Tuesday, January 30, 2007

What is a photograph?

I've picked the time of day to get the light I want. There's the subject. I move around to get the right point of view, make sure the tree doesn't look like it's growing out of anyone's head and no gratuitous detail is there to distract the viewer, and push the button.

...but according to flickr, it's a screenshot, not a photograph, because I did it in Second Life.

OTOH, if I pull out my camera and take a picture of my monitor with a spreadsheet on it, that's a photograph. I used a camera, and actual photons were used in the creation of the image.

In Second Life, a good... whatever it is... requires attention to lighting and composition. I've used forced perspective. <church_lady> Techniques used in... oh, I don't know... could it be... photography? </church_lady>

I can't take advantage of depth of field, as far as I know, or control the exposure to get (or stop) motion blur. OTOH, with a digital camera you need GIMP or Photoshop to get the equivalent of double exposure, or Sabatier effect... does that mean using a digital camera isn't really photography?

Monday, January 29, 2007

"We are not evil"... Magnatune comes to SL

If you have had enough of the RIAA and the way most record labels are set up to screw the musician at every possible opportunity (see "Courtney Love Does the Math" and Steve Albini's "The Problem with Music" for some details), then I hope you will head right over to Magnatune. We'll be right here when you get back.

(The short version, if you didn't follow the link: Magnatune is a record label that makes a point of not screwing the musicians who sign with them. Said musicians retain the rights to their work, and when you buy a CD from Magnatune, the performers get half of the money you pay. You decide what you want to pay, within limits, and get for your money a link to a place to download a burnable ISO file. Magnatune also does a great deal to let you listen before you buy, and is quite accomodating to streaming internet radio and podcasters.)

The good news: Magnatune now has an elegant presence in SL.

In an open field, you're greeted by a sign and a screen that can display a video about the label.

Surrounding you are separate listening areas, each dedicated to one of the wide variety of musical genres Magnatune offers recordings in. You can listen to selections and view the surrounding fields. Very relaxing! (Now to find an animation that will blow my hair back in the style of that famous Maxell ad...)

The little blue box on the pole is for comments which you are invited to leave; there's one by each listening area.

A lovely site for an excellent recording label... and Mordecai's decision to use a Magnatune stream for the beautiful teahouse he built was one of the factors in their decision to have a presence in SL.

If you didn't visit Magnatune's web site before, I hope you'll do it now... and visit their SL area, and the teahouse. You'll be glad you did.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

There was a little girl/and she had a little curl...

I've found a wonderful combination of outfit and hair that I will definitely take some pictures of... once I can make one little change.

Some places that sell hair give you small, medium, and large versions for small, medium, and large heads. Others don't. This utterly gorgeously over-the-top hair comes in one size, and is perfect, save that one strand appears to grow from the middle of my forehead when I put it on.

Remember the bit about details you'd normally pass over standing out in photographs? If I take a picture now, I swear you could not look away from that one strand of hair!

So... I have an IM out to the excellent designer of that hair, and I'm sure there's some trivial adjustment I can make that will solve the problem. Then the pictures will be taken!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I could get to like that...

I've started putting some of my flickr pictures in the Second Life group. It's been well under a day, and they seem to be accumulating quite a few views.

I just hope I don't get to like that too much.

UPDATE: A gentleman politely IMed me to say he likes my pictures... and someone I don't know gave me a red leather jacket. Goodness.

Actual Giant Avatars

An entry in the Electric Venus blog claims that, at least at the time of the entry, there was a bug in SL that actually permitted giant avatars. Given the problems associated with the bug, I can understand not revealing the technique... but I wish I could try it just for a little bit!

Return to Opal Island

Mordecai and I had some time to explore this morning, so we decided to try Opal Island.

I'd forgotten to save a landmark, so I searched for "Opal Island," unlike the time I first came upon it when I searched for "beaches." All that turned up was a landmark for the gaming area on the island. I should have seen this as an omen.

I teleported there and, after some exploring to reorient myself, offered Mordecai a TP.
We wandered by the meditation dome and by Mount Pele, which looked even less impressive than I remembered, and then found the beach again.

