Sunday, August 30, 2009

On Bowls, Anniversaries, and Lou's Epic Fail

This weekend has been kinda all about the high and low points of Second Life.

Let's start with a high point! The eighth Buccaneer Bowl was put on this Saturday by the ever-capable and always charming Thornton Writer, Lillian Shippe, and Lette Ponnier. For folks who don't know, the monthly Buccaneer Bowl is the premiere trivia event in Second Life, but it isn't run like any ordinary trivia game: instead of an every-avatar-for-itself approach, players form teams of three to four people and jointly compete for a share of over $10,000L in prize money. I've written about the Buccaneer Bowl a bunch in this blog, and every time I say it's a blast. I am pleased to report that this month was no exception, and the event went off with class, flair, and no shortage of puns and well-aimed taunts and jibes!

One new element to the game that was introduced last month but which I forgot to comment on is a new bonus question format, modeled on the party game Outburst. Instead of giving teams 75 seconds to collectively answer a two-part question, each player on a team competing for a bonus gets to shout out answers to a broad question—with the goal of getting (say) six, eight, or ten correct answers in the span of 60 seconds. In part the new bonus question format gets around problems with lag in group chat (where teams collaborate on their answers) but it's also a more entertaining format for teams not competing in the bonus questions because they get to watch the team vying for extra Lindens squirm—or, in some cases, easily glide to victory. The Frivolous Corsairs—my team—have done two of these Outburst style questions, and while we narrowly missed them both they are a ton of fun, and I hope the Buccaneer Bowl crew keeps them going.

This month, the nigh-unstoppable Triviators again took first prize in the Bowl—and more power to them, they play great!—followed by "Oh, Boomcirceschism" and the resurgent Trumpton Trivials. The Corsairs managed a fourth place finish this month, aided by a Special Guest Corsair of the porcine persuasion, who not only had possibly the cutest avatar on deck but injected a ton of humor into the proceedings…which is good because someone has to make up for my stare-at-the-deck-and-say-nothing tactics!

Compared to Rain Ninetails and our Special Guest Corsair, I'm the tallest!
(Not pictured, the tall and very dashing Lebn Bucyk, who had to run off to…)

Immediately after the Buccaneer Bowl—another high point! I was very pleased to attend the third (ohmigosh third!) anniversary of the Second Life couple Lebn Bucyk and Preston Benedict. Lebn and Preston invited everyone to their absolutely smashing virtual home, where folks put on their best Japanese-themed outfits (if they had 'em!), took in live music from Argentinean guitarist Joaquin Gustav (who really is one of the hardest-working performers in SL), spun to the tunes of DJ Otowan Fouget, and celebrated in high style. I've known Lebn almost my entire time in SL—he was one of the only people I knew to "look up" when I started on the trivia scene—and he and Preston have been great pals: Lebn graciously anchors the Frivolous Corsairs at the Buccaneer Bowl (and hosts his own Barefoot Trivia most weeks), while Preston has become one of my best landmark-swapping go-to-concerts toy-with-mercilessly ask-dumb-questions-to buddies. I'm absolutely no expert on relationships in SL—the curious might want to see fellow trivia-ite Luce Portland's thought-provoking discussion. My from-the-sidelines view has been that many SL relationships are brief, intense, and often rife with drama and pettiness. I count myself fortunate that my circle of virtual friends includes several seemingly-sane and stable couples. And it's kinda stunning to think that, where I'm apparently considered "a part of the scene" after only a year, Lebn & Preston have been a couple for three years and seem to be getting stronger all the time. All I can say is that I wish them the best, I'm proud and privileged to have them in my virtual life…and they throw fabulous parties.

Taking in fireworks over Lebn & Preston's home in celebration of their third anniversary.
And now…on to Lou's Epic Fail. Sigh.

