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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Other Worlds

Almost all my time in virtual reality is spent in Second Life, and all of my posts here so far have been about SL. But you should know that there are other virtual worlds on the web. If SL is not to your liking, maybe another world will be. I’m not the experienced guide that some other intrepid explorers are (most especially, see Ener Hax and her ilivesl blog). http://iliveisl.com/ Still, these may provide you with a starting place to do a little more research.

Blue Mars. http://www.bluemars.com/ BM (what an unfortunate acronym!) has very high-tech underpinnings compared to SL. In theory at least, its visual appearance is superior. When I visited, I found the range of avatar customization to be much more limited than SL.  BM features some interesting concepts. For example, one can have a designated private space, such as the inside of one’s home. People outside this space can’t see into it, in fact it does not exist at all in their version of reality. Moreover, there can be multiple “instances” of this space; a landlord could rent out the same apartment to several tenants, and each would have their “own” place, all at the same physical address. Object creation is done with offline third party programs, much as Mesh will be done in SL. Desmond Shang, the owner of the very successful Caledon estate in Second Life, has established two colonies on Blue Mars; one is a steampunk-themed area like Caledon, while the other is a less structured tropical island type of setting.

InWorldz. http://inworldz.com/ The best way I can describe InWorldz is that it’s Second Life, but four years ago. But that is misleading. IWz is a grid based on the OpenSim server software which is indeed derived from an earlier version of the Second Life server code. So technically speaking, it’s like an earlier version of SL. Apparently, a (really good) physics system has now been added, which removes one of my major complaints. Many of the newer features such as avatar physics and multiple clothing layers are not available. On my visits there, I have found things to be even less stable than SL, with frequent crashes when trying to fly long distances and cross region borders (this may have improved, I haven't been there in a year or so). However…IWz has a much different social “feel” than SL, or even SL-as-it-was. This is because most of the inhabitants of IWz are experienced Second Life residents, people who know how to behave in virtual reality. The hordes of griefers and rude people who throng the SL infohubs are simply not there. The technology is shaky, and financially speaking IWz is a “basement hobbyist” effort compared to the enormous Second Life Grid…but the people who live there are smart, polite, and intensely passionate and involved in making “their” world an attractive place.

OpenSim. http://opensimulator.org/wiki/Main_Page  This isn’t one virtual world, but many. You can download OpenSim software for free and install it on your own computer, and create your very own private Second-Life-like virtual world. You can even link it to grids hosted by others in a sort of hyper-grid system. Travel between these grids is nowhere near as straightforward as teleporting to another sim. It’s much more like logging off one set of internet forums and logging onto another.

IMVU. http://www.imvu.com/  IMVU is really geared toward the teenagers. Content creation requires a premium account, and all virtual goods are subject to approval by the game’s managers. Sony, the owner of IMVU, gets a cut of all content sold. The world consists of linked “rooms”. You can go from one room to another in a process like SL teleporting, but there is no physical connection. Each “room” is its own mini-universe. While their ads entice you with slogans like “Dress Up for Grownups” and “Be Sexy”, IMVU does not permit any adult content.

Red Light District/Utherverse.  http://www.redlightutherverse.com/ In direct contrast to IMVU, this virtual world is all about adult content. In fact, many of the things that make Second Life a “world” are not present here. The emphasis is on sex, not on living a well rounded virtual existence.

Eve Online. http://trial.eveonline.com/en/eveisreal.aspx  More of a roleplaying game (like World of Warcraft, but in a science fiction type of shared universe rather than a fantasy-based one). Captain a starship, fight space battles. Develop strategies and tactics. Eve does not have 3D animated avatars, but the space graphics are gorgeous.  There's a free trial, but it costs about $10.00 - $15.00 per month to play. 

World of Warcraft. http://us.battle.net/wow/en/  Huge fantasy game.  Free to play, up to level 20.  Despite being games with rules and levels, rather than open ended virtual world platforms, both Eve Online and WoW are used by many for social networking purposes.

Flash! Profile Picture Tutorial

I ran across a good blog post by Chic Aeon covering the basics of how to take a picture for your profile.  Here's the link:

http://chicatphilsplace.blogspot.com/2011/02/tutorial-profile-pics-basics.html

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Animals

We’ve talked about being an animal before…but there are other animals in Second Life besides residents wearing an animal avatar.

First of all, unfortunately in my opinion, Second Life does not have anything like an overall “ecology”. The grass and plants are prims and textures. They are more like artificial plastic plants from WalMart than living things. And there are no independent animals. Early in the development of SL, an attempt was made to create some, but these did not end up in the final commercial version of our virtual world.

Clever residents have come up with various ways of filling in this gap. You can see an attempt at a very basic virtual ecology in the Svarga region. There you can find a system of flowers and bees that interact with each other.
Sorry, it was hard to get a pic of the bee!
There are various decorative “wild creatures” you can buy to populate your land. Some of my favorites are fish and sea creatures. You can find “rezzers” that create fish, turtles, rays, or even sharks, with new ones being spat out every minute or so. I have a few of these rezzers in our harbor at Masocado, and I am always getting messages about my sardines or turtles getting returned to my Lost and Found folder when they wander off my property onto the neighbor’s land.

I have a large shark that’s not a temp rez item but a permanent resident. “Bruce” is scripted to swim randomly in a defined area and he will approach you, showing curiosity, if you come within his area of action. Don’t worry, he doesn’t bite! There are sharks that do bite, though…I was eaten by one in a damage-enabled area once.
Nosy Shark
I also have a cute baby seal that will interact with you. You can call to her, pet her, and feed her. The more you are nice to her, the more she likes you, and you can get her to follow you around.
Zoe, my baby!
Penny, my Zooby's Lab
You can buy a pet. The two biggest pet merchants are Virtual Kennel Club (VKC) and Zooby’s. I love the VKC dogs for their artificial intelligence. They will react to you, and they also have some independent behaviors. VKC has an unusual pricing structure…the price of one of their animals goes up a little each time someone buys it. This is, I suppose, one way of determining “all the market will bear”, but I don’t like it. Zooby’s pricing structure is fixed, and their animals are (in my opinion) better looking…but they are not programmed as cleverly as the VKC dogs for independent behavior. They are a little more like operating a puppet than having an animal companion. The latest versions of the animals have gotten much better, however.  VKC sells only dogs, but Zooby’s has a wide variety of other animals as well. 
The Pack at Virtual Kennel Club
For those who can’t afford a free-walking animal, there are shoulder pets. Some of these are merely static attachments to your shoulder, or your hand (though they may contain a pose to allow your avatar to “hold” them). Others are scripted to some extent. I have a little dragon that can wave its tail, blink its eyes, chat, and breathe fire, all in response to commands from an on-screen control panel (a HUD).
Emerald, my firedrake

Then there are “breedables”. The first breedable animals were the Sion Chickens. They have to be fed (and the makers of these and similar creatures make a lot of money selling food for them). The chickens were a huge hit (despite complaints from many residents that the flocks of chickens were causing lag), and they were followed by bunnies, horses, and the latest breedable craze, Meeroos. All these animals are “alive”…they must be cared for or they languish and die. If properly cared for, they can breed and create more animals, and there is “genetic variation” in the offspring. This leads to “rare” animals being traded or re-sold in an active secondary market. The Meeroos are popular because not only are they breedable, and terminally cute, they have “personalities” and they react to people in different ways…bold or shy, loving or aloof.

