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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Trust, Distrust

The other day, I was helping a relative newcomer solve a problem.  But something set off alarm bells in her head, and for some reason (I put it down to too many hours on line without a break) she began to suspect that I was an alt of someone who had been giving her a hard time. 

I was taken aback...I was NOT an alt of this person, of course...but how could I prove it?

The answer is, you can't.  As liberating and fun as the anonymity of Second Life (and much of the rest of the internet) is, it has this drawback.  When someone chooses to believe something of you, there is very often little or nothing you can do to prove to them that they're mistaken.

There are many situations in Second Life where you must take another person on faith, and simply trust that they are telling you the truth.  When a helpful stranger sends you a free item, should you accept it?  Or is it a griefing object that will cause you all sorts of problems?

When someone tells you, "Suzy SlutTastic is Lindal Kidd's alt, you know"...should you believe them?  If I say indignantly, "Don't be absurd, I never heard of this Suzy!"...should you believe me?

If someone is selling a line of items that look an awful lot like the items you bought from another merchant six months ago...who is copying whom, or is it a case of independent development?

Someone sends you a URL in chat or IM, and when you click on it, it takes you to what seems to be a familiar SL sign in page...should you enter your user name and password?  Or is it a "phishing" site that will compromise your account information?

If you download and install a third party viewer, is it safe?  Or will it invade your computer and steal your passwords and identity?

There are two avatars nearby.  Suddenly, you are orbited and go soaring off uncontrollably into the sky.  When you confront the pair, they both say, "It wasn't me, it was HIM!"  Whom do you believe?  Or do you just Abuse Report them all and let LL sort them out?

In an anonymous world, trust is tricky.  It's easy to abuse it, easy to be taken in by a scoundrel.  On the other hand, if you never trust anybody, you will have a very constrained and unhappy Second Life...like the newcomer who refused my offer of a Newbie Kit, saying scornfully "I don't fall for crap like that."

I don't have a solution to this.  I certainly don't want to go around everywhere on the web with my real ID hanging out.  I think that web anonymity is a powerful form of freedom, one we enjoy almost nowhere else these days.  But it means that you have to take people on faith a lot.  By and large, most people are at least moderately worthy of your trust.  But, now and then...you're going to get burned.  Be alert to the signs of scams, con artists, and shady characters.  The primary one is always:  If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

And be a trustworthy person yourself.  What goes around, comes around.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Abandon Ship...er, Land!

As I've mentioned several times, there is a lot of Abandoned land on the mainland these days.  A LOT.  There is so much of it that LL has for the most part stopped trying to cycle all of it through the Land Auction process.  Instead, land that is Abandoned back to "Governor Linden" is automatically set for sale to anyone at $L1 per square meter.

After having one's unwanted land set for sale for a tier billing cycle or two with no takers, just walking away from the ongoing monthly expense does, I admit, start to look pretty attractive.  But consider this:

In this land glut environment, there are a lot fewer land speculators/developers than there used to be...but there are still some out there, and even if you can't sell your land at anything close to what you paid for it a year or two ago, you can still sell it for SOMETHING.

Instead of Abandoning your land, set it for sale at something less than $L1 per m2.  Then wait.  If a landbot doesn't show up pretty quickly to take it off your hands, lower the price a little.  Keep on doing that until one of those automated land-grabbers does show up and buy the land.

Or, you could take the longer-term, constructive view.  BUY land.  Become one of those land developers who buy up little parcels all over a bombed-out region, join them together, terraform them and add a few landscaping touches to make it all look pretty again.  Then sell it...or rent parcels there.  Think of it as being engaged in Virtual Urban Renewal.

Bombed-Out, Abandoned Land

Restored Land












Will you make money?  Probably not.  But you'll at least be doing your part to improve the virtual world we live in...and that's a Good Thing.

Personal note:  My first Mainland was in the Lebettu region, where I owned half the sim, with some business partners.  A few months ago, I returned to Lebettu...I was dismayed to find that it looked rather like the first picture here (although that picture was NOT, in fact,  taken at Lebettu.)  When I went back there today to get pictures like the first one, to illustrate this article, I found that someone had restored the region...the SECOND picture IS taken at Lebettu, and I'm very grateful to the current owner(s) for returning it to something like the beautiful place it was when I was there.

The Ten Percent Solution

I recently got a call from an inexperienced land owner.  She'd bought a parcel to add to her existing land, and the total area came to 8960 square meters.  But she was very upset, because her tier payment had jumped from $40 per month to $75.  That was more than she felt she could afford...but she didn't want to give up the extra prims that the larger piece of land gave her.

