Yes, I admit it: I am deliberately escaping the anxiety and depression caused by my reaction to the pain, heartache, chaos, cruelty, despair, and conflict of the real world, by escaping to my favourite metaverse: Second Life! (Hey, don’t judge; we all have our quirky little hobbies to help keep us sane in these trying times.) Also, as one of the first 30,000 people (as of June 23rd, 2022) to join the closed beta test of the AI-generated art tool DALL-E 2 by OpenAI, I have been avidly trying out various prompts, such as the following:
I do plan to write more about AI-generated art in general (and DALL-E 2 in particular), as well as share some more art I have created since I joined the beta, in a later editorial blogpost, but first, Second Life! Priorities, people!!! 😉
And then it struck me: I actually have an alt who has can upload an unlimited number of images for free! And, of course, once uploaded, images can be shared between avatars for free. So I have embarked on a project which is long, long overdue—taking pictures of the hundreds of outfits in the extensive wardrobe of my main SL avatar, Vanity Fair! I had wanted to do it before, but the L$10-per-texture charge would have added up to thousands of Linden dollars to document Vanity’s many and varied outfits which I have assembled over the years.
In Firestorm, all you have to do is click on the Appearance button (a T-shirt icon), then select the Outfit Gallery tab. Images must be 256 by 256 pixels in size, but you can use any image manipulation program to resize your in-world screen captures (I used to use Paint.net, but now I prefer to use the free online Photopea app; both feature the Adobe PhotoShop-like interface with which I am already familiar).
Now, I’m not planning on staying a Premium Plus member forever (at least, not on Ryan Blakewell’s account). I really only did it for the cheaper legacy name change on that avatar, and for no other reason. But, at the 45-day mark, I will collect my L$3,000 signup bonus, and I will either upgrade Ryan Blakewell to a Belleza Jake mesh body (last I checked, Belleza is still holding an extended 50% Off Sale on both male and female bodies), or transfer the bonus to another alt to use there. The L$650-a-week stipend is also nice, too! So I just might hold onto the Premium Plus account for 2 or 3 months.
However, I can think of no better use of the perks of Premium Plus at the moment than to create an free outfit gallery for my main avatar, Vanity Fair:
Tomorrow is Canada Day (Canada’s version of July 4th), and I plan to spend the long weekend, and my vacation next week, working on my new project! The perfect plan to avoid social media and the news media in a world gone mad—at least for a little while.
I’d be very interested in hearing from other Second Life users who have opted to upgrade to Premium Plus. How has the process been for you? What do you like about it? Have you encountered any problems? Please feel free to leave a comment on this blogpost, thanks! I think I’m going to quite like Premium Plus!
It’s the hazy, lazy, crazy days of summer, and I must confess that I haven’t felt like blogging (or doing much of anything) these past few weeks. I’ve been watching lots of Netflix (Umbrella Academy season 3, yay!), testing out responses to various text prompts on DALL-E 2, and sending forth my small army of Second Life alts in a blitzkrieg campaign of pillaging all the fabulous freebies at the SL19B Shop and Hop event before it ends on July 10th. Trust Auntie Ryan; this is the single biggest haul of freebies you will ever see at any one shopping event in Second Life! 😉 So go now!!!
As part of the Second Life 19th Birthday celebrations, Linden Lab (the company who makes SL) has announced a brand new, second level of premium accounts for users, called Premium Plus. There’s been a lot of discussion in the official Second Life community forums (and elsewhere) about this, and so I thought it was time to take a bit of a deep dive and look at all three levels of SL accounts: Basic, Premium, and now the new Premium Plus, in an effort to help people figure out what’s best for them.
PLEASE NOTE: All prices in this blogpost are in U.S. dollars; you’ll have to do your own currency conversions if you use Canadian dollars, or whatever your local currency happens to be. In my case, the conversion between the stronger American dollar and the weaker Canadian dollar always makes me wince in pain!
