Snapshot contest deadline is Thursday March 12, 2009

Second Life snapshot contest
Look for this sign in Second Life for contest rules

Don’t forget, tomorrow (March 12, 2009) is the last day to enter Second Life’s Sci-Fi & Fantasy Snapshot Contest!

You can learn about rules and prizes at the rezlibris website or in Second Life to can teleport to slurl.com/secondlife/Info%20Island/205/114/33 and look for the sign in this picture.  Touch the sign (in Second Life, not here!) and you’ll get a notecard with contest information. 

Making better Second Life snapshots using the environment editor, part two

Spaceport Alpha a noon

Spaceport Alpha’s GLSV rockets at noon

The GLSV rocket, launched by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for putting satellites into orbit, will be our subject in using Second Life’s Environment Editor. These rockets are at Second Life’s Spaceport Alpha – International Spaceflight Museum. You can visit this exact spot and stand next to these rockets by clicking slurl.com/secondlife/Spaceport%20Alpha/70/120/35.

This picture was taken at noon. In my last article, we used the Environment Settings presets and the Environment Editor slider to change the lighting in the Czechoslovakia sim by changing the position in the sky. Today we’re going to go one step further by using some presets in the Advanced Sky Editor.

Environment Editor (Below) and Advanced Sky Editor (above)

Second Life’s Environment Editor (Below) and Advanced Sky Editor (above)

To get to the Advanced Sky Editor, first click World, then Environment Settings, and then Environment Editor. In the picture to the right, the Environment Editor is shown in the lower half. At the bottom of the Environment Editor, you’l see “Advanced Sky”. Click it to open the Advanced Sky Editor, seen in the upper half of the picture.

In the upper left corner of the Advanced Sky Editor, you’ll see “Sky Presets:” followed by a box that probably contains “Default”. Today I’ll show you how you can dramatically change the mood of a shot by changing the Sky Preset.

GLSV rockets viewed using Coastal Afternoon preset

GLSV rockets viewed using Coastal Afternoon preset

Click the down arrow next to “Default”. You’ll see a drop down menu of about two dozen (as of this writing) presets for various times of day and sky conditions. You’ll find that the results will vary for different locations and times. In the case of these GLSV rockets at Spaceport Alpha, if we want lighting that will make the rockets stand out starkly against a blue sky, an excellent preset to choose is “Coastal Afternoon”. This is what I used to get the image at the left.

The GLSV rockets viewed using the Fine Day preset

The GLSV rockets viewed using the Fine Day preset

For a scene that might be found near dawn or dusk, with a darkened sky and fog shrouding the sea behind the rockets, the “Fine Day” preset is an excellent choice.


The GLSV rockets viewed using the Sailor's Delight preset

The GLSV rockets viewed using the Sailor’s Delight preset

Finally, for a scene that reflects the old adage, “Red sun at night, sailor’s delight, red sun at morning, sailor take warning,” we can select the aptly named “Sailor’s Delight” preset, which captures the red glow and orange sky that we might find at sunrise or sunset.

Play around with these presets in various settings. They can be a powerful tool. Next time, I’ll show you how to play with moonlight.

Making better Second Life snapshots using the environment editor, part one

Czechoslovakia sim at noon

Czechoslovakia sim at noon

In ancient times, only the greatest of prophets could blot out the sun, but today any lowly mouse or trackball can accomplish it, at least in Second Life. This is a key element in making great Second Life snapshots.

High noon may be a fine time for an Old West shootout, but not for snapshooting. At high noon in Second Life, just as in your first life, high noon is a time of few shadows and little left to the imagination. Unlike in your first life, however, in Second Life you can do something about it. You can be like one of those ancient prophets. You can move the sun, or blot it out completely.

Let’s return to the Czechoslovakia sim. The following SLURL should get you there: slurl.com/secondlife/Czechoslovakia/68/135/58. This should place your avatar in the very same church tower from which I made these snapshots (the tower in the center of the picture). In my previous column, the picture you saw of it showed a brooding, fog-shrouded place of mystery. If you go there at high noon, however, and take a snapshot of what you see, you’ll get a much less interesting picture, like at the one the left.. It’s certainly an attractive and old city, but the snapshot of it could be, well, snappier.

Czechoslovakia sim at sunrise

Czechoslovakia sim at sunrise

Now let’s try a simple change. In Second Life, click "World" and then on the dropdown menu click "Environment Settings". You’ll see a new menu. The first four choices are "Sunrise", "Midday", "Sunset" and "Midnight". Try clicking each of them to see how it changes your picture, and how the Second Life sun comes from different directions at sunset and sunrise. For the picture at the right, I used Sunrise.

