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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Avatar 2.0, A Wish List

I was recently talking to a girl who was almost all attachments...prim breasts, prim eyes, nails, hands, feet, and butt.  She said she looked forward to the day when we would all build our avatars like assembling a Lego model.

I don't agree.  I DO think that the basic Second Life avatar is way overdue for a makeover, but I also think that the idea of an avatar, with adjustable sliders to customize it, is still a good one.  It provides a starting point for resident creators to make all manner of accessories for it, a "ground base" that everyone can use.  So here's my wish list for Avatar 2.0.  Readers might not agree with all the things on my list, or may have some better ideas.  That's OK, and your comments will be appreciated!

More Detail in the Mesh.  The avatar mesh doesn't have enough polygons for clean deformation.  It's particularly bad in the inner thigh and buttocks region, in the face around the nose, and the feet, but more detail everywhere is needed...for example, to correct the blockiness in breasts or belly that becomes horribly apparent at larger sizes. 

Better Hands.  Fingernails, in particular, are a perennial problem.  There isn't enough mesh detail to paint a good looking manicure in the glove clothing layer, and prim nails that are attached to the only available point, the overall "hand" point, pop off the fingers when the hand is deformed into one of the very limited set of hand morph positions.  I'd like to see each finger with its own attach point.  Or, increase the mesh detail level in the hands, and add a set of Appearance sliders to change nail length and shape.  Or, even do both!  There should also be a special attach point for "held" objects, so that picking up a glass doesn't remove your nails and rings.  The hands should be actually animated, not limited to a set of morph positions.  Or at least, provide a much wider selection of morphs, or provide a system for creators to upload their own morphs.

Better Feet.  The clubs we have now are so bad that we happily chop them off and wear shoes with replacement feet.  How much nicer if the stock feet were pretty, and could be morphed like the hands, to take different positions and to fit into shoes, without the need for the current awkward workarounds.

Color Match.  At present, the colors in skin and clothing layers do not respond to the Second Life lighting models in the same way as textures applied to prims.  This makes it difficult to match the appearance of clothing layers with clothing attachments.  Both types of textures should respond to lighting in the same way!

Better Facial Expressions.  Here again, we are limited to a small set of morph positions.  Add facial animations to the avatar, or a system whereby creators can upload morphs for expressions.  I would also like to see some control provided over eyelid movement, at least a way to control the blink speed...and an attachment point on the eyelids for eyelashes, so they would move with the eyelids.  More control over the mouth is a must.  If we had a slider that would part the lips, as well as the one to turn up the corners, it would go a long way...especially if these parameters could be placed under script or animation control.  Facial expressions will become an even more important element of communication, if virtual reality headsets like Oculus Rift become a commonplace.  We will be spending a lot more time actually looking at others' faces!

Cloth and Hair Collision Detection.  This would let skirts drape properly when we sit, instead of falling down between our legs, and would keep hair from sinking into our shoulders or face.  While we're asking, let's ditch flexiprims entirely and substitute true flexible materials. (Flexiprims, like sculpties, are something of a cheat...the work is done by your graphics card, and the flex you see, or the organic sculpted shape, is not the shape seen by the Second Life physics system or servers.)

Better Hover.  The old Z-position adjustment allowed for fine control over an avatar's height above ground.  The new method of using the "Hover" setting in Appearance is far too granular, and it's not even usable if one is wearing a No Mod shape.

Built-in Facelight.  OK, I know some facelight haters out there are screaming.  But a subtle facelight can still add a lot to one's appearance, even with the new lighting models.  And a built-in light would save an attachment point, and provide a way to cut down on the number of folks wearing three, four, or six-emitter lighting systems and blazing away like a nuclear explosion.

User Defined Animation Priority.  At present, an animation's priority is defined by the creator, when she uploads it.  This isn't always the priority the user wants, and the ability to move an animation up or down in priority would be very useful.

Furries, Tinies, Petites, Giants, and Animals.  I don't often wear these types of avatars, but for those who like them, couldn't we have a wider selection in the "gender" box than simply "male" or "female?"  One click and your avatar and its sliders would transform into a whole new avatar category.  Granted, this would obsolete a huge amount of content overnight, but it would also open up a lot of new avenues for creativity.

Fitted Mesh.  A means of re-sizing rigged mesh clothing to fit the shapes we've spent so much time creating for ourselves.  (Yes, I know...this one is actually in the works.  Yay!)

And, although it's not an improvement to the avatar itself...support for Oculus Rift in the viewer...a variant of the user interface that can be used with virtual reality immersion headsets.


The Obligatory New Year's Post

Hello, faithful readers!  I apologize for having been an UNfaithful writer; I have not posted to this blog for far too long.

Not that I haven't written ANYTHING.  I have.  I have a number of unpublished posts that got done partway and then bogged down, for one reason or another.

But it seems that every blogger in existence is required to do a post at New Year's, either looking back or looking ahead or both.  I especially recommend Daniel Voyager's blog...he has SEVERAL end-of-the-year posts.

So...no tutorials, no Big Picture reminiscences or predictions about The Future of Second Life today.  Just a few bits of news and some small personal observations...

It's been a good year for The Masocado Resort, my 3/4 sim rental operation on the Second Life Mainland.  For the last half of the year, occupancy has been at or near 100%, which is a very pleasant change from a year ago, when things were stumbling along at around 50%.  I've even added several additional rentals...another liveaboard slip, and two beachfront detached homes.  All of them rented quickly!  It seems that property in and around the Blake Sea area is in high demand these days, and no wonder.  It's one of the very best areas of SL for travel by plane or boat.

Cindi and I had fun once again remodeling the place for the Halloween and Christmas seasons.  It's still snowing in Masocado at the moment, and it will continue to be winter through January.  Then we'll go back to our more usual tropical climate.  This ability to re-make your environment on a whim is one of the nicest things about virtual worlds, and Second Life in particular, and it's one very good reason to have your own land in SL!

My blogging and teaching skills got some flattering recognition this year.  I was approached by Jami Mills who asked me to do a piece for her monthly magazine about SL and the arts.  I haven't yet come up with a suitable piece, but just the offer was a wonderful bit of ego-boo.  I was also offered a Dean's position at Caledon Oxbridge University.  I turned it down due to a lack of time to take on another responsibility, but even so it was wonderful to be asked!

I am inclined to say that opening two of the Social Islands (the second place that newcomers to SL go, when they first start) to residents is a failure.  At first, the visitors were mentors and helpers.  There was even a special group formed, "Social Island Helpers".  But things changed, and Social Island 1 in particular has become no more than another griefer-infested Infohub.  The same jerks can be found there all the time now, they've made it their own little hangout, where they set off particle poofers, play rap music in the voice and gesture channels, and generally harass the perplexed newbies.  See, children...this is why we can't have nice things.

Caledon Oxbridge University, and the other resident-run (and policed!) newcomer areas, on the other hand, remain havens of peace and sanity, and are the REAL places where a newcomer can find out what Second Life can and should be.  It's proof of what I have always maintained -- that the initial SL experience requires the presence of live helpers, preferably those empowered to keep order.

Mesh is everywhere now, even though it cannot yet be re-sized to fit individual shapes...and even though all the current Mesh items will be instantly obsolete when Fitted Mesh does become available sometime in 2014.  That's OK.  I have come to accept the fact that things in SL eventually become obsolete.  Virtual items don't wear out like Real Life objects, but they do become dated.  Newer and better designs appear, and our inventory changes to reflect the improvements.  I still think there is a place for the humble prim, though.  It is by far the easiest method of building 3D objects for Second Life.

I'm actually surprised (though pleased) to see that there are still a great many excellent creators offering virtual goods.  This is despite the Lab's serious attempt to bite their own leg off with a new draconian policy on intellectual property rights.  In effect, anyone who uploads anything to SL agrees to give LL full rights to it, forever.  This hugely inequitable policy has yet to be tested in the courts, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time.

Besides new and astoundingly good creations, the cleverness of people is applied in other, less constructive areas as well.  Phishing scams continue, and have become more subtle.  People have begun selling counterfeit items in the Marketplace using throwaway alts.  Many such items are high-dollar things like skyboxes and deluxe homes.  The scammers aren't even bothering to copybot the actual items any more...they just steal the advertising of the legitimate items, put up Marketplace listings, and sell you an empty box.

But, as always, the good things outweigh the bad, and the virtual world, like the Real one, keeps on turning.  There are new places to see, new friends to meet, and new things to experience!  I'll see you on the grid in 2014.




Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Into the Rift

A while back, I did a short piece on the Oculus Rift immersive 3D virtual reality headset.  This device is still in development, but it's come a long way, so today we'll do a short update.

