Thursday, December 29, 2011

Steelhead Community: Mindy and the Sasquatch

As a “Gaslamp Fantasy” and Steampunk-themed area, Steelhead has it’s share of odd characters. The area with everything from residential living to roleplays to shopping or just intellectual discussions bills itself as “in addition to cowboys, is home to Moon Elves, a woman who's half cat, mad scientists and crazed inventors, a werewolf sheriff....and that's just the city council members."

There are other characters at Steelhead. Baron Klaus Wulfenbach, made famous in the online comic “Girl Genius,” is often to be seen there (though who knows how he gets to and back from Europe so fast). Not all are so easily seen though, some being a little shy. Among them, Steelhead’s resident Bigfoot, or Sasquatch as they call him.

I had heard about him before, mentioned at dances and city council meetings. But at the “Hot Cocoa” party, one of Steelhead City’s children, Mindy, offered to introduce me to “Mr. Sasquatch” at the suggestion of Sheriff “Fuzzball” Ortega. “Mr. Squash is my friend.“ she explained, “He helps me with tall things. And I give him fresh hay for sleeping. ... He helped me put the wreaths on my house and he handed me boards for what I built on the roof, and he catched me once when I falled off the roof.” She told me I could talk to the Sasquatch about any questions, “He says my name and other words, and he can even say Pawpaw! He calls my Pawpaw that, too, acuz I do.”

Later on, a few days before Christmas, I headed to Mindy’s house on the outskirts of Steelhead City when I knew she’d be around. What I first noticed was what the little girl had been talking about when she mentioned building: a makeshift landing strip on the house with “SANTA LAND HERE” painted on the roof. Mindy was at the stables near the house, and just as I greeted her, over came a large, hairy figure: the Sasquatch. He greeted me, “ello, Foxy.” Mindy herself was wearing an angel costume, possibly from a school play, and apparently the Sasquatch had just seen it, "Mindeeee birdie now?" Mindy just giggled, “I'm an angel. And my shoes jingle!” “Squatch no jingle. Squatch fall off mountain, go boom. Hiney hurt.”

I took a couple pictures of the Sasquatch, though with a camera resembling what the locals use to avoid too many questions. While it worked, the flash did cause him to rub his eyes a bit. Mindy continued, “It's so good to see you, Mr. Squash. I missed you. I put a Christmas tree in your cave and I wroted to Santa for you to ask him to bring you a present, too.” The Sasquatch scratched his head, “Santa...... ?” “Santa Claus! I heared about him. He brings presents to people on the Nice list. So, I fixed my house alll up to meet him. He flies a sleigh that's pulled by flying reindeer and they land on the roof.... so I put a landing strip up there!” Apparently, she had been trying to explain Christmas to him.

We were joined by a tourist to Steelhead, Rua Whitepaw, as well as Sheriff Fuzzball Ortega. “My Marshal! It is our town hero!” Mindy exclaimed. The sheriff greeted all of us, “Hello, everyone.” He glanced up at the roof, “You weren't kidding about the landing area, Mindy.” Mindy beamed, “Look! I am an angel for the Christmas reading.” Then her attention went to what the sheriff noticed, “I don't want Santa to miss me on his first visit. I would be sad. ... I gots a beacon 64 meters tall! I think he will find me. I hope.” Fuzzball looked at it again, “I think folks on the other side of Caledon'll be able to find you.” Mindy giggled.

When I asked Mindy how did she and the Sasquatch meet, she answered, “He walked into the town meeting and I went to say hullo!” Asking how he learned English, “I dunno. We just talked, didn't we, Mr. Squash?” “Yah. Talk talk talk talk talk. Learn talk good.” “I did lots of talking and he did lots of listening.” Rua suggested a dictionary might help Sasquatch, if he could read. He just answered, “Mindy reads. Squatch lissen.” Mindy told that Sasquatch had been walking over to the town school. Apparently it was okay with the teacher as he just quietly listened with the pupils.

