Visit here: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Alba/128/128/39
Alba web site here: http://www.alba-islands.com/
Visit there Facebook here (including some great information by the owner and many nice pictures): https://www.facebook.com/Alba-Islands-388909294555160/?ref=bookmarks/
Quite some time ago a good friend Sepp Schimmer introduced me to this gorgeous high quality residential estates area for an event. Last fall he talked to me about the long time owner who has established this impressive long-standing community. I requested this interview with the owner/designer (Douglas) Todalerdale Stine who has a great sense of style and a great eye for detail and who graciously agreed to an interview. Todalerdal generally goes by the name Tod. I've kept an eye on the sims for a while and noted the gorgeous seasonal/nature, wildlife, and decoration changes, and various events around the sim. Parcels are landscaped to a very high standard and they've had great holiday events too.
Special points of interest include:
** Points of interest on Alba **
- Alba Islands Estate Office.
- Castle View House & The Lobster Claw Restaurant
- The Smugglers Arms.
- St Alban's Church.
- Alba Memorial.
- Courage to Change. (Info coming shortly)
- Castle Tioram.
- Alba Lower Loch (Great for fishing)
- Canoes and Pedalo's.
- The Nookinn Dog Café.
- Estate Shops.
- Alba Fishing.
Mr. Stine answered some specific questions for me as follows:
1. How long have you been in SL, what brought you here, and how did you pick your SL name?
I have been in SL now for over 9 years and enjoyed the journey. What drew me to SL in the first instance was the idea of being anything you wanted to be and the ability to do just about anything you could dream of. SL is so versatile and if you have imagination, well. Tie this in with the ability to virtually meet new and varied people from all over the world, well, it had such an appeal to me that I couldn't resist signing up and getting started.
I've often been asked about my name and today it does seem off. However 'back in the day', you had to come up with something that could not have blank spaces or special characters. As a result, my name is double-barrelled 'Tod Alerdale Stine'. Most simply call me Tod though as it's certainly less of a mouthful.
2. When was Alba Properties initiated and by whom—how much space did you start with and how big is it now, a little history like what inspired the initiation of the area etc.?
Alba was my first full region which was a birthday gift from my partner in real-life. He had seen me grow more and more interested in exploring SL as well as my ramblings about some of the sights I had seen and people I had met or made friends with. Perhaps he took pity on me as he occasionally watched and chuckled as I roamed and decided I needed a permanent home to call my own. He also knew that I wanted to create somewhere special where not only I, but others could live on with pleasant and hopefully more realistic and natural surroundings. Too many places at that time were there one day and gone the next.
However, when I first started in Second Life I rented a sand flat on someone else's region which was 4096 Sqm but that soon increased to 8192 Sqm. Then after 6 months of exploration, new friends, fun and building, I got Alba. For me it was a personal dream come true and from that moment it was onwards and upwards with additional regions being acquired from May 2007. Sadly however, with economies in the real-world plummeting, SL residents feeling the pinch and VAT now being charged on EU citizens, I had to downsize slightly to 4 regions leaving me with Alba, Alba Mountains North, Alba Mountains and Sunset Isle. In truth, this was a good thing to have happened as it allowed me to focus much more on quality of surroundings and people’s experience.
As a whole, inspiration for the overall ‘theme’ of the islands is drawn from real-life experiences in Scotland where my partner and I go every year. I knew I could try and emulate some of the villages, lochs and general feel around Scotland to some extent in Second Life. Indeed some of my existing residents have been here for years and thoroughly enjoy the slower pace with nature walks, small village scene and organic feel.
Of course every sim-owner knows that they can never sit back and say ‘Ok that’s done’. As such the whole estate must always grow and develop. Aside from the gradual seasonal changes, trees are cut down and re-planted, terrain is adjusted slightly or riverbanks widened/narrowed. The village and island buildings are upgraded, docks and jetties replaced to either look ‘newer’ or to look as though they would collapse if walked upon. Such changes are often subtle and done gradually so that residents and visitors alike can see something is going on. It adds realism. Only recently the paving around the village was slowly upgraded and word was spread amongst the residents that we had won some EU funding to spend on improvements. It’s all part of the very subtle roleplay that our residents enjoy and which ensures visitors want to come back.
On a side note, the name Alba is drawn from the Gaelic language which means ‘Scotland’.
3. What are the sim amenities?
The regions have various amenities but the principal region Alba, has the most for the general public. The remaining three are mostly residential but deliberately have public access and amenities too. Examples are:
- St. Albans Church where weddings and such are performed. This also includes the Crypts.