I explained that the tier jump in this case happened at 8192 square meters.  You can own that much mainland for $40 per month...but one square meter over puts you in the next tier "bracket" of $75.  But, I went on, there was a solution that could let her own the whole 8960 square meters and still pay only $40 per month...give the land to a group.

Groups get a 10% break on mainland ownership -- a group can own 10% more land than an individual for the same amount of tier.  So in her case, my friend could own, through a group, up to 8192+819 = 9011 square meters.  Here's how to do that:

1.  Create a group to hold the land.  This costs $L100, and requires at least one other member in the group.  The second member has 48 hours to join the group; otherwise, the group is automatically disbanded.  I suggest that you use an alt, a second Second Life account, for this purpose.  Using a friend can create problems, if you should have a falling out, or if your friend decides to leave the group.  (You don't have to create a new group for this purpose; any group can hold land.  But I prefer to have a dedicated group for this purpose to avoid complications.  Also, your alt does not have to be a Premium member.)

2.  With your new group active, go to your land and right click the ground and open the About Land window.  In the General tab of About Land, select Deed to Group, and also check the Owner Makes Contribution With Deed box.  Check to make sure that the land now shows as being owned by your group.  CAUTION:  The group you have active at the moment you deed the land is the group that will wind up owning it.  BE CERTAIN that the group you made to hold the land is your active group!  A mistake cannot be undone, except by the owner of the group you deeded the land to.

3.  Open your group information window.  Click the Land and $L tab.  Check that you are contributing (in this case) no more than 8192 m2 of tier to the group.  Check to see that the group's land holdings show the parcel you just deeded.  And check to make sure that the group has enough tier in donations to cover that size parcel.

Because the 10% bonus is automatically calculated, the group's available tier will be larger than the amount you donated.  You can "tweak" your donation so that the group has "just enough" tier to cover its deeded land.

4.  Go to your account page on the Second Life website.  Open the Land Manager link.  Check to see that a) you do not own any land (you deeded it, the group owns it now, not you); and that b) your tier donation is in the proper bracket (in this case, $40 a month for 8192 m2).  If things look awry, go back over the numbers in the group Land and $L tab carefully to find your error.

Note that the only time you can take advantage of this group tier break is if the amount of land you want to own is less than 10% over the tier level you want to stay within.  If not, the bonus won't get you back "under the line" and you'll still wind up paying the higher amount.

One more caution:  If your group does have other members (your tenants, for example, if you are renting your land to others), be sure to review the group's roles and abilities carefully.  You don't want your tenants to have the ability to sell your land, and if YOU sell your land, you don't want the other group members to share in the proceeds.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Masocado Down! Up! Down!

The last several days have been very annoying at my home region of Masocado.  The region keeps dropping off line for no apparent reason...sometimes as many as five times  a day.

When I noticed the first occurrence, I contacted Support using Live Chat.  Believe me, Live Chat is absolutely worth the price of a Premium membership!  Every time I have used it, the response has been fast, polite, and competent...and my problem has been resolved within minutes.

The Live Chat assistant got us up and running again in short order.  But only a short time later, WHAM!  We went off line again.  Another call to Live Chat, and another restart.  But then it happened AGAIN.  And AGAIN!

This kept up for several days, through about eight or ten occurrences.  Finally this morning, Derrick Linden of Live Chat suggested I submit a Support Ticket to initiate a more detailed investigation of whatever was causing the problem.

Well...as great as it is to work with the people in Live Chat, working with the people who handle Support Tickets is a royal pain.  Bianca Linden responded to my ticket, saying "Well, I went there and it's running fine now (well, duh!  Of course it was, Live Chat had just restarted the region.)  She went on to say "I checked the logs and didn't see anything out of the ordinary."

Say what?  Ten restarts in four days is normal behavior?  Lady, my tenants are starting to complain, and I don't blame them!

And, "Do you get an error message when you try to access the sim?"  Um...yes and no.  It depends on HOW you try to get to an offline region.  If you log in to one, you are automatically shunted to a random Welcome Area.  If you try to teleport there, you get a "Teleport Failed" message.  If you try to walk or fly from a neighboring region, you see only empty ocean where your destination ought to be, and you run into the familiar "void" barrier showing there's nothing on the other side of the border.

The last straw was her closing suggestion: "If you have problems with it again, update this ticket with more information."  Oh, sure.  I'm going to let my tenants twiddle their thumbs for hours or days while an updated Support Ticket makes its way through the System?  I don't think so.  Sure, I'll update the ticket every time we go offline.  But I'm also gonna call the nice people at Live Chat for a timely (if, so far, temporary) fix.