One of the consequences of scheduling my Lou's Clue's trivia game on Saturday's at noon is that once a month it's going to run headlong into the unstoppable force of the Buccaneer Bowl. Technically, the Bowl is usually over in time for Lou's Clues, but let's face it—all the trivia people are going to be brain fried, stressed out, and twitchy after the Buccaneer Bowl, and the last thing they (or I!) want to do is rush off to more trivia. So when the Buccaneer Bowl happens, I either call off Lou's Clues or try to move it to Sunday, which has happily lead to teaming up with one of SL's absolutely best hostesses, the lovelysmartenchantingandtalented Sinnamon Sands. That was the plan this week: Sinn would run her infamous Survey Sez game (modeled after a game show called Family Feud) and I would toss trivia questions out in between.

So, RL being it's usual self, I get caught in a big traffic tie-up behind an accident, and only get home a minute before the game is supposed to start. I hurriedly plug in the notebook computer (which was in dead-battery land), fire up Second Life, log in, rush to [MonoChrome], open up my file of 22 painstakingly-prepared questions…

…and the file is completely empty.

Mind you, I'd had it open just an hour before—I swapped out one of the questions to simplify the game and wrote up a short statement of rules. And I thought, "Gosh, I should save this out to a thumb drive just in case!" but…the clock was ticking, the computer's battery indicator was flashing "1%" and I didn't want to take the chance of the battery dying while transferring a file. So I saved, put the computer to sleep, and headed home. And besides, if all else failed, I had a backup of the file from last night, just without the swapped-out question, so it'd be fine.

Well, it wasn't. And now there's a hole that exactly matches Lou's right elbow in the wall beside her desk. I don't quite remember when that happened; I was too busy screaming obscenities. Because that backup file? It was blank too.

So while Sinn ably kept the crowd entertained I scoured directories, looked for temp files, and scanned empty blocks for my questions. Little bits of them turned up, but not enough and not in time. So the bottom line is that people showed up to see Lou get pnwed by some still-unknown technical problem.

And I've been running tests on the drive for the last two and half hours. Everything checks out. So far, all other backed up files are intact. The only oddity is that my fave text editor—that I use for everything from trivia questions to real life computer coding—seems to have lost all its preferences, and is behaving oddly opening some files. Nuking it and re-installing seems to have fixed that…but I'm really hoping this isn't a larger Snow Leopard issue…because that's the only thing significant that's changed on my machine in the last few days.

In the meantime, I hope everyone who came out to [MonoChrome] will please accept my apologies. I'll try to make it up to you, honest.

View from the downstairs fireplace at [MonoChrome], Lou taking in a live music show from Shannon Oherlihy week before last.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

One Lesson from One Year in Second Life

So today was my "rez day," marking one year since the avatar Lou Netizen materialized in Second Life. The only thing I had planned for the occasion was a special edition of my Lou's Clues trivia game, wherein every correct response contained the characters "lou"—so things like jealousy, Glouchester, and loup-garou were all winning answers. (Of course, I didn't really tell anybody this—but folks quickly figured it out for themselves.)

Glam Lou, looking dramatic in her spiffy shoes and poofy dress

One thing I had not counted on was many of my Second Life friends working behind the scenes to mark the occasion. I've participated in a few friends' rez-day celebrations (like the duck party where I even danced!) but even in trivia circles I'm not much of a major persona: I don't run a venue, I don't have my own in-world business, I don't host any wildly popular event…in short, I'm nowhere near starting to get close to being on the verge of inching towards being an institution unto myself.

But I should have known something was up when Cinna Xaris (bat-girl!) showed up wearing a "Happy Rezzday Lou" t-shirt with guitars on it—and then the shirts started popping up among the players turning up for Lou's Clues. A few folks wished me a happy rez-day, Sinn started spinning an impromptu "Lou"-themed music set…and then, totally out of the blue, a set of Stiletto Moody shoes asked to jump into my inventory! They were a gift from Billy2Times Krams, Mako Kungfu, Shale Nightfire, Honey Potez, Circe Falta, Lillian Shippe, JoshuaStephen Schism, Devin Velinov, Lette Ponnier, Sinnamon Sands, Lotus Ceriano, Jez Oh, Cinna Xaris, Metro Voom, Thornton Writer, and Chaddington Boomhauer, who apparently masterminded at least some the Great Lou Shoe Rez Day Conspiracy.

