Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Interview with Azar Shelman (Chev, Tony Dyson OBSS) (Nov 2008)

By Bixyl Shuftan

With much of today's technology having once been in science fiction, Second Life could be described as recent science fiction tales of virtual reality come to life. So when someone connected with one of the best known science-fiction characters does something in Second Life, well, it gets interesting. Of Tony Dyson, most people in the US, Europe, and Japan will almost instantly recognize a character he designed: R2-D2 of "Star Wars." So when he took an interest in Second Life, it was a story worth pursuing. I was introduced to the man at a Halloween party in October 2008 by Delinda Dyrssen, and we agreed to have a real interview later.

* * * * *

Tony Dyson has made a name for himself in special effects, notably motion picture special effects, such as Superman 2, Moonraker, Dragonslayer, and especially his work on R2-D2 in the “Star Wars” movies (his resume can be found here: ). Recently, a friend told me he had come to Second Life under the name Azar Shelman, and offered to arrange an interview. Naturally, I took the chance, and a time and place was set up.

I met up with Azar at his place ‘Discovery Center’ in Germania Prime, far up in the air, which is accessible from ground level. He showed me around, his experience in special effects showing up right away with the teleport effect between floors. One floor will be “Robotwo Urld,” with a number of robot features, notably a Robot Exhibition, R2-D2 Stand and his iBot2000 Transformer robot. Azar told me that when he installs the Discovery Centre in nature themed sims, this floor would be changed to a Art Gallery and his iBot2000 robot would take on the role of a "spirit mentor."

The largest floor was the Main Theatre, (Theatre of Magic) which had enough seating for 74 avatars. Each seat would have a camera, a “Third Eye Camera System,” to assist the audience in getting the best view. Instead of actors, Azar had plans for a show with automations, “this is more of a narrative theatre, totally programmed.” He was also designing it so it could be changed for different shows fairly quickly. Besides “pure entertainment,” he also planned to give some iBot2000 demonstrations. But the place could be run without automation ús, “We can also produce live performances ... guess you can say we have a third use.”

Another floor was what Azar called the “Events Theater,” which was a smaller theatre to help Second life “Mentors” to teach newcomers about the finer points of our virtual world. Azar also told me he would be producing an “Introduction to Italy and Venice” for Venice tourism, “an example of what can be achieved” of how Second Life can help the tourism industry in real life, “If we find either of the theatres in more demand, we’ll build many more dedicated units.”

The next level is a private office, which Azar calls his "Think Tank," for his group members. "I realized very early on," he said, "that a project this complicated would need a very special team." He told me that his Personal Assistant was 786smile Shelman, ZenMondo Wormser was the project director and Delinda Dyrssen was the media consultant, the newest member to his team was Car Skytower, who was also very new to Second life and a creative director for his real world company Turn Page Studios, and a friend of the family for over 15 years. Azar added that I must of noticed that the building itself was something very special too, "I was very lucky he told me, "to have Damanios Thetan design and build this unique building, he’s been a great source of inspiration on this project."

The ground floor at the “Discovery Center,” has three booths set up. Azar explained one of the things that bugged him about Second Life was that information about a sim was not always easy to come by. So his solution was this information center, one booth having information on what land was for sale or rent, a second for what shopping was available in the area, and a third booth for any events. He also planned to put a “holodeck” on each floor to increase the functionality of each project on that floor. The idea for the ‘Discovery Center’ came to Azar while he worked in Second Life and  talking with sim owners.

Of the iBot2000, Azar told me it would be a highly versatile tool for Second-Life users. The robot would be a “transformer,” able to change its shape, such as to an airplane or shuttle or submarine. It would also come with one of a number of modules, depending on the users wants and needs, “when a person buys the robot, they buy what module they want.”