All of these animals have a more or less artificial feel to them, but the most cleverly designed ones do provide a measure of that sense of an independent living creature that makes Real Life animals so fascinating to us. Those of us who love animals don’t have to leave our friends behind when we enter the virtual world.

Splash Aquatics (Bruce and his relations)
Ee Oh's Palms and Fish (Home of the Killer Coconut Palm!)
Flippers 'N Stuff (baby seals and other fun things)
Zooby's
Virtual Kennel Club

Friday, July 29, 2011

The New Nonhumans

We’ve always had nonhuman avatars in Second Life. Even the starter avatars provided to newcomers have included a limited number of nonhuman avs.

Some of SL’s oldest and wisest residents use nonhuman avatars almost exclusively. There are several reasons given for this.
  • No need to spend tons of money shopping for hair and clothes.
  • Guys don’t hit on me.
  • Girls don’t see me as threatening.
  • I like to roleplay.
  • I just want to be different
Recently, Linden Lab added a considerable number of new nonhuman avatars to the starting lineup. These include robots, humanoid animals (furries), quadruped animals, and…vehicles. Yep, now you can be a car or a motorcycle. Do you suppose the recent release of Cars 2 had anything to do with this? (And to the motorcycle who kept rubbing himself up against me the other day, stop that! It took me ages to get out the grease and oil stains.) One advantage of being a vehicle, instead of riding in one: You won’t get tossed off if entering a region that’s reached its maximum prim limit.

Interestingly, it seems to be the kids who like these new avatars.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Big Beautiful Boats!

I’ve always wanted to live aboard a big, luxurious yacht tied up to a dock at some fashionable yacht club where all the women wear diamonds at breakfast and all the men are tan, fit, and filthy rich. In Second Life, you can live your fantasy…so for those of you with a nautical bent, here are some big, fancy boats for you to drool over.

A word or two first. Boats in Second Life are of two types: driveable and stationary. The stationary yachts tend to be larger and more detailed, but (like most yachts in real life) they spend all their time at the dock. They’re really a floating house in the shape of a boat.

This is for technical reasons. Vehicles in SL are limited to 31 prims, including poseballs for the driver and passengers. This means that any vehicle is going to be a pretty basic object. However, designers have developed a workaround. Complex vehicles consist of two parts – the vehicle itself, which you sit on, and then a more complex object that you wear. This means that you can’t stand up and walk around the deck of your driveable yacht while you are driving it, but you can drive it. A second version of the yacht, non-driveable, is also provided for display at the dock.

Do not expect stellar performance from your large yacht. Region crossings can be very hazardous when you are wearing a lot of prims and scripts, and having a boat full of passengers wearing their own scripts can make things very chancy indeed.  You may be better off getting a stationary yacht and keeping a smaller boat for actually scooting around.  Some of the larger yachts even have a helipad!

Headroom may be tight. Except on the very largest yachts, there’s often not enough room for your camera in the areas below decks. Mouselook can help you navigate in confined spaces, and may even give you more of a feeling of “really being there”.

Finally, boats are primmy things. Their upkeep can cost you a pretty penny. Really big yachts can require an entire homestead sim just to rez them. Remember that you will pay around $L10 per prim per calendar month to rent land, and take note of the prim count of the boat you want before you purchase it. You cannot just rez your giant yacht, sail it out into a Linden Ocean region, then anchor it and live rent-free…auto-return will send your floating palace back to your Lost and Found folder in a short time. In SL, the same as in RL, a boat is “a hole in the water into which you throw money”.

By the way, we currently have one yacht slip open in Masocado. It will take vessels up to 30 meters or so in length with a displacement of up to 1,000 prims.  Price is negotiable depending on your prim requirements.  For those who want a floating home without the high prim counts, I also have designed a very comfortable houseboat that I've been meaning to get up on the Marketplace.  If you want such an item, please get in touch.

Some Big, Beautiful Boats:

FLASH! Mystery in the Lost and Found

Tonight I logged in and, as I always do, checked my Trash and Lost and Found folders.  Along with the usual stray sardines and turtles, I found a folder of starter avatars from Adam n Eve, labeled "Beta".  These are apparently a set of newbie avatars that once were in the Library, or perhaps were early versions of those avatars.

It seems that everyone I talked to about them also had them show up.

Apparently, someone at LL pushed the wrong button.  But I saved them...you never know, they might become collectors items some day, like other things that have been removed from the Library as LL "improves our experience".

UPDATE:  The mystery folder vanished again.  LL giveth, and LL taketh away.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tennis, Anyone?

I should get out more.

I spend most of my time in SL in a handful of places – my home region of Masocado, Caledon Oxbridge University, and the White Tiger Mentor Help Island, plus a few others from time to time. But I tell new residents to get out and explore the vastness of Second Life.

Last night I was really bored and I took my own advice. I started flying in a random direction from Orientation Island Public. Pretty soon I was lost, and I just flew hither and yon, toward whatever looked interesting. After a time, I wound up at a mainland yacht club (I love pretty boats!) Looking about, I saw not only boats but something I’d never seen in four years of Second Life: a tennis court.

I went and had a closer look. There was a free racquet vendor, so I got one and wore it. Then I noticed that there was a tennis ball floating in the air at one of the serving positions. I went over there and clicked it. My avatar did a very nice “hitting the ball” animation and the tennis ball went sailing prettily over the net.

All of a sudden I wished I had someone to play a game with, and I wondered where I could get tennis for our own sim. Yes, dear readers, I did remember to get a landmark (for once!)


Maybe I’ll take up virtual golf next!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Drama

Second Life is full of Drama…emotional wars and upsets.  In that respect, it’s a lot like Real Life…only more so.  There are a number of reasons for this.

-         Many people don’t see or treat others as people.  Their attitude is “Hey, it’s only a game, get over it.”
-         Many people use SL’s anonymity to lie and cheat freely, thinking it’s unlikely they’ll be caught…until they are.
-         The negative consequences of infidelity either don’t apply here, or are greatly reduced.  For example, there is no venereal disease or AIDS in SL.  There is no need to “think about the children”.  There are no alimony payments or community property laws.
-         Lovers have a limited amount of time together.  It’s likely that one or both partners will often find themselves in world without their partner, and there is endless opportunity for temptation.

I could tell some Drama stories, and when I started writing this I had planned to.  A couple of my friends have been using my shoulder to cry on lately and I’d planned to unload some of the angst here.  But what the heck, those of you who have been around more than a month have already heard your own stories (or had a starring role in them).  Those of you who are new might benefit from some general observations and advice.

There Ain’t No Privacy.  People can always, one way or another, tell when you are on line.  Although you can ban people from your home or your land, you can’t prevent them from sliding their camera in and watching you.  People can log their local chat and their IMs, and although it’s against the Terms of Service, they can pass them on to others.  Linden Lab logs everything, except Voice.  So even if no other residents are listening in, Big Brother is, or may be.  You live in a fishbowl; get used to it.