No, they aren't the $11,000L shoes—but nothing at Stiletto Moody's is exactly inexpensive. Most everyone knows I'm not a Second Life fashion fiend, so, yes, there's a healthy portion of irony in giving me (very!) high-end virtual shoes. Maybe I can pair them up with my freebie baggie jeans and cartoony t-shirts?

But it's also a super touching, overwhelming, and thoughtful gift. Seriously, everyone: thank you. I don't know what to say…and if I try to say anything at all I'll lapse into snarkmode to hide my self-consciousness. So, I'll just proceed to the money shot:

Stiletto Moody heels…complete with prim foot and ankle

I haven't fully fitted them yet—you practically need professional certification and a six week training course to drive these things, and they (not kidding!) add more than 10cm to my avatar's height! But I promise I'll get them ship-shape and prim-proper soon.

Another surprise: later that afternoon, Chadd and Shale's Zoo Bar trivia apparently held a "Best in Lou" contest…which I guess was a challenge for people to dress up like me, short and slovenly! Lette Ponnier won, and popped over to my handy-dandy sky platform to show me her interpretation of Lou. I was all tarted up to take pictures of the new shoes, so what does Lette do? Pulls a version of the same dress I'm wearing out of her inventory. (What can I say? Lette is equipped and we're both Ivalde girls!) Lette was still just a smidge too tall to be Lou—although, wearing my new Stiletto Moody's, I positively towered over her!

Lette Ponnier showing off her "Best in Lou" look—
Lette has the same dress as me, only in blue

So, I've been in Second Life for a year. What have I learned?

Well, lots of things. Like: don't sit on unknown poseballs; don't try to talk to griefers; be prepared to spend half your Second Lifetime waiting for things to rez; turn off rendering if you want to compete with the trivia mavens; dorkbots and megapixies are mostly teenage boys; alts are everywhere. Yada yada yada.

But what's the most important thing in Second Life? Your friends.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

On Money for Nerdiness

Last week Lette Ponnier and Lotus Ceriano most-or-less simultaneously posted items about money and the Second Life trivia community—you can see Lette's post at VirtualTrivia and Lotus's at Lotus-Pocus…Lotus has also since followed up with an item on non-monetary motivations for playing SL trivia. Active participants in the Second Life trivia community have offered their perspectives in the posts' comments, and if you're curious about trivia in Second Life you could do worse than seeing what some of the best and brightest have to say about it.

I kept meaning to add my two-cents' worth, but now the moment of opportunity has kinda passed, so…I'm just writing my own thing here. I realize this post will bore the non-trivia-people out there…and even the trivia people. But boring people to snoozery is kinda the leitmotif of my virtual life, and I have my reputation to consider!

Where Lou's Coming From

Unlike most people, I got into Second Life for the trivia—my other interests developed later. As I noted early in this blog, I play pub quiz in real life, but got oh-so-very-tired-and-or-frustrated with it: cheaters are a problem, but mainly the novelty wore off, the smell of bar grease never washed out of my clothes, and I just didn't enjoy the scene anymore. A real-life friend suggested there were a handful of quality trivia games in Second Life, and since signing up was free, I decided to give it a whirl.

When I started SL, I only had a vague notion the Linden Dollar was connected to real-world money. When I found my first trivia game—I think it might have been at the Chili Pot?—I won $85 Linden and I was completely stunned. I immediately offered to take an SL friend on a shopping spree…and got my first rude awakening about the Second Life economy: $85L equated to about a quarter dollar (Canadian), and wouldn't buy much.