Second Life Environment Editor

Second Life Environment Editor

The four presets we saw in the preceding example can be very useful in every day life, but for making good snapshots we need greater control over the position of the sun. This calls for using the Environment Editor. To open the Environment Editor, go down to the bottom of the Environment Settings menu we used in the last example and click "Environment Editor".

You’ll see two times on the left side of the Environment Editor window: the current Second Life time (which is based on four hour days and one hour nights), and below that you’ll see "12:00 PM". There’s a slide to the right of "12:00 PM". Try sliding it around and watch how the angle of the sun changes. If you look up into the sky while doing it, you’ll see the sun and moon move across the sky as you move the slider.

Czechoslovakia sim at 7:40pm

Czechoslovakia sim at 7:40pm

This is the picture of Czechoslovakia that resulted when I moved the slider to "7:40 PM".

You can see how simply moving the sun, like an ancient prophet, can dramatically change your photographs. Play around with it. Don’t worry, unlike the sun in our first lives, in Second Life no one else sees your sun. You can move it all you want and not affect anyone else. It’s all done in the Second Life viewer installed on your computer, and has no effect at all on how other people experience Second Life.

Tomorrow in part two I’ll continue discussing the Environment Editor. Until then, play around with what I’ve shown you today.

Review of seven Second Life language translators

Recently I met a beautiful woman in Second Life. Ok, she was someone’s avatar, but still beautiful. When I tried talking with her, however, I learned she was Romanian and knew little English. I had similar experiences with two other avatars the same morning. One was Swiss and the other Brazilian, but none of us knew enough of the other’s language to speak.

About 54% of Second Life members live in non-English speaking countries. Most speak widely used languages like German, French, and Spanish, but others speak languages such as Portuguese, Turkish, and Korean. Many also speak English, but often not well. How do we communicate with them when we meet them? We can and should learn foreign languages, but no one can learn them all. Is there another way?

Yes. Over a half dozen automatic language translating HUD’s are available in Second Life. Some of them are free. Each of them translates at least 32 languages. The odds are that one of them will work for you. They only translate typed text at present – automatic translation of speech will be a major technical challenge – but they should allow you to hold a basic conversation in a wide variety of languages.

20090305_001_cropped_300px
Second Life's Czechoslovakia sim

I’ve tested seven of the automatic translators that are most commonly available in Second Life They range in price from free to 500 Lindens.  One of the free translators rivals the most expensive for quality in basic functionality.

The translators I tested are:

  • Ferd’s Free Translator (free)
  • Simbolic   (free)
  • AF Translator Basic (aka Translator Box) (180 Lindens)
  • AF Translator Pro (340 Lindens)
  • MH Translator (370 Lindens)
  • Q-Translator (390 Lindens)
  • X-Lang (500 Lindens)

Before buying any translator, be sure to test its HUD on your screen in ALL positions.  I found this a particularly aggravating weakness of a few translators.  For example, I might specify that I wanted it in the upper right, but some translators would either position it elsewhere on the screen, or not at all. Also be certain that the HUD isn’t partially covered by the side or bottom of the screen, as happens in a few translators. Check all screen positions.

Some other key features to look for:

  • Toggling between automatic language detection and a specified language.
  • Toggling object translation on and off.
  • Spell checker
  • Anti-spam filter to block repeating statements when you speak in the target language.
  • Displaying your current language settings
  • If you are not a native English speaker, does it offer a HUD or help in your native language?

X-Lang 6.0 (500 Lindens):

This is one of only two translators to position its HUD without any problems. Its features include:

  • Translates 41 languages
  • Help in 9 languages
  • HUD interface in 15 languages
  • Toggles object translation on and off
  • Displays your current language selections
  • Auto language detection.

Q-Translator 2.1 (390 Lindens):

This is the Cadillac of translators.  The only HUD positioning problems were very minor and don’t affect usage.   Its features include:

  • Translates 41 languages
  • Help in 34 languages
  • HUD interface in eight languages
  • Spellchecker in 17 languages  (a really useful feature)
  • Toggles object translation on and off
  • Displays your current language selections
  • Auto-detects languages
  • Can search Wikipedia from the HUD

MH Translator 3.6 (370 Lindens)

I found MH Translator extremely frustrating.  The HUD position was wrong or simply didn’t work for most positions, and I sometimes had trouble getting it to translate, probably because in certain positions, some HUD menu choices are hidden from view.

  • Translates 42 languages
  • HUD and help are English only
  • Toggles object translation on and off
  • Does not display current language selections

AF Pro 1.4 (340 Lindens)
AF Basic 2.4 (180 Lindens)

These both offer a very nice compromise between the more complex HUD of X-Lang and Q-Translator and the streamlined HUD of Ferd’s Free and Simbolic Translators.  Of all the translators, this is the one that was easiest to use without experience and without reading help.