For those who've never heard of Oculus Rift, it's a device conceived by a young man, Palmer Lucky, and initially funded with a Kickstarter crowdsource funding campaign.  Everyone who has tried the prototypes absolutely raves about the total immersive experience the Rift provides.  You turn your head to look around you, and the headset senses that and changes the view.  You feel as if you are actually "inside" the on-screen reality.

This has really got the gaming community excited.  Big names like John Carmack (formerly of ID Software, and author of the hugely popular DOOM games) and Elon Musk are jumping on board the Rift bandwagon.  Carmack recently took a position as OculusVR's Chief Technical Officer, and has left ID to devote himself full time to the new technology.

There is even at least one game that was developed from the start to use the Rift...it's a space dogfighting simulator based on Eve Online, called EVR.

The problem with using the Rift for Second Life is that Second Life has a lot of keyboard, mouse and menu controls.  When you're wearing the headset, you can't see your keyboard...how can we use SL if we can't see to hit combinations like CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+9?  If we display the chat window, inventory window, and all those other windows as an overlay to the virtual reality, won't that mess up our immersion?  Can other devices, like the Kinect sensors, be used to sense our body position and transfer that to our avatar in world?  Could the hand and gesture-sensing LEAP Motion device be used to let us "pick up" and manipulate objects in Second Life?

What's needed to use the Rift with Second Life is a new User Interface.  Linden Lab has been working on one, but as usual, they're taking their sweet time about it.  So David Rowe has come up with a viewer that has support for the Oculus Rift.  You can find his blog, and download the experimental viewer, at his website http://ctrlaltstudio.com/

Oh...and you can get a developer version of Oculus Rift at http://www.oculusvr.com/

This stuff is definitely NOT yet ready for the masses.  Neither Oculus Rift or the CtrlAltStudio viewer are fully developed products, they are both very much still in the experimental stages.  But if you like tinkering at the very bleeding edge of technology, if writing code doesn't faze you...you might find that you've become the next Internet gazillionaire.

As for me, I'll wait for the commercial releases...but I'm really excited!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Con Jobs

There's an old saying..."If it looks too good to be true, it probably is."  And yet, every day in Real Life, on the internet, and here in Second Life, people fall for various scams and con games.  Don't be one of them!  Read on...

Phishing.  Phishing is a scam in which you are invited to click a link to a web site that seems to be one thing, but is really a trick to get you to divulge important information, like your password or an account number.  Most of us are aware of this in our normal online lives, and know better than to click a link in an email that seems to come from our bank or our credit card company.  But people fall for phishing scams all the time in Second Life, because we aren't expecting a link that appears in local chat, group chat, or an IM to lead to a phishing site.  Treat ALL links that you are given, through whatever means, with caution.  There are many signs that give away phishing scams, but perhaps the most common is that the URL does NOT begin with "https", but with "http".  Any legitimate Linden Lab web site will be secure, and will have the form https://id.secondlife.com/

Besides beginning with the secure https designator, a legitimate LL website will have the domain "secondlife.com" somewhere in it.  If it has any other domain, like "2ndlife.com.ru" (a made-up example), don't go there.

URLs can be masked, though, so a link might look legitimate but still lead you to a bad web site.  Before entering any data, check the actual URL once you are on the web site.  Just how you do this depends on your browser.  It's always best never to click links you get in the wild at all, and browse manually to the site the link claims to be from.

There is a great deal more information on the web about phishing and how to keep from getting hooked.  Do a web search!

Free $Lindens. There are some Second Life groups or organizations that hold out the prospect of making "free" linden dollars.  Some of these ask you to teleport around and visit certain merchants in return for money.  Others ask you to complete various surveys elsewhere on the internet.  The survey type operations are a good way to get your computer infected with adware, spyware, or malware.  Furthermore, I have never met anyone who said they actually got the free $L they were promised.

Bargain $Lindens.  Some sites offer to sell you $L for almost half off the price you'd get through the Lindex (the official Linden Exchange, found on the Second Life website or through your viewer's "Buy $L" button).  The exchange rate for $L varies up or down by a small amount, but is usually very close to $L250 = $1.00 USD.  There are some third party exchanges out there, but unless they are on the Authorized $L Reseller list, don't buy $L from them.  They could be a phisher or a thief.  Even if they are not, LL can terminate your Second Life account if you buy or sell $L from an unapproved source.

Remember...any $L reseller has to buy their $L from somewhere, and ultimately all $L come from LL.  If they are offering to sell to you at far less than LL's price, you have to ask yourself how they plan to stay in business.  In most cases, they don't...they plan to take your money and run!

Further Reading:

Linden Lab's Information on Phishing

Test Your Phishing Knowledge

Ripoff Report (Note: controversial scam reporting site.  Use or believe at your own discretion.)


Sunday, November 17, 2013

FLASH! Older versions of Firestorm viewer to be blocked this week

Hi, readers!  The title says it all...starting this week (November 18), older (pre-Mesh, pre-Server Side Appearance) versions of the popular Firestorm viewer will be blocked.  Jessica Lyon explains why in this Firestorm blog post.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

FLASH! Vote on an email to Linden Lab on IP Rights

The residents of Second Life who are also lawyers have drafted an email to LL with questions about the revised and draconian Terms of Service.  Go to this link to vote on it, your support could ensure the Lab pays more attention!  http://www.google.com/moderator/#15/e=20de26&t=20de26.40

Sunday, October 20, 2013

FLASH! Update on Second Life Content Issue

Last time, I wrote about the controversial changes to the Second Life Terms of Service, in which Linden Lab appears to be claiming all rights to your Second Life creations.

On October 19, a group of lawyers held a panel discussion in world to discuss this issue, and an audio recording of the three hour session is available here: http://www.toysoldierthor.com/2/post/2013/10/recap-audio-inworld-legal-panel-talk-on-ll-tos.html

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Who Owns Your Second Life Creations?

Back in August, Linden Lab updated the Second Life Terms of Service.  Supposedly, this was done to make the TOS congruent across all of LL's products (they make some apps besides Second Life, such as Creatorverse and Block World.)

In particular, the changes to the intellectual property section has caused quite a stir among the creative community of SL.  For your convenience, here is the controversial wording:

2.3 You grant Linden Lab certain licenses to your User Content.
(4 paragraphs omitted)

Except as otherwise described in any Additional Terms (such as a contest’s official rules) which will govern the submission of your User Content, you hereby grant to Linden Lab, and you agree to grant to Linden Lab, the non-exclusive, unrestricted, unconditional, unlimited, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, and cost-free right and license to use, copy, record, distribute, reproduce, disclose, sell, re-sell, sublicense (through multiple levels), modify, display, publicly perform, transmit, publish, broadcast, translate, make derivative works of, and otherwise exploit in any manner whatsoever, all or any portion of your User Content (and derivative works thereof), for any purpose whatsoever in all formats, on or through any media, software, formula, or medium now known or hereafter developed, and with any technology or devices now known or hereafter developed, and to advertise, market, and promote the same. You agree that the license includes the right to copy, analyze and use any of your Content as Linden Lab may deem necessary or desirable for purposes of debugging, testing, or providing support or development services in connection with the Service and future improvements to the Service. The license granted in this Section 2.3 is referred to as the "Service Content License."


(One paragraph omitted)

The entire TOS can be read here:  http://lindenlab.com/tos

Wow, pretty sweeping, isn't it?  Any normally intelligent person reading that would conclude that LL is claiming all rights to your creations, to do anything they wish.  And that's what has the creative community up in arms.

Linden Lab has countered these concerns, in unofficial forums like Office Hours, saying that 1) these are standard terms for a service provider, and 2) they are necessary to allow your content to exist on the service and for LL to be able to provide it to others.  (By "provide", I don't mean "give it away."  I mean, the process of, say, you putting an item for sale in your store, having someone come in, buy it, and then wear it.)

But a lot of people are not buying that story.  A number of creators have stopped offering their wares in SL.  Others have left Second Life entirely.  One of the most notable and recent departures is Qarl Fizz.  You can catch his short rant against LL here: http://www.qarl.com/qLab/?p=89  What's important about this is that Qarl is a former Linden employee.  Surely he would know how the Lab operates, what their legal department is like, and whether they can be trusted.

Other blog posts about this controversy can be found by googling "Second Life Terms of Service Change August 2013."

There is a panel discussion among creators and lawyers on this topic this coming Saturday, October 19, at 1000 am Second Life time.  Get the particulars here: http://insertfunnyname.wordpress.com/2013/10/15/second-life-terms-of-service-a-legal-panel/

For a service that depends so heavily for its success on its residents, I must say the change looks like LL shooting themselves in the foot again.  The original marketing slogans for SL were "Your World, Your Imagination" and "SL -- a world created by its residents."  If the creative people that made Second Life what it is (and that's NOT Linden Lab!) leave, Second Life will die.

