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Moriash Moreau: My Second Life
Monday, January 22, 2007
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Well. That's new.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Latest Walking Setup
or Moriash Moreau and the Monitor of Damocles

Addendum, 1/23/07: Previous weblog entries for this project are here (the computer interface), here (encoders and controls), and here (miscellaneous development). I'm consolidating the links in this post mostly for my own convenience.

Haven't posted any pictures of the walking rig lately, but I've made a few improvements since the last time.

Aside from minor tweaking for usability purposes, I've made two substantial upgrades to the rig. First, I added a shelf below the keyboard for a mouse and mousepad. (I may have mentioned this one before. I can't remember, and can't find any references in a quick search, anyway.) This required only another sheet of pegboard, four long bolts, four nuts, and some washers. But it made things in SL much, much nicer.

If you've ever attempted to walk or fly long distances in-world (as opposed to teleporting like any sane person would do), you know that you can't walk across more than a sim or two without running into an eviction notice from a security system. And, of course, these require the use of a mouse to dismiss, which meant that I had to either step off the treadmill or put up with an eighth of my screen (including the preferred location of my mini-map) being covered with a useless box. Add to that the occasional spam notecard, and I had to come up with something. I was getting as much exercise running back and forth to my desk as I was getting on the treadmill! The addition of a mouse to my rig allowed me to occasionally pay some bills or do a little websurfing, as well, on the rare mornings when the sights in SL didn't appeal.

And, incidentally, why, oh why would anyone think that it's a good idea to send an unsolicited notecard to everyone that walks within 96 meters of their shop? I swear, even if the shop was called "Stuff Moriash Would Love, For Free!" I'd give it a miss if it greeted me with a screen-filling advertisement. I installed a pop-up blocker on my web browser to stop such things. I'm eagerly awaiting new client upgrades to do the same thing.

But I digress. Frequently. The second upgrade involved replacing the unstable tower of TV trays, PVC pipe, zip ties, and duct tape that was supporting my monitor. That rig was never intended to be a permanent fixture, only an interim solution until I decided if I was going to keep on with the SL walking bit. After five months of using it several times a week, I think it's safe to say I'm going to stick with it.

The new rig isn't anything terribly complicated. I just finished it a few minutes ago, after only a few hours work. It's simply a slab of plywood, bolted to the wall for stability and supported by a five foot tall, 1-1/4" diameter water pipe. The pipe is affixed to the plywood table and a wooden base using pipe stanchions and wood screws. I even took the time to paint it. It may look flimsy in the pictures, but it's rock solid. I even felt comfortable replacing the old 17" monitor with an even older, but larger, 21" display. And, let me tell you, I think the older monitors were built with depleted uranium (NSFW audio) or something. Dang near ruptured some of my favorite body parts lifting that monstrosity onto the shelf. But even with the extra weight, it all seems quite solid.

I guess we'll see. If I come home to find a giant monitor smashed to flinders on the floor of my office, well, I guess it didn't work. And if I don't update for a while, it probably means that the Monitor of Damocles fell on top of me while I was at my desk. In that case, I expect a lavish in-world funeral.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
Plywood Returns?
Or, at least, it will soon. Maybe.

Don't hold me to this, but I think I'm going to start Plywood up again. Unfortunately, I'll be going it solo this time around. Sadly, World of Warcraft has claimed another victim. Monica is busy killing orcs and trolls, in addition to RL obligations elsewhere. It's going to be tough to do the comic without her work, but I'm going to give it a shot. So, if you notice a sharp decline in the quality of the props and avatars, not to mention in the funny, blame her!

Big thanks go out to Tateru Nino for her advice on how to streamline our comic creation process. Go read her comics! Now! I'll still be here when you get back.

I'm sure I'll have more to say about this later.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Grid Maze
After last week's mention of the invisible maze in the Messenger, I decided to pull an old project out of limbo and finish it.

Here I am inside the newly completed Grid Maze. The maze is a 20 meter by 40 meter by 4 meter rectangle, with interior corridors composed of 2 meter by 4 meter panels. It rezzes on demand in the SkyArena (teleporter located near the entry point linked there on the right). Just touch the black sphere in the center of the Arena, and select "Maze" from the dialog box. Give it a moment to generate the maze, then have a go at it!

