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.