We changed into appropriate clothing... and found nearly nothing appropriate for a couple! One place large enough for two to lie down had poseballs, but the positions were awkward, almost random-seeming. For a bit, we sat in adjacent chairs beneath a yellow umbrella... and giggled at the synchronized animations. (If there's an SL Olympics, that should be an event!)

We ended up on a log, with Mordecai lying on the log and me sitting in front of him. Very frustrating, though we did have a laugh with the jingle for "Log" from Ren & Stimpy.

It's not that I'm expecting anything that would, as they say, frighten the horses... but there are discreet and romantic poses and animations for two, and I would have liked for one to be there.

So... Opal Island was as frustrating with wonderful company as it was alone, at least for me.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Wood Nymph Postscript

Here's a picture without forced perspective to give some idea of the real scale. In it, I'm standing by one of the lovely torches that light one's way through the Lost Gardens of Apollo at night. It's the one apparently just behind me in the photos from the previous entry. I stand 7'2" in my woodnymph stocking feet, so the torch is something like 14' tall; maybe 16' if you count the flame. So... I have Allison Hayes beat, especially since by design I consist largely of legs.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Melissa the Giant Wood Nymph

I was wandering about and shopping (a dangerous combination) when I happened across a store with some very nice clothing.

It's Chaospire, and if you're interested in fantasy/goth inspired clothing, it's well worth visiting. It's not inexpensive, but... you're getting some beautifully detailed work with wonderful flowing shapes and forms for your money (and service after the sale, from looking at the note that accompanied the clothing I bought!). There are three stories to the store, though only one has inventory at the moment. I am very much looking forward to the time that all three floors are full!

So... off I headed after changing into "Woodnymph" and rummaging through inventory for a little wilder auburn hairdo, in search of woods to appear in. The Lost Gardens of Apollo leapt to mind... and the spot by the statue of Icarus (if it's not Icarus, it should be!) that is beautifully lit at midnight. I took some pictures there, though for my purposes sunset turned out better than midnight, and then headed off to look for other places.

There was a spot by a waterfall that looked nice, so I sat there.. and seemed to sink waist-deep into the ground! "All right," I grumbled to myself, "I'll use this sit pose that seems to raise one up a bit." I ran it in the world... and rose a few feet into the air. Mutter, mumble, mutter, mumble... all right, I'll rotate the POV around so it looks like I'm on the ground! I did so, and then I looked at myself with a wild surmise, like stout Cortez' men (actually Balboa, but that's not important right now)...

Forced perspective.

Flashback to fourth grade: for a time, my sister and I stayed with our paternal grandparents. We got to stay up on Saturday night and watch the late night horror movies. I only remember two of them from that time: Frankenstein 1970, a sad rehash of the Frankenstein story that I guess at least got Boris Karloff a paycheck, and Attack of the Fifty-Foot Woman.

My fourth-grade mind didn't understand the arguments between Harry and Nancy Archer, or why Harry went off with whatever her name was (played by Playboy playmate Yvette Vickers, as I learned later--I thought Allison Hayes was far prettier). It didn't care about the wretched special effects, which featured the black and white equivalent of the weatherman who forgets and wears a suit of the chroma-key color. It just saw the fifty-foot Allison Hayes and was impressed, and wanted to be her.

Back to the present. I took a picture or two..

...and a gentleman walked up and greeted me. We talked about Linux a bit, and I noticed that he was positioned perfectly for my purposes... so I asked whether he minded appearing in pictures I was taking. He didn't, so I took a couple more and then finally undid the pose, stood up, and walked over and conversed, said thanks, and introduced myself like a civilized being (as John Bigbooté would say).

Thanks to Leonardo Delvecchio for allowing the use of his image!

P.S. Since there are tiny avatars out there, I should explain about forced perspective. Signore Delvecchio is of normal height. No avatars were harmed in the making of these images. This is the SL equivalent of standing close to the camera and holding out your hand while your friend stands way back in the field positioned just right to make it look like he or she is tiny and you're holding him or her in your outstreched hand.

