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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What’s in a Name?


You can tell a lot about people in Second Life by the names they choose for themselves.

Of course, these days you can have two names, your User Name and your Display Name. Even so – or maybe “even more so” – your choice of name(s) is revealing.

Oh, it’s not an absolute indicator. I’ve had people accuse me of trying to impersonate a Linden (because my first name is “Lindal”). I’ve had some people think, just seeing my name and not my avatar, that I am male; apparently, “Lindal” is a guy’s name in some places -- Scandinavia, maybe.  I don’t know, I came up with it on my own, with no prior knowledge of any Lindals. I had one tenant ask me how to hide her membership in my tenants group, “Kiddees”, because she thought it carried strong connotations of child avatars and ageplay. Needless to say, none of the above is true.

I look at user names first. The user name is a person’s first input into the world of Second Life, and they generally get to make it with very little knowledge of what SL is really like. I’ll bet you’ve met these people, haven’t you?
  • Security Sam. The name is a string of random characters, often unpronounceable. This person most likely picked the same user name they use for fifty other website accounts, and probably didn’t realize that it would be visible to everyone else in SL. Example: t2i2n2k2e2r2w2h2o2r2e2b2e2l2l Resident
  • Facebooker. They used their real name, or something close to it.
  • Alt. This person has been in SL before, knows how names work, and chooses a name that’s as close as possible to the old first name/last name convention.
  • Gamer. Their name reads more like a title, and probably includes some numbers or special characters. Example: L33t H4x0r Resident
  • Unimaginative. Picks a very ordinary name or a celebrity name, and when they find it taken, tacks on some numbers (usually their birth year) to try for an acceptable compromise. Example: SophiaLoren81 Resident
  • Clever. Picks a name that’s funny, or interesting, or droll. Some of my favorites: Charlotte Sometimes, TristanShout, Shouten Haller, ImNotGoing Sideways, 3Ring Binder
People choose Display Names later, and do so for any number of reasons. The most common one is that they really messed up with their choice of user name, and are backpedaling. People also choose a Display Name to denote some change in their SLife, such as becoming partnered, or getting seriously involved in some roleplay group.

Then there are the people who choose their user name, Display Name, or both, with an eye toward shocking or disturbing others. They may be griefers, or have some political, moral, sexual, or social axe to grind.  We had a griefer at Oxbridge the other day whose name was "ILookLikeShit Resident".

Your Second Life name (especially the user name) is the one part of your avatar you can’t change. Take some time and choose a name that says something positive about you. It’s the very first impression that you send out to everyone in SL.

If you are fairly new, and you’re reading this and thinking, “Too late, I screwed up”…if you really did pick a truly horrendous name, consider dumping your account and starting over again, now that you know better.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Life 2.0

Linden Lab has always refused to spend a nickel on advertising Second Life.  The only coverage our virtual world receives is when someone decides, on their own, to give it a media mention.  About three years ago, SL received a flood of curious newcomers when it was featured in an episode of CSI.

In the last couple of weeks, history has repeated itself.  A documentary called "Life 2.0" aired on the Oprah channel, and our newcomer areas have been flooded ever since.

In one respect, that's good.  I'm always glad to show new people our wonderful virtual world.  But I have a few objections.

First, the documentary itself focused on the negative aspects of social relationships in SL.  Yes, SL has been a factor in the breakup of more than one RL marriage.  Yes, people create personas in SL that are completely unlike their RL selves, and sometimes back that up with the most towering lies about their real lives, too.  People do get addicted to SL and spend too much time in world, to the detriment of their Real Lives.  But that is far from the whole of SL or its residents.  SL has been the starting point for deeply committed RL relationships, too.

