Friday, December 30, 2011

Inventory: Lag Demon, Yes or No?

A lot of us who have been in Second Life for a while have embarrassingly large inventories.  Mine recently went over 29,000 items, and I've embarked on a program to trim the darn thing down to a more manageable size.  But mine is far from the largest collection of Stuff out there.  I know people with 50,000, 60,000, or even 100,000 or more items!

I heard, at some remove, that Linden Lab once recommended that inventories be kept below 4,000 items.  This seems ridiculous, and I'm not sure that LL ever actually said that.  The Library alone...the folder of "starter items" every avatar over 2,000 items.

Still, a trim inventory does help teleports, I can report that from personal experience.  My alts, with not much more than the Library in their inventory, log on and off and teleport much faster than I do myself.

And the other day, someone passed on another unsubstantiated claim...that having a smaller inventory can help reduce lag.  When I posted this thought in a group chat, some computer-savvy people pooh-poohed the idea.  After all, the inventory is maintained on a separate server, not the region server.  But I can't help thinking that there may be something to this notion.  If a smaller inventory lets you teleport faster, then there is something about it that the region servers are doing something with.  And it would follow that a smaller inventory could possibly also reduce lag while in a region.

We'll see.  I took some frame rate measurements recently.  Using Firestorm, when I am in my skybox, I see about 22fps; on the ground at Masocado, around 10 fps.  I'll report back after I've thrown out some of this junk I'm lugging around.

Meanwhile, there is another bug you all should know about.  It appears that some people are not receiving off line IMs or inventory offers (including purchases from the Marketplace).  The workarounds for this are:
1.  Be sure you are on line and not in Busy mode when making purchases from the Marketplace or when people are sending you things, OR...
2.  If you have an empty Block (Mute) list, block someone, or some object.  The people experiencing this bug seem to have one thing in common -- nobody on their Block lists. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Outrunning the Hardware?

Over the last year, Linden Lab has introduced a lot of new features to make Second Life more attractive.  We now have Mesh objects, and options in the viewer to enable depth of field, shadows, and spotlights.  Additional functionality has been added with more flexibility in how we can attach things to our avatars, and the ability to put multiple things on a single clothing layer.  Functions like Search and the Profile have been expanded and linked more closely to the Web.

Along with all these improvements have come increasing demands on the performance of the computers we use to access SL.  My computer is about three years old, but it is still quite powerful.  It has a quad core i920 processor, 12 GB of RAM, more than a terabyte of hard drive storage, and an NVIDIA 560Ti graphics card.  I have Verizon's fastest FIOS data link.  Despite an impressive set of specifications, my frame rate when using Mesh-enabled viewers is often so low that SL becomes unusable.  Not only does movement on the screen slow to slide-show speeds, but even the entry of text begins to lag behind my typing ability.

The problem of avatar textures persistently failing to rez has gotten so widespread that the Firestorm viewer has a new pie menu function, "Tex Refresh" that you can apply to yourself or to other gray avatars that you see on your screen.

It's not just me.  The forums are full of posts from people who can't log in, or can't teleport, or can't see the world around them, or can't get their avatar to look like anything except a cloud.  Last night, I met two newcomers who had just gotten new laptops for Christmas and were trying Second Life for the first time.  These were brand new computers, and yet they could not see anything around them but gray shapes.

It's not just the official viewer, either.  ALL of the mesh enabled viewers I've tried have these problems.  Viewer 3, Phoenix, Firestorm, and Nirans.

Is anyone at Linden Lab testing the software with real world computers, on real world internet connections? When Viewer 2 was released, the vision was supposedly to make SL more accessible to Everyman.  Somehow, that has failed to occur.  Instead, SL is becoming LESS accessible.  Unless you are a computer geek with the very latest custom gaming rig, and highly knowledgeable about how to tweak and troubleshoot your machine for maximum performance, Second Life has become a very unfriendly application.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas to All!

It's hard to believe that I've been posting to this blog since May, and it's gratifying that you all have at least glanced at what I had to say almost 10,000 times!  It's been an exciting year, with both good times and bad, and I'm looking forward to 2012!

I hope you are too, and that you'll continue to share our joint adventure of exploring, and creating, virtual worlds.  May you have a joyous and blessed holiday season, both real and virtual.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Machinima: Second Life Videos

I'm sooo excited!  Yesterday, I shot, edited, and published my first Second Life video.  You would think that a person with about a decade of experience in Real Life video creation would have done this long before now.  What can I say?  Sometimes, I'm very slow.  Now that I've finally done it though, I am kicking myself for not trying this long ago.

The process of using a virtual world (or any video game engine that has player characters) to make movies and video is called "machinima", a neologism that I hate.  You can get a general overview of it from the FAQ page at the Academy of Machinima Arts.  For a hilarious example of machinima, check out the "Red vs. Blue" series made using Halo soldiers.

The thing I filmed (Taped?  So many of our terms are getting technologically obsolete.  "Captured," perhaps) was a Trans Siberian Orchestra concert performed in SL by a very talented TSO tribute group, Rising Star Entertainment.   I didn't plan to make a video, I just attended to enjoy the show.  But as I watched and listened, I realized that still pictures wouldn't do a very good job of capturing the flavor of the event, and decided to try to get video.

I used a screen capture program called FRAPS as my recorder.  To move my point of view smoothly, I used the Flycam function of my Space Navigator 3D "mouse" device.  Once I had opened FRAPS and set a couple of things, the whole thing was as simple as hitting the F9 function key and then being a bit gentle with moving the camera with the Space Navigator.

FRAPS can capture audio too, which is great for recording a live performance like this one.  I captured about three songs before Real Life intruded and I had to leave.

The next step was to edit the video.  Editing is something that I love and dread...because, like creating a great retouched image in Photoshop, it is both a satisfying creative process and a very intense, all-absorbing one.  My editing software is Sony's Vegas Pro, but you can use the free Windows Movie Maker and get good results.  I took the three song clips that I'd recorded and picked the one I liked best.  Then I chopped out the parts of the video clip that were not very good...unplanned, un-motivated camera moves, poorly lit bits, and the like...and filled the gaps with video snippets taken from the other song clips. 

I also found that, unlike the Snapshot camera in the viewer, FRAPS records the entire screen, including any windows or HUDs that you happen to have open.  As a result, I wound up doing a good bit of cropping to get a (relatively) clean set of images.  Then I added titles and credits and saved the final version.  While I was scratching my head and trying to figure out how I should render the final movie for uploading to YouTube, I discovered that the nice people at Sony had done my work for me.  There was a button in Vegas for "Upload to YouTube".  Wow, one button ease of use!
So I did, and you can see the result here:  Trans Siberian Orchestra in Second Life

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Linden Realms

Sigh.  Another day, another controversy.

I’m very much undecided about the new Linden Realms game within Second Life.  Public opinion is divided, too.

First of all, what is it?  Linden Realms is a treasure hunt type game that you can access from within the Second Life virtual world.  You can’t get there by an ordinary teleport – you go to one of several “Linden Realms portals,” walk through an archway that is reminiscent of a “Stargate” type teleport, and find yourself in Linden Realms.  Or maybe not…I tried the portal that’s located at Welcome Island Public and nothing happened when I walked through it.  Possibly it wasn’t live, or perhaps the game area was full and the entry was temporarily disabled.  I don’t know, because it didn’t give me any sort of error message at all.
A Non-Working Portal at Welcome Island

In Linden Realms.  Note Score HUD at the top
Anyway, when and if you get there, a HUD automatically attaches to your screen.  This HUD is used to keep score.  The object of the game is to collect crystals, while avoiding being killed by Rock Monsters and other hazards.  A lot of people think this is fun, at least as a short term amusement.  Others think that it’s a game aimed at about a 12-year old level…and point out that there are no 12 year olds in Second Life. 

Well, yes…the game is cute.  And yes, compared to other games out there, it’s very simplistic.  We are not talking World of Warcraft here, or even Myst.  There are several possible reasons for this, and depending on your level of cynicism, you can take your pick:
  • The CEO of Linden Lab also made The Sims – another rather simplistic game.  Linden Realms is a reflection of the top management’s vision, or lack of it.
  • The game was conceived as a development platform for new scripting tools that LL says will soon be made available to Residents to design their own games.
  •  LL only intends the game to be used as an introduction to Second Life, a sort of orientation/training exercise.
  •  Another epic fail by LL at attempting to develop content.

