Friday, August 21, 2020

The Destination Guide

A while back, I wrote a post on various ways you can advertise your Second Life business or venue, called Ads, ads, ads!

One thing I didn't mention in that post is the Second Life Destination Guide.  This guide is a catalog of places compiled by Linden Lab.  It has a bunch of different categories, like International, Art, Music, Editors' Picks, Shopping, and Photogenic Spots.  You can see the guide in your web browser here:  Destinations.  You can also access it from your viewer when you're logged in to SL.  The Destinations button has the symbol of a little map push pin on it, like this:
Yeah, I know.  It doesn't look like a map pin to me either.
You'll have to use the button.  There is no menu entry or keyboard shortcut for Destinations.

Linden Lab is the final authority for what gets into the Destination Guide, and how long it stays there.  How do you submit your terrific new club, or store, or your new roleplaying region for inclusion in the guide?  You do that with this handy Destination Guide Submission Form 

Before you run out and do that though, be sure you understand what you are getting into if your place gets included in the guide.  About nine years ago, I wrote a post about what happened to my friend Siggy Romulus and his "Waterworks" store when it got listed as a Destination.  For a week or more, he was swamped with people, very few of whom were there to buy a towel or a swimming pool.  They just wanted to play with all the demos and have a big old pool party with their friends.  You can read more about that in my post, "When Traffic Attacks!

If you're brand new to SL, there is another way the Destination Guide is used.  Newcomers are cycled through two regions when they first come to Second Life:  Learning Island and Social Island.  Both of them have a number of tutorials on how to do basic things in SL, like walk, fly, communicate, and dress your avatar.  At the end of Social Island, there is a Portal Area, where there are a number of teleport portals set up.  Each portal is labeled with a category, and it will send you to a random Destination within that category.

One final thought...if you've been muttering that SL has grown boring and there's nothing to do...go open up the Destination Guide and visit a few locations you've never been to!

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The Free Genus Strong Mesh Head

This post may be more useful in the future than it is at the time I'm writing it.

You see, the popular maker of Mesh heads, Genus Project, has had to shut down, at least temporarily.  In fact, this is the second time in only weeks they've had to.  The reason is that someone is using the Digital Millenium Copyright Act to harass them.  Briefly, here's what happened:

  • Someone submitted a DMCA takedown notice against Genus.  This is a notice of infringement of intellectual property...they accused Genus of stealing someone else's work.
  • When that happens, the accused has to remove all of their allegedly infringing content.  So, Genus shut down their store.
  • The accused has a right to counter-claim, and Genus did so.  The accuser then has 10 days to respond.  Part of the response includes giving their RL contact information.  Genus' accuser failed to respond, so Genus was free to re-open.
  • Then the accuser submitted another DMCA notice.  Once again, Genus was forced to shut down.
  • Because this could go on indefinitely, Genus is pursuing the matter in the RL courts.  I wish them luck!
Anyway, apart from the above Drama, at the start of the pandemic lockdowns, Genus offered a FREE version of their "Strong" head, and I managed to pick one up.  I don't care much for the other Genus heads...I think they are too baby-faced.  But this one, I like...a lot.

It's a full Bento and Bakes on Mesh head, and has several ways to animate it, including "poses"...individual facial expressions.  It also has "Moods", pre-made series of expressions to show that you are happy, sad, angry, etc.  Facial expressions may be recorded and saved in several custom slots, too.  These are all controlled in an animation HUD, which can shrink down into a postage stamp size when you're not using it, conserving screen real estate. 

There is also a separate appearance HUD.  This has three main tabs, Genetics, Cosmetics, and Settings (the last isn't much used).  As with many mesh heads, it can be tricky to navigate the appearance HUD, but I think I am starting to get the hang of it.  Before changing the color of anything, double check to see which item(s) (hairbase, eyelashes, eye shadow, lips, etc.) you have selected.  You can turn your lipstick black, when all you wanted to do was darken your eyelashes!

