Archive: September 2007


All's fair - but not in SL


This is the first time I'm so disappointed with Linden Lab and Second Life. I just recieved this email:
Hello, Ayumi Cassini.

We have identified that you reside in a European country. Accordingly, your next bill will reflect Value Added Tax (VAT) charged at the rate specified by your country. Please note that VAT applies to all payments to Linden Lab such as land sales, monthly maintenance fees and Premium subscription fees.
If you are eligible for a VAT exemption, you may submit proof of your exemption status, such as your VAT number, here:
https://secondlife.com/account/vat_enter_id.php

If you have other questions, please read the VAT FAQ:
http://secondlife.com/corporate/vat.php

You can also contact us via the support portal:
http://secondlife.com/support

Best regards, and thank you for your continuing support.

Linden Lab
Creators of Second Life
So far I respected Second Life for giving equal chances to everyone, just same ground for every person. But that's not the case anymore. With the tax introduced, European users won't be as competitive as other residents. Shall we raise the prices? Then it will affect the income (higher price = less customers = lower income). So then shall we leave the prices as they are? Oh, wait... It will affect the income too (tax means lower income).

But the worst is Linden Lab's attitude. Usually when a big change is coming, it's first announced on the official blog. In most cases there's some time given to the residents to get used to the new situation before it all goes live. But Linden Lab didn't say a thing on the blog. I got an e-mail, logged into my account and saw the tier is higher now. Everything in less than 15 minutes. This is ugly, Linden Lab. Are European users so unimportant to you that it's not worth to bother with announcing? That's just not OK.

Anyway, I believe VAT was introduced in SL to give some incentive to businesses, since this means less tax for them actually. They can use their spendings in SL to lower the revenue tax and use the VAT charged in SL to lower the VAT they're supposed to pay. So the change hits only regular users. I don't think people will suddenly start leaving SL. But the bitter taste persists.


Wensdee be th' sea dog tide, swabbies! Arrr!


Ahoy, sea dogs an' land lubbers! This post be t' remind ye about th' international talk like a shipmate tide. It be today! And 'tis a lot o' fun. Yo ho ho an' a keg o' rum! So be havin' a party an' drink some grog. Smooth sailin' an' fair winds t' all o' ye!
In case you don't get a thing from what I just said, here's a little translation ;)

Hey, everyone! This post is to remind you about the international talk like a pirate day. It's today! And it's a lot of fun. Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum! So have a party and drink some grog. Smooth sailing and fair winds to all of you!


I <3 Linden Lab


Have you ever wondered how it feels to be a Linden? Frontier Linden decided to share this experience with you (for as long as you can take it):

http://frontierlinden.com/bad_dream/


Think about it next time you want to grumble about customer service at Linden Lab. We all do that, it's human nature, but sometimes it's good to look on things from different perspective, right? :) They're doing a great job. I want to say I appreciate it.


Where the criminals are...


Today I want to share something funny and it's something that can happen only in SL. Currently I'm making a boat for a RL company. Yesterday evening I was working on it in the Adriatic sim. If you've ever been there, you know it's just water around, no sign of avatars, nothing. I've been enjoying the beauty of the surroundings and at the same time fighting with the mainsail, when suddenly two avatars appeared on my boat. One landed from the sky, one came from the water. I'm not joking, they really appeared like that. They were both quite short, both wearing black clothes, and both making a very quiet sound when walking (as if they're sneaking). Very curious, I asked what they were doing on my boat. And I think the best way to show you what happened is just to paste the conversation here (I'm removing the names though):
Ayumi: What are you doing on my boat?
ZB: We will be taking this evidence back to headquarters ma'am
ZB: don't you worry
Ayumi: huh?
PX: We've been given information from a reliable source that this craft was used in a number of drug runs over the last 2 months
Ayumi: lol.. you're way too much into roleplay
Ayumi: but let's say what you say is true... then
Ayumi: how is it possible, if it's not even ready yet? :)
Ayumi: it's a prototype that wasn't released
ZB: Please stop with the questions ma'am, we're unable to give you any further information
(now that's a good answer if you don't want anyone to spoil your fun; I need to remember that)