Signup Bonus and Weekly Stipend
Basic accounts have no signup bonus or weekly stipend (i.e., an amount of Linden dollars which Linden Lab pays you). If you upgrade to Premium, you receive a L$1,000 signup bonus, plus a weekly stipend of L$300. If you choose to upgrade to Premium Plus, you get a L$3,000 signup bonus and a L$650 weekly stipend.
Please note that you must stay at your Premium (or Premium Plus) level for 45 days before you receive the signup bonus; this is prevent people from signing up for one month, collecting the bonus, then downgrading back to Basic!
Avatar Legacy Names
Basic accounts are what everybody gets when they first sign up for Second Life. You need to come up with a single-word name which is unique, and since Linden Lab dropped the first name-last name avatar naming system for new signups a decade ago, believe me, you are going to have to be very creative to come up with a good single-word name that isn’t already taken!
This name is known as your legacy name. You do need to understand the difference between your avatar’s legacy name (the name you chose for your avatar when you created your Second Life account) and your avatar’s display name (which you can change to pretty much anything you want, one change per week). Most Basic users are quite content to set up a display name and be done with it. If you want to create a first name and last name for your avatar, you will have to upgrade to either Premium or Premium Plus (for at least one month) in order to do so.
I did some quick calculations, and I discovered something surprising: if you have an avatar whose name you want to change, it’s actually cheaper to do if you upgrade your Basic account to Premium Plus, than it is if you upgrade to Premium!
Premium (1 month): $11.99 + Cost of Name Change $39.99 = $51.98
Premium Plus (1 month) $24.99* + Cost of Name Change via Concierge $15.00 = $39.99
*This is a time-limited promotional price. Afterwards, the price is $29.99 monthly.
So, if the only thing you are interested in is creating a first name and last name for your avatar, you could upgrade that account to Premium Plus for one month, submit a concierge request to pick a first name and last name, then downgrade your subscription back to Basic! (Yes, if you change your legacy avatar name, you do not lose it when you go from Premium or Premium Plus to Basic. You also don’t get the signup bonus, obviously.)
Also note that the last name you can choose for your avatar is limited to whatever choices are on the list of available last names at the time you make your request.
Number of SL Groups You Can Belong To
A big difference between the three levels of Second Life accounts is the number of groups you can be subscribed to at any one time. Many Basic users already are well familiar with the dance of unsubscribing from one store group in order to join another, once they hit the limit! In worst case scenarios, you might have to unsubscribe from a group with a group join fee, and then have to repay that fee to rejoin that group later. It’s obviously not ideal, and so both Premium and Premium Plus do offer you more group slots.
Basic accounts: limit of 42 groups
Premium accounts: 70 groups
Premium Plus accounts: 140 groups
So a freebie fashionista like Vanity Fair, who keeps bumping up against the 70-group limit because of all the store groups she belongs to, is a good condidate for an upgrade to Premium Plus! (And I am considering it.)
An interesting fact is that, if you have a Premium account subscribed to more than 42 groups, and then downgrade to Basic, you can still stay subscribed to all the groups! You will not be forced out of any groups. However, you will not be allowed to join any new groups until you bring your subscriptions down below 42! I assume the same applies to Premium Plus.
Priority Entrance into Full Sims
A nice perk (and one that comes in quite handy at times!) is that Premium and Premium Plus users get priority access to jam-packed, full sims, while Basic users have to wait until the number of avatars on a sim goes below a certain level before they can teleport in. (There are automated tools like the free Teleporter Hammer you can use, but if the sim is full, you still might be waiting for hours or even days to get into some overcrowded, popular sims!)
True story: there was once a time-limited 10th anniversary sale at Junbug, a wonderful vintage, historical, and fantasy womenswear store, where everything was priced at only L$10 each! The Teleporter Hammer was not working for me at all, despite days of trying, and I was so absolutely desperate to get a certain avatar (with a Basic account) into that store sim to so some bargain shopping, that I upgraded her from Basic to Premium for one month, just to get her into the sale!
Free Land Allowance and Linden Homes
Basic accounts get no free land allowance. If you want to get a free Linden Home, or want to purchase a parcel of land on the SL mainland, you must upgrade from Basic to Premium or Premium Plus. (Note that most Basic users simply rent land from estates created by landlords on private sims in Second Life. The downside of this is that, if your landlord suddenly closes shop, you lost your carefully decorated home—although you will probably get all your home decor returned in one big lump!)