But let's assume for a moment that the documentary DID present an accurate picture of SL.  If you venture into this den of iniquity, you're risking your sanity, your marriage, and your entire life.  If that's so, it doesn't say much for the intelligence of the hordes of newcomers now thronging our gates for a look around.  Hey, people, didn't you listen to your TV?  Don't you know this is dangerous?  What in the world possessed you?  Run for your lives!  They are like little kids; you tell them, "don't stick your finger in the light socket" and five minutes later you have a howling kid and a blown circuit breaker.

This same failure to pay attention is apparent in a lot of the new residents I'm seeing.  They ignore signs, they don't listen to mentors.  They certainly didn't take time to do any significant research about SL either on the official website or on any of the other Second Life-related sites or blogs out there, because they ask me "uh, how do you play this game?"

Oh well, never mind.  The retention rate of SL has always been poor.  Most people come, stay an hour or two, and then log off and never return.  I'm seeing about the same proportion of good new residents as always...people who look around in wonder and delight, and obviously "get" SL.  They are the ones who will stay, they are the citizens of the future, the pioneers who will lead the way as virtual realities become more and more a part of all our lives.

Linden Lab could do worse...but it could do better, too.  A little actual advertising, aimed at this segment of the population, could do a lot for the concurrency numbers.  I mean, if negative publicity generates this sort of interest, imagine what positive publicity could do?


Friday, August 19, 2011

Teleportation


Just as we jump from one website to another on the internet, we can jump from one place to another in Second Life, courtesy of teleportation.

Although we take this for granted in SL, there are actually a number of interesting things about this feature.

For one thing, it didn’t always exist. When teleporting was first introduced in SL, it was much more limited than it is today. Teleporting was only allowed between Infohubs. Thus, land in proximity to these hubs became more valuable. If I recall correctly, for at least a short time there was a small per-teleport fee levied, too. But that was far back in the Early Days…since I’ve been in SL, teleporting has always been much as it is today.

One wrinkle that IS fairly new is the ability to teleport to any place your camera can see with a simple double click. This makes getting around large builds a great deal faster and easier.

There are many ways to use the Teleport feature!
  • Landmarks. A Landmark appears as a small red pushpin in your inventory. If you open it, it becomes a small window, with a picture of your destination, a short description, and a Teleport button. Or you can just double click it from within your inventory to teleport without opening it. You can get landmarks from the landmark givers that are installed in most public venues, like stores or clubs. Or you can landmark a spot yourself, by using World/Landmark this Place in your top menus.
  • Home. Everyone has a Home location in Second Life. If you haven’t specifically set one, it’s the infohub where you first arrived in world. You can set a different Home spot on Linden-owned public land, or on land you own, or on land that belongs to one of your groups. Stand on the spot you want to designate, and select World/Set Home to Here in the top menu. You can choose to log in at your Home location (Me/Preferences/General), and you can zip there from anywhere with World/Teleport Home (CTRL+SHIFT+H).
  • The Map. Double clicking your mouse on any spot on the Map will teleport you there. There is also a Teleport button that will take you to whatever map coordinates are in the Map’s destination boxes.
  • SLURLs. A SLURL is an “SL URL”. It looks pretty much like an ordinary Web link, and you can copy and paste it in the same way (use the Windows shortcuts CTRL+C and CTRL+V to copy and paste things in Second Life). If you click on a SLURL in a web browser outside of SL, your Second Life viewer application will open and let you log in, taking you to that location. Clicking a SLURL in a notecard, chat, or IM window will teleport you there.
  • Ads. Locations you find using the Search feature will have a “Teleport” button. You can go there by clicking it.
  • Destination Guide. Ditto.
  • Favorites Bar. In Viewer 2 and related viewers, you have the ability to drag landmarks you use a lot to a bar just below the top menu row.  A single click on a Favorite takes you there.
  • Teleport Offers. Anyone can send you a teleport offer. If you accept it, you will be teleported to their location. You can send an offer by opening a person’s Profile, or clicking Teleport in an IM window with them, or right clicking their name on radar, chat, or IM and choosing Offer Teleport.
  • Teleport To. In some viewers, you have an option to teleport to any avatar, whether they have sent you an offer or not.
  • Double Click TP. Use ALT+left mouse button to move your camera away from your avatar. Place your mouse cursor at the spot you want to go to, and double click. NOTE: If the landowner has set the land to only allow arrivals at a designated teleport spot, you will get a message “Unable to teleport closer to destination”, or in some cases you will be teleported to the arrival spot rather than the target you were aiming for.
  • Local Teleporters. Many large stores and other locations have teleport systems to allow you to get to different parts of the store quickly. These may have many different appearances. The most common are a board with various store departments listed, or a teleport “pad” you can click to go to a single destination, or one that gives you a menu of multiple destinations. But a local teleporter can look like other things too, so look about and let your mouse cursor give you hovertips about things it’s resting on. Sometimes, a local teleporter may be deliberately disguised, such as in a maze or trap.
  • Stargates. There is actually a system that uses “gates” that look very much like the devices used in the TV show “Stargate”. However, there are some other systems that work in the same way but have “gates” with different appearances.
Sometimes, problems can arise while teleporting. You will get an error message if your destination sim is offline, or if it is full. If you are wearing too many prims and scripts, your teleport may fail altogether. In that case you may get an error message “unable to complete teleport in a timely fashion, try again in a few minutes”, or your viewer may simply crash. It has been said that a very large inventory and/or a very large Friends list can slow down your teleports. I find this to be the case; my alts, with very small inventories and Friends lists, can complete a teleport a lot faster than I can.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why I Love Virtual Reality