Oh, and I'll let you, dear reader, in on a secret: it cheats! The maze walls rotate at random every few seconds... But only if you're not looking. Each maze wall checks for the presence of an avatar before moving. If an av is too close, or is facing in the direction of the wall, it stays still. If the player's back is turned, the wall has a 50-50 chance of moving. Repeat this across a couple hundred maze wall elements (there's a reason I don't keep this thing rezzed full time!), and the overall effect is quite disorienting.

The maze makes no attempt to verify that a valid path exists in any given configuration. This just adds to the confusion. Dead ends appear where open hallways were before, while new paths open up behind you. I've found that it's quite possible to work your way from one end to the other, simply by retracing your steps until a new pathway appears. But, if you become trapped, there are random teleporters built into the floors and ceilings. Right click on them and select "Teleport," and your av will be transported to a random location inside the maze. (Or, actually, a random location within the same 20 meter by 10 meter rectangle.) And, if you get frustrated, any wall can be used in the same way to teleport outside.

Working out the Arena rezzer for this one reminded me of an important lesson: always look for the simple solution. I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to work out schemes to deal with avatars standing inside the borders of the maze as it was being rezzed. I tinkered with scanners to lock it out if the area was blocked, push scripts to nudge avatars out of the way, IMs to warn avatars they're about to become trapped, as well as combinations of those and more. Everything was cumbersome and unreliable. Finally, more or less by accident, I stumbled across a simple hack that worked: the rezzer first temporarily rezzes large, invisible boxes to fill the work area. Then, if anyone is inside that volume, their avatar is slowly, but surely, squirted out of the way. Why not let Havok's version of the Pauli Exclusion Principle do the work? A single sensor sweep on rez drives a modest push script, with just enough force to nudge the avatars inside the volume and "wake up" physics for avatars that remain still after the blocking prim is rezzed. (Also a handy tip if you need an avatar to stop hanging in the air after the floor disappears.) After adding that refinement, this turned out to be much more reliable than any other scheme I could devise. So, lesson learned: look for the simple solution first.
Monday, January 15, 2007
MLK Day Avatar
You know, Lee Cronin and the stalwart crew of the Enterprise said it far better than I could. So I'm going to let the picture speak for itself.

Exactly two people I met in-world this evening got the reference. I'm a little disappointed about that. Makes me feel old. (To be fair, the original Star Trek is a bit before my time, too.) A bit back, it was announced that the average age of SL citizens is 33 years old. That can't possibly be right. I still think there's a small, but dedicated, cadre of tech-savvy octogenarians skewing the numbers.

Moriash (left) and Throfofnir Balnarring (right) as Oppressed and Oppressor (respectively). Cheron grey costumes by Throf. Face and upper body tattoos by yours truly.

I would like to take the opportunity to point everyone to this comment by dga Kyomoon, the originator of the alternate avatar idea. He explains his original intention, and expands a bit on what it would take for the gesture to become meaningful. His intention wasn't to spin this as a learning experience for the av wearers, per se, but as a demonstration on par with the many MLK day parades in RL. Just read the comment. He explains it better than I.

As for me, I honestly didn't see anything all that different in SL today. Not that I could reasonably expect one announcement in the NWN to change the face of SL in 24 hours, in any case. But I was looking, anyway.

I spent a couple of hours wandering the grid, listenting to the chatter and hanging out in the background. (I excel at that. It's easier than interacting.) Perhaps there were more racial epithets skewed towards people of African descent than normal. Or perhaps not. I confess I don't spend much time out in the big bad grid, so I can't really establish a baseline.

Over the course of a few hours, I didn't see anyone obviously playing alternate races. But, then, how would I know? Certainly nobody was flagrant about it. Which, I suppose, could be encouraging in and of itself. Anyone playing up the stereotypes to the point that I'd notice them in passing would clearly be missing the point, whatever that point may ultimately be.

So, the upshot is that I have gleaned no particular insights this evening. I dressed up in my geeky little av, felt a little silly, and wandered SL looking for some signs of people... I don't know, having epiphanies, I guess. What does that look like, anyway? Is there a gesture for it? In any case, I'm still not altogether certain what I was expecting, but I didn't find it.

