Google Sketchup -> Second Life export

SketchUp is great. Not only is it free, but it supports Ruby as a scripting language, and provides plenty of interesting APIs and reasonable (though not very well inter-linked) documentation too. It’s long been discussed, in conjunction with Google Earth, as a potential virtual world, and rival to Second Life. While it will be fascinating to see how that develops, and whether they become more comparable over time, what interested me much more in the short term was some way of getting 3D data from SketchUp into Second Life. Dave did this recently with PowerPoint, which and it reminded me just how much I wanted to do the same thing in SketchUp.

What I really wanted was SketchUp -> Second Life exporter. I didn’t want to buy SketchUp pro (though I thought about it), because even that wouldn’t solve my problem. More recently, I saw that Blender 2.4.2 makes it possible to import SketchUp’s (proprietary, binary) .kmz file format. This is cool and potentially very useful, especially when you consider the Prim.Blender project allows you to draw SL prims and export them. Ideally, it would also do the hard work of creating simple SL style prims from the complex 3D data. This is not an easy project though, as discussed at 3pointD recently.

Eventually I gave up my search for a basic SketchUp -> Second Life exporter and realised I was going to have to write one. I’m really not a Ruby guru, but I surprised myself by knocking something up in 20 lines and no time flat. Ok, so it’s not very good, and it doesn’t bring us any closer to the nirvana of complex models being automagically generated using the minimum number of prims, but it was so easy that I’m very surprised not to be able to find anyone else taking this approach already. (Perhaps someone will fill me in it has already been done and I’ve simply missed it.)

Importing into SL as a notecard

So, what is it?

What I wrote was a short Ruby plugin for SketchUp. It writes out basic model information to a text file, allowing it to be imported again (as a notecard) into Second Life. From there, an object parses the notecard and re-generates the model in-world. It does not support the full power of SketchUp by any means, and takes some judicious short-cuts to avoid generating zillions of prims. In erring very heavily on the side of simplicity, I’ve made something that you’ll either find delightful or frustrating. Each face in your SketchUp model, you end up with a flat, rectangular prim which represents the bounds of that face. Imagine if every face of every shape in SketchUp was simplified down to a rectangle which marked it extents. That’s what my script does. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start. The interesting bit of the Ruby plugin looks something like this…

model = Sketchup.active_model
file ="/testfile", "w")
model.active_entities.each do |entity|    
   if entity.typename == "Face" #ignore everything but faces 
      # (e.g. we won't pay any attention to edges, points, etc)
      face = entity.bounds # For now, make a rectangular prim

While it works very well for fairly basic models…

SketchUp - SL export (simple)

Something more complex ends up being made to look fairly ugly. Curves and non-regular faces are particularly badly hit…

SketchUp - SL export (complex)

Future developments will include colour/texture support, as well a bit more thought about the mapping between the SketchUp model and Second Life prims. I’m sure there are loads of things that can be done to improve it. I’m already enjoying it as a faster way to put simple things together though.

New Media Knowledge – “My So-called 2nd Life” conference

NMK are a UK based not-for-profit set up as an information hub around digital media and they run some lovely (and very affordable) events.

Darren pointed me at one recently, entitled My So-called 2nd Life. I was planning to attend, so I’m delighted to report that I was recently asked if I would speak at it. It’s in London, it’s not until the 24th October and it’s ridiculously good value, so I hope to see plenty of friendly faces there.

Web page as a texture in Second Life

Jeff Barr in his blog has written up what he has been doing to get a snapshot of a webpage on a prim. He mentions the ubrowser, and the fact that it has been tried but is as yet not in production to put full web functionality as a texture on any object in Second Life.
Many of us (us being people interested in such things) are chomping at the bit, as we did with the http requests, to be able to have this sort of function. It makes the integration to web1.0 and web2.0 complete. People will be able to build active bookmark walls with existing content and services as one way to not require a complete re build of content, whilst they move to a more Services Orientated Architecture. A spectrum of options for integration makes this sort of platform even more attractive.
I really like the way that many of us in Second Life are all trying to do similar things, but some people get there first. This is a prime example as I know I had considered ways of doing this. Its great that a wide team of people are all trying to both be productive and push things forward, with a hint of competition.
As usual its where you read it first that changes your perception of who did it first (before anyone hassles me by saying they have already done it).
Jeff has turned his snapshot text on a prim through the media parcel (not unlike the flickr integration on hackdiary) but is doing some rendition of images with an out of world proxy service.
I popped over to see it, and bumped into Jeffronius Batra, and he pointed me to the demo area.
I asked if it was OK to take some snapshots and to do a trackback. I also asked myself permission to reproduce eightbar as a graphic on a prim via the service 🙂
web page on a prim


It’s all getting a little Hollywood around here.