Lots of reasons, really.  But lately I've come to appreciate just how EASY things are in Second Life compared to Real Life.  Specifically, home construction and remodeling.

In RL, our home has been torn apart in one place or another for what seems like forever, and it's going to go on for at least another forever as we remodel the dear old place, room by room and project by project.  Contractors invading the place at all hours.  Bathrooms ripped apart.  Kitchens demolished.  Walls torn open, and spiders scurrying for cover.  Endless visits to the hardware store, the stone and tile store, the carpet store, the decorator's offices.  Bids, and more bids, and arguments with contractors over bids.  Shoddy work that has to be done over.  And thousands, tens of thousands, of dollars.  Oh well, I didn't want to retire anyway.

In SL, I just point my finger and click the mouse.  A wall appears!  I can defy gravity and build from the roof downward, if I want.  I try out textures...hmm, do I want stone, or brick, or wood?  Insulation?  Electrical wiring?  Plumbing?  Building codes, permits, inspections?  Fuggedaboutit!  I don't even have to round up husky helpers to move furniture about.

OK, so there's lag, and crashes.  But that's a small price to pay for all the other advantages.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Starting Your Business


Let’s say that you’ve acquired some skill at making something, and you’ve decided it’s time to put your creations up for sale. How do you go about it?

If you have a lot of different things, you could open a store, or rent store space in a mall. But if you are just starting out, the expense of buying land and building a store, or even renting one, might be premature. There are two less expensive ways of offering your goods for sale.

The Marketplace. The SL website has a huge section that is like a big web shopping area for virtual goods. You can put items up for sale there for a very modest listing fee. You will need, however, some place in world to put the “Magic Box”.

The Magic Box is a scripted item that you can get for free from the Marketplace.  https://marketplace.secondlife.com/p/Xstreet-SL-Magic-Box/36791  You rez the box in world and place the items you want to sell inside the box. This is actually what delivers your item when a customer orders it from the Marketplace. You can have many items inside one Magic Box.

There are some places that will rent you space for your box. If you have a friend with land, though, you can avoid even that expense. The Magic Box is only one prim; surely you have a friend willing to stick it in a corner somewhere.


A Kiosk. A lot of malls, or even other places, will rent you just a few prims to set out a small kiosk. This is a good way to display and sell small numbers of items. The multi-item vendors, where a customer scrolls through the offerings before choosing one, can save you a lot of prims.

