Dec 5, 2010

#SecondLife Shopping: Bax Coen Boots

A Holiday Shopping Review


Bax Coen, posing by her new boot line: Prestige

Over the past few days I’ve been looking, in vain, for some sort of shopping guide when it comes to brand names in Second Life. At first, I thought it would be a good idea to check out Shopping guide but found that a majority of their “shopping guide” is defunct.

One would think that with a name like Best of Second Life, that the brand would automatically institute a level of excellence over its endeavors, and expecting that is what led me to the interesting and confusing scenario by which clicking SLURL after SLURL on the site led nowhere or to discontinued locations.

Maybe Frolic Mills is stretching himself a little thin these days, and the pressure of keeping his empire running is taking its toll? We can say for certain that Frolic is a very busy man, and has recently co-sponsored the Contest for SecondLife, and runs his BOSL Magazine (not to mention BOSL Radio… does that still exist? I dunno)

Faced with this situation, I would normally turn to something like the Second Life Destination Guide, but I’m a bit leery about trusting those recommendations. It’s not to say that the Destination Guide doesn’t provide interesting or outstanding locations to check out, but something seems a bit too cozy with the relationship between regular destination guide locations and Linden Lab to take it entirely at face value. Essentially it’s all filtered through Linden Lab employees who ultimately control whether or not they personally think the location has enough merit to bother listing it.

Of course, that’s also assuming you ever get the Destination Guide Submission Form to actually work. This alone makes me raise an eyebrow as to how, exactly, destinations are actually submitted or chosen for the guide to begin with.

I won’t even bother using the classifieds in Second Life as an indication of quality or popularity, as it’s essentially just buying your way to the top.

Considering these two obvious options are taken off the table, in my case one involuntarily and one by choice, I decided to look around and even ask friends what they thought would serve as a brand worthy of noting in SecondLife. Part of this conversation led to an in-depth discussion with Jewlie Deisel in-world of Kitten’s Studio about what locations were on her list when she takes avatars shopping.

Surprisingly, (or maybe not so much), there were a lot of locations that we both had, while others were new to each other. Maybe not new, but more like we had never considered.

Among those was a landmark Jewlie provided simply named Bax Coen Boots.

Bax Coen Model

The New Prestige Boots from Bax Coen: Priced Affordably at 875L

I’ve been to places like Stiletto Moody for shoes and boots before, because unsurprisingly they are “the brand” to own. However, upon stopping into Stiletto’s last night with my partner, Lindsay Heslop, I could only sit and wonder about how a place can realistically charge 2795L for a single pair of boots or shoes. At first I tried to justify it because of the brand and quality, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Stiletto Moody shoes and boots aren’t actually worth the price.

Obviously Stiletto Moody has the brand recognition, but I suspect that the owner is just taking advantage of that recognition by hyper-inflating the prices, knowing full well that the brand will compel people to still purchase. Stiletto Moody is a fine shoe and boot, but other than the brand name there is nothing I can see that makes them worth the retail price.

Which brings me back to Bax Coen Boots.

Previously I had not known about Bax Coen, so I was a little skeptical when Jewlie told me about the location. Clearly I had not heard any marketing or classifieds, nothing on the Destination Guide radar, and no mentions in the mainstream media for SL. Of course, this brings me back to why I don’t entirely trust the Destination Guide from Second Life to clue me in to quality locations for shopping. Sure there is often something interesting in the guide, but I have yet to see Bax Coen. Of course I did happen to see Stiletto Moody listed in Destination Guide… go figure.

Let’s say for the time being that Bax Coen is exactly the reason I put the Destination Guide to the side and looked for personal recommendations.

Customer Service

Most places you go in Second Life, you will find to be barren and self-serve. Let’s face it, shopping in Second Life is a “fend for yourself” affair, with countless walls and displays on automatic. There is obviously the marketplace online, but that takes it to the level of catalog shopping.

Not so with Bax Coen Boots. Shortly after arriving with my partner, while we were looking over the new line of boots, we read the notice stating that all boots will be gladly fitted free of charge in the store upon request. “Well,” I thought, “that would be some amazing customer service…”; at least customer service compared to most stores in Second Life.

