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Prefab Concepts and Concerns

In Steampunks of New Babbage chat today, there was a discussion of the idea of prefab buildings of various kinds, and how the use or abuse of prefabs could be great or terrible for New Babbage as a whole.

Here is a forum thread where we can discuss all of the pros and cons, issues and concerns, ideas and projects.

I want to really focus on doing it in a way that will help Babbage as a whole, specifically bringing newcomers into the spirit and style without being scary, but also letting them show off how well they Get It.

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  1. Nathaniel Lorefield Nathaniel Lorefield May 14, 2011

    I would almost think of making some fair looking base-buildings and supplying a few textures  so they can custom texture them.

  2. Blackberry Harvey Blackberry Harvey May 15, 2011

    One of the ideas that came up was in not having prefabs per se but regular learning opportunities, even perhaps teams of Build Crew who would regularly visit the build sites of newcomers and give them tips, samples, help them learn how to align prims (I never knew about taking the cursor outside of the axis line to get the grid ruler until I took an Academy class, for instance), recommend design flourishes, provide textures and links to great resources, and so on.

    I think that could be augmented by some combination or permutation of prefab finished structures, half-finished structures, or Lego kits as well.

  3. Beq Janus Beq Janus May 15, 2011

    In chat I talked about the concept we use in more tradition software engineering disciplines of the code dojo.

    The Dojo derived obviously from the martial arts is a safe place where one can go to practice. Not just a sandbox, but a place where you can go to work with others and see others at work. Learn from the masters, and take a shot at showing the masters a new trick.

    A Dojo is a typically considered as a place of learning and practice.

    A dojo (道場 dōjō?) is a Japanese term which literally means “place of the way“. Initially, dōjōs were adjunct to temples. The term can refer to a formal training place for any of the Japanese do arts but typically it is considered the formal gathering place for students of any Japanese martial arts style to conduct training, examinations and other related encounters.

    – Wikipedia

    In my real life, I have recently begun to use Dojo’s for bring cohesion to my development teams. Novices and experts alike benefit from the art of continual practice. Any musician can attest to the value of practice, actors, singers, footballers, golfers, pretty much any profession has evidence for this.

    A Code Dojo is a place where developers meet to practice their art. I am proposing a Steam Dojo.

    One of the problems with the existing regimen in Babbage is a fear of inspection. People think that they will build and then be told to throw it all away. Indeed we have had many problems over the years with people taking affront at poorly structured criticsm, or just plain negativity. From the inside we see ourselves as a close community of builders and creatives, from outside we are seen as elitist and cliquey.

    The same issues arise in software engineering. Code reviews are often heralded as a good means of promoting quality and best practice. To a point this is true but all too often is dissolves into squabbles over petty details and ends up with people feeling bruised when they are criticised over code that they have become too attached to.

    Once the code is written or the building built, it is too late to tell them its wrong if you want them to remain enthused, positive and productive. Advvise them and coach them throughthe early stages, give them the confidence to take bigger steps by helping them with the baby steps.

    In Code Dojos we have a set of “Kata”. These are exercises of varying difficulty, but none of which take typically more than an hour (often 30 minutes) to execute to a point of reasonable completion.

    Kata (型, 形, or 方 literally: “form”?) is a Japanese
    word describing a form or a way of doing something, and is completely
    generic in usage.


    A Code Kata is a basic algorithm, an example would be a function that retuns true if a year is a leap year; another would be to list the prime factors of a number. Quite simple, well defined rules exist, the solution is built and tested. At the end you delete the work. Next time you start again, see if you can do it better.

    One way of practicing this is to have five minute cycles in a 30 minute project. Working as a pair you begin your kata with one person  at the keyboard the other directing. When the timer sounds you swap roles. Shared ownership, learning from each other.

    It has been remarkably powerful at spreading best practice through my teams and sharing style and technique, the mechanism extends beyond pairs and is not for the scope of this post.

    If we can find a way to distill our build guidelines into exercises then perhaps we can define Kata that teach us and help us practice. It is undoubtedly harder as the degree of subjectivity is there. But I sitll maintain that given three similar buildings any one of us new or old could say which would fit better in Babbage. The trick is determining why, and breaking that down into guidelines.

    Perhaps regular sessions can be held, with one or more Babbage Sensei on hand to advise the novices as they built their mini projects.

    Where do we start though?

    What would be a good Kata, a nugget of build goodness to inspire and educate?

    A factory facade.

    what is a good factory wall?(using only babbage standard textures)

    Well we all know the bad ones. Bright red, single flat prim, evenly textured, characterless modern brick, or worse, steel shuttering.

    A good one is more subjective of course.  but given the bad wall as a start, which must be used, can you make it better?

    For example: let’s darken it, making  it look dirty, add supporting columns and arched braces, to give it substance. Now, does it look better?

    This simple task “make ugly work better”, is limited but educational. The novice can see the changes and the stylistic tricks that give something a victorian feel.

    Next time they try, they will find new ways.

    Other options might be

    A chimney stack

    simple right? First the aesthetics. Here we have a good and a bad chimney, if you squint they are much the same. But clearly one is far too modern and a simple texture change makes it all the more palatable.

    good stack

    But we can extend this challenge to include the art of prim torture and/or scripting too. Using only a provided smoke script, make a single prim stack that looks realistic.