Rua then suggested he in turn might have a few things to teach about living in the forest. Mindy gave one example, “I wanted to pick mushrooms once and Mr. Squash said No!” Sasquatch made a face, “Bleh.” “They were not good, so I didn’t pick them.” Her face then brightened, “But we picked blackberries! And blueberries!” Sasquatch smiled, “Yummy.” I asked Sasquatch what he thought the most interesting thing about how humans lived was. He answered, “Bathrooms funny,” then pointed to some trees, “Sasquatch bathroom.” For his bath, he pointed to the water.”

Mindy then offered to show where the Sasquatch lived. The sheriff didn’t have a problem, but wanted to keep an eye out. The rest of us traveled to a spot in the woods near Steelhead where there was a small cave. In the back of the cave was some hay, Mindy saying, “I makes sure the hay is fresh just like I do for the stable. And I even sleeps here sometimes in the summer when Mr. Squash is gone” Near the cave’s entrance was a small, simple, Christmas tree. Mindy told, “I made sure there was once here for Santa to leave a present.” “Yah, christmas tree. Not bathroom tree. Over there bathroom tree. You use. It good.” “That's right. If you have a pretty tree with decorations, then it is not a bathroom tree.” I asked Sasquatch what he thought of human beds. He answered, “Is good. Sasquatch leave hair all over bed. Missus Riven say ‘Get out hairball.’ " Mindy told she usually slept on the rug at her house with her pet Meeroos.

The sheriff then came back to the cave at this point, saying he was looking to make sure no one was spying on us, “There may be some who are interested in the Sasquatch. So far, he's the only one around.” Mindy snapped, “If they are, I will bite their kneecaps! I don't want anybody to hurt Mr. Squash.” I mentioned that earlier, it seemed that he more or less got along with everyone in town. Sheriff Fuzzball answered there were no problems from the people living here, “not from anyone in Steelhead.” Mindy told, “He lives here - he’s a citizen!” The sheriff nodded, and the Sasquatch added, “See? Live here.”

Mindy reminded of the first encounter, “he came down from the mountains and went to the town meeting. He's always been in the area, so he's a citizen.” Sheriff Fuzzball added, “And, according to one of our resident Time Lor- er ... I mean, one of our experts in history, this was once the home to the Sasquatch race thousands of years ago.” Mindy commented, “That's why we need to find him a Mrs. Squash.” Fuzzball rolled his eyes, “Mindy, quit your matchmaking schemes.” Sasquatch didn’t seem to understand, or was cracking a joke, “Make match, make fire.” I asked Sasquatch what happened to the others like him. He shrugged, “Mountain close. Path gone.” Fuzzball answered, “We're still not sure about that. Path leading to a secret hidden valley. Portal to another place. No idea.”

Mindy was soon getting hungry, and it was time for the interview to come to a close. I asked Sasquatch if there was anything else he wanted to say. “Ummmmm...... no. Steelhead home, nice.”

After a few more words, we parted ways, and the Sasquatch went about his business of the simple life in the woods, the rest of us our busy lives in our respective communities.

Bixyl Shuftan

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Science Experiment in Second Life

Some time back, I joined the Science Center group to better be able to pick up on any science-related events I could write on. It was a few weeks ago that I witnessed a Dhann2 Resident, making group announcements, asking for volunteers to take part in an experiment, “Hi! I'm running an experiment in SL in a moment. Interested to join? Please IM me or check out Linden Research Group.” At times, I heard it called a “resource gathering experiment when people asked for details, and Dhann informed volunteers would be compensated for our time.

I was initially skeptical about this. But one night I had a few words with Pooky Amsterdamn who encouraged me to give it a try, calling it fun. So when Dhann2 asked for a fourth needed volunteer at a time convenient to me, I IMed him saying I was interested and he sent me a teleport to his location at the Limestone Quarry sim.