Sure enough, soon after a customer showed up and bought some boots, Bax Coen herself showed up to gladly help the customer fit her new boots.

Bax Coen_013

Ok, this right here is what floored me. Could it be? Actual customer service in Second Life?

Well, hells bells. Not just customer service but the owner and proprietor of the store actually glad to help her customers with their purchase in the actual store location.

I think this broke my brain for an undetermined amount of time, because after waking up from the blackout I recall hearing Bax Coen actually offering to help my partner (Lindsay Heslop) to fit her new boots for her.

Let’s put this into perspective.

Prior to stopping into Bax Coen, Lindsay and I had wandered through Stiletto Moody looking at boots and shoes that were roughly 2795L for a single pair, and nowhere to be found at the store location was any semblance of customer service or employee. Upon visiting Bax Coen Boots, it was a polar opposite experience.

Boots at Bax Coen (the ones Lindsay and I were looking at) were priced reasonable at 875L per pair, they had a remote HUD, the texture and sculpt quality were impressive (and I’d personally say on par with Stiletto Moody). For a fraction of the price of Stiletto Moody.

Out of curiosity I began to wonder what the Stiletto Moody price range would purchase at Bax Coen, and my question was quickly answered by a sign next to the same boots proclaiming 2699L for a Bax Coen Fatpack.

So what does the Fatpack get you for 2699L?

4 Styles of Boots with 13 color choices, and an L$801 savings.

I’m no rocket scientist, but the math is easy to add up. Not to mention the prior offer of having a live representative come to the store to fit your new boots for you.

I know I’m using a lot of large type and bold in this post, but surely you understand why this is exciting news. How many times have you gone shopping in Second Life and have had live representatives eager to help you with your purchases? It doesn’t happen very often, but I’m fairly sure Earthstones has the occasional representative available.

I was curious about whether this was just a fluke in timing coincidence, so I came back to the location later on only to find there was a customer service representative eagerly helping more customers as they wandered through the store. Even eight hours later, there was a customer service representative at the store within minutes of my arrival.

Bax Coen Customer Service

Peace Edenflower (right) helping a customer at Bax Coen Boots.

One of the reasons Lindsay dislikes Stiletto Moody (I know, shocking that anyone could somehow dislike Stiletto Moody’s) is because other than the obscene prices, the shoes don’t actually look right on her feet. Yes, you can adjust the shoes and move them around, but that doesn’t stop the invisible prims from making part of her ankles invisible regardless of where she places the shoes.

It could be an unfair assessment, but for nearly 3000L I don’t expect a pair of shoes to have anything wrong with them. At the very least, you would think for the money they are charging for those shoes they could hire some customer service reps to actually be at the store to help out.

Which brings us once again back to Bax Coen.

If you look at the picture in the beginning of this post, you’ll notice a sign behind Bax inquiring about whether the customer has Viewer 2.x. Seems she’s offering an Alpha Layer for her boots to mask the feet. Great idea (and I’m sure other shoe makers are following suit).

If only Bax Coen would make shoes as well, then I would call that store a one stop shop for all things shoes. She’d sure as hell give Stiletto Moody a run for their money. In the area of boots, I’d say she already has Stiletto Moody beat. Bax Coen may not have the endless aisles of shoes and boots that Stiletto Moody has, but what she does have is of high quality and reasonably priced, with outstanding customer service to boot (pun intended).

That’s why I raised my personal rating for this location from 3 stars to 5 overall. The only thing that’s lacking at this location is more selection, but barring that, I couldn’t recommend Bax Coen enough for your holiday shopping this year.

Every woman in Second Life should have at least a single pair of Bax Coen boots in their inventory, and unlike Stiletto Moody, you can afford to have a full collection. Everybody loves great prices and helpful staff :)

Selection: ★★★★

Could use a bit more of a selection, maybe some shoes. But what she offers is still excellent.

Service: ★★★★★

Prompt, courteous, and cheerful. Upon arriving at three different times, a representative was eager to help within minutes.

Quality: ★★★★★

It’s not Stiletto Moody, but the quality is impressive for the price range.

Price: ★★★★★

875L for a pair of quality women's boots. How could you go wrong?