The (Insomniac) Model Despite Herself

It was something ridiculous thirty in the morning, RL time... I'd forgotten to turn the TV off, and the theme from Without a Trace blasted me awake as the credits rolled. I was all the way awake, so as they recommend, I got out of bed and, as they don't necessarily recommend, got on the computer and headed back to SL...

...where I was IM-ed, thanks to belonging to the group Rowan Carroll has associated with her "She's So Unusual" shoe store and blog, with those two little words that mean so much... "L$50 SALE."

I TP-ed right over to DollyRock and in turn invited the ever-stylish Xaxoqual over as well. Not everything was priced at L$50, but everything was quite reasonably priced. DollyRock has quite a variety of dresses, from formal wear to silks and some items a bit too daring for shy little me. I couldn't resist "Sara," with its just slightly midriff-baring top, patterned hose, and flexi miniskirt (and base/glitchpants, never fear), especially in the unusual color of mustard (don't think French's, think the good stuff :)).

Rowan asked for volunteers to model, and I volunteered. So, if you take a look at this entry in her wonderful blog, you'll see Rowan in a cute pink sweater and a seriously mini skirt, along with the very elegant Xaxoqual and the equally elegant Beverly... and me in mustard. (I hope you'll relish it... ouch. Comedy is best left to professionals.)

We caught the very end of the sale, but DollyRock is still very much worth checking out... and do join Rowan's group!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Opal Island

(Sorry, Otis; I never could whistle that high G...)

I said I'd go to the beach, and by golly, I did.

Opal Island has many delights to offer the visitor... but I was a bit saddened when I arrived and was immediately faced with a notecard explaining the rules and stating in no uncertain terms that violating them, or trying to skate around them, will earn one immediate and permanent eviction from the island. Sad that there should be such people as to make that notecard necessary.

I wandered the beach, went up to Mount Pele, and over to the shopping area... and I was lonely. I guess I'd gone there at the wrong time, for not another person was there to be seen... except for some jerk who walked up and uttered the deathless line "u see my [portion of male anatomy]". I replied "I'd rather not, thanks" and ignored him until he went away... and then, as usual, a snappy comeback sprang to mind too late for use. Just as well. (It did inspire me to search a little, though, and I can report that two places in SL do sell microscopes.)

I went on to the meditation sphere, a lovely place, but my heart wasn't in it. I missed Mordecai. Exploring alone isn't quite as much fun any more. Perhaps there's some contrary of Callahan's Law. Don't let my downer keep you from visitng, though; it is worth it.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

SL photography

In some ways, photography in SL is like photography in RL... because the viewers are people in both cases. For example, the principles of composition still hold.

People are very good at ignoring things. When you look at a scene, you don't take it in all at once; your eyes jump around from place to place. Some things you label important, and those you pay attention to; the rest can for the most part go fish.

When you hand someone a photograph, that photograph becomes the important thing...as a whole. Then the viewer notices the telephone pole appearing to stick out of Aunt Bertha's head, the building peeking out from the left side, the gum wrapper on the ground in front of Uncle Joe.

So... you as a photographer have the job of being the substitute low-level visual processor for your audience. You select what's important, and then make sure the other stuff isn't there, or is all fuzzy so the viewer can still ignore it.

(I've discovered that this can be hard when you're emotionally attached to the subject, because your ability to ignore things works overtime. You have to be able to step back and be professional... and perhaps that's the basis of the old joke about the photographer who had visited some poverty-stricken area and afterwards told a fellow photographer about seeing a truly tragic woman, clearly barely surviving. "What did you give her?" "Oh, 1/120th second, f/2.8.")

You also have to deal with lighting...to an extent. I tried to get a silhouette picture taken at sunset, and couldn't quite manage it; the portions away from the sun were too well lit. Even so, you still can manipulate light sources, and even create objects to serve as fill lighting.

But what about depth of field? In RL, you can take advantage of it to blur unimportant items. Is there anything analogous you can do in SL, aside from hauling out Photoshop or the GIMP after the fact?

