Monday, December 26, 2022

Here's To You Jessicabelle Dayafter

 By Bixyl Shuftan

When I began hanging out at the Woodlin community in Summer 2008, among those I ran into was Jessicabelle Dayafter. A number of the people there stood out in their own way. Jessicabelle as a skunkgirl naturally did so with her distinctive black and white pattern, though for the first few years I knew her, her coat was the reverse of what one would usually see on a skunk. 
Jessicabelle was normally quieter than the other skunk in Woodlin: community leader, Dax Loon who could be manic-happy (and sadly, depressed at times) and was one of the DJs there. But she had a love for military history and firepower, and occasionally a "boom" could be heard as she fired off the cannon at her place. Once she and her friend Megatheron went around blasting their bazookas. They were harmless as this wasn't a combat sim, but they made for a lot of fireworks. I called them the "boom-boom girls" for a while after that. At the time, she was partnered with Salem De White (Selene Spellhunter), who was part of the Giant Snail Races.

Sadly these good times did not last forever, and Woodlin fell apart in late Winter/early Spring 2010. At the time Jessicabelle was taking a break, following paying for her spot six months in advance, and was shocked to return to a random area and finding her LM home no longer worked, "What the hell happened?" I think she got a place at the Foxworth community where many of us went, but also spent much time away from the quiet community, either flying or somewhere at a place she could fire her guns. Jessica's happy times with her partner would also end, the two parting ways.

In Fall 2010, she would show me the New Bastogne WW2 Combat Roleplay area, and invite me to take part. Some of the groups didn't allow furry avatars, or would restrict them to lower-level positions. But the German Air Group, led by Vickster Kuhn, didn't mind if you had a tail or not as long as you could fit into the cockpit. So for a little while I was her wingman in the Luftwaffe. 
To those who might raise an eyebrow at this, I recalled pilots in "Top Gun" playing the part of Soviet planes as the OpFor (opposition force) in training exercises. Plus in my Star Wars roleplaying campaigns, one of my friends would occasionally play the part of an Imperial, the extraordinary circumstances in which the players met giving her reason to play nice with "Rebel scum." As one video game character in Wreck-It-Ralph" would put it, "Just because you're the bad guy doesn't mean you're a, bad guy,"
Jessicabelle wasn't always wearing a gray uniform, though. She would sometimes be in other uniforms, such as the 100th Anniversary of Anzac Day in which she was in a British pilot's outfit.

Eventually I would leave the combat RP as a regular, but would occasionally drop by to support Jessicabelle, sometimes as the gunner in her dive bomber. I would also cover events such as the tank race and the "World of Tanks" tribute. But these were not all happy times. The Waffen SS group had given me bad vibes, and eventually these feelings were confirmed when one tried to arrest one of the furs in the Luftwaffe for being "out of uniform" - her having on a necklace from a close friend. Jessicabelle, who was there, angrily told him to leave. Eventually Vickster would get involved, and the guy trying to make the arrest was disciplined by being knocked down a rank, vindicating Jessicabelle. 
Eventually Vickster would step down as head of the Germain air team, and appoint Jessicabelle as the new commander. She would lead it for two years. She would also go on to develop her own line of combat aircraft, such as a Stuka made to fight tanks, which were lighter in prims and scripts then some others. They were criticized by some in the combat RP as unrealistic, "UFOs" they were called. But I found them easy to fly and less prone to lag. There would also be a "Dayfter Areonautics" plane rezzer at Farshore field for a while.

Through me she met up with Nydia, and they quickly became friends, Jessica becoming one of Nydia's Angels. She would help Nydia by appearing in calendars and videos. Although a lesbian, she didn't mind showing off for guys, and would post some pictures and art of herself on her Furaffinity page, both well-dressed and revealing. Probably the video she was best known for was Nydia's tribute to Jessica Rabbit's "Why Don't You Do Right." We would also have numerous fun times such as one rezzday party we threw for her.

I saw her somewhat less as time when on, but we never did lose touch. There were times she was feeling down, but she would always bounce back. I would last hear from her in August 2021 when she posted in Nydia's channel that she had tested positive for Covid. I and others were optimistic for her recovery. Sadly that was not to be. Nydia was contacted by someone who told us she knew Jessicabelle in real-life, and she had passed away, and the funeral had already taken place. She had joined the hundreds of thousands who died in the Pandemic.

No more airplane flights, no more builds, no more posing for pictures and video shoots. Jessicabelle Dayafter was gone.

Not long after, Jessicabelle would have a memorial service in her honor at New Bastogne. Vickster called her a team player who was always respectful for others. Nydia described her as a passionate model and actress, "In a world where so many try to blend in, it's people like Jessica that choses to stand out, and by that action alone she will be remembered in all she did, Fair skies my high flying Angel, until we meet again."

Jessicabelle would get a lasting memorial at the Sunweaver Memorial Garden, a flame burining constantly in her memory. It will be there for as long as the community lands are.

Jessicabelle was many things in the time I knew her, model, video actress, combat RP pilot, builder, and most of all, friend. She was anything but boring, and perhaps others will see her as an example one can be more than just a pretty face in this virtual world. You can be pretty and skillful, and make friends along the way who will remember you always.

Here's to you, Jessicabelle Dayafter.

Image source: Jessicabelle's Furaffinity page
Bixyl Shuftan

Friday, December 9, 2022

Interview With Talia Sunsong

By Bixyl Shuftan
Recently the Newser wrote about an art exhibit by Talia Sunsong. Not long after, I had a chance to interview her.