Both the animation and appearance HUDs come in two versions...large and small.  Even the small versions take up a lot of room on your screen when opened.

I've noticed some idiosyncrasies.
  • The HUDs can easily become detached, or scoot to an off-screen location, when you try to open them up.
  • It took me a long time to figure out how to tint the eyebrows.  There is no separate entry for them in the list of appearance items.  It turns out that "Tattoo" does the job!
  • Some third party HUDs produce odd results.  One eyebrow HUD I got as a group gift kept turning off the head's Bakes on Mesh.
  • The priority of the animations isn't very clear, and sometimes I have to stop everything to keep something I no longer want from continuing to play.
I'm really happy with the look of this head, especially after spending some time playing with the Shape sliders.  I hope Genus is able to solve their troubles soon and you can all run out and get one.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Bakes on Mesh - An Overview

Hello, gentle readers!

Today, we're going to talk about Bakes on Mesh (BoM).  This has been out for a while now, but a lot of people still don't understand it.  That is not unexpected, as different mesh body and head makers implement it in slightly different ways.  Today's post won't go into details on that...for the details, consult your specific body or head's documentation.

In the Old Days, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth...
...there was the Classic Avatar.  This is the basic avatar, the one you see when you put on the Ruth outfit from your Library.  The classic avatar consists of an invisible network of triangles (polygons, or "tris") that define the avatar's surface, and the avatar's skeleton, a system of invisible "bones".  When an animation moves the bones, your avatar bends and moves along with them.

The classic avatar (any avatar, really, since the classic avatar is always with us, even if it's hidden by alpha layers) MUST have a minimum of four items:  Shape, Skin, Eyes, and Hair Base (also known as System Hair, baldy, or eyebrow shaper).  These "Essential Four" items cannot be taken off.  However, they can be replaced, by simply wearing another item of the same type.

The classic avatar can also wear other "clothing layers", which are 2D bitmap textures that are applied to your avatar.  These all have special symbols in your inventory.  They are:
  • Tattoo
  • Undershirt
  • Underpants
  • Shirt
  • Pants
  • Gloves
  • Socks
  • Jacket
  • Skirt
There are also two special clothing layers. One is the "avatar physics" layer.  This is worn like a clothing layer, but cannot be seen.  It's used to make your buttocks and breasts bounce in response to gravity and movements.  The other is an "alpha mask" layer.  This has the inventory symbol of a shirt with a grid pattern on it.  It's used to make part of your classic body invisible under your clothes (or under a mesh body or head!)

One other special item is the Shoe Base.  This is worn like a clothing layer, but what it's for is to distort the mesh of the foot so it's closer to fitting into a high heeled shoe.  It's never very exact, and in many cases these days, with Mesh feet, it can be ignored.

You can wear multiple layers of the same type, by using the Add command, instead of Wear.  This will add the new item over any older items of the same type.  You can wear up to 62 different clothing layers in this fashion.  All of these layers are automatically "baked" into a single texture, to make it easier and faster for your viewer (and the viewers of those around you) to render your appearance.

When it became possible to create detailed, complex organic shapes using Mesh objects, it was not long before creators started making mesh body parts.  First there were hands, and breasts...then feet, and then entire bodies and heads.

While the new Mesh body parts looked a lot better than the classic avatar, Mesh objects had one big drawback: they could not use clothing layers like the classic avatar body.  (All objects have this problem.  Have you ever tried to get your sailboat, for example, to wear a pair of pants?)  Instead, the creators of Mesh body parts started making "appliers"...little HUDs that could "apply" a texture to a mesh object.

Because clothing layers came in several, layers, the makers of mesh bodies created invisible "layers"...actually duplicates of the mesh body...that sat just a fraction of an inch above the base body.  Appliers put their textures on one of these mesh layers.  Since a mesh body might consist of the basic body itself, and then four, five, or six layers just outside it, mesh bodies could have quite a high Complexity number, and cause lag for their wearers and everyone near them.