I think there'd be interest in some SL photography classes. I know I'd take them!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Geez, Louise, it's two below, honey...

(What? You say that's not what Van Morrison was singing?)

In RL, winter finally got here last weekend. As I type, it's three degrees Fahrenheit outside, and they're talking 24 for a high. (That's something like -15 and -4 Celsius respectively, I think.)

I think I'm going to find myself a nice beach in SL. Pictures after I get back...

Sunday, January 14, 2007

"Been shopping?" "No, been shopping!"

Mordecai asked if we could go shopping yesterday. Anyone familiar with information theory will know that my reply carried zero information, since it had a probability of one... more briefly, I answered "Yes."

We went to places that Rowan Carroll describes in her fashion blog She's So Unusual... first to Trinity and then to SF Designs.
He had this tendency to look at lingerie... but we did find him some boots at Trinity that look quite good with jeans and his "Amoeba" T-shirt by Masterblaster Ay. Along with sunglasses, he had quite the Billy Idol vibe going.

(Sigh... on one hand, if someone wants to go find these things, it's important to provide pointers, but on the other hand, I look at what I just wrote and say "God, I sound like a shallow name-dropping twit whose company I couldn't bear for a minute!")

I had to leave unexpectedly, which I fear removed any constraint I might have provided, for when I signed back on, rather a lot of things appeared in my inventory. (They're wonderful, and thank you, dear...)

Herewith, two pictures: in one, I'm relaxing at home with a good book, and in the other I'm admiring the flowers by the waterfall. Both are set in places that are the result of Mordecai's wonderful construction work. He's described it in his blog, but I think I need to go take pictures and post about it myself.

About the picture of me reading: in it, I have on some shorts and one of the lovely Triangle tops that Trinity sells. Dare I say there is a certain, um, inconsistency between the enthusiasm Mordecai showed for it and the attitude he takes towards his little sister Sorcha's choice of attire? Perhaps you shouldn't look at that photo, Sorcha... :)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

More Silly Word Play

This occurred to me during a Goddess and Banana show titled "Full Moon," but I'm sure I'll forget about it before next Halloween...so we'll see whether anyone thinks up "Werewolves of Linden" for an article or blog entry. :)

My Friend flickr

I'm now set up on flickr, so that you can see my photos there. I'll put more photos there than are here in the blog... at least that's my intent.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

About Open Sourcing the SL Client

To paraphrase Lord John Whorfin, "Haven't you heard? Linden Labs has done it!" The Second Life client has been open sourced. You can grab the sources and compile it yourself.

(Admittedly, current open source JPEG2000 libraries aren't up to the speed of the proprietary library the official client links to. I hope that will be corrected.)

So... predictably, the rants have started from people unencumbered by knowledge of security. (Also logical inference. I've seen one complaint that on the very morning of the announcement, a place on the Grid was plagued by copybots. Never mind that copybot has been around for months...)

People have been thinking about security for a long time. Back in the 19th century, Auguste Kerckhoffs did so in the context of codes and ciphers, and wrote it up. (He was quite an interesting fellow; big in the Volapük community.) He set forth a principle that remains important to this day, though how it's stated varies:
  • Assume the enemy knows the algorithm/has captured one of your devices.
  • Security must reside solely in the cipher keys.
In the computer field, it's that so-called "security by obscurity" is not security at all.

As has been stated repeatedly, things sent to your computer, such as textures and prims, can be copied. There's no way around it. You can go off in another window and look for a directory where the client keeps its cache, or fire up a debugger and trap calls to routines that expect a pointer to the thing you want to copy, or just press "Print Screen."

I hope that the open sourcing will lead to a great deal of experimentation with the user interface and with the way information is displayed, to improvements in security and performance as more skilled programmers have a chance to look at the source code, and that the improvements will, after study and verification, get back into the LL client.

Does this mean that you should go grab Nachtflugen Storm Doors and MMORPGs's custom SL client and use it? Not necessarily. You will have to decide whom to trust. (I doubt there will be many such clients, at least not in wide use. Changes to the SL client will have to run the same kind of gantlet that patches to the Linux kernel do.)