As Ian wrote, he appeared on The Register yesterday. On the same day, Andy Stanford-Clark (who is no stranger to the small screen) also made a full page spread in The Telegraph, talking about IBM’s Innovation Jam. I also happen to know there are more media apperances on the way for other Hursley people… Anyone know a good agent? 🙂

Our private island is a little less secret now

We have been putting on quite a show the last few days. We have been doing press, writer and analysts interviews on why we regard things like Second Life and general metaverse technology as so important.
To underline this importance we had Dr Irving Wladawsky-Berger our vice president of technology strategy and innovation at IBM over here in UK from the US. He is a well known figure inside and outside of IBM becuase of his very open attitude to ideas and his smart way of understanding so many areas that IBM works in. He freely admitted that he was put on the track of considering anything related to games technology a few years ago by Hursley’s Chris Sharp.
We put on a show for everyone around having a truly global meeting in Second Life as a backdrop to all our conversations. We had people from India, UK, US, Canada and even Australia, so some people were well into timezone hell.
We illustrated in the actions of the group how we had all taken to the excellant multi gadget chairs by Timeless Prototype. As this lets us indicate we are indeed having a meeting despite the fact that you really dont need to sit down in a virtual world.
We also showed Hugo’s Amazon interface, and Yossarian’s translator.
To show how we energize brainstorms we used a favourite of Idz Ni’s (and now most of eightbar) of the Abramelin Wolfe canon that lets us fire ourselves about the island. This is the equivalent of taking a 3 min break for chocolate in RL.
We also showed onbaording new employees, and the real educational benefits of this environment.
Roo had to dash over to Zurich but popped in to say hi and take some photos.
Me, IWB, Idz Ni and Ada Alfa with a worldwide cast on the screen
Anyway, it was great for us to all talk and explain what we have all been up to to a new audience.
Irving also did some radio and tv interviews, with the tv interview having our backup machinima playing in the background.
All the various write ups and programmes will start to appear. I will post them here as we get told about them or bump into them.
The first one is here by Martin Banks on The Register
So now that is all done I can prep for my trip to Almaden in California next week. I should be there weds thru Friday, then Roo and I have meetings in New York the following week. I thought the metaverse meant less travel 🙂
** Minor update to point to the new blog article on Irving Wladawsky-Berger’s site and trackback

Happy Birthday eightbar

It is amazing but “raising the eightbar” is 1 year old today. Its doesn’t seem five minutes since we were sitting around saying lets try a combined blog from Hursley. We discussed what we might write about, what content we could fall back on, what style, how we were going to stick to corporate guidlines.
A lot has happened in the past year, most notable has been the transition into having an awful lot of Second Life and virtual worlds content. Whilst it may seem a solely second life blog there are a lot of other things going on.
Either way I think we are all really happy that we appear to be providing interesting content for people, making great friends and business contacts, and remaining suitably professional with a hint of unconvential thinking.
The Raising the eightbar tag line has gradually slipped to just eightbar. We are Eightbar in Second Life, and whilst we are not trying to form a brand as such, we have some brand values and pride in what Eightbar has become, yet we are still very much IBMers doing things who happen to be from Hursley.
Who knows what the next year will bring, but this one has been a blast.

Touring the Metaverse

Last week, one of our colleagues sent me a Sametime asking if I would have time to help him get the hang of Second Life, since I’d been foolish enough to blog about the topic. We set up a slot yesterday to meet online and talk through how it all works.

We started off on Hursley Island and I got him kitted out with some funky clothing. That actually turned out to be a helpful experience, as it taught him how to move around, pan/zoom (hold down Alt, in case you don’t know what I’m talking about), open boxes, play with the inventory, etc..

We also had a quick look at some of the technology demos lying around on Hursley, before heading off to virtual Dublin. Whilst exploring Trinity College [slurl] we were approached by the “mayor” i.e. creator of the sim, who explained that he was about to do some radio interviews in RL Dublin – evidently, there’s a lot of publicity over there at the moment.