Dropping by, I noted the gallery, and Talia smiled, "Netty (Netera Landar) did a great job creating this gallery. We had a grand opening with Helena singing live. Sandy made a stage out of one of my paintings. Sandy liked the colorful stream painting and picked that for the stage. I titled the exhibit "Fire and Water" because it's about that sea of brilliant color at sunset or sunrise, or the flash of lightning in the sky. I wanted to make paintings that you can almost hear the sizzle as the sun descends into the water." I asked if sunrises and sunsets are a frequent theme with her, and she told me, "Yes,  I love to play with color. Color is like a vitamin. It gives you a burst of energy."

She went on, "Years ago, I lost everything in a firestorm, including a hundred of my paintings. I didn't paint for years after that.  Then I decided to paint at least one painting a day. I did that for over a year. I take photographs to help me with my painting, and I keep hundreds of ideas on a spreadsheet." I asked how long she had been painting and taking photographs. Talia answered, "I won a drawing contest as a teenager, and tried my hand at painting then. I could control drawing more easily than painting, and it was years later before I felt more satisfied with my painting, enough to show to the public.  I did photography later on, and did some serious reporter photography, including ending up in court testifying in a police brutality case." Asking what happened there, she answered, "The man who was injured did not win in court."

I asked Talia what where her favorite subjects to draw and paint. She told me, "I like to paint nature, including animals, like birds, whales and dolphins. I also like to do landscapes and seascapes. Sometimes I play around with painting mermaids. I am passionate about creating a mood or telling a story in my creations, including painting, drawing, writing, 3D computer models or immersive virtual worlds. I have also worked in filmmaking and was a crew member for two Sundance Film Festival picks. I hope my artwork uplifts and brings smiles to people's faces."

I noted she had created her account in 2011 and asked Talia how she found out about Second Life. She answered, "I had heard on and off about Second Life on the web for about 2 years. I wanted to visit. When I came, I found out about all the classes offered. I loved taking classes in Second life. I also was welcomed into a fun roleplaying group, when I played an Elf that could shapeshift into a dragon. In those classes I learned about free resources, like GiMP (2D graphics program) and Blender (3D graphics program). I still use those programs today. I'm also learning about creating vector art in Inkscape, which is good for digital art. I have looked into some AI (Artificial intelligence) art programs.

"These paintings here in the exhibit are hand-painted in real life. I put my artwork onto RedBubble, a print on demand site for physical, real life paintings, t-shirts, mugs, bags, stickers, cell phone covers, and more. I named my store Aryxaba: ." I asked where the name came from. Talia answered, " I wanted a name that no one else had, so I made the name "Aryxaba" up, starting with the word "Oryx" which is a big antelope.

"I have a mug from my RedBubble store with the 'Ship in a Storm' painting. That is probably my most popular painting." She walked over to one, "This one." I asked what inspired that particular painting. Talia answered, "There's something about the energy, the lightning, the wind in the sails, the choppy water, yet I know that ship will safely weather the storm. I like energy, a mood, or a story in a painting. Each thing is almost a character in itself, the lightning is a character, the ship is a character, even the water is a character. They interact to create a plot." 

I asked Talia about her more memorable exhibits in the past. She told me, "Myself, along with others, did a 3D exhibit for the University of Australia. It was picked to be photographed and put into a real life book. The exhibit was of a woman with wings, escaping a confining home, by going into virtual worlds like Second Life. I think people really understand that feeling, after the quarantines." I asked if she meant about virtual worlds being a way to figuratively get out of the house during those time. "Yes, exactly," she answered, "Free to fly around in virtual space, meet friends, dance, take a class, explore, play golf and more."

I noted the location of the exhibit, next to Netera's Coffee Lounge, and asked how this came about.  Talia answered, "Netera and I both work with a live singer, Austin Moores for about 5 years now. We go onstage with him during his shows. It's a lot of fun and I really enjoy hearing him sing. Netera and I like to write also. She set up the coffeehouse for a peaceful place to write and to exhibit art."

I asked Talia what stories she wrote about. She answered, "I wrote a time travel fantasy novel, about ancient Egypt and Crete called 'The Missing Princes of Egypt.'  I also wrote a comedic fantasy novel of magic gone wrong, 'Risky Magic.' ... Writing humor does lighten my day. Sometimes if I'm tired, I write humor. It makes me smile. I've been writing humorous slogans for t-shirts that I will eventually put into my RedBubble store." I asked for an example, and she told me, "I made up one yesterday for the holidays 'On the Naughty List, And Had Fun Doing It.'"

I asked about the exhibit opening's singer. Talia answered, "We had this wonderful live singer, Helena Navarita. Austin Moores had to cancel at the last moment and Helena stepped in to sing. I was so lucky that Netera could get her at short notice." I pointed out to Talia that with her on stage, some might have have mistaken her for the singer. She laughed, "I would not be able to sing as well as Helena."

So what does Talia have planned for her next exhibition? Her answer was, "Good question, I might go with an animal theme, either birds, or sea creatures, perhaps swimming in beautiful blue waters. Maybe a mermaid will join them." Pointing out the shoulder pet dragon on her shoulder, I asked if any pictures to be done soon will include dragons. She told me, "I want to refine my dragon drawings more before going public with them. I took a short class with a woman who was known for her dragon illustrations at Renaissance Fair. I liked the fluidity of her dragons, and have experimented with that in my work.

The artist's last words in the interview were, "I wanted to thank the people that helped me on my way in this art exhibit, Netera Landar for the exhibit space, Helena Navarita for the singing at the opening, Sandy Hauster for the stage, all the people that come to see the exhibit and you Bixyl for this interview."

Talia's "Fire and Water" exhibit is at Snug Harbor (115/94/25) and will run until December 23.
Bixyl Shuftan

Monday, November 28, 2022

Interview With Melly Callidora (MelainaGodness)

y Bixyl Shuftan

In August 2014, Wesley Regenbogen interviewed Hope Dreamscape (hope4ever43), one of two co-owners of a club that had recently held a cancer fundraiser. A few months later, he did a followup, of her owning a horse ranch. We last heard from her as Hope Driftwood teaching the reporter who interviewed her how to ride a horse.