If you create or sell anything in Second Life, you should keep up to date on this issue.  And, if you have a lot of content, you may want to consider pulling out and setting up on another grid.  I won't be doing that, I have too much emotional capital invested here, and not many original works at risk.  But Your Mileage May Vary.

See Second Life by Air, If You Dare

Way back in the old posts, I did a piece on Second Life vehicles, and it's time for a little update!

I've always loved vehicles, especially airplanes and boats, and I have quite a collection of them.  Some of them are amazingly realistic reproductions of Real Life vehicles, and some are wild flights of fancy.

But travel by vehicle in SL is chancy, for several reasons.
  • Region crossings.  If you whiz too fast across a region boundary, especially with a heavily-scripted vehicle, the servers may not be able to hand you off fast enough.  Crossing a region boundary can mean as little as a brief control freeze, or it could throw you out of control...or even leave you sitting on or under the seabed, without your craft around you.
  • Full parcels.  If you try to take a 30 prim vehicle into a parcel that already has all the prims it can possibly handle, you wind up on the seabed again, without your vehicle.
  • Ban lines.  You usually don't see them coming until you're hung up in them like a fly in a spiderweb.
  • Security orbs.  Sailboats in particular are too slow to escape most security systems before they eject you from the land they're guarding.
But an alert avatar can avoid most of these hazards, most of the time -- especially since the server upgrades of the last few months.  Region crossings have improved a great deal.  I can now reliably fly some fast jets that only a few months ago were almost guaranteed to crash every couple of regions.

There is a clever gadget called a "Ban Line HUD" that shows you ban lines, full parcels, void boundaries, and rezzing zones.  It's a great aid to navigation, and I highly recommend it.  When flying, stay above 100m to avoid ban lines.

Security systems can still be a bother, but if you stick to Linden Ocean regions you should be able to avoid those as well.

Trip Planning.
One easy way to keep your destination in sight is to first find it on the main world map before you set out.  Click your mouse cursor ONCE on the point you want to reach (twice will teleport you there!)  Now you can close the map, and a red arrow will point to that spot.  Once you get within about 400 m of it, the arrow is joined by a red vertical beacon.   But before you head out, check the Map once more for any void areas.  Plan your course so as to go around those, staying in "live" regions.

A look at the Map, a beacon pointing to your destination, and a Ban Line HUD to see and avoid hazards will help insure a safe journey!

Increase your draw distance.
If your graphics card can handle it, being able to see further both makes the trip more interesting visually, and gives you more time to see and avoid problems.  You might also want to turn off Shadows to improve your viewer's performance.

Slow down!
I mentioned my fast jets, and they are indeed lots of fun.  But even so, I recommend traveling Second Life at a slower pace.  Helicopters, balloons, sailplanes and ultralights all give you more of a chance to sight-see, and they handle region crossings smoothly.  I tried flying my WarBug airplanes over long distances recently, and found a bug in them.  If you open the Map, they go crazy...so use them for local dogfighting only.

Here's a picture of one of my new favorites -- the F4U Corsair from EA Aviation.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Ins and Outs of Outfits

"I just bought a new outfit!"
"Wow, it's very cute...looks great on you!  Have you made an Outfit of it yet?"
"Uh...what do you mean?  It IS an outfit...isn't it?"

No, not quite.  In Second Life, there is a distinction between an outfit and an Outfit (besides the capitalization, I mean.)  In today's post, we're talking about the capital letter Outfits!

But before we can do that, we need to talk about the thing that makes Outfits possible...Links.  A Link is your inventory's equivalent of a Windows shortcut, or the link to a media file in a Windows Library.  Links are not objects, they are pointers to objects.  When you right click something in your inventory and copy it, you are given the option to Paste it (unless it is a No Copy object) or Paste As Link.  The second option creates a Link, a pointer to the object in your inventory.



This is a huge advantage in inventory organization.  Without Links, No Copy objects could only be accessed from one place in your inventory, and if you moved those diamond earrings from your Jewelry folder to be in the folder with your favorite gown, they would no longer be in Jewelry when you next looked for them there.  But, by creating a Link to the earrings and putting that into the folder with your gown, you can easily find the earrings when you wear that gown, and also in Jewelry when you want to wear them with something else.  One caution:  You can always safely delete a Link.  But, if you try to delete the object that the Link points to, you will first get a warning message.  If you continue and delete it, any Links to that object will be "broken".  They will continue to exist, but they can no longer find their parent object.  You might want to search for (broken) now and then and clean up any of these in your inventory.

Now that we understand Links, we can go on to our main topic, Outfits.  An Outfit is a "complete avatar" look.  It can contain every part of your look -- your skin, shape, hair, eyes, clothing, shoes, attachments and HUDs.  Outfits are stored in their own system-level inventory folder called, appropriately enough, Outfits.

The great benefit of Outfits is that, once you have created a look you love, you can save it as an Outfit.  Then the next time you want that look, you can put it on with two mouse clicks.  Just right click the folder for that Outfit, and choose "Replace Current Outfit" from the context menu... or drag the Outfit folder from your inventory and drop it on your avatar.

Once you have a number of Outfits, you will probably want to organize them within the Outfits folder to make them easier to find.  My partner Cindi has well over 100 Outfits, organized first into seasons, and then into categories like Beachwear, Casual, Costumes, Dressy, Clubbing, and Formal.  If you want, you can even make an Outfit for those intimate times with your lover...just your skin, shape, hair, eyes...and your add-on Naughty Bits.

To make an Outfit, first assemble your look.  Be sure to pay attention to every part of the look -- skin, shape, hair, makeup tattoos, prim fingernails, eyelashes, shoes, lingerie, clothing, and jewelry.  If any of the things you wear has a HUD (your shoes, for example), leave the HUD on screen and save it with the Outfit.  That way, if you have changed the color of something since the last time you wore it with this particular Outfit, it will be easy to change it back.

Once you are sure you have gotten your look totally together, right click yourself and select Appearance/Edit Outfit.  An Outfit window will open up, showing you all the things you are wearing or have attached.  Check one more time to be sure you have all the things you want, and nothing that you don't want.  Then, at the bottom of the window, expand the Save button and choose Save As.  A small window will open up, allowing you to give the Outfit a unique name.  Do so, then click OK.  Now you can detach any adjustment HUDs and go meet your friends.  Be ready to graciously accept compliments on your new Outfit!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

FLASH! Firestorm Turns 3!

The very popular Firestorm third party viewer has turned three years old, and the team is celebrating.  Go to this location (and others, see the Firestorm blog on their web site) to collect some free gifts, this week only.

There's a lovely pendant designed by Zuri Rayna, and a Firestorm kitten pet.

Happy Birthday to Jessica Lyon and the dedicated Firestorm developer team!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

A Visit To Social Island

Last time, I talked about some basics of Appearance editing that new residents might want to know.  Today, let's switch around and talk about something that new residents are probably quite familiar with, but that older Second Life residents have probably not experienced:  Linden Lab's newest "First Hour Experience" for new Second Life users.  It's called "Social Island".

Now, I have often disparaged Linden Lab's attempts to introduce people to the wonders of Second Life.  In particular, I am a huge proponent of providing live helpers on the spot, to help new users and answer their questions.  In my opinion signs and tutorials, and even helpful videos are only useful to some people.  Others learn best by one on one interaction with a mentor, teacher, or helper.   But live helpers are either expensive (LL employees) or unruly (volunteer Residents, like the old Mentor program.)  LL has, understandably from their point of view, tried ways of introducing people to SL that don't involve live human beings.  Up until now, those ways (Orientation Island, Help Island, Welcome Island, Destination Island) have all been less than successful, at least in this writer's view.

Enter the new "Social Island".  It is not all that different conceptually from the old Help Island, but the quality of the build is much better, and visually more intriguing.  You can't see all of the region from any given location, since mountainous rock formations block your view.  But bridges and pathways lead off in various directions, and tantalizing hints of what lies around the next corner invite you to explore.

There are several disparate areas on Social Island.  A beach house with a pleasant indoor pool; a lighthouse on a hilltop; an amphitheatre (with teleport doors leading off to other Destinations -- it's modeled after the larger one on the earlier Destination Island).  There's an oriental temple where you can go sit to get out of a local rainstorm that is one of the best "cheats" at making rain and shelter from it seem realistic that I have come across.  There's a flashing, blinging rock club with one of the most eye-searing dance floors I've ever seen.  (My biggest complaint about Social Island -- the rock club has no music stream, and only offers the dopy "free" dance animations.)  There is a futuristic build of a multi-level bar, and a tiny pocket valley with a pleasant campfire to sit by.