This is the same kind of trust you put in any program when you run it. You don't directly do anything on a computer; you run programs that you trust to perform as advertised and do what you want and nothing else. (That's why you should always run with the least privilege required to do what you need to do at the time. It minimizes the damage if your trust is misplaced.)

An SL client could, in theory, send your name and password to someone other than the server to loot your account at his or her leisure. Perhaps it's written by a left-winger who wants equal distribution of wealth, so that it gives away all your L$ and transferable inventory to the first N people you see, after making everything you created transferable. Maybe SpamCo commissioned a version that makes your avatar shout "Buy Gesornenplatz Beer!" every twenty seconds... or even worse, makes you actually buy Gesornenplatz Beer every twenty seconds, buying L$ when you go broke so you can keep doing it.

For that reason, I seriously doubt that there will be many SL clients out there in wide use. Most will be small experimental branches off the LL code used only by the person or persons experimenting, unless and until their creators have some way to establish the kind of trust needed for people to actually use their client.

P.S. If anyone reading this in time (unlikely at this point) gets to the meet with Cory, could you ask how people working independently on the client will be able to keep up with the changes/bug fixes in the versions that LL will no doubt continue to come out with?

UPDATE: The answer to my question: yes, it will be a pain for a while to have to update one's experimental client with changes in the official one, but one of the side effects of upcoming redesign is relieving that difficulty.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Slender or spindly?

Sigh. Body image anxiety follows one into SL. Guess it just goes to prove the immortal words of Buckaroo Banzai: "No matter where you go... there you are."

I like having long legs. Really long legs. Most of the time, I think they look good. Some examples:But then I look at other pictures, like these:
and I don't see slender; I see spindly, especially when I compare myself with others on SL. (I hope Natalia won't mind if I cite her as an example of someone on SL with incredible legs.) I guess I need to spend some time with the sliders and more importantly deciding what I really want.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A moral victory, at least...

Proposition 125 has been marked "acknowledged" by the Lindens, with the not terribly committal note "We agree avatar customization and quality should improve over time."

If you voted for the proposition, then
  1. Your votes for it have been returned to you to apply elsewhere.... and I respectfully request that you consider applying at least some of them to Proposition 2072.
  2. You have my thanks, and I would bet also the thanks of the proposition's author, Snakekiss Noir.
Now we wait... which we did before, admittedly, but now, I hope, we're a step closer to a time when I can really fiddle with the sliders, and when one needn't choose between exquisite fashion and being well-endowed.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Contest Revisited

Be sure to check out Mordecai's blog entry about the contest; he took far better photos of it than my effort. They're beautifully composed and they capture the feel of it very well indeed.

Scary Real, Part Three

"Look down from in high places..."

The last few times on the Grid I've spent much of the time hundreds of meters in the air. I hesitate to call it a skybox, because it's not a box; it's a square plot of ground (with grass!) floating in the sky and fenced on three sides.

There's nothing to render there but the two of us... and this morning I came close to 30 fps. Animations are truly amazing under those conditions.

It makes me want to not come back to the ground.

Monday, January 01, 2007

We Dance and Tie/Win a Contest

I took advantage of my last day before work starts up again to wander around a bit... and then was IMed about a party and contest. It was a dance party at Elevation in the HotShop Mall, and the contest was "Best Formal {Men's, Women's} Clothing." Two prizes (one per gender) of $300L were up for grabs. I arrived in one outfit, but thought better of it, and changed to Nicky Ree's beautiful Shanae gown (of the deep red persuasion), deciding it was more formal.

Then I danced for an hour and a half! (Too bad that doesn't count as aerobic...) During that interval, Mordecai came on (yay!) and was willing to come dance and enter. I zipped over to give my opinion, for whatever it's worth, on which suit he should wear, and back we went.

