Second Life 18th Birthday: Draxtor Despres Interviews Philip Rosedale and Dr. Tom Boellstorff

As one of the dozens of events celebrating the 18th birthday of Second Life, the irrepressible host of The Second Life Book Club, Bernhard Drax (better known by his SL name, Draxtor Despres) interviewed a couple of special guests:

  • Philip Rosedale, the founding CEO of Linden Lab (the makers of Second Life) and CEO of High Fidelity; and
  • Dr. Tom Boellstorff, a professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine who has written extensively about the culture of Second Life (previous blogposts about Tom here).

This is a must-watch one-hour video, if you are at all interested in social VR, virtual worlds, and the metaverse! Both Tom and Philip are excellent, articulate speakers on the topic, Drax deftly steers the conversation in many directions, and there are so many great quotes in here! This video is a gem, and the fact that it only has a little over 400 views so far is criminal, people. So go watch it!

Don’t forget that Philip is also speaking today in Breakroom at noon PST...he seems to be on a continuous speaking tour lately! He’s always a great listen, so be sure to register for the Breakroom event and attend (you’ll receive instructions via email).


P.S. Have you seen the latest one-minute promotional video for Second Life? Second Life’s new owners spent some serious coin on this! The future looks bright, indeed! (Fun fact: did you know that the same Waterfield investment group that now owns Second Life also owns Goldman Sachs? Check out the “Waterfield Network” listing of companies at the bottom of that last link.)

Goofing Around in NeosVR (Plus a Look at the Vive Facial Tracker in Action)

PLEASE NOTE: My blog is still on indefinite hiatus; I have made a single exception for this blogpost. After this, I am returning to my self-imposed break from blogging.


Overall, the fact that I can have an expressive, fully animated avatar inside a metaverse is blowing my mind.

—Ari Tarr

Not too long ago, I was invited by Carlos Austin and Jason Moore to pay a long-overdue visit to NeosVR, where we met up with XRiEL (a.k.a. Ari Tarr), went over to Jason’s workshop, tried on some cool avatars, and rode some fun vehicles!

Here’s the full one-and-a-quarter hour video which Carlos kindly posted to YouTube:

Enjoy! As you can tell we had a lot of fun. Carlos was the cameraman capturing the shenanigans, and we were later joined by iBrews (a.k.a. Alex Coulombe). This video also makes a great introduction to NeosVR if you have never visited before! Of particular interest is Ari showing just how easy it is to rig an avatar within NeosVR:

Jason showing Ari how to rig an avatar in NeosVR
Ari attempting to rig the rest of his body (after the head and hands were done)

Thanks to Jason, Ari, Carlos, and Alex for a wonderful afternoon! I had to bow out a little early (at the 50-minute mark in this video) to avoid becoming VR sick, but the antics continued after I departed!

At the 53-minute mark, XRiEL/Ari demonstrates what he can do with his avatar, wearing a Vive Eye Pro VR headset with eye tracking, the Vive Facial Tracker, plus Valve Index hand and finger trackers, and also three Vive pucks attached to his hip and both his feet. Yes, his eyes and mouth are mirroring his facial motion in real time!

Dr. Marie Vans: 14 Reasons Why Virtual Worlds Are Still Better than Social VR Worlds for Educational Purposes

PLEASE NOTE: My blog is still on indefinite hiatus; I have made a single exception for this blogpost. After this, I will be going back on my self-imposed break from blogging.


Dr, Marie Vans (known as Amvans Lapis in Second Life) is a Senior Research Scientist at HP Labs in Colorado, who gave the following provocatively-titled presentation on March 19th, 2021 at the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education (VWBPE) 2021 Conference, held in SL:

Title Slide from Dr. Vans’ VWBPE Presentaion

14 Reasons Why Virtual Worlds are still better than Social VR Worlds

A year ago, VCARA started the VR Exploder’s Club wherein educators meet up once a month to determine whether and/or which Social VR Worlds we should establish a presence thereon after exploring different platforms together. Whether we used VR headsets or desktop versions of these platforms, we looked at criteria such as learning curve, real-time communication, interaction capabilities, and more. I will describe specific issues that have been resolved in VWs that still need attention in VR.

Drawing upon a number of representative social VR platforms chosen from my November 2019 spreadsheet (which I need to update!), she gave a great presentation on why she thinks that social VR platforms need to pull up their socks when it comes to supporting education, and why these newer platforms should not be so quick to dismiss older virtual world platforms such as Second Life!

Because the following YouTube video of Dr. Marie Vans’ presentation has a absolutely criminally low 56 views thus far, I have decided to write up a blogpost about it! And here it is! (I am going back on hiatus again after this.)

Here is the video of Dr. Vans’ hour-long VWBPE presentation, followed by a question and answer session with the audience. It’s well worth watching the entire thing!

Second Life Avatars, WOMBO, and Reface: A Tantalizing Glimpse at the Future of Avatars (OH MY GOD WHAT IS THIS EVIL SORCERY?!??)

NOTE: For more information about the Reface mobile AI app, please click here.