And there is a "game" one can play.  It's not advertised, there are no signs anywhere.  But there are hidden places to be found on Social Island.  I doubt that many newbies will actually find them, but that is really OK.  There is a library area in a huge underground cavern, and from there, if you are curious and persistent enough, you can find the entrance to a hidden treasure cave, where you can get a golden crown from a treasure chest.  There is a second entrance to the treasure cave, hidden from outsiders...a "one way" rock texture.

For those who manage to get themselves stuck on the seabed under the island, there are numerous handy teleport pads to get you back up to the surface.

The new Social Island does not use signs or tutorials, but it does use psychology and the pervasive internet meme of games, quests, and prizes to encourage new people to nose around and explore.  Yes, I was asked, "What's the point of this game" by a newbie.  I told him, "find the Crown!" and explained the task.  He went off much happier than if I had insisted, "Second Life is not a "game"!  There are plenty of things to click, and sit on, and look at.  In the simple act of walking around and doing these everyday things, new people are going to get a "feel" for Second Life.  And when they are ready, that amphitheatre with its many exits to the main grid is ready to funnel them into Second Life proper.

Kudos to Linden Lab for this one, especially the hard-working Moles.

Here are some pictures of my visit!

View from the Lighthouse
See How One Thing Leads to Another?  Lighthouse over the hill

A Pleasant Beach House

Nice Club, if it had music!

Dancing at Club SL

Thunderstorm at the Temple
The Library of the Cave Club (hard to find!)


The Departure Area...All Aboard for the Main Grid!
Click Here if you Get Stuck!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

One for the VERY New Avatar!

(Note to readers:  This entry has been updated as of June 2014 to account for the new Fitted Mesh starter avatars!)

If you have been in Second Life a while, or if you're a regular reader here, you can skip this one!  This is a VERY short, basic tutorial on How to Change Your Appearance, for those who are new and confused about all those menu buttons and things.

You have a lot of "starter avatars" in your inventory.  You can find them by clicking the inventory button (with a symbol like a suitcase) and opening the folder Library/Clothing/Initial Outfits.

You can change into any of these avatars by right clicking the folder for that avatar and choosing Replace Outfit.  Or drag the folder onto your avatar.

You can open an avatar's folder and wear individual pieces of that outfit.  Right click a piece and choose Wear, or drag it onto your avatar.

You detach clothing in one of two ways.  If it is a clothing layer (symbol of pants, or shirt, or jacket etc. in your inventory), right click your avatar and choose Take Off/Clothing/<clothing type>.  If it is an attachment (symbol of a cube in your inventory), right click the item and choose Detach.

If you Wear an item of clothing that's the same type as what you have on, it will replace the current worn item.  Things that attach to the same point will replace an attached item on that point.  You can override these behaviors by using the function Add instead of Wear.

You can also search for "WORN" items in your inventory.  They will appear in boldface, and have the word WORN in their description.  You can take off or detach them from there, too.

You can alter your shape, if it is modifiable.  Right click your avatar, choose Appearance/Edit My Shape, and play with the many sliders.  Don't mess with the hair sliders, leave them at zero.  Be sure to save your changes with a new name.  If you are not good at creating an attractive shape, there are many freebie shapes, and ones for sale, out there.

There are four "essential" pieces that everyone MUST wear at all times, to define their avatar.  You can't take these off, only replace them by wearing a different item of the same type.  These are shape, skin, eyes, and system hair.

Most of your starter avatar skins have the underwear permanently painted directly on the skin.  You can't take it off, but you CAN find a freebie nude skin and use that instead, or buy a skin.

You can fine tune the position of an attachment that does not fit quite right.  It helps to stand on a posing stand, so you don't move while doing this.  Right click the attachment, select Edit.  Use the colored positioning arrows to drag the attachment and change its position.  Hold CTRL+SHIFT to change the arrows to a bounding box.  Drag one of the corners of the box to change the object's size.  USE SMALL MOVEMENTS!  It's a good idea to make a safety copy of the object, in case you mess up.  Use your camera controls, or hold the ALT key and the left mouse button to swing your camera around and check the fit from all sides.

Recently, Linden Lab added 24 new "starter avatars" to the Library, and they are also prominently featured as choices during the signup process.  These new avatars are "Fitted Mesh."  The ENTIRE AVATAR is a replacement for the "standard" avatar that you can adjust and dress as I've described above.  This has both advantages and disadvantages.  On the plus side, these avatars look more "photorealistic" than the standard ones.  On the minus side, while the Appearance sliders can modify their look somewhat, they don't have nearly the flexibility of the standard avatars, especially when it comes to fine details like facial features.  Also, normal clothing items will not work with these avatars, nor will facial expressions that are a part of some gestures and animations.

You can tell if you are wearing one of these Fitted Mesh avatars by looking in your inventory, under Library\Clothing\Initial Outfits.  All the mesh avatars have "(Mesh)" in the name of their folder.

My advice is, switch to one of the older, non-mesh avatars at least until you are familiar with how clothing layers and attachments work in Second Life.  You will be much less confused and frustrated!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Blockage

I know I have mentioned muting (also called Blocking, in many viewers) here several times in passing.  But let's talk about that more specifically today.

There is no true privacy in Second Life, unless you are rich and buy your own isolated region.  That means we have to deal with other people all the time...and some of those people are, to put it mildly, jerks.  What can you do about a rude and annoying person, especially one who seems to be stalking you and showing up everywhere you do?  What about that idiot in your favorite club who's always throwing huge chat spam gestures out, or yelling HOOOOO?

Block them, that's what.  Right click their avatar and choose Block (or Mute) from the context menu.  Suddenly they become invisible, except for their nametag.  Or, depending on your viewer and how you have set your Preferences, they might be a green cloud, or a gray silhouette.

People on your Block list can't be heard in local chat, voice, or IM.  Anything they send you will be automatically refused.  They have become, as far as you are concerned, a non-person.

If they aren't physically present, you can Block someone with a button in their Profile, if you use Firestorm or another viewer that has that feature.  The official LL viewer does not, but you can click on a person's name in an IM history window and Block them from there.  (This is a very annoying omission on LL's part.  You can Block someone in your Friends list, but unless they are right there with you, you have to jump through hoops to block a stranger.  I hope bringing the Block button back to the profile is on LL's To Do List.)

There IS one way in which a blocked avatar can still interact with you:  they can hit you with physical objects.  So you may need to be a little fast on your feet if the blocked jerk jumps in his car and tries to run you down, or starts hosing you with an AK-47.

If you send someone an IM, pay them money, or send them an item, they will be automatically unblocked.  Unless of course, they have blocked you, too!  But there is also a Block list in the People window, and you can unblock someone from there.

You can Block objects too.  Things that send out annoying sounds or repeated group invitations are  good candidates for this.  Muting an object will also mute its owner, though.

Sometimes you will get a Block option through a menu.  For example, many popular dance machines in clubs will have a little Block button as a menu choice.  Be careful you don't hit this by mistake!  If you do, you will wonder why the dance machine isn't working any more, until you figure it out and unblock it from your list.  if you want to close the offered menu, use the Ignore button instead.

Blocking someone is truly a way to get the last word.  Just say to them, "You're muted, jerk," and hit the Block button.  You can then grin evilly to yourself as you watch their silent presence and think about how frustrated they must be that they can't annoy you any more.

See the official word on Blocking here:
http://community.secondlife.com/t5/English-Knowledge-Base/Blocking/ta-p/700121

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Shadows, Invisiprims, Alpha Masks, and Your Shoes

Way back in the Dark Ages, I wrote a piece all about Second Life shoes.  Due to recent changes in the way Second Life works, I need to add a small addendum to that.

Invisiprims are a special sort of prim.  They use a script to make the avatar mesh inside of, or behind them, invisible.  Invisiprims used to be the standard way that shoe makers would hide the unsightly part of your foot that would otherwise be visible below the sole of a pretty high heeled shoe.

The trouble is, invisiprims were always a bit of a hack, making use of a flaw in the Second Life code.  When Linden Lab enabled the viewer to see Mesh objects, they also fixed this loophole.  The result is that anyone using a current mesh-capable viewer (and that is just about everyone, nowadays), who is ALSO using the Advanced Lighting Model and Shadows in their graphics preferences, will not see your invisiprims.  On their monitors, your feet will look like ugly clubs.

There are a lot of shoes out there, especially freebies, that still use invisiprims.  Be sure that your shoes come with an alpha mask item...in your inventory, it will have the symbol of a shirt with a grid texture on it.  Wear this alpha mask item with your shoes.  If you are wearing any other alpha masks, such as for a Mesh dress, use the Add command, not Wear, to add the shoe alpha mask to your ensemble.