I started attending trivia events like Lebn & Preston's Barefoot game on Sundays (which I have always adored for its atmosphere and "intellectual" bent), Double Standards, Chadd & Shale's Zoo La La games, and I eventually made some acquaintances in the SL trivia community. But my Second Life trivia world was kinda turned upside down when Thornton Writer clued me in to Marine Park—and held my hand through a few games there. Marine Park was the Second Life trivia game with the highest per-question payouts—I suppose it still is—and operates in its own island universe isolated from the Second Life trivia scene. Marine Park was my second rude awakening to the Second Life economy. I remember the first time I played there my hands were shaking: it seemed all those Internet rumours about being able to make free money in Second Life were true! I quickly worked out that if a good player were reasonably diligent about Marine Park, pocketing $50 a week (Canadian) or more wasn't out of the question.

I continued to attend other trivia games regularly, but for a while I was a bit hooked on Marine Park: the high payouts attract serious competition, and I was thrilled to be winning vaguely real money. But I just have a "basic" Second Life account, and I haven't hooked it up to PayPal or a bank account or a credit card, so I can't convert money out of Second Life and use it in the real world. I put a little Marine Park money towards my virtual wardrobe, but I don't seem to have a knack or taste for virtual fashion (I didn't play Barbies as a kid, either!) and I find the Second Life shopping experience deeply frustrating. I don't own or rent virtual land and my other expenses are low, so Lindens began piling up. I felt guilty about the money I was winning, and routinely tipped back half or more of what I won, and donated most of the rest to in-world charities like the American Cancer Society. And, sincerely, that last part felt wonderful.

I probably could have continued in that vein for a while—pushing money to charities helped me tolerate the Marine Park rĂ©gime—but I was banned about six months ago. That forced me to re-evaluate why I was in Second Life—as Chaddington Boomhauer put it, "now you've got two hours to do something fun." So I did. I still did trivia, but since I play music in real life I began checking out some of Second Life's live music scene—and was pleased to discover some talented performers in SL. I did more exploring and found some great builds. I helped out more at infohubs and hopefully got a few people started in SL. I got less lackadaisical about griefers. And—this was probably the biggest change—I took on some clients in Second Life, doing bits of scripting and Web development for SL businesses and organizations, for which I get paid in Lindens.

This last point is important, because it means I'm no longer dependent on trivia winnings to fund my "Second Lifestyle." My SL expenses are still low, so I still push Lindens to charities, although the income also lets me run my own trivia game at [MonoChrome], which—though a bit stressful, is a tremendous amount of fun and (I hope!) contributes something positive back to the trivia community and Second Life in general. But it does mean I have projects and deadlines and clients now, which sometimes makes Second Life is a little less like fun and a little more like work. It also means I have less free time in Second Life, so I'm more selective about what I do and what events I attend.

I haven't done any math to back this up, but my sense right now is that I break about even in day-to-day Second Life trivia: sometimes I pay more Lindens than I win, sometimes I walk away with some Lindens. I don't intend to worry about it much unless I get a sense something has changed significantly one way or the other.

Where Lou's At

So, with all that long-winded context about my Second Life trivia life, I'm doing to bring this back around to points brought up in Lette's and Lotus's blog posts, and along with some observations of my own.

The Nature of SL Trivia

Second Life is many things, but I feel it's a kinda crappy platform for trivia games. As other players have lamented, most open chat Second Life trivia games—mine included, sadly—are little more than speed contests, with winnings going to the fastest typist—or the least lagged, anyway.

This doesn't mean open chat games aren't enjoyable, but it does mean I mainly attend to have fun rather than compete. Speed isn't my thing, and I don't want to get all bunged-up over a couple of pennies. The only game I where I try to light up is the monthly Buccaneer Bowl—and with the high level of competition there, I barely register on the radar. If I somehow find myself dominating a game, I'll typically sit on my hands for a while, particularly if there are "civilians" playing—I don't need an ego boost (I have a blog for that, after all!), and it's more important that other people had fun at trivia than it is for me win. So says the girl who helped coin "plinking." Sigh.