EDIT, THE NEXT DAY:  Bianca Linden responded to the additional information I submitted (which was a shorter version of this post.)  She told me that LL had been experiencing "hosting issues" on a number of regions, but that the problems had been fixed.  And indeed, we seem to be back up and running smoothly for the last day and half.  I assume "hosting issues" is shorthand for "the server farm provider tripped over the power cords."

Sunday, August 26, 2012

FLASH! ExDepart Still Alive

In the Real World we have ants, cockroaches, fleas and rats.  Despite centuries of efforts by mankind, these pests are still with us.  The best we can do seems to be a temporary holding action, and that is only achieved by ceaseless pest control warfare.

Recently, a griefing object called ExDepart was released into the wilds of Second Life, and it seems to have the hardiness of a cockroach.  Here's how it works...

You get a message and an offer that reads something like, object .::ExDepart::. owned by Lindal Kidd has offered you "Free Gift 2012".  Accept/Decline/Mute?  If you accept the offer, you get a new object in your inventory.  "Ooh, a gift box!" you think, and rez the object.

Immediately, it disappears.  It becomes invisible and teleports itself to 4,000 meters, where it begins sending out its offer of "Free Gifts" to anyone in the sim.  Because it came from your inventory, it lists YOU as the owner.  So anyone who knows you will probably accept the item, and feel safe in rezzing it.  Also, anyone who Abuse Reports the item as a griefing object will report YOU.

Some people have claimed that ExDepart empties their inventories, and drains their $L account balance.  This is the sort of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) that gets spread through the rumor grapevine.  ExDepart is pernicious and highly annoying, but not diabolical.  Even so, I am puzzled that Linden Lab has not deleted all of them from the grid and from people's inventories.  They have not, so if you encounter ExDepart, you'll have to deal with it yourself.

1.  If you are offered anything by ExDepart, decline it, and notify the land owner of ExDepart's presence.
2.  If you accept it, and/or find it in your inventory, do not rez it.  Just throw it in the Trash.
3.  If you rez it, turn on Show Transparent, and turn on Beacons/Show scripts.  Go up to 4,000 meters and look for it.  When you find it, delete it.  There may be more than one, so look carefully.
4.  If you recognize the person that ExDepart claims as its owner, contact them and tell them to get rid of the damn thing.

The creator of ExDepart has supposedly stated that it was merely a scripting experiment that got away from him.  I don't know about that...but in this one case, if you decide to submit an Abuse Report, I would Abuse Report the object's creator, not its owner.

FLASH! Phantom Mode is Broken

As most of you know, one of the best ways to keep some rude person from pushing you (or shooting you with a push bullet) is to sit on an object.  But, WHY does sitting give you this protection?

The answer is, your avatar becomes phantom when you sit on something.  Other avatars and objects pass right through you.  This is actually a pretty good thing, for more reasons than defense against griefers.  It would be hard to dance with a woman in a full skirt if you kept bumping into it!  (Sitting on a poseball is still "sitting", even if your avatar is waltzing with a partner.)

Those of you who use the Phoenix and Firestorm viewers, and possibly other third party viewers as well, may be familiar with the "Phantom Mode" feature they offer.  By hitting CTRL+ALT+P, your avatar becomes phantom, just as if you were sitting on a prim.  That is, it DID become phantom until the latest round of server updates from Linden Lab.

This update removed the functionality that permitted the Phantom Mode to work.  Oh, your viewer still says "Phantom Mode On" as if it knew what it was doing...but it's NOT on, and people can still shove you around.

I sure hope Pathfinding and forced attachments and teleports are worth it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Homesteading

One type of land I haven't said much about is the Homestead.  Homesteads are not what you might think...they aren't a way to own or settle land (as they were in the Real World).  In Second Life, a Homestead is a special type of region.

You won't find them on the Mainland, with the possible exception of some Linden Ocean sims.  But they are often found as part of Private Estates.  Homestead regions are the same size as regular regions (256 X 256 meters), but they only support 1/4 of the prims allocated to a "Full" region.  Thus, a Homestead region can have 3750 prims, instead of 15,000.

This is not necessarily a problem.  Especially now that prims may be up to 64 meters in size, it's quite possible to put enough objects on a Homestead region to make it look quite full of stuff.  Homesteads are popular with people who want a lot of land for a relatively low price...because LL charges less tier for these regions.  You may be able to lease an entire Homestead region for around $150 USD per month, as opposed to around $300 for a Full region.