Ayumi: ahaah... lol
Ayumi: have fun guys
Ayumi: I need to work
So I got back to work, but I kept lurking at them and I couldn't hold the question finally.
Ayumi: so did you find any evidence?
ZB: that marijuana right there
Ayumi: where?
ZB: its all over
PX: That's a class c drug m'am, a blatent violation
ZB: crack pipes
Ayumi: I really have no reply to that
(I really didn't have, haha)

Ayumi: but your boss will be proud :)
ZB: havent you ever heard in school
ZB: dont do drugs
Ayumi: I don't do drugs
ZB: good for you
PX: that's right
PX: You don't.
PX: let's keep it that way m'am
PX: I think our work's done here
ZB: I've disposed of the evidence
Ayumi: haha, thanks for making my day :)
ZB: happy day, stay drug free
ZB: and stop renting your boat to the mafia
(I almost spit my tea on the screen here because of laughter)
Boy, Second Life surely makes work more fun :)


Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra to perform in SL [UPDATE]


Today's post is for all the classical music lovers out there. On Friday 14 September (tomorrow!) at 19:30 GMT (11:30 SLT) the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra will perform in Second Life. It's one of the oldest orchestras in the world (origins in 1840) and will be the first professional orchestra to give a concert in SL.

Principal Conductor Vasily Petrenko will conduct Ravel's Scheherazade and Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances, as well as world premieres by Merseyside-born composers Kenneth Hesketh and John McCabe (Note: it's not the Scheherazade by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov but a little less known Scheherazade by Maurice Ravel).


The audience will consist of 100 lucky avatars who won the entry ticket. The event will be hosted in virtual Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, which is a replica of the real building. Currently the location is open for ticket holders only and will be open to public on Saturday 15 September. In the meanwhile, here's a sneak peak:



The concert will also be streamed in various places around SL for those who weren't lucky enough to win one of the 100 tickets. I plan to attend the event at Menorca, so come and join me tomorrow if you have time. Formal attire is requested.

Menorca

If you'd like to set a reminder, go to Search Events tab, type "royal" into Name/Desc and hit "Search". The event should appear and you can select "Notify" on the right (under event description). See you there!


[UPDATE: September 15, 2007] After-event-update

The event was a great experience. Menorca was full of people and the owner, Slim Warrior, did a great job to make this a pleasurable evening for everyone. Despite the lag I managed to take some pictures for those of you who couldn't attend (Note: You can watch the concert again in Second Life, beginning at noon on Saturday 15 September. The performance will be running continuously for the next two months at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall in Second Life.).

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in SL 1

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in SL 2

Everyone was dressed formal and some of the clothes were real works of art. Even newbies dressed and behaved properly. The atmosphere of the place made the event even more enjoyable.

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in SL 3

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in SL 4

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in SL 5

I noticed two Lindens at the concert. Here's Hermia Linden, enjoying the music:

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in SL 6

And I spotted the one and only, the original, accept-no-substitutes, our favourite Linden:

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in SL 7

What was he doing up there? Probably taking pictures :)

Most of the audience discussed their feelings and opinions long after the concert was over. Residents love events like this and I think we all hope for more in future.


New release: Modeling poses, toothbrush for children and more, yay!


I've just released some fresh, youthful modeling poses! I really enjoy making these, so expect more somehow soon. Well, the uni lectures started today and I already know I'll have A LOT of edu work in September but I will find time for SL. I've got great excuse, my thesis, right? ;)

Anyway, back to subject. Here are the pictures of new poses. Feel free to come to the shop and test them!


Teen (Modeling Pose from Magic Nook)

Cowgirl (Modeling Pose from Magic Nook)

Thinker (Modeling Pose from Magic Nook)

Mischief (Modeling Pose from Magic Nook)

I've also released the Magic Toothbrush for children. I had many requests for this, so now it's available. The recommended sizes are 0-10 for shoulder size and 0-12 for height.

I tested the toothbrush with Robin Sojourner's kids shapes and it worked great with most of them. If you'd like to make sure the toothbrush will work with your shape, meet me at the shop and we'll test before you purchase.