Azar talked about students taking information in on a “learning curve,” and how Second Life was better for a student to learn than on the web, “students can’t meet with each other on a website, but  they can here ... socialize, get friendly, have adventures. ... the technology tools are far more advanced here.” Azar also liked how Second Life buildings didn’t need to be designed like real-life ones, that you didn’t need to put in stairs, but design a place around the ability for one to fly and so on, “I like to ce ‰lebrate the fact we can teleport.” Azar’s motto at his Discovery Centre is ‘Celebrating the difference’. Azar told me he was currently working on ten projects in SL.

“How did you find out about Second Life and decide to log on?” I asked Azar. He answered, “I first heard about it on ‘Beyond Tomorrow... Australian program.” When he first logged on, he only stayed briefly not having found enough to keep his interest. Returning in Summer 2008, he was more impressed by what he found, and stuck around. He also “met a great mentor in StarRose Mirlin from Mystic Academy. She showed me how the place works.” Azar had still been in his newbie avatar, and was quickly told that a new look was expected of players no longer new. She got him looking around and exploring places.

Azar told me he had spent over twelve years working on the Internet before coming here, and found Second Life much more useful when it came to conducting business, “I see the difference here ... We can go out to the client. ... I like the psychology of it. ... The whole point is to think outside the box.” Azar commented, “If you’re finding there’s not that much to do, you’re not trying hard enough to find out what you’re good at.”

Azar told me that he has no plans beyond his current project of installing as many "Centers" across the Grid in 2009, at least for the moment, “Everything I want to do is centered around the Discovery Center. ... I’m very happy working here in Second Life.” He has plans on updating his web-sites to help publicize his work in Second Life.

When I asked him how his experience in special effects affected how he saw Second Life, Azar told me, “Special Effects is about imagination, creative thinking and problem solving. I don’t just work in movies, but also theme parks ... animatronics.” He talked how it related to magic and the medieval period sims. “I’d like to think they built Secon ±d Life just for me, but they won’t tell me so. (laughter)”

“I’ll tell you one thing, I’ve never met so much talent.” Azar described the "Builders of Valimar" a Tolkien theme and the Elf lands with nearly a hundred sims dedicated to nature and friendship or the "incredible" Jedi Star Wars worlds, "you must have noticed my very blue eyes?" he asked, "I must have too much ‘Spice’ in my food (laughter), a present from ‘Splintered Rock’ a great Dune role playing sim. All incredible worlds, living and breathing.” He expressed a desire for more guides to show people around Second Life, and was glad to hear about Sean Voss’ efforts in the past. He felt it was important to “help people get to their imaginary side.”

Of the misconceptions about Second Life, such as people thinking it was dominated by sex areas, Azar thought those were the result of lazy reporting, “a couple reporters who never got off Help Island, not really trying.” Despit Ue “people acting silly,” he felt it offered opportunities for people such as housewife’s with a small child, “people can socialize when they normally can’t. ... It has so many positive things going for it.”

Asking him about the “Chev” and OBSS with his name, he told me, “it stands for Knight or Sir it’s short  for the French word  (Chevalier) because I was knighted in Malta for my charitable works for children world wide. The OBSS letters after my name stand for the order ‘ Ordo Byzantinus Sancti Sepulchri’ in English ‘Byzantine Order of the Holy Sepulchre.’”

Eventually, Azar Shelman/Tony Dyson and I had to part ways, and he wished me, and the readers of the Newspaper, well.

“Be daring, get a few costumes, see what’s available. It’s a living film, become part of it.”

*  *  *  *  *

I would hear about Tony Dyson/Azar Shelman a couple more times in Second Life. He appeared on the "Tonight Live" show by Paisley Bebee in December that year, of which I wrote the following:

* * * * *

Azar had a surprise on the show, a number of the audience were in various “Star Wars” avatars, from Jawas to Jedi, a number of R2D2 and other astromech droids, and a squad of Clonetroopers. Paisley’s interview went smoothly, the contents which can be seen in the SLCN.TV archives (yes, that’s me next to that red astromech). B ut what happened after the show was also worth telling. The Clonetroopers stood at attention, and after an initial salute, began cheering Azar.