Some people complain that LL is, once again, competing with its own residents.  Why not just develop the darn tools and let the residents get on with making GOOD games with them?  Instead, LL is pushing Linden Realms hard in the blogs, the Destination Guide, and even putting portals at the Welcome Islands.

The thing is, Linden Realms IS a pretty good introduction to Second Life.  This is an answer to all the people who ask me, “How do you play this game?”  Let’s set aside, for a moment, all the scope and possibility of an open-ended virtual world, and just GIVE them a game to play.  In doing so, they can learn the basics of movement, clicking objects, getting things, and communicating.  Of course, you wouldn’t want people to think that Linden Realms is ALL there is to Second Life, but it can serve as an introductory exercise, instead of simply tossing the newcomer into the wide world and saying, “go forth and use your imagination”.

There is even an incentive.  You can exchange the crystals you collect for $L.  A perennial question from newcomers is “How do I get money on here?”  With the demise of most camping, money trees, and gambling, there really haven’t been all that many ways for new residents to get money other than taking the plunge and buying some $L with their credit card.  Linden Realms gives newcomers the chance to accumulate enough $L to begin to enjoy the delights of shopping and purchasing virtual goods.

What nobody really knows, and what’s causing a lot of us to feel uneasy, is what the Lab is REALLY thinking.  If LR is intended as a newcomer experience, a training exercise…well then, that’s great.  On the other hand, if LL is thinking that Second Life should be more “like a game”, or that it is important for LL to provide content for SL, then they are (once again) going off down a blind alley, failing to see what Second Life really is, and failing to understand their own proper role. 

At least they are probably not thinking of themselves as competing with the residents financially this time, or not directly.  After all, they are giving $L away!  That’s very unusual.  Someone seems to have been farsighted enough to guess that giving newcomers a little virtual money could attract more people to SL, and get them to stick around longer. 

It’s this last point that gives me hope.  On the whole, I think I have to say Linden Realms is a good idea.  Kudos, LL!

Now…get busy and fix the lag!

Here's a Portal location for you!

Edited to add:  Couldn't they have made the darn trees phantom?  Ouch!
Edited:  As of December 22, the portal at Welcome Island Public is live.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Not Now, I'm Busy!

Today it's back to basics for newcomers!  Specifically, let's talk about the Away and Busy modes.

"Away" or AFK just means you've stepped away from your keyboard for a moment.  It's polite to activate this if anyone is nearby, because it lets them know why you aren't responding to their remarks to you.

You can activate Away mode by simply minimizing the Second Life user interface window.  Or you can type "AFK" in local chat, without the quotes.  You can activate Away from the top menu by choosing Comm/Online Status/Away. Your avatar can be set to automatically enter Away mode after a set period of time; this is the same idea as having your computer turn off the screen or activate a screen saver if you haven't input anything for a while.  Un-minimizing the SL window, hitting a key or moving the mouse cancels Away mode. 
When Away mode is activated, your avatar appears to "fall asleep", and the word (Away) appears in the nametag over your head.  Some viewers give you the option to also force your avatar to sit while Away, which may be a bit more realistic than the "standing slump".  If your Animation Overrider contains high priority animations, it will override the Away "napping" animation, making it harder for people to see that you are Away.

Stop Poking Me!  Can't You See I'm Sleeping?
Busy mode tells people that you're...well, busy.  If someone IMs you, they will receive your Busy message. Nearby avatars can see you're Busy by the (Busy) notice that appears in your nametag.  Busy mode is used by creators to discourage people from bothering them while they are concentrating on making something.

There are a couple of problems with Busy mode.  For one thing, being in Busy mode does not stop the phone from ringing -- if someone IMs you, a tab or toast still appears and flashes at you, and you get an "incoming IM" sound.  If you are like me and can't resist answering every phone call, or at least seeing who it is, this is nearly as distracting as not being in Busy mode at all.

Busy Mode Notification Options
But the real danger of Busy mode is that, while it is active, nobody can give you anything.  This includes vendors and the Marketplace.  If you try to buy something while in Busy mode, delivery is attempted, but your avatar refuses it -- and the item vanishes into digital limbo.  You can set your UI to give you a warning notice if you forget and try to buy something while Busy, but that won't help you if you are buying something from the Marketplace.
All in all, I very seldom use Busy mode.  If someone calls and I'm busy, I just type a brusque "sry, busy ATM" and get on with it.  Sometimes, doing things yourself is easier, quicker, and safer than using an automated feature.  If I simply must have some solitude, I can log in with an alt or log in to another, quieter grid, or even use OpenSim in standalone mode to log into a region completely disconnected from the internet.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Virtual Economy, Part II

A few days back, I said that Second Life's virtual economy...the tradeable, exchangeable Linden Dollar...was Linden Lab's second most brilliant idea, after SL itself.  After a shopping expedition in OSGrid, I am even more convinced of this.

In SL, almost every region you visit has at least one store, or a club, or a Zyngo palace.  Something that offers goods or services in exchange for $L.  Enter "shopping" or "shoes" or "hair" or anything of the sort in OSGrid's Search, and you get maybe six to ten hits, if you are lucky.  Remember, this is on a grid that has almost 10,000 regions, a third the size of SL!

If I want to landscape a parcel in Second Life, there are a plethora of nurseries selling trees and plants.  In OSgrid, I "tree branches" texture pack.  One.  If I want landscaping, I have to fire up Photoshop and get busy making some tree and bush textures.  Sigh...the one time I tried this, I was a miserable failure at it and wound up buying some of Lilith Heart's beautiful creations instead.

You see this at every turn.  Want to hug a friend?  SL has maybe twenty or thirty different hugger gadgets.  OSGrid has...none that I saw for sale, although I was given one by another resident.  Sexy shoes?  I found ONE style of sculpty pumps, in three colors, and ONE set of ankle boots.  For anything you want to do or have, you are faced with the Time Traveler's Problem:  you have to make the tools to make the tools to make the thing.  The infrastructure just is not there.

The residents of OSGrid look on this as an advantage -- many of them are ex-Second Lifers who left because of the all-pervasive commercialism of SL.  I can understand that, but the lack of a monetary system is also strangling the potential growth of the place.

This phenomenon happened in Real Life too.  Read Neal Stephenson's massive tour de force, The System of the World for a description of how the concept of "banking" revolutionized commerce and industry and allowed the pace of progress to take off. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sleep Deprivation

One of the problems of living an active Second Life is that it really sucks up time, of which we all have a fixed and limited supply of 24 hours per day.  This is all well and good if you have the time to spare, but a lot of us have a Real Life that occasionally needs some attention, too.  Many of us had full, active lives before Second Life came along.  So the question becomes, where does the time for SL come from?

For a lot of us, some or all of it comes out of our sleeping time.

Since starting SL, my average night's sleep has gone down by about two hours.  Many nights, I'll squeak by on four hours of sleep.  Not to mention neglecting all the chores and projects around the house that are put-offable.  I've always been a procrastinator, but SL has raised me up to the World Champion class.

So far, it's seemed to be an acceptable tradeoff to me, but my recent foray into OpenSim grids has rather focused my attention on it, because living TWO second lives is even MORE time consuming.  Especially when one of them is a situation where you're starting from scratch, with no inventory, no handy tools...not even a cute pair of shoes or a hugger!

None of us can create more time, all we can do is use the time we have as best we can.  So today I am wondering, is life in a virtual world the best use of my time?  My grainy eyes are telling me, "maybe not".

Monday, November 28, 2011

OpenSim Adventures, Part VI

This series of news snippets is starting to get a bit long!  I hope you're enjoying this look at what's involved with emigrating to a new (and experimental) virtual world.  I promise to get back to reporting Second Life material Real Soon Now!

The problems I reported last time have been resolved!  It turns out that the Resident Geek was a little too clever for our own good.  He had installed drivers for a "Microsoft loopback adapter" on the advice of another OpenSim user who thought our problems were "loopback" issues.  It turned out that the loopback adapter was causing the strange problems, and they went away when the Geek uninstalled it.

Now I have four regions running on OSGrid, and I spent last night applying terrain files and tweaking them with the terraforming tools (See Digging in the Digital Dirt).  I had my first visitor, too, a girl who flew up to me while I was moving ground around.  We had a nice chat, and she gave me some of her clothing creations.