Magic Toothbrush (Child)

But that's not all. I've been in revamping mood lately. I improved some of my products and I plan changes for more. If you have older version of any of the improved products, you can exchange it for a new one for free.

I totally revamped Sweetie (the dancing doll) that has been in my shop since the very beginning (almost). I added lots of new features, retextured it and added the holding animation. You could say it's a new doll now ;)

Sweetie (Cute Dancing Doll)

Doll's features:
  • Dancing
    Sweetie can be animated with a simple dance. You can toggle the animation on/off by clicking the doll (anyone can do it).
    NOTE: In laggy places the dance might not look good - the prims might look as if they're detaching. That's SL glitch.
  • Renaming
    You can rename your doll to any name you want. Each time the doll speaks something, the name you chose will be used.
  • Change textures and colours
    You can customize the colour of doll's skirt, shirt, lace elements, shoes, belt, buttons, hair bands, skin and hair (set any colour you want). You can also customize textures of everything above except skin and hair. Customization is carried through text commands.
    NOTE: There's no preset textures - you can use your own textures. Instructions 'how to' are included.
  • Tip jar
    The doll is set to work as a tip jar. If anyone gives her any money, she'll poof some hearts out and say "Thank you for your tip, (avatar's first name).". You will also recieve an IM saying "(avatar's full name) has just gave you a tip of (amount) $L".
  • Speak through your doll
    You can talk to Sweetie on secret channel and she will repeat everything you say. This way you can pretend you talk with your doll or speak through her to your friends.
I've also revamped the Magic 8-Ball, Beloved Mirror and the Two Hearts LED Clock. They went under minor changes but I think they're better now.

Magic 8-Ball

What changed:
  • Removed weird over-glow effect that happened after one of SL updates.
  • Added avatar's first name to Magic 8-Ball answers, so that when two people touch the ball at the same time, they know which answer is for whom.
  • Added instruction spoken out on rez ("Ask a yes-no question and touch the ball").

Beloved Mirror

What changed:
  • The mirror now only say girl's first name with its answers (not the whole name), this way it's more natural
  • Corrected texturing
  • Shortened name of the mirror for less unnecessary text

Two Hearts LED Clock

What changed:
  • The glow changed for a more romantic one
  • Removed white halo effect from particles
  • Corrected texturing
That's all for now, but expect more changes soon and more new releases. I've got many ideas for new fun products! Oh, and by the way, I love feedback, all comments welcome! :)


Why retouch? [UPDATE]


[UPDATE: January 30, 2009] Please note the part about setting the light in SL client is outdated since Windlight was introduced. The rest of the article is OK :)

Have you ever wondered why other people's photographs from SL are so crisp and clear, nicely coloured and without any SL weird glitches while yours are dark and blurry? That's the power of retouching.
If done properly, editing images can enhance a lot the look of your photos. It allows to use your pictures more effectively as you can add a certain atmosphere to the photo, depending on what's needed. What's important is not to go too far or the picture will look unnatural. The aim of retouching is to emphasize the content of the image, not change it.

Retouching is essential for having pro looking photos. It's particulary important if you're a Second Life model, completing your portfolio or a photographer, offering services to other SL residents. Professional looking images will generate more opportunities. But I feel it's also a great idea to retouch when creating profile photos - after all they're the first photos that your new friends will look at.

There are various retouching techniques and tools, and most people have their own ways of editing images. I'll be using Photoshop for this tutorial but feel free to try these techniques in Gimp, Paint Shop Pro or any other graphics software you like. I assume you have some skills in working with graphics software, so I will focus on what have to be done with the image rather than how to do it.

First you need your base photo. You can do magic with retouching, but a good base image will save you a lot of work. Make sure you have 'High-res Snapshots' selected when taking photos in SL:
Client High-res Snapshots
Note: if you don't see the Client menu, press Ctrl + D and it should appear.
It's better to take a big-sized photo and scale it down, than the other way. If you try to scale a small image to a higher resolution, you'll see the quality is lost. This is because each pixel of a raster image has individually defined colour. When scaling up, your graphic program have to extrapolate how many pixels to add and what colour they should be, basing on the original image. This results in bad quality blurred image.


