Zada and the Zen of Unexpected Spaces

March 27, 2009

Zada Zenovka relaxes in space

When I decided to blog about the people of Second Life, I knew that Zada Zenovka would be among the first avatars I would want to interview.  She is – in so many ways – the sort of person you love meeting in SL; she is creative, bright, talented and funny but does not publicize her Second Life all that much.  Aside from her shop, Shapes by Zada (which sells shapes, eyes, specialty skins, and some fun freebies), Zada does some custom shape work, is involved with a variety of art and cultural projects, creates some fascinating builds, and is an admitted shopaholic.

We met over a few drinks at the bar in the observation platform atop Zada’s Space Elevator at Technohenge.  The observation platform is much like its creator; beautiful, eclectic, and smart.  To get to this shiny platform with transparent walls overlooking the earth and surrounded by the stars and moon, you have to take a nearly two-minute elevator ride to get to 2000m.  The objects in the room tell a bit about the person who put it together:  a jar with Chuck Norris’ face; a beautifully constructed book filled with Zada’s line of historical skins and shapes; a bar adorned with classic film noir movie posters; a mix of Victorian and modern couches; and series of pictures of Zada as a toy robot.

We chatted for well over an hour and covered a range of topics.  Read our conversation after the jump to learn about her efforts to find the secret Linden gardens, the Zen of SL, and more…

Charlanna Beresford: What brought you to SL?

Zada Zenovka: A badly twisted ankle. I had a few days off work, couldn’t walk very well, and I was bored. I’d an article or two about SL, thought I’d give it a try just to see what the buzz was about. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I was intrigued by the vague ideas I’d got from what I’d heard. That it was a game, except there was no game, and that people made money from it, which was pretty much what the media were obsessing on about SL at that time. Not that I wanted to make money, I just wanted to see how it worked.

Charlanna Beresford: And what got you to stay?

Zada Zenovka: I think the variety. Like all newbies I was really clueless, had no real idea what to do or where to go. But I discovered the map, and that got interesting. I’d log on, open the map, scroll around until I saw some interesting shapes, and go there to look around. There was a kind of disconnect between the map and the environment that fascinated me, like I wanted to try to see a pattern in it, try to be able to predict what kind of a place I’d arrive at from the map. But you can’t. The map is very bland, but when you end up somewhere… it can be anything.

Charlanna Beresford: The disconnect between map and place was a hook for you? Or was it the things you saw along the way?

Zada Zenovka: I think the unpredictableness of it. I’d use the image of the map as a way of deciding where to go, but it told me more, that there’s something there, than what it was. Each time I arrived somewhere it was a new experience.

I jumped about a lot, didn’t landmark where I had been, so it was quite chaotic and confusing. And I think that’s a big part of what was the quintessential SL experience for me at that time. For example I remember seeing a few buildings on the map, and one was a shape I couldn’t make sense of, so I tp’d there. Mostly, it was houses, the same kind of not too well built, unmatched architecture you see in any residential sim. Except right in the middle of it was a genie bottle. I guess Rezzable knows what they’re talking about, it’s the “Black Swan” moments that really make SL something different.  Something that breaks your expectations and makes you think differently about things just because it’s so unexpected.   SL is kind of 3D Zen.

Charlanna Beresford: Most people I know that have been in-world a while can identify some things about SL get under their skin. Are there any for you that leap to mind?

Zada Zenovka: I hide away in a skybox a lot, helps avoid those. 😉 I guess the obvious thing is technical stuff. It doesn’t matter how great a sim is if it lags like crazy, and all textures look equally bad when they’re gray. But I do find the limitations of avatars, the lack of animation, and expression, a real limitation.

Animation is very limited really. But facial expression, I think is a real problem. There are a bunch of animations for facial expression, and nobody uses them. Mainly because they suck, but also because there’s no really useful way to use them. You can use an emote hud, but that’s so artificial.