There are a couple of other catches with Homestead regions:  they can support a maximum of 20 avatars (as opposed to as many as 100 avatars for a Full region.)  So if you are planning to build a busy club, a Homestead may not be your best choice.  Also, if you would like to buy your own Homestead region from Linden Lab, forget it...you must own at least one Full region before you qualify to purchase a Homestead.

There is one other type of region that the Private Estate owner can buy...an OpenSpace region.  OpenSpace regions are even more restricted in terms of prims than Homesteads, and they are intended primarily as unoccupied areas such as ocean sims.  They're OK to travel on or through, but they are not rich enough in prim resources to build much of anything permanent.

For those of us mere mortals who don't own multiple regions, Homesteads have one big advantage:  You can lease one, or a large part of one, from an Estate owner and build a REALLY big house with extensive grounds.  Or, you can use one to float a REALLY impressive megayacht.

You can tell what type of land a region is by looking at the General tab of the About Land window (also called Parcel Details in more recent viewers.)

Happy Homesteading, pardners.

Monday, August 20, 2012

You Must Be At Least This Tall

I just read a question in the Second Life "Answers" forum from a little furry avatar who complained about being auto-ejected from places because his/her avatar was "too short".

Rant mode on!

This has got to be one of the most ridiculous things I've seen in Second Life.  It's legal, of course.  Land owners have the right to keep out anyone they choose, for any reason they choose.  But using a scripted gadget to boot everyone who doesn't, er, measure up is in my opinion a Really Stupid Move.

Firstly:  Almost every place in SL would like to have more traffic.  Excluding a whole class of avatars is completely contrary to that goal.

Secondly:  Not all short avatars are child avatars.  Tinies, petites, and many Furries are all short.  Heck, even the "vehitar" vehicular avatars provided by LL for new residents are short!

Thirdly:  Not all adult HUMAN avatars are tall.  Some people simply choose not to adhere to the Second Life standard of six to seven foot tall avatars, and choose something more akin to their Real Life height...which may very well be under the "height limit" set by the land owner on her auto-boot device.

Fourthly:  Child avatars are allowed, by Linden Lab policy, everywhere in Second Life...even in Adult regions.  The only caveat set by the Lab is that child avatars may not engage in explicit sexual activities.  I can understand the desire of the owner of a strip club or an escort service or public sex area to keep the kiddies out and avoid abetting sexual age-play.  But a blanket restriction based on height alone seems overly draconian.

To all the child avatars out there, and all the merely height-challenged avatars, I say:  Be yourself in Second Life, the person YOU want to be!  If you run into thoughtless policies or "height-checking" devices, just cross that place off your list.  There are 30,000 other places to go in Second Life.

Rant mode off.  Have a great week, everyone!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

FLASH! New Shoe Store

Hi, everyone!  I just found a new...well, new to me...shoe store.  Carmen's Shoe's (yes, it is spelled just like that) offers a whole lot of unusual styles...something not all that easy to do in Second Life these days.  If you're looking for some footwear to help you stand out from the crowd, give them a look!  Very reasonable prices, too...they are having an Anniversary Sale, and everything is just $L149!

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Mallaki/47/127/28

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Bowing to the Inevitable

Full disclosure here:  The following is a shameless plug.  Out and out advertising.  A Message From Our Sponsor (me!)

As I've mentioned several times in these pages, Second Life is experiencing a land glut...there is too much land for too few avatars.  This has caused the price of land to drop significantly (purchase price that is, not monthly tier.)  It has also resulted in a lot of vacancies all over the grid.  A LOT of vacancies.

Masocado has not been immune to this.  Although we are located on some of the best land you will find on the Second Life mainland, with all the open ocean of the Blake Sea and surrounding regions, our vacancy rate has been gradually creeping up.

As a result, I've decided to reduce our prices.  You can now rent a two story condominium at the Masocado Resort for just $L2195 per calendar month (down from $L2495), with no reduction in prim allowance (300 prims).  Extra prims, or liveaboard yacht slip rentals, are available at $L7.5 per prim per month (down from $L9)

In addition to its outstanding location, the Masocado Resort has lots of amenities.
  • Radio and HD TV receiver on request.
  • A retro-themed dance club, Ava's Gardens.  
  • Free rezzable jet skis, fishing boats, and WarBug airplanes.  
  • Seven Seas fishing.  
  • Skydive launcher.  
  • Game room with several popular free-to-play games.  
  • Couples and singles dancing enabled throughout the sim.  
  • Dock space for your small craft.
  • Swimming animation enabled throughout the harbor
Living at the Masocado Resort compares very favorably to a Linden Home.  You get almost three times as many prims, for a cost that is nearly $1.00 LESS per month than a Premium membership.  There is less lag, and the location is much better.  I like to think that the Management is a lot more responsive, too.