- The Nookinn Dog is a cafe on the water and has a growing coffee morning group that residents, friends and anyone can attend.
- Castle Tioram can be explored and is my tribute to the actual Castle on the west coast of Scotland.
- Camp Concord is a Scouts group, headquartered along the road leading out of Alba and they have an additional camping area north of the Loch surrounded by some ruins from an old chapel.
- Castle View House is a stately home sized building in its own grounds which hosts The Lobster Claw restaurant which has been in operation since 2008. The restaurant has over a thousand group members who enjoy fine dining. Residents enjoy free access; however land passes are required for non-residents.
- The Smugglers Arms which is a typical style small and cosy pub with its own beach for sunsets.
- Alba Loch which has amazing evening and night time views along with a variety of places to sit and enjoy a romantic evening. This also freezes over during winter months and becomes the ice skating location.
- Community Hall used by residents for hosting of Second Life or real-life groups.
- 90% of beaches are public access.
- Canoe and Pedalo boats are located throughout, allowing visitors or residents to sail around the entire estate.
- Bicycles are strategically placed, again allowing anyone to ‘free-roam’ as they wish.
- Picnic locations are dotted around and set to public use
4. What roles do you take on as owner/member of the sim in running the community and properties?
Anything and everything really but I also have help from my SL son Aaronn who is the Estate Manager. The resident community also help themselves and organizes their own coffee mornings, meetings and such. I’m quite lucky!
5. Who builds, designs, do you have helpers etc.
I normally build most of my own cottages and terraform, landscape etc myself. On some occasions I have bought a home and placed it simply because it suits the land and its surroundings. My main personal rule of thumb is to develop the land/foliage and then build a home to fit.
Another personal rule is to ensure that when the build is over and ready for a new resident, I stop and take a good look around, thinking on why live here, what appeal does it have, what can they see from various angles or out of a window, what is the sunrise or sunset like, what’s missing and so on. I have never set a home for rent if I was not happy with it or the surrounding area. On some occasions I have simply started again with a slightly different focus. Again though, inspiration is always drawn from real-life experiences in Scotland.
In recent months my SL son Aaronn has taken to help me out and he is a fabulous builder, having built the crypts for Halloween and does a lot more around the estate than I give him credit for. We both have a good eye for detail and what looks right, natural and organic. Both of us will always ask the question of each other “Why does it look that way” and bounce ideas back and forth. It ensures realism and perspective is maintained. Hopefully this is reflected around the whole estate and comments from visitors old and new certainly seem to reflect this. Often the same visitors come back with friends for a walk around, a sit by a fireplace or to just generally take in the slower paced ambience and explore.
6. How much time does it take to manage all you do for the sim?
This can vary sometimes dramatically on a day to day basis. Some days can be focused on background tasks such as the website, updating vendors, preparing new signs or updating old ones, re-drawing the estate map that is available at strategic points due to subtle changes or making sure notecards are accurate and to the point.
Other days can be focused on specific tasks such as repositioning the wildlife, moving plants or bushes slightly, altering or expanding the existing roads or pathways, switching out rubbish bins so they now look empty or making a lamp post light flicker so it looks as though it needs repair or replacement. The smaller things can take hours. On top of that I make frequent checks to see whether items have been updated or improved and this means visiting locations where items were bought or checking with the creators directly.
Of course there are then days when your time is spent chatting with residents or visitors and answering questions or simply altering terrain so a resident can rez their campfire. It’s all varied and thankfully no two days are the same. It all keeps me going and is exciting!
For the most part, I would say I spend about 11 hours a day on average.
7. What is the best or some of the best Alba features you believe that have led it being so successful here?
A difficult question really as the estate doesn’t have a ‘single’ feature that I would say brings people here. Rather it pulls together many different features that culminate in the overall attraction or appeal. Of course there are the same visitors who appear daily from who-knows-where and who might sit in the church for an hour and light candles, or sit in the Nook Café by the fireplace with a friend, or who drop by and walk up to the restaurant with their entire family to dine, or the couple who wander to the Loch to dance under the trees or over to the castle to lie under the stars for a while. We even have a young orphan boy who visits to hunt for snails or pet Hector the dog inside the café, all the while saying hello and striking conversation with everyone and everyone.
Personally I’m pretty much convinced that one of the best features is probably that slow-paced feeling on arrival. You’re not bombarded with posters, advertising and the feeling you need to spend money. People arrive and quickly realise there’s no pressure, it’s relaxing and after a little exploration they understand that there’s far more to see and do than initially realised.
