Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Just Friendship, Friendship…

As a greeter and helper of newcomers, I get a lot of Friends offers. If the person has at least spoken a few words to me first, I usually accept them. I don’t want our visitors to get the impression that Second Life is an unwelcoming place. Besides, a newcomer often needs someone to call if they get confused or get themselves in trouble.

But most of these new “friends” never call me again. Quite a few have looked around and decided Second Life is not for them. Others have just moved on with their Second Lives (as they should) and no longer need to call their poor old teacher.

As a result, I regularly purge my Friends list. If you are on it, and suddenly find yourself dropped, please don’t get mad! If you really want to stay on my list, just IM me and ask, and I will put you back.

Adding a Friend is very easy, technically speaking. Just open a person’s Profile, or right click their avatar, and select Add Friend. If they accept your request, you’re Friends. But…are you friends, as well as Friends?

Last night, my fellow greeter Indeterminate Schism and I were handling a rush of newcomers at Caledon Oxbridge. Along with questions, Friends offers were flying thick and fast. Inde had some things to say about SL Friendship that I thought were worth repeating here (I’ll paraphrase, Inde…and if I misstate your views, the fault’s mine.)

The Friends List isn’t good for much more than giving you a notification when someone logs in or out of Second Life. So here is something to ask yourself – If you see a friend has come on line, do you usually call them? Does your face light up when you see that “Lindal Kidd is On Line” message? If not, ask yourself: Do you really want/need this person on your Friends list? If you really want to talk to anyone in SL, having them on your list is just a minor convenience. It’s nearly as easy to open Search, and look them up in the phonebook.

If you have people whose names you can’t remember in your Friends list, ask yourself why. Why is this person, whom you can’t remember and don’t speak to, cluttering up your Second Life?*

Or, on a slightly darker note, how many of your Friends only call you up to use you? To cry on your shoulder, burden you with Drama, send you a TP request to come vote for them in a club contest, or otherwise suck away your time for their benefit? Do you have any Time Vampires on your list? Are you yourself a Time Vampire?

I am skeptical of this whole FaceBook-inspired concept of the Instant Friend. One of the reasons I dislike most social networking sites is all those unsolicited Friends requests I get from them. Gosh, HooberHeaver, who the hell are you, why are you in my Inbox, and why on earth should I be your Friend?

Are we keeping score? Are social network Friends lists an item of competition? Do people at cocktail parties one-up each other? “Oh, that’s nothing, darling! I was at a thousand Friends on FB two years ago!” I think some people must be doing that. I’ve had newbies run past me at full speed, leaving only a Friendship request in their wake. Hey, if you won’t even stop long enough to say hello, what kind of a friend ARE you?

How many of our online friends are REAL friends? People we share our lives with? People we call to gleefully inform them of our triumphs, and on whom we rely to give us sympathy and comfort when we suffer a setback? How many of your multitude of FaceBookFriends would invite you to spend the night if you told them you were in town? How many of them would you invite to YOUR house? Would you trust any of them with money? (I’m happy to say that in some cases I have trusted an online friend with money, or they have done me the honor of trusting me with theirs. So it’s not merely a case of “this friend is a real world friend, that one is an online one and doesn’t matter.”)

As I told one newbie who kept insisting that I “add him”, it’s no insult NOT to accept a friends request. It’s possible to be friendly without being on somebody’s List. And, frankly, I get the feeling that this obsession with being the Friend of everyone alive and having the database to prove it is doing serious damage to the concept of real friendship.

So – I’m happy to meet you, stranger! No, hold that Friends request, please, until we’ve known each other a week, or a month. Call me if you need me, I’m in the book.

*Besides the social aspects, there’s system performance to consider. A very large Friends list will slow down your teleports and may make them unreliable. I try to keep mine under 200. I know people who trim their lists if they get over forty.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Got The Sim Border Blues...

I love playing with vehicles in Second Life. There’s only one problem…region crossings. Whenever you cross from one region into another, all of your avatar data has to be handed off from the server running your previous region to the one running the region you’re entering. This can take several seconds. While that’s happening, your avatar is “out of control”…you appear to continue on in the direction you were going, but your movement controls have no effect. Once the transfer is complete, the new region knows “where you are”, and you snap back to that position. This is known as “rubberbanding”.

When traveling in a vehicle, the behavior at sim crossings can be alarming. Airplanes go into a dive, boats suddenly become submarines. You may even seem to dive underground and pass into a strange, featureless realm. Usually, you snap back to the proper location and can get on with your journey, but not always. With fast moving vehicles especially, a region crossing can go wrong, and you will experience some form of crash. Your vehicle may disappear, leaving you sitting on nothing. Your avatar may become frozen. Or your viewer may crash entirely, which at least saves you the trouble of logging out.

There are some things you can do to make sim crossings easier.
  • Take off heavily scripted items. AOs, boots, hair, or other items with re-size scripts or color-changing scripts.
  • Take off high prim count jewelry
  • Turn off bandwidth eating services like parcel media and voice
  • Don’t cross at a corner where four regions join
  • Cross at a right angle to the sim border
  • Maintain a constant speed and heading as you cross
  • Slow down just before the crossing
This last item gives us something to think about when shopping for our new ride: slower is better. Forget that Mach 3 fighter jet…pick a helicopter, a sailboat, or a hot air balloon instead.

Traveling slowly has another advantage. You can go slowly enough to enjoy the scenery. Ratchet your draw distance up to 300m or more if your graphics card can handle it, and have fun sightseeing.

Another problem with vehicles is curmudgeonly landowners…the “Hey you kids! Git off my yard!” people who put up banlines or fast-acting security orbs, or who fill their land so full of objects there are no prims to spare for your vehicle. It’s their land, and they have the right to do these things…but it does make life hard for the Second Life explorer.
  • Avoid banlines by flying above 50 meters.
  • Use a device like this HUD to detect and avoid hazardous regions
One of the many items available at the Starboards Yacht Club mall

Here are some of my favorite Second Life vehicles!
Intrepid Balloonists!

Paraglider - Can carry a passenger, and ride thermals

Sailplane - Self launching or towed.

Helicopter from Cubey Terra

Trudeau Yachts Beach Cat - Very Realistic Sailing

Spirit Boat - Custom Sails
And yes, sometimes I do feel the need for speed!
Asparas Ducted Fan Canard

Cue the Theme from "Jaws"
Take Some Road and Put It Behind You!
Boating related Landmarks 

Aviation related Landmarks

Motorcycles and Hotrods
Mushashi Motors
Darkfold Designs
Motor Loon

Saturday, May 28, 2011

AO, AO, It Makes Your Movements Flow...

No matter how realistic our avatars looked, if all they did was stand around like statues, they would not be very convincing. How you move affects your overall look as much as what you wear. So let’s talk about…AOs.

