Eightbar On Top Of The Rock

Some of us from Hursley are in New York at the moment for an ITA workshop. It’s a chance to catch up with the work thats going on in other projects and the research that the rest of the teams are carrying out. Tha main areas that us Emerging Tech people are involved with are social networks, planning, collaboration and sensor networks.

NYC Rockerfeller

More wheels within wheels

Over at out to pasture Giff from the Electric sheep has written about the Text 100 Second Life island. Text 100 are a very large PR firm. This is a case of wheels within wheels as the article is about a piece of machinima that Text100 have done to show businesses the value of Second Life. Ironically the eightbar team are busy creating our version of one of those.
Also I was contacted a few weeks ago, by a representative of Text 100 as IBM is one of their clients. You may see the IBM logo on their Second Life build in various places in ads and films.
They were asking me what the point of Second Life was, and to be able to give them why I and more recently ‘we’ were interested and active in Virtual Worlds, so that we could do a press interview. It is good to see these sorts of firms representing themselves in this space too.
Once again the direction and trend mirrors that of the original web, though moves much quicker, as certain sectors discover what they can do in Second Life.
The build, which has a very ESC distinctive feel is unusual in that it is floating islands and strange angles. So it does break the mould a little.
text100 in SL


I am not sure why all our favourites are on the wall, but no eightbar. Oh well never mind.


views of text100

Linux Media Centre heads home

So far I’ve written about the first couple of stages of my proof of concept idea about setting up a media PC under Linux on a thinkpad. First, there was using my own laptop to check some functionality out such as using an infra-red remote control. Then, I moved on to setting up another laptop with a fresh Linux installation with the prime purpose of being a media centre. This has now got to such a stage, and good enough, that I now have the laptop at home; but there are more things to think about in this media PC lark, especially under Linux, thank you may think at first…..

A nice perk about working at IBM is that we can buy old, unused, thinkpads from the company. These are, of course, second hand and considered too old for good reuse with an employee. Before anybody asks, no they’re not super cheap, and no I can’t get you one! So, the T23 I have been using so far, has now arrived home as my own property having purchased it from IBM – hence the choice for using an older machine if you wondered in an earlier post.

As I said, there is a lot to think about in the configuration and what you want out of a media PC. Fedora Linux doesn’t make it especially easy since a lot of the multi-media capabilities are removed for legal reasons such as MP3 support and encoded DVD reading. All these have to be added in as extras after the initial install which means you have to work out where to get them from and add any sources into your add/remove application programs. For those in the know, I mean sorting out all the yum repositories. This can get quite tricky, especially given the digging around required to find local mirrors to speed things up a bit. I think I’ve got there now though with a combination of the Fedora and extra repositories as well as a couple of the community based ones which are essential to easy Linux usage these days – what would we do without all those people putting stuff together for us? On a completely different note: don’t forget to give something back to the community!

Having arrived home with the laptop. The first thing to do is to get it connected to the Internet. I tried without success for an entire evening to set up the wireless adapter to connect to the access point, no joy. At this point, I’m thinking it’s a good thing I know a trick or two with Linux. I noticed that Fedora seem to ship an updated kernel that includes a wireless driver which has been compiled with different wireless extensions than the tool used to configure the driver – a problem I think! Once I made this small, but signifiant (and difficult to notice) discovery, setting up wireless was a breeze as usual. The solution, downgrade your kernel to the standard Fedora version so you go back to the old wireless driver version and things start to work again. This is most definitely a bug in the way Fedora are handling their code updates right now. Of course, I’ll be feeding this back – a small way of contributing back into the community!

I’m using KDE, which for those not familiar with Linux is a fairly MS Windows-like graphical interface onto a Linux desktop. It comes with a whole bunch of handy utilities that I’ve never really bothered using before in all my years with Linux. Things such as GUI screen resizing applets, and applets for switching between TV and laptop screens will be invaluable to one of the primary aims for this project – the wife acceptance factor! This stuff really has to be easy to use otherwise I stand not a chance of any longevity with this being in my living room.

I still have a few things left to work out with this idea yet, I have not tested the S-Video link to the TV, and I need to start indexing music collections over the network into Amarok probably via Samba. Neither of these should present a problem, however, if I fail it’s pretty much game over. In good hackety-hack style I’ve not written a single thing down about what/how I’ve done all this (except this blog), my hope is when all is installed and running well I will write a page about what to do and how to do it. I may even try reproducing the whole thing on another laptop!

Austin Games Conference Write Up

Over at 3dpoint there is a very good article (as per usual) on the Virtual Worlds session at Austin. These examinations of where we currently are, what the key players in the new industry are thinking and saying are important words at a pivotal time. Also they gel with my thinking on the subject. I first put up MMORPG on a post-it note brain storm session back 2000. I had no idea we would be where we are today on 2006! I certainly was not expecting that my job title would have become “metaverse evangelist” and that I would be working in this medium full time.
As a company we have a number of key things going on both internally an externally. I wont let the virtual cat out of the virtual bag just yet though as I am just about to go on holiday for a week, and shock, horror, I am likely to be totally off the grid. So far in the past 6 months it seems something new, interesting and pivotal has happened almost every day. I hope, as the article says, I can keep up with the rapid changes.