The artist must have been taken with the devotion of the Star Wars fans as he stepped off stage and went amongst them. Yours truly stepped forward for a few pictures, getting a reaction from a few of the troopers. “Back off fox, he’s ours now.” one told me, though it was obvious he was acting. Paisley talked about having a lightsaber, but had trouble finding it.

Azar and the squad of Clonetroopers talked a little, and they invited Azar to their Star Wars sim. Azar agreed to go, which got a cheer from them. They then began teleporting out, which soon got Azar realizing something, “Um, when I told you I’d visit your bsim, I didn’t mean right now. I’ll go there tomorrow.” “Oh sure,” another  member of the audience spoke in jest, “go ahead and disappoint your fans.” “Look guys, it’s 4:30 in the morning where I am,” Azar pleaded, “take it easy on an old man. If I head there, the sound on my voice will be snoring, ‘zzzzzz,’ because I’ll have fallen asleep behind the computer.” The remaining Clonetrooper nearest to him was reluctant at first, but eventually agreed to break the news to his friends. Azar then logged out.

“Don’t underestimate the power of the Force,” in this case the force of fan devotion.

* * * * *

Over a year later in May 2010, he would appear again at a benefit for Cypress Rosewood, whose home had been damaged in a flood. That would be the last I would hear about him for some time, until a few days ago when I saw his name on Facebook. We ended up having a short conversation. He hadn't been on Second Life for a couple of years, but was interested in hearing in goings on about here.

Perhaps he'll be back soon. Until then, "May the Force be with him."

Bixyl Shuftan

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Tales From Steelhead: Interview With Tensai Hilra (2011)

Titled Friends in "Fly" Places, this interview was done by Franq Blackheart of the Steampunk Herald in April 2011, shortly after his interview with TotalLunar Eclipse.

* * * * *

When I first had the pleasure of meeting graceful designer in Second Life, Tensai Hilra, she was engaging in a spot of gardening.  That is to say, she was planting strandy bushels of head-high grass in row after row along the elegant streets of fantasy steampunk sim, Steelhead. 

It was the eve of April 1st, and she aimed to surprise her husband TotalLunar Eclipse - possibly into fits of apoplexy, more likely into row after row of exclamation marks.  For Tensai and TotalLunar are the uncrowned King and Queen of Steelhead, its much-loved benevolent rulers and caretakers, and the Elven/feline embodiment of its humorous, strong, steamy spirit. 

After offering to build Tensai a lawn mower of great immensity ("Spring showers," she quipped), we proceeded to have an out-of-character conversation about the Real Life solidarity of Steelhead's Second Life community.

I asked about TotalLunar's role as leader of the community. 

   "He goes by whatever, technically he prefers Owner.  It's all pomp and formality anyhow.  We love the place so much we bought it and expanded it! We focus on the community rather than the profit margin.  I'd rather log in to meet friends than customers.  This community is dear to me.  It literally has saved my life!"

Second Life seems to be very powerful in that regard.  Was it the community that helped you back to health?

  "A lot of good people, if you know where to look," she winks.  "I was a troubling situation... I had just lost my job.. no income unexpectedly, and no employment for 6 months...'''

Tensai ran out of her medication, needed to combat physical pain and other conditions.  Her withdrawal was painful.
   "I was bedridden.  My husband didn't work at the time.  No food in the house; it was grim...
   "Then, all of a sudden.. Nabila, one of our citizens, shows up at my house... food in hand!... and says that, spontaneously, Steelhead City and all the Steamlands got together to help!
  "She brought food, and even Paypal donations that helped keep the power on, buy more food, and pay rent!
  "All of that came from the community!

Tensai was incredibly moved by the compassion and caring shown by the Steelhead and SL Steampunk communities. 
   "I wrote this blog entry shortly thereafter
         ( )
   "I was unable to speak!  I cried for a day in joy... I'm misty eyed, now, just thinking about it.
   "I then knew I had done right sticking by this community.  The steamlands as a whole as well.

An illustration, perhaps, of exactly why people come to Steelhead. And stay.