I guess ideally? If SL could understand what you’re saying and control your facial expression to match. But that’s not really possible. I’m sure it would be really funny watching it get things wrong though. I can imagine yelling at my screen, “I WAS BEING SARCASTIC! DON’T SMILE!” Ummm.. I don’t actually yell at my screen.

Charlanna Beresford: Speak sternly to it?

Zada Zenovka: Sometimes I sigh slightly and give it a disappointed look.

Charlanna Beresford: Now for the evil inventory questions.  How big is it?  And what is your favorite item?

Zada Zenovka: Just under 37k. I try to delete a thousand or so a month, and sometimes have a big go at doing more. Last month I had one day I deleted 12k in one go. It felt good.
Favorite… I really don’t know. I mean it’s pretty hard to compare, inventories have such a wide variety of things in them. How do you compare a skybox to a pair of pants? Or a vehicle to a snapshot?

Ok, some favorites…. my Tornado HUD by Tryptofaa Sands; Portal gun by Pandora Wrigglesworth; Drawmachine jeans by Armin Weifel; Mystitool by Mystical Cookie… I like standing on people’s heads; Akeyo chucks.

Charlanna Beresford: You mentioned exploring earlier, what are some of your favorite spots in SL ?

Zada Zenovka: Oooh. Well, favorite spots. I guess I have to mention Extropia, right? It’s where my store is, after all. 😉 But it’s a great place, so much fun architecture all around, and great people. And the place I had my very first store, was a place no longer exists called Kusawa harbor… hard to explain what I like about it, but it was small, simple, peaceful, friendly… really had an atmosphere of its own, which I think lacks a lot in SL.

But there are lots of places I love for different reasons. Sims like Insilico, or Chouchou, or Straylight, just because they’re so amazing to look at. Blue Galaxy is a new one I’ve fallen in love with recently. It’s really a store, but the sim it’s in is amazing. Lots of sculpties and beautiful textures. It escapes the SL look, most everywhere looks like SL, this doesn’t. Then there’s stores like Grendel’s Children which are just so much fun to visit because there’s so much creativity all around, so much to look at.

Charlanna Beresford: How did Technohenge and the Space Elevator come about?

Zada Zenovka: Kind of the same way almost all my builds come about, by accident. There was a space, it just seemed to fit the space.

Charlanna Beresford laughs, “And a 2000m elevator is an accident?”

Zada Zenovka: I never really set out to build things, but I get inspired to create something by the environment around me.  I think the first thing I ever built that was more than three prims was a huge three level building with a 40m indoor waterfall. I like a challenge. But, it’s usually about the environment, either something I see around me, or something about SL itself.

For example, one time I was talking with someone and he had to go afk to answer the phone. He was wearing a pacman teeshirt, and I’d just been shown how to do cell shading. So while he was AFK I made a cell shaded pacman and put it on top of him. That turned into an avatar.

With technohenge, there was a hexagonal floor. And I thought, what do you build on a hexagon? So I put some shapes in each corner.  Then I thought… ok, six columns. What next? I’ll put a sphere on top. Then I’ll make it shiny.  Then… something needed to go between them, but because the columns were cut toruses and curved, I figured… I’ll need disk shaped walls. And they should be transparent, because I like the view. So it was all just one thing leading to another. Almost like, I was given a floor to build on and that was the only choice of what to build. Then the sim owner turned up and declared what I had built was called “Technohenge”, and it had to stay.

The elevator was because, you couldn’t build over 768m at the time, so it was obvious I had to build over 768m.

Charlanna Beresford: But that has changed, hasn’t it?

Zada Zenovka: Yes. You can build up to 4000m now. It’s quite disappointing in a way. 😉 It may be possible to go over that with the technique I used originally, but I haven’t tried.

Charlanna Beresford: Do you have any new ideas that you’ve been thinking about creating?

Zada Zenovka: One kind of similar thing I did recently was to build something outside the grid. I’m fascinated by the edges of sims, where there’s no neighboring sim.  Suddenly the world just stops. What’s beyond? I want to know!