But what about the world itself, Lin?  Well, all the people I've met so far, both in world and on the OSGrid forums, are very nice and extremely helpful!  There aren't all that many of them, and it's apparently a pretty close community.  At any one time, concurrency on OSGrid is around 100-150 people!  There's shopping -- most of the stores are freebie stores, because OSGrid does not have an internal economy.  I'm told that some people do sell things there, using PayPal for payment, but I haven't found those places yet.  There is Search, but no Marketplace on the website.

The builds are mostly good quality, but I haven't run across any of the really polished, breathtaking places you sometimes see in SL.  I think a lot of this is a lack of really high quality textures, and possibly because the focus of a lot of people is just getting the world running smoothly rather than creating top-quality content.  And also, I have only been to a very few places yet!

The stability and smoothness isn't as good as SL, on one of SL's good days.  However, it's not all that much worse than SL on one of SL's bad days, of which there have been far too many lately.  Also, the performance varies a LOT from region to region.  "Official" places, running on high speed servers with big fat data connections run really, really well...better than SL.  Lots of other places are like my regions; they are hosted on users' own machines at home, and may have no more than a standard DSL connection to the internet.  Performance in these places is noticeably poorer, as you might expect.

The biggest difference is content.  SL has had hundreds of thousands of people creating all manner of things for over eight years.  A place that's only been around for a couple of years and has a couple of thousand folks just seems...well, it's the difference between Clyde's Corners and New York City, you know?

But if you fancy a break from the hustle and bustle of SL, and want to spend a few hours vacationing in a quiet rural area, make an OSGrid account, install the Imprudence viewer, and come visit St Alda, St Bridget, St Clare, and St Dymphna.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

OpenSim Adventures, Part V

It's a good news/bad news type of day.  The good news was, I got my region running on OSGrid.  In fact, I have FOUR regions running!  I managed to upgrade the backend database software from SQLlite to the more robust MySQL all by myself, too.

The bad news is, I'm still having problems, and so far even an OSGrid admin hasn't been able to suggest any really concrete ideas.  I can log in to any of my regions...but I can't move FROM the region I log in to, or even see the region next door.  If I log in to one of the "always maintained" infohub regions of OSGrid, like LBSA Plaza, I can teleport to one of my own regions...once.  Once there, I'm stranded.  Worse, the regions don't show me as the owner, and a lot of the About Land settings are grayed out, as if I were a visitor on my own land.

Ah, the joys of using Alpha software.  On the other hand, four regions in Second Life are WAY out of my price range, so I think I will be grateful that this stuff works at all, despite the frustrations.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

OpenSim Adventures, Part IV

Blessings on the Resident Geek!  He found the router settings we needed and I have a region on OSGrid!

It's not up all the time, and I'm still working some issues with it.  But here I am, a curious stranger in a new virtual world...

Friday, November 25, 2011

OpenSim Adventures, Part III

World building is harder than it looks!  The Resident Geek and I have spent some hours now, bouncing between settings menus, user manuals, forum posts, and trying and re-trying to get a region connected to OSGrid.  It runs OK, and we can see it on the map, but it's not accessible.

It seems to be some sort of port forwarding the FIOS router, the LAN router, the software firewall, or the OpenSim .ini  settings.  Or possibly something called a "loopback" issue.  Whatever it is, we have not yet hit the magic combination of buttons to fix it.  When the Geek started opening Advanced settings windows with the warning, "changing stuff here could cause your computer to stop working and render Iowa uninhabitable," I called a halt.

I must make a bit of a correction to some earlier posts about OSGrid...I've been saying they have between 6,000 and 7,000 regions.  Yesterday, they had about 9,500!  Wow, such explosive growth, I thought.  But the OSGrid website explained that because the regions of the grid are user-hosted, they come and go with great abandon.  The "regions on the grid" number is a lot more like Second Life's "residents online now" changes a LOT.  In fact, it changes so fast that OSGrid says even the published number can be off by 50%.  Certainly my poor little region of St Alda was on again, off again all day yesterday!  Talk about a world in flux.

Whew.  What we need here is a geeky high school student.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

OpenSim Adventures, Part II

Today I actually visited OSGrid!  My first try was with my favorite viewer, Firestorm Mesh Beta.  I just changed the grid on the startup page from Second Life to OSGrid, and used my OSGrid password.

I got logged in OK, but appeared as an unrezzed cloud to myself.  There were other people around, who told me they could see me fine.  I tried several "cloud fixes" with no luck, so I logged off, and downloaded the viewer that OSGrid recommends...Imprudence.

This viewer worked great, and my login performance was snappier than I've ever had when logging into Second Life.  I arrived in the OSGrid equivalent of an Infohub.  There were several other avatars around, chatting.  I used some handy signs to grab a freebie avatar, and a list of other landmarks (including some free shopping areas).  A nice lady gave me some green eyes and a landmark to her sim.

All in all, it was a very pleasant experience.  Gosh, this is a little like when I was just starting Second Life...there is so much to do, I'm not sure what to do first!  Work on my avatar?  Go shopping? (My inventory consists of a whole 26 items!)  Or create my own region?

Decisions, decisions.

Happy Thanksgiving!

To all my friends and readers out there:

Thanksgiving is a national holiday here in the United States.  But even though it's a "local" celebration, it's a great opportunity to reflect on all the things we have to be thankful for.

I'm thankful for many health, my home, my family...but since this is a blog, and it's about virtual life, I'll say that I'm especially thankful for the freedom of expression and the worldwide reach of the Internet, for the chance to live and grow as an online citizen, and for all my friends in Second Life and throughout cyber-space.

Blessings on you all!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Dipping a Toe into the OpenSim Waters

Second Life is the Big Kid On The Block when it comes to virtual worlds.  More regions, more content, more users, more functionality, an economy...but it's not the only game in town, as I pointed out in an earlier post some months back.

A number of people I respect have actually left SL and "emigrated" to one or another of the OpenSim based grids.  The last time I tried another grid was a very brief look around InWorldz a couple years ago, so I decided that maybe it was time for another look.  I had run across a post on OpenSim grid statistics in Tateru Nino's great blog, Dwell On It -- Tateru reported that the largest of these was OSGrid, with over 6,000 regions.  So I decided to take a look at it.

OSGrid is a strange sort of animal to a visitor from Second Life.  Its organization is...well, almost nonexistent, compared to SL.  They do have a website (which loads a heck of a lot faster than LL's!).  It's easy to find the to join, a set of forums, a Wiki with information, a Map, basic statistics on how many people are members, or on line.  The Downloads page has just two items, really:  a copy of the OpenSim simulator software, customized for OSGrid use, and their recommended viewer (Imprudence). 

The simulator software was what I was really interested in.

Second Life, or any virtual world based on it, consists of two major pieces of software:  The viewer, which you run on your computer, and the simulator, or server software.  This latter piece is what creates the region(s) your avatar exists in, handles your inventory, and provides the means to communicate with others.  One can think, somewhat inaccurately, of the viewer software being associated with your avatar, and the server software as being associated with the virtual world itself.

The OpenSim software was developed beginning in 2007,  following LL's release of the client (the viewer) software as Open Source code*.  Since then, lots of independent developers have worked on OpenSim to (it is to be hoped) improve it.

Anyway, with OpenSim on your computer, you can create your own private island, right on your desktop.  No need to pay tier to LL, or worry about friends or groups interrupting you while you're creating marvels.  Very inexpensive, very private...but lonely.  No one else can join you in your private paradise.  Unless...

Unless you connect it to a grid.  This is where OSGrid comes in.  You can link your region, hosted on your own computer, to the larger OSGrid.  For free, yet!  (If you want more stability and better performance out of your region(s), you can also sign up with any of several hosting companies to put your region on their servers, with better uptime and faster internet connections.  This does cost money, but at least you are paying the hosting company directly, not a middleman like LL).

But, even hosted on your home PC, your OSGrid region can be visited by anyone signed up to the OSgrid.

This is not a project for the PC illiterate.  I'm getting some help from the Resident Geek ("Honey?  Can you come here a minute?  I can't figure this out...")  Just getting the OpenSim software properly downloaded and installed called for a deal of research and troubleshooting.  For example, who would have thought that you can't put the OpenSim files in the C:\Programs(x86) directory, where every other 32 bit application I own resides?  But it won't work if you do.  It needs its own directory.