Advertise! Talk with the owners of places that have some relation to what you sell. For example, you’ll find formal gowns and jewelry and tuxedos for sale outside a lot of the more popular ballrooms in SL. Negotiate a deal with people to put up a one prim vendor, or at least a landmark or notecard giver that will lead people to your wares. Announce your product in the appropriate forum. Contact bloggers who cover your product type and tell them about your new offering. If you do own or rent land for a store, take out a Classified ad for it. Never pass up an opportunity to tell friends, acquaintances, and strangers about your business.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Permissions


All the stuff we buy in Second Life is just pictures, right? Computer data, pixels, make-believe. So why do we spend money on it?

Well, the stuff we buy in Real Life is just atoms, when you get down to it. Or even less substantial, merely swarms of quarks. We buy stuff, virtual or real, not because of what it is, in any absolute sense. We buy it because it has value to us. We pay money for our stuff based on an agreement between us and the seller – he feels the price he’s getting is a fair return for the work he did, or the materials he paid for, and we feel that it’s a reasonable price for the value the stuff has for us.

Why do virtual things have real value to us? Mostly, because they provide a form of entertainment. The clothes we buy make our avatar look sexy. The plants and furniture we buy make our virtual homes more realistic and fun to spend time in. They give us endless topics of conversation. (“OMG, you look fabulous! Where did you get those shoes?!”)

If a friend loves our shoes, why not give them a copy? It’s digital stuff in a digital world, just data, and you can just copy and paste data, right? No, not always. Second Life protects the rights of content creators with a permissions system.

In the real world of solid objects, if I have a pair of shoes, you cannot have the same pair of shoes. You might buy another pair just like them, but my shoes are a unique, identifiable item. If I give them to you, then I no longer have them myself. The number of people who can own my pair of shoes is limited by physical laws. But computer data doesn’t behave like that.

If I have some computer data, I can make a copy of it. A perfect copy, completely indistinguishable from the original. I can give you a copy, and you can give your friend a copy, and on and on. An infinite number of items may be created at no cost.

The creation of computer data, whether it takes the form of a pair of shoes, or hair, or a new animation, or an image, involves creative effort. Virtual objects don’t need physical materials, but they do represent time and skill on someone’s part. The creators of Second Life believe that people have a right to be compensated for their time and skill. As a result, the permissions system allows people to decide how others will be able to use, copy, or pass on the things they’ve made.

The usual permissions settings you will run across are:
  • Full Perms. You may copy, modify, or transfer this item. If you give someone a copy, a copy will remain in your inventory. If you rez the item in world, a copy will remain in your inventory. Objects you create are always “full perms” to you yourself, but you may set permissions for the next owner in the build window.
  • Copy/Modify/No Transfer. This is probably the most common situation. You can rez the item in world, and if you lose it or mess it up while editing it, you will still have a copy in your inventory. You cannot, however, give a copy to anyone else. The only time this gets to be a pain is when you are tired of it and want to clean out your inventory. You have to throw away a perfectly good thing…you can’t sell it in a yard sale.
  • No Copy/No Modify/Transfer. A lot of jewelry is Transferable, because it’s often purchased as a gift. When you give someone a No Copy item, it behaves like a Real Life item – once the other person has it, you do not. When you rez it in world, it is in world, not in your inventory. If you forget and delete it, it’s gone.
Some No Copy items are modifiable, but the same basic behavior applies. Only one of the thing exists. Similarly, some Copy/Transfer items are No Modify. Possibly the creator doesn’t want you messing with the perfection that is her creation. Often, this is done as a defense against illegal copying, since it’s easier to steal an object that’s Modifiable.

A few items are sold with NO permissions – No Copy/No Transfer/No Modify. I consider this to be a completely paranoid over-reaction to potential content thieves. I never buy “zero permission” items, as they have very limited utility.