Every avatar has a default animation for walking, running, sitting, flying, and so on. These animations, especially the default walk and run, are, in a word, crap. They instantly mark the person using them as a newbie.

Getting rid of the default animations involves the use of a gadget called an animation overrider, or AO. Some AOs are attachments, and operated with chat commands, but most AOs today are worn on your screen as a Heads Up Display, or HUD.

Sometimes items like shoes will come with a built in “sexy walk” animation that can be turned on or off by a menu or a chat command. If you use an AO, turn these off.

The controls of an AO can be quite simple, or very complex. Even the complex ones can be shrunk down so they are mostly hidden and out of the way until they are needed.
An AO is made up of three parts. First, the AO object itself. It contains one or more scripts…the programs that make it work, and usually some sort of configuration notecard. You can edit the notecard to tell the script(s) what animations to use in which situations. Finally, the AO contains the animations themselves.

Most people buy pre-configured AOs, that already have one or more sets of animations installed. I like the ones from SEMotion and Vista, but there are many good animation creators out there. People who are more adventurous or want a truly custom “look” will get a blank AO (you can find AOs with no preloaded animations for free), and they will then hand-pick and install their animations. This isn’t hard, but it does require close attention to detail…a single wrong character in the configuration notecard can keep things from working.

All AOs contain scripts, and some of them contain quite a lot of scripts and contribute more than they should to sim lag. If you use the popular third party “Phoenix” viewer, it has a built in AO (you have to supply it with animations though).

ZHAO Look for the sign “ZHAO and Friends”

Friday, May 27, 2011

I’m So Attached!

Clothing layers are all well and good…but they are all pretty much skin tight. Real clothes bunch and billow and stick out from the body. Enter…attachments!

Your avatar has a total of 30 “attachment points”…places where things can be attached. There are also eight “HUD attach points” on your screen, used for displaying the controls of various sorts of “Heads Up Displays”, or HUDs. Until recently, you could only have one thing attached to any given point. So, for example, if you were wearing a wedding ring or pretty false fingernails, and someone gave you a drink, they would vanish back into your inventory as soon as you held the drink.

With the current viewer, you can wear as many attachments on a single point as you want, as long as your total number of attachments doesn’t exceed 38. To add an attachment to a spot already occupied, select “Add” instead of “Wear”.

Attachments add a lot of realism. They’re used in clothing to make sleeves, cuffs, bell bottoms, poofy skirts, hair, shoes, collars, and sometimes even complete clothing items like a bulky jacket. They are used for jewelry of all sorts, and for accessories like handbags, glasses, scarves, belts, and hats.
Items intended to be attached to your avatar have a pre-set default attach point. So, if you are putting shoes on, selecting “Wear” will put the left one on your left foot, and the right one on your right foot. Items with no pre-set attach point will default to your right hand (which is why you wound up wearing that box on your hand. Don’t feel bad, the default used to be the skull!)

You can change the attach point of an object. Choose “Attach To…” instead of “Wear” or “Add”. You will have to edit the position of the object to get it where it should go. The next time you wear this object, it will remember where it was attached.

Creators generally use their own avatars to adjust the position of attachments. If your avatar is very different in size or shape, you will need to edit the attachment to fit properly. Standing on a pose stand will lock you in position, making it much easier to do this sort of editing.

Some avatars are almost nothing BUT attachments. Nonhuman avatars, such as furries, tinies, robots, and animals hide the human avatar shape completely.
Me, As a Horse.  Avatar courtesy of Water Horse.  Note the HUDS to control it, and all the parts in the inventory window!

There are some limitations to SL attachments. For one thing, sometimes the point they are attached to will move differently than the place they appear to be worn. So, as your avatar changes pose, the attachment will appear to slide about the body. For me, brooches are the worst offenders, but tight chokers and belts also need careful adjustment to get the best compromise of size and position.

Attached items are “phantom”. That is, your avatar (and others) pass through them. This is generally a good thing, or the men of Caledon would never be able to get past their ladies’ voluminous skirts. However, especially with long, flexible things like skirts or hair, it can seem as if they are poking into and through your avatar. Aside from editing to minimize this, there’s not much that can be done about it at our current level of viewer development.

More and more attachments are being created with re-sizing scripts. I find these highly annoying, and prefer to manually edit my attachments. In addition, you must create a safety copy of the item, then delete the scripts in the copy you normally wear, to keep from creating lag for everyone else.

Attachments are handy for research. Say you see a person wearing a stunning dress, and you want to know where she got it. I always like to be asked this, and willingly supply the information. But some people like to feel they are exclusive, and won’t tell you. Or they may be too busy doing something else to respond. Right click an attachment part of the dress, like the skirt. Select More/Inspect. Note the creator of the object, then look up their profile in Search. Most often, the store where they sell that dress will be in their Picks, or sometimes in their Classified tab.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dissecting the Avatar

Q: What do an onion, a wedding cake, and a Second Life avatar have in common?
A: They all have layers!

Your avatar consists of many layers. Some are mandatory…you can’t leave home without them. Some are optional. Together, they combine to create your appearance. Let’s have a look, shall we? Scalpel! Retractors!

Shape. Your shape establishes the “broad outlines” of your avatar – your size, proportions, and body and facial contours. Shape is adjusted with the Appearance sliders (unless the shape you are wearing is “no modify”.)

Skin Layer. This layer determines, to a large extent, how “realistic” you look. It provides fine shading and the appearance of contours to the face and body. Skins are created (like most layers) by painting on a template in a program like Adobe Photoshop. You can get free skin templates and have a go at creating your own custom skin; you can find good quality freebie skins; or you can spend a considerable amount on really nice commercial skins (good ones can cost $L1,000 or more each, and you will generally want a pack of several to give you some makeup choices).

Skins are usually No Modify, so you cannot adjust the tone or the makeup, only put on a different skin. There are a very few exceptions to that. Celestial Studios, for example, makes a skin that’s semi-transparent so you can adjust the skin tone and lip color with the Appearance sliders within a limited range.  (EDIT:  I just found out that Celestial Studios is no more.  Darn it, another great creator gone.)

Especially around the eyes and lips, shape and skin combine to create the overall look. You will often need to tweak your shape after getting a new skin to look your best. Some skins and shapes just don’t work well together at all…so always try the free demos provided by skin stores before you spend your money. Some stores sell both the skin and a shape designed especially for it in a package deal.

Eyes. This is a texture for your eyes. They can be extremely realistic, or you can wear slitted cat eyes, or glowing red demon eyes if you want.

Hair. Even though most of us wear a sort of wig, an attachable hairstyle made out of prims, you also must wear a system hair layer. One that has the hair sliders set to zero to make you bald is included with your prim hairstyle, and will probably be called “baldie”, “bald head”, or “eyebrow shaper”…because the hair’s appearance sliders also control eyebrow shape. If you’re visiting a very crowded and laggy area, it’s courteous to take off your lag-inducing prim hair and wear a simple system hairstyle.