Trust.  If you don’t trust your partner, your relationship is doomed.  If you ever openly accuse them of cheating, you had better have some really solid proof, like coming home to find them in bed with the floozy from next door.  Whether you have proof or not, confronting your partner with their indiscretions, real or suspected, means your relationship is over.

Lots of things in SL can look like infidelity, but are not.  I remember one time a stranger called me up to ask me how to fix her on-screen HUD.  I teleported to her to help her out.  The place turned out to be a rather kinky sex dungeon, with a number of mostly nude people present.  While I was helping this girl, my partner teleported in beside me.  (We had given each other map visibility permissions, and she had a habit of popping in wherever I was).  I was rather embarrassed, given where I was and the activities going on around me.  Fortunately, my partner trusted me and did not go jumping to conclusions.

Honesty.  Be honest with your partner and with yourself.  If you find that you are avoiding your partner, either by not logging on when they are on line, or by making an alt to “get some time to yourself”, you have the wrong partner.  Better to break it off now, rather than sneak around behind her back.

Shared Expectations.  Be sure that you and your partner agree on the rules of your relationship, and on your ultimate goals.  If you are looking, ultimately, to meet in Real Life and perhaps develop an RL relationship, be sure that your partner shares that desire.  If you insist on a monogamous relationship in SL, be sure your partner understands and agrees.  And if you want to be able to have casual cybersex with others, be certain your partner is OK with that (and realize that you must give her the same freedom and trust).

Don’t Apply RL Standards.  Your emotions here are the same as in real life.  But trying to apply the same standards of morality isn’t a terrific idea.  Casual sex is much easier here, and as I’ve said most of the reasons it’s frowned on by society in RL don’t exist in SL.  Don’t expect your lover to act the way you’d expect if this was a real life romance.  Learn tolerance.

Protect Yourself.  Trust is an important thing.  But it must be balanced by a sense of self preservation.  Each step you take in letting your partner into your life increases your vulnerability if things don’t work out.  Giving them permission to map you, or to edit your objects.  Making them a co-owner of your land group.  Sharing your Real Life information such as your name, address, and phone number.  Sharing your SL password (STOP!  Don’t EVER do that, not with anyone!)

Time Will Tell.  I know that when you are in love, you want to share everything with your lover.  Hold off, sister.  Most SL partnerships last no more than six months.  It’s said that 6 months in SL is the equivalent of a 10 year marriage in RL.  If your relationship lasts that long, it’s time enough to think about sharing critical information.  Sooner than that is, in my opinion, risky.  You’ll want to go fast.  Pull back, rein in, slow down, WAIT.

Monday, July 25, 2011

We Are Not What We Seem…or Are We?

This weekend it was Facebookers.  Two of them, to be precise.  One was a well spoken gentleman who asked me “Are you as pretty in real life as you are here?”

Oh, please.  I’m a very middle aged mother, with three grown children and a waistline that shows too much Second Life and not enough crunches.  Of course not, silly boy!  But then I thought about it.

My Second Life appearance reflects how I would look in Real Life, if I could.  Young, slender, beautiful, and always fashionably dressed.  In SL, I look like the person I am, inside my head.  In fact, Lindal is me, and if I was rich and thirty years younger in real life, I’d look like Lindal there too, you bet. 

Second Life lets us take off the masks of flesh that we are forced to wear in the physical world, and be who we truly are, or what we dream of being.  So I told him, “Oh no, I’m MUCH prettier in real life!”

My second encounter was with a young newcomer I’ve known for a few weeks now.  We were chatting, and it turned out that we live fairly close to one another in the real world.  The conversation was along the lines of, “I’m from Tennessee.” “Wow, really?  I’m from Tennessee too!”  “That’s amazing!  I live near Memphis.”  “Holy cow, Memphis?  I live there too!”  There was an awkward pause, and she said, “I don’t want to be impolite, but I won’t tell you any more.  I mean, I know you’re OK, but you know you can’t trust anyone.  They might be a murderer or a fat 50 year old pervert or something.”

My friend is 16 in real life, and she had a very good point.  You don’t know who is behind that avatar.  It could be anyone.  An FBI agent or a serial killer, Stephen Hawking or your brother Bob.   I told her that her caution was commendable.

I can see the point of the Facebookers who’d like everyone in SL to display their Real Life names, list their address in their Profile, have an avatar that looks just like their RL physical self, and always use Voice.  There’s an element of uncertainty about people in SL, and it’s true that many people use avatars and the lack of body language and vocal inflections to hide malicious intentions.

But there is one saving grace.  Actions speak louder than words, and nowhere is that more true than in SL.  Eventually, the People of the Lie reveal themselves in their actions.  In a world where all is subject to change, integrity matters enormously.

We show our true selves even when there is no malicious intent involved.  I’m pretty widely read, and in RL, I’m something of an introvert.  Despite my occasional attempts to be a Party Girl, these traits come through.  My partner once described me as a “sexy librarian”.  Yeah, I’ll settle for that.

In the end, it does not matter what you look like in Real Life.  It doesn’t even matter what you look like here in Second Life.  What does matter is what sort of person you are…and you can’t hide that.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Another Fine Mesh

One of the most talked about new additions to Second Life is mesh. This hasn’t been implemented on the main grid yet, but is still in public beta. Still, it’s close enough that Linden Lab has announced it. The original date announced for mesh was July, but that’s slipped. I’m now hearing “August”.

What IS “mesh”? Second Life objects are made of geometric primitives, or “prims” for short. These simple shapes are easy to describe with mathematical expressions, which makes rendering them faster and easier. We have all, I think, seen wireframe representations of 3D models. These can be a lot more complex than the simple shapes possible with prims…and that’s what mesh is. A new way of building arbitrarily-shaped objects for Second Life.

Like the other arbitrary object type, sculpties, mesh objects are created using third party software outside of SL and then imported. You can use any 3D modeling program that can export a model in the Collada file format.  I use LightWave 3D for modeling, but unless you want to invest a few hundred to a few thousand dollars in a professional 3D modeling and animation package, the free Blender software is what you should take a look at first.

The promise of mesh has builders and creators wild with excitement. However, there’s at least one very tricky part of this whole issue, and I am very afraid that Linden Lab will fumble the ball, as they so often seem to do. The tricky part is this: how do you equate a mesh object and a prim object?

As we all know, the thing that makes virtual land valuable is that it supports prims. The more land one has, the more prims one can rez on it, up to a maximum of 15,000 prims per region. How do mesh objects fit into this economic model? Rather arbitrarily, it would seem. Every mesh object is given a “Prim Equivalent” value, or PE. What that value is depends on a complicated scoring system. The size of the mesh object and the number of vertices (the level of detail, in other words), determine how many prims the object is “worth”.

Creators are already objecting to the formula that LL seems to want to use, one that will cause, for example, a mesh tree to have a prim equivalent score of around 500. That high a value would make mesh impractical for anything except avatar attachments, which are not counted against a region's prim allowance. In addition, mesh will not be flexible, which will make it unusable for realistic clothing or hair.