Recently, the Newser was contacted by her once more, asking for a followup on what's been happening to her. The most obvious change was she had started anew with a new account: MelainaGodness, known as Melly Callidora. She requested to do her part of the interview in voice as typing a lot had gotten uncomfortable: her physical health had taken a turn for the worse in the past few years. At 51 years old, she had carpal tunnel, two herniated disks, metal screws in her neck that made it hard to turn her head, migraines, diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, and worst of all: Cancer. She explained it was uterine/cervical cancer, occurring where the two body parts meet, and also had lymphoma. She described herself as being in constant pain, and needed a cane to get around, or a wheelchair if it was for a long distance.

In Second Life, things were better. She had met up with a Benji Darkfury, and eventually the two were married inworld. Sadly, Benji would fall ill and pass away. Melly told me she had been building lighthouses wherever she lived in the virtual world since, so his spirit could "find his way home." She talked more about him, saying they met up in real life, him being from Connecticut and "I'm from New York." She told me one of his real-life family had gone inworld, and together they were able to help him have virtually what he couldn't in reality. "I took it very hard when he died," she told me, "I stopped playing Second Life for a time." It took her some time to return, but eventually she did. She had been transferred ownership of Benji's avatar.

"I have a forever son." Melly told me, "People say he's my favorite, but I have a lot of children." One, Oakan Callidora Corvinus (oakan.corvinus) or "Oakie" went to see her in real life, "It was the best experience I ever had." She also mentioned having an SL daughter, "I have a twin brother ... I have an older brother, Ren. But Niyethan  is the twin. ... I have another brother, Joey." She also mentioned, "I have a real-life friend, Paul, who plays Second Life." She would later say he lived about 45 minutes away. I have a lot of brother's and sisters.

Melly called herself the leading lady of a Bloodlines clan, Clan Darkness Family , "I am the Matriarch, the Queen of the clan." Oakan was the head of it. She described her family's land as having a number of animals, notably horses. She showed me the castle, where family dinners were held sometimes. She showed me Darkfurry Hall, where there was a plaque in honor of Benji, "Benji is honored in every way we can." She would show me her manor. When not held at the castle, dinners were held here every Saturday night, either inside in the dining room or outside in the patio area.

She would show me the Callidora Ranch, where she raised horses. These were Amaretto horses, the oldest brand of breedable horses in Second Life. She would breed them, and sell some of the colts to raise some money, "just had two born." She would put those to be sold in a barrel, then taken to her daughter-in-law's store. She also raised something called Chimeras, and breedable cats known as Kitticats. She would also show me a group of breedable fairies. Melly would show me the family logo, an image of a vampire woman smelling (or perhaps about to taste) a rose.

She told me her real life had become a struggle, but her SL family had made all the difference. She had created the Callidora family in 2016, and she talked about how "amazing" it was that her inworld family has "been there for me." Due to her worsening health, she had to give up her real-life job of 20 years, being a teacher of handicaped students. Her inworld family provided plenty of support, "I don't like to have them take care of me. ... I had to learn to step aside and let Oakie take over." She stated she had a lot of SL children, "but I don't put up with drama."

Of her health, doctors were finding themselves with less and less options for what could be done long-term, "There is nothing more they can do for me." She had been told she has about a year left, maybe a little more, "Some days I don't get out of bed," saying there were times she was just in too much pain, "But I always try to do Saturday, and holidays." Her eyesight has become not that good. She had used to DJ in the past, but had to give it up. With her carpal tunnel getting worse, it was just becoming too difficult. She also told me she was starting to have memory troubles, in part due to her medications, and had to rely on her Alexa at times to remember things. She takes a total of 21 pills a day, plus uses an inhaler.

Despite the short time the doctors gave her, she wasn't truly going by what they were saying. All things considered, she felt, "I've been doing pretty good. ... If it's my time to go, it's my time to go." She mentioned she had a high white-cell blood count for years. She would go on to say her father had been a Vietnam veteran, who during his tour was exposed to Agent Orange, both by inhaling it and cutting his hands on barbed wire covered by it. She felt she was likely exposed to it was well through him, affecting her period and affecting her chances of having kids. She had been married three times in real life. She had one other family member who was having health problems, a niece who came down with polio, and stated she was just now was showing signs of cerebral palsy. Of her immediate family, a sister and four brothers, one of her brothers has passed on.

She once again described her SL family as being very supportive, more than her real-life one. She described a moment at one of her real-life brothers being surprised at how much medication she had to take, "Who does this?"

Melly had a Flickr account, and I asked about it. She told me most of the pictures had been taken by Joey (Chronisz). While there where other photographers in the family, she tries to promote Joey as much as she can.

Near the end of the interview, Paul would appear, in a furry anthro fox avatar. We chatted for a while. At one point, he amusingly spoke of Melly, "She used to have an infatuation with black olives." "Shut up Paul!" she responded, then chuckled.

Above everything else, despite her real-life difficulties, Melly was grateful for the support her SL family had given her, and was allowing her to live a life with happy moments, "I live my live and enjoy it the best I can."

Addition: Melly would later tell me I missed one detail, "My alt Riley Darkfury is Benji's wife."

Bixyl Shuftan


Saturday, November 12, 2022

Waya Snowpaw's Second Memorial Service

By Bixyl Shuftan

On September 27, Waya Snowpaw had passed away. He had been the DJ who did the opening hour for Veterans Isle's monthly benefit concerts for over a decade. He appeared as an anthro canine in an Army uniform, usually (though not always) the one furry in the otherwise all human avatar group of volunteers who raised money for the Homes For Our Troops charity organization. In real life, he was a disabled American veteran, an American Indian, and a longtime DJ in real life for about 40 years. He passed away in his 60s.
News of Waya's passing was not announced until October 15. On Saturday October 22, he was given an inworld military memorial service. But not all of his friends could attend. It was decided to give him a second, less formal one later on. It would happen two weeks later. On Saturday November 5, people would gather once more to remember him. The event would take place high above the Water Edge Estates sim. This included friends, SL family, and at least one of his real-life family having come to Second Life.