  "The meds were for chronic pain... something I deal with daily now as I can't, won't, go back on the meds. 
  "In Real Life, I am in and out of a wheelchair as it ebbs and flows.  But as I always say... doesn't matter if I can't walk in Real Life... in here, I can fly!"

And with that, I reluctantly left her to tending her wild garden.  When you next find yourself in Steelhead, make sure you run into Tensai.  She has a story to tell.

Franq Blackheart

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Tales From Steelhead: Interview with TotalLunar Eclipse (2011)

Earlier in Steelhead's history, events there an in other Steam Age sims were covered by the Steampunk Herald (No relation to the Second Life Herald), run by Franq Blackheart. In this interview in 2011, Franq interviewed the mayor and owner, Total Lunar Eclipse, usually known simply as Lunar.

1.  What makes Steelhead unique?

You're asking someone who is extremely biased. *laughs*

Steelhead for its relatively small size is a close community. Each unique species is welcome and has a place here from mad scientists to tinies to fantasy oriented persons such as myself. It has always made me feel comfortable to live here even when I wasn't managing.

Also it has such difference in themes from one sim to another that no two places are alike. It is also ever changing, we encourage change and growth. (except St Helens, the city center is going to be downgraded into a smaller rustic town) Port Harbor pier is undergoing changes to add a more pirate theme to it. I learn to build better, I rebuild things, Tensai learns to script and sculpt better and she rebuilds everything.

Also it is stable. Steelhead is over four years old, and before it became Steelhead it was another community altogether. So this city, the concept and idea are over five years. I am also not the only person to run the city, my real life wife of 12 (going on 13) years is my SL partner in crime. We have no intention of stepping down and it is such a strong community that if the grid goes down... Steelhead will simply move to another grid.

2.  How will Shanghai's change of rating to Adult affect the community; sales, roleplaying, overall cohesion?

First and foremost we changed the rating of Shanghai to adult to maintain Shanghai as it was before the TOS changes came about. We did not want to alter Shanghai at all. It is notoriously known as a darker place with opium dens hiding underground and shady back alleys now several factions of gangs have moved into the city.

Before we came to the decision to change Shanghai to adult we consulted every single person who had land and rented in Shanghai for their opinion. Several stores in Shanghai would have to move due to the TOS (they openly advertised the use of drugs in the dens) and several stores outside of Shanghai had to move into Shanghai due to the change as well. We weighed the possibility of revenue for businesses and we were prepared to move folks out of Shanghai into Port Harbor or another sim of their choice if the change of rating was not favorable for them. No one moved out.

It also gave vendors ideas for changes. Such as adding a seedy tattoo parlor and skin store and be a bit more open with what they sell. (Tastefully done of course) We are the first Oriental Steampunk themed city and perhaps the only Adult Steampunk sim in the Steamlands, there has been a build in interest as far as that particular change of rating that is enticing to those that wish to be more liberal with what they sell. When we introduce Shangri-La it too will be adult rated.

As far as roleplay, Shanghai is a dangerous place. Being Adult rated gives it a more darker appeal to encourage personal RP. As far as overall cohesion Shanghai has always been the darker of its sister cities, it was a city overmined, overtaxed and one doesn't walk there alone.

One thing I want to address to everyone is the adult theme does not change our community and city standards. There will be no nudity on the streets, tasteful adult wares are to be behind closed doors. The change was specifically to maintain the city as it was. The rest of the estate is moderate, the community does not allow underage users... not avatars. The scamps that live in Shanghai still remain there, their users are responsible adults, they know which places they can and cannot go and are safe because they are protected by the various mobs and pink mecca.

*gets off soap box*

And the city is lovely... dangerously lovely.

3.  What recent and upcoming events best reflect the Steelhead spirit?

The new years dance was a fun example of who we are. Tensai created one of her artistic sim wide dance floor. The community celebrated together, destroyed giant clocks, it rained fish and Denny was in his skivvies.

As far as the future? We'll be celebrating Chinese New Years, which as in previous years gets very interesting.