When you DO get it working, it runs in a DOS window.  You know, those old fashioned windows with a black background and white text?  A LOT of text.  When you start the program, hundreds of lines of obscure computerese go scrolling up the screen.  Then it starts asking you some questions, like your avatar name, and the name you want to give your region.

The program is pre-configured to run in "grid" mode and connect to the OSGrid.  I wasn't ready for that yet; I want to try it in "stand alone" mode first.  So that is where I stopped for the evening.  And that is where I'll stop this post too -- but I'll let you know about further adventures as they happen.

*Edited in response to Dahlia's comment below

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Virtual Economy - Boon or Bane?

Second Life, as we all know, has a working virtual economy.  Thousands of stores sell virtual goods; land is bought, sold, and rented.  Millions of linden dollars change hands every month.  A small percentage of residents play the business game so well that they show a profit, and a few even manage to make a full time, Real World living by their activities in this on line "game".

I've always been in favor of this.  The Linden Dollar is a de facto micro-currency (if not de jure), because unlike most game token systems, $L can be both bought and sold, in exchange for "real" money.  In my opinion, the implementation of this virtual economy is Linden Lab's most brilliant invention, after the Second Life world itself.

The prospect of making a profit drives the creative engines of SL.  Artists and programmers spend hundreds or thousands of hours in creating exciting, beautiful things for us to enjoy.  Whether it's in the real world or the virtual one, it has always seemed to me that it is only right and fair that we should compensate people for their labors.  The SL economy, and its permissions system, provides a way to do this.

But there is a downside to this, too.  Because content has value, some people steal it.  Because it has value, some people cannot afford it, and envy those who can.  Creators compete for market fact, they sometimes squabble violently over it.  By placing a monetary value on virtual goods, we also create the incessant atmosphere of advertising that pervades SL.  One resident of OSGrid (a free, open source virtual world consisting of thousands of interconnected user-owned and supported servers) stated he'd left SL precisely because of the endless exhortations to spend $L on this, that, and everything else in sight.

What it comes down to is the old adage, "Money is the root of all evil".  By introducing a monetary incentive into SL, we also open the door to all the evils money carries with it -- greed, envy, jealousy, hatred, and anger.

User-owned, open grids like OSgrid avoid this.  Their content creators are much more likely to give away their creations.  They create for the pleasure of it, and for the pleasure that they get from others recognizing their talent.  I'm delighted for them, and I'm very glad that the creative urge is so strong in some people that they will create content with no expectation of monetary reward.  (I confess to this myself; I've given away a number of things I've made to friends.)

As I see it, the problem is that not all content creators are satisfied with that, and of the ones that are, most will probably not put as much effort into content creation as they would if they were paid for it.  The enormously popular writer, Robert A. Heinlein, stoutly maintained that the only reason he wrote was for money.

Alternative grids are growing in popularity.  OSGrid, in particular, has almost 7,000 regions.  That's far fewer than SL, and the number of users is miniscule compared to Second Life.  But the sense of shared community, of building a world together, exists in these places as it has not in SL for several years now.   That's a good incentive.  I like that feeling, and I miss it in SL.

But I don't think that it's enough.  Second Life's economy may seem crass, commercial, and money-grubbing -- but it's an immensely powerful force to drive the engines of creation.  As Liza Minelli sang, "Money Makes the World Go Around".

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Fangs a Lot

Vampires...they're everywhere!

Of course, the whole thing started back with Bram Stoker's novel, "Dracula".  Or with Bela Lugosi, maybe.  That suave, dangerous, dark thing is so shiveringly attractive, isn't it?  Or maybe you like those sexy Anita Blake novels.

Or of course, maybe your thing is the Twilight saga, with its teenaged angst and its sparkling vampires.  Hmpf, sparkling, indeed!  As far as I'm concerned, a vampire is, by definition, a sociopath and a serial killer.  He cares so little for others that he's willing to kill an endless succession of them in order to prolong his own existence.

Vampires have been around in SL since the (excuse me) Dark Ages.  About three years or so back, the Bloodlines roleplaying game (or pyramid scheme, depending on who you talk to) came along to provide rules and scorekeeping to what had previously been a fairly freewheeling and open roleplaying activity.

Bloodlines also created "spampires".  These people hang around newbie areas and send bite requests to everyone in sight.  If an unwary newbie accepts the request, they are "bitten" and their "soul is in limbo".  This upsets a lot of newbies.

Rest assured, if this happens to you, it will have ZERO effect on your Second Life or your Real Life.  As far as Linden Lab is concerned, you have no soul, only a credit card.  As far as RL is concerned, you may or may not have a soul (pick your religion of choice and decide for yourself) but it's certainly not affected by an animation request in Second Life.  The only effect being "bitten" has is if you decide to play Bloodlines yourself.  If you do, you begin at a disadvantage.

But if you're concerned about vampires and Bloodlines, you can get a free Garlic Necklace.  Wear it and touch the garlic bulb to activate it, and all Bloodlines players will be informed you're immune to biting.  You can take off the necklace once it's activated.  Problem solved.

If you do choose to join a Bloodlines clan, be warned:  These groups are full of petty politics, jealousies, and Drama of the worst sort.  Be prepared for a lot of Soap Opera along with your glass of Type O.

But the real reason for today's post is a minor gripe.  Linden Lab has provided some new starter avatars...a whole group of Vampire and Werewolf characters, pretty obviously intended to cash in on the popularity of the Twilight saga.  Come on, LL!  Fix the darn login and rezzing problems.  Fix the laaaaag.  Fix the region crossing crashes.  Vampire avatars?  Phooey!

They don't even sparkle. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Phishing Scam Alert!

I am not in the habit of doing this, but a thread in the SL Answers forum compels me to post this warning about another resident, Nix: Sam's child (lllfilipolll).

This person is directing people to a phishing web page that looks just like the SL website login page, stealing their account information, changing their password, and then extorting money from them to get their account back.

Phishing scams aren't too common in SL (yet, anyway) and most people don't think much of clicking web links that other residents give them.  This is a good reminder that not all residents are friendly, and any link you get from a stranger could be a harmful one.  Be sure to check the URL of links people give you and if they look odd or suspicious, don't follow them!

For more information about this incident, see this thread.

EDIT:  November 21 update!  The phishing website has been disabled, thanks to a timely notification to the phisher's ISP by another concerned Resident.  This is a nice example of Second Life people going the extra mile to help others.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Flash! Found Another Helpful Blog

If my wonderful posts just aren't enough for you, here's another SL blog to check out, by Inara Pey.

Inara is a builder and a dominatrix, and has some interesting takes on Second Life and its many foibles.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Land Glut

Second Life is too big.

Newcomers are always complaining about how empty SL seems to be.  And it's true...most regions have zero, or only one or two avatars in them at any given time.  In one way, this is good.  A region can only support 50 avatars, and long before that number is reached, the lag becomes almost unbearable.  Keeping the crowds down makes SL perform a lot more smoothly.

How "packed" SL is depends on two factors:  concurrency, the number of people who are on line at a given moment; and total land area -- how many regions make up the Grid.  For a long time, the numbers worked out to about 3 to 1...on average, three avatars per sim.  That's not true any more.

Concurrency has been slowly dropping over the last year or two.  Where once it was routine to see concurrency figures near 70,000 on a weekend, now we are lucky to see numbers in the low 50,000s.  With over 30,000 regions on the grid, this means we are edging down closer to 1 to avatar per sim on average.

And there are fewer people paying for those regions.  I heard recently that one large Estate owner closed 120 of her regions.  The Mainland is particularly hard can find parcels for sale almost everywhere, and a huge number of parcels are simply Abandoned, and being carried by Linden Lab.  The asking price of flat green land is down around $L1 to $L2 per square meter.  Shug's blog stated that around 40% of the Mainland was now owned by Governor Linden.  I'm not sure the figure is that high...but it's far higher than it ought to be.

Estates can respond to shrinking demand by closing regions.  Linden Lab can't do that so easily with the Mainland, because the Abandoned areas are mixed in among the occupied parcels.  They're going to have to do something pretty soon, though...and given past performance, I suspect that whatever it is, it's going to make an awful lot of residents unhappy. 

My guess?  Expect some scheme similar to the forced relocation of Adult activities to the Zindra continent.  LL may create a new and much smaller Mainland, and relocate everyone to new "equivalent" (ha!) parcels there.