I was a bit late for the event. Thankfully Lady Mom (Backupmom) had taken notes. Near the start, she hat this to say, "We honor Waya's Cherokee heritage. The American flag and the soldiers cross represent Waya's Military Service which Waya was quite proud of. He was a wounded warrior.

"I speak today to honor Waya Snowpaw. Second life has way of creating family. Waya was my SL brother. My little big brother. Taller than me but younger. We became family in real-life too. Two hour phone calls were  the norm between us. Waya even got to know my real-life spouse. The three of us would talk often. We talked about our lives, we talked about our families. We had similar views and shared concerns. We had a deeply spiritual connection. And we had powerful conversations regarding our spiritual paths. We talked about indigenous medicines. The would want to insert their opinions into our conversations.  Waya loved his dogs, they were good service dogs and very devoted to Waya.
"Waya was a curmudgeon sometimes, but he had a big heart. Homes For Our Troops was an important cause for him. Waya was also a badass. He had an entanglement with a four-foot Water Moccasin that had invited itself into Waya's chambers. Waya wasn't having it. Needless to say the snake lost. Waya and I were very protective of one another. Waya loved banana pudding in real-life as well as SL.
"Waya was a great DJ with quite a following. He did very impressive bead work in real-life. Waya was in ill health, he was in pain and tired. The people of the Light took mercy on this sweet soul and called him home.. The people of the Light didn't consult me, because I would have asked them to wait. May The Great Spirit bestow eternal joy to Waya and comfort to his real-life family, SL family and all  assembled here.

"Please know that Mom loves you all so dearly. We are here to lift one another up in times of grief and hardships. We are here to celebrate the gifts we have in each day.

"I will miss that loveable wolf that loved ear scratches.  I miss my SL  brother, most importantly I miss my real-life friend."

Lady would text three tributes from others, "Tribute from Fyre:'Waya, Waya, must say first,  I Love You, so many hours talking about sooo many things. But our dogs were always talked about. Those talks will be forever missed. I hope and pray you have Niko and Kala beside you again. How you love them. None of you are in pain now. Thank You for being in my life. Thank You for being the amazing Waya. Hugs and Love You always. Rest easy, soar high. Never will you be forgotten.'
"Waya was Fyre's SL Uncle.
"Words from Riley: 'Waya was one of my first friends here on SL, and, no doubts, the first who was welcoming me with a warm and honest embrace.

"It's funny, because I'm sure that we have met on another virtual server before, but back then I haven't realize, nor notice him - except for that mysterious guy playing some awesome music - until I came to SL. We just have talked about it once, and I'm sure, that's where I've met him years ago already.
But, there's been so much we had in common... and I miss those conversations we had - some times for hours long. I remember the day we went to an event and they had this huge carousel there. I can't even say how long we were sitting there, just looking at it and listening to him talking about his childhood. It was such a magical moment, seeing him all excited about these wonderful memories. I miss that.

"The music has brought us together and we both were sharing that passion. So I'd like to share a text from a German band we used to love - translated into English:

Tell me what to mourn
Was my life so gray and dreary?
If I think about it, one thing is certain
You shouldn't mourn
What are days of farewell anyway
Against years we get
Cut the tears, enough of that
You shouldn't mourn about me
You should dance, dance, forever
You should dance, dance, to the end of your time
You should dance as if I were among you
As if I were among you...

"Knowing Waya for such a long time, I'm just about sure, that this is something he would tell us:
Don't mourn, even if it's hard, but dance and laugh as we used to do, as if he was among us...

"I won't call this a 'farewell,' but a 'goodbye for now,' because one day we will meet again - and then we will dance together.

"I love you Waya. Thank you for everything. And I'll never forget you ~ you'll always be in my heart.'"

Then May O. Mingzi (mayomingzi) spoke up, "I don't do voice, but I can type a few things. 

"I don't really remember how Waya and I met; I think it was at the Smooth Jazz Club where he used to DJ. But I know that one of the first things I asked him to do for us as a DJ was a memorial service for another friend, more than 10 years ago. That's how long I knew Waya. 

"He said that, unfortunately he had a lot of experience doing such things, and would be honored. We stayed in touch throughout the years. He disappeared for a long time, after he had a stroke, and I feared he had died. But as you know, he didn't. It was like a second chance. And when he recovered, he would joke about how he would sneak out to the nurse's station to get on the computer and stay in touch.

"He got a new machine when he got home, and resumed DJing again. I never knew what type of music he'd play, and he often didn't either. He often would wake up in the morning and ask Alexa what special occasion was going on that day, and build a set from that. It could be something normal, like Mardi Gras - that was his favorite holiday, I think. Or it could be something like, 'Peanut Butter Day,' and we'd end up with a set about food. He loved Weird Al. He had a set of props he'd hand around that referred to things from Weird Al songs, like a duck for 'I Want a New Duck,' and a Velvet Elvis for that song. I have a copy of that folder, if anyone wants. It includes a 'Mennonite hat' Waya made." Several people would ask for it.

"In later years, we exchanged phone numbers, so we could text each other. He would let me know sometimes if he were going into the hospital. Eventually I also managed to persuade him to give me his address so I could set him care packages. He hated asking for help from anyone. He was always the one giving help to others. Whether it was sitting with a soldier in need in real-life, or chatting with someone having a love crisis, or filling in for a DJ, he was always the one giving to others. He also taught me a lot about being a DJ. He shared his amazing knowledge of and love for music. I watched how he interacted with the audience and put songs together. He was a great teacher and a great friend. I will always remember him."