With Thanks and Regards,
F. Blackheart Esq.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Reader Submitted: Thank You Virtual Ability

From Alysabelle Resident

When I first entered Second life, I knew nothing about it. I had a friend who wanted me to join for about two yearsm but my life was busy as most people are and too busy for a place called Second Life. But then one day I wasn't as busy as I used to be, and with continuing asking by my friend to join. I did.

Well here I was. I called it "Never land." I didn't understand the concept, my friend ended up going through PTSD in real life so he was barely around. I was confused in Never land. There were a few people that helped out over time, and then one day I was looking for a place to live. I lived on a platform where actually the owner of the sim was making passes at me. It was disturbing to say the least. I know this can happen to anyone and it happened to me.

With the help of a friend in Second Life, I came upon a place called Cape Serenity. As I teleported to the place, I was amazed by the community feel even though no one was around at that very early morning. I was enchanted. I had never seen a place like this before. I really felt this 'home' feeling. Then I contacted Ladyslipper Constantine, who is actually the caretaker of the sim. I wanted to know how much the rent was. After a few hours, I got an IM back from her and that very day. I rented a piece of land. I was so excited, I felt. I stood there for several hours just staring at the entire sim. Smiles. She was extremely welcoming and gentle and kind.

 I believe the following day Ladyslipper Constantine she shared with me her hearing problem and at that point I had not shared my hearing problem with anyone.  I wanted to be treated just like anyone else who didn't have a disability and I figured Second Life would provide this for me. But it was getting difficult to mask my hearing problem. I felt it was weighing me down in some respects. I couldn't hear everything and I couldn't hear everyone. But what I didn't know, after I decided to open up about C.A.P.D. (Central Auditory Processing Disorder), was that my friends that I had made knew something was different about me but they just couldn't put their finger on what it was.  As Ladyslipper shared about her hearing problem, I found myself sharing this information with her about my physical hearing problem even though we both didn't have the same hearing issue.

That was the start of my own journey in sharing with others about Central Auditory Processing Disorder. I knew if I opened up, it would be a challenge. After all its not every day you hear about this particular disorder. What I didn't know that Cape Serenity was part of Virtual Ability. Well I didn't even know what Virtual Ability what it stood for. I eventually was told, so imagine here I was landed on a sim called Cape Serenity part of Virtual Ability and here I was with a physical hearing problem.

The  mentors at Virtual Ability through time helped me with not just opening up about my physical hearing problem, but how to cope with it, how to deal with people who have such disbelief, which by the way I really understood them more than they realized only for the fact that after all its not that well known. C.A.P.D not as well known as other disabilities, but to be honest there were moments I wish I didn't say anything about C.A.P.D.

I learned that even though people have disabilities they have other gifts they are able to share, that there is a purpose a meaning behind everyone, no matter what disabilities you have. Most importantly for me is I met these wonderful women who have different hearing issues, and I found out even though we don't have the same ones we all have certain things in common none of the less. Listening to their stories of how they have been affected in real life or Second Life with a hearing disability, they gave me a gift, the gift of  strength that under any circumstances that you forge on and believe in yourself. And it really doesn't matter what anyone thinks or feels, that you are important in this world and no matter what you have to deal with you are still important. They are strong, those women whom I met in Virtual Ability. They say strength comes from wisdom and they are very wise from Gentle Heron, Ladyslipper Constantine, iSkye Silverwebm Treasure Ballinger, Treacle Darlandes, and Winter Wardhanid and countless others.

I'm so grateful they share with people like me who have a disability and those who have other disabilities. I"m so grateful and continue to be how much they have helped not just in Second Life but in real life. How they give their time to mentor those like me they really care and they don't do it for any other reason then a need to help people. They are selfless they mentor from the heart. They embrace you when you are down they give you hope, encouragement and belief in one self. They give you courage to rise above, they help those who need help and help them to become an even better person then you are, what is the expression that comes to mine I have heard before, they give you wings to fly... I will always be profoundly grateful for those who are part of Virtual Ability, that no matter where I go where I am they are always in my heart, Thank you.