists of a stand and a HUD. You wear the HUD, rezz the pose stand and stand on it. The HUD shows the avatar joints, and all you have to do is to click on the joint you want to move, and then on the arrow keys to move that joint. For making simple sits, stands or bag-holding poses it is simplicity itself. You can see what your action is doing to the avatar, and alter the pose until you are happy with it. I pulled a chair onto the pose stand, to make my sit, as seen in the photograph.

The problem for me came when I tried to work out how to save the pose so that it could be uploaded to SL and used in objects. I read and re-read the instructions but they didn't seem to help much. They gave me several ways to capture the text which included the instructions for the pose, but no way of knowing how to save it as a bvh file. There was some stuff about saving it as an all files file in notepad....

It's SO simple. You either click the button so that the gadget emails the information, or you click the button so that it opens in a web window in world. Copy and paste the text as indicated into a notepad text document, but when you save it, name the document anymypose.bvh, and select "all Files" instead of text document as the file type. It will then upload to SL with no problems. (The procedure is just like uploading a photo or sound.)

You have some decisions to make on uploading, about the priority given for the animation and the whether to loop it or not. I have *so* many things I would like to do, I don't know where to start....

To celebrate my first pose in SL, I am giving a chair containing it away free from my store on Nemesis.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Biting the hand...

Oclee tells me that Stroker Serpentine and Munchflower Zaius are suing Linden Lab for allowing IP theft, in effect. I found the story here and here and here and here. Ungrateful GITS. It will be particularly ironic if the thing that damages their businesses in SL is not the IP theft, but the fact that residents boycott their work in SL because they are in danger of killing the world as we know it for all of us.

I shan't be buying anything they make, until they desist. I encourage you to do the same.

Don't get me wrong... I don't like the scammers who steal people's work at all - have pursued a fair few myself. But the idea that it is all about money - that they would threaten the company that runs the world they rely on in order to obtain money. I think that's just stupid. To damage Linden lab is to kill the Golden Goose which has allowed Stroker to make money out of virtual sex goods, and Munchflower out of Gothy clothing.

It seems that the obsession he has had with IP infringement has finally taken over. They can defend it as wanting to change the rules etc... but I think it's still a gitty thing to do. I hope everyone avoids their products until they desist.

New free texture site

Stumbled over a new texture site this morning which looks like the beginning of something great. Texture Lovers is a site for creative commons, commercial or non-commercial, non-attribution licensed textures.

There aren't many textures on there at the moment, but those that are there look to be good quality. Some of the websites which offer free textures impose limits, or restrictions on the use of the textures, but this one doesn't.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Free Michael Jackson tribute dance

I woke to find an offline IM in my email inbox from Easy Babcock. As a tribute to Michael Jackson, Sine Wave has produced a four-minute-long, two-person dance called Liquid Felon. I rushed along to Sine Wave, found a willing partner in Shiyojin Kaligawa and tried it out.

Sometimes I have found Sine Wave dances a bit fast for SL, but this one is pretty well crafted, and seems to go on forever. It's definitely one worth having.

It was SO long it was hard to see when it restarted, but a couple asked us to let them have a go and so we ceded the platform to Katrin Daffyd and Philly Tigerpaw, seen above dancing the Liquid Felon.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Being online

This week is a time for reviewing the year and wondering what I've done with it. I am finding that time is speeding up in the way that everyone says it does. Christmas and birthdays seem to be getting closer together with every passing year.

I'm beginning to feel that I am separated from my contemporaries by my immersion in online activities. Working as a writer, knowledge-base writer and Second Life builder, I spend quite a bit of time online, but it's much, MUCH more than that. Many of the online forums and websites have their own language, not quite a jargon, more a series of running jokes. The "unicorn chaser" of BoingBoing, the "who'll bring pie?" of the SL forums, the Trout Recreant rating system from SL Universe, and knowing what being Ruth'd is, or what a Box-on-head moment is in Second Life. Understanding lol or ROFL or AFAIK or IMNSHO.

The people I resonate with in the virtual world and online are passionate, honest, in favour of civil liberties and against restrictions that make no sense (like the current ones on photography in public places) and they care about them, protest against things, work towards making things better. They are familiar with and aware about issues of IP ownership and personal freedom, scathing of people who are inauthentic. It's a state of mind and intelligence which is hard to pin down but absolutely recognisable to those who know what it is.

They are connected to the issues of the day and to each other, and they recognise each other too. It's a whole new world which I feel is passing other people by, either because they aren't online or don't want to be.