All of the above layers – shape, skin, eyes, and hair – are mandatory. You can’t take them off, you can only replace them with another shape, skin, eyes, or hair item.

Physics Layer. This is a new addition, as of Viewer 2.6. The physics layer can’t be seen directly. It controls how much “jiggle” your breasts, belly, and butt have. Like your shape, it’s adjusted with sliders in the Appearance menu. For gosh sakes, go easy on them! It’s easy to give yourself so much freedom of movement that you’ll poke your eye out with your own nipple. The Phoenix viewer team has released some user-developed physics settings that are available free on the SLMarketplace. I suggest using these as a starting point.

Next come the clothing layers. We’ll work from the inside out. Each subsequent layer can cover up part or all of the previous layer, just as you would with real world clothes.
Like skin, textures for clothing layers are created by painting on templates with Photoshop or another paint program.

Tattoo Layer. This is another new Viewer 2 feature. The tattoo layer can be used for much more than just tattoos. I have seen tattoos for oiled skin, pubic hair, eyeshadow, lipstick, and even lips slightly parted to show teeth! This gives you more flexibility in your makeup choices than just changing one skin for another…but there is a drawback when using some third party viewers. You can only wear ONE tattoo layer item at a time. So, if you want to put on some bright red lipstick, you’ll lose that smokey eyeshadow look.  This doesn't apply to the official Viewer 2.  With that viewer, you can wear multiple things on any given clothing layer with the "Add More" option.

Undershirt and Underpants Layers. These are most often used for your undies. But very often, pants will come with a version on the underpants layer as well as one on the pants layer. The underwear version is handy because it tucks invisibly inside your boots.

Either the pants or underpants layer can be used for creating skintight miniskirts. The space between the legs is filled in with one or two prims to create the illusion of a tight skirt.

Stocking Layer. Can be used for anything from tube socks to thigh highs. Sometimes used for long boot tops. Often used to provide toenail color.

Glove Layer. Used for gloves, of course…but also very often used for nail color. “Glove nails” are not as crisp and detailed as attachable prim nails, but they are also care-free. Prim nails can become detached by certain animations that clench your hands or spread your fingers.

Shirt and Pants Layers. Shirts and pants are adjustable for length with the appearance sliders (unless the maker has made them No Modify). Pants should not be set to 100% length. If you do, they tend to develop an ugly looking “flap” at the very bottom. Set them to 98-99%. A special sort of pants called “glitch pants” are usually included with prim skirts. When you walk or sit, your legs will poke through a skirt, because the fabric of the skirt doesn’t have “collision detection”…it doesn’t drape over your body. So the maker of the skirt provides pants in the same color, to give the illusion of the skirt draping over your legs.

Jacket Layer. Generally used for sweaters, coats, jackets, or any type of outerwear. This layer goes farther down the body than the shirt layer. Besides the usual uses, this layer is also used to create high-waisted pant tops. SL pants are cut so low that without this work-around, most fashions wind up having the bare midriff look.

Lots of better-quality clothes come with “layer options”…for example, a top might have a version on the undershirt, shirt, and jacket layers. This gives you more flexibility in mixing and matching items.

Skirt Layer. Some people don’t like “system skirts” that use this layer. It floats a little way out from your body, which can make your hips and butt look fat. I like system skirts, though. I simply have a version of my shape with slightly skinnier hips and butt to compensate. Skirts can also be used for the lower parts of long coats.

Shoe Layer. The shoe layer is used to reshape your foot to fit attachable prim shoes. It’s not mandatory, like shape or skin, but you should always wear the shoe base that comes with your shoes.

It would take a long time if all of these layers had to be rendered every time you looked at someone, and so SL automatically “bakes” the textures into one composite texture that can be displayed much faster. If you are having problems rezzing your avatar (you look like a cloud or a ball of mist), one of the first things to try is “rebake” your textures with the shortcut CTRL+ALT+R.

Next time we’ll talk about the “icing on the cake”…prim attachments.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Badgers?! We Don’ Need No Steenking Badgers!

Maybe not, but it’s fun to be one! A “Tiny” is any very small avatar, shorter than you can go with the Appearance sliders. Tinies usually appear as cuddly little animals. You can see a cute little teddy bear in some of yesterday’s pictures. That’s Ravelli Ormstein, one of the Deans of Caledon Oxbridge University. (All right, so the Dean is a teddy bear! Wanna make something of it?)

How do you make an avatar that’s smaller than the Appearance sliders permit? Well, you have to hide the regular avatar mesh in some way, or crunch it up smaller, or both. A lot of Tiny avatars come with a special shape that’s distorted by a script similar to the “deformer” practical joke I talked about in an earlier post. You can see this shape if you take off all of the other parts of the Tiny avatar; looks like something that came out of a headshrinker’s pot. Some Tiny avs also make use of the alpha mask layer (I talked about that previously too, in a post about shoes).

Since the avatar mesh doesn’t play much of a role for Tinies, the avatars themselves consist largely of prim attachments. And, because the avatar shape is far from “normal”, they also have a special animation overrider to provide a “tiny walk” and sit and stand animations appropriate to their short stature and (usually) stubby little arms and legs.

Normal poseballs are a problem for Tinies. Poseballs contain an animation or pose, and those animations generally assume that the thing they are animating is a normal human avatar skeleton. Put a Tiny on a dance poseball, and he stretches all out of proportion. You will find furniture especially designed for the comfort of Tinies, especially in Tiny-friendly places like Raglan Shire.

Tinies are a wonderful change of pace. It’s refreshing to put on a cute little ferret avatar (or chat with someone wearing one), and see the delightful way they hop about, instead of the usual hip-swinging “sexy walk” animation, or the prowling male “power walk”.

Tiny vehicles are fun, too. One of the big problems with vehicles in SL is sim borders Regions are 256 meters on a side; at a speed of 100 mph, you cross a sim every six seconds. For technical reasons, border crossings are always hazardous for vehicles. But if you scale down your vehicle and yourself to 1/10 your normal size, suddenly the sim looks ten times bigger! And besides, careening around under chairs, dodging (or failing to dodge) people’s ankles, is a giggle. (You don’t have to have a Tiny avatar to use a Tiny vehicle, at least not some of them. Watching a full size avatar clamber into a toy-sized car is an astonishing experience).

Girls, as a Tiny, you aren’t likely to get unwanted sexual advances…unless the guy has some really strange fetishes. But, guys? A lot of us really love cute, cuddly little animals. Put on a Tiny, and you might be surprised how many female friends you make.

There are some Tiny avatars in your Library…the Boxbot shown yesterday is one sort. If you’re less than 30 days old, drop by Caledon Oxbridge University and grab one of the free Tiny avatars there.