Some shoes, like boots, can be fixed.  Even if you can't remove the invisiprims (most shoes are No Modify), you can add your own alpha texture to hide your foot.  This will not work with shoes that show part of the avatar foot, like pumps or sandals.  You can find collections of foot alpha masks on the Marketplace, see the links below.

https://marketplace.secondlife.com/p/Lindaline-shoemasks/2367149

https://marketplace.secondlife.com/p/milevAs-Almost-Free-Body-Parts/3536485

https://marketplace.secondlife.com/p/D-Feet-Alpha-Layer-add-or-wear/4618046

Friday, August 9, 2013

Changes

Our Second Life is always changing, and it usually does so much faster than Real Life.  Stores and clubs come and go, whole regions are there one day and vanished the next.  Our viewers and the server software that runs SL is constantly being updated with bug fixes and new features. 

As the virtual world changes, our lives within it change too.  People who were friends vanish away, or drift away to new pursuits and new friends.  We may quarrel, and then make up...or sometimes not.  It's been said that any Second Life partnership that lasts six months is equivalent to ten years of a Real Life marriage.

My partnership is an unusual one, even for SL.  For over four years, I've been one third of a three-way lesbian marriage, and I could not have asked for better friends, lovers, and partners than Cindi and Eveline.

But change comes to even the best relationships.  Eveline has chosen to depart from us, and from Second Life.  This makes me very sad, but at the same time, I am grateful for all the evenings we spent together, laughing, crying, and loving.  Bless you, Eveline, and may you find happiness in everything you do!

And no, this does not mean that I'm single again, "on the market", or looking.  Cindi and I are continuing as partners.  Bless you, too, Cin, for always being there when you are needed, and for your wisdom, understanding, and acceptance.

I love you both.

Friday, July 26, 2013

FLASH! Educational Discounts Return

Linden Lab created a minor furor last year when they discontinued the 50% discount given to educational and non-profit institutions on private region purchase and ownership.  A lot of educational sims disappeared from the grid as a result.

Now, LL has done an about-face and the educational discounts are back.  The official announcement can be found here: http://community.secondlife.com/t5/Featured-News/Updated-Pricing-for-Educational-and-Nonprofit-Institutions/ba-p/2098039

Inara Pey beat me to this (she usually does, that woman is tied into everything and writes like lightning!)  Read her take on it here: http://modemworld.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/return-of-50-discount-to-educational-non-profit-groups/

As a teacher, I applaud this move.  I do think that it may be too little, too late -- a lot of the educational institutions that left Second Life are now set up on OpenSim grids.  While OpenSim based grids are less content-rich than SL, they are also MUCH cheaper.  In many cases, they are free. Still, it's a good move.  Kudos, LL!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Don't Pay Us, We Must Punish You First.

Linden Lab, the creators of Second Life, have a long history of doing things to make life difficult for their customers.  This blog post is about their latest idiocy.  If you prefer keeping your blood pressure down, or don't like rants, just click and browse away now, Dear Reader.  You Have Been Warned!

RANT MODE ON!

To be a Premium member in Second Life, or to own land, you pretty much have to have an accepted method of payment on file.  Linden Lab doesn't accept prepaid or debit cards, but they do accept most major credit cards, as well as "verified" PayPal accounts.  "Verified" means that you have gone to the PayPal web site and gone through their process to link your PayPal account to a major credit card or to a Real Life bank account.

All well and good, except for the huge numbers of people, especially outside the USA, who don't have and can't get a major credit card or a PayPal account.  But it's been that way for ages, and that's not the subject of today's complaint.

Those of us who like to keep ahead of our obligations and don't like to see those charges from Linden Research on our monthly statements have two ways to pump up our Second Life accounts to meet those bills from LL for Premium membership and land tier.
  1. We can collect enough $L from other residents with our in-world businesses to meet our bills (after selling the $L and converting them to money in our $US dollar balance.)  Or,
  2. We can send money proactively to Linden Lab with an "Increase Credit" option on our Second Life account controls. 
A lot of us do both.  Our SL business ventures don't bring in quite enough to pay the bills, so every so often, we give our accounts a little infusion of cash from our PayPal accounts.

But now, LL won't take our money!  I just found out about this today, but for at least the last two months, hitting the Increase Credit link takes you to a sweetly worded web page that tells you that the "Limit Buy process has been streamlined" and that you no longer need the Increase Credit option.  So they took it away.

Well, gee, Rod.  Maybe some virtual currency traders used Increase Credit to play the $L markets, but most of us ordinary mortals used it to keep you from having to bill our Payment Methods.  Did you ever think of that?  Apparently not.

Now, that is bad enough.  Still, you'd think that the new, "streamlined" system would work.  We'd sell our $L, the Lab would drain what was in our $USD balance, and then bill our Payment Method for the shortfall.  But nooooo....

To add injury to insult, if there is not enough money in your $USD balance to pay your bills, your account is placed on an IMMEDIATE HOLD!  WTF, Rod!?  I mean, really, *W*T*F*!!!??  The Billing Department, by the way, will blithely assure you not to worry, nothing bad will happen, they will simply bill your Payment Method as I've sketched out above.  Apparently nobody told them, either.

The only way that the shoestring and duct-taped LL billing system will charge your Payment Method is if your $USD balance is ALREADY at $0.00!

Rod, this needs an immediate fix, please.  Even before you finish the Server Side Baking rollouts.  By preference, put the Increase Credit option back into the system.  But if you can't figure out how to do that -- my kid could probably suss it out, back when he was in middle school, but never mind -- then at least make sure your billing software exercises the Charge Payment Method branch before it suspends the account.

And while you are at it, how about holding a senior staff meeting and ask your people one simple question:  "Why do we make it so hard for people to give us their money?"  Then have them turn that around, on pain of losing their heads.  Don't you WANT your company to succeed?

RANT MODE OFF.

Drat, I had intended a much stronger and more inventive rant, but the sheer massiveness of this stupidity has left me nearly speechless.

EDIT:  After reading a bit more about this new "streamlined" system, I found that someone has come up with a clumsy, but workable way around it.  Here's how:
  1. Make a "Limit Buy" of enough $L to be equivalent to the $USD you want to add to your account.  When setting the limit, set it high enough so that the order will NOT be filled.
  2. Once the order is placed and your payment method has been charged, cancel the order.  The amount of funds you would have paid for the order will be placed in your $USD balance instead.
This workaround avoids the conversion fees from $USD to $L and back to $USD.  Thanks to Vania Chaplin for this suggestion!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Power of the Shadow

I just upgraded my computer, yay!  Well, actually the Resident Geek did the upgrading (thank you, dear!)  I got a new solid state drive that opens Windows and programs like lightning, and I got a new Nvidia GeForce GTX 670 video card (the Resident Geek is hollering, "with TWO gigabytes of memory and a factory overclock!"  I figured that this would be a shoo-in for running Second Life, even with the advanced lighting model and shadows enabled.

And in fact, it does a great job!  I don't see any marked improvement over my previous GTX 560 Ti, but then again I am driving two new, larger monitors (27 inches, 2560x1440 pixels).

But as an experiment, I enabled my GPU-Z monitoring utility and watched what happened when I ran SL.

At idle, with nothing going on, the card loafs along at about 35-40 deg C, fan at 30%, GPU load at zero to 4%, power at about 12%.

With Second Life running, and water reflections, windlight, and local lights on, the power consumption goes up to about 45-50%, the GPU load goes up to about 30-40%.  Temperatures on the GPU rise to around 50-55 deg C.

But when I enable the advanced lighting model and shadows...wow.  Power consumption leaps to 100%, sometimes even a few percent over.  GPU load goes to 98-99%.  Fan speed increases to about 60%, and temperatures rise up to 87-90 deg C!

I always knew shadows put a huge demand on a graphics card, because they cut my frame rate almost in half.  But this was an eye-opener.  It is amazing how much the new "eye candy" demands from even "high end" video cards.

I was concerned when I saw those 90 degree temperatures (remember, that's degrees Celsius, where 100 is the boiling point of water.)  I have always tried to keep my electronics under about 60 deg C.  But the Geek did some research and it turns out that modern graphics cards are designed to run hot.  I should not get worried unless the temps start to edge into the high 90's or low 100's.

I also verified something else I'd read:  Second Life does NOT benefit from an SLI setup (multiple graphics cards in one computer.)  While my primary card was running hard and hot, its companion continued strolling along, completely unaffected.  (I'm not disappointed.  We got the second card mostly to help with rendering 3D scenes and models and for other Adobe graphics products.)

So, if you want to run SL on "Ultra" graphics settings, get the best card you can afford and give it plenty of cooling.  I don't think I'd ever do it with a laptop...I'd be afraid of second degree thigh burns.

UPDATE, August 13 --
The latest drivers, or maybe a change in LL's server code, have improved my numbers while running shadows!  Temperatures are down around 75C, power and GPU loads have dropped by half.  I am not sure what happened, but I'm happy about it!