Come check us out!  Or if you have a place of your own already, send your newbie friends who are looking for a home.  http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Masocado/240/159/41



We now return you to our regularly scheduled blog!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Virtual Antiques

No, I'm not talking about the often very ornate and lovely steampunk Victorian stuff you find in Caledon.  I'm talking about Old Stuff.  Old, in Second Life terms.  Stuff that was created, say, more than five or six years ago.  Like Real Life antiques, a lot of these items don't work any more, or are irrelevant to today's Second Life in other ways.

But, again like Real Life antiques, they serve a purpose.  They remind us of the Old Days.  They serve as a window into those times for those of us who were not there to experience them personally.  In the ever-changing virtual world of Second Life, antiques are often rare...because people toss out their copies, or in some cases Linden Lab deletes them from the grid entirely.

I'm not a collector of antiques either in SL or RL, but I have a few, and I know of a good many more.  Items made by Starax Statosky  are a prime example.

Starax was famous for two things, primarily:  his sculptures, and his wands.  The sculptures were made in the days long before mesh, or even sculpties, using simple, ordinary prims...and yet the best ones have an amazingly organic look to them.  The wands had a number of functions, relying heavily on the temp-on-rez scripting functions to create objects on command.  Both the limited edition sculptures and the few remaining wands command high prices among collectors.

You can see some Starax sculptures, and other SL artists, on display at the Blackwater Sculpture Art Gallery.

"Drowned", by Starax.  See it at the Blackwater Sculpture Art Gallery

I don't own any high-dollar Starax collectibles, only a couple of his full perm items.  But I do have an item made by another departed resident, Gunslinger Kurosawa:  A beautifully detailed, fully functional, customized Colt .45 semiautomatic pistol.  Two, actually...I had Gunslinger make me a custom left-hand version as well as buying the standard right-handed weapon.  I'm glad I did, because you can't get them any more...and they are stunning work.

Other antiques are not such high quality.  For example, the cosmetics and skins offered by L'Oreal as a gift box at the Greenies sim, the sneakers provided by Nike, and other Second Life items intended to promote Real Life commercial brands.  These tell the tale of corporate America's brief love affair with Second Life.

Or consider the humble Voting Box.  These green boxes-on-a-stick used to be found everywhere in Second Life, and you still see them here and there.  When clicked, the box thanks you and registers your vote (only one per day per customer!)  A daily total is shown above the box in hovertext.  These boxes used to connect to the Linden Lab servers, and votes were used as a factor in determining a place's popularity, and ranking in Search.  However, that function has been turned off for years, so the Vote Box counts as an SL antique.  They used to be a free item in the Library...perhaps one of the people who maintains old Library items still has them.  Oh, and you'd better keep your copy of the SLExchange Magic Box, too.  Direct Delivery will render them an instant antique when it's fully on line.
 Another scripted item which will soon be an antique is the flight assist.  Since LL increased the unassisted flight ceiling to 5,000 meters, there's little need for our Flight Feathers these days.

Sims can be antiques.  Some of the builds on the Old Mainland continent could, arguably, qualify.  Inara Pey recently wrote about Svarga in her blog, as have I.  Svarga is a wonderful example of the "old" Second Life...none of its content makes use of sculpties or mesh.  Perhaps the three-sim long SS Galaxy cruise ship could also be considered a "living antique".  It's been around at least as long as I have. If you you haven't seen it, you should.  It really gives the look and feel of being on a huge cruise ship.

Svarga, http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Svarga/7/124/22

The SS Galaxy, http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Galaxy%20AFT/59/44/21
Avatars can be antiques.  Gather up your courage some time, open your Library, and find Ruth.  Then put her on, using Replace Outfit.  Yes...that's how we used to look when we first came to Second Life.  Pretty primitive, huh?  Many of the animal and fantasy avatars at Grendel's Children are becoming antiques, and the process will speed up now that Mesh avatars are available.

Even viewers can be antiques.  Did you save your old download of Viewer 1.23?  Me neither...but hopefully someone who's fond of archiving old software code has preserved a copy.  I'm not sure what good it will be...but then, what good is a buggy whip?

Freebie collections can be sources of antique skins, clothing, and other items.  Not valuable antiques, of course, because they are so readily available...but still, a glimpse into the past.

In the Real World, items aren't considered an antique unless they are at least a hundred years old.  Our virtual world's rate of change is so fast that if we waited that long, Second Life itself would be an antique...here, even five years ago is "back in the Old Days."

I wonder...could we re-purpose one or two of the now-largely-irrelevant Infohubs as Museums of Second Life?