8. Have you had any particularly unusual, funny, or difficult situations arise during the years since Alba's inception?
As with real-life you get those that try to push the limits or just want to spoil it for everyone, so yes I have had some incidents over the years. But in all honesty I can count on one hand the number of horrible incidents I have had. I think I’ve been lucky. People often forget that behind an avatar is a real person with feelings.
One particular incident stays in my mind that came close to overwhelming and ruining a wedding at St. Albans Church just two years ago. Luckily the wedding party had all moved to Castle View House for the wedding reception when suddenly 20+ people dressed in bunny outfits appeared at the landing point and tried to gain entrance to the wedding reception. They were hopping around, swearing and being generally quite nasty. Thankfully Castle View House has its own security feature as well as privacy setting so the guests couldn’t see or hear them inside, apart from myself who was still following on. Needless to say, they were asked politely to leave but I received a tirade of obscenities. That was all I needed to justify an insta-ban on all of them. Naturally I do recall a couple of the more prominent leaders and their remarks to me so they stay on the banned-for-life list (hehehe).
9. Is there anything about your real life you’d be comfortable sharing such as RL jobs, hobbies, general area you live in or time zone, etc.. whatever you want here as much or little as you are comfortable with whatever you might like to say.
I was always a creative kid at school and gained A’s in art and woodwork. Generally anything to do with practical or hands-on I was ahead. My first real-life job before leaving school was part-time cleaning at a bakery where they eventually sent me to college for my degree where I gained a distinction. This was an achievement for me as frankly, I’m more of a practical person than theory. I like to get stuck into the job at hand and it keeps me happy.
Eventually I went into the catering side of life in hotels and country clubs. Sound like a snob? Far from it, trust me. I like to get my hands dirty, knuckle down to some hard work, get creative, build something anew and take pride in what I do. Let’s face it, I started as a cleaner and ended up being a chef. The point is you have to enjoy what you do to succeed. Just like Second Life and dreams.. Enjoy Second Life, follow a dream in it and you can pretty much do what you like and achieve what you want.
10. What are your future plans, goals, and dreams for Alba Properties?
Oh I’ve lots of plans, goals and dreams but try not to share them for fear that they may become an expectation. That said however, I do have some specific plans for the estate along the lines of an automated ferry system which will stop at key points and transport people around and through the rivers to places like the Café, Smugglers Arms, Castle Tioram and so on. As this will need to be tied in with auto-raising of bridges as well as a timed delay or start-on-demand it will require some custom scripting which I’m currently saving up the pennies for.
I would also love to be in a position to grow the estate as a whole and include another region or two along the same theme. But I would only give this a realistic consideration should I find myself in a position where the estate is at 100% occupancy most of the time. I’m sure that’s every estate owner’s dream though.
Another idea I have thought of is to have a live musician/singer come along and play/sing some Gaelic tunes once a week. Unsure how that would work but it’s been at the back of my mind.
11. Would you like to speak a little about the rentals /property?
There are currently 22 active properties (this was as of last fall) throughout the estate with two mountain peak cabins in planning. All properties are unique in so much as they have their own style of build, positioning and views as well as terrain style. At the moment we are just over 80% occupancy.
12. Current special events etc?
The only special events we currently cater for are weddings/vow renewal and then seasonal events such as Halloween and Christmas.
One of the special public highlights; The Lobster Claw Restaurant sim information states:
"** Castle View House; The Lobster Claw Restaurant
Great restaurant & bar allowing you and your friends unfettered fine dining or relaxation with a drink from the bar. Located in Castle View House you can have the best meal in SL with commanding views of the castle or the ocean. A land pass can be purchased at the gatehouse, thereby ensuring you are not disturbed. - Ballroom, beach (must be fully clothed in the house or grounds).
(We do not employ staff, it's a self service restaurant)."
While Mr. Stine graciously agreed to this interview last fall, I delayed in blogging it as I felt it was worthy of a magazine article and I was writing for two at the time. Unfortunately I became busy in other areas and soon after the interview resigned from the magazines and I don't typically do full interviews for this blog but this area is well worth it. I have to apologize to Mr. Stein for the delay as he so kindly agreed to the interview and has such an amazing creation that this should have been blogged long ago and I am grateful for the opportunity. Huge thanks to Todalerdale Stine for the interview and for enhancing our Second Life with this beautiful area. They are celebrating their 9th year established now. Congrats! Be sure to check out this sim for exploring, photography, special events, fine dining, and residential rentals as desired.