A Little Group Grope

No, no, this is STILL Not That Sort of Blog!  Lately, I have been running into people who complain to me about getting charged money by their groups.  Some of them have been charged quite a lot of money, and others only a few $L, but all of them are pretty hot under the collar at these unexpected and "unfair" charges.

So, let's talk about the ways that groups can cost you money.

First, there is the out-and-out scam.  A group promises you some terrific benefit...free gifts, absorbing roleplay, or whatever.  There is a hefty fee to join, let's say $L2,000.  You pay the money, and shortly thereafter find yourself ejected from the group, and none of the group officers will give you the time of day.  After a short time, the group itself is no longer to be found, as the scammers disband it.

This is rare, but if it happens to you, you can submit an Abuse Report.  Enough complaints, and the scammers will find themselves banned from SL.  But good luck getting your money back, there is not much chance of that.

Second, there is the store group that charges an enrollment fee.  This may be anywhere from $L200 to $L2500 or more, depending on how upscale the store is, how pricey its products are, and what benefits they offer to group members.  If you are a regular customer of a store, even a hefty enrollment fee can be a bargain, as you accumulate savings through group gifts and group-only discounts.

But sometimes these enrollment fees catch shoppers unawares.  They are so used to store groups that are free to join they simply click "Yes" when the "You are about to pay Morea Decosta $L 500 to join a group.  Pay/Cancel?" confirmation message flashes up.  The sudden "KA-CHING" of the money leaving their account is the first clue they have that something unexpected is going on.

Store owners have store groups for a reason, and it isn't just to give away freebies.  The group provides a targeted pool of people to whom they can send advertising about new products and events, and KNOW that the recipients are probably going to be interested.  Store owners are not happy with the people who pop in, join the group, get the freebie, leave the group, and pop out!  Thus, we are seeing more and more store owners, especially the big, popular stores, charging an enrollment fee for their groups.  They want to keep you as a group member and send you ads!  (I am not being holier than thou...I've done the join/grab/leave dance too!)

Be aware of this!  In the group window, right next to the JOIN button, is some text that tells you whether the group is free, or if it charges an enrollment fee.  If you forget to look for this, you get the confirmation message I mentioned earlier.  So if you hear "KA-CHING" unexpectedly, you have only yourself to blame!  (And again, I'm not being holier than thou.  I've been tripped by this one, too!)

The third way groups can cost you money is through group liabilities.  If a group owns land, and that land is shown in search, the group pays a weekly fee to LL for the service.  By default, when a group is created, all group roles have the "share group dividends and liabilities" feature enabled.  Many group founders don't know this and neglect to disable it...or they figure that $L50 a week spread over a few hundred group members won't ever be noticed.  But if you are on a Basic account and never buy any $L, you might look at your account and find that you now have a balance of -2L, and you can't even get freebies until you pay the arrears.

Check your Transaction Log on your Dashboard page periodically to see if any groups are slowly nickel and diming you!

If this happens to you, you have several choices.  You can simply leave the group.  Or you can contact the group owner and complain that you don't think it's fair for the rank and file membership to pay for the search listing of their store, or club.  Some owners will correct this, if you draw their attention to it politely.  Others may take offense.  You may find that you HAVE left the group, involuntarily!  A third possibility is to just keep quiet.  If the group owner decides to close up shop and sell their land, all the group members will get an equal share of the sale -- the "share group dividends" side of the coin.  Then it's the owner's turn to feel unfairly treated! "Hey, I sold my land for $L50,000, and only got $L200 of it!"

For lots more about groups, how they work and how to manage them, see this link:  http://community.secondlife.com/t5/English-Knowledge-Base/Creating-managing-moderating-and-disbanding-groups/ta-p/700111

ps - Maybe this IS That Sort of Blog.  After all, we just talked about several people getting screwed.  See you all Next Time!

Monday, July 8, 2013

FLASH! Bliss Couture Closing Sale

Bliss Couture has long been one of the most popular stores in Second Life, especially for ladies' formal gowns.  They're holding a Going Out of Business sale, and you can get their creations for up to 90% off.  Visit them at http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Gown/129/195/353

Saturday, June 29, 2013

I Can See Clearly Now...

Hang onto your hats, there are BIG changes coming soon.  Or maybe not so big, depending on what sort of computer and graphics you are using for Second Life.

If you follow the news about upcoming changes to SL, you may have heard mysterious terms like "server side baking", "server side appearance", or "materials processing".  I'm going to try to explain what these are, what they mean to you, and how to get ready for them.

Server side baking and server side appearance are two words for the same thing.  Our avatars are made up of several texture layers...the skin, the undershirt, shirt, jacket, eyes, and so on.  If our computers had to download all these textures every time we looked at ourselves or at another avatar, Second Life would be a lot slower than it already is!  So, these textures are "baked" into a much smaller number of composite textures...your eyes, head, upper body and lower body.  You see this baking process when you change one of these clothing layers -- your avatar becomes blurry for a few moments and then (if all goes well) comes into sharp focus.

If you watch carefully, you will see that this process actually happens TWICE.  This is because your computer and graphics card are doing the baking.  First you see the result locally, and then, after it is transmitted back to SL's servers, you see the result from in world.

But, because of all the changes and upgrades that have been made to SL's graphics in the last year or so, this process is failing more often, and the result is a "cloudy" avatar -- you appear as a mere cloud of vapor -- or other forms of "bake fail", which can include gray skin, or may result in you seeing yourself differently from how others see you. ("Hey Lindal, did you know you are naked?"  "EEEK!")

Server side baking/server side appearance will move the job of baking textures off your computer and onto LL's servers.  The hope is that this will greatly reduce the number of bake fail issues that have plagued us all, and speed up performance as well.  This has been tested, and is nearly ready for rolling out to the main grid.  LL has said it could happen as early as July 9.

BUT!  You must have a viewer that is capable of working with this new baking method.  If you don't, you will not see yourself or others correctly.  The official SL viewer is up to date and ready for SSA, and so is the latest edition of Firestorm (4.4.1)  If you are using another viewer, either make sure it has been updated in readiness for SSA, or keep one of the above viewers handy as a backup.

Materials processing is another new feature we can expect soon, either with SSA or shortly afterwards.  There is a project viewer from LL which already has this feature, and you can download it and see what all the fuss is about.

Textures in Second Life have always been rather basic, compared to most major 3D modeling and rendering software.  We have only a basic color layer, plus a rudimentary method of applying a few pre-made "bump maps" to the surface, and three levels of "shininess", none of which supports real reflections. 

Materials processing will greatly improve this situation.  I have not yet played with it myself, but the results I've seen posted by others show that textures can now look much more realistic, without having to add a lot of "tricks" and workarounds in programs like Photoshop.  Soon, creators will be making even more amazing Stuff for us, using these new tools.

The downside to all of these new improvements is the usual one...Linden Lab does not have the world's greatest track record when it comes to implementing new features.  As often as not, the new capabilities come with a significant number of new bugs.  So, keep your fingers crossed and your Grid Crash Protection Boxes handy!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

OMG, It's SL10BCC!

This is just the briefest of notes,  composed on my phone.  There are lots of bloggers reporting on Second Life's 10th Birthday and I've been too busy being a Greeter and exploring the exhibits myself to write much about them.   All I can say really,  is GO, GO, GO!  It's total sensory overload, it's a trip through SL's history, and it's a nonstop 24/7 party... parties, really, on five stages.  But it's what and who you will see OFF the stages that's the most fun.  Waterslides, art galleries, displays of avatar evolution.   Last night I had a nice chat with a tree, met an old friend, and saw avatars ranging from 2006's Ruth to a Dalek from Doctor Who.

The official Birthday is this Sunday, June 23, but the Birthday Sims will remain open through the 29th.  You will definitely need more than one visit to see it all, or even a respectable percentage of it all.

GO, GO, GO!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

I Always Cry at Weddings

People who are new to Second Life may be surprised to learn that there are weddings here.  No, of course they aren't "real" weddings!  Getting "married" in SL has no legal or religious standing, it is simply another form of roleplay.  Except that, it really isn't -- read on to find out more!

In Second Life you can "partner" somebody else.  That is, you can send them a "partnership request" and pay a small fee ($L10).  They receive an email giving them a link where they can accept your request.  If they do, then your name appears in their Profile in the "Partner" slot, and their name appears in yours.  You are now partners...which is SL's version of "being married".  For details on this procedure, see: http://community.secondlife.com/t5/English-Knowledge-Base/Friends-and-partnering/ta-p/700067#Section_.3

This partnership thing is treated very differently by different people.  Some people use it merely to express a platonic relationship, or a business partnership.  Some use it to designate a dominant/submissive bond.  Some partner but do not feel bound by it, and "cheat" on their partner with any number of other avatars (hey, much like Real Life!)  Some completely ignore the institution of formal "partnership" but have a strong and monogamous relationship with another avatar.