Try a Tiny Today!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ro, Ro, Ro Your Bot

Hi, welcome to Second Life!”
Are you a person?”

Hi, welcome to Second Life!”
RU an NPC?”

Hi, welcome to Second Life!”
are you real?”

I get this sort of response from time to time. Much more often, the person I greet simply ignores me entirely and walks past without responding at all. Maybe they’re rude, or distracted, or did not see the chat appear…or maybe they too took me for a robot, a piece of software not worthy of a reply.

Whenever someone asks me if I’m real, I am nonplussed. How should I answer? And no matter what I say, what good will it do? How does one prove one’s reality to a skeptic? Oddly enough, most people seem satisfied with a simple affirmation: “I’m a real person. How can I help you?” I think this need to be reassured of people’s reality is one reason some people prefer to use voice in Second Life. Although there are some really good voice synthesizers out there, it’s still pretty easy to tell when you’re speaking to a machine.

Second Life doesn’t have a lot of bots, artificial people, or non player characters (NPCs). Almost everyone you meet that has a nametag over their head (yes, even that sofa in the corner!) is an actual person sitting at a computer just like you are.

But, although they aren’t common, there ARE bots in SL. These can be either of two sorts. The first sort is a real person who’s wearing a robot-like avatar – a person disguised as a robot. The second is something that looks like a regular avatar, but is actually controlled by a computer program – a robot, disguised as a person!

Robot Avatars
Here’s one of my favorites…the cheeky little Cardboard Boxbot. He reminds me of those irreverent little kids from “South Park”. You have this avatar in your Library!

This one is my personal favorite…it’s inspired by the chrome-plated girls created by the artist Sorayama. You can find this outfit in world at

How about a mech? One of those Transformer-like giant war machines.
Some robots are less mechanical-looking than others. There are quite a few clockwork automatons around, especially in Steampunk-themed areas like Caledon. They may look like this…
…or like a perfectly normal person, until you see the windup key sticking out of their back. My friend Wendyslippers Charisma is a windup doll of this type. The key may be simply an accessory, or it could be an essential part of your clockwork role-play…if some kind soul doesn’t wind you occasionally, you “run down” and are unable to move until you get re-wound.
Scripted Agents
This is Linden Lab’s official term for what we commonly call a “bot”. It’s a regular Second Life account, but the viewer software has been modified to allow the avatar to function on its own, without human control. All Second Life accounts that are used in this fashion are *supposed* to be identified by the registrant as such. To tell you about the reason for that, we need to go back into Second Life history.

Until fairly recently, traffic count (how many avatars visited your parcel, and how long they stayed) played a part in determining a place’s ranking in Search. Because of this, some merchants put out “camping” chairs. These were actual chairs, or sometimes poseballs that would animate your avatar. If you sat on them for a set period of time, they would pay you a small amount, usually $L1 – 5. The merchants got a higher traffic count, and penniless newbies could earn a little cash. Everybody wins, right?

Until some smart aleck programmed a version of the SL viewer that let them sit an automated avatar in a camping chair to earn that fee. Soon, most of the campers in Second Life were not penniless newbies, but swarms of camping bots used by “gold miners” to suck money out of SL a bit at a time.

Then some merchant thought, “Why pay campers, real or bots? I can put out a slew of my own bots to just stand around and drive up my traffic count.” And so “traffic bots” were born. They are illegal now, but you can still find them sometimes. Look for large numbers of green dots on the map. If you go to that place, and have a hard time actually finding the avatars that the map says are there, there’s likely a room full of bots hidden away underground, or high in the sky. It’s an eerie sight…a crowd of newbies, jammed shoulder to shoulder, just standing around and not saying a word. It also makes for a very laggy sim.

Oh…why are traffic bots illegal now, you ask? Several reasons, but the main one is they were consuming a huge amount of system resources. Linden Lab never published any official numbers, but surveys conducted by residents indicated that at one point, bots were about 15 – 30% of the on-line population of Second Life!

Then there are Landbots. These are a bit more sophisticated. They constantly scan the “Land For Sale” listings. When someone puts their land up for sale at a price below the bot’s trigger point, it teleports to that spot and buys the land. A lot of people have meant to transfer their land to a friend for a nominal $1L, and had it snatched away by a Landbot instead. This is easily avoided…just set your land to sell ONLY to that friend, not to “Anyone”.

Some stores use bots as greeters or models. As long as the bots serve a purpose other than solely being used for traffic count, and are registered as Scripted Agents, this is perfectly legal, although I think it’s kind of creepy.

There are ongoing projects to create a truly interactive artificial intelligence, linked to an SL avatar. This isn’t, IMO, creepy, but fun. To get a taste of this, browse over to the ALICEBOT blog page.

Say…if I hooked my Lindal Kidd account to ALICE and set her down at the Caledon Oxbridge arrival point, do you think anyone would notice a difference?

That First Impression...

I’ve had people tell me horror stories about their first few hours in Second Life. Here is a composite sketch of the kind of “First Look” experience you’d rather not have…

9:30 AM. Logged in to Second Life for the first time. I seem to be in some sort of welcome area…at least it says “welcome” on the wall. Nobody here, though. I look at the buttons and menus on my screen and try to figure them out.

9:38 AM. There’s a girl on a billboard here who looks like me! Dark hair, red jacket.
Guess I picked a good avatar.

9:42 AM. Someone else is here! Well, maybe. There is this amorphous billowy white cloud, or ball of mist. But it has a name tag over it. Can I talk to it? What should I say, “Take me to your leader?” While I am wondering, it shoves past me and scoots away.

9:50 AM. I figured out how to move my avatar! I wander around a bit, following the direction the white cloud went. There are some arrows on the ground, so I guess I’m going the right way. I see a colorful parrot on a perch. It teaches me how to “chat”. Not much of a conversationalist though, it just repeats whatever I say.

9:55 AM. A big, muscular guy with a bare chest walks into the room. He comes up to me and stands uncomfortably close. Well, actually he bumps into me a little. Oh look, he’s typing something, just like I did with the parrot! “Hey, sexy. RU single?” Oh dear. Well, yes…but…well. I reply, “Yes. I’m new here” He says, “I got 10 in 4U baby” He exposes his private parts to me. Sure enough, he’s got a big, stiff member. Eww, it’s too early in the morning to think about this. I walk away.

9:58 AM. I enter another room. A slender man dressed in black is sitting on a bench near a small fish pond. As I walk past him, a sign appears on my screen: “Drakul879 is offering to bite you.” There are “accept” and “decline” buttons. I decline. Another of the signs appears. I decline. Another. Decline. Decline, decline, decline.

10:04 AM. I come to what appears to be a dead end. There is a sign telling me how to use a “Destination Guide” to go to another place. I open mine. There’s a “Newcomers” category, so I click that. I click on one of the Destinations.