Jeff Barr Amazon Web Evangelist does his thing in Second Life

Jeff Barr has had a nice blog report written up over at the click heard around the world
He also mentions that he drove the event at the NMC campus, in his virtual Toyota Scion as created by millions of us
I have to admit, being in the UK I have no idea what a Scion is.
It is of interest though as I cut my web teeth back in 1997-2000 on the Vauxhall website, where we did lots of interesting firsts as IBM, including trying to do what Second Life is doing with a small start up from iceland called Smartvr. Just a few years too early. I also remember at Hursley a Ford Galaxy demo with an old style VR helmet.
Aagin this goes to show that the ideas have been around but now the technology is maturing to teh point that Jeff can drive an accurate model of his car to an event and also pitch his companies web services to an audience he can see.

Text to voice in Second Life

Christian Westbrook of the Electric Sheep Company has written about a text to speech application that he created. He cites the fact he had missed blogging about his babel fish translator and that Yossarian Seattle had got all the press for his translator HUD 🙂
We had been talking about voice to text but we have been beaten to it in this case.
It will certainly benefit from the soon to come change for http requests per object, assuming thats how it works.
Its well worth a l$25 rating for building skill.

Generating Second Life structures from PowerPoint

It occurred to me that building things in Second Life is quite hard (well it is for me anyway), and even when you buy a “house in a box” which creates you a house when you touch the box, someone still needed to go to the bother of creating all the prims and working out their dimensions and coordinates for you. It would be far easier if you could just draw your basic layout in something nice and easy like Paint or PowerPoint and then click on a button and the basic structure would appear on your Second Life land. I realise that something like PowerPoint will only easily allow a 2D drawing experience, but that’s exactly what I wanted to start with – something close to being as simple as doodling with pen and paper so that I could try different room shapes and layouts quickly and easily without spending more than a few minutes on each one.

I knew that generating Linden Script from a bunch of drawn lines in PowerPoint was not going to be hard. Since I am new to Second Life the main area of complexity for me would be working out the Linden Script that I needed to generate the entire building from a single prim and a single script. I wanted to use a single prim and single script to minize cut and paste activity from the generator to Second Life. I spent some time proving that I could use Linden Script to create multiple instances of a single object and then transform them into whatever I wanted. Once this was proven I used the Linden Script that I had written to become the basis for my code generation template, and drew a simple room with a doorway using four lines in PowerPoint. I generated the Linden Script from PowerPoint, pasted the code into a Second Life object and ran the code. Sure enough, my simple four sided room appeared right in front of me. Excellent.

My first generated room

Now I wanted a tougher structure to generate in order to test my generator. I had a search around and found a copy of the maze layout for Hampton Court garden maze, which certainly met my need for a complex object! I pasted this image into PowerPoint and traced the outline of the maze hedges, which took about 10 minutes. I then clicked to generate the code, and it worked first time, although I should point out that I then proceeded to find a few bugs in my code to convert cartesian coordinates into lengths and angles, and also had to add code to handle the creation of multiple objects when a wall of longer than 10 metres was needed, and code to handle offsets of greater than 10 metres. I also had to add code to split the generated script to ensure that each fragment remained under the 16k script limit. This little lot took a bit longer than 10 minutes…

Anyway, with those wrinkes ironed out I now had a wooden box which contained a single wooden sphere, both of which contain scripts that have been completely generated. The only tedious bit is that you need to manually copy and paste the code from RL to SL, and for a huge object like this maze that is about 10 scripts, although for most normal buildings/rooms a single script will suffice.

Now, when I touch the wooden box I get a 30 second delay followed by some frantic rezzing activity! The final result is a Second Life version of the Hampton Court garden maze generated from a single wooden sphere using code generated from outside Second Life. The structure consists of 144 prims and is approximately 120 metres by 80 metres in size, and yes I did get quite thoroughly lost in it when I tried to walk round it :o)

My maze in Second Life

Now that I have proven the generator technique I hope to try some more practical examples along with a technique for enhancing the amount of data that can be captured in the drawing tool, such as the texture of the walls, whether they are windows or doors etc. I am still very keen to keep the input technique as simple as possible though as I’m really using this as very quick building outline generator, so I’ll probably shy away from full blown 3D drawing tools at this stage.

Second Life and West Wing?

As has been reported in a number of places politicians are starting to come to the metaverse. I will be politically neutral here. However it does bring up something that a few of us were discussing the other day.
We met with Asif Noorani from Epiphany Productions, to discuss how we work in Second Life and show some of our other projetcs off in the Real World. Asif mentioned he was a big fan of the West Wing and one way and another that led us to a mad idea. Many of the meetings in Second Life tend to be people gathering in spaces and staying still.
Now in West Wing much of the interaction happens in fast bursts as the characters walk down the coridoors.
So what if we just replicated a coridoor/conveyor belt for a specific type of meeting. i.e. rather than those with a fixed place, or the ad hoc instant messaging across places. When you want someone’s full attention for 30 seconds to 1 minute then both teleport to the West Wing coridoor.
You are giving one another the ability to have full attention, and indicating that by your presence but you are also indicating that this will be fleeting, yet you still have avatar expressions and non verbal exchanges whilst walking.
It very easy to build in Second Life, but what other new meeting metaphors are there out there?