Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Toast to Toast

This one has nothing to do with Second Life, but everything to do with bloggers.

I never intended to have a blog.  The very word is a horrid neologism that calls to mind substances with unpleasant odors, textures, and orgins.  There were three people who played a part in convincing me to try it.

The first was my Second Life partner Eveline.  She is (completely without justification in my opinion) convinced of my intelligence, wisdom, insight and compassion, and nagged me incessantly encouraged me to "reach a wider audience".

The second was my friend Zippy.  Zip is an academic, and believes that everything worth discussing is, or should be, written down.  Chat and IM is too ephemeral a medium for her; ideas must be chiseled in everlasting pixels, set down for posterity...and then dissected, debated, discussed, and argued.  Actually, she wants me to write a book...THE book, the definitive work, on virtual worlds and their social ramifications.  The blog is a compromise position.

The third is a woman I've never met.  Six years ago Karen "Toast" Conger and her husband sold almost everything they owned and became cruising liveaboards, traveling the world with their three daughters aboard a 40-foot catamaran.  Toast writes of their adventures with wit, insight, and humor.  Her blog is a wonderful window into the cruising lifestyle.  It also speaks to any parent.  We nod and agree with her as she chronicles the day to day family crises and triumphs...and share her pride as her girls grow to womanhood.  Toast taught me by her example what a blog can be.  I'm not in her league, and my subject matter isn't as widely appealing as hers...but if I have an idol in the blogosphere, someone I want to grow up to be, it's her.

You can find her at Toast Floats.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Of Gods and Men

It occurs to me that Second Life and ancient mythology have a lot in common.  I don't mean that SL looks like ancient Greece or Rome, although parts of it certainly do.  But in the world of mythology, the gods were known to come down from Mount Olympus and walk among mortals.  They were often disguised, appearing just like any other person.  But sometimes they revealed themselves, inspiring awe and fear.  Also, the ancients gave their gods the same failings as mortals.  They bickered and squabbled among themselves, they could be besotted or jealous, petty or petulant, angry and vengeful.  Above all, they could be capricious, and there was darn little the poor mortals could do except try hard not to come to their notice.

And so it is in Second Life.  Our gods are the Lindens, and they dwell in San Francisco, not on Mount Olympus.  We entreat them; we revere those who, like ancient priests, seem to have their ear.  We bemoan their capricious changes to our viewer, the Terms of Service, the Marketplace and the world.

The gods walk among us in Second Life.  Sometimes openly, such as the time I attended a Concierge party and Leo Linden showed up (as a lion avatar, naturally) and good-naturedly allowed the Residents to pelt him with bricks, anvils from the sky, and all manner of things.  Sometimes they wear disguises.  I was at the arrival point of Caledon Oxbridge University not long ago, greeting newcomers.  One newbie girl appeared, and I reeled off my standard greeting and offered to answer questions or provide assistance.  Then the girl opened an IM and said, "Hi Lindal.  I'm really Lexie Linden.  I'm checking out the newcomer spots to see how they're treating new residents."

Well, I was very glad I hadn't said something biting or sarcastic to her!  Here was someone who could end my Second Life on a whim.  Not that I think she really would;  Lexie was never anything but pleasant to me.  But you can bet I was suddenly very much on my best behavior.

Sometimes we encounter gods from other pantheons, too.  I remember the story one resident told about the man she met in SL.  This fellow seemed to be a braggart -- he went on about how he was some sort of minor royalty in Real Life, and had a huge mansion, and this collection of classic cars, and a yacht, yadda yadda yadda.  She didn't believe him of course; who would?  But in the end it turned out that the guy was telling the truth!

Be nice to your fellow Second Life residents.  You never know -- one of them could be a god or goddess in disguise. 

EDIT:  Glorf, were you thinking of this?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Another Look at Direct Delivery

Well, we've had the "trial" version of Direct Delivery up for a few weeks now, and it appears to have REALLY been a trial for quite a few merchants.  I have had no problems with it myself, but even if I did it wouldn't be a big issue, because I have only one item on the Marketplace, and that's a freebie -- a brochure about my rental property.

But others have reported a bewildering variety of issues.  Items from other merchants appearing in another merchant's listings.  Having the Marketplace suddenly forget that you ARE a merchant.  Incorrect pictures or descriptions of items.  Tons of issues with slow loading, slow delivery, or non-delivery.  When browsing the Marketplace today, I came across a fat pack of shoes that normally sells for about $L1600 listed at $L 0...I'm not sure if the merchant did that on purpose (because they are an older product) or if the Marketplace did it to her.