May would then pass around Waya's set of "Weird Al Survival Kit" props. There was then a dance in Waya's honor, with DJ Snowbuns (Skylark Lefavre) as the DJ. People continued to talk some more, such as how Waya would have loved the service and the music. 

Sadly, this wolf DJ was gone. But he wouldn't be forgotten.

Rest in peace,

Bixyl Shuftan

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Fiftteen Years of Writing Second Life News

By Bixyl Shuftan 

Where to begin ...

By late summer 2007, I was just starting to find my way in Second Life. Although my journey here started in December 2006, shortly after I got high-speed Internet, for months I didn't log on much as the lady who invited me over was suddenly given more responsibility. Then in July 2007 she told me about the Relay Weekend and suggested I check out the area. So I did, and my interest in the virtual world was rekindled. I began dropping by more often, eventually finding Luskwood and making some friends there, and getting my first paid-for avatar, the red Luskwood fox. I girl I met at Luskwood told me about another place, the STA, and there I met more friends and found another hangout. 

I wanted to find out still more about Second Life, what events were going on and what interesting places were around. So I started checking out blogs and newsletters about this virtual world. Among them was the "Herald," which stared off as a Sims Online newsletter, which while occasionally informative was basically a tabloid. There was "New World Notes," a newsblog by Hamlet Au. Informative, but as Linden Lab's "embedded reporter," he was obviously limited in his ability to criticize them. And then there was the Second Life Newspaper, owned by JamesT Juno with Dana Vanmoer as the editor. It had a number of reporters and several sections, reporting on various people, places, and events around the virtual world, plus the latest on what the Lab was up to. Something else that got my attention, they occasionally called for submitted articles and pictures from the readers. So I decided to send in a few pictures plus a couple personal stories of mine at the time. I guess I impressed them, as James and Dana invited me in for a job interview. After some talk, they told me I had the job, and offered me the use of one of the office spaces.

In real life, I had been keeping up with the news on a daily basis since I was a teenager after hearing about a mob taking over our embassy in a foreign country and the government there siding with the hostage takers. And now, I had the chance to be a news reporter myself. I would use the payment for my first official article to get a fedora and leather overcoat, the classic reporter's look. Along with my fox avatar, it became my trademark appearance, one that continued as my main look with only minor alterations for over a decade. And of course there was the "Fox News" pun.

I did feel a bit of uncertainly in the first few weeks. I was the "new guy" and finding my footing. But I soon got the hang of things and was writing about various people, places, and events in this virtual world. With my sense of humor, I also ended up becoming the main source of the SL Newspaper's cartoons. Sometimes I would write about larger events, such as the Second Life Birthday and the Relay for Life and more noteable sims. Other times, I would describe more out of the way places and smaller events, such as of the STA, Woodlin Community, and Bahama Beach Club that I was a part of. After some prodding by James, I would also do one article about one of the more adult places and it's manager: ZZ Studios and it's owner Cindy "Zig-Zag" Babi. 
Sadly, not all of the articles were happy ones. I would end up writing about the closing of the STA just a few months after I joined the paper, and later on the sunset of Woodlin and the BBC. And the paper itself would soon run into some trouble in fall 2009 with the high-profile bankruptcy of our sponsor BNT, and James having to step away due to real life. I was made the office manager of SL Newspaper, which meant updating things when Dana couldn't. And in 2010, this was happening more and more. Finally in April 2010, Dana told the staff due to real-life she would have to step away from running the paper, and as she didn't have the authority to turn over the paper to anyone made the decision to close. So I talked to Gemma Cleanslate and two others, and as the Second Life Newspaper closed in June 2010, a new newsletter began, the Second Life Newser. And my role changed from just another reporter to the head of a team. We hit the ground running as our first big story was a week after our start, Linden Lab laying off a third of it's staff. It was a very interesting year newswise, and we were there to cover it.

So week after week, month after month, year after year, I've been continuing to write about this virtual world and what it has to offer. There have been numerous stories about how this world helps people, such as fundraisers like the Relay for Life and Veterans Isle concerts, and help groups such as the Survivors of Suicide. I have written about controversy on occasion, but it's never been for it's own sake. Occasionally I've written about Linden Lab's goofing up, which was more common early in our history. Perhaps I've gotten a softer edge over time, but there's been less spectacular goof-ups over time such as the closing of the SS Galaxy due to a Linden telling a longtime owner of the sims he wouldn't get any more rollbacks due to damage by griefers. An incident like that hasn't happened in a long time. More recently are the stories of Linden Lab getting new owners and it's place in the Waterfield Network. And as always the occasional story of my home area: the Sunweaver community.

Sometimes real life gets reflected into Second Life. One example is politics. In 2008, there were numerous political groups and locations for the candidates and discussion. But as time went on, the groups and locations became less common as political discussion in real life got more and more toxic and confrontational. One talk show held here would be canceled as the host felt no desire to keep repeating what had become an "echo chamber." Another would be the Coronovirus Pandemic that hit in 2020 and with people in quarantine were spending more time online, and here. 

Sadly among the things I've had to report on are the closings of some well done sims. Even sadder, I've had to report on the passing of a number of residents. Last year, this would include two friends of mine who were noteable members of the community I became part of. They would join the ranks of those who made great content for others, and then there would be no more. While it was an honor to write about them, these were some of the saddest articles I've had to write.

So what does the future hold? Over time there's been no shortage of "the end is near" comments about Second Life. With the virtual world currently in healthy shape, unless there's some kind of global calamity, it's a safe bet it will be around for several more years at least. For yours truly, I've also been doing some writing other than news stories. I have been doing a novel on the side, "The Corsean Encounter." It's mostly finished, just needing some editing, then I need to figure out how to publish it on Amazon. 