But what they SHOULD do is reduce tier, for both Mainland and private estates.  The success of the recent "no startup fee" two day sale of private regions shows that SL residents want land, if the price is more affordable.  They should also reduce the number of Linden Homes available.  There should be a waiting list for them, and the neighborhoods should be full to bursting, creating pressure to get out and buy some "real" land.  Linden Homes are supposed to be a stepping stone, a way to introduce people to virtual land ownership...not competition for resident landlords.

Or here's a wild idea...close the Mainland entirely.  That thought horrifies me personally; I live on the Mainland, and I love its freewheeling atmosphere and the open feeling of having so many adjacent regions.  But with the grid entirely in the hands of Free Enterprise, perhaps SL will be more easily able to respond to market forces.

Or another, not quite so wild idea...reinstate educational discounts.  LL lost a lot of paying customers when they dropped this program.  Most residents don't go to the walled-off, student-access-only regions sponsored by RL institutions, but those regions help pay LL's bills.  And having the academic community as active users of SL is great public relations; it helps to counteract our reputation as an unruly mob of sexual deviants.

In any event, unless large numbers of new users can be induced to come to Second Life and stay, we have to get smaller.  Linden Lab cut 30% of their own employees last year to economize.  It's only a matter of time before the same thing happens to the Grid.

Hey, Rod! It's Not A Game!

Lately I've been getting the impression that Linden Lab's CEO, Rodvik Humble, wants Second Life to be a game, or at least to appeal more to the MMORPG crowd.  I guess I can see that...after all, World of Warcraft has a much larger user base.  SL-as-game could mean more cash customers.

But why do I think LL's vision has changed (yet again)?  Several things...

1.  LL has announced that non player characters (NPCs) will soon be implemented.  Of course, we've always had bots...avatars that are controlled by a software program instead of a live human being.  But they have always been third party products.  We have never had "official" bots in Second Life, except for the Performance Tester avatars you sometimes see around, used by LL to test simulator performance.  On the one hand, I can see that NPCs might add a fun dimension to Second Life.  Often, interesting builds and roleplaying areas are completely empty.  Exploring them would be more fun if there was someone to interact with...and a programmed "person" can be on duty 24/7.  On the other hand, I've always been rather proud of the fact that SL's population is almost exclusively "real people".  The introduction of NPCs could, sadly, add real meaning to the question of the perplexed newbie who asks me, "are you real, or a program?'

2.  LL is pushing Second Life games.  The other day, I saw an official LL promotion on the Dashboard screen for Bloodlines, the vampire roleplaying game.  "Be a Vampire!  Bite People!" it exhorted newcomers.  There's a whole series of new Vampire forums on the website, too.  Apparently, Linden Lab has chosen to ignore the majority of its residents who don't play Bloodlines, don't want to play Bloodlines, and find those who do play Bloodlines to be annoying as hell.

3.  LL is experimenting with creating its own games.  There was a recent thread in the Mainland forum about a new "game" that LL appears to be prototyping in the Premium-only sandboxes.

This is one more example of Linden Lab trying to define Second Life in a nutshell, so people will understand it and (hopefully) try it out.  The problem is that Second Life is much more complex than that.  It can't be described in a sound bite or a catchphrase.  The closest that anyone's come is, I think, LL's old motto:  "Your World, Your Imagination".

That's what SL is.  It's a world.  It has enough flexibility that it can be many things to many different people.  It's a social, it's a creation, it's a communications, it's a roleplaying game...nuh uh, it's a business're all wrong, it's an online dating, you dummies, it's a sociological experiment.  Educational platform.  Escapism.  Personal fulfillment.

LL needs to stop trying to compartmentalize and limit their own multidimensional creation.  It's so much more.

And, oh yeah...there are games here.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

How Does Babby Grow?

It seems odd to me, but one question that I'm often asked by newcomers is, "How do you have a baby on here?"  I suspect that the girls asking this are young, and deeply curious about this aspect of their womanhood.  I, and most of my SL friends, have had our children and don't have much interest in this activity in SL.  I don't know about you, but I think that anyone who wants to roleplay the agony of childbirth and the way your children totally take over your life once they arrive is either masochistic or has very starry-eyed notions about the whole "baby" thing.  I love my kids, and I wouldn't have missed the ride for anything...but I don't have the slightest inclination to do it again, either.

Be that as it may, you CAN roleplay motherhood in Second Life.  But, like shoes, this is one area where it's actually a lot easier in Real Life.  So pay attention, prospective pixelmoms, and let's get started.  I'm going to lay out all the steps required to fully roleplay this, but you can skip any of them that seem like too much trouble.

The Preliminaries.  Oh, come now.  I've already covered the basics of SL sex in an earlier post.  Anyway, it's a good idea to have a partner in this project.  Every baby needs a father.  Or a second mother...I have nothing against parthenogenesis.  If you're going to do this whole hog, you should actually choose someone you can live with as a partner for a long time, not just any avatar off the street.  Officially Partner with them, and have a wedding.  The whole "making it legal" thing, right?  (I'm writing this in a sardonic frame of mind, but to be truthful, most women who get to this point really are in love with their partner.  The wedding is the couple's way of showing their love and commitment.   At this point, for most people, the line between "game" and "reality" becomes very blurry indeed.  You Have Been Warned!)

Getting Pregnant. There's a HUD system that lets you simulate your ovulation cycle, and having sex with your partner on the optimum days greatly increases your chances of "becoming pregnant."

Being Pregnant.  Once you've caught, you need to buy another package.  A number of merchants sell "pregnancy kits."  Or you can assemble the parts yourself from different sources.  Your basic Second Life Build A Baby Kit consists of the following:

  • A series of increasingly pregnant shapes.  You change from one to the next at any speed you want, depending on how long you want your SL pregnancy to last.  I should think a month would be about right.
  • A "tummy talker".  This is a device you wear that says excessively mawkish things in local chat, like "Lindal's baby turns over restlessly in her womb."  Please be aware that not everyone around you wants to participate in your roleplay.  Tummy talkers in crowded areas are highly annoying to almost everyone but you.  
  • A prim doll that you can carry around after you "give birth."
Of course, you can add all the additional props you want.  Maternity fashions, a special AO with pregnancy poses, a stroller, a crib, a house in the suburbs...

Giving Birth.  The actual act of giving birth is done, like SL sex, via roleplay.  There are several hospitals, clinics, and birthing centers in SL that cater to this type of roleplay.  I've listed a few at the bottom of this entry, and you can find others in Search.

Baby Grows Up.  Once you get tired of carrying your infant around, you may decide it's time for him or her to become a toddler.  At this point, you and your partner go to an SL adoption center or use some other method to find a child avatar...another resident, whose preference is to play a little kid.  Now the three of you become a "family."

This can actually be a very satisfying way to live your Second Life...provided you pick the right people for your partner and your "kids".  I know of a couple of families that have been together for years.  However, the more usual outcome is the "father" runs off with the stripper next door, leaving you broke, out of work, and pregnant.  You Have Been Warned!

Tantra Total Woman HUD - Conception simulator
Pooterbilt Marketplace store - pregnancy kit and other accessories
Having a Baby in Second Life - free guidebook with more information
Visiting Angels Maternity Clinic - Pregnancy roleplay
Rock a Bye Babies Maternity Clinic and Birthing Center - Pregnancy Roleplay

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Online vs. In-World Shopping

These days, more and more of us are doing our shopping on line.  The Resident Geek buys computer components that way.  I just bought new towels for our bathrooms on line.  We both shop for books at Amazon.  It's convenient, saves gas, saves time, and saves money.

As more and more people adopt this way of shopping, traditional "brick and mortar" stores are feeling the pinch.  Some retaliate by opening their own shopping websites.  Some, like Borders, fold up their tents and vanish.  Either way, the shopping landscape is in the midst of some very profound changes, as "real" stores find it harder and harder to stay in business in the face of the new on line competition.

What does this have to do with Second Life?  Well, guess what?  The same thing is happening in our virtual world.  Shopping in world has many of the same characteristics as Real Life have to find the store, travel to the store (well, teleporting is faster than taking the family SUV, but still.)  You have to browse around the store, and finally buy the item.  Or you have to visit three or four stores until you find the thing you want.  It's fun, and a lot easier than shopping in Real Life...but searching a website catalog is still easier and quicker.

More and more merchants are finding that the place shoppers are going isn't their in world's their web site store on the Second Life Marketplace.  And they're responding by closing their stores.  Last night, a friend announced that he was doing just that, and I've been to three other "going out of business" sales in the last three weeks.