One can build three identical objects, one from ordinary prims, another with sculpted prims, and the third as a mesh, and get three very different prim values. This worries me, but not because it’s not logical, or unfair. No, what worries me is that the act of creation is about to become MUCH more complicated. For one thing, the third party software used to create meshes can be difficult to master. I recently started dusting off my LightWave 3D skills and ran head on into the fact that, without regular practice, I had forgotten nearly all I’d ever learned about that massive software package. Maya and 3DS Max aren’t any easier. Not only that, but once you have created the mesh object, choosing the settings for how you import it into SL involves knowing quite a lot about a number of non-obvious object properties. Choices must be made that affect the object’s final appearance and its prim equivalent value.

Anyone can rez a cube in Second Life. It’s not too much harder to learn one’s way around the building tools and create very presentable objects. In general, SL has always been an “easy” platform for people to create on, and for. If creation is made more difficult, there will be a lot fewer creators. And that’s what is bothering me. If creating high quality objects in SL becomes the province of a small number of highly skilled specialists, what will happen to the virtual economy?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Basics of Flight

Here’s another tutorial for the new resident!

Of the three ways of getting around in SL, flying falls in the middle. Walking is fine for short distances, flying for a few hundred meters or so, and teleporting is tops for covering long distances in almost no time. But flying has a special charm all its own…I mean, who wouldn’t want to be able to fly?

Flying is not too difficult in Second Life. Hit the F or Home key to start (or stop) flying. Or, you can press and hold E or PgUp. Once you are aloft, hold E or PgUp to fly higher, C or PgDn to descend. Hold C or PgDn all the way to the ground to execute a soft landing (instead of falling out of control and going splat). Use the keyboard arrow keys, the W,A,S,D keyboard keys, or the on-screen movement controls to fly forward, backward, or turn sideways.

Another cool way of flying is to use Mouselook. Fly up, then hit the M key to get an avatar’s-eye viewpoint. Hold the keyboard up arrow key or W key to fly toward your mouse cursor crosshairs. While holding the movement key, move the mouse to control the direction your avatar flies…you always fly toward wherever your mouse is pointing. This gives you much finer control over your direction and altitude. Hit ESC to exit Mouselook.

Your unaided avatar has a very limited flight ceiling, about 200 meters or so. If you are higher than that (say you fall off the edge of a sky platform), you sink slowly, even if you hold the PgUp key. You can overcome this limitation with a flight assist. Flight assists are built into many objects…I have some sunglasses that have an assist, and my MystiTool has one that lets me fly faster as well as higher. There are a number of freebie flight assists; one very common one is called a “flight feather”. Just wear the assist to fly at any altitude.

As you fly higher, you’ll notice several key altitudes. The classic SL cloud layer is at about 100 meters or so. At 1,000 meters, the ground no longer rezzes and all you can see is unbroken ocean far below. This is important for reasons of lag. When the viewer has fewer textures to render, lag goes down. I get much higher frame rates in my skyboxes at 2,500 m than I get on the same parcel at ground level. The build limit is 4096 meters. You won’t find skyboxes above that level. Also, there’s a minor bug in Viewer 2 that keeps the altitude coordinate from updating correctly above this level. It reports correctly when you stop and hover, but reverts to 4096 as you are actually flying up.

No one has ever found the ultimate altitude limit. Back when physics was less constrained, some experimenters used powerful pushes to orbit themselves to great heights. Some reached well over 100,000 m. These SL astronauts report that at extreme altitudes, odd appearance effects begin to occur.

Some landowners disable flight on their property, perhaps because it’s contrary to their concept of a “realistic” virtual reality. If you are flying when you enter such an area, you won’t crash, but when you land you won’t be able to take off again…unless you have set the viewer option to override this setting. I often do this in No Fly areas, for convenience…but be aware that the landowner may take exception to that and kick you off for not following his or her rules.

Your AO can contain animations for flying, flying slow, hovering, flying up, and flying down. Like your walks and stands, you can find cute, sexy, or funny flight animations to make your avatar even more unique.

You can get various accessories to make flying more fun, such as jet packs, rocket boots, or wings. One of my favorite tricks is to step off a high sky platform and plummet earthward. The idea is to open my inventory on the way down, find my parachute, put it on, re-read the manual, and deploy the chute before impact.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Land Scams

If you really get into Second Life, sooner or later you are probably going to want some land. You can get a Premium membership and either buy Mainland from a resident, or get a free Linden Home. If you own more than the Linden Home, or some other 512 m2 parcel on the Mainland, you’ll pay a monthly tier fee to LL.

But Mainland is not the only land in Second Life. In fact, it’s only about 20% of SL. The other 80% is made up of “private estates”…islands, or groups of islands, ordered by residents from LL and then leased out piecemeal to other residents.

I’ve lived on both Mainland and Private Estate land, and enjoyed them both. Mainland has a big, open feel to it because you can travel across so many regions before hitting a void boundary. It’s also generally cheaper to buy or rent there. On the other hand, LL is a very lassiez-faire manager and it can take a long time to get any problems taken care of. Also, the nearly nonexistent zoning can mean that you have to put up with some pretty wacky or unsightly builds by the neighbors.

Private estates tend to have tighter zoning and more active management. That can be comforting when you have problems, but annoying if it’s the management telling you that you can’t put up that gothic castle you just bought.

But I don’t want to get into yet another Mainland vs. Estate fight with anyone. Instead, I want to talk about some of the pitfalls that can trap the unwary avatar. If you buy a dress and it doesn’t get delivered, you are out a few hundred lindens. If you are the victim of a land scam, you can wind up losing hundreds of real dollars, or even more.

The Duplicitous Partner. Let’s say you are taken by the idea of virtual land in a big way, and want to own your own private island…but you can’t swing the $1,000 setup fee or the $295 per month in tier. But you talk it over with a friend and she is also enthusiastic. The two of you decide to split the costs and share in the profits. There’s only one problem…LL does not sell islands by halves. There’s only a single owner of record. So you flip a coin and your partner puts her name on the deed. You send her your half of the purchase price by PayPal or you buy a hefty chunk of $L and pay her that way. After a month or so, the two of you have a disagreement. She gets mad, and kicks you out of the estate’s land group and bans you, too. You submit a complaint to LL, but they say it’s a dispute between Residents and they won’t get involved. You are out $500 with no recourse. If you enter into a business partnership with someone, and real money is involved, make it a Real World partnership with the right documents.

The Brooklyn Bridge. You’re looking for a little bit of paradise on the beach, and you think you’ve found it. Here is a beautiful oceanfront parcel with a rental box on it. You pay the rental box and move in. Except that a short time later, you get an angry note from someone you’ve never heard of: “Hello, squatter. I am the owner of this estate. You have not paid your rental fee. I’m returning your objects and banning you from this area.” What the heck!? What has happened is that a scammer took advantage of the land’s object rezzing settings and put out his own rental box. He doesn’t own the land that he “rented” to you. Some scammers will even put up beautiful skybox homes above public areas like sandboxes, and rent them to you. When the real landowner or the land’s autoreturn function return the skybox or other items, the scammer is long gone. Whenever you buy or rent land, make sure you understand the ownership clearly. This may take a little research, as some estates do allow subleasing, and some land is group owned. Don’t be afraid to IM an estate owner and say, “Lindal Kidd is offering to sell me her land at Masocado 120, 35, 25. Does she have the right to do that, or should I be talking to you instead?”