There are some fine points to permissions. For example, an object might contain a “No Modify” script. That makes the object itself “No Modify”, too…but you can still edit its shape and texture, even though it says it’s No Mod.

Textures are almost always sold Full Perm, but are accompanied by a copyright notice and a use agreement. For a texture to be useful to a builder who plans to sell her creations, it must be full permission, so she can pass it on to her customers as part of her build. This means that texture creators have less protection from the permissions system than the creators of other content. Please adhere to the seller’s use agreement.

There are technological ways to defeat the permissions system, for just about everything except scripts. Please don’t. Widespread theft and copying of virtual merchandise can do enough cumulative harm to the virtual economy that it could collapse. The virtual economy of the Second Life Teen Grid did just that, just last year. When all creations are free, very few take the time to create anything worthwhile.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Jobs

One of the things that newcomers ask me a lot is, “How can I get a job?” Second Life is not like some other virtual realities, where you need a job in order to earn game credits, advance in level, or even keep body and soul together. There’s nothing you need money for in Second Life.

But there are lots and lots of things that you want to be able to buy. Eventually, freebies just aren’t good enough, and you want really nice skin, hair, shoes, clothing, and animations for your avatar. You may want to buy land and a home, and furniture, plants…the list goes on and on.

In theory, you could make all this stuff yourself. But you really need some great skills with third party programs like Photoshop, Poser, or Maya, and probably someone has already done what you want. So, you decide it’s worth spending some $L to save yourself hundreds of hours of effort -- which brings us back to the idea of a Second Life job to get some $L for those pretty shoes.

My first and best advice is: Forget it. Almost nobody will hire you until you have at least 30 days experience in SL, and sometimes longer. When and if you do find a job, it will pay far, far less than real life minimum wage. In fact, most jobs in SL are paid only in tips. Let’s say you are a DJ. In a two hour gig, you might make $L500 – 1,000 in tips. That works out to a rate of $1.00 – 2.00 USD per hour. It’s a much more efficient use of your time to get a second Real Life job (or work some overtime). In just a few hours you can make far more than you can in any SL “job”.

If you insist on ignoring my advice, you can find jobs listed in the Help Wanted section of the Classified ads. Use Search in world, or the forums on the Second Life website.

The real money in SL isn't made in traditional “jobs”, but in two areas: Land, and content creation. In both cases, you go into business for yourself.

Land owners buy land, then either subdivide it and rent it out to others, or attempt to re-sell the land at a profit. In either case, they may or may not make improvements to the land, such as terraforming and adding buildings and landscaping. Land owning or speculating doesn’t take a lot of creative skill, but it does take an up front investment, to buy the land, make improvements, and advertise. Also, you must pay the monthly tier fees while you hold the land. It is a highly competitive business, and also highly speculative. Land values have been depressed in SL for more than a year now. I am seeing whole sims, which have an original purchase price of $1,000 USD, being sold for $500, $200, or even $100.

Content creation is a very broad area. “Content” can be anything. Clothes, skin, hair, animations, vehicles, textures, scripts, buildings, weapons, flowers or animals. Anything! In simple terms, you create something that’s new, or at least better than what’s out there now, and you advertise and sell it. This can be done for little or no start up cost, but it may require many, many hours of hard creative work to produce the product(s) you will sell. And there is no guarantee of success. Even if you create wonderful items, you will also need business skills, and a bit of luck, to become a successful merchant.

Don’t try to take a shortcut by buying a “Business In A Box” kit. Even if the content isn’t stolen, or repackaged freebies, you will be selling the same junk as everyone else who bought the kit. Instant competition! If you want to be a merchant, first learn to make your own stuff.

There is one other type of business that can make money in Second Life: Entertainment. There are thousands of clubs and venues. Plus, there are less traditional entertainments such as playhouses and theatres, sports arenas, amusement parks and roleplay areas. You may have a venue, like a club, to attract customers, or you may offer individual personal services, by becoming an escort. Besides the sex worker trade (which does not carry the low status in SL that it does in the real world), a few people offer other services, such as counseling, “legal advice”, fashion photography, or teaching a skill such as scripting or a second language.