Do you have any shopping locations you’d like to share? Drop a note in the comments! I’d love to check them out. I’m looking for high quality, affordable prices, and locations that aren’t part of the mainstream Destination Guide or press coverage.

Dec 1, 2010

Loyola Marymount University in #SecondLife

When: Thursday, December 2nd @ 7:45PM EST

Where: Loyola Marymount University SLURL

Why: I’ll be attending as a guest speaker

Notice: The following post is quite long. If you’re not into reading today, then feel free to stop at the first question marker in the post and call it a day. Pictures for this post were taken at LMU Psychology Island in Second Life using Kirstens S20 (42), all shaders enabled except Global Illumination. (Depth of Field is also enabled)

LMU Psychology Auditorium - All Shaders 1

Sometimes the future is a scary thing to think about. Especially when we take into consideration that this Thursday I’ll be the guest speaker at Loyola Marymount University in Second Life. Just imagine a room full of college students from various disciplines, all eagerly awaiting their turn to ask me questions about various technology topics and virtual environments.

Yeah, I had to stop and think about that too. Is it really a good idea to let somebody like me play a part in shaping young minds? I really thought about this when writing the book chapter as well, and the best answer I could muster was “As long as these students have the idea to think for themselves”. As an aside, the book seems to have finally been released (I noticed it available on Amazon recently).

It’s one thing to be an academic for a class at a university or giving lectures for business, but something always made me uneasy about the prospect of influencing future generations of young minds. Nobody really knows the future, and the best we can ever hope for is an educated guess. This is why I sincerely hope that the students attending on Thursday do not take all that I say as gospel and are willing to challenge and push further on their own.

Dr. Richard Gilbert (Professor of Psychology at LMU) is a really interesting guy to say the least. He’s the head of the P.R.O.S.E. Project at LMU (Psychological Research on Synthetic Environments) but even more interesting is that this man has a Grammy Award for co-writing a song in the movie Flashdance (1984). Naturally, this is the same guy behind the contest and I can only sit and wonder what sort of life this guy has led to bring him through such accomplishments.

This is the man who approached me about being a guest speaker for one of his classes, and I gladly accepted (as a bonus the college is offering an honorarium for the time).

The prospect of speaking for this class didn’t seem too out of sorts when I accepted, but then I began to really think about it. Being the professor of the class, Dr. gilbert would naturally assign homework and some research to the class prior to Thursday in order that they prepare questions and topics to converse with me about. That alone is what got me…

Trying to wrap my head around the fact that a class full of students from various related subjects are busy, as I speak, doing homework related assignments centered around my being the guest speaker on Thursday. I can imagine twenty or more students (maybe) sitting in their dorm rooms tonight and researching ideas and questions with me on their mind.

Maybe it’s a bit of empathy to be putting myself in their shoes?

This is, after all, college. So chances are that most of those students are probably drunk and partying right now. (laughs).

LMU Psychology Island with All Shaders

Dr. Gilbert has, thankfully, provided me with a list of expected topics that will be covered over the course of the two hour class. As an addition, the class will break for a short recess about halfway through (at least that is what I was told). I don’t know how well I’d hold up with two hours straight of students barraging me with questions and conversation, but to be honest I seemed to handle well at Friday Night Talk Show (which went on for nearly 4 hours of audience conversation).

Let’s take a moment to go over the topics presented to me for Thursday nights class:

1. Issues of Server architecture, so you can address the cascading structure you advocate.

This topic stems from my advocating of a hybrid decentralized server structure in order to properly handle load and bandwidth through massive, parallel fabric computing. On the surface, it sounds a lot like I’m suggesting everything to be done on the Cloud, but it’s a bit more than that.

With Cloud Computing (as we’d normally expect) there is still a centralized datacenter someplace. The only thing that’s really changed is the hardware and how it is utilized, in so much as that the software is entirely executed server side and streamed to the user via a client. Cascading Architecture is like an evolution of Cloud Computing, because it assumes that not only is the central data center involved, but each individual user in the system is also a repository and relay.

Each virtual environment user has redundant information, called Cache. This information can be readily passed along to others nearby in a virtual space without the need to ask a central server for that redundant information. There is also the idea of telling a central server that you have moved, in order that the server can tell 50 other users near you that you’ve moved (which to be honest seems silly).