Premium: 1,024 m² free land (which can be used for a Linden Home if you wish)
For example, if you upgraded from Basic to Premium Plus, you could use half of your 2,048 m² free land allowance to pick up a lovely Linden Home, and use the other half to “buy” (actually, lease) a 1,024 m² plot of Second Life mainland for a second home or a store.
Also, Linden Lab has announced a new concierge service, called Choose Your Linden Home, where you can submit a support ticket instead of trying your luck with the Second Life website, hoping to find the type of Linden Home you want, in the location you want!
Note that, unlike legacy names, you do not get to keep your free land when you downgrade from Premium or Premium Plus back to a Basic account!
In order to prevent abuse of resources, there are fees associated with various actions in Second Life. For example, Basic and Premium accounts have to pay L$100 to create a new group, while Premium Plus users can create groups for only L$10 each.
Uploading images, sounds, and animations costs L$10 each if you are a Basic or Premium member, but are free if you are a Premium Plus member. For example, if you are a content creator, or you use a wardrobe system which allows you to save a picture of each outfit, it might be worth it to splurge on a Premium Plus account!
If you wish to create a single event listing in the SL calendar, it costs L$50 for Basic users, L$10 for Premium users, and free for Premium Plus users. Basic users cannot create recurring (i.e., weekly or monthly) events, but Premium users can do so for L$50, and Premium Plus users can do it for free, so if you run a club or store and create a lot of events, it’s likely worth the upgrade to Premium Plus!
I know this post is off-topic, but I do hope you will indulge me! Today I checked my email and discovered that I have been among the first few lucky people to be accepted into the testing phase of DALL-E 2!
Vox has released a 13-minute YouTube video that explains the concept behind DALL-E 2 and related AI-generated art systems in more detail:
DALL-E 2 is a significant step up from the original DALL-E system, promising more realistic and accurate images with four times greater resolution! It can combine artistic concepts, attributes, and styles, as well as make realistic edits to existing images. It can also create variations of an image based on the original.
So today, in my first day using DALL-E 2, I decided to put it through its paces, and I discovered some of the strengths—and weaknesses—of the AI program, from OpenAI.
First, I wanted to see what it could do with a selfie from Second Life of my main avatar, Vanity Fair.
I uploaded a picture and clicked on the Variations button, and it generated what looked like reasonable Second Life avatars with slight changes to the original, as if I had fiddled with the face sliders and tried on different wigs:
Then, I wanted to try erasing the background of the image, and using it with a text prompt: “Vanity Fair wearing a ballgown in a highly-realistic Regency Era ballroom with elegant dancers”.
Among the results I got back were these:
I love how it gave Vanity elf ears in the second picture! Then, I decided to erase the background from a shot of my main male SL avatar, Heath Homewood:
The text prompt I gave DALL-E 2 to fill in the erased area was “man in a highly detailed photograph of an elaborate steampunk landscape with airships and towers”. Here are five of the six results it spit back at me (please click on each image to see it in a larger size):
The backgrounds are all quite varied, and also quite intricate in some cases! I also noticed that the AI “augmented” Heath Homewood’s hair in some of the pictures, while it left it alone in others. Innnteresting…..
My next prompt, “smiling man wearing a virtual reality headset with a fantasy metaverse background very colourful and clean detailed advertising art”, also generated some astoundingly good results, any of which could easily be used in a magazine advertisement or article illustration! (Again, please click on the images to see them in full size.)
So, I continued. As my apartment patio looks out over a small forest known for its deer and rabbits, I decided to enter the same text prompt, “a lush green forest with deer and rabbits”, appending the text with an artistic style. In response to each prompt, I picked the best of the six pictures DALL-E 2 gave me back, along with the text prompts I used (in the captions below each picture).