Again, your chances of financial success are slim. Almost all clubs in Second Life are like boats…a hole into which you throw money. (And time. Managing a club is very time-intensive).

I'll admit, some people get a kick out of starting and running a successful business venture. To some of them, it's "cheating" if you use real world money to buy $L...they want to "make it big starting from humble beginnings." A few manage this, but it is NOT easy or quick.

Here’s my final bit of Good Advice: Don’t look for a job or a business opportunity in SL with the idea of making money. This is a virtual world; your time spent here is optional, “free” time. Don’t waste your precious free time doing anything you don’t enjoy! Contrariwise, if you find something you love…whether that’s being a stripper in a sleazy club or designing haute couture…then do it! There’s a popular self-help book called “Do What You Love – The Money Will Follow”. Nowhere is that more true than in Second Life.

[EDITED TO ADD:]
There is a new way to make a little pocket money in SL...play the Linden Realms game.  Collect crystals, and turn them in for $L.  Once again, I suggest that you don't spend hours and hours at this, unless it's something you enjoy doing.  However, it IS a way for the penniless newcomer to earn a little money.  Search "Linden Realms" in world, and teleport to one of the entry portal areas.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Full Immersion


No, this is not a Baptist revival meeting. Today I want to talk about the sort of immersion that can occur in a virtual reality environment such as Second Life -- and your first experience of it might indeed be a sort of baptism, in a sense.

Immersion does not happen to everyone who logs into a virtual world. Some people never lose the sense of themselves sitting there in front of their computer, operating their “toon” on the screen. Others slip in and out of immersion, either at will or unconsciously. And still others plunge into the virtual world, losing much of their awareness of the “real” world.

How do you know if you are immersed? Perhaps the best description of immersion I’ve ever come across is this. Consider two computer-aided communications methods: video teleconferencing, and Second Life.

When you’re using the former, there is no sense of a shared reality. You are “out here”, watching a screen with other people on it. If someone leans close to their camera pickup, you have no sense that your personal space is being invaded. They appear larger, but they are still “in there”, on the other side of the screen.

In contrast, when you are an avatar in Second Life, and another avatar steps up close to you, you may feel uncomfortable…just as you would in real life when someone invades your personal space. Your instinctive reaction is to move your avatar back a step. That’s immersion.

This sense of immersion, of “really being there” is perhaps the most compelling feature of virtual life. It can be, however, a hazard as well as a thrill…because while other people can interact with you in pleasant ways (often very pleasant indeed!) they can also interact in ways that are emotionally painful or frightening.

Once, when I was fairly new to SL, I had bought a new outfit with some parts that needed editing to fit correctly. I was in a public place, but there happened to be a pose stand nearby, so I hopped on it and began fiddling with the position of my attachments. While I was doing this, another avatar flew by, then stopped and watched me for a while from a distance. Suddenly he ran up to me, and used an animation HUD of some kind to leap on me. Up close, he was ugly, almost demonic in appearance, and his HUD whispered lascivious phrases to me in chat.

I was startled, and frightened. Before I could figure out what to do, he hopped off and teleported away…but I shook for maybe fifteen or twenty minutes afterward. I felt violated, almost as if I had been raped. I have heard many similar stories from others since then, and they all report this sense of fear, shame, and helplessness.

Now that I am more experienced, I’ve developed the ability to “step back”, to pull away mentally and emotionally from the virtual world back into my home office when I need to. But until you develop this knack of distancing yourself from your avatar, unpleasant encounters in SL can be just as shocking as they would be in real life. So, young avatar, come on in, the water’s fine…but be careful of the riptides, hmm? Remember that you can get out of ANY bad spot with CTRL+Q, the Quit command.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Flash! Complete Info on How to Fix a Ghosted Avatar

Linden Lab claims that with the newer server software, ghost avatars are a thing of the past.  I'm not so sure...some bugs seem to creep back in from time to time.  One of the most frustrating ones is ghosting.