And that is where things stood a couple of years ago.  Classic avatars, mesh attachments, and appliers.

Then, Linden Lab decided to try and make putting together an avatar as simple as it was back in the Old Days, by making it possible for mesh body attachments to wear the old style clothing layers without a special applier device.  Besides eliminating appliers, it would also remove the necessity for all those different layers of mesh polygons.  Mesh bodies and heads could be just a single layer, greatly simplifying mesh body parts and fighting viewer-side lag.  And they called it...Bakes on Mesh.

To make this work the creators of mesh bodies and heads had to come out with new products that were capable of using the new BoM functionality.

With a BoM enabled body or head, you no longer have to wear the alpha mask that hides your classic body.  That's done automatically by BoM.  Some mesh bodies come with optional tattoo and clothing layer objects that you can add, but you only use these if you want to use something that comes only in an applier and does not have a classic clothing layer item.  If your clothes (and skin and tattoos) come with classic style layers in the box, all you need to do is wear your basic mesh body, then right click and Add the clothing layer of the new item.  Whether it's a skin, tattoo, underwear, a shirt, a jacket, or pants, it will just show up on your body the same way it would on a classic avatar.

Problems With BoM
The classic avatar's 3D mesh isn't very detailed.  That's why Mesh bodies became so popular; they don't have the distortions and blockiness that can plague classic avatars.  Another thing is that a lot of older skins and clothing layers only have a texture resolution of 512 x 512 pixels.  This means that you might not get good results when wearing an older skin with your new mesh body...the area around the fingernails or the feet may appear white.  You can solve this by buying a newer skin.  This will often have the added advantage of greater detail (a 1024 x 1024 texture).  But you can also get tattoos that will hide these distortions (check the Marketplace).

If your head or body appears're probably wearing the no-longer-needed alpha mask layer.  Find it in your inventory, right click it, and remove it.

If you look all white, or cannot see the clothing layer you just put on, or you can see your classic body poking through the mesh body (you'll look mottled) be sure Bakes on Mesh is enabled.  Most bodies and heads will have a "BoM" button somewhere on their HUD.

If the sole area of your foot looks white, it's probably your Shoe Base.  Try removing it.

If everyone around you seems to be covered in very strange textures, you're probably using a pre-BoM viewer.  Update it!

As always, read the instructions that came with your Mesh body or head.  If you run into problems, most of the popular brands have support groups you can join; ask for help in those groups.

And enjoy your newly beautiful, all-Bakes-on-Mesh, Second Life avatar...even if it's not QUITE as simple as LL had in mind when they started the BoM project!

(For those on a budget:  Mesh bodies and heads can be quite expensive.  Before spending your money, GET THE DEMO and play with it for a while.  Also, there are very affordable alternatives.  For example, look for the "Ruth 2.0" mesh avatar (guys, you want the "Roth 2.0") on the Marketplace.  You can also pick these up at the Freebies Wall in the Train Station at Caledon Oxbridge University in world.)


Wednesday, August 12, 2020

We're BACK!

Yes, we're back, by popular demand.

Back in April, I deleted Across the Grid because I felt that the information had become too dated, and also...mostly...because I haven't been very motivated to do regular updates.  I felt that a good blog really should be an active blog, with updates at least every few days, and I just wasn't doing that.

But even though I've been terrible about doing regular updates to this blog, a number of people have asked about its demise, and said they missed it.

So...we're back!  I won't promise to be any more diligent about updating, but at least you still have all the prior posts. 

Enjoy...and stay safe out there!

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Let's Do Some Tube!

...YouTube, that is.

Today's post is very short, and very off topic, but I ran across this YouTube channel that I just have to share with you all.

It's Challenge Accepted

Michelle Khare is doing a very professional, very engaging job of highlighting a whole bunch of professions that are dangerous, demanding, challenging, name it.  In the episode I watched, she went to the FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia, and showed just what would-be FBI agents go through.  It was fascinating.  The quality of the production was every bit as good as what you'd see on mainstream video channels, and the show's SO much better and more fun than just watching another episode of House Hunters.