Good heavens, there was such a concentration of utterly beautiful women and dashingly handsome men. Most of the men went for the conventional tux or black or slate gray suit... one amazing red vest made me want to rush right over and feel the material, but I decided propriety was the better choice, and in any case, all thoughts of that were pushed away by Mordecai's presence... no, not out of guilt! I'd suggested that he wear a wonderful plum-colored suit of his, to contrast with all the black and gray, and he definitely did contrast, as did his striking blond dreadlocks. Once he was there, I was sort of "Oh, there are other people here, aren't there?" when I noticed at all. Time passed much faster then!

Time came to vote, and with a reasonable half hour for people to vote (it was pretty laggy with all the beautiful people present), the results came. Mordecai tied for best men's outfit, and I won women's.

I was dumbfounded at having won. There were so many other women there, gorgeous women, impeccably dressed. I'm still in a bit of a daze.

The other wonderful thing that happened was that Sorcha, Mordecai's SL adopted little sister, showed up to dance and vote. She more than held her own among the stunning women there, and afterwards we had a lovely chat back in the calm of the teahouse. (I really needed that calm.)

At the top is a photo of our slow dance after the results were in and the crowd thinned out; lovely Sorcha is in the red dress over by the zebra-striped bit of the floor, dancing and kindly waiting for us to complete our dance and me to fumble through taking the picture.

Thank you, Mordecai and Sorcha... and thank you, Nicky Ree.

Postscript: ...and thank you, Cheyenne.

I realized that the name of the place had fallen out of short term memory, and they deserved to be named, so that any who read this could go there and have fun as well...so back I went. The place was almost empty, save for one lovely young woman who asked me if I had any clothing of a certain sort.

Well, I said, I might... but she should try New Citizens Plaza, and the Free Dove, and various other places... and then I remembered Pixel Dolls and the kindness Cheyenne had shown me some time ago, and that I had $300L sitting in my virtual pocket...

May I do something for you that a wonderful lady once did for me? I asked.

Yes, came the reply...but by the time I got into position and offered the teleport, she'd gone offline. I figured she might be having difficulties, waited a bit, and reluctantly signed off.

Fortunately, I'd befriended her before that... and when I came back on this evening, there she was!

I asked her over again, and this time it worked. I gave the spiel, set her up, urged her to check out all three floors, and stole silently away.

OK... Rambam wouldn't approve totally; we knew each other, so it's not at the top of his hierarchy. But it felt awfully good, and he'd approve partially at least. So thank you, Cheyenne, for a fine end to a wonderful day.

Post-Postscript: I don't know my Rambam. The top of the list for tzedakah is preventing the need in the first place, by helping the person who'd otherwise receive the charity become self-sufficient.

Not really funny

I suppose that New Year's Eve, which in the US at least is associated with drinking to excess, is a good time to discuss this.

A couple of times in SL I've seen animations of intoxication. It makes me very uncomfortable, and very sad; I'd hoped that we as a culture had outgrown that.

Back in the Mesolithic Era when I was a child :), it was acceptable in popular culture to make fun of the intoxicated. Foster Brooks and Sheb Wooley's drunken alter ego Ben Colder both had that as their shtik.

(UPDATE: And who could forget Dean Martin? Well, actually, I could, because I did.)

It was even in cartoons! One WB cartoon I remember from my childhood featured a mouse trapped in a food processing plant. At one point, the mouse fell into a vat of "pickling solution" and emerged "pickled" (one of the endless euphemisms for drunkenness), staggering down a conveyor belt barely escaping fatal injury. It was supposed to be funny; I was in tears.

I don't think that one can build a career on such routines now. At least I hope not. (Actually, that wasn't the worst of it; remember Frank Fontaine's recurring character of "Crazy" Guggenheim on the Jackie Gleason Show? He added possible brain damage to the mix.)

I'm sorry if I'm Puritanical... but it's just inherently sad to me. (Yes, I have been intoxicated; it happened when I had dinner at a friend's house, and he served an appropriate sort of wine with each course. I became rather silly... but the next day I was embarrassed, and even more shocked at how I didn't realize at the time how I was slipping into that state and out of control. Never again.)