Some SL trivia games try to work around the speed problem: some award prizes for the first two or three answers—Thornton has an interesting twist called the "caboose" where he offers a prize for the last correct answer that beats a buzzer—and some use a random selection mechanism where only one person can answer at a time. Like open chat trivia, all these game formats have their advantages and drawbacks. I'd love to see a competitive, accessible game format that gets around the speed-contest problem, but I know that if all the creative folks in SL haven't come up with anything better than open chat, the odds of my pulling a solution out of my tiny pixellated butt are kinda slim.


As a player: Initially, I was funding my Second Life activities based solely on trivia winnings, so I preferred games with higher prize amounts and multiple prizes per question. These days, I pick events solely on the basis of how much I enjoy being there—sometimes that's the regular crowd or vibe, sometimes that's quality of the questions; ideally, it's both. As a player, I eventually realized prize amounts are more than a way to attract a crowd: they engage players and introduce some tension. If players are at an event just to hang out, $10L or $5L or $1L will do the job; if players are there to compete, higher prizes serve to draw good players and raise the level of competition—but those players only come back if the game is both intelligent and fair. I most enjoy well-written, engaging trivia with smart people, and that tends to mean I still gravitate to the higher-payout events, even though I can't keep up with top players.

I prefer games that handle prizes on a per-question basis or (perhaps) over a short series of questions, because I often can't attend entire events. Right now the only exception I'll make is for the Buccaneer Bowl. For regular games, I think it's important players be able to come and go without penalty.

Non-monetary prizes: Some hosts and events have special awards—some take the form of items or gift certificates from sponsors, others are kind of like "achievements," such as Lotus's challenge T-shirts or the monthly Buccaneer Bowl championship. I freely admit I'd someday like to wear a Buccaneer Bowl champ tag or run a category at Lebn's game, but they aren't motivators for me. To the extent these are neat ideas for bringing people into games and maybe make things more interesting for some players, I say "Bravo!" However, it's a fine line between creating community and putting out an exclusionary vibe, and I'd be wary of anything that makes SL trivia seem more cliquish.

As a host: I've deliberately set the prizes for my own trivia game a bit above the $20–25L paid at a typical open-chat live-host trivia game. My main motivation there is the "focus factor" a reasonable prize adds to the game, but, let's face it: as a host I only have three things going for me—a smart mouth, hopefully decent questions, and Lindens. I don't dance, I'm not a fashionplate, I don't DJ, I don't have any cool cred in Second Life. I'm hoping the prize Lindens help make up for my deficiencies. However, the prize money at my game is far overshadowed by prize amounts at other well-attended games on the same day. I've also set my prizes kinda high to help distinguish my game from Skygirl Kline's established $7L(?)-per-question event at Envy's Pub, with which my game regretably conflicts. (Sadly, my event timing has everything to do with my RL logistics, rather than any intention to interfere with Skygirl's event. I just couldn't find another workable time.)


Tipping hosts: I don't believe my tipping practices are typical, and would not hold them out as a model for other players to emulate. If I'm at an event for a while, I typically tip $100L or half of what I've won, whichever is greater. If I wasn't at an event very long, usually tip back anything I won. I preferentially tip hosts directly via any formal tip box they have set up: sometimes that goes to a venue owner, and I have to assume the hosts are OK with that. Sometimes I screw up and don't tip enough; sometimes I tip substantially more. I am fraught with inconsistency.

New players often ask me about tipping etiquette; I usually tell them it's polite to tip back a portion of anything they've won, but no one is going to get on their case about it. If pressed, I'll recommend folks consider tipping back 15–20% of their winnings.

Tipping venues: With trivia, I generally don't tip venues directly, although I realize they sometimes have event-related costs like music streams or prize balls in addition to rent/tier. I will tip if I feel they've gone out of their way or done something extraordinary. In some cases I'll split my typical tip amount 50/50 between a host and a venue.

Tipping DJs: I'm pretty sure SL DJs at trivia events hate me. I often access SL from locations where music would disturb other people and where headphones/earbuds are impractical, so I usually don't have any audio running on my computer. More significantly, I don't enjoy music in the background: if I have music on, as a real-life musician I'm almost certainly giving it a lot of attention. So I usually don't tip DJs, or even realize they're at an event. That's not to say I never tap into a stream: sometimes I can, sometimes I do, and sometimes it's fun. If I tune in for more than a few seconds, I will tip. I have, however, left events because of annoying music streams.