When this occurs, usually after a crash following a teleport attempt, you can no longer log in to SL.  If you look at your online status, the system thinks you are already on line.  And in fact, if someone goes to your location, there your avatar will be, silent and unresponsive.

The most complete information I've ever seen on how to fix this problem can be found here:
http://blog.nalates.net/index.php/2010/10/09/second-life-i-cant-login/

Kudos to Nalates for compiling this information!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Alien Abduction!

I almost forgot to tell you!  Last Sunday, I was abducted by an alien in Second Life.

Well, actually, I sort of invited myself along.  I met this little blue guy at the White Tiger Help Island, y'see, and asked him, jokingly, if I could get a ride in his flying saucer.  Lo and behold, he produced one...and it was a perfect replica of that B-movie saucer that you may remember from "Forbidden Planet" (later stolen by Lost in Space).  We had a great flight, and the saucer even had an "alien abduction beam".

The whole outfit...alien avatar AND spacecraft, AND a ray gun...is available at a very reasonable price from the "UFO Shop".  You'll have to do your own research to get the landmark this time, I'm posting from a place where I can't log in world and get it for you.  No pictures either...hey, it wouldn't be an authentic alien encounter if I had proof, now would it?

Have fun with it!

Tennis Mystery

Looking at my statistics for the week, my innocuous little post about Second Life tennis seems to be a huge hit.  I'm glad...I'm always happy to see people reading my stuff...but for the life of me, I don't understand it.

Y'all are strange, you know that?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Measuring Your Land

If you are thinking of buying a parcel of land, or putting a new house on a parcel you already have, you’ll want to know two important measurements. First, how many prims can you put there? Each 512 square meters supports 117 prims, but this can vary due to several factors. Check the allowable prims by going to World/About Land (V2: Parcel Details) and looking at the Objects tab 

Second, what are the land’s physical dimensions? In SL, we use the metric system, and all dimensions are in meters (very sensibly, I might add. There’s almost no need for all those tiresome conversions they made us suffer through in school.)

There are several ways to measure your parcel’s boundaries.
  1. Make your boundary visible with View/View Property Lines. (World/Show More/Property Lines in Viewer 2).  Rez a prim. Make it 8 meters long, and 0.5m in the other dimensions…a long rod. Place one end at a parcel corner and position it along the boundary line. Hold SHIFT and drag the prim to create a copy. Position it at the end of the first one.  Continue in this fashion to the end.
  2. Forget the yardstick. Right click the ground at a parcel corner.  Choose Edit Terrain and Select Land, and drag your selection box slowly along the boundary. The selection moves in 4-meter “steps”, so you can just count the number of steps and multiply by four to get your result.
  3. Red Border with tick marks
    If you own the land, forget the selection box. If you look closely at the property lines, you’ll see they have little tick marks in them. Each of these represents four meters (the smallest dimension allowed for any parcel of land).
If there is water on the land, it may hide your view of the property lines. You can turn off the water temporarily by going to Rendering/Types and uncheck “water”. The Rendering menu is under the Advanced menu in Phoenix and 1.23 style viewers, and under the Develop menu in Viewer 2 based types.

Remember that land dimensions are always divisible by 2.

Parcel
Dimensions
Area
Prims (may vary)
Full Region
256x256
65,536
15,000
Quarter Region
128x128
16,384
3,750

Eighth Region
64x64
4,096
936


The 4096 parcel is a common one found on private estate islands, and is a good size, with enough space and prims for a very comfortable home.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Transparency

No, this is not a call for more visibility into Linden Lab’s policies and plans! Today’s topic is texture transparency in Second Life. Hang on tight, it’s going to get a bit technical out.