My real-life friends are fantastic people, also passionate about a wide variety of things, interested in lots of things, intelligent and interesting... but many of them have hardly anything to do with life online and nothing at all with virtual worlds. Many of them seem asleep to the dangers of identity cards, the threat to civil liberties and the reason why such things are important. It is odd trying to match up the people I resonate with in virtual spaces and those I am friends with in the real world, especially when the latter have so little interest in or time for the former. It means that I do have two separate lives, which are almost impossible to reconcile. I still find myself passionately advocating for virtual worlds when challenged - "why would you pretend to be something you aren't?" or "why don't you switch off the computer and do something in the real world?" - although I have given up on trying to persuade family and friends that the virtual world might have something to offer them. It's one of those things you have to learn by experience.

I'm assuming that if we don't manage to kill ourselves and the planet in short order, the cohesion of the virtual world and the real world will get easier. My sons and daughter use a variety of ways to keep in touch with their friends, including online messaging, texting, email, facebook, webcams and skype. I've noticed that even the boys are used to juggling several activities at once, and they rarely simply watch television, finding that too little to keep them interested. Often they are playing a game, talking to friends and watching television all at the same time.

There will always be people who decline to use computers and online methods of communications, but I guess that will be an increasingly small number of people as time goes by. I've had some of the funniest moments, some of the most romantic, and some of the most moving in an online or virtual setting. I can see enormous potential in virtual world for education and communication. I just hope that, one day, some of my real life friends will discover it too.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Steampunk hunting

I went to see Elfod's new shop in Vernian Sea... many apologies to the people who followed my now-out-of-date link and found themselves drowning in the aforesaid Vernian Sea. Elfod has made a great barge, and has lined up three outside Tiny Tim... one to stand on, one for the shop and one for backdrop.

Of course that didn't stop me trying to explore the shopping barge! While I was stumbling around (and fell in the sea myself) I noticed a poster, which announced a grid-wide hunt in September for all Steampunks, alongside a box of freebies. If you go to Elfod's shopping barges, you will be able to click on the poster, and receive the first landmark for the hunt.

There were quite a few people in the first couple of locations with a group tag for the hunt on, so I presume this is a successful way to bring prospective customers into stores, by ensuring that the treasure hunt attracts the right sort of customer in the first place. Seems to me it is the sort of event that calls for a group of like-minded people and a concerted effort. It looks like fun...and lots of freebies too!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Authentic German soundscapes

I've always been a huge fan of Acoustic Alchemy, Hastur Pieterson's shop of sounds. I sent him my compliments after a first visit to his shop, many moons ago, because it was so well laid out and organised with the customer in mind.

I think sound is one of the things which often gets overlooked in SL. Too many builds around the grid are smothered in those freebie sounds and therefore sound the same... it's the equivalent aurally of covering somewhere in Linden trees: they do the job but are a bit samey, there's no variety or texture to them.

Hastur has worked hard to provide variety and to provide them in a form which is usable for even the most novice of builders. Now he's releasing a whole collection of sounds which he has garnered from a trip to Germany. The press release tells me: "Hastur Pierterson and Velma Aldwych recently traveled to Germany to attend the Facets of Virtual Environments conference in Berlin. During the twelve day stay, Hastur took the opportunity to record as much audio as possible in Berlin and the surrounding areas. The resulting ninety-five Atmosphere Orbs are an amazing mix of both urban and natural backgrounds.

“This was a great opportunity to bring more sound recordings into virtual environments from real world locations. Soundscapes are a very critical and often overlooked element when developing a unique and memorable venue in Second Life.”, said Hastur Pierterson. “In the last year we have made over one hundred recordings up and down the California coast, Nevada, and Arizona. Germany is a perfect destination for our latest expansion of field recordings.

“We coordinated with Jan Northoff (aka January Lightfoot in SL) and Tobias Neisecke, the founders of and creators of the famous BERLINin3D sims, to identify specific locations around Berlin that were mirrored in the virtual world and then bring those soundscapes into Second Life.

“It did not matter which direction we walked or which building we entered. Every place we went had a wonderfully unique audible background. Train stations, subways, museums, markets, cathedrals, restaurants, city parks, and busy street corners. I had to empty the digital recorders every evening to keep enough free space available for the next day.”

You can see a list of the sounds available here. If you've never thought about the sounds in your builds, why not check out Acoustic Alchemy? They have sea sounds, distant church bell sounds, natural forest sounds... you may be surprised at what a well-chosen sound can add to your building.

Don't forget that in addition to Hastur's wonderful sounds, I told you about Elfod Nemeth's great footsteps gadget, which allows you to add realistic footstep sounds on appropriate materials for your builds - I've now edited this to fix the shop location. Check that out at his shop on the Vernian Sea.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Amazing quality freebies - get them while you can!