Now if you move a prim to the edge of a sim, the middle of the root prim has to stay inside the sim, but the rest can overlap. It’s got to be linked, that’s a big limitation. But I’d like to find out how you can push that.  At the south end of Extropia Odyssey, just a little beyond my shop, there’s a strange silver shape rotating in space about 30m beyond the edge of the sim.
But here’s a simple example. You link two boxes, 10m apart.  You sit on the one that isn’t the root prim, and you push the linked prims as far as they go And you’re outside the grid! Sitting on a box floating in nowhere space!

What I’d like to do is figure out the best way to propel people as far outside the grid as possible.  And find some brave volunteers to explore this nowhere space, to report back to us about what’s there.

Charlanna Beresford: You wouldn’t volunteer?

Zada Zenovka: I’d go myself, but? I’m pretty sure what’s out there is nothing. So, it would be more fun sending people out there than going to look myself.  There’s not going to be a lot to see. Sure you hear rumors of hidden spaces in SL. Like the wheatfields or something. Maybe if you go far enough beyond a sim edge, you find a secret Linden garden. But I’m not holding my breath.

Charlanna Beresford: Or maybe you’ll just end up in OpenSim?

Zada Zenovka: Well, Zha Ewry and her IBM colleagues did that with a TP to OpenSim, but that’s a technology thing. I’m not a programmer, so that’s not something I can get involved in. But there’s a kind of creativity in exploring the limits of SL that interests me, so I’ll leave TPs to OpenSim to the experts, and stick with slightly insane attempts to visit Linden Secret Gardens.

Charlanna Beresford: If you could go back in time and give some advice to newbie Zada, what would it be?

Zada Zenovka: Advice to newbie Zada. I don’t know.  That’s a hard one.  Maybe, “Sometimes it’s SMART to decline friendship requests”?  Other than that, I really don’t know.

Charlanna Beresford: Another time machine question.  Zada from two years from now gets her hands on a time machine and comes back to tell you about SL. What would you expect her to say?

Zada Zenovka: If she said anything I expected, I’d be disappointed. It’s the unexpected that gives SL life for me.

Charlanna Beresford laughs and nods.  Thank you, Zada!  That wasn’t so painful, was it?

Zada Zenovka: Well, the drinks helped. 😉

Charlanna Beresford: They usually do!


  1. Entertaining interview. I, like Zada, am interested in pushing limits and wanting to know what’s on the other side. I’ll volunteer for the outer-grid experiment! ^__^

  2. That sounded like a fun interview lanna. Zada was a great choice to start off with, can’t wait to see who you follow her with. Also I’d sign up for the outergrid expedition group. Sounds like fun 🙂

  3. My goodness, what fun! I step away for a while and come back to such wondrous things. Thank you, Lanna. If there’s one thing I could say for Zada, it’s that she’s a woman of real depth and surprise. I’m forever discovering new things when in her company, and now I’ve discovered some lovely things about her. ^_^

  4. Great choice for an interviewee, Lanna.

    Zada isn’t a big star on the internet, she’s not a blogger, nor does she have a million friends on Plurk or Twitter. What she is is someone who is *very* creative, and *very* active in-world. I have a lot of respect for her. If I ever return in any meaningful sense, I hope my SLife looks a lot like hers.

    She’s also the most fashionable AV I know, and she designed my shape. What’s not to love? 🙂

  5. Lanna – Welcome back. You were missed.

    Zada… I hardly know her, and what little I do know fills me with appreciation and respect. I enjoyed learning more about her here.

  6. […] So who were Lanna’s influences?  The goal wasn’t to look like a specific person, but to come up with a look that I jokingly called girl next door plus.  And what is a girl next door plus, you ask?  She looks friendly and approachable; she’s pretty in a cute way (but not in a hawt or glam way).  A GND+ also has to look like could be a little athletic.   Finally, she had to convey just a hint of the smart is sexy vibe.   This took a little bit of work; I made Lanna’s initial shape but had the final tweaks done by the talented shapemaker Zada Zenovka. […]

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