While there may be occasional disruptions, as long as there's a team to back me up, I'll be writing about the people, places, and events of Second Life for some time to come.

"And that's the way it is." Good day from Second Life Newser.

Bixyl Shuftan

Monday, October 3, 2022

Interview with Fop (KingForri), Giant of Natoma

By Bixyl Shuftan
Being tall in Second Life is quite common. It was probably moreso in the past when people joked about the stereotypical seven foot blonde.  It doesn't take too long to find avatars that are eight or nine feet high. Truly giant avatars are less common. At the Fantasy Faire, you may see a fifty foot woman on occasion. But not long ago at the Ivory Tower in Natoma, I saw an avatar that was *truly* massive, hundreds of feet high. His name was Fop (KingForri). Eventually, I managed to contact him, and a meeting for an interview was arranged.

"It sounded like you wanted to message me before I took off!" He greeted, then mused, "Perhaps a thought on the line of 'get out of the bloody way you're blocking the sun!;" After some chuckles, I asked him where he got the idea for such a large avatar. "That's kind of a long story. When I joined Second Life, I had envisioned what I wanted an avatar to look like, but on a much larger scale. My goal was to make a  game character that I wouldn't ever have played. Prior to Second Life, I preferred small characters. My avatar started off as a bit of a joke, but as time went on he kinda evolved into something I got attached to, and I saw some of the large avatars other people made and it inspired me. I realized pretty quickly how difficult the whole thing was, and I'm the kind of guy who absolutely loves challenges, so I kept trying to push it further and further to see how far I could go. Every step of the way I'd have to make new scripts or think of some workaround to get around the limitations of SL, with the mentality that 'it has to be fully usable, and it has to be fun for everyone else.'

"So I developed some techniques to be able to do common stuff regular avatars can do, such as using RLV to switch between skeletons to reposition myself whether I was sitting or standing, or even sitting at a table. At one point I even figured out a goofy fake way to have a friend ride my nose using animesh and some clever tag positioning. One of the big walls was being able to upload a skeleton beyond 3m in the mesh uploader. Most people would just move the pelvis bone down which would cause their avatars to sway all over if they fidgetted in one place, or sat down or whatever. From what I can tell, I might be one of the first to figure out how to break that limit and upload models at a higher offset than three."

I asked how long it took to make his avatar, and asked about earlier avatars. He responded, "It's been an ongoing thing since I started, like, gosh, eight years ago. Of course I'm not constantly working on it, but every once in a while I'll think 'hmm, I wonder if I could push this even further?' and my mind will start going again. 
"There are some other really big avatars too. Some absolutely enormous, and far bigger than the Fop you saw the other day. However, they tend to have the problems I discussed earlier: they sway around, or an even worse problem: hard coded draw distance for mesh models. I suppose to save on processing time, the client creators have a hard draw distance limit for mesh avatars, so if you ever see any other mesh giants at for example, the Fantasy Faire, you'll notice if you zoom out too far their entire bodies just pop out of existence even if your draw distance is set to 1024m, leaving just their hair and some attachments visible. Being not so artistically and unable to really do 3D meshing work was kind of a blessing in disguise as ironically, it allows Fop to be seen the entire 1024 max distance. It's mostly the draw distance that limits most people.

"The one you saw was, I think around 300 meters (984 feet)? I've larger versions but I try to be considerate of others." After I asked how tall the biggest ones were, "Gosh, do you really wanna know? Let's just say you can't see the entire avatar with the draw distance maxed out. I've figured out how to walk around the outside of sims. It's, really difficult to use at that point. Haha! Over 2km, for sure. I measured with some blocks. A single foot covers around 6 to 8 sims. It's a fun novelty but at that point it's nothing more than a party trick! ... I know you did mention something in your article about how giant avatars aren't really practical, and you'd be absolutely right. However, through the challenges, I discovered something I would have never thought I'd enjoy, and at the end of the day, I'm having fun with my avatar. Second Life is a social game, and it's not like my avatar is any better or worse than any of the other ones. I'm still just some guy behind a screen having fun with friends, even if maybe I take up a bit more screen estate. (grin) 

"And maybe I'd like to just say for anyone else, try something out of your comfort zone. You might surprise yourself!"

I then asked if there were smaller versions of the avatar. "Of course," he answered, "I started off with a much smaller version. Began around the 12 feet mark, worked up to 60 feet. Used that regularly for years, it's still kind of what I default back to. I haven't really worked on any other avatars. If I do it tends to be a joke. Though unlike Fop, none of those jokes jumped out at me in the same way."

And what have been peoples' reactions? Fop responded, "It really depends on the crowd. In the general places, initially I'd get the usual "WHOAH THATS A BIG AVATAR!" But then I'll change the topic and it becomes whatever. In places made for giants, I'll get "YOU'RE TOO BIG FOR THIS SIM" and get shoo'd away. Kinda backwards eh?

"Of course any place that has a size limit will have the boot ready for me unless I change quickly. Sometimes people are hostile, but I find as a whole people tend to be a lot more accepting than I anticipated. ^^. That, or they're just being polite. You can never be sure!

"I think the initial shock factor is kind of predictable though. Everyone once in a while, the more critical will tell me my avatar is jank looking. Sorry, I did my best!

And what does Fop do when not going about "Living large?" He answered, "Well, I don't really stop to be honest, but as far as other things I like to do on here, I enjoy writing scripts for friends. I also really enjoy teaching people how to make stuff. I've left a lot of comments in the stuff I wrote for my pals who knew nothing about scripting, and they later thanked me as it laid the foundation for them to learn how to do it themselves, which was a really good feeling to be honest. I've considered applying to teach at the Builder's Brewery, or start my own classes. I think SL needs more people trying to create things. It's really the perfect platform for expression and sharing ideas.