    A boiler

    same idea, modern and shiny, BAD. But moreover, what is the essence of a boiler? Even if it is but a few prims it should convey the task it was meant for. Where does the water enter, how does one stoke it? Where does the steam go? What about the smoke?

    A doorway

    What exactly is it about that doorway that makes it look out of place? What is the best way to implement a door?

    A rooftop

    Why does the 20m span of corrugated steel look wrong? Well, how on earth is it supporting itself for a start? give it some braces, some columns, (some balloons?).

    Is corrugate steel really the best mterial you could find?

    An airship

    I dare not begin this…..

    I’ll leave this list as it stands. (Cos its gone 2am as it is)

    The above examples are off the top of my head. There are many more things that can be put into here.

    And perhaps once armed with the knowledge of how things might be made to look less artificial, a lego kit of pre-fab “bits” can be used to inspire further thoughts.

    The aim is to foster an air of inclusion. I cannot believe that people come to Babbage look around at some of the incredible builds we have and deliberatly think. I know I’d love to settle here it looks so cool, and I’ll slap up a 1970s condo to live in. People come to stay here because they like what we have. This is therefore about arming people with the information and confidence to try to build in theme with a high degree of success. Many may never leave the Dojo but at least they will have discovered that they were not ready to build without having their efforts thrown in their faces.

    • Blackberry Harvey Blackberry Harvey May 15, 2011

      I like the idea of the kata as a form of the idea of the qualification class that Dr. O brought up, but instead of presenting it as a series of tests to complete, I think it would be more encouraging to new people (as I was at first) to present it as guided on-the-build training.

      Use it to establish a baseline competency, like you were talking about, but instead of that being the requirement, use the kata to teach *how* to twist a prim, and *why* to use this texture over that texture.

      End the instruction with something actually useable in the build, like that smokestack, or a completed room with doorways, or the like.

      Yes, this would mean in many cases individualized instruction.  I would be happy to offer myself to be on the list of available helpers, since I have helped others before based on what you all have been kind and patient to teach me.  I can also help with my ability to use Gimp to create or customize textures, and my knowledge of things like my lifts, which I’d be happy to share with ambitious builders.

      But as others have said, the thing is to present all this in a way that’s accessible and not overwhelming.  Maybe instead of having a prefab vendor in City Hall (and I still think a few prefab buildings in the true Babbage mold are a good idea, just as samples if nothing else), we could have a “signup” board where someone could register for assistance getting started, or getting over a building hump.  Like a help desk ticket system.  Then one of the helpful volunteers could go pick up a ticket when they have a spare moment and help someone.


      • Beq Janus Beq Janus May 15, 2011

        The kata are not intended as tests that must be passed. More as exercises and not only for the newcomers. As Mr Pearse said elsewhere, we can still find new ways to torture a prim despite having been doing it for many years. And of course such things would not stand in isolation, hands on assistance is very valuable.

        I have in fact used the chimney stack exercise in the past. A good friend, who is no longer with us in SL, started with just that exercise and it grew into a factory full of wonderful pipes.


  4. Aeolus Cleanslate Aeolus Cleanslate May 15, 2011

    This sounds eerily like the original idea for the Academy of Industry. Even the idea of a set of consulting builders to work with newer builders was an early element of the concept.

    Here’s what happened with Academy, and what I fear would happen with any concept that requires active participation to thrive: no matter how enthusiastically begun, support peters out. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being Maceholder the past few years, it’s that SL participation is optional. Solutions that count on consistent effort tend not to work – the exceptions being those rare few who have a financial or professional interest in participating (Miss Riel and Miss Widdershins come to mind). And in their case, their persistent and relentless efforts to recruit supporters is key to their success – and something extremely difficult to duplicate. I used to believe that a strong, committed manager could make the difference with projects like this, but even those folks can easily be distracted by RL priorities.

    I love the idea of dojos and katas, teaching classes, teams of advisors, etc. But I suspect such a plan would be more successful if the wisdom of the participants was canned somehow, to survive the inevitable ebb of available cycles. Videos, slideshows, and – yes – prefab structures or kits – would be available to new builders even if their creators weren’t. I don’t for a moment want to throw cold water on the idea, just offering a dollop of realism.

    • Grendel Footman Grendel Footman May 15, 2011

      yeah, RL hits everyone, it’s a good idea, but something like that’s easy to get killed when the people handeling it, get stuck having to deal with RL and other concerns

    • Orchid McMillan Orchid McMillan May 15, 2011

      Keeping a steady stream of classes going at the Academy was difficult not just from a managerial standpoint, but an attendance standpoint. We started out great and had plenty of interest, but as time went on I could scarcely find anyone wanting to teach the courses, and when they did no one would even show up. The last 2 or 3 that I helped to schedule had no attendees. Say the Academy is revamped with these new ideas – what can we do to keep things from following this same cycle?

      • Doctor Obolensky Doctor Obolensky May 15, 2011

        I don’t think you need to schedule classes.   Unless it’s done once a month along the lines of the Salon.   Pick a topic for the month, etc.

        What’s needed is a way for someone to say “I need help with *this*” and get it somehow.


  5. Beq Janus Beq Janus May 15, 2011

    The requirement for the Sensei os really due to the subjective issues involved. There are other options.  I will have a go at making some examples that might allow more self guided instruction.

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