10:05 AM. There is a rush of wind and I am someplace else. OMG, the chat is going crazy. And I can hear people talking, too, out loud through my speakers. So many people! They’re all talking at once. A grossly fat man with an ugly face comes up to me. He is dressed only in white undershorts. He says, “Give me 100L”. I don’t know what a “L” is, but I don’t care for his looks or his tone. I decide to try another category of Destination. Oh, here’s “Shopping”!

10:15 AM. These are pretty neat stores. And I’ve figured out that “L” means the currency used in this game. I don’t have any, though, and I don’t know how to get it. How much IS a “L”, anyway? A pretty girl comes up to me. “Hi,” she says. “You’re new, aren’t you?” I admit that I am. “Well, here’s a free pair of pants for you”. A sign appears on my screen, “Sexaybish29 Resident has offered you inventory.” I click Keep. I see that there is a new item in my inventory, called “Nice Pants”. I’m feeling a little more confident with the controls, so I right click it and select Wear.

OMG! I look hideous! And I’m weaving around like a drunken sailor! Those pants did something to me!! Sexaybish29 is laughing. “ROFL! Noob! Noooo0000B!!”

The hell with this stupid game. I log out and delete the software from my computer.

Now, to be fair, I have to say that as a greeter/mentor/helper of newcomers I have seen a great many newbies who are themselves a mirror image of this. While Second Life is often guilty of showing its uglier side to the new visitor, I have seen plenty of new people who log in for the first time, and start running around and causing all the trouble they can, or asking every girl in sight for sex, or begging for money. Like this fellow…

I am standing at the arrival point in Caledon Oxbridge University. Aha, here comes another new resident! After a few moments looking around himself, he walks up to me. I greet him pleasantly:

“Hello, RonJonesE49. Welcome to Second Life and Caledon Oxbridge University.”
“Wow hun U look hott”
“We have a tutorial here for new residents…”
“I wanna plow your p**sy so bad”
“This is a General area, Ron. There’s no sex here and please watch your language.”
“Make me, b**ch”
“Glad to oblige”. I eject & ban him.
An IM window opens. It’s Ron. “F**kin #$$%$# c*nt! I’ll **%^^&$ your *&^%!”
Sigh. I Mute him and get back to work.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. There is another side to Second Life, and there are plenty of friendly, reasonable people out there who would, I’m sure, find it a fascinating place…and would be a delight to know and an asset to the virtual community. I know this because, every now and again, I meet one. If you’re reading this blog, chances are that YOU are a bright, civilized, genteel person too. So here are some places to visit that will show you the Better Side of Second Life.

Caledon Oxbridge University (Tutorial and help for the new residetnt)

Chakryn Forest (an enchanted forest with puzzles and live Fae roleplayers)

 SS Galaxy (A stunning 3-region long cruise ship.  A Must-See!)

Pillars of Hercules (Another stunning build.  An air of ancient Greece, a touch of fantasy)

The Ivory Tower Library of Primitives (comprehensive hands-on tutorials on building things)

Callahan's Crosstime Saloon (Modeled on Spider Robinson's "Callahan's Place" books.  Often empty, but merry and pun-filled on Tuesday and Friday nights.  Join the group for notices of events)

The Savoy Jazz Club (Formal wear recommended, but not slavishly enforced.  Dance to the big bands)

FabFree Station.  Free Stuff!  Join the group for leads to even more freebies.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

OMG, Shoes!

Second Life is an amazing world. There, we all have superhero-like powers. We can fly! We can teleport to another place with the power of thought! We can breathe under water, or in outer space, and survive falls from great heights! We can move buildings or even mountains with a touch of our finger! Why, then, oh why does a simple thing like a pair of shoes require an advanced degree to master? I dunno, girlfriend – it’s just How Things Are Done Here. A couple of my newbie friends were having trouble with their shoes recently, and inspired the following (Thanks, Gemini70 and LadyGinger!)

You've just bought new shoes! Your first job is to get them out of the box they probably came in. Open the box by dragging it from your inventory onto the ground, in a place where you're allowed to do this ("rez objects"), such as a public sandbox. Right click the box and select Open. Highlight the contents and drag them from the box into your inventory. Now right click the box and either Take or Delete it, so as not to litter.

Shoes consist of at least three parts. There are the left and right shoes, which are prim attachments. These have a symbol in your inventory of a little cube. Then there is a "shoe base". This has the symbol of a little shoe.

One pair of shoes, five parts. HUD, alpha layer, left &right shoes, shoe base

It's important to wear the shoe base as well as the shoes. The base distorts your feet to fit the shoes properly.

It's handy to keep all the parts of a pair of shoes in their own folder so you know where they all are!

Set your feet to size 0. All shoes in SL are designed to fit this foot size, and it will save you hours of editing your shoes to fit.

You can edit your shoes and fine tune the fit. This is done in one of two ways, depending on the shoes. Some, you can edit directly with the Build tools. Others are equipped with re-sizing scripts. Left click the shoes, and a menu will appear. Your shoes probably came with a note that explains how to edit them. Read it!

If your shoes do have re-sizing scripts in them, make a safety copy of them! Then, when you are sure you are done editing them, use the Delete menu option to kill the scripts. Re-sizing scripts contribute a LOT to sim lag and make life miserable for everyone. Once you kill the scripts, you can no longer re-size the be SURE to make a safety copy first! I keep my edited shoes in a sub-folder called "Wear Me", or else put the safety copy and any extra parts or notes I don't use often in a sub-folder called "Spare Parts".

 Old style shoes

Many shoes in SL are now made from "sculpted prims". These are organic-looking shapes and make beautiful shoes. To see them at their best, go to the Advanced menu with CTRL+ALT+D, select Debug settings, and enter renderVolumeLODFactor. Set this value to 4.00.

 Sculpted Shoes.  Much nicer!

The newest shoes in SL make use of the new avatar alpha layer implemented with Viewer 2 to hide the parts of the avatar foot not covered by the shoe. Its symbol is a little shirt with a grid pattern on it. Wear this alpha layer if your shoes come with one.

Open toed shoes and sandals often come with a pretty sculpted foot shape to replace the ugly avatar feet. Such shoes generally also come with a HUD object that you wear on your screen to adjust the skin tone of the prim foot to match your own skin tone. You can generally also change nail color and other items with these HUD controls. Once you've finished, detach the HUD to free up screen space.

Sculpted Shoes with Feet and Alpha Layer

Older shoes hide the foot with a special prim called an "invisiprim". It makes the part of the avatar it masks invisible. However, invisiprims can have issues when viewed against other transparent or partly transparent textures. This is why your shoes sometimes seem to have a weird sort of outline around them. Newer shoes may have detachable invisiprims so they can be worn by both Viewer 2 and legacy viewer users.

Boots generally have additional parts, for the upper legs.