Now, Linden Lab makes a lot of money from in world stores, in the form of monthly tier payments.  They make some money from Marketplace listings too, but not nearly so much.  And so LL has, by promoting the Marketplace so heavily, once again shot themselves in the financial foot.

I've been an occasional user of the Marketplace almost since I first came to Second Life, back when it was an independent third party web site (SLExchange).  I'll be the first to admit it's often an easier way to find something than flitting from one in world store to another.

But SL is "a nation of shopkeepers".  In world merchants are THE major users of land, THE major source of LL's tier revenue.  If merchants leave SL, it will diminish the virtual world experience enormously.

It would make things less convenient, but if I were whispering in LL's ear, I'd tell them to keep the Marketplace as a way to display goods, but remove the purchase function and require all shoppers to visit the merchant's in world store to buy the item.  They won't do that, of course...but at least you and I can do our part by doing our shopping in world.  Support your in world merchants!  They are the foundation of our virtual world.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A very brief update

Well, I got the powerful narcotics...but as it turned out, I haven't had to use them.  The pain went away the next day.  I guess my nerve endings saw the bottle of Percoset on the shelf and took the hint.  Had a lot of fun with the new field trip segment I built into my Virtual Land class! 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

When Real Life Attacks!

I had surgery the other day.  Nothing major, just laser surgery on one eye to give me better vision.  The doctor said to plan on taking the following day off from work.

Well, the following day wasn't too bad.  My new vision was...OK.  (They tell me it will continue to change for about a month, maybe more, so I'll have to be patient).  But the following day...ow.  Ow!  Unless I keep my eyes closed most of the time, my eye hurts.  And it especially is uncomfortable when I try to use the computer.

It feels just like something under my contact.  Which, in a way, it is.  It's the lasered cornea under the protective contact lens "bandage" they put on the eye.  But it is darned uncomfortable.  I am going back to the eye doctor today, and I am going to stand up on my hind legs and loudly demand MORE PAIN MEDS!  Preferably powerful narcotics.

If I can't be in Second Life during my convalescence, or even read, dammit, I want to be unconscious.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Expanding Inventory

Second Life inventories are like the universe...they constantly expand.  It's the rare person who finds both the time and determination to actually sit down and go through all that junk, delete the unneeded stuff and pare down their inventory.  I know I've been meaning to do just that...for about three years now.

There are a few places where you can make fairly rapid inroads, though...

1.  Calling Cards.  Every time you add a friend, you get a copy of their card (their profile, actually) in your inventory.  Even if you remove them as a friend, their card remains.  Over time, these build up.  You can safely delete everything in this folder.  These days,the ones for your current friends list will, drat it, regenerate automatically -- they used to stay deleted. 

2.  Textures.  You may find that you have duplicate textures.  There are also a lot of textures you probably don't use often.  Delete the duplicates, and store the others in texture organizer objects.

3.  Megaprims.  If you collected a lot of these, you can delete any that are less than 64 meters in size.  These days, you can build prims up to that size directly.

4.  Photos.  We tend to take a lot of pictures in SL.  And people give us ones that they have taken.  Go through and delete all the garbage in this folder, and save the best images in a slide show object.  Any that you just can't decide about, download to your hard drive.

Trimming down these folders won't entirely make up for those five hundred pairs of shoes, or two hundred ball gowns.  Or all those skin and hair demos you've been meaning to try on and sort out.  But it's a start, and you get quick results. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Body Swapping

In Second Life, the only thing that you can't change about yourself is your user name.  Everything else is negotiable.  Switch your clothes, your size, your shape.  Go from Snow White pale to the darkest skin tone.  Change your gender...change your species.  Change your Display Name.

Some residents don't change very often at all.  I know some who don't even change their clothes for days or weeks at a time, or even longer.  Like Clark Kent, they wear the same blue suit all the time.  Others switch avatars five or six times while I'm having a conversation with them, like my friends Xymbers Slade or Zaphod Kotobide.

You can go further, and create an alt -- another Second Life account with a new user name.  Most long-term SL residents have at least one alt.  Some people who are dedicated roleplayers may have dozens of "characters".

But some residents take change to another level, one that (arguably) violates the Second Life Terms of Service.  They swap accounts.  For some period of time, they literally "become another person", using someone else's avatar, their inventory, and their Friends List.  There is at least one in world group you can join if you want to meet others who share this interest.

No, I'm not going to list that group name here.  You can find it in Search if you are really interested.  As for me, I am against this sort of extreme roleplaying, for several reasons.

  • It's against the Second Life Terms of Service. Here are a couple of relevant excerpts:
You are responsible for all activities conducted through your Account. In the event that fraud, illegality or other conduct that violates this Agreement is discovered or reported (whether by you or someone else) that is connected with your Account, we may suspend or terminate your Account

You are responsible for maintaining the confidentiality of your password and are responsible for any harm resulting from your disclosure, or authorization of the disclosure of your password or from any person's use of your password to gain access to your Account or Account Name. ... Your disclosure of your password to any other person is at your own risk.

You may not assign ...your Account without the prior written consent of Linden Lab.
  • You risk your account by allowing another person access.  Yes, you can minimize the risk by using an alt with no funds in her account, and changing the password as soon as your swap period is over.  But every account has at least a Real Life email address contact associated with it.  Do you want to risk an anonymous stranger being only a support ticket away from that information?
  • You risk your account being permanently stolen.  What if the other person changes your account password, and deletes the account you know them as?  What are you going to do...Abuse Report them and explain to Linden Lab you compromised your own account?  Good luck with that.
  • You risk your account being Abuse Reported and suspended or banned.  If the person you swap with commits a serious violation with your account, YOU are the one who gets the penalty.  Worse, if the violation is bad enough, ALL your accounts could be banned from Second Life.
  • Your friends can be hurt.  At the very least, they may wonder why "you" are acting differently.  At worst, you could return to your account to find that you have left your partner for someone else, alienated your best friend, and been banned from your favorite club or group.
  • And of course, the same applies to the friends of the person you're swapping with.  You are deceiving them, pretending to be someone you are not.  Maybe you get a thrill out of that, but you can be sure they won't.
I'm not sure I have ever encountered someone who's swapped accounts with someone I know, but I have had similar experiences.  A couple of times, a friend has let someone else take their seat at the computer back there in Real Life and use my friend's avatar to talk with me.  This is a very unsettling experience.  One becomes used to thinking of avatars as distinct people.  To have one of those people suddenly become someone else while still looking like the friend I know is deeply disturbing, even when I know what is going on.

There's a limit to the amount of malleability we can accept in our world, and for me at least, "body swapping" (or perhaps more accurately, "account sharing") goes beyond it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Self Abuse

Today I was at a mentoring class, and someone asked the question, "can you Abuse Report yourself?"  Nobody knew the answer to that one.  Not that it's very likely a griefer or copybotter would have an attack of conscience and turn themselves in, but we were still curious.

So I decided to try the experiment.  I Abuse Reported myself.  It turns out that you CAN do this.  At least, the report went in, and I got the usual acknowledgement of it by an automated email from "Indra Abuse".

Whether LL will actually pay any attention to it is another matter.  In the report, I explained it was a test, and requested an email response from a Linden if this was, in fact, a legitimate AR and they would handle one submitted against oneself.  We shall see if I get a reply...or a suspension (eek!)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

On the Hunt

"Gridwide hunts" are a very popular activity in Second Life.  I'm not a big fan of them myself, generally speaking.  I quickly get tired of swinging my camera all over the place, looking for a tiny little prize item hidden away somewhere behind a potted plant.  It's the same frustration I felt when trying to solve the "Where's Waldo?" puzzle books we gave our kids (were those educational, fun, or just a subtle form of torture?)

Still, hunts can be a great way to see new places, meet new people, and find new stores and designers.  They are a lot more active than just standing around and waiting for a lucky chair to decide to display your name's letter, or slapping a Midnight Mania board.

If you haven't tried a hunt yet, here's the basic idea:  The hunt organizers come up with a prize object, a single recognizable container for all the prizes.  For instance, in the Steampunk Hunt, it was a gold cogwheel.  Merchants sign up to participate, and each merchant submits a prize to be put into one of the hunt "prize box objects", and then hides the prize somewhere in their store.  Each merchant also creates a clue that's supposed to give you a hint.  The prize, and the landmark and clue for the NEXT prize in the hunt, are all put into the prize object.