I tip generously at live music events I enjoy.

Tipping "staff:" I used to tip the innumerable Marine Park staff, even though I had no sense what they were doing most of the time. However, in general I don't tip a venue's "staff" unless they do something exceptional, although I'll consider tipping the venue. I'm very unlikely to attend events that attempt to combine trivia with, say, strippers or "dancers" working for tips. Not interested.

As a host: I set out a tip box at my games, but it's low-key and I deliberately avoid mentioning it. I run my game out of my own pocket as a way to give something back to the SL trivia community; it's not a money-making endeavor.

Hosting Trivia

I only have a few months' experience as a trivia host, and don't own or operate my own venue, so I can't offer much perspective on why landowners and others host trivia events. However, I think I can say hosting trivia does not create a direct revenue stream for venues. Some venues may derive some indirect revenue from avatar traffic—and, which, in turn, may boost the venue's rankings in Second Life's search feature or bring customers and renters to stores and parcels. However, it seems more common that venues host trivia events simply because they think it's fun thing to do. Some places hold a game or two and never do it again, so I suppose it's not everyone's cup of tea.

Similarly, I don't think most trivia hosts are in it for the money. I understand some venues put up some Lindens to fund trivia prizes and pay hosts, but I doubt anybody is getting rich hosting trivia. If they are…great! More power to 'em!

Where does all the money come from? To an extent, I think the few dozen "trivia regulars" kind of swap around the same money: Lindens I win at one game turn into my tip at the next one…lather, rinse, repeat. Some of the money in the Second Life trivia universe unquestionably trickles down from the high-payout games at Marine Park and (to a lesser extent) the numerous other hosts who fund their games with their own money. I think much of the rest comes from the same people who pay money to own land in Second Life: after all, to be a landowner requires a premium account which runs about $11/month Canadian. Once you're paying $11 to Linden Lab every month (plus more if you own more than 512m² of land), buying another $10 worth of Lindens doesn't seem like a very big expense—that's about $2,200L, or basically enough to fund my game for two weeks. I don't think twice about giving $10 to one of my friends in RL to buy lunch or whatever; I wouldn't think twice about spending it to have a bunch of friends over for a trivia game either.

OK, That's Enough

Bah. Sorry to have prattled on so long.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Rabbercorn Story

Last February I wrote about Immersiva, a sim constructed by virtual artist Bryn Oh, which (in part) told the story "Daughter of Gears" in a kind of diorama-like fashion. Some virtual artists like AM Radio create environments that (usually) hint at recurring themes, Immersiva has a distinct, concrete narrative running through it—one punctuated by your journey through the sim which (if you don't cheat on the tower) ensures you find most of the elements in the proper order as you explore. Now Bryn Oh has set up "The Rabbercorn Story" in space apparently donated by IBM. "The Rabbercorn Story" isn't quite as complete an experience as Immersiva—for instance, there's no custom sky, visitors are asked just to set their environment to midnight to set the sim''s atmosphere. But Rabbercorn also features a strong, accessible narrative that might be easier for visitors to follow and figure out than "Daughter of Gears"—and the installation is filled with the same highly detailed, slightly disturbing, whimsical creatures and creations that makes Immersiva so enthralling.

The young boy first bonds with Rabbercorn

So what is a Rabbercorn? Well, its a combination of a rabbit and a unicorn, obviously! Except this one is also a robot with a music box. Without giving too much away, the Rabbercorn and a boy form a lifelong bond, but when the boy is an old man Bad Guys in Lab Coats discover the Rabbercorn and want to take it apart to see what makes it tick.