Some shoes have additional scripted features such as heel click sounds, bling, re-coloring, or built in sexy walks. See the notecard that came with your shoes for how to operate these features. If there's no note, and left clicking the shoes does not produce a menu, sometimes turning your shoe bling on and off is as simple as saying in chat, "bling on" or "bling off".

But the BEST thing about shoes in Second Life?  I can wear sexy, stylish stiletto heels all day long and my feet never hurt!

EDIT, Aug 16, 2014
There's one more new type of shoes that are showing up more and more, especially in the "upscale" stores.  These are shoes that are specifically designed to fit the SLink mesh feet.  SLink feet are mesh attachments that you wear, plus an alpha mask that hides your ugly avatar feet.  They come in three heel heights -- flat, mid heel, and high heel.  Shoes designed for these feet do not have their own alpha mask or shoe base.  Be careful when shopping for shoes!  Look for the SLink label on the product vendor.  Don't buy shoes that you don't have feet for!

EDIT, Jan 19, 2019
At this point, shoes for Mesh feet have pretty much taken over.  SLink feet are still very popular, but there are alternatives.  N-Core offers their own proprietary mesh feet.  Plus the makers of mesh bodies like Maitreya, Belleza, and others include their own mesh feet with their bodies.  You may use these feet, or substitute a third party foot like SLink.  The problem is that not all mesh shoes will fit all mesh feet.  Shoes for Slink feet will not fit Maitreya feet exactly, and so on.  Be sure to read the ads carefully and see if the shoes you want have a version included for your feet, and try the demo first, if it's offered!

Flash! $L50 sale at Aura!

I promised that I'd give you some locations to visit.  Here's one I went nuts at last night.  Aura has all their casuals on sale for $L50 or less for a limited time.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

(Second) Life's Embarrassing Moments

SL provides endless opportunities for making a fool of yourself. If you are going to spend time here, you WILL have embarrassing moments! It’s not something that is limited to newbies; even experienced residents have our “oopses”.  Have you done something dumb lately? Gawd, sister, you’re not alone. Here are some of mine.

A Word in the Wrong Ear. I often have several IM windows open at the same time, plus local chat. I know very busy people who may have as many as twenty conversations going at once. I don’t know how they do it, I get overloaded at about four or five. But switching between all those windows can be tricky. It’s especially hazardous when you are talking to Person A about Person B…and talking to Person B at the same time. Just hypothetically, let’s say I am listening to my friend Gina’s latest tale of Romance Gone Wrong with one ear, and making appropriate sympathetic noises. I am talking to my partner at the same time…and I make some exasperated comment to her like, “omg, that Gina is a Drama Queen”. When the indignant reply “what the hell is that supposed to mean?” comes back, I look twice. Whoops…I said that to Gina, not my partner! Sigh…Friends List down by one.

The funniest one of these I can remember happened to my friend Brianna (name changed here to protect her privacy). She posted a very hot chat emote in a very well-attended public group chat – something about an overwhelming and seemingly never-ending succession of orgasms. The laughter didn’t die down for twenty minutes. She took it like a trouper, though. Stood her ground and gave back as good as she got.

Leg Spasms. Here is another frequent one. When your cursor is in a text window, such as chat or IM, and you type the letter “e”, it means “e”. But, when the main viewer window has the focus, typing “e” means “make my avatar jump”. So once in a while when I am talking to someone, I may suddenly leap up into the air for no apparent reason.

Live Microphone. Leg spasms and text in the wrong window are my boo-boos, because text is how I communicate in SL. Voice users have their own set of problems. One of your voice options is “push to talk in toggle mode”. Normally, your microphone is only on if you are holding the push to talk key (whichever key you’ve told the viewer to use for this, or the on-screen gadget you hold down with your mouse). When you release the key, the microphone turns off. But in “toggle mode”, the microphone stays live until you click the key a second time. Lots of people forget to do this, and you are treated to their side conversations in RL, or you get to listen in to the TV or radio station they have playing, or you hear them muttering to themselves, or eating a snack.

Honey, I Deleted the House. One time, I was demonstrating object properties to some friends…showing them how a cube could be phantom, or physical. We were sitting on my partner’s sky platform, about 3,000 meters above the ground. Finishing my demonstration, I clicked on my cube and deleted it. But I missed the cube and selected the platform by mistake. Suddenly, we were all falling through space, and I was forced to listen to snide remarks about “Linnie, the expert builder.”

Another time I did this in an even more embarrassing way. A friend was getting married at a pavilion I’d built over the water. I had decorated the pavilion for the occasion, including a carpet of rose petals. As the guests were gathering, I decided to re-do the rose petals at the last minute. Again I selected the wrong thing – I deleted most of the pavilion, dumping all the guests into the ocean. (Luckily, I had a spare copy of it in my inventory, and put it back quickly. The wedding took place on time.)

Wardrobe Malfunction. Janet Jackson was a piker. Once, I had just acquired a new toy…a lipstick and compact that would, when worn, play a “touch up your makeup” animation. I was walking through a crowded shopping mall, and thought I would show all the other avatars what a cool, sophisticated, talented Second Life user I was. So I opened my inventory and found my lipstick. But instead of clicking “Wear”, or “Add to Oufit”, I clicked “Replace Outfit”. BOOM! Suddenly I am bald! I’m naked! And I’m standing in the middle of a crowd, touching up my lipstick. (I still have that toy, but I don’t think I have used it since.)

Practical Jokes. Sometimes, it’s not something you do to yourself, but something someone else does to you. I was at Orientation Island one night, helping newcomers. Someone gave me an animation called “superdance”. “What a friendly thing to do”, I thought. To show my gratitude, I played the animation. Suddenly, my avatar deformed into a fifteen foot tall stick figure, with arms and legs sticking out in unlikely places. I had to re-log to get rid of the deformation. You might think the lesson here is “don’t accept gifts from strangers”, but that’s not it. You should be cautious about gifts, sure. Some of the surprises you can get can be really nasty…like an object that can, if you grant it the debit permission it asks for, empty all the money from your $L account. But usually, people give you things in a friendly and helpful spirit. No, the lesson here is really “Sometimes you are going to fall for it, kiddo. When you do, try to stay cool and take it in stride”.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Round, Round, Get Around, I Get Around...