"Obviously I'm reaching the limits of what I can do with my one gimmick, but I've also always wanted to make games, inside and outside of Second Life. I started on a couple projects years ago, but it's something I've been wanting to revisit. That, and making cool vehicles.

"Oh, and I like to terrorize, er, hang out with my friends at Natoma. I'm planning on taking some mainland-wide tours to meet (and maybe surprise) some people while handing out pizzas. Who wants some? (I don't knock on properties with security orbs tho. You're missin' out on free pizza!)"

Fop went on, "Years ago I got encouraged when I read an interview with Ceri Quixote on their giant avatar, and if I could inspire even one person to just try to do a thing and discover something new, I think that would be pretty nifty! Also shoutouts to Samantha Shadowcry. They're also a pretty big friend, and we bounce off each other with ideas and encouragement. I just wanna say I'm not alone in this journey! It's been a lot more fun with someone to actually share knowledge with and grow. Figuratively and literally (smile). ... Big avatars don't have to be statues. I wanna show that they can be fun too!"
And where did the name "Fop" come from? He answered, "I originally picked Jake. It was a generic name, but then one of my friends commented on my attire by saying I looked foppish. It stuck. That was within' the first year of being on SL.Really the avatar was more-or-less a big accident. It was formed by the time I spent on here and the people I met, ultimately. ... I don't bite and people are more than welcomed to ask me questions!"

"OOOH! I remembered a big point! Unfortunately my progress almost came to a screeching halt a few years ago, when I started to encounter people who just could not see my avatar. Like, at all. It really puzzled me as to why, but in about 2019ish (I forget exactly what year) Firestorm implemented a hardcoded derenderer that used your avatar's Texture Area. Even though Fop is made of the same primitives used to build in world, Firestorm would see the avatar and immediately derender Fop for being over 1000m² in texture area. When you consider that most people around that time used Firestorm, it meant unless people cranked their settings to automatically render avatars regardless of complexity, or Fop was forced to be rendered, I was invisible to most people I'd encounter. I'd then have to manually instruct everyone on how to see me, and of course a lot of people wouldn't bother. It was incredibly discouraging after working on my avatar after five years, finally getting it to a point I was satisfied with only to have all my work completely for nothing. I almost left SL for good right then and there. Even in my own "About Me" section of my profile are instructions on how to make me appear and it's sad I even have to include that. No other main client has implemented that feature by default.

"The problem still exists but with other viewers slowly taking the popularity vote, it's given me a sigh of relief."

And what was the model of Fop's avatar? "It's a modified example skeleton I found off some wiki, with the bones moved around. The head was from a freebie wolf avatar made in the early days of SL (I added eyebrows, hair, new ears, nose, and a fabulous tooth), the hair is just system hair with a front piece from some freebie pony avatar, the arms, legs, main body and tail were all created by myself, and the hands from some cat avatar in the library that comes with every account. The feet were heavily modified from that same wolf avatar I mentioned earlier. I haven't spent a single cent of my own real world money on this game, using only the Lindens I got from scripting for people for skeleton and texture uploads. All the scripts except for my AO I wrote myself, and even the AO I modified to match the walking speed increase of the longer legs.  I don't think you'll find another avatar on SL like mine!

"You really don't need to spend money to make something you can be happy with though. It takes a lot of work but it's a lot more satisfying in the end. It feels more like it's your own."

Fop would do a dance for a few pictures, and send me one of his: "Heroic dog saves cows from thug chicken." But he would later message me again, "Unfortunately, it seems as though the fun might eventually come to an end. Due to recent changes in certain viewers, things have been looking grim for giant avatars in general. In the pursuit of performance, certain viewers have implemented a feature that introduces a hard limit on texture area that an avatar can have before being derendered, even if their parts are flat shaded. Should an avatar's texture area exceed 1000m², the avatar is derendered regardless of what the complexity setting is set in the preferences (unless set to 'No Limit'), or unless you force render the avatar manually.

"Firestorm and LL viewer are the two I know of that have implemented this, which are unfortunately the two most popular viewers. So even if Fop's complexity while super-mega-large is lower than a lot of normal sized avatars due to his simplicity, he just pops out of existance for the majority of SL users who are using default settings. (For reference, a 1km tall Fop only hits 202k complexity. He also doesn't impact the framerate as much as one might expect) I've encountered a handful of people who even experienced the same problem with their giant mesh avatars. I've had to explain to people so many times now on how to render me that I ended up just putting instructions in my profile. It's gotten pretty annoying to be honest and completely sours the experience. My dreams of just surprising people and handing out pizzas while touring the mainlands are kind of dead as a result. The kicker is that Fop, being mostly prim and sculpties, can be rezzed in world and the viewers won't care and will render all the parts anyway. But worn? That's taboo. Doesn't really make sense in my opinion.

"Sadly it discouraged me greatly, and I've even considered leaving SL altogether. The change, as a knee-jerk reaction to griefers, ended up stiffling the creativity of legitimate users. I even created a couple prim avatars for a couple friends, but they can't enjoy them for the same reasons. I hope one day they'll reverse the implementation, or at least add a non-default option in the preferences to set the texture area limit. I'm sure if a griefer really wanted to cause trouble they'll exploit some other oversight, and then another thing will get nerfed, and then another, and then another, and eventually we'll downspiral to a point where nobody will be able to be creative anymore. If anyone in charge is reading this, please reconsider!"

Since this interview though, I would see Fop one more time at Natoma. For now, Fop is still presumably going about as usual, making big impressions with his big avatar.

Bixyl Shuftan

Friday, September 23, 2022

Echovets: Band of Brothers

 By Bixyl Shuftan

There's a new sim and group in Second Life for veterans: EchoVets - Band of Brothers

A place for Veterans by Veterans.  Newcomer friendly, VA Information, PTSD, Suicide Awareness, education, dance, free, gardens, fountain, games. Camaraderie with those that speak your language.  ALL are welcome, Brothers and Sisters.