I'm not going to talk about any of these issues in detail.  That's being done in the JIRA bug reporting and tracking system, in the Merchant forums, and on plenty of other blogs.  But some time back, I wrote about how the Marketplace is causing more and more merchants to close their in-world stores, in the same way that internet commerce is putting pressure on Real Life "brick and mortar" stores  (Online vs. In World Shopping).  Aggregated together, all the recent problems of the Marketplace (whether related to Direct Delivery or some other cause), raise a couple of interesting questions.

Is the Marketplace a reliable substitute for an in world store?  If you ONLY sell your stuff on the Marketplace, people can't go in world to see the thing close up and personal.  Even if there aren't any delivery problems, your pictures and description might not show all the details that a prospective buyer wants, before she makes a purchase decision.  And what if the Marketplace data base gets even MORE messed up?  You have all your eggs in one basket, and that basket is being held by the Linden Lab Commerce Team -- a group not known for their skillful handling of either Marketplace technical or social issues.  If you are a small merchant with only a few items and occasional sales, a complete FUBAR* situation may not be a big deal for you.  But if you have thousands of items and hundreds of sales a day and count on those sales for part or all of your Real Life income, you could be in Really Big Trouble.

Is the Marketplace the best place to buy virtual goods?  If you are a consumer, every time you put more than two items in your shopping cart, you're risking non-delivery.  The time spent working that out with investigating your transaction history, notecards to the merchant, and support tickets to LL could far exceed the value of the items you wanted to buy.

Will continued problems with the Marketplace lead to a revival of in world stores?  That could be interesting, and could conceivably result in an uptick in virtual land values.  Do you suppose that Linden Lab has thought of this and the whole thing is a Machiavellian scheme?  No, probably not.  As Hanlon's Razor says, "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."

I hope the Lab gets this all sorted out soon.  But for now...excuse me, I'm off to buy some shoes.

*Military or engineering slang. "Fucked Up Beyond All Repair"

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Objectivity, Part II - The General Tab

Shug Maitland's comment on my last post almost talked me into talking about textures this time, but I decided it would be best to take things in order.  So let's take a look at the settings in the General tab of the Build tools window.  Here's a picture from the last post to remind you of what it looks like.

At the top left is a column of round radio buttons.  I don't use most of them very often, except for Select Face, which is very useful when texturing things.  Click this button, then click on a face of your object.  It becomes highlighted, with a circle in the middle of that face's texture.  You can select more than one face (even on multiple prims) by holding Shift and clicking each face you want to select.

I also use Edit Linked a lot.  Once you have linked several prims into an object (or, as we say, a "linkset"), selecting that object selects ALL of the prims.  When this button is checked, you can click on an individual prim in the linkset to tweak it without disturbing the others.

To the right of the round buttons, there are several square check boxes.  Stretch Both Sides means that when you stretch one face of a prim, the opposite face will move equally, in the opposite direction.  If Stretch Textures is checked, any textures you have applied to the object will stretch along with the object.  Otherwise, the texture will remain the same size, but begin to repeat itself if necessary.  Snap makes the object move and re-size in increments, using the scaling of the "building grid".  I never use this one myself, but it can be useful for positioning things exactly.  I don't generally worry about the other boxes, either.

Moving down, there is a Link and Unlink button.  To Link a number of prims, first select one.  You can then select others, by holding Shift while you click them, or by dragging a selection rectangle around all the prims you want to select, like lassoing them.  If you select one you don't mean to, continue holding Shift and click it again to de-select it.  The important thing to remember is that the LAST prim you select will become the "root prim" of the linkset.  Choosing the right prim to be the root can be important, as the object will rotate about the center of the root prim.  I hate wearing hair and jewelry that doesn't have a root prim positioned at the's much more difficult to edit its position on your avatar correctly.  Besides the Link/Unlink buttons, you can also link or unlink prims with the Build menu at the top of your main SL window, or use the shortcuts CTRL+L and CTRL+SHIFT+L.

The button you see to the right, that says "World", is where you can choose the coordinate set you want to use.  The two important ones are World and Local.  TIP:  When building, always keep things aligned to the World axes as much as possible.  This makes it MUCH easier to align things.  Sometimes, when working with things on an angle, like pitched roofs and stairs, it's very handy to switch to Local coordinates.  When you do this, the movement axes line up with the prim instead of with the world's X,Y, and Z axes.  Further tip:  The X axis is red, and runs east and west in world.  The Y axis is green, and runs north and south.  The Z axis is blue, and points up and down.