Looking around, the place had something of a half-finished look. Overhead was a platform. Nearby was a brick structure with a transparent corner and a red trident symbol on the side. On the corner of the checkerboard pink and white board I stood on was a sign with the symbol and the words “Indiana University Cognitive Science.” I was quickly able to see Dhann2, looking like a basic newcomer avatar dressed in black. As the others teleported in, I noticed a nearby sign: “Harvesting L$ Experiment - In this experiment, the task is to harvest L$ by stepping on blue squares appearing on the floor in our experiment game room. Each blue square is worth 1 L$. Type ‘give instructions’ in the chat to begin.”

After all four volunteers were present, Dhann gave all of us a participant ID number, “This lets us keep track of your data without using your actual names or identity in our research (e.g., in survey questions). In our research, we will only report aggregate data. We will not keep or report your names or your identity.” This was followed by him handing us an informed consent form, which was basically straightforward. There was no problem with discussing the experiment afterwards, though Dhann did ask us not to say anything to each other during the event, as well as gestures or anything else “out loud.” Attached HUDs or AOs were not considered a problem.

Once we all told him we read the form, Dhann told us we could expect to spend about 45 minutes here, “It’s very important that everyone complete the entire session.” He then reminded us we would be getting a payment of Lindens, “based on your earnings, which depend on your decisions and those of others in this study. The typical minimum average earnings for each person are around 100 Linden Dollars, but you could earn more or less depending on your decisions and those of the other participants.” A notecard I picked up later stated one could expect to make from 75 to 175 Lindens.

Following that, he asked us to type a code word near the “Harvesting L$” sign. When we did that, we were in the experiment room. The floor of the room was made up of green tiles, which looked like wires and circuits were set in them. Signs on the wall explained what kind of “resource gathering” would be going on. The “resources” would be squares lit up as blue. Sometimes, a green square would turn blue, depending on how many blues were around it. If there was just one, there was a small chance. Two or more, a proportionally larger chance. Dhann reminded us of that, plus that we would move faster if our “Always Run” option was set. There would be six rounds of tile gathering, each lasting three minutes. For every three tiles collected, we would be paid a Linden.

For the first three rounds, we gathered up tiles without instructions or any verbal communication, chat or IMs. After the third round, Dhann send us a notecard with four strategies on how we would gather the tiles, and asked to vote on it. Following the announcement of the results of the voting, we were also given a link to a survey on the Internet to fill out before the experiment resumed for another three rounds.

Following the experiment, I had a few words with Dhann, “ I met some researchers who were already using SL for this purpose, and I suggested some research ideas to them. Then I joined their research team. (smile)” Asked how the research was going, “It has been a learning experience! Recruitment is very difficult and time-consuming. This is only the second research project our group has run in SL, so I have been troubleshooting a lot of problems. But it is interesting and exciting to try. (smile)”

Dhann wasn’t sure exactly when the University of Indiana got started in Second Life, “I joined the research team at Indiana at least a year or two after they started.” There are plans for additional kinds of experiments, “Previously, they ran a series of experiments similar to the one you did today. And we have different versions of this planned for the future. ... We are planning visual perception experiments for SL, should be ready pretty soon. They will take on the form of a museum display. I think participants will be asked to navigate a museum ... Then look at certain objects and answer a few questions about them. That project is currently under construction by a graduate student in the time, and I am not sure exactly what the details are.” Dhann explained details about these future experiments would be announced in the Linden Research group.

The experiments are still going on, so if you want to take part, join the Linden Research group to hear of any announcements. For related information, there was a link to the “Percepts and Concepts Lab” at .

Bixyl Shuftan

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Midnight veils the small town cemetery in the free-form dark role play community of Crossroads. It is the year 1871. Within the gated Gothic cemetery stands an angel upon the platform of a cross, she is a bright illumination in a city haunted by a curse. She is known as Ravenal Ashby.

A traveler regarded as an outsider, I tread cautiously on the snow-covered grounds, surrounded by Princess Guiniverre Despres and numerous Crossroads residents. The Princess is dressed in a winter gown as black as night. Her ebony hair lies freely upon her shoulders. She is nothing less than beautiful, but there is a protective nature about her that suggests, rather than implies, that she is to be feared. She stands in front of me blocking my path, but it is not a confrontation she seeks. Openly she speaks to me about the town.