Sell and Scrape. This one is not as prevalent as it used to be. An estate owner will sell all the parcels on his island, then simply kick off the tenants with no refund or explanation, and begin the process over again. It’s important to read an estate’s Covenant document before buying there, but it is also important to realize that the Covenant is not a binding contract…the estate owner can do as he or she pleases. As long as LL collects its monthly fees from them, they will not take action in resident disputes. Do some research on the estate owner before you buy! Check out their reputation on forums, with Google, and with their other tenants.

Doughnut Extortion. You buy a nice parcel of land, but didn’t notice that there is a small parcel excluded from the middle. The former owner smiles and offers to sell you that last little bit for about ten times the cost per square meter as you paid for the rest of the land. Check the land carefully before you buy. Make sure that if you multiply the length and width, the result is the same as the stated parcel size.

Uglification. Your neighbor puts up a hideous build…then lets you know that he’d be willing to sell you that land, for a high price. He’s hoping you’ll pay the price just to get rid of the eyesore. You can Abuse Report this, and LL will take action in some instances. Check out the neighbors’ builds before you buy. Turn up your draw distance. Fly up high in the sky and look for ugly skyboxes.

Lag-ification. Your neighbor puts up a club with tons of rotating transparent blinging objects, or a ranch with a few hundred breedable animals. The sim performance slides into the waste bin. Like uglification, you can report this misuse of sim resources.

Even if you forget all the above scams, just remember two things and you will probably be OK:
  • If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Get a second opinion. A friend who’s not overcome by purchase fever may be able to spot a drawback that you do not.
If you want, I’ll come check out that parcel you are salivating over. My consultation fee is a flat $L250.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Skirting the Issue

We’ve discussed hair and shoes in Second Life, and how these things, while mundane in Real Life, have funny sorts of technical complications in the virtual world. Skirts are not quite as bad, but even so, I wear pants in SL a lot. Here’s the lowdown on SL skirts.

There are two kinds: prim skirts and system skirts. The system skirt is a clothing layer, and its symbol is a little skirt in your inventory. System skirts can make acceptable miniskirts, pencil skirts, and skirts for sheath-type dresses, but they stay fairly close to the body. They can’t be used for any sort of very full skirt type.

System skirts have some additional limitations. For one thing, when you move your legs apart, their texture can become very distorted. But their worst shortcoming is that the skirt mesh actually floats a little way away from the rest of the avatar mesh. The result is that most system skirts make your hips and derriere look much plumper than normal. Or, as one of my friends once put it, “I look like I’m carrying a puppy under there.”

The solution to this is to have a special version of your shape that you wear with system skirts. Just take your normal shape and narrow the hips and butt a little bit, then save that shape with its own name, like “LindalSkirtShape”.

Prim skirts are like prim hair…they are an attachment rather than a clothing layer. Most prim skirts these days are made with “flexiprims”, prims that appear to flex like cloth in response to your movements, and can be affected by wind and gravity. These skirts can be made very full…whether they are short, like a tutu or a poodle skirt, or floor length like an elegant ball gown.

Prim skirts, though, have their own limitations. Most of them require editing to fit properly at your waist. The ends of the flexiprims may stick out away from your body, or be too deeply buried inside. But the worst thing about prim skirts is that your body can pass through them. All avatar attachments become phantom when they are worn. This is generally a good thing, but it means that in many poses and animations, your legs will poke through the skirt. Because of this, prim skirts have a second part, “glitch pants” that are textured the same as the skirt fabric. This helps preserve the illusion of the skirt fabric draping over your limbs.

But not in extreme cases, such as sitting down. When you sit, your long skirt hangs straight down, exposing your legs most immodestly. A very few skirts have a “sit script” that tries to rotate the skirt to a different position when you go into a sit pose. I’ve found these to be only partially successful and require a great deal of editing.

One other type of script that can be found in a few skirts is a “rip/strip script”. This allows another person to remove your skirt, which can be fun in several sorts of roleplay.

One last type of prim skirt attempts to overcome the bulge-butt look of system skirts. Some very tight miniskirts consist of two parts…a pair of glitch pants and a “filler” made of one or two prims that is positioned between the legs. These look pretty good, but require some editing and some compromises to get the edges of the filler prims to line up with the edges of the glitch pants in different poses.

So now you can see why pants are “in” this year.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Cost of Connection

We live in a wired world…well, that’s a bit of a misnomer, because these days a lot of electronic data transfer doesn’t even use wires. But in any event, we’ve come a long way from the days when an extension phone in your house meant you were on the cutting edge of communications technology.

In our family, we have five people and five cell phones. Six, if you count the one my day job issued me. These phones are all on Verizon’s “Family Plan”, so we pay one bill for all of them. Even though it’s cheaper than having five separate accounts, we still pay almost $300 a month for our cell phone service.

And then there is FIOS. Verizon’s fiber optic system is wonderful, and we have their “triple play” bundle which gives us unlimited local and long distance from our land line phone, 30 MB/sec broadband internet, and high definition digital TV. We’ve got an HBO and Cinemax movie option on that, too. So we can talk to people, access tons of video in superb quality, and download stuff from the web in seconds (not to mention Second Life!). For this, we pay another $210 or so per month. Ouch!

We use the internet a lot, for SL and shopping, research, news, downloading new software, email, talking with friends on forums and all that modern “connectedness” stuff. We don’t use all those hundreds of TV channels all that much though…we watch some H&G TV shows, and the kids like House and a few anime shows. And it seems that the only time we use our land line phone is when some telemarketer or charity drive calls us.

The Resident Geek is building us a new home theater in the basement. One of the things he’s adding is a “home theater PC” with a built in digital tuner and a huge amount of disk space to store video. He says that once we have that, we can get rid of our set top boxes and save about $30 per month. We could save another $25 per month by dropping HBO and Cinemax (but then we wouldn’t get Game of Thrones, which I’ve been enjoying!)

That’s a start, but I’ve been thinking…can we still get all the connected-ness we need and want, at a lower price? What if we dropped the Verizon phone service and used Skype instead? What if we dropped the television service altogether and just streamed or downloaded content from the web? After all, it makes no sense to pay for 200 channels when you can only watch one or two at a time…IF you can get the content you want when you want it.

I resent the fact that our data bill, counting everything, is twice as much as our monthly electric bill (and we have an all-electric home!). I want to pay less – but I don’t know if we can be satisfied with anything less than immediate access to “all the data, all the time”.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Cloudy With a Chance of Trance

Yesterday’s entry dealt with the physical (Second Life dancing). Today, let’s talk about the mental…hypnosis, to be precise. Hypnosis is a poorly-understood phenomenon, even in Real Life and even among its practitioners. Its effects are so variable that some people disbelieve in it entirely; others concede its existence but maintain it is merely self-delusion or playacting. Still others are True Believers. I’ve always been fascinated by it myself, and based on my personal experiences and those of many friends I am convinced that it is a real (if frustratingly unreliable) mental state.