While I am mightily impressed by these results, I did notice a few things. First, sometimes DALL-E 2 gave me a misshapen or mutated deer or rabbit, or even a mixture of a deer and a rabbit (and in one case, a deer merging into a tree!). Second, DALL-E 2 still seems to have a lot of trouble with faces, both of animals and of people (you can see this most clearly in the Disneyesque image above). In particular, you get terrible results when you put in the name of a real person, e.g. “Philip Rosedale wearing a crown and sitting on a throne in Second Life”, which gave some rather terrifying Frankenstein-looking versions of Philip that I will not share with you!
I did try “Strawberry Singh and Draxtor Despres dressed in Regency costumes in an episode of Bridgerton in Second Life”, and this is the best of the six results it spit back:
If you squint (a lot), you can just about make out the resemblances, but it’s very clear that presenting realistic human (or avatar!) faces is something DALL-E 2 is not really very good at yet. However, given how alarmingly quickly this technology has developed in a year (from DALL-E to DALL-E 2), the ability for AI-generated art to more accurately depict human faces realistically is probably not too far off…
However, the fact that you can already generate some amazing (if imperfect) art ahows the power of the technology,! This is AMAZING stuff.
But it also raises some rather unsettling questions. Will the realm of the professional human artist be supplanted by artificial intelligence? (More likely, tools like DALL-E 2 might be used as a prompt to inspire artists.) And, if so, what does that mean to other creative pursuits and jobs currently done by human beings? Will artists be out of a job, in much the same way as factory workers at Amazon are being replaced by robots?
Will we eventually have such realistic deep fake pictures and videos that they will be indistinguishable from unretouched shots filmed in real life? Are we going to reach the point where we can no longer distinguish what’s “real” from what’s AI-generated—or trust anything we see?
And how will all this impact the metaverse? (One metaverse platform, Sensorium Galaxy, is already experimenting with AI chatbots,)
So, like WOMBO and Reface (which I have writen about previously on this blog), DALL-E 2 is equal parts diverting and discomforting. But one thing is certain: I do plan to keep plugging text prompts into DALL-E 2, just to get a glimpse of where we’re going in this brave new world!
UPDATE June 23rd, 2022: I’ve spent the past couple of days playing around with DALL-E 2 a bit more, and I have discovered that, with the right kind of text prompts, you can generate some astoundingly photorealistic human profiles! Here are a couple of examples:
It doesn’t have to be a human, either; how about a wood nymph with green hair?
I’ve also dissocovered you can combine two or more artistic styles in one reault. Here are the six pictures DALL-E 2 spit back in response to the text prompt: “a cottage in a lush green forest with mountains in the background and a blue cloudy sky by Albert Bierstadt and Charles Victor Guilloux and Vilhelm Hammershøi” (please click on each picture to see it in a larger size):
However, there are also some prompts which fail miserably! For example, I tried to create an image using the text prompt: “steampunk gentleman in a top hat riding a penny farthing bicycle in a steampunk landscape with airships in the sky colorful digital art”, Here’s what I got back:
Here are four of those AI-generated pictures (click on each thumbnail to see a larger version):
It’s very clear that DALL-E 2 has no concept of what a penny farthing bicycle looks like! For your reference, here’s the results of a Google image search for the vehicle in question:
I assume that DALL-E 2 will get better the more images it is fed (including, hopefully, images of penny farthing bicycles!).
My last prompt yesterday was “Vogue fashion models eating cheeseburgers at MacDonalds”.
Now, while the thumbnails may look good, most of these pictures are nightmare material when you look at them full-size: mismatched, misshapen eyes, wonky face shapes, etc. Really uncanny valley stuff. In thumbnail number six, you can also clearly see that several of the Vogue fashion models have more than two hands!
So, while DALL-E 2 is certainly capable of generating stunning results, it is far from a perfect tool. I don’t think that human artists and designers have to worry about losing their jobs just yet! 😉
I leave you with this thought-provoking half-hour YouTube video by an industrial designer and professor named John Mauriello who claims, “with recent advancements in Artificial Intelligence design tools, we are about to see the biggest creative and cultural explosion since the invention of electricity in the 1890s.”