"The town was founded years ago by my grandfather, a baron, who brought in others to build it," explains Guiniverre. "A shipping business began, then wineries were added and the people appeared and it became a busy little town.” We stand alone, but we do trade with others."

She stated that there is both a countryside and mountainous terrain and that the town was founded some forty years ago (four years in SL).

"I think we have an equal mix of businessmen to artist. A mixed bag of personalities for sure, but everyone seems to add a flavor to the town. All together we are one delicious drink, so to speak,” she voiced with a grin.

Asked if everyone contributes equally, Guiniverre replied, that they don't. There are the overachievers. However, she felt that the town bum is just as important as he or she adds her personality to the mix. No one wants everyone to be the same.

"Our personalities should be as unique as our fingerprints," she tells me. "God knows if there was another me. The town can barely stand the one," she jokes, adding that her family adores her as well as the angel beside her.

It is ironic, yet natural here, that an angel is devoted to this town, but it is for a reason.

"We protect the town laws, Miss. That is our job here," Ravenal informs me. "Our mission is to bring light in a town cast in darkness.

Though I am told the darkness is because of the towering mountains that surround the town, Ravenal suggests otherwise.

"Or perhaps it is the curse put on the town because of your grandfather," Ravenal claims. "There is a curse on the town. Demons were involved, which is the reason I am here."

They then choose to speak out of character. Ravenal owns Crossroads, but her sister, Guiniverre co-owns a number of other sims with her. Guiniverre built Crossroads so they are pretty much in a partnership. She does 95% of the sim building.

"We offer the world of darkness role play. We offer VTM role play, Vampires of the Masquerade," Ravenal explains. "We also offer various races of role play such as demons, angels, vampires, fae, steampunk, neko and even a few draconic types."

On the character roster are 40-50 role players on the sim any given evening. They allow those who abide by the rules, have a concept and a desire to role play with them. There is a justice system in play that works often, but fights do occasionally break out from time to time. What's interesting is that they have a role play university for those just learning how it's done. They use the CCS hud, which is based on time spent in character. There is soul hunting with the demons.

"The CCS hud allows for an actual bite, but our VTM vampires do more role play biting then CCS biting," said Ravenal. "We have a very strict no “Out of Character” policy while in the IC zone. And, yes, you can live where you play!"

Be aware that this is a dark role play community, which means you can be killed. It might take awhile to be resurrected, but you do rez back to life. You are given the opportunity to tell them the degree of dark participation that you can handle comfortably. Also, VTM means that the characters do not openly state they are vampires and other paranormal beings. They take on normal lives which veil their true form. That's the premise of their existence.

If you feel like experimenting, give it a try. For more information, log on to

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Camp Kawabata - Cub Scouts in Second Life

Do you remember being a scout when you were a kid, Boy Scout or Girl Scout, Cub, Explorer?? Many of us do, as there are scouting groups in many countries. Well, there is a Scout group in SL. I was surprised to learn and there are about 230 scouts of all levels here.

Christian Welles, one of the 6 dedicated leaders, told me, “The groups were founded by Geoff Gavaskar back in 2006. Our sim is owned by Ninja Kawabata and Sola Phobos was the camp builder. I'm one of the estate managers and run most of the merit badges as well. We have about 6 dedicated leaders. Kyal and I run the Cub Scouts with our assistant Ardy and Jeremiah runs the scouts with his assistant Billybob. We also have a few members who are real life Eagle Scouts and Queen Scouts who serve on an advisory role.”