There is usually a website for the hunt, with a list of the prizes.  Often, there is also an in world group you can join, to contact other hunters and ask for help with a particularly tricky prize or a clue you have no clue about.

You start out at the first location, find the prize, and gleefully teleport to the next location, where you repeat the process.  There may be well over a hundred locations to visit in a given hunt.

Sounds simple, yes?  Only one problem...those prize hiders are diabolically clever, and very often the prize objects themselves are very small and blend in well with the surroundings.

If you are using the Phoenix or Firestorm viewers, you have a tool that makes hunting a LOT easier:  Area Search. For Phoenix:  Phoenix/Area Search; for Firestorm: World/Area Search.  Open the Area Search window and enter the name, or part of the name, of the prize in the search window, then hit Refresh.  You will get a list of the objects within range which meet the search criteria you entered.  Double click one of them and you will see a red arrow and a beacon highlighting the location of that object.
Using Area Search to Find a Radio

Some merchants try to foil us "cheaters" who use Area Search, by placing a number of decoy objects with the same, or very nearly the same, name as the real prize.  That's only fair, and it makes the hunter's life a little more...interesting.

For a ton of information about hunts, see this blog:

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Enabling the Disabled

One of the communities within Second Life is the disabled. Our virtual world provides people who can’t get out of the house easily with a way to have a social life. I’m not the best person, maybe, to comment on this segment of our world. My friend Zippy, among others, has made a formal, scholarly study of SL and the disabled. Another friend, Treasure Ballinger, is involved with the Virtual Ability group and newcomer help area. Either of them, or any of our residents who are disabled in Real Life, could probably handle this better than I. Such people are welcome to comment on this post, or contact me to do a guest entry. In the meantime, I’m going to give it a shot.

Here are my personal observations.

First, the disabled come to Second Life for the same reasons as everyone else. They come because Second Life offers them the opportunity to change something, or escape something, that they don’t like about their Real Life. Ask yourself: What do an obese 20 year old, a paraplegic, a deaf person, a 79 year old with arthritis, and a high school dropout stuck behind the counter at Burger King have in common? Answer: They all have something about their lives that they aren’t happy about. I don’t think there is anything special about disabled people, at least in this sense.

Second, the disabled exhibit the same three approaches to Second Life as everyone else. Go back and re-read my entry about Immersionists, Roleplayers, and FaceBookers. The disabled person who’s an Immersionist or a Roleplayer will most likely have an avatar that is not disabled. They may completely omit any reference to their RL disability in their profile. In Second Life, they become “normal”, and they want everyone else to see them as normal and treat them as normal. This is a very rational approach. They’re using SL to escape their disability, to forget about it, and to eliminate it from the way other people see and react to them.

The FaceBookers are the ones you see on crutches, or in a wheelchair. (I saw one disabled person once whose avatar had a white cane and an assistant. I wondered if he was really blind…and if so, how SL was any different for him than a hundred other text based web sites and chat rooms.) In any case, these people aren’t at all shy about telling others about their disability. Their attitude is “hey, this is a part of who I am. You don’t like it, that’s your problem.” This too is a rational approach. One might even argue that it’s a healthier approach than denial or escape, but I disagree. Either approach to SL serves a useful purpose for the person who follows it.

Mental and emotional disabilities are rather a different matter, because they are harder to hide than physical shortcomings. People who are intensely shy, clinically depressed, or have other problems that interfere with person-to-person interactions can find themselves just as alone and friendless in Second Life as in Real Life. One disorder that SL seems to help is Asperger’s Syndrome. The behaviors that make Asperger’s sufferers hard to get along with socially don’t seem to come through in text. In general, I would encourage people with mental or emotional problems not to “self medicate” with Second Life. It can, however, be a useful tool when used under the supervision of a mental health professional.

In any case, Second Life offers some real benefits to just about anyone who can operate a computer. In that sense, SL is at the same time a filter (keeping out people who can’t operate a computer, or don’t have access to one) and an equalizer (if you meet that basic requirement of computer literacy and access, you’re every bit as good as the next person).

Monday, October 10, 2011


It's October, and another Halloween is just around the corner.

Halloween is a fun holiday in Real Life, but it's an even bigger event in Second Life.  A Search will find you seasonal events, costumes, thousands of things to decorate your home or your region, and scary haunted houses to visit.  The Marketplace is also a good place to search for seasonal items, it can save you a lot of time compared to visiting a long list of stores in world.

I decorated our sim this year.  The biggest single change I made was to use Parcel Windlight to "set the mood".  Normally, Masocado is a sunny, tropical place.  But now, if you happen to be using a viewer that supports Parcel Windlight, it looks eerie and gloomy.  If you want to see the effect I chose, but can't visit our sim or don't have the Parcel Windlight feature, set your sky to "Ghost" and your water to "Pond".
The New Masocado Graveyard

What, you don't know what I'm talking about?  Your viewer has the ability to change the look of the sky and water that you see.  There are tons of pre-made settings that you can download and install in your viewer.  Just search the SL website, or do a general Google search of the web for "windlight presets".  You can see what presets, if any, you already have by checking the World/Environment Editor menu.

Parcel Windlight is an extension of this feature.  Using a viewer such as Phoenix, Firestorm, or the Linden Lab beta viewer, you can establish Windlight sky and water settings for your parcel of land.  Anyone entering your land who ALSO has the feature, and has enabled it, will see your land as you have designed it to be seen.

Oh...if you do visit Masocado to see the out for the pool sharks.

Monday, October 3, 2011

THOSE People

No matter what society we are talking about, people seem to get sorted, or sort themselves, into different social classes.  Of course, every individual is unique and it’s important not to lose sight of that.  Still, there are groups of people within a society that have enough viewpoints and beliefs in common to distinguish them as a group.

Guess what?  It’s not so very different in the virtual world of Second Life.  Last night, my partner and I were standing in a large and busy store, people-watching.  We both noticed that the two of us looked, and acted, quite differently from the other shoppers.  The store itself was not one which we usually went to – in fact, I had found it more or less by accident.  Earlier that day, I had noticed a woman wearing an attractive hairstyle, had Inspected it, and backtracked the store through the profile of the hair’s creator.

The store was quite nice and had a large selection of clothing as well as hair.  However, the styles seemed to lean heavily toward the slutty, grungy teen look and most of the pictured models sported pouty Angelina Jolie lips, Neko ears, and tails.  We (especially my partner) like sexy, even provocative styles, but generally in what I’d call a more “sophisticated” mode.  (To be fair, those who favored the younger fashions we were seeing would probably call our preferences “old fashioned”.)

The other shoppers seemed a lot more in keeping with the store’s fashions.  They were young, in SL terms – most of them had been in Second Life around ten to fourteen months.  They used chatspam gestures a lot.  Some of them used voice, and their voices sounded youthful…so we concluded that they were probably young in Real Life terms, too.  Seeing them, I started thinking about the social classes in SL.  Surely you have noticed some of these?

The Upper Crust.  This segment of SL includes the land barons, those who own multiple regions and, in many cases, make some or all of their Real Life living from renting out land to other residents.  It also includes the more successful store owners, those with products purchased by thousands of residents.  Names like Stiletto Moody, Stroker Serpentine, and Shylah Honey.  This group loves SL, but also spends most of their time tending to business, because business has become the overriding factor for them…an inevitable consequence of success.

The Intelligentsia.  While not as well off in economic terms, this group tends to be very well-educated, and may be educators themselves.  They are erudite, long-winded, and philosophical.  They stand apart from the hurly-burly of the mob.  While they consider Second Life a fascinating social experiment, they would never buy a skimpy dress or a pair of 6 inch stilettos to adorn their avatar, and would instantly mute anyone so crass as to suggest a sexual relationship.  A prominent offshoot of this group is…

The Artists.  They’re creative, but not motivated by money like the Upper Crust.  They may create some of the most beautiful and interesting things and places in SL, but seldom make a profit while doing so.

The Monomaniacs.  This group is very diverse.  Each member has some all-consuming interest, passion, or sexual fetish.  Some might focus on designing the fastest sailboat in Second Life.  Others want only to wear bizarre latex costumes and painful restraints, hopefully at the command of some strict dominant.  Whatever their fascination, it makes them very one-dimensional, and for them Second Life is very narrow and focused.  An ideal companion if you share their interest, boring if you don’t.