P.S. With my blogposts about AI tools such as WOMBO, Reface, and now DALL-E 2, plus my coverage of AI implementations of NPCs in social VR platforms such as Sensorium Galaxy, I decided it was time to create a new blogpost category called Artificial Intelligence (please give me a bit of time to go back and add this category to older blogposts, thanks!).
This year, I am NOT going to cover the Shop and Hop event in detail here on the blog. Instead, I have compiled a notecard of my picks for the best and most fabulous freebies, free store credit offers, and gift cards, and posted it to the Second Life group I maintain, called the RyanSchultz.com Steals, Deals & Freebies group (the group costs L$50 to join; more information here).
I know some of you might feel a bit cheated that I am not listing all the items on this blogpost, as I have done in previous years, but there are so many high-quality gifts this year that it was impossible to select just a few to show you! The notecard lists dozens and dozens and dozens of my picks for the best fashion and home/garden decor.
Also, I do want to earn a little bit of in-world income, so I can call myself a professional Second Life freebie fashionista…and I hope you understand, thanks! If you don’t want to spend L$50 to join my group, you can use the other methods I have outlined in this blogpost to find the best gifts for yourself.
My notecard includes the exact SLURL for each freebie, for you to pop in, pick up your gift, and move on to the next score, for the most efficient freebie shopping experience! (Note that SL’s list of stores in the paragraph above has a lot of locations which stick you behind store walls!)
At the moment, this notecard is version 1.0, but I have no doubt there will be updates as I learn about more fabulous freebies! (UPDATE: THE FINAL VERSION 6.0 HAS BEEN POSTED TO THE GROUP! Please see the notice at the tail end of this blogpost.)
So please join the RyanSchultz.com Steals, Deals & Freebies group, and stay in the group for news about sales, giveaways, and events. The quite reasonable group join fee also helps feed Vanity Fair’s shopping addiction…thank you! 😉
I do apologize for not keeping my SL group as updated as I should have been over these past few months, and I promise to be more assiduous in posting the fabulous freebies I do find in my travels across the grid, from now on! In fact, I will be posting more and more such finds to the SL group instead of the RyanSchultz.com blog.
I will show you one free gift that absolutely tickled my fancy, from a store that was new to me, called Key Style. My favourite movie of all time is the 1964 musical My Fair Lady, with Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle, and this wonderful Mademoiselle historical ensemble looks like it leapt into SL straight from that classic movie!
The blouse and skirt are two separate pieces, and the outfit includes pink flats (not shown under the skirt), the gloriously over-the-top wide-brimmed floral hat, and even the delightful touch of the matching parasol! The Mademoiselle outfit comes in sizes to fit Maitreya Lara, Slink Physique, and Slink Hourglass mesh bodies, and you can find it in a gift box on the counter at the Key Style store at the SL19B Shop and Hop.
I’m not the only one who is overwhelmed by the bounty of gifts this year! It’s still so early, and there are so many gifts this year, that even the ever-reliable Naria Panthar has not yet done her usual thorough unpacking video yet! (Let’s face it; twenty sims is A LOT to get through!!!) Naria did take a quick first stab at it, though:
The only place that has pictures and descriptions of most of the SL19B Shop and Hop gifts at this early date is the little-known-about SL Free and Inexpensive Items Russian-language group on Vkontakte, the Russian version of Facebook, which often lists items I don’t see on other SL freebie blogs. Use the Russian-to-English translator in your Chrome web browser, or if that doesn’t load, then just open up Google Translate in a separate browser tab and copy and paste the text as needed.
Note that you do not need to have an account on VKontakte to use this resource! Whenever you are prompted to sign up/in, just click the little “x” to bypass it:
Just look for the posts tagged #SL19B (there’s one for each of the 20 sims), and click on the timestamp to see the enlarged images of each of the gifts:
Dreamer’s Virtual World blog is also working on posts of gifts from each of the sims—you can find them all here (she’s not done yet!).
Happy freebie shopping!