As much as I like these two translators, I do have two complaints.  One is that when the HUD is placed on the left and center bottom of the screen, Second Life’s chat bar partially covers it.  The other complaint is that neither version displays your current language selections.   This is not a problem if you always use the same languages, but if you or the people you are listening to use more than one language, it can be a nuisance.

  • Pro version has HUD in 6 languages
  • Translates 34 languages (Pro version translates 41 languages)
  • Help in 34 languages
  • Toggles object translation on and off
  • Auto-detection of languages
  • Anti-spam option on Pro version.
  • Does not display current language selections

Simbolic 2.0  (free)

This otherwise really nice free translator has one big problem: HUD positioning is terrible.  For most positions I tried, the HUD either ended up in the wrong position or vanished completely.  It’s compounded by the fact that when its position in the center or bottom of the screen, the drop down menu is cut off and several languages become impossible to select.

  • Translates 32 languages
  • Displays current language selection
  • Does not toggle object translation on and off

Ferd’s Free Translator 7.3  (free)

If you don’t need non-English help or HUD, or other features of more full-featured translators, this one is for you.  I was amazed by it.  It’s intuitive to use, it toggles object translation, and it works in no-script areas.  It’s the one I found most natural to use, and boasts some useful features not found on the others.

I found the automatic language detection reliable when its set to its default of detecting the language of the other speaker’s viewer.  Currently SL has viewers in Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, and Spanish, so these are the languages that Ferd will identify most reliably, as long as the speaker’s viewer is set to the language he/she is speaking.

  • Detects 95 languages
  • Allows 16-way chats in up to 34 languages
  • Takes up the least screen space when you’re wearing it

Conclusion:

Everyone in Second Life should have a translator. If you don’t feel like paying for one, get Ferd’s Free Translator or the Simbolic Translator.  They’ll both do a fine job.

A translator can make exploring foreign language sims easier
A translator can make exploring foreign language sims easier

Everyone in Second Life should have a translator. If you don’t feel like paying for one, get Ferd’s Free Translator or the Simbolic Translator.  I had a problem with Simbolic HUD placement, but otherwise it worked fine.  I loved Ferd’s.  It’s the one I’ll be using most of the time myself.  I’ll also use X-Lang for those occasions when its features are useful.  But Q-Translator and AF Translator both deserve consideration.  AF-Translator Basic was initially my favorite, but its inability to display the current lanugage settings became a nuisance for me.  Still, for the price, it merits consideration.  The Q-Translator’s numerous features make it a formidable competitor.  Try all of them before making a decision.

Where can you get these translators?  Here are the places where I got mine:

Sci-fi & fantasy snapshot contest

The Alliance Virtual Library has announced a sci-fi and fantasy snapshot contest. The deadline for entering is March 12. You can read more about it at my Examiner.com column

You can read the complete contest rules here, or you can read them on a notecard in Second Life next to the Talis Sci-fi & Fantasy Portal.

A sample science fiction snapshot taken in Second Life
A sci-fi snapshot I made at the bridge of a Darkwolf starship. The Darkwolf was created by Smith Fizz

Ursula Le Guin’s Feb 28th appearance in Second Life

Yesterday’s Ursula Le Guin event in Second Life was an overwhelming success.  You can read more about it on my examiner.com blog.

Here are three pictures from Friday’s rehearsal and from the actual event (click to see each one in full):

Ursula LeGuin will be beamed into Second Life Feb 28th

Famed author Ursula LeGuin will be beamed into Second Life tomorrow, Saturday February 28.  She will be at the Potlatch 18 Conference in Sunnyvale, California, reading from her novel and taking questions.  Second Life members will be able to watch her in real time video from the amphitheater on Info Island.  It will be a two way event: Ms Leguin and others at Potlatch will be able to see our assembled avatars on a monitor in Sunnyvale while we watch her in Second Life.  If time allows, Second Life participants will be able to submit questions to Ms. LeGuin.  The event will be from 3:30-5:00pm.  If you are a Second Life member, you can click on this SLURL to login and teleport there.

A New Blog Is Born

OK, I guess a new blog isn’t something the world desperately needs, but I’ll do it anyway.

I am Apollo Manga, one of the avatars of Erik Gordon Bainbridge, who’s been a Second Life member since 2004, when Second Life was a much smaller and much more primitive world than it is now.  Back then, Second Life could claim only about 4,000 members but there were casinos seemingly everywhere you turned.  Today it’s a very different and much better world overall.

In this blog, I’ll be writing of the many creative and productive activities in Second Life, interesting builds, opportunities, and competitions of various types, starting with a sci-fi/fantasy photo contest that will soon be announced.  I’ll write more about it as soon as I have details.

Stay tuned.