There's also another reason for taking large-sized snapshots in SL. After scaling them down to desired size, the contours are less pixelated and the overall image looks a little better. Compare in the photos:

Compare Quality

Picture on the left was taken in-world with a size of 1024x712. Picture on the right was taken with a size of 2048x1424 and then scaled down to 1024x712. As you can see, the difference is significant, so keep that in mind during the photoshoot.

When taking snapshots of your avatar in-world, it's a good idea to force the sun to Sunrise and pose facing the opposite side to the sun (the sun should be shining on your back):
World Force Sun Sunrise
This way your face and chest will look the best (the shadows get somewhat softer). You will have to adjust the picture in the graphics program (it comes out a bit dark) but for me this method has worked the best so far, in terms of how the avatar looks.


Another trick is to use a face lamp. With face lamp you can face any direction and still look good. In its simplest form, a face lamp is just a prim, usually a sphere, emiting light. You can easily make one yourself but if you don't have any building experience, you can pick a free face lamp somewhere, for example D-Skin demos come with one (visit the shop). For face lamp to work properly, you have to enable Nearby local lights:
Edit Preferences Graphics Detail Lighting Detail Nearby local lights
When wearing a face lamp, you can face any direction and still have proper light around your avvie. Compare in the photos (the sun is set to Sunrise in all of them):


Compare Settings 1

Compare Settings 2

Compare Settings 3

Compare Settings 4

Compare Settings 5

Compare Settings 6

Compare Settings 7

If you need a close-up of some detail, use:
Ctrl + 0 (to zoom in), Ctrl + 8 (to zoom out) and Ctrl + 9 (to go back to default)
It's a great way of focusing on certain parts of avatar's face, showing texture richness or presenting clothing details.


Close-up

Finally, if you plan to cut out your avatar from the background later, make sure you put a white prim wall behind the avvie. This will make your work much easier and will save a lot of time.

For this tutorial I will use the photo you see in the header of my blog. The photo was taken with a size of 2048x1424 and white prim wall behind me. The first thing to do is separating the avatar from the background, which is pretty easy with Magic Wand tool OR Select Color Range tool:
Select Menu Color Range
I like to put the cut-out on some vibrant background, to see clearly what I'm working on. When removing the background it's important to remember about the little closed areas we tend to forget about and leave with the background, eg. around the hair or bracelet:

Photo Tutorial 1

The next step is adjusting the colours, brightness and contrast of the picture. I like to do it using curves, since it's very fast:
Image Menu Adjust Curves
There's a trick that many professionals use to quickly give the photo that "proper" look. The trick uses so called S-curve. To make it short, all you have to do is to create two points on the line and use them to shape the line into S:


Photo Tutorial 2

The upper point you created is responsible for highlights, the lower one for shadows. Depending on your picture, your S-curve shape may vary (be more flat or more curved). Sometimes very minor point movement may result in large changes in the picture. If that's the case, enlarge curves window for easier tuning. Don't exaggerate with your curves to avoid posterization.

In the next step remove any weird looking dark pixels using the Healing Brush. This should give the photo some smoothness.

Photo Tutorial 3

This way we're approaching the most time-consuming part, and that is using the Liquify Tool:
Filter Menu Liquify
If you never used this tool before, there's a great video tutorial by Vint Falken. Take some time to watch the video and you'll upgrade one level up in your graphic skills :) Using the tool correct any squared body parts you notice and smooth any weird looking edges. Pay more attention to breast area and bra straps (or other parts of clothing that need to be corrected). Sometimes you might need the Healing Brush to correct these (I actually copied the left strap, placed it on the right side and did some corrections with the Healing Brush).


Photo Tutorial 4

After all the corrections are done, add some background, make final adjustments if needed and your image is ready. Of course you can play with it further and add some style to it (glamour, grunge, etc.). It's the fun part of the whole process and what happens here is everyone's personal preference. Try different things and shortly you'll come up with your personal style.

Here's the comparison of my base photo, the final image (used in the header) and the image after playing with it a little bit:

Photo Tutorial 5

I hope this tutorial was helpful to you. If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments. Also, post a link to your final retouched photo, as I'd love to see it.