The Rabbercorn tries to dodge a tracking device
shot at it by a Bad Man in a Lab Coat

The Rabbercorn evades Big Robot Bugs (look inside them, they're awesome!) and the Bad Guys in Lab Coats and eventually stumbles across an old crumbling tower…a tower which will look familiar to anyone who's explored Immersiva—especially if you didn't cheat! You follow the Rabbercorn up the tower and, eventually, the Rabbercorn finds a new friend…one who won't grow old and leave him all alone in a world of Robot Bugs and Bad Guys in Lab Coats.

Lou chills while the Rabbercorn and Daughter of Gears take a moment to bond

I'm not doing "The Rabbercorn Story" justice—the build is incredibly detailed, with handy teleporters that take visitors from point to point in the story so the narrative doesn't get disjointed. As with Bryn Oh's other work, the builds and textures and creatures and settings are exquisite—the story may not be interactive, but taking a few moments to look around pays off with surprising elements, side-stories, and fabulous fabulous creations.

An ethereal angelic bug person ponders…eating a worm?

IBM is one of Second Life's biggest corporate partners, but (if I recall) they actually run their own private grid running server software so their employees don't have to mix with the hoi poloi—I imagine it helps keep their private business a little bit private. However, there's still a large conglomeration of IBM sims in the main Second Life grid—I've actually used one of their sandboxes for building from time to time, and I put together my new sky platform there. Since IBM seems to have moved most of its virtual world activities to its own private grid, the IBM sims are kinda ghost towns—it seems that, in Bryn Oh's case anyway, they're developing an interest in supporting Second Life artists. I hope IBM is pleased with the results and even more ambitious builds follow on "The Rabbercorn Story"—and for that to happen, you probably need to go see it, right?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

I'm in Yer Profile, Stealin' Yer Pixels

Pretty much anybody in the Second Life trivia community knows Chaddington Boomhauer—I won't presume to give him a complete introduction, but let's just say he's known for a variety of things, including:
  • Being wicked good at trivia, super-smart, and full of Second Life skillz
  • Co-hosting one of the coolest games on the grid at Zoo La La
  • Only using punctuation in extreme circumstances
  • Running around Second Life as a duck
Anyone curious about his duckiness has probably seen his in-world profile…and, until very recently (grr!), been treated to this someone odd image. Now, most people put a picture of, I don't know, themselves in their profile pictures. But not Chadd! That would be to normal. Instead, for months on end the curious would find a picture of what appears to be an abandoned surgical ward. Maybe in a hospital. A hospital from a horror movie.

Chadd's old profile pic

As much as that image may—or may not!—be indicative of Chadd's personality, there has been some minor debate about the origins of that picture. Is it a real place? Something from a movie or cartoon maybe? Perhaps some anime? Or is it a snapshot of a "real" location in Second Life?

Lou standing in Chadd's profile.

Well, I'm here to tell you: it's a real place in Second Life, and I found it.

It's also the only place I've found so far where taking a snapshot completely crashes the Second Life client application. Not just Linden Labs' client software—all the third-party open source alternative viewers I tried too!

You're a wily one, Mr. Duck.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Armada Burns

I mentioned in an earlier post that the fantasical steampunk sim Armada Breakaway was going to be going through some restructuring, and that the intrepid Armadans were planning an "Armada is Burning" event on August 2 to bid adieu to the sim as I have always known it, sweep it clean, and bring in the new Armada. Last Sunday was August 2…and the "Armada is Burning" extravaganza? It was a doozy.

Avatars gather on a floating glass platform…
where it's rumoured we might be "safe" from the coming storm.

For folks not familiar with Armada Breakaway, the premise is that it's kind of a small town floating in the sea, a haphazard collection of hulls lashed together and intertwined into a kind of neo-Victorian steampunkish vision. And that's just the surface—above airships grace the sky, and beneath the waves merfolk hold sway. The idea was that Breakaway was a part of a much larger floating city that had broken loose in a storm, and now had to fend for itself as a small town. Armada Breakway wasn't exactly a role-playing sim—I can't exactly dress steampunky and play a character, and I was always welcomed enthusiastically—but it wasn't unusual to find folks going around in character…and the place seemed to have an ongoing story and set of colorful personalities that were always fun and new. And the sim was gorgeous: glorious textures, crazy nautical-via-Victoriana architecture, weird gizmos, bizarre avatars, fantastical airships, and—yep—even livestock. I don't think I'll ever recover from being assaulted by Albus's sheep.