Sometimes, I think I expect too much from SL.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Read This Now...
...Because I'll probably chicken out and delete it before too long.

I just spent about 40 minutes writing and erasing comments on this entry in New World Notes. I finally gave up, because it's just too volatile a topic. Frankly, I'm not interested in sitting in the center of a racial conflict on a public forum. Here, on the other hand, with my single-digit readership, I'll risk it.

"Yeah, let's twiddle our appearance sliders and pretend we're Black, in honor of Martin Luther King Day!" Does anyone else think that's a remarkably bad idea? What's next, putting on the cork and belting out a chorus of "Jump Jim Crow?" I can't think of anything less respectful to the late Dr. King's memory than a bunch of middle-class white folks (and, face it, that's still the overwhelming majority in SL) doctoring their pixel representations and pretending to "spend a day living in the world embodied in the skin of another."

Well, okay, I can think of more disrespectful things than that. Quite a few. And, sadly, I see most of them in RL at least once or twice a week. But, still, good grief. With all due respect to Erika Thereian's insights, and precisely because of the experiences leading to them, this is just asking for trouble, of a mediagenic and astoundingly inflammatory sort.

Ten out of ten for good intentions, guys. Minus several million for good sense.
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Maze in the News
The January 9, 2007 issue ( 4.3 MB PDF) of the Metaverse Messenger, in addition to its normal in-depth coverage of SL current events, just did a nice write-up of mazes on the grid. (I've scanned copies of the clippings: part one and part two.) As staff writer John Franchini points out, there are few mazes remaining in Second Life. They tend to be prim heavy, and take up considerable space. And there's no profit in them. I might add that few Grid citizens have the patience either to build them or to navigate them, especially given the frustration and disorientation inherent in clumsy avatar movement guided by the default camera (either in third person or mouselook) in close quarters. But, nonetheless, a few artistic souls persist in maintaining scattered mazes constructed here and there.

I'm one of them. I was quite pleased and surprised to the Garden of Mo's "invisible maze" mentioned in the article. I honestly haven't paid much mind to the maze in the past few months. I'd actually considered deleting it once or twice in the past few months, when my prim limit fell too low, but couldn't quite bring myself to do it. Glad I didn't, now. I may have to get back to a few more of the maze-based projects tucked away in my "Experimental, Incomplete" folder. I've been looking for a new project, anyway.
Monday, January 08, 2007
Here We Go...
Well, as I'm sure you've all heard by now, the Second Life Client went open source this morning. I'll spare you the semi-informed speculations about the potential enhancements on the horizon, and leave it with a simple WOOT! This is going to be an exceedingly cool time to be in SL.

And yet, I feel the same urge to tape my windows, stock up on water, and check my ammunition that I felt before the last hurricane hit my RL home. Two-million-plus people have just been handed the keys to the kingdom. Open sourcing the client is a necessary step for SL if it is to become the 3D web. But it's also a risky one.

Buckle up, folks. It's going to be a bumpy ride.
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Over the holidays, I ran across these little iZ toys from MacDonald's. Apparently, they're handing them out with Happy Meals. All in all, there's not much to them. Some light up, some make little musical noises when manipulated in a certain way. (The latter are considerably cooler than the former. Even preschoolers are unimpressed with red LEDs nowadays.) And they're oddly, compellingly cute, in a far-left-side-of-the-uncanny-valley kind of way. I'm sure that you've seen them, or their full-featured cousins, if you were anywhere near a rug rat this Christmas.

Am I the only one who immediately thought of Pierce Portocarrero machinima after seeing this?
Monday, January 01, 2007

Hey, I'm two years old today! Well, happy rez-day to me. Haven't changed a whole lot, have I? I think I've managed to look 12 sim-years (remember the four hour SL days) older. Must be the beard. I'm still wearing the halo, albeit invisibly. I'm going incognito.

Sorry, folks, no insights or ruminations, either on my rez-day or on this, the new RL year. Not right now. Though I'm one of SL's elders, I'm just older, not wiser. Maybe next year.