Directly below these buttons, there is some text.  In the picture above, it shows "1 object selected, Land Impact 1".  What this means is that I have one object selected (the cube from our previous discussion), and it consists of a single prim.  "Land Impact" has recently replaced a straight prim count, because Mesh objects (and now, objects with certain other properties) are counted differently than just adding up their actual prims, in determining how they affect the region's computing resources.  But for most purposes, you can think of "land impact" as being "number of prims in this object."

We'll skip the next row, which is where you select the tab of the build window you want to look at

Next, there is a box for your object's name.  PLEASE take a couple of seconds and put something besides "Object" in here.  Naming your prims and your objects properly is the builder's equivalent to documenting source code.  It helps you determine just what that thing is that showed up in your Lost and Found folder, and it helps future owners understand just what this thing is they have.  You'll also notice that I am both the Creator and the Owner of this object.  When you buy, or are given, an object, the creator does not change, but your name will now appear as the Owner. 

What about the Groups information?  If you are on group owned land, objects you create there will be set to that group (if they aren't, then you probably need to switch your group tag to that land's group.  Otherwise, the land's auto return feature may send your creation to your Lost and Found folder.)  You can allow other group members to move or use your object by clicking Share.  Only a very few objects need to be Deeded to a group.  Scripted items such as radios and TVs, for example, must be Deeded to the land group to let them control the land's audio and media settings.

The remainder of the General tab deals with setting your object for sale, and establishing what permissions you will permit future owners to have.  We'll pass over that for now; you're still making plywood cubes, young are not a Jedi Merchant yet!

Next time:  The Object tab!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Objectivity, Part 1

Today, it's back to basics time!  In this post, I'll talk about Second Life objects.  I'll say more about them in some future posts, too...but this will not be a complete course in Second Life building by any means.  For that, you should start with the great self-paced tutorials at The Ivory Tower Library of Primitives.

Second Life objects are (with two notable exceptions) made up of "prims," which is short for "geometric primitives".  These are basic shapes like a box, a ball, or a donut (torus).  They can be stretched, squashed, cut, tapered and twisted in various ways, textured with images, and linked together to form all the things you see in Second Life.  They are created using the in-world building tools. 

The two exceptions are:

1.  Sculptured prims (sculpties).  A sculpty is an ordinary prim (most start out as spheres, but they can also be a torus, cone, or plane).  A special texture called a "sculpt map" is applied to the prim.  The color values of this sculpt map (Red, Green, and Blue, with possible numerical values from 0-255) are used not to color the object, but to tell your graphics card how far to move the vertexes of the base object from their starting positions.  This makes the sculpty look (on your screen) like an object with an organic shape...a pretty high heeled pump, or a gnarled tree branch or a boulder, for instance.  Sculpties are usually made Phantom because, while the object may look like one thing, Second Life uses the bounding box of the original, un-sculpted object for purposes of figuring collisions.  Sculpt maps are created in third party programs such as Blender, Sculpty Paint, Rokuro, Wings 3D, Maya, or LightWave 3D...any program which allows the creation of "UV weight maps".

2.  Mesh objects.  Mesh objects are fairly new to SL.  Instead of primitive shapes, a mesh object is made up of many triangular or four sided 2-dimensional polygons.  Meshes are created with third party programs.  Any 3D modeling program which will export your work as a Collada (.dae) file can be used.  Depending on its size, level of detail, and whether it contains scripts, a Mesh object may have more or less land impact than the same object made out of ordinary prims.  Mesh can only be seen correctly with newer, "mesh enabled" Second Life viewers.  If you use an older viewer and look at mesh, you will see a collection of balls and toruses.

The Build Window.  This is the place where you play God and create things from thin air.  Go to a sandbox, or anywhere else you can rez objects.  Right click the ground, select Build (or Create, depending on your viewer).  The mouse cursor changes into a magic wand.  Left click it on the ground, and phwooosh!  a plywood cube appears.

Congratulations!  You are now a Second Life Content Creator.  Next time, I'll talk about some of the settings in that Build window.  But until then, have some fun exploring them for yourself, and see what you can do to that poor innocent cube.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

FLASH! Cool Technique for reflections

We can't make mirrors in SL...the only thing that truly reflects is water.  But, with the proper settings, water can BE your mirror, and the marvelous Inara Pey shows you how, with some help from some friends.

Don't Take Candy from Strangers!

When you were little, I bet your mom told you that.  Mine did.  It's good advice for Second Life, too.  There are several "bad things" that people may try to give you:

- A URL to a "phishing" website that, on first glance, seems to be a Second Life web login page.  Don't enter your user name and password information!  If you do, you will have given them to the scammer, who can then log in as you, take your money, delete your account, or use it to commit Terms of Service violations that will get you banned.