Hypnosis is available in Second Life. Because of the relationship between the hypnotist and her subject, it generally falls into the D/s (Dominance/submission) area, and in SL it is almost exclusively used for erotic roleplay. In fact, there’s a rather large gray area here. I am sure that some SL hypnosis participants are only roleplaying…while others treat it, and experience it, on a much deeper and more profound level. It can be hard to tell, even when you yourself are the subject. I remember talking in IM to a girl while she was hypnotized. She was perfectly capable of IM’ing. She told me she was not sure she was “really” in trance, but was a little surprised to find herself following all of the hypnotist’s suggestions.

Like other “alternative lifestyles”, hypnosis in SL is relatively safe. You are unlikely to find yourself so deeply in trance that you completely lose all judgment. So you don’t need to be worried that you’re going to babble your credit card number while you’re “under”. I don’t like that word, “under”, by the way. It’s a poor description of the trance experience. Everyone experiences trance differently, but it’s not a state of unconsciousness. It’s more a state of relaxed, focused attention. You don’t “fall asleep”. In fact, if you do the trance is over, because once you close your eyes you can’t see the hypnotist’s words any longer!  Of course, that doesn't apply if you are working in Voice, but even so, hypnosis is not sleep or unconsciousness.

There are two ways to experience hypnosis in SL. One way is to use one of the several types of “trance machines” that you can purchase or find in various hypnosis-related areas. Using these is similar to using a dance machine. You click it to get a menu of the trance scripts it has available and select one. Then you sit in the machine. A spiral or other pattern appears on your screen, along with text. You simply relax and read the text, following its suggestions and letting it guide your feelings and your imagination. You can stand up and stop at any time. I always tell people who are curious to try the machines first – you don’t have to worry about another person, it’s completely private and under your own control, and it gives you a good idea of how you yourself respond to a hypnotic induction and suggestions.

The second way is to find a hypnotist and do a live, one-on-one trance session. Because the hypnotist can tailor the trance to your particular needs and reactions, this is a more powerful and effective method. It also means that you must find a hypnotist whom you can trust and whose methods and preferences are a good match for you.

In case you were wondering…I’m a hypnotist (as well as, from time to time, a subject). I’m not a psychologist nor do I have formal training – I’m an amateur. However, I’ve almost always had positive reports from my subjects. I will not do therapy; I use hypnosis for fun and enjoyment only. And if you are thinking of calling me up and asking, I’m not giving my services away any longer. Hypnosis is a very time consuming activity and I only have so much time in world. If I agree to take you as a subject, the rate is $L1,000 per hour after an initial free trance to see if we are compatible.

As I’ve said before, SL is a great place to explore your self as well as the virtual world around you. This is just one more way of doing that. Here are some hypnosis landmarks for those who wish to explore further.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Shall We Dance?

Dancing is extremely popular in Second Life. There are thousands of clubs where people can gather to listen to music, dance, talk, and have a good time. In fact, doing this is probably the most popular social activity in SL by a wide margin.

There are several reasons for this. One is the existence of excellent motion-capture dance animations. With the click of a mouse, even people who have two left feet in Real Life can dance like Ginger Rogers or Fred Astaire. The second reason follows from this – you and your partner dance so sexily that it tends to put one in a, well, amorous mood. Finally, it’s so easy that once you’ve chosen a dance, no further attention is required and you can concentrate on talking with your friends…or seducing your dance partner.

The dances included with your basic newbie avatar are extremely low quality. Don’t bother using them, they mark you instantly as a noob. Instead, use the dance animations provided by the clubs in their dance machines.

These are usually located in a dance ball or other fixture located over the dance floor. Click the dance ball, accept its animation request, and you are presented with a menu of dances from which to choose. Click the ball again to get the menu back and choose another dance when you get tired of your current one.

Most clubs these days have both a “singles” and a “couples” dance ball. The couples balls deserve special mention. Besides the main ball (which often looks like a joined pair of spheres), there are often “repeater” balls that look like little gumball machines scattered around the edge of the dance floor. You can click either the main ball or a repeater ball to operate the system.

When you first click the couples ball, a pair of poseballs will appear near you, one pink and one blue. The female partner sits on the pink ball, the male partner on the blue one. When both are seated, the dance animation takes effect. Either partner may click on the dance ball to see the choices menu and change the selected dance. If you don’t appear to be dancing correctly, click the “tools/resync” option in the menu so your animation is properly synchronized with your partner’s.
The Savoy, One of My Favorite Ballrooms

You should always stand up from the poseball, or click the dance machine (either singles or couples) to stop dancing before you teleport off to a new location. Otherwise, you may find yourself “stuck” in the dance animation with no dance ball to click to stop yourself. If this happens, use the “stop animating my avatar” command found in the Help or World or Avatar menus (depending on what viewer you are using). Or you can use any of several “stop animation” gadgets that are available as free items.

Some clubs also have permanent poseballs visible a foot or so above the floor. These contain specialty dances that for one reason or another the club owner has chosen to provide this way rather than in one of the menu-driven dance machines. Often three-person dances or country and western line dances are offered in this fashion.

If you don’t like relying on the taste of the club owner, you can carry your own dances around with you. The simplest way is just to have them in the Animations folder of your inventory. Double click one to open it and click the Play in World button.

You can organize your dance collection and have them all more readily accessible by using a wearable dance machine. One very popular one is called the HUDDLES. It’s an AO as well as a dance organizer. Another very popular gadget is called a “Chimera”. In fact there are several varieties of this item, so that “chim” has become a generic term for them. In operation, it’s an invisible ball that you attach to your head or other portion of your anatomy (the butt is popular). You can click it to get its menu and select a dance. The fun part is, other people can click it too, and dance along with you, with you controlling which dance is in effect. It’s fun to dance in sync with a half dozen other people, all of you looking like pro performers who’ve rehearsed your moves to perfection! (To see if someone is wearing a chim, click CTRL+ALT+T to toggle “view transparent textures” on or off. Look for a red ball on their ass and click it.) Many times, it will be the DJ who’s wearing the chim. She is, after all, responsible for seeing that the group is having a good time and is the one picking the music in the first place.

Whether it’s slow dancing in the moonlight by the ocean or boogeying wildly to a pounding techno beat, dancing in SL is one of the best ways to meet people and have a good time. Enjoy!

Ballrooms

Clubs

Dance Animations

Chims and HUDs

Thursday, July 14, 2011

For Just Cause…or Just Because?

Time after time, I hear someone complain on a Second Life forum, “I was banned from Second Life for no reason.”

In a word, Bubba: horsesh*t. Linden Lab wants all the customers it can get. They don’t ban residents “for no reason”. They ban them for fraud, for content theft, or for being underage. You were banned because you committed some serious violation of the Terms of Service or Community Standards. Don’t come whining on a public forum that you are some innocent victim of corporate capriciousness. (OK, some people do get banned mistakenly. There is an appeals process available to you if that happens. Use it, not the public forums.)