The Roleplayers.  Vampire clans, dark and dangerous cities of the future, the Old West, the Lands of Faerie, the Star Trek and Star Wars universes, the world of Gor, Medieval and Steampunk…this diverse group’s members are almost always on stage and in character.

The Swingers.  For this group, SL is one endless party, and a search for their next cybersex experience.  Pleasure is their goal, and other people only exist as a means to that end.  Male Swingers can be readily identified because they address any female as “babe”.

The Lonely Hearts.  This group tends to intermingle with the Swingers, but they are looking for Mr. or Ms. Right, someone to fall in love with, eventually to meet and marry in Real Life.  Because there are so many more Swingers, they are very often doomed to heartbreak. 

The Kids.  These people want to re-live their childhood.  Maybe their real childhood was unhappy, or maybe they remember it as the best time of their lives.  In either case, they become a child again in SL.  The Kids are really a subset of a much larger group, those who for whatever reason want a “do over” for their lives.  Aging Baby Boomers, people in boring or unhappy marriages, the unemployed or those with dead end careers…so many of us want a life that’s better than the one we were issued.

Gamers and Griefers.  Mostly teens and young adults who haven’t matured much past 16 emotionally.  Bright and quick, but to them SL and other residents are playthings.  Many of them come to SL briefly, and move on when they find out that SL isn’t a “game”.  If they stay, they love annoying others with practical jokes.  If they have a darker bent, they may become…

Criminals.  This group is out to “beat” Second Life by getting money in any way they can.  Content theft, rigged gambling, pyramid schemes, confidence games, land scams, and outright theft are their tools.  The more successful ones can make off with hundreds of thousands of dollars.  But if they are caught, they shrug and say, “Hey, it’s only play money after all”.

The Psychos.  This lunatic fringe, if you’ll pardon the expression, is intermingled with the Criminals, Swingers, and Lonely Hearts.  They are extremely personable and plausible, at least at first meeting, but their goal is to mess with the minds and emotions of others.  They leave chaos and heartbreak in their wake.  In my opinion, they’re worse than the criminals who are only out to make a quick buck, because the damage they cause is harder to detect and evaluate, and they are much harder to catch and stop.

Another way to sort people is by their Second Life age…we all progress through the stages of Newbie, Young Resident, Experienced Resident, and Jaded Old Hand.  The trick is to wind up at the latter category still warm, friendly and mellow…and not sour and embittered.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Thief! Thief!

That was what I got called today.

My partner and I were checking out the new animations at SEMotion, and a three day old avatar came by and joined us on the demo pose stands.  She was bald...probably detached her hair and didn't yet know how to find it again.

In local chat, I asked her if she would like some hair, and when she accepted I passed her my folder of freebie hair styles.  I'd gotten this folder long ago from another mentor, and it contains maybe thirty different freebies.

Another avatar witnessed this exchange, and accused me of giving out stolen goods.  That really floored one had EVER accused me of content theft before.  I told her they were legitimate freebies and passed her the folder too, telling her to check them herself.  She did...and said, "Armidi, Truth...these are all stolen.  I'm reporting you and muting you."

Now I was even MORE flabbergasted.  I've been muted a couple of times, but I don't think I've EVER been Abuse Reported before.

Now, my point here is not to strike back at my accuser...I'm not even going to give her name.  But she was wrong on several counts, and I want you all to understand what they were so that you don't make the same mistakes.

1.  Don't Abuse Report a suspected content thief.  Linden Lab won't take unilateral action.  Contact the creator whose work you believe was stolen.  If they agree, they can submit a Digital Millenium Copyright Act "Takedown Notice" to Linden Lab, who is then legally required to take action to remove the stolen content.

2.  Stolen content is hard to identify.  My accuser looked at the item names, which had the maker's name included.  If I had ACTUALLY stolen hair from Truth, it would not say "Truth" in the item name!  And it would list ME as the creator.  One clue is that all of the stolen item's prims will have exactly the same creation date and time.

3.  If you get into an argument with someone, Muting them can be a good call.  But doing it as quickly as my accuser did prevented me from discussing the issue further with her and possibly defusing the situation.  In this case it probably would not have done any good; the woman was absolutely convinced she'd just witnessed a huge, awful violation of ToS.  But still, it would have been nice to be able to get in a few more words.

4.  Don't rush to judgement.  Things may not be what they seem.  I remember kicking a couple out of one of my tenant's apartments, only to find out later that they were not trespassing.  They had the tenant's permission to use his place.

In the end, I did the only things I could.  I submitted a counter AR (just to make sure LL had my side of the story too), and I assured the poor frightened newbie that she was not, after all, the receiver of stolen goods.

[EDIT, Oct 16.  -- OMG, she was right!  I'm so embarrassed.  I had a friend check out the items and sure enough, they WERE copybotted.  I could see it myself when I inspected them more closely.  Here were some of the things we noticed:

1.  Many of the hairs had "cabelo" in the name.  Cabelo is Portuguese for "hair", and my helper noted that a lot of copybotters are Brazilian (but not all Brazilians are copybotters, I hasten to point out).
2.  The creators of the hair were NOT the creators you'd expect.  For example, Shylah Honey makes Damselfly hair.  A Damselfly style made by some other avatar raises a red flag.
3.  The prims of the hair were all made within the same couple of minutes.  This is a sign they were copied by software.
4.  The creators were younger in SL age than the creators of the original design, created the hair within a short time after their rez date, and were now no longer to be found on the grid.  These are signs that the creators were alts, made for the purpose of stealing and copying items.

I contacted the mentor I'd gotten the hairs from and let her know.  She thanked me, and said that she'd recently discovered it for herself and had reported the stolen items to LL. 

My accuser was still wrong, I think, to be so confrontational, and assume I was a knowing thief.  But I have to thank her for waking me up to what was in fact a real problem.]

Friday, September 30, 2011

Disappearing Dollars

Every now and then, someone asks the question "Why are $L being taken from my account?"  or "Why does my account have a negative $L balance?"

There are four possible reasons, and I'll tell you about them in a moment.  First though, I want you to log into the Second Life website with your avatar name and password.  On your Dashboard page, look over at the left sidebar, Account.  Find the link to Transaction History and open it.  Set the transaction period to be for 30 days.

Voila!  Now you can see every in world or Marketplace transaction for the last month.  If you have ANY thought you might need to see further back than that, make it a point to visit this page at least once a month and download the history to a spreadsheet.  Linden Lab does not keep more than 30 days of this data for you.  Your Transaction History is the first place you should go if you have any question about your $L, or about an item you paid for but didn't receive.

Now...about those vanishing $L.

1.  Group Liability payment.  Groups often pay a small fee to have their club or store show in Search, or take out a Classified ad.  These expenses are billed to the group by Linden Lab.  Depending on how the group owner has set up the roles and responsibilities within the group, this cost is frequently spread over all the group members.  If you don't like the way your group handles this, leave the group or take it up with the group owner.  Many people don't even realize that this is how their group is set up to pay its liabilities

2.  Erroneous transaction.  This is very rare, but sometimes the payment system makes a mistake.  If you think this has happened, file a support ticket with Linden Lab.

3.  Malicious Account Debiting Object.  Sometimes an object has a legitimate need to have access to your account.  For example, if you set out a rental box or a vendor for your business, it will need access in order to issue refunds to customers.  However, some thieves take advantage of this function.  You rez an object, it asks for permission to take money from your account, and you (because you speed read info boxes all the time and don't really think about what you are doing) click "Grant".  The object then proceeds to drain all the money out of your account and send it to the thief.  If this happens to you, do the following:
A Rental Box Asking to Access my Account

  • Take the object back into your inventory (you could also just delete it, but it may be useful as evidence)
  • File an Abuse Report on the object and the person you got it from.
  • Submit a support ticket to Linden Lab to try to recover the money.
4.  Your account has been compromised.  Phishing scams have been on the rise in Second Life lately, and you may have given your account name and password to a link that someone gave you that looked like an SL website log in page, but was not.  Or you left "Remember my Password" checked on your login screen, and someone else who has access to your computer logged in and took your money.  There are other possibilities, but these are the most common.  If you think your account has been hacked, file a support ticket AT ONCE, or call one of the 24/7 Billing Support numbers.
Your Transaction Log and your $L balance are your friends!  If there is anything in SL that "keeps score", it's how much money you make and spend...another way in which SL is like Real Life!