- An account debiting object.  When you rez it, it will request permission to take $L from you.  If you are not paying attention and click "Allow", it can suck all the money out of your account.  This may even be something that you have bought, rather than something someone gives you.

- A deformer.  This could be something you wear, an object you sit on, or even a gesture.  When used, it will deform your avatar into a bizarre shape, necessitating a re-log.  If it's a gesture, it will re-deform you until you deactivate it.

- A griefer object.  The "Bad Lab" HUD (so I'm told) will begin to automatically grief the region you are in when you put it on.  It creates particle attacks and self-replicating physical megaprims (very laggy!)  Since you are the one wearing the device, guess who will get AR'd for griefing?!

- Stolen Content.  People may pass stolen content to you in all innocence.  This can be embarrassing when someone accuses YOU of being a copybotter.  However, in most cases the worst that will happen is that LL will delete stolen content from your inventory and replace it with (fairly useless) generic items, if the creator has filed a DMCA takedown notice regarding the stolen items.

- A chat spy object.  This can be almost anything, and while you're wearing it (or are within chat range, if it's something like furniture that you've put in your home), it will relay any local chat it "hears" to the person who's spying on you.  You can get "listener detectors", but many objects have legitimate reasons to listen to local chat, so detecting an actual spy device can be tricky.

Now, I don't mean to say that you should NEVER accept things from strangers.  People in Second Life are, generally speaking, generous souls and often hand out useful freebies to all and sundry.  But do be aware that a few people DO give out these "poisoned candy" types of items, and exercise some caution!

Monday, April 9, 2012

More on Immersion: IMVU vs. Second Life

Yesterday, I created an account and logged into the popular 3D chatroom, IMVU.  The first thing I noticed was that IMVU had more than twice as many people logged into it as Second Life...the concurrency at that moment was about 97,000.

The second thing I noticed was that IMVU is very tied into other things.  If you sign up for a trial of this or that, or install an add-on for your web browser, or many other things, you receive IMVU "credits".  These credits are the IMVU equivalent of $L, and you can use them to purchase clothes and accessories for your avatar (but you can't, apparently, cash them out for real money.)  So, in addition to being an application, IMVU is an advertising medium.

I spent a short time customizing my avatar.  This is much easier than in Second just make selections of things from pictures of them in your "inventory".  There are no Appearance sliders.  So...easier, but nowhere near as much creative control.

Then I logged in to one of many "public chat rooms".  This one appeared to be a plateau, maybe 20m in diameter, with a number of benches and other seats strewn about.  Five or six people were there, chatting.
It had the "feel" of an SL Infohub, although it was much smaller and the occupants were a tad less rowdy.

I soon found out one reason for can't walk about in IMVU.  You can swing your camera about very easily, but your avatar remains in a fixed (but animated, like the standing pose in an AO) position.  You can't even turn to face the person you're talking to.  By clicking on another spot on the ground, you can relocate your avatar there, and you can sit on something in much the same way.  But it's all instantaneous, not like moving within a world at all.

And in fact, IMVU is not a world.  There is no "geography".  There are only "rooms".  Some of these rooms may be quite large, and even appear to be an outdoor scene.  But they are not connected in any way.  You can have your own "room"...I was invited to one by another avatar almost as new as myself.  This "room" was analogous to a Linden Home...something that is pre-built and given away free to all members.  My new friend's room was a nice, modern studio apartment.  Camming outside, however, there was...nothing.  Just black space.  Nothing exists outside a room.

While IMVU shares many of the features of Second Life, it is much more limited in terms of world simulation, movement, economy, and creative tools furnished to the user.  So...why is it more popular?  The only suggestions that come to my mind are:
- IMVU is primarily aimed at person to person communication. 
- Because it is narrowly focused, it's easier to use than SL.  These two features make it popular with social media users.
- IMVU has done a much better job of advertising to the general public than SL.  You can buy IMVU credits on plastic cards at your local convenience store!

(If you're a creative type, you CAN create content for IMVU, and earn credits when people buy your stuff.  Content is created in third party programs, then submitted to IMVU for approval by their censors and uploading to their marketplace.)

There is a LOT of content available.  If you don't mind spending the credits, you can customize your avatar quite extensively.  So, the "dress up" part of SL is available here.

But for me, there are three things that I find unacceptable about IMVU.
- No two way currency exchange
- Too much "real world" advertising
- And worst of all, because of the limitations of the world and our movement within it, there is no sense of immersion.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Immersion: In Over Your Head?