They have a wonderful camp and many activities going on weekly. I spent a Sunday going to a meeting to learn about them. I expected a sit down meeting, but was pleasantly surprised to find that the meeting was actually a field trip to work on two badges. The leader for the day was BillyBob Portal. He passed out the requisites for two badges they were working on that day. The first badge was video gaming and off we all went to a Super Mario game at Electrobit City. There, with the help of a “personal guide” bot of the sim each scout proceeded through a list of activities to complete. It was great fun to observe, and I had many chuckles at the patter among the group and the hard work of completing some of the tasks. It was like being at regular meeting of children trying to do a task and either winning or failing but trying again. I am sorry that I could not stay for the whole meeting since it was such an enjoyable trip.

The Scouts have a structure based on real-life scouting principles, although they are not related in any way to real-life organizations. They are expected to attend at least 2 meetings a month to be considered active. All ages and genders are invited to join in one capacity or another. There are no dues but they may purchase uniforms with colors based on their age group and wear them to the meetings. Adults may join as volunteers as den mothers, park rangers if they are accepted by the administration. I am sure they are well vetted. Parents are allowed to visit the Camp at any time and visitors are invited to join in the field trips as well.

I asked Christian what he liked about the idea of scouting in Second Life and what the scouts get out of it. He answered, “I love the diversity of people and things we do. Our membership base brings together people from different communities, countries, and social groups. We do a wide range of activities for badges from aviation to zombie defense, along with role playing and socializing. A lot of people join scouts to relive their time as scouts in real life or because they didn't get to join as a kid. At our meetings, scouts can earn 29 (and growing) merit badges and learn about how to do things in Second Life like flying, sailing, building, and a whole range or topics that are also applicable in real life.”

I went to see another field trip to a zoo and asked some of the kids what do you like about scouting.They told me how much fun getting badges was and all loved the field trips and learning. Niki Frak said, ”Welp, I'ma forest kid myself. So I love livin' at the scout camp. All the badgees n' stuff give me lots of fun things to do, n' places to visit. It's great havin' the older scouts lookin' after us lil cubs, cause we learn stuff from 'em.”

You can find out more about the scouting in Second Life by visiting their web page and you can take a tour of their camp by visiting the camp and if you are interested in joining you can contact anyone of the leaders.

Gemma Cleanslate

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Interview with Chantal Harvey

Probably no name on the Grid has become as linked to machinima as Chantal Harvey. Involved in noted film events such as the 48 Hour Film Project and the Month of Machinima, she has become well known in Second Life and elsewhere. Recently, I had a chance to interview her at one of her machinima sets.

Bixyl Shuftan: Pleased to meet you again, Chantal ... a utility belt?

Chantal Harvey: I wish I had it in real-life. It has everything a girl needs. Hee-hee. So, what are your questions?

Bixyl Shuftan: Well, how did you first find out about Second Life?

Chantal Harvey: Oh, there was a Dutch man on tv, a writer, who wrote a book about his experience as a woman, in Second Life. It made me curious. I was head of a TV station back then, and pretty stressy. I found SL relaxed me a lot. I started dancing and socializing, and loved it. I became a host for the famous TJ Ice club, entertaining people, silly and fun.

Chantal Harvey: Yes! That club, is (now) no dance island. We got a message that the TJ Ice club would suddenly close at midnight, and I wanted to preserve it, film it, to have a memory of it. Second Life still had a inside the viewer camera, back then. That was my first machinima. And I never stopped.

Bixyl Shuftan: What did you work on after the first?

Chantal Harvey: Hmmm. The SL Love Parade. The inworld camera was disabled by that time, so i filmed that with 3 real-life camera's, pointed at my computer screen. (laughter) I have a photo of that, that my husband took . By that time he thought I’d gone mad.

Bixyl Shuftan: Sounds like he was, less than enthusiastic, about your moviemaking activities

Chantal Harvey: No, he knows me, hee-hee. I was doing a lot of real-life TV work, and he loved it that I found something that made me relax. And then i started filming. I guess it is in my blood. He is very proud of what i do, and comes with me to conferences and festivals.

Bixyl Shuftan: Has he ever appeared in your SL machinimas. We went to Paris last week, the Atopic Machinima festival invited me.