In the evening, I camped at the Pooley sim to sit in on the Town Hall meeting with Philip Linden, since I wanted to hear what he had to say about the recent security issue and lack of stability in the past fortnight. The man himself arrived… but just as he started to speak, my client crashed and I wasn’t able to get back on the sim –  bah! I’ll have to listen to the podcast instead.



Analyst Briefing

Having just got back from New York I came in to Hursley this morning wondering why everyone was looking a little smarter than usual. It turned out we were meant to wear “business casual” (whatever that may be) for an analyst briefing. Analyst briefing? Hmmm, that rings a bell…

Rod Smith did the keynote and then we were in groups of four to talk about customer projects. All of us in my group (Dave B, Graham B, Rob and myself) were suffering a little from jetlag so I hope we made sense. Still, it was good to see James there (I’m pretty sure visitors can get a guest ID for wireless in the house, so not sure why they didn’t sort one of those out for you, some live blogging would have been cool).

Sometimes with these things, I think it’d just be easier to talk about stuff we’re thinking about, rather than having a day long structure, but then maybe it’d be complete chaos. It’s also a shame Ian and Roo weren’t about to show some of the cool Second Life stuff they’ve done. Anyways, I think it was pretty useful for us to get some different perspectives on some of the projects we’re working on and hopefully the analysts got something out of it too.

An amazing show, the Alliance Navy and an IBM 3D Jam

I have been away on Holiday the past week. Deep in West Wales, with no grid to speak of. So I missed the 12th September IBM Virtual Community Kick Off and 3D Jam.
This event has been in the works for some time. It is combined with the more official IBM innovation Jam where we gather with lots of people around the company and outside to discuss new ideas and directions.
Due to an increasing number of us in the eightbar group in Second Life, and the growing number of IBMer related islands we diced to have a big kick off and see how we could run an event to get lots more people into the metaverse.
One of the great things about SL is that some really interesting communities form. One of these communities, that I came to know about through Timeless Prototype, is the Alliance Navy.
This group has formed themselves to be an anti-griefing group. i.e. they are white hats. even more i.e. they are people who try to stop others from messing up our worlds and events.
Judge Hocho from eightbar is also a member of the AN. When we were planning this big Virtual Universe Community kickoff he came up with the great idea to invite the AN to come and help.
The AN put in a great deal of time and effort to produce a show of force on the currently mostly empty IQ island next door to Hursley.
The presence of AN, there as both a show of skill and knowledge of how to use SL and an anti griefing service really made a huge impact to lots of my collegues.
It makes a great difference to be able to see people protecting your property. Normally hacking of any sort if under the covers, as is anti-hacking.
The Alliance Navy have a large number of ships and vehicles, and a military style approach. They tend to police some of the sandbox areas, where people go to experiment. Its another style of mentoring to persuade those people who would rather take the grid down, to not behave in that way.
I have not asked too many questions of Judge or Timeless about the AN. I prefer to just know that they know all about it. Some of the power is the mystique after all.
Anyway we owe a great big thankyou to the AN members who both put time in helping us and who directed their efforts to our 3d Jam rather than policing their normal routes.
Also a big thankyou to all my fellow eightbar members who ran a great event. I think it safe to say we have arrived.
Judge took some cool snaps on snapzilla.

AN in IQ

AN snaps in IQ


We also have a logo, the Virtual Universe Community is wider than eightbar and wider than just the metaverse. So look out for this in the future. A nice design by Tood Keen.

VUC logo

Amazon’s Jeff Barr comes to Hursley

Jeff Barr is Amazon’s Web Services Evangelist, and all round good guy. Just last week, Ian wrote about a presentation Jeff recently gave in Second Life. We were lucky enough to secure some time in Hursley with the man himself this week, where Andy and I were delighted to be able to get to know him a little better. It sounds like Jeff has been enjoying a very busy few weeks, so it was great that he could spare an hour to meet up in Hursley for a chat.

We talked about his recent presentation, the Fabjectory (which is very cool. Ian, who has been hugely excited about 3D printing for a long time, is going to go nuts over it.) We also talked about putting arbirary text on a surface in Second Life using an image created by a server-side script. We’d both been independently having the same idea, and Jeff was first to implement and blog it. 🙂

We even found time to go to Hursley’s near-legendary pub, the Dolphin, for an early lunch. We ordered (and received!) cheese and ham baguettes before they were even open for food. Now that is what I call influence.