Quite often I pick up a box of freebies and find that the quality of the items leaves a lot to be desired. Actually, I think that if I examine my own freebies from four or five years ago, I'd probably think that too.

However, from time to time someone offers something exceptional and I think this is one of those occasions. Miabella Foxley is offering a "box of everything" free until September 9th. You can't go and buy the items from a shop or on Xstreet: you have to join her group and then download the only notice in the group to get the box.

Here are the full instructions. Log into your SL account, click search at the bottom of the screen, then click the people tab in the search window. Type in Miabella Foxley and search for her profile. On the first page of her profile, you will see a list of her groups, which includes M.Fox Boxed. Double click on that group and the window for the group opens up. Join the group, go to the group notices page, click to download the only notice, and you will have a box in your inventory.

Go somewhere that you can build, drag the box out of your inventory and right click it, choose open, and then click the button at the bottom of the screen once it has loaded, to save the items to your inventory.

Everything you see in the photograph and a lot more is included in the box. It is a great shame that so much of it is no mod, and a large amount of it is no transfer, but the items are of very good quality, and many would be useful to dress a build - stacks of books, books with papers, an electric fan to name but three.

I'm not sure whether this is a question of being unable to pay rent on a store, a publicity stunt, a cry for help or a symptom of frustration, but I think it will certainly draw attention to Ms Foxley's work.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

New SL youtube videos

Second Life have released three new videos, filmed by Ill clan studios, to publicise the Second Life we al know and love: What is Second Life? Shopping in Second Life; Virtual Land in Second Life.

They're pretty good - not too many words, slick editing, not too long, and they convey the message. They'd have come in useful for the slogging around to marketing companies I have done in the past few years.

Oh! and they have a new website too. It's where their website always has been, which makes the tinyurl "sneak peek" message of the day on the login screen very...odd.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pathfinder sims

As for buses, so for blogging... you wait weeks for a new SL post from me, and then get a whole bunch on the same day. Actually it's a displacement activity that avoids me doing what I should be doing - I'll be on to that next.

Having visited Golgothica on the advice of Kora (see previous post) I then went to the Pathfinder sims. This is the slurl for one of them. Initially I must admit that I was a little concerned that I had fallen into thehands of one of those shiny cults which dresses up its cultishness in management-training speak. Then I wondered if it was a cover for a Christian group, who would suddenly appear out of the woodwork to save me. As far as I can see it is neither of those things exactly.

The build does bear some resemblance in parts to the Kingdom of Sand, or maybe it is simply that I begin to recognise the style of Baal Zobel, the builder. I didn't have a lot of time to explore, and parts of the sim still seem to be under construction, but it seems to have some interesting ideas within it, and videos of someone called Adrian Gilpin (Adrian Pathfinder in SL) showing people how to, um, live. There's more information on his website here.

Edited to add: I should have visited the "prices and booking" page of the Pathfinder website. £3500 for a weekend, not incuding travel to Marrakesh! See there's the reason SL is great: it doesn't cost you £3500 to visit a sim, and you don't kill the planet - or bankrupt yourself - getting there

Best of SL: Golgothica

I hadn't realised until this morning that my post on the Kingdom of Sand had drawn a comment from Kora, the owner there, pointing me in the direction of the other builds by Baal Zobel. I am outrageously busy at the moment, but I see exploring in SL as part of that work, as I so often get ideas or learn things from the way that other people do things. So I went this morning to explore Golgothica. You can fnd an SLURL to it here.

The conventions for getting to the build seem roughly the same as for the Kingdom of Sand: you are teleported to an area where you can buy into the role paying game and get clothing that is appropriate, or you can get a guest tag to wear, which will make the teleports work for you. I bought a weapon, which incuded a game controller etc because I was misled into thinking it was essential, and then found I could have worn the guest tag instead... something which contradicts the notecards which are thrown at you when you arrive. Never mind, the income from the weapons helps to keep the sim going, and having seen it, I am glad to support the effort.

Once you are fit to go to the sim, clicking on the crystal ball transports you to the village. It's a no-fly zone, so you have to explore in order to get around. Golgothica is a role playing game with different roles and groups to join. I set my group as traveller and went off to explore. The building, texturing, design is wonderful, and I am sure I simply scratched the surface of what is available there.

I would so love to build something like this with an educational purpose... a sim from the 17th century maybe. Once upon a time I was dismissive of the benefits of role playing and trying ancient crafts for example for oneself, but I have seen enough episodes of Time Team to know that you can learn things by trying out ancient crafts oneself, that it is impossible to learn from any book. It seems to me that there might be things to learn from a role paying historical sim... and things to teach.

My ideal would be a game that is fun and interesting to play, but which provides ones with real information. However, just providing the role playing for fun is good too, especially when the construction is of the high level found here.