By now, you've at least learned how to walk. What's that? You haven't? Well, it's pretty easy, and you have four ways of doing it.
  • The arrow keys on your keyboard
  • The W,A,S,and D keys. They work just like the arrow keys, if your cursor is in the main viewer window (the main window “has the focus”, as they say).
  • The on-screen movement controls, a little palette that you can use with your mouse. (You can turn the visibility for these on or off, depending on personal preference.)
  • Mouselook. I bet you are wondering, “what's that?” Normally, your view of SL is from a point above and behind your avatar. In a previous post, I explained how to move that viewpoint, using the ALT key, the left mouse button, and the mouse. But if you hit M, or use the mouse scroll wheel to zoom all the way in, you go into a first-person view called Mouselook. Move your mouse to control where you look. The Up arrow will make you walk in the direction you are looking. Mouselook is useful for certain activities like piloting a vehicle, or combat, or navigating in close quarters where walls and ceilings are blocking your camera. It has some can't get at your inventory or IM windows while using it. Hit ESC to exit this mode.
Some other points about locomotion: Tapping the up arrow twice and holding it will make you run, not walk. ALT+R toggles running on and off. E or PgUp makes you jump, and C or PgDn makes you crouch low. The left and right arrows make you turn, but SHIFT+arrow will scoot you sideways.

Flying is almost as easy as walking, and it's faster. To fly, hit F, or hold E or PgUp for a couple of seconds. Hit F again to stop flying, or hold C or PgDn to descend to a gentle landing instead of a splat. Flying in Mouselook can be exhilarating, because you go where you point with your mouse. Zooooom! Your basic avatar is limited in altitude to about 200 meters...but you can get a “flight feather” or many other sorts of flight assist gadgets that let you fly faster, and as high as you want. Check for freebies before spending money on one of these. The ability to fly can be disabled by the owner of the land you are on. Some landowners do this for purposes of role-playing – in their milieu, people don't fly. If you are already in the air when you cross into such a parcel, you won't crash...but if you land there, you can't take off again.

There is actually one other way to move about, if you have the right hardware. Second Life supports a number of joysticks and game pads. My favorite is the device I call my “hockey puck”. Its proper name is the “Space Navigator” and it's made by 3DConnexion.

But, with all these ways to move our avatars, the way most of us get around is by yet another method...teleportation. Many places in SL are not connected physically to other locations and can only be reached by teleporting.

The most common way of teleporting somewhere is to use a landmark, or LM. These appear in your inventory as a little red pushpin symbol. To use one, click it and then hit the Teleport button in the window that appears, or just double click it in your inventory. Whoooosh! Suddenly you are in a new place.

Whenever you find a place you would like to return to, you can make a landmark for it. Go to the World menu at the top of your page and choose “Landmark This Place”.

You can also teleport by using a “SLURL”. A SLURL is an “SL URL”, and it's similar to a web address. You can cut and paste these links in chat or IM or in a notecard. Clicking on one takes you to that location, just as clicking a link in your web browser takes you to that web page. Here's a sample SLURL: Click it and see what happens!

Someone may offer to teleport you to their location. If you accept the offer, you will whooosh! to where they are. You can send teleport offers to other people, too. There is a button for that in their Profile, or in the IM window you are talking to them in.

You can use the Map to teleport. Just click any location on the map, hit the Teleport button in the map window, and you will go to that spot.

You can even use teleporting to get around locally! The viewer has an option to allow “double click teleporting”. If you have this enabled, putting your mouse pointer on a spot and double clicking will zap you to that spot.

Safety Tip: If you find yourself in any sort of unpleasant situation, you can duck out quickly by teleporting to your Home location. That's in World/Teleport Home, or use the shortcut CTRL+SHIFT+H.

Now that you know how to get around...log in and Get Around! From now on, I will be including SLURLs for various destinations of interest in these posts.

Adults and Kids in Second Life

Last time, we talked about how to prove to LL that you’re an adult…or how, if you are 13 – 17, your access to some parts of Second Life is restricted. There’s another aspect to the fact that there are minors and adults on the grid…child avatars.

You may be walking along in SL, even in an Adult region, and encounter what appears to be a child. This small person walks, talks, and acts like a little kid. In real life, however, the person behind that child avatar is actually an adult.

Now, there is nothing wrong with this per se. Not only is it permitted under the Second Life Terms of Service, it can be great fun both for the child avatars themselves and for the adult avatars they interact with. I have a number of friends who play SL as children, and I think they bring an air of fun and innocence and play to the virtual world. I’m upset by those who think all kids, or even all short avatars, should be banned from Second Life. (Goodbye pixies, hobbits, Halflings, elves, and dwarves!) SL is all about variety of expression and tolerance. If you don’t like what someone else is doing or how they are doing it – go elsewhere! SL is big enough for everyone.

What IS prohibited is “sexual ageplay”. That is, using a child avatar for sexual situations, pedophilia role-play. If you encounter a situation like this, it’s a reportable offense, and LL comes down very hard on offenders.

So: Don’t have virtual sex with avatars who look like kids, OK?

What about the reverse? An avatar who appears to be an adult, but whose real life operator is a minor? People are not required to wear age badges in SL, or tell you their RL age. So if you are interested in virtual sex, how do you keep from making a mistake and Doing It with some Lolita, or the friend of your teenaged son? You can never be entirely sure about anyone in SL, or anywhere on the web for that matter. But there are a couple of things you can do to protect yourself from getting charged with virtual statutory rape.

First, ask them…and make sure you have set your viewer to keep a log of your chat and IM conversations.

Second, meet them in an Adult area. The ability to go to Adult areas is prima facie evidence that a person is at least 18. It’s not an absolute guarantee; they might have lied about their age. But it at least shows you tried your best.

Third, don’t have virtual sex with anyone, ever. Er…no, I guess that would be unrealistic.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Getting Money, and Setting Maturity Levels

This post has been updated to reflect conditions as of June 2014.

Hello, avatar! Last time we left you staring about yourself at this strange new world. Now, I know that one of the first things you will want to do is customize your appearance. It’s the most common reaction, and I promise to talk more about that in future entries. But I’d like you to postpone that shopping expedition for just a little bit, close the Second Life viewer window, and browse on over to the Second Life website, . When you get there, log in with your user name and password. You’ll be taken to a page that says “Yourname’s Dashboard”. Over on the left side of the page you’ll see a sidebar called My Account. You should take some time looking at the various items there. Today, I want to talk about two of them: Billing Information and Age Verification (Update: these days, there is no longer a separate Age Verification step, and it's not shown on the Dashboard any more.  But we'll still talk about age and SL later on.)

You don’t need to have payment information on file to use Second Life. A basic user account is free, and if you are clever and lucky you can find or earn enough money in world to cover your basic shopping needs. But you’ll have a lot more fun in SL if you consider spending a little money there. Living a luxurious virtual life is surprisingly cheap – a budget of $20.00 per month will buy all the lovely shoes, clothes, and accessories that most people could want. A budget of $40.00 - $50.00 will enable you to be a landowner, and have a spacious home filled with beautiful furniture and lots of toys. Consider it an entertainment expense, like going to the movies or buying DVDs. You don’t even need to spend that much…a Premium membership is $9.95 per month, and comes with a small free home and a weekly stipend of $L300.