I was told a little beforehand about the lady who ran it, Stacy Maracas. She has been in Second Life since Oct 2004, almost 18 years, and in real life works at a veterans center, her profile stating "ANYTHING a Veteran may have a question about, I am your resource, and if I do not know the answer, I assure you I will get it."

I contacted Stacy, and a meeting was soon arranged, "Been working my butt off," she commented when we met up, "I love busy.  If I didn't I'd be screwed, I wear too many hats to not like it." I mentioned that she had been a longtime resident, and asked how she got here. "I was apart of Second Life through friends in 2003," she told me, "I borrowed a friend's alternate, and came here as a lady named Kiwi." She chuckled, "I fell in love with it here, so first of October 2004 I created me. I like my name better. So next month, 18 years," she smiled, "I'm almost officially an adult in Second Life!

"There was no islands or anything then, only mainland, very small very cool. Also no skin, prim hair, and really bad clothing. But we ll thought we were the hottest things ever. HAH!"

I asked her how things went after her entrance. She answered, "It was well, a learning curve.  I was a Mafia Godmother here, roleplay etc.  It was a lot of fun to be honest, but the longer I was here I could see potential in just being myself here. I have always been myself, but I mean no roleplaying etc, just good 'ol Stacy which is my real-life name as well. I have been much happier since making the decision, have met some amazing friends here, and many that I came here with 18 yrs ago. I am still very close too and stay in touch here and in real-life. That is what kept me coming back, now that. And this sim is what will keep me here for a long time to come."

I then asked her what gave her the idea for the Band of Brothers sim. Stacy told me, "In my real world job, I work for the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, at a place called The Vet Center in Lake Havasu, Arizona.  My proper job title is Veteran's Outreach Program Specialist or VOPS.  MY job everyday is to help Veterans.  I am a female combat Veteran myself (Desert Storm), so this is my passion and who I am.  I had reached out to the Lindens to ask them to put me on the destination guide and the itty-bitty land I had.

"Madori Linden reached out to me and asked me to have a meeting with her, and she is very passionate about Veterans, and suggested this sim, as a non--profit.  The non-profit I am President of in real-life is Band of Brothers.  I got our EIN (the letter of proof from the IRS that the organization is a legitimate and registered Non-profit 501 3C) from our President to show off to Linden Labs of our legitimacy as a non-profit, the President wrote them a letter approving me to work on behalf of our group, I was given the price for a non-profit sim, and here we are.  Idea in full and now a reality. so to speak. Ha!"

Stacy went on, "There is a kiosk near the gigantic photo album that tells you about our real-life organization.  Also behind me is the kiosk of my military story, I remain transparent for trust purposes, as many Veterans in SL (including myself) have had their trust broken by others, and I refuse to be that person to them as I am here to help everyone. ... With Veterans, we have trust issues to begin with especially after combat or MST, so Second Life can be a very rough place at time when not everyone is honest.  However its also very healing on the other end of the spectrum as for many of our Veterans this is the only socialization they get."

Of the sim, getting a wide-shot of the whole place took a little time so things could rezz, but it was soon done. She stated she "wanted it to be a nice place, not only for education but to hang out as well." She did note one corner didn't have much on it for the time being, "and as you can see, one small area I'm waiting for items for to finish."

I pointed out the large building near us, which was close to the landmark location I was given. Stacy smiled, "This is the grand hall. Inside we will hold classes, Q & A's, Suicidal Awareness training for Veterans and people who work with Vets, PTSD classes, and a plethora of other things to aide in helping our Veterans AND their families and friends. (We will) have guest speakers, some from the VA, the President of the organiztion will come, and other guest speakers."

She pointed out the kiosks around the area, "Each of these kiosks out here have notecard information in them, we will actually have classes on each of them as well, with room for Q & A, etc."

At one point, Stacy had to take a break in the interview to take a phone call. She came back, and I brought up other places on the sim. "A club too, some small homes," she told me, "all of it to make it feel comfortable and a fun place to hang out/ We will do some club type events etc as well, but definitely not our focus. Our focus is socialization, education and helping one another."

I noticed a Vet Center. "Yes it is the main center," she told me, "set up as a familiar place to Veterans, and for future of what is to come, possible one on one counseling from our employees and simply being available in either world." She pointed out other places, "There is also a very large soldiers memorial fountain. I tried to have nice spots throughout to see and check out." Of the one corner that didn't have so much, "The last open spot net to the fountain will have some military vehicles displayed ... prior to the grand opening, just waiting for delivery."

I asked if anything inspired the particular designs of some of the places on the sim. Stacy answered, "When I found the hall it reminded me of the large place we would have our military training in, in Europe. So I had to have it and decided that would be used for the classes.  I wanted the Vet Center building to be professional yet welcoming as the Vet Center is in real-life and found that building it was perfect, the rest honestly no. I wanted memorial to my fallen brothers and sisters, hence the fountains. 
"Small items will be added here and there, but for the most part, the rest of the design was just what was in my head and what I know Veterans will want as a place to come and hang out. ... that is all that matters, and of course, breaking down some walls and making my brothers and sisters get off their butts and come socialize, and come seek help even if they don't know they need it."

Near the end, Stacy would say, "We all have two most important days of our lives.  One is the day we are born, and second is the day we figure out why. This is my why. I had REASONS to not take my own life, my children needed me, etc, but I had never found my WHY. Band of Brothers is my why, having the 'six' of my brothers and sisters and helping them thru their journeys so no Veteran ever has to be in a dark place again." She thanked me for taking the time to ask about the sim and reporting on it.

On a final note, while Stacy and I were talking, one of the Vet Centers counselors came by and noticed the computer screen. Seeing what was going on, she asked if "Fox News' had arrived.

Bixyl Shuftan