Bixyl Shuftan: That's very interesting. What happened there, if you don't mind sharing?

Chantal Harvey: in Paris, we had a great time. Mathilde Mallen had invited me. Atopic festival is looking for collaboration, with my MMIF festival. Ii have to say, the festival was well visited, many people, and a top location. It was great to be amongst so many machinimatographers. Pity I don't speak a lot of French

Bixyl Shuftan: Sounds like machinima is a healthy business

Chantal Harvey: Yes for sure. MMIF is doing well too.

Bixyl Shuftan: What is "MMIF" short for?

Chantal Harvey: my machinima festival, MaMachinima International Festival, in Amsterdam, real-life.

Bixyl Shuftan: How many machinimas were at the festivals

Chantal Harvey: Paris had a jury selection of 26 films, 2 of them were mine. MMIF had 74 films. It ran for 2 nights, this year.

Bixyl Shuftan: 74? That's a lot, how many people were involved?

Chantal Harvey: Well, 74 filmers, as they all could submit only one film. Then six presenters from different communities. And the tech people, and LEA theater was used for it, which is on 4 sims. And my friend, Ze Moo. He runs the real life festival. He did a grand job.

Bixyl Shuftan: What were some of the most noted machinimas at both festivals?

Chantal Harvey: At MMIF, “Dear Fairy” by Tom Jantol, and “Little Red Riding Hood” by Toxic Menges. Ar Atopic, I really liked the one that became second, Yann Weissgerber 's film, I loved it best. Zardoz was the winning film, by KingRabbit. My MMIF is not about winners, all are equal. That is why is is such a celebration. People show the film they are most proud of and all are welcome.

Bixyl Shuftan: Of the machinimas that you've done, which is your favorite?

Chantal Harvey: Hmmm. My last one, a thirty second advertisement for the Superbowl. It has a dragon starring. And I love the Two AM one still, a lot.

I started a new adventure, in June 2011

Bixyl Shuftan: A new adventure?

Chantal Harvey: yes! I met Mr. Tony Dyson, in Second Life

Bixyl Shuftan: Oh yes, the man who developed R2D2

Chantal Harvey: Yes, that’s him. I asked him to be head of jury for the 48 hour film project machinima, which i produce, the real-life contest that involves machinima. We started working together, and formed Scissores, a film production company . We make real time animation, and childrens e-books, working on one right now.

An old dream of mine was to enter a Second Life machinima into the Superbowl contest. And, we did it:

Bixyl Shuftan: It's going to be in the Superbowl?

Chantal Harvey: well 1500 films were entered. There will be five finalist, in January. Then, voting. But you never know, the filk is pretty good! It depends on the jury.

Working with Tony is all i dreamt of. I worked so hard for four years. It all comes together now. To think that a Hollywood man wants to work with me - woo!

Bixyl Shuftan: Sounds like everything's going perfectly.

Chantal Harvey: It’s still fun, and that’s important.

Bixyl Shuftan: Can you tell me what your and his plans are for Scissors ?

Chantal Harvey: Yes, we are doing projects, using real time animation. And we’re preparing our first ebook, using machinima!

Chantal Harvey: We have a few things we work on that are very high profile, rea-lifel projects.

Bixyl Shuftan: Oh? What can you say about them?

Chantal Harvey: Hee-hee, nothing yet.

Bixyl Shuftan: Do you have any advice for those wanting to get into machinima?

Chantal Harvey: Yes, come to Machinima Mondays! We meet weekly. Join the group, and we are a freindly helping group. We have a Facebook page too. We come and discuss machinima, and all are friendly. It’s important to have a helping hand, when you start, and I advise people to have fun, and experiment.

It was at this point the interview came to a close. But unlike most interviews, we didn’t go our seperate ways just yet. Chantal had gotten a TP to an art event and invited me to go with her, and event I’ll be writing about soon.

Chantal has a number of websites. These include MaMachinima at, MMIF at , and Scissores at .

Bixyl Shuftan