It’s safe to give Linden Lab your credit card number, or a link to a verified PayPal account (well, as safe as it is to give that information to any internet merchant). You will not be charged unless you do one of the following:
  • Upgrade your membership plan to Premium.
  • Buy land from Linden Lab (through a land auction or a direct purchase of your own private island region).
  • Buy “linden dollars”, or $L, the in-game currency of Second Life
  • Make a purchase on the Second Life Marketplace (a huge catalog of virtual goods that’s part of the main SL website).
You cannot use most pre-paid credit or debit cards for SL. My own preference is to use PayPal, for two reasons. First, you can limit the amount of money in your PayPal account and the bank account that backs it up. This provides an automatic cap on any potential losses should some mix-up or security breach occur. And second, linden dollars can be bought…but they can also be sold. If you have a business in SL that makes a profit, you can cash that profit out and turn it into “real money”. The proceeds of such exchanges can be transferred to your PayPal account. You can’t do that with a credit card.

This two-way currency conversion is unique to Second Life. Linden Lab has created (despite their denying it in official legalese) a working micro-currency. The exchange rate stays pretty constant, at around $1.00 USD = $L250. LL takes a cut of about $L10 – 15 per dollar for a round-trip conversion.

If you don’t like using the “official” currency exchange, the Lindex, there are approved third party sites like VirWox that will also let you buy $L.  Due to new US regulations on virtual currencies, even the authorized $L resellers can't buy $L back from you.  You can only "cash out" through the official exchange and PayPal. 

Real Life Age and Second Life.
Second Life regions have one of three Maturity Ratings: General, Moderate, or Adult. Kids 13 to 15 are permitted only in certain "sponsored" General regions, generally ones run by their school.  All other General regions are suitable for ages 16 and up. Nudity, profanity, and sexual content are not allowed there. In Moderate regions (the majority of places in SL), strong language is allowed. Nudity and sexual activities are permitted in private locations, such as homes and members-only areas. The minimum real life age required for Moderate or Adult areas is 18. Adult areas permit public nudity, sex, and extreme violence. There used to be a separate age verification process to declare that you were 18 or older, but nowadays, this is handled when you input your Real Life birthday during the registration process.(For any kids under 18 reading this – please don’t lie about your age.  Linden Lab takes age violations VERY seriously, and if you are caught you will lose your account permanently.  In fact, your computer will be blocked to keep ANYONE in your household from using SL.)

You also need to set the maturity rating in your viewer preferences. Log in, and go to Me/Preferences. In the General tab, find the section “I want to access content rated…” and make the appropriate changes. There are also maturity level checkbox filters in the Search window, and on the Marketplace.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What’s This Second Life Thing and How Do I Get There?

If you aren’t familiar with Second Life, it’s a 3D, interactive virtual world on the internet. It’s not an MMORPG, although it’s certainly “massively multiplayer” (about 60,000 people on line at any given time) and it’s “on line”, and there is role-playing galore in it. But it is decidedly not a “game” – there are no rules, levels, or quests. There are no pre-built mazes to solve, and no NPCs to kill. Linden Lab, the creators of SL, did not create the content, only the bare bones of the world. Everything else you find there was created by residents…people like you and me. I’ll discuss many of its unique features in these pages, but to really understand it, you have to visit the place yourself. Here’s how to do that (yes, you need to know more than they tell you on the signup page!)

NOTE: You must be at least 13 to use Second Life, and I strongly recommend that you be 18 or older. Kids, that’s partly for your protection, but mostly for your enjoyment. SL is an “old persons” game. The median age of its residents is about 33. It’s fun for us adults, but most kids find it sort of boring.

  1. Click the big orange “JOIN NOW” button (not the little green “Sign Up” button below it…that takes you to FaceBook).
  2. You’ll see a bunch of people. Click on the one that you would like to be your initial avatar. Don’t worry too much about your choice, you can switch to any of the others, or custom-create your own, later.
  3. Create a unique “User Name”. NOTE: Unlike the user names on many websites, people will be able to see your Second Life User Name! Please don’t choose something nerdy and unpronounceable like “L33tMa$ter432”. Also, if you have any thought of keeping your Real Life name private, don’t use that either. DO use something reasonable, like, say, “LindalKidd”, or clever, like “TristanShout”.. If you intend to use avatars of more than one gender with this account, choose an ambivalent user name, like “FridayJones”. You cannot change your user name once you’ve created your account, so take some time and get this step right. (You will also be able to choose a “Display Name” later, and you CAN change that if you want…but your user name will always be with you, and some people will have their viewer set up to show only that name. So it should be pronounceable, versatile, and not ugly. People can Abuse Report you for an offensive Display Name or user name. If you choose “HugePenis4You”, you might log in tomorrow to find Linden Lab has canceled your account or re-named you “HugoPennyforth”.
  4. Names, Part 2. You’ll notice that older avatars like me have a first and a last name. The procedure has changed, though, and when you sign up, your user name will be only one word with no spaces. Your last name is automatically “Resident”. So if I were to sign up today my name might look like this: Lindal Kidd (my Display Name) [lindalkidd.resident] (my user name).
  5. Choose a password. Unlike your user name, your password can’t be seen by anyone except you and Linden Lab. I strongly suggest you do NOT leave the “remember my password” box on the viewer log in screen checked. It’s convenient, but your password is your only level of account protection. It’s unwise to compromise it by allowing your software to remember it. NEVER give anyone your Second Life password!
  6. Next, download the Second Life viewer software and install it on your computer. When you run it for the first time, it will be in the “Basic” mode. This mode is simple to use, but most of the really fun functions are not available to you. I suggest you click the “Basic/Advanced” button on the log in screen and change it to Advanced. Then follow the prompts to close the log in window and re-open it in Advanced mode.
  7. Enter your user name and password on the log in page and click the log in button.
You will find yourself in a strange white place. Things will look blurry at first, but should clear up in a few moments as the textures download to your computer (we call this “rezzing”, a term borrowed from Tron). This place is “Welcome Island”, a short and very basic tutorial that will show you how to move your avatar. At the end of this tutorial, you’ll be encouraged to use the viewer’s built-in “Destination Guide” to find other interesting places to go. Note that the Destination Guide locations are only a beginning! They are a good introduction to Second Life, but there are tens of thousands of other places to find and explore as well.

Here is one of the most fascinating things about SL: Look at the previous paragraph again. I said “You will find yourself in a strange white place”.  Not, “You will see your avatar standing in a strange white place”. Second Life has a much more real and immediate “feel” than watching something on a monitor. Very quickly, you begin to feel as if you yourself ARE your avatar, moving about in this new world and experiencing it first hand. This phenomenon is known as “immersion”, and it’s an amazing feeling. It can also be a scary feeling, when something unexpected happens to you.

I’ll leave you there, reading the signs and experimenting by clicking on buttons and menus in your viewer interface. Tomorrow we’ll talk more about your account, especially Payment Info and Maturity Ratings.