But however you view "partnership", many people have actual weddings.  These events can be simple and private, or elaborate.  There are merchants in SL who support all the trappings of a wedding celebration...you can rent a venue, find an officiant, send out invitations to all your friends.  You can arrive at the wedding in style, in a horse-drawn white carriage.  You can walk down the aisle in a gorgeous designer wedding dress, recite vows and exchange rings.  You can throw a huge reception for everyone afterwards with dancing, a cake, custom table settings and everything else.  You can commemorate the event by hiring a photographer and a videographer to create a custom wedding album or a video.  You can spend a lot of money...some of these events cost more than $L20,000!

The preparations for these events sometimes become so complex that you may even hire a wedding planner to arrange all the details.

There is a category in the Destinations Guide that covers all this.  For a list of wedding venues and other merchants, see http://secondlife.com/destinations/romance/wedding

I have been to a number of these elaborate events, and each time I am invited to one, I shudder in horrified anticipation.  First of all, I know there will be lag, and lots of it.  Just getting that many people together in one region is a lag nightmare, and since everyone will be dressed in elaborate costumes, the script lag is going to be horrible.  But that is not the worst of it.

I have developed an informal Rule:  the more elaborate the SL wedding, the shorter the partnership.  It's not always true, but I have found that those who put the most emphasis on the trappings of a marriage are those who will put the least emphasis on the relationship itself.  Partnerships that begin with a huge wedding are often dissolved in a couple of months, or even weeks.  The shortest one I can remember is the one where the couple divorced the very next day...because she caught her new husband cheating with one of her bridesmaids!

So, if you want a big wedding...go ahead, indulge yourselves.  But remember that it is not a big wedding that makes a lasting marriage, it's the people and their commitment to each other.  And keep back $L25 to pay the un-partnering fee.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

FLASH! Firestorm "phisher"?

This one probably falls much more into the area of "FUD" (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) than most of my posts.  Please take it with a huge grain of salt, because my information is extremely limited, at least at this time.

Tonight, I monitored some group chat in the Firestorm Support Group, the in-world support group for the popular third party Second Life viewer software, Firestorm.  One resident stated that a friend had visited a site, or downloaded a viewer (I'm not sure which) called "Firestorm Excellence".  Following this, the friend was having serious problems with SL.

A Google search (by myself, and another by another group member) failed to turn up any reference to "Firestorm Excellence".  It is certainly nothing that is put out by or associated with the Firestorm viewer team.

So...maybe it is all a misunderstanding.  But, if someone gives you a link to the latest Firestorm viewer, check it!  The official page is:  http://www.firestormviewer.org/

Nosy People

I've spoken here many times about the "Facebookers" you meet in Second Life...you know, those whose first question to you is "A/S/L?" (Age, Sex, Location.)  Second Life is, to me and to many others, an alternative to Real Life, and we don't really want to share this sort of RL information, at least not with people we've only just met.

Today I came across what I can only describe as an "official" sort of Facebooker.

My friend Daniel Voyager posted in his blog about a University of Arkansas survey, which was offering participants a fee of $L500.  I'm always interested in both making a little extra money, and in legitimate academic research efforts involving SL, so I signed up and awaited further instructions.

Then I got an email from the survey lead, Andy Evans, asking for my race and gender.  He claimed that the professor overseeing the survey required this data for "a fine-grained analysis."  Even more disturbing, for the first time the purpose of the survey was clearly stated:  "...to examine the qualifications of different professors in Second Life and to evaluate them on measures of competence, legitimacy, and interpersonal skills."

My crap detector went on high alert.  What do someone's RL race and gender have to do with one's teaching ability?  Even in Real Life, let alone SL, this is clear evidence of a discriminatory mindset.

And what do Real Life credentials have to do with anything in SL?  Here, it's ability that counts, not whatever certificates you have on your wall or the initials you put after your name.

I am proud to be a professor at Caledon Oxbridge University.  COU is, of course, not to be compared to a RL college or university.  At COU, the "curriculum" is entirely about Second Life.  We teach people how to build in SL, how to buy land in SL, or how to take great pictures in SL.  We don't teach math, sciences, languages, history, or any of the subjects you would expect to find in a "real" school.  Nevertheless, the principles of good teaching apply to what we do.

My fellow professors are men and women...and also wind-up dolls, cute tiny bunnies, and humanoid creatures with cat ears, muzzles, and tails.  How they look in SL, and how they may look in RL, has absolutely no bearing on their qualifications to teach.

And, although COU teaches SL subjects, that applies to RL subjects as well.  You can take classes in Second Life on history, anatomy, or English as a second language.  Those classes won't show up on any RL transcript or count toward a degree...but they do impart knowledge, and if the teacher knows her subject and knows how to teach it, the course is worthwhile.

You might think that I am being defensive because I have no teaching experience or credentials in Real Life...but you would be mistaken.  I have taught graduate level courses in contracting and management subjects.  At one point, I held a position roughly equivalent to assistant principal at a small, specialized trade school.

Mr. Evans, you may take your survey, fold it until it is all sharp corners, and shove it up your supervising Ph.D's posterior.  It will probably do more good that way than any other.

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Great FPS Mystery

A few posts back, I mentioned that something had happened to increase my frame rate, the "smoothness" with which Second Life performs.  My frames per second (fps) had gone way up, from an average of maybe 15-20 to 50, 60, or even more.  The improvement was so significant that it even enabled me to use Shadows for the first time ever (barring the occasional photograph).  Just what it is that caused this, I have no idea.

Now a new factor has reared its head.  In my home region of Masocado, at ground level, I'm seeing some terrible lag...but ONLY when I face a particular direction.  Face one way, fps = 50.  Face the other way, fps = 2.  The problem does not occur if I'm under the water, or high up in the sky.

From that, I suspect that there is some texture out there, or some object, that is really hammering my graphics card.  But where is the darn thing?  I've moved to various parts of the sim, and tried to "triangulate".  The problem seems to be coming from somewhere on the docks, or the condo tower building, or the new beach house by the towers. 

(Although my partner Cindi reports a different result.  She gets a change in fps with the direction she's facing too, but for her it's a different direction!)

I started de-rendering things in the hope of finding the culprit.  When I temporarily erased the boats at the docks from my sight, my fps took a jump up, and I rejoiced briefly.  But then, back it plummeted again.

So far, I have no idea how to find or fix the problem, but it's making life at Masocado less than pleasant.  If anyone reading this has some ideas, please post a comment here or IM me in world.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

FLASH! Cubey Terra Pulls Out

If you've been in SL a while, and are at all into things that fly, you know the name Cubey Terra.  He created many of the first aircraft in SL.

However, Cubey is having a final "Going Out of Business" sale at Abbott's Aerodrome.  All his creations are available, for a limited time, for just $L10 each.

Sure, there are scale aircraft made of Mesh now.  But Cubey's craft fly well, and cross region boundaries reliably.  Here's your chance to pick up a hangar full for pocket change.  Skydiving equipment, jet scooters, balloons, and a blimp are also available, as well as a teleport and an elevator system, and a modular skybox construction set.

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Abbotts/60/162/68

Thursday, May 23, 2013

FLASH! New Viewer Crashes New Users

ATTENTION NEW SECOND LIFE USERS!

If you downloaded the "official" Linden Lab viewer as part of your signup process, and you are crashing, please either uninstall that viewer and re-download the LL viewer, or download and install one of the Third Party viewers such as Firestorm

The problem viewer is version 3.5.2, and you can see what version you are using by going to the Help/About Second Life menu item at the login screen.

The crashes are occurring on Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8, and ONLY affect new Second Life users.

LL removed 3.5.2 from their download page, and put back version 3.5.1.  It should be stable.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Messing with the Economy, Messing with the World

Over the last couple of weeks, Linden Lab has been whipsawing us.  The most visible way has been their recent change to the Terms of Service.  First, they said that third party Linden Dollar exchanges were "not authorized", and you used them at your own risk.

Then they said they were "not allowed", and backed that up by requiring all third party exchanges to remove any ATM machines in world and banning a number of avatars used to conduct the business of the third party exchanges.  They didn't even give the exchanges the 30 days to comply with changes that's in their own TOS, and most of the exchanges had to stop doing business in $L practically overnight.

Now, they've announced that SOME third party exchanges will be allowed to do business as "authorized $L resellers".  These resellers will be able to buy $L from the Lindex, and sell them to others.  However, they will not be allowed to buy $L from anyone else...that is, you won't be able to sell your $L on one of these authorized exchanges to "cash out".  You'll have to do that through the Lindex and Linden Lab.