Okay, one more blogpost (last one, I promise). I plugged the following selfie of my main male Second Life avatar, Heath Homewood:

Into the WOMBO app (which I only discovered via Twitter today), to get THIS:

Boom Boom Boom by the Vengaboys

WHAT. IS. THIS. EVIL. SORCERY?!?? This is the most over-the-top, jaw-dropping, demented thing I have ever seen, and I absolutely want this as my next animation override, NOW! Mind. Blown.

O.K. I want the Waterfield Group (the new owners of Second Life) to DROP EVERYTHING, acquire WOMBO, and merge it with Second Life! Make it happen!

Holy shit. This just leaped past the Uncanny Valley in my opinion. This works so well it is truly scary. Heath looks like a real person!!! Try it for yourself with a facial picture of your favourite avatar, and let me know what you think!

Here are a couple more examples:

Thriller by Michael Jackson
Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley

UPDATE 2:25 p.m.: I just dropped US$$29.99 (about forty dollars Canadian) on an annual Premium WOMBO subscription, and I have decided…I am just going to self-treat my chronic clinical depression today by plugging Second Life avatar selfies into WOMBO all day. I reject your reality and substitute my own!

Don’t Cha by the Pussycat Dolls
I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor
NEW as of March 13th, 2021! We’re Not Gonna Take It, by Twisted Sister

Of course, it’s not just Second Life that you can do this with; WOMBO works with avatars you create in any social VR platform or virtual world. Here’s an avatar I created in Sansar, singing Thriller:


And, of course, it’s not just avatar pictures, it works with any face pictures. Here is Frida Kahlo (or, more accurately, her self-portrait), singing Tunak Tunak Tun, which is the mashup I never knew I needed until today!

Or, you can now get the Mona Lisa to sing the Numa Numa song:

UPDATE March 11th, 2021: Reza Zadeh just took this whole WOMBO-fying your art thing up to a whole other level! (I suspect Reza used WOMBO to animate the heads, then somehow pasted them back into the pictures. He also used some music clips that are not part of the WOMBO app, so perhaps he used different software. Either way, it’s hilarious. I just lost it at Marat coming back to life in his bathtub!)


UPDATE March 17th, 2021: I am just having so much fun throwing Second Life selfies into WOMBO! The company keeps adding new songs, too! Here are some of the latest additions (the Borat one is an exclusive for Premium members):

A little Twisted Sister, perhaps?
Perhaps some Funky Town disco?
The Borat Bing Bong song is a WOMBO Premium members exclusive!

UPDATE March 20th, 2021: And here are a couple more new songs available on the WOMBO app, as of today! I had actually asked (via the #song-suggestions channel on the official WOMBO Discord server) for Friday by Rebecca Black.

Friday by Rebecca Black
I’m Blue by Eiffel65 (a WOMBO Premium user exclusive!)

UPDATE March 21st, 2021: This afternoon I discovered a new mobile app called Reface, which allows you to insert your avatar’s face into movie clips and animated GIFs. Here’s an example, using the face of my main Second Life avatar, Vanity Fair:

Vanity Fair

Here’s Vanity Fair as Mona Lisa:

But wait, there’s more!

Here’s Vanity in thean animated GIF as Marilyn Monroe. Isn’t this amazing?!??

Vanity Fair as Marilyn Monroe

But wait, it gets even better! Witness the resulting MP4 movie clip, where Vanity Fair’s face is superimposed upon Kate Winslet’s in a succession of clips taken from the 1997 blockbuster movie Titanic:

Vanity Fair stars in the 1997 movie Titanic!

Reface allows you a decent handful of face swaps before it imposes a 30-minute timer to slow down your use of the free version of the app. I signed up for the Pro version, which costs US$2.49 weekly, or US$24.99 annually.

Here’s my main male avatar Heath Homewood as actor Harrison Ford:

Heath Homewood
Heath Homewood as Harrison Ford

And here’s an animated GIF I created of Heath Homewood as Freddie Mercury!

In some pictures, you can even insert more than one avatar’s face. Here are Vanity Fair and Heath Homewood in the famous Grant Wood painting American Gothic:

Vanity and Heath: Second Life Gothic!

UPDATE March 22nd, 2021: Well, tonight I am howling with laughter as I put my normally sedate Second Life supermodel, Vanity Fair, through WOMBO to sing some Taylor Swift, interspersed with some very well-timed goat screaming! Tonight, this my new favourite thing!!!

And then, I got really creative and starting combing the AI tools!

I pasted Vanity Fair’s face on Kylie Jenner’s body using Reface, then put a screen capture from the resulting animated GIF through WOMBO, et voilà! Here is the result! I am having way, waaay too much fun with this!

And Heath Homewood will sing you out with yet another exclusive song clip for Premium WOMBO users…

UPDATE April 5th, 2021: Three more musical clips from the fevered minds at WOMBO!

Despacito by Luis Fonsi
My Way by Frank Sinatra
Cotton Eyed Joe by Rednex

UPDATE April 6th, 2021: Here are a couple more tunes—enjoy!

Shake It Off by Taylor Swift
It’s Raining Men by The Weather Girls