Second Life is, as I and many others have remarked, an "immersive" environment.  That is, you can let yourself sink into the feeling of "really being there".  When you do, it can feel as if things that happen to your avatar really happen to "you".  Some big, macho guy invades your personal space, and you instinctively move your avatar a step back.  Someone dances with you and you feel yourself swaying in your chair to the music, and can almost feel their arms around you, the warmth of their body close to yours.

This is one of SL's greatest appeals.  In this virtual reality, we can, for a while, live in a better place.  We can forget the annoyances and trials of our mundane Real Lives and become younger, slimmer, more attractive.  We can live in a luxurious mansion by the sea, instead of a dingy, run-down little apartment.

All this is true, and wonderful.  But there are darker sides to immersion as well.  We can be just as hurt by rejection or betrayal or lies as in Real Life.  We may find that we have trusted someone unwisely, and they have talked us into parting with real money.  We can fight with someone and come away shaking with reaction.

And sometimes we get so immersed that we completely forget that it's possible to close the program, stand up from the computer, and walk away.  Today there was a post in the SL Answers blog on the Second Life website from someone who was ranting about all the people who kept "making her sister pregnant", despite "sterilization".  She got several great answers, mostly in the form of "it's only roleplay, sweetie.  You don't have to play if you don't want to."  Unfortunately, she was so immersed in virtual reality that she kept insisting, "you CAN get pregnant in Second Life."

I remember a time when I was a new-ish avatar, and homeless.  I came across a pose stand out in public, and decided to use it to adjust my new hairstyle.  While I was locked down on the stand, another avatar, with a leering, demonic appearance, jumped on me.  Some scripted gadget he was wearing began saying lascivious things in local chat.  I was so startled that I completely forgot about what to do.  I literally froze in place, back there in Real Life, staring at this horrid person who was violating me.  Yes, I FELT violated.  I felt as if he was right there, whispering filthy words in my ear.  After a short time, he hopped off and flew away, but I shook for about twenty minutes.

I'm older now and more experienced.  I've learned how to "step back" from my immersion when it's necessary.  It's not always easy, and it doesn't help too much with the emotional turmoil that can accompany an argument with someone you care about.  But sometimes it's necessary to pull back, pull out, take a deep breath and remind yourself that "it's just pixels".

EDIT:  I just discovered I had written a very similar post on this topic ("Full Immersion", Aug 9, 2011)  I apologize, dear readers...and hope this isn't a trend.  I would hate to think I've run out of new things to say, I haven't even been writing this blog for a full year yet!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Brianna x 2

While entertaining myself by re-reading my own words (do all bloggers do this?  Or am I the only one so vain?) I happened to notice that Miss Brianna Nitely appears twice in my Followers list.

Now, this could be a glitch.  The Follower list has always been one of the weakest parts of Blogger's software.  Or perhaps Miss Nitely, in a rare moment of forgetfulness, Followed me a second time.  Or maybe there are people of identical appearance and name.  This being a blog about Second Life, anything's possible.

If Miss Nitely happens to read this post, could she comment, message, IM or otherwise communicate to possibly shed some light on the mystery?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Among the Inmates of Bay City

Everyone who uses Second Life is crazy, we all know that.  But within our vast virtual asylum, there lurk other, darker places for the insane, unstable, and mentally unbalanced.

I visited one today, the Channel Island Asylum in Bay City.

The Welcoming Entrance
It was dark and gloomy when I arrived outside the gates, and it only got darker.  Passing through the heavy wrought iron gates (left ajar by some careless guard or escaping maniac), one enters a dirty, run down institution.  The linoleum floors are long past needing replacement, and rats scurry everywhere.

Passing the reception area, one walks down a long corridor, lined with rooms where the nonviolent patients are housed.  I thought that if one were not already depressed on admission to this facility, a short stay would ensure the condition.
Just Another Nut in the Booby Hatch

At the end of the corridor, a non-obvious and narrow stair leads to the second floor.  This is the violent ward, and the cells are padded.  Inside one, I could see a nurse preparing to give a raving, straitjacketed patient an injection.  At one end of this floor is an operating theatre, with a very unfortunate patient on a gurney.  At the other end is a rickety stair leading to the attic.

The true horrors of the asylum are found here in the attic.  A dead body, still oozing blood from a huge knife wound in the back, sprawls on the rough wood planking.  A couple of other bodies are hung up, wrapped in plastic bags.  (And just how often IS pork on the asylum menu? I wondered queasily.)  In one corner is a Thing In A Crate, and you can take a copy of him home as a souvenir of your visit.
I Didn't Do It!

He's So Cute!  Er...I think.
Highly recommended for dark roleplay, or for visiting during the Halloween season.