UPDATE 7:53 p.m.: I have updated my notecard to version 2.0, adding many new freebies which I think are the best gifts at the Shop and Hop—including many new gifts for male avatars! It would appear to be a conscious design choice, that all the male gifts are located on one sim (Lavendar), which should save you men from wandering around all 20 sims, aimlessly looking for freebies amidst the overwhelming majority of female gifts! Thank you, Linden Lab!
UPDATE July 17th, 2:50 p.m.: Naria Panthar has just posted her two-hour unpacking video to YouTube, for the first half (10) of the 20 SL19B Shop and Hop sims (pro tip: watch the video at 2 times regular speed, and keep a notepad and pen handy to take notes as to which stores have gifts you want to pick up!).
Stay tuned for a second video covering the second half of the 20 sims!
UPDATE July 17th, 4:03 p.m.: I have now posted version 3.0 of my notecard of my best picks for gifts, free store credit, and free giftcards available at the SL19B Shop and Hop event to the RyanSchultz.com Steals, Deals, and Freebies group! I have to say, that I have never seen such a bonanza of high-quality freebies at a single shopping event like this before! Again, my notecard includes the exact SLURLs to take you directly to the gift, and all Ryan’s recommended freebies are sorted by sim name.
UPDATE July 19th: My notecard is now up to version 5.0, with dozens more goodies for you! I have also double-checked all the SLURLs in the notecard, so they should take you directly to the freebie in each booth at the SL19B Shop and Hop event.
Please note that I have posted a separate notecard to my SL group, RyanSchultz.com Steals, Deals & Freebies, which outlines my picks for the best gifts from the Tapestry of Time Gift Area on the Second Life 19th Birthday fairgrounds, which is separate from the SL19B Shop and Hop event sims (and I’ve also included a link to it in the FINAL version 6.0 of my SL19B Shop and Hop gifts notecard).
There’s some really nice gifts there, too, so don’t skip it this year!
Also, Cat Pink has posted three new videos on YouTube, where she shows you many of the Shop and Hop gifts (again, watch them at 2 times speed, and take notes!).
And Naria Panthar has just posted her YouTube video where she unpacks and tries on gifts from the second half (10 sims) of the SL19B Shop and Hop! Watch it on twice the speed and take notes as to which stores have the freebies you want, then use the SL19B Shop and Hop Store Guide to teleport in and scoop them up!
Aaand, adding in a few more fabulous freebies from Naria’s second video, I have now posted VERSION 6.0 of my notecard with Ryan’s picks for the best gifts from the Second Life 19th Birthday Shop and Hop event! As somebody who has been diligently freebie shopping in SL for over 15 years, I can assure you that this is the single biggest haul of freebies at one event that I have ever encountered!
In the final version 6.0 of my notecard, I have also added one very generous gift which I had somehow forgotten to include in the previous versions! (Not surprising, since there’s so many gifts to keep track of!!!) It’s a long hairstyle by ADE, called Baby, which comes in a complete fatpack of colours and with a styling HUD. You can find it here:
The avatar in the following picture is wearing the Baby hair, swept back, along with another must-get SL19B Shop and Hop gift from the Belle Epoque booth: this cool, lovely Lara strapless minidress, which comes with a HUD with ten different, high-quality tropical textures (sizes: Maitreya/Petite, and Legacy/Perky):
So you owe it to yourself to head down here before it all closes on July 10th, 2022, and vacuum up some fabulous free fashion and home/garden decor for your avatars! Again, the easiest way to navigate would be to join the RyanSchultz.com Steals, Deals & Freebies group for only L$50 and pick up my notecards with the exact SLURL for each gift, but you can also use the VKontake group posts and Naria Panthar’s and Cat Pink’s YouTube videos if you don’t want to spend that L$50… 😉
Happy freebie shopping!
P.S. I have encountered some problems embedding the notecard for the Tapestry of Time Gift Area into the main notecard, and I have also noticed that some of the SLURLs I have put in the notecard will stubbornly refuse to load! So I have added information about how to get around those problems to version 6.1 of the notecard, and I do apologize. If all else fails, open up both versions 6.0 and 6.1 of that notecard, and if a SLURL refuses to load on one, try it on the other (for some bizarre reason, that seems to work!)