On a smaller scale, sometimes people complain, “I was banned from (insert name of region or club or store here) for no reason.” Usually they too have committed some major breach of the peace or of manners, and annoyed the land owner enough to earn themselves a ban. Sometimes the ban is unfair. Land owners are people too, and perfectly capable of making a mistake. I know people who have merely been away from keyboard being mistaken for copybotting content thieves due to their unresponsiveness, and getting banned. If you feel you’ve been unfairly treated, your best course is to send the land owner a polite note and/or IM and explain your side of the dispute. But you must remember the Golden Rule: “He who has the gold, rules.” In this case, the land owner is the one paying tier to LL. They have the right to decide who they will allow on their land. Right or wrong, it’s ultimately their choice. If they decide to leave your ban in effect, you have no recourse. Except, that is, to go around trying to smear their reputation in public forums. We’ve seen that often enough that we’re tired of the Drama, and not too inclined to listen to your complaints.

All in all, it’s a lot easier to follow the rules and to be polite to people. I recommend you try it, you’ll have a much more pleasant Second Life. (It works in Real Life too!)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Firestorm – A Viewer for All

Ever since Linden Lab released the long-awaited Viewer 2, the Second Life world has been divided into two camps: those who love it, and those who hate it. The problem is that they made massive changes to the viewer interface, so that it became in effect an entirely new viewer experience. Anyone who’s had to move from one piece of familiar software to a new and unfamiliar one can tell you how painful that can be.

As a result, the number of people who use third party viewers shot up. First Emerald, and then its genealogical successor Phoenix, became tremendously popular. Overall, third party viewer users actually outnumber the users of the “official” Second Life viewer.

But all of these third party viewers are based on the “old” Second Life viewer code, version 1.23. Linden Lab has stated that over the coming months, as they introduce server updates optimized to make use of Viewer 2 code and features, these old-style viewers’ features will begin to break. So it’s get used to Viewer 2 or give up Second Life, right? Well, no. The clever third party viewer developers are already offering some alternatives, and I’d like to tell you about one of them.

The developer team responsible for Phoenix has now released their new Viewer 2-based “Firestorm”viewer in a public beta. I’m not going to go into all of its features, you can see those for yourself, or take a weekly class offered in world.

What I will tell you is this: First, it’s a beta release. Expect to find some odd behaviors. But even though I’ve noticed some minor annoyances, I consider it stable enough to use and have been using it myself almost exclusively for a couple of weeks now. Second, it is highly customizable.

What does that mean? Well, let me put it like this. When you first start up Firestorm, the thing looks a lot like Viewer 2. Here are a couple of screenshots for comparison. The main difference is the Viewer 2 “sidebar” of frequently used functions has been moved to a much less intrusive lower menu bar location. So you Viewer 2 users should be pretty happy with it.
Your Basic Viewer 2

Firestorm in Viewer 2 Emulation Mode
But with some tweaking, I have made my Firestorm interface look a lot more like the Phoenix/Viewer 1.23 style interface I’m used to. Take a look at the screenshots below. 
My functions appear in separate windows, not slide-outs from the right. I can put my chat and IM windows over there on the right where I’ve had them for years. I can see my IMs in tabs, just as I’m used to.
Dear Old Phoenix

Firestorm in Phoenix Emulation Mode (with Radar added)

Plus, I have access to all of the most desirable Viewer 2 features like multiple items on a single clothing layer, the new avatar physics layer, and parcel level Windlight environment settings. I can see things that Viewer 2 users see, like the new web based profiles and Search window (or I can see the old style search as well).

And I have functions that no Viewer 2 user has, things I’m used to from Phoenix. Things like an avatar radar, where I can click on a resident and teleport right to them. I’m able to see an avatar’s age and other key information on the radar screen. I have better protection against malicious media streams, and more precise building tools. I have a lot more control over my graphics settings. I can collapse my inventory list with a single mouse click. I have a built in AO with the ability to use multiple animation sets.

Best of all, I have real support. I’m a member of the Phoenix/Firestorm in world group. They offer real time answers to viewer related questions (try getting THAT from Linden Lab!) They have in world office hours. They have a website with a FAQ, a Wiki, and a JIRA bug reporting system, and they actually SOLVE bugs that get reported! They offer a weekly class in how to use the viewer. I can’t BELIEVE they do all this for free…but they do.

This is what a Second Life viewer should be like. This is what support should be like. Brava, Phoenix/Firestorm!

Monday, July 11, 2011

When Traffic Attacks!

Most merchants in Second Life would love to have a higher traffic count. “Traffic” is basically how many avatars visit your land, and how long they spend there. Your traffic score used to affect your Search ranking, but even now that it doesn’t do that, folks still want lots of traffic, because it generally means increased sales.

To gain traffic, merchants advertise. They take out classified ads, they form store groups and send out notices of new products and sales. They put up billboards in world, or small affiliate stores that offer a partial product line and a landmark to the main store. They list products on the Marketplace.

One of the most sought-after forms of advertising is to get yourself listed in the official “Destination Guide”. The Guide is a set of places chosen by Linden Lab, and the Destinations are updated with new entries every week or so, while the oldest entries are taken off the list. The places in the Guide are the ONLY places that newcomers using the Basic viewer mode can gain access to, and they’re also accessible with a single button click in the Advanced viewer mode, and from the SL website.

So, let me tell you what it’s like to get yourself some of this wonderful free visibility: it sucks. Yes, that surprised me too, but I saw this happen to an acquaintance of mine this weekend.

Siggy Romulus owns Siggy’sWaterWorks, an entire region devoted to swimming pools and other items related to water recreation. His products are top-notch; I own one of his diving boards and some of his pool floats and beach towels and swimmer gadgets. His store is a fun place; if you visit it, wear your bathing suit and have fun checking out the pools, the water slides, and the other stuff set out as demos.

Recently, someone (not Siggy himself) got the WaterWorks listed in the Destination Guide. When that happened, his traffic count went through the roof! “Well,” I hear you say, “That must have made him very happy.” Um…no. The people who showed up were crowds of newbies and semi-newbies who seldom bought anything, but cluttered up the place by rezzing houses, vehicles, and all manner of junk. They treated Siggy’s sim as their own personal campground. The WaterWorks became remarkably like Waterhead or any other Linden Infohub crowded with jerks, ne’er-do-wells, and troublemakers.

Siggy had to recruit a number of new managers with parcel enforcement powers. I watched as they stood around armed to the teeth, booting out the worst offenders, and shouting “Buy our shit or get out!” Siggy himself took to wearing a giant tarantula avatar in order to intimidate the mob. There’s a thread about this ongoing incident over on SL Universe.
Spider-Siggy Under Attack by the Pink Hammer Squad
I used to think getting Masocado in the Destination Guide would be a real achievement. Now I know better.

(Oh, one last thing. If you go to the WaterWorks to see the party for yourself…buy some shit, OK?)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Mysti-fied

A few days ago, I posted a plug for the Acoustic Alchemy pianos by Persephone Milk. Here’s another great product for your consideration: The MystiTool by Mystical Cookie

I don’t use my MystiTool much any more, because the thing I used it the most for, its avatar radar, is now included in the viewers I use (Phoenix and Firestorm). Nevertheless, it was a constant companion in the corner of my screen for about three years and I still dig it out and fire it up from time to time. There are just so MANY things that it does!