If you're not spending ALL of your time during quarantine in Second Life, spend a little of it with Michelle and her adventures.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

"Ticket to Hell" - A Second Life Machinima

Good morfterning, gentle readers!

Today's post is about a new Second Life machinima*, available on YouTube.  Called "Ticket to Hell", it runs slightly over one hour. 

This is not your typical griefer video that makes fun of SL.  Nor is it an actual documentary about SL, although that is the plot device it uses.  Instead, it rather accurately depicts Second Life, juxtaposing its appeal to those who feel disenfranchised by Real Life, and its creators and their creations, with its dark side,  And it manages to do this in a humorous and engaging way.

The video is made by "Mr. Moon", and his YouTube channel features a number of other machinimas created on other gaming platforms.

The story is narrated by Moon, or "Mooniac" as his SL avatar is called, as he embarks on a journey to try to de-noobify himself by earning enough Linden Dollars to afford a mesh avatar.  In this journey he is helped (?) by his friend from Real Life, Vertigo.  Initially, Vert tries to talk Moon out of SL and back to reality, warning him that it could suck him in forever.  However, Mooniac is determined to explore SL to find out what its people are really like, and to make a documentary about it.

The pair sets out to earn some $L.  In their attempts, they very realistically portray some of the false ideas that a lot of people new to SL have about it, and its economy, and what's possible...and what's not such a good idea.

But Vertigo seems to have some prior experience with SL, and while Mooniac is always persuaded by him into each new venture, they also seem to be heading in a darker direction...

I won't give out any more plot spoilers.  I'll just add that this is brilliantly produced, one of the best machinimas I've ever seen.  It keeps you engaged and watching right to the end.  I'm put in mind of the HALO machinimas made by Rooster Teeth, the "Red vs. Blue" series.

Here's the link.  Hey, you're stuck at home with nothing better to do!

"Ticket to Hell"

*machinima:  A horrid neologism**, a mashup between "machine" and "cinema".  It refers to a video made using a digital world or game platform.

**neologism: a relatively recent or isolated term, word, or phrase that may be in the process of entering common use, but that has not yet been fully accepted into mainstream language.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Helloooo, Griefers!

Today during my Avatar Safety class at Caledon Oxbridge University, we were treated to a griefer attack.  This has happened a couple of times in the past; apparently, some griefers seem to think it's even more fun than usual to attack a class advertised as teaching defenses against griefers!

Two avatars, Vreed Shecklestein (primitator) and Pepesaturday08 arrived and sat down with the other students.  Vreed was particularly suspicious as his avatar was quite a bit uglier than the norm...although not the flat-out fat, naked toll favored by some griefers.

Shortly into my presentation, I began to get messages saying "Skywriter HUD 1.4: Touched".  In addition, I started lagging very badly, was unable to short range teleport, sit on anything, or speak in nearby chat.  (That last one was a new one for me...and it prevented me from communicating to the group when that was badly needed.)

Then, ferociously glowing green prims named "Nuclear Prim" began appearing and multiplying.

Pretty quickly, it became apparent that these phenomena were being caused by Vreed, Pepe, or both.  Several people (including me) were crashed by the lag.  The Nuclear Prims proved difficult to return, and initially, banning and ejecting the perpetrators also proved difficult.  Eventually, however, we managed both.

The total time of the disruption was perhaps 15 - 20 minutes, and we lost a couple of genuine students.

So yes...the troublemakers are still out there, and even people with some experience in dealing with them, like Yours Truly, can sometimes be taken by surprise and be unable to respond effectively as quickly as we might like.

Just remember that even if you can't figure out a solution immediately, the shenanigans will eventually be gotten under you, or by helpful friends.  Thank you, Red and Elfbiter and Tahisha!