All textures in SL (in fact, most computer images everywhere) are “bitmapped”. That means that they consist of an array of tiny picture elements, or “pixels”, much like a pointillist painting. Each little pixel has a color…actually three colors. Three color channels – Red, Green, and Blue – each have a value assigned to them, usually from 0 to 255. A pixel with a value of 0,0,0 is black. One with a value of 255,255,255 is pure white. Pop quiz: What’s the RGB color value of a fully saturated green pixel? Right! 0,255,0.

The range 0-255 can be expressed by an eight bit binary number. Decimal 255 = binary 11111111. So, images that use this three color system are commonly called “24 bit color”, because 3 color channels X 8 bits = 24.

But what about transparency? Ah…that requires a fourth channel, called the “alpha channel”. This modified color system is known as RGBa, and uses 32 data bits per pixel. In the alpha channel, 0 is opacity, and 255 represents complete transparency.

Not all file formats support transparency. JPEG, for example, does not, but the .PNG or .TGA file formats do. There are many times when you don’t WANT any transparency to creep into your image, and for those occasions, a JPEG image is the better choice.

In SL, transparency can be achieved in five different ways.
  1. The transparency slider. In the Texture tab of the Build menu window, there is a scroll box for Transparency. In former days, this would only go up to 90, but in the current viewers that’s been fixed and you can dial in a 100% transparent texture. This is now the preferred method of making things transparent.
  2. A transparent texture. You can apply a texture with a 100% alpha channel to the face of a prim and make it invisible. There are many such textures out there, and you can create your own in a paint program. However, it’s suggested that you use the one in your Library, called “Default Transparent”. This is because it’s in wide use throughout SL. If you are in a place where there are ten different transparent textures in use (each with its own unique identifying UUID), your viewer has to download and render all of them. If all of those textures are the same transparent texture, your viewer’s job is made easier and things render faster.
  3. A script. You can drop a simple little script into a prim to turn it transparent.

    {default
    {
    state_entry()
    {
    llSetAlpha(0.0, ALL_SIDES);
    llRemoveInventory(llGetScriptName());
    }

  1. An Invisiprim. This is a prim with a special script in it that makes avatar textures behind it invisible. It’s used primarily in making shoes, to mask portions of the foot that would otherwise be visible. Invisiprims are rapidly being replaced by alpha masks on the avatar mesh.
  2. Alpha masks. These are transparent textures that are applied to parts of the avatar, just like any clothing layer, rendering part of you invisible.

Textures may be only partly transparent, or transparent only over part of their area. This is great for creating images like hair, or plant leaves on a flat prim.
You can make a one way window…a prim that is transparent on one side, and opaque when looked at from the other side. For a wild example of this, go to The Free Dove and take a look at the walls of the store from inside, and from outside.
By the way, textures (any texture, not just transparent ones) are one sided. That is, you can only see them from one side. If you move your camera inside a prim, you can look out as if nothing was there. Even the ground in SL only has one side. Slide your camera under the turf sometime!
Transparent textures highlighted with CTRL+ALT+T
You can view transparent textures by toggling CTRL+ALT+T. When activated, transparent or semitransparent things are highlighted in red. You can see who has on that six-emitter facelight, or who forgot to take off their prim genitals, or who is carrying an invisible machine gun.
Many builders consider it good practice to make each prim of a structure completely transparent, then apply other textures only where needed. This results, for example, in walls that do not show seams even if they are misaligned by a tiny amount.
Alpha Conflict.  Note my collar and cuff showing through my hair
Transparent textures can produce unwanted visual effects when one is placed behind another. This results in a phenomenon called “alpha channel conflict”. The viewer does not know which transparent thing to put in front of the other. It’s particularly annoying when you have a house where the builder saved prims by making a wall with a window painted into it with an alpha channel. The entire wall, not just the clear window, can experience this alpha channel conflict, and things that are outside the house can appear to be inside.

There now. I hope that clears everything up.