The MystiTool is a sort of “Swiss Army Knife” multipurpose gadget that only takes up a small bit of screen real estate (in its most usual configuration, it’s just three buttons and can be as little as one). Here’s a list of just some of its features!
  • Defense. Activate a movelock, or a nonphysical shield you can sit on to foil most attacks.
  • Offense. Several attack functions including push, orbit, or kill.
  • Ventriloquist. Make it appear as if someone else is saying what you type.
  • Avatar radar. See who is nearby.
  • Rezzers. Rez a table that always has a seat for one more, or a building platform that can take you to any height, or a pose stand, plus more.
  • Flight assist. Fly higher, or even speed up your flight.
  • Facelight. Single emitter, fully adjustable.
  • Chat spy locator. See what nearby objects are listening to local chat.
  • Keep track of favorite landmarks and your teleport history
  • Stop unwanted animations, perform facial emotive animations.
  • Get region statistics to check on lag, etc.
In addition, other people have made various plugins for the MystiTool. You can make it your AO, or your dance machine, or it can help you find lucky chairs.

Because it does so many things, it contains quite a few scripts. Some parcel owners think it contributes to sim lag, and will ask you to put it to sleep or detach it when you’re on their land. I’ve never noticed a difference in lag with it or without it, but I never argue with them…it’s their land and they make the rules.

The full MystiTool costs $L400, but you can get a simplified version for free. No one should be without at least the free version, and I bet that once you try it, you’ll want the full-featured one.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Con Jobs

The other day I mentioned griefers. There is another sort of unsavory character you may meet in Second Life…the con artist or scammer. Because SL has a microcurrency with real value (linden dollars can be converted back into $USD through PayPal), there’s the usual percentage of people there who are more than happy to relieve you of your $L by dishonest tactics. In fact, the percentage of con artists in SL may even be higher than in Real Life, for a number of reasons: 1) automatic anonymity, 2) small amounts of money mean less likelihood of being hotly pursued, and 3) no criminal penalties.

“What, no criminal penalties?” I hear you exclaim. Nope. There are no laws in Second Life. There are only the Terms of Service and Community Standards and various other Linden Lab policies that they incorporate by reference. Plus, Linden Lab does not enforce any resident-to-resident business agreements or arbitrate business disputes.

Let me say that again: There Are No Laws Here. There is only company policy. You are responsible for your own actions and if you get taken in by someone and lose money you have very little recourse. In order to sue anyone or file a complaint, you would have to go to the Real Life authorities (the FBI has jurisdiction over interstate fraud in the US). They would then have to get a court order to subpoena Linden Lab’s records and the real life identity of the suspect. Also, bear in mind that any sort of civil court action like a lawsuit is going to cost you tens of thousands of dollars. Since most “crimes” in SL involve the loss of maybe a few cents up to say around $50.00, you can imagine that few people choose to prosecute or sue.

So, what should you look out for and what can you do to protect yourself?

Vendor manipulation. A thief can cover a merchandise vendor or an ATM machine with a transparent prim. You think you are paying the vendor prim, but you are really paying the thief’s invisible prim. If you suspect this, enable View Transparent Textures with CTRL+ALT+T and look for a red prim overlaying the vendor. If you see that, notify the store owner and Abuse Report the owner of the transparent prim.

Non-Delivery. This is usually not a scam, but an SL hiccup. Contact the merchant via an IM and a notecard and explain what happened. Include a copy of the transaction from your transaction log (in your account on the SL website). Most merchants are happy to re-deliver.

Store Scams. You may meet someone in a store who claims to be the owner or manager or a salesperson, who offers you a “special deal” on an item if you pay them directly. Don’t do it. Abuse Report them and notify the store owner.

Account Debiting Objects. Some things, like rental boxes or vendors that you yourself own and put out for your business, have a legitmate need to access your account, in order to give refunds to customers. But if you see a notice like this one and are not expecting it, don’t click “Allow”. The object may suck all the money out of your account. There was recently a scam of this nature in which an account-debiting illegal copy of an item associated with the popular “Meeroos” breedable creatures was being distributed.

Sell-and-Scrape. A few estate owners out for a quick buck sell all the land on their island, then kick everyone off and start over. This is less prevalent than it used to be because so many estate owners no longer charge a large “purchase” price, only the weekly or monthly rental fees. But don’t pay rental more than a month in advance; I know some people who pre-paid for a year and got kicked off with no refund. This scam has a limited life expectancy as word gets around about the crooked estate owner. Even so, when leasing private estate land, research the estate owner’s reputation, and carefully read the Covenant.

Be My Business Partner. A friend might offer to go halves with you in purchasing a private island of your own. Be careful; there is only one owner. If it’s them, and they later decide to kick you off the land, you’re out hundreds of dollars. Many partners are honest…but a few are not.

The Disappearing Skybox. Some people will put up skyboxes over land they don’t own, like a public sandbox, and rent them to unsuspecting residents. When the land’s auto-return feature deletes the skybox, the victim gets a nasty surprise. Make sure the person you’re renting from actually owns the land! In a variation of this, someone may try to rent you a private estate parcel. Check to see if they are the estate owner. There are cases of people “selling the Brooklyn Bridge” by renting land that they did not, in fact, own.

Surveys for $L. “Ask me about Free $L!” “Earn2Life”. These and similar scams tell you that you can be paid $L for filling out surveys on the web. I don’t know anyone who’s made money with these, but I’ve heard plenty of complaints from people who have had their computers infected by viruses or malware from the survey sites.

Travel HUD. You wear a special HUD and travel to the places it suggests. If you follow certain rules (like actively looking about and clicking things), you are supposedly paid $L. A friend tried this and not only was not paid, she continued getting annoying messages from the system even after deleting the HUD.

Bargain $L. You might see $L for sale at bargain prices on eBay or some other third party website. Be aware that some crooks use stolen credit cards to buy $L and then sell the $L. If you are the receiver of fraudulent $L, LL will subtract them from your account and charge you a 50% penalty. Only third party sites that use the Linden Lab Exchange Risk API should be trusted.

Help Me! Some avatars simply beg. “Loan me $L50 until Tuesday.” Others give you a sob story. “I’m a poor student/my mother has cancer/they’re going to shut off my internet/my account got hacked and my $L stolen/you name it.” Sometimes the scammer will take days or weeks to become close to you before making his or her pitch. It’s fine to help out a friend…but be aware that not everything people tell you in SL is true.

Threats. Some people try to threaten you. “I’m the SL Police. You have been fined $L50 for misbehaving in a General area. Pay me or your account will be disabled.” Unless an avatar has the last name “Linden”, they have no authority and can be ignored, or Abuse Reported.

If It’s Too Good To Be True…then it probably is. Land has to rent at a high enough price so the owner can pay his tier to LL. Very low rental prices can mean that there is a catch. In the same way, designer skins and clothing at very low prices may be an indicator that the items are illegal copies.