For a great deal more on all of the above shenanigans, see the link provided in my last FLASH post to Gwyneth Llewellyn's blog.  Plus, you'll find lots of discussion about it on the official SL forums, on the independent forum sites like SL Universe, and on many other virtual world blogs all over the web.

I won't carry on a long and detailed rant about that here; others are doing a far better job than I can.  I will merely say two things.  First:  It is always a bad idea to tinker with an economy.  Any economy, even a simplified one in a virtual world, is a complex and delicately balanced system.  Making even small changes to it can have huge and unintended consequences.  And second:  Linden Lab is not known for their insight and delicacy.  Even Congress is better, when it comes to economic tinkering.

But the economy of Second Life is not all that LL has been messing about with lately.  As many of you know, new server and viewer code has been put in place to implement a major change in how our avatars are rendered.  These changes are known as "server side baking", or SSB for short.  Right now, your own PC and graphics card do most of the work in determining what your avatar looks like.  However, as the avatar has become more complex, this has resulted in an increasing number of "bake fail" issues.  We are always having to "rebake" ourselves, or fiddle with our internet connections, to keep from showing up as clouds of fog. 

Server side baking is, we all hope and pray, the answer to most of these problems.  However, even if everything goes right, you are going to have to have a new viewer that will work with the SSB code, or you are not going to be able to see avatars correctly.  And of course, LL does not have a history of getting everything right the first time.

SSB has not yet been turned on, though.  But even so, I think that SOMEthing that happened with the latest server code rollouts this past Tuesday has affected graphics...at least, there has suddenly been a big change in how I see the world since then.  The change is both good (mostly) and bad (a little).

The good part is that my frame rates have suddenly gone WAY up.  Where I was seeing 30-35 fps, I am now seeing 120-140 fps.  For me, that's unheard-of performance in Second Life.  For the first time, I have enough of a performance margin that I can enable Shadows, and even then, I'm getting 22-35 fps.  That's amazing!

On the bad side, I'm still seeing the "interest list" bug.  This is where you do not see objects, or parts of objects, until you right click where they are supposed to be.  A more comprehensive workaround is to enable the Develop menu, then toggle wireframe mode on and off (CTRL+SHIFT+R) to make the missing prims reappear.  This bug has been around a long time, but only happened rarely.  Recently, it's begun affecting almost everyone, at least part of the time.

And my clothing layers have gotten much slower to rez, too.  Sometimes, they won't rez at all, and I will have to re-log after changing clothes in order to see the changes.

I would say it's a sinister conspiracy to sell me more Mesh clothing, except that now it's going to be harder for the sellers of Mesh clothing to cash out all the $L I'll be paying them...

Friday, May 17, 2013

FLASH! $L Exchange Update

I'm not going to repeat what you can read elsewhere.  Please see Gwyneth Llewellyn's excellent post,
http://gwynethllewelyn.net/2013/05/17/financial-crisis-in-second-life-ended-linden-lab-launches-linden-dollar-authorized-reseller-program/

While you are there, follow the link to her much longer analysis piece, "How to Create Your Own Financial Crisis".

And, just to top things off, see her NON-financial piece on "There are No Humans in Second Life".

Great reading, great insights.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Keeping Your Feet on the Ground

It's pretty amazing when you think about it...everybody is always just the right height.  Yep, we all start at the top, and we stretch alllll the way down to the ground!  Sadly, this is not always the case in virtual worlds like Second Life.

Avatars floating several inches above the terrain, and others with their feet mired in concrete floors like Jimmy Hoffa are all too common.  Especially these days, and I'll try to explain why.

The main reason for these height-above-ground problems is those lovely sculpty and mesh shoes, complete with sculpty and mesh feet and alpha masks that hide the ugly "regular avatar" feet.

It's those alpha masks.  The maker of shoes generally works from her own avatar shape, and it's probably not the same as yours or mine.  She chooses the point at which the alpha mask leaves off, and your legs begin.  The shoes must be edited so that the top of the shoe correctly meets the (apparently) sawed off end of your leg.  Depending on how different your shape is from the creator's, this can leave your shoes seemingly several inches above the floor, or sunk several inches into the ground.

Until recently, to compensate for this problem there was a Z-axis avatar height adjustment in the Debug Settings.  Some viewers, like Firestorm, even put a handy adjustment control in Preferences, or on a special button. 

But, sad to say, one of the recent updates from Linden Lab removed this functionality.  However, they have provided a clumsy sort of work-around:  Go to Appearance/Edit Shape.  Look at the Body tab, and you will find a new slider control at the bottom, called "Hover".  This defaults to 50%, but can be adjusted to correct your height above ground.

There are three disadvantages to doing things this way.
  1. You can't use the function with a No Modify shape
  2. The increments are too large.  While 50% might have your feet in the ground, 51% has you floating above it.
  3. You have to save your changes, creating a new version of your shape.
This last one can be dealt with, with some planning.  Create three versions of your shape, calling them (for example) "Lindalshape49", "Lindalshape50", and "Lindalshape51".  If you need to, you can create more, but I think you get the idea...a series of shapes, each with a slightly different Hover setting.  Then use the appropriate shape when you create a new Outfit, or when you change your shoes.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Third Party $L Exchanges Banned?

Today, Linden Lab made a change to its Terms of Service.

You can find the ToS here:  https://secondlife.com/corporate/tos.php?lang=en-US
The change is to Section 5, which deals with Linden Dollars ($L).  Specifically, Section 5.3 now reads,

5.3 There are other exchanges that are operated by third parties on which Linden dollars are exchanged.

Third party exchanges are not authorized by Linden Lab and Buying or Selling Linden dollars on third party exchanges are not authorized transactions. Third party exchanges are wholly distinct from both the LindeX exchange and Linden Lab and they have no affiliation with Linden Lab. We do not endorse or otherwise guarantee the legitimacy of the Linden dollar transfers offered on them, and we are not liable for purchases of such Linden dollars. Buying or Selling Linden dollars anywhere other than the LindeX is done so solely at your own risk. If you Buy Linden dollars that are traced to unauthorized credit card activity or other fraudulent activity, we will recoup these Linden dollars from your Account. The only authorized exchange is the LindeX.

Now, this wording is clearly distancing Linden Lab from the various third party $L exchange services.  They say that this is to better protect Second Life residents from fraud, and indeed there have been cases of fraud using the $L.  Up until now, LL provided their "Linden Lab Exchange Risk API", a software tool designed to reduce the chances of fraudulent activity, to legitimate third party exchanges.  However, the Second Life website has been updated to remove the references to the Exchange Risk API.

But, at least in the new ToS, LL does not prohibit using third party exchanges.  They merely say, "...done so solely at your own risk."  However, in a blog post on the Second Life website, http://community.secondlife.com/t5/Featured-News/Updated-Second-Life-Terms-of-Service/ba-p/1996185 , they say,

"... trading of Linden dollars (L$) on exchanges other than the LindeX, Second Life’s official L$ exchange, is not authorized or allowed." (italics mine).

In my view, this is not only to prevent fraud.  There are two additional reasons for LL to hog all of the $L exchange activity.
  1. Fees.  LL collects fees when you buy or sell $L.  There is a problem with this thinking, though.  Most people who use the third party exchanges do so because they cannot use the Lindex, due to the fact that LL only accepts certain forms of payment (major credit cards, for example -- but not gift cards or debit cards.)  Also, many SL creators/merchants outside the US cannot use PayPal, and use the third party exchanges to cash out their in world earnings.  By cutting these people off from a way to buy and sell $L, LL is going to lose a significant part of its user base.
  2. The US Treasury.  The government has begun to take a closer look at online currencies used in games, with a particular eye to them being used as tools for money laundering.  Despite the fact that LL uses legal mumbo-jumbo to say that the $L is not a currency, in the eyes of government regulators, if it quacks like a duck, it's a duck.  And Uncle Sam doesn't take kindly to private citizens issuing money.  So LL is likely taking steps to make the $L seem less like a freely traded currency by limiting it to the LL-controlled Lindex.  They are, by doing this, also separating themselves from any audits or actions that might be taken against these third party exchanges.
Most people haven't yet become aware of these deeper issues...the only thing that worries them is that they have to click that they have read and accepted the revised ToS on the login screen.  But I think this development could have far-reaching consequences for Second Life, its economy, and us users.

EDIT, May 8 2013:
Linden Lab sent an email to operators of third party exchanges, telling them to remove in world ATMs.  While there is still plenty of doubt about whether LL means that third party exchanges are simply "not accredited" or in any way associated with LL, or that they are not permitted, the Lab's actions in the matter so far speak louder than their contradictory words.

For more details on this, including what a number of third party exchanges have done in response to the new policy, see:  http://www.hypergridbusiness.com/2013/05/lindens-no-outside-currency-trading/