I don't quite know why Armada Breakaway was broken up—as with many things in Second Life, I suspect real-life money had something to do with it. A new Armada is being born, with folks owning individual parcels of the sim and many of the same principals involved, so I look forward to seeing what Armada becomes. But last Sunday…well, the mood was of resigned celebration as Armadans and their friends gathered for a last word from Armada's creator, to raise a toast—and, as it happens, raise fire extinguishers, as dragons suddenly began raining down fire!

One of three dragons laying waste to Armada Breakway.

Maybe I just haven't attended enough sim burnings—honestly, the only other one I've ever heard of was Tableau being razed back in February—but…wow, the Armadans do it in style. Aramada Burns wasn't just some dragons flying through, some smoke and particle effects, and everyone having a good chuckle. The sky turned black, then erupted with flame, smoke was everywhere, and the sim itself seemed to be coming apart as fire engulfed everything and airships exploded and fell from the sky.

Armada engulfed

Some folks (like me!) stayed on the safety of our floating platform while the sim collapsed—others dared to try to fight fires and ward off the dragons, saving what they could. But they did so at their own peril, as parts of Armada literally began trebling, then shifted apart and sunk into the sea.

An avatar dashes for safety as part of Armada's fish market
tilts and begins sinking into the depths.

Others danced while Armada burned—a few joined in the destruction, morphing into dragons of their own or running about Breakway with torches, setting alight anything the dragons had missed. Eventually signature areas of the sim vanishes beneath the waves, and a massive explosion took out the stone tower that (somehow) had been built atop the hull of a large wooden barge.

Armada's flag still fluttering over the smouldering remains.

I'll miss the Armada I knew, but even as the Breakaway was burning, I knew a new Armada was already taking shape, and hopefully the sim will be reconfigured soon and I'll be able to pop in and openly gawk at all the clever stuff. Because there certainly was a lot of it, and Second Life would be much the poorer without Armada.

Folks curious about the old (and new!) Armada should check out Mako Kungfu's Armada Flickr pool—more images from the Burning, but also everyday Armada and its cast of characters.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Please Pardon our Pixels…

Last week, I wrote:
Lou is experimenting with making this blog look a little less default and a little more Lou. Expect the layout and templates to settle down shortly. Thanks—

I didn't anticipate it would take this long, but…ta da! Welcome to the new look for Lou's Clues.

Since its inception back in November 2008, Lou's Clues had been using a slightly-tweaked version of a default Blogger layout called "Scribe," credited to Tom Dominey. I'd basically been using it because I thought it was the least obnoxious of the default templates, and had always meant to find some time to come up with a layout of my own. After all, I have some geek cred, might as well spend it, right? From time to time I would surf through galleries of Wordpress and Blogger templates to get ideas but I never found anything that lit me up. And the more I looked at the way Blogger handles templates, the more I realized I wasn't really willing to invest the time and energy to come up with my own thing from scratch. It would make Lou's Clues too much like "Lou's work." Ick.

So, the new look for Lou's Clues is based on a default Blogger layout called "Harbor," credited to Douglas Bowman. However, I have tweaked the layout to remove things I didn't like and add things I wanted. The overall look is deliberately understated—I'd always disliked the overly-saturated colors and wallpaperish aspects of the old layout, so this one is basically just some margins around some text: nothing fancy. I am loading some fuzzy images in the background; unlike default Blogger templates, these are actually bits of snapshots from my own explorations of Second Life—you'll even see a little cartoony Lou peeking out in a few of them.

All the same features of the blog are still here—same widgets, same links, same archive of old posts, same commenting capability, same features. I haven't removed any old posts, although I have slightly edited the HTML in a couple so they look OK in the new template, although I doubt anyone besides me will notice any formatting changes.

Anyhoo. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blogging.