Could we not connect via a cascading architecture in virtual peer clusters, thus informing each other of actions which do not need authorization? Surely 100 simultaneous users in an area are capable of relaying this information to each other, not to mention sharing their redundant cache data as well.

Better yet, why do we construct simulation systems in a manner that requires brute force and a lot of bandwidth centrally? Surely by now we would have realized this will ultimately fail to scale.

2. A status report on the quest for a universal format for 3D, ala HTML and JavaScript for 2D

Being part of the IEEE Virtual Worlds Standards Group, I can say that the closest thing that has been agreed on for a universal 3D Format has been Collada files. Past that, I have yet to see anything else solidly proposed.

My younger brother (who is in college) proposed once that files like Collada can be reduced algorithmically to a single number and decimal, to be decoded and expanded with resolution via reversing the algorithm. While this would require brute force computation on the part of the user in order to utilize those files, it does offer an interesting glimpse into procedural methodologies for indefinite fidelity.

We see today such things with and their procedural textures system. 2MB of texture data in 2KB. I’ve seen some interesting things from DirectX 11 and Tessellation algorithms to increase the fidelity of 3D models farther than what the model data had stored. I really think these procedural methods for fidelity are the future.

3. Graphical Developments and progress toward photorealism

Which, of course, leads us into this topic. As I had said, I truly believe that procedural methods will win out in the end. Interesting enough, shortly after I had mentioned the push for photo realism in Second Life, I saw a video post by @oobscure on twitter about the Depth of Field viewer in the development channel. It looks really nice in the video, and first hand it’s just as stunning when combined with the shadows, lighting, SSAO, and Mesh abilities, as seen in the snapshots in this post from Kistens S20(42).

However, there is still quite a lot of progress to be made in the photo realism department. I will obviously cite that higher realism requires more computational power, and this doesn’t change. I believe, though, that we are quickly reaching a point whereby older methodologies for graphical abilities must be approached in a more intelligent manner.

Static images aren’t as good for fidelity as procedural dynamic textures, and what we think is high definition today at 1024x1024 or 2048x2048 resolution in a PNG or TGA is really very low resolution comparatively. I do understand that graphics cards aren’t really meant to handle 10,000x10,000 resolution textures, but who is to say that they actually have to handle the entire image all at once?

.debris Procedural Demo | 177kb Executable Size

Therein is why I believe Procedural methods will work in the end. You can essentially have a 32,000x32,000 resolution texture in 10kb seamless, but the algorithm involved knows only to show you the highest resolution you can comfortably see on your graphics card, and only the area you can actually see (as in, not trying to load the entire grass texture for the State of California all at once).

It’s all about intelligently streaming only the information we need at any given moment.

4. Developments in shared media and integrating 2D applications into immersive settings

I’ll be leaving this one to answer in class, but you can assume I’ll talk a bit about the developments with the koios media center in Second Life.

5. Current Comparisons between SL and other platforms

I’d say Second Life is a median system. Kind of like choosing Mario in SMB2 when you have Luigi, Princess and Toad at your disposal. Graphically it’s starting to catch up to things like BlueMars without having to go into graphical overkill. It’s fairly powerful as a platform, open enough to do many things, and it has average strengths. For the time being, Second Life is the all around solution I’d recommend for virtual environments.

However, this doesn’t mean I’d split hairs and differentiate between SecondLife and OpenSim, InWorldz, SpotOn3D, etc. It’s all essentially based on the same underlying technology despite the bells, whistles and pinstripes painted on the sides.

Other technologies I’ll cover in class.

6. Your projections for the near and moderate term future for SL and the wider field of 3D worlds.

Concerning Second Life, I’d say I believe that the open source community will probably make many more strides to push the technology forward than Linden Lab will. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as I really do like Open Source software and crowd sourcing. As for the wider field of 3D Worlds… I’ll cover that in class.

I will say, however, that I don’t believe that virtual worlds on their own have a future. Like any good technology, it matures and becomes ubiquitous. What the future is, concerning virtual worlds, is not virtual worlds in the sense that we know of them today.