Sunday, April 28, 2013

Lashing Out

 A lot of us have a love/hate relationship going with our eyelashes in Second Life.  I'll give you a Brief History of the Lash here, and then a very Happy Ending!

At first, eyelashes were simply painted on, as part of your skin.  They still are, and in fact this is the simplest, easiest way to do your lashes in SL.  It takes up no attachment points, needs no adjustment, and looks good from either far away or close up.  A lot of us choose to let things go with that and just get on with our SLives.

Then there are makeup tattoos.  Some of these feature additional lashes or eyeliner.  But they are still painted on the avatar...they have no depth.

Next, came the invention of prim eyelashes -- well, actually these came before makeup tattoos...but they are a step up in complexity.  These consist of four prims, one for each eye's upper and lower lashes, and they have an eyelash texture painted on, with an alpha channel to make the non-lash parts of the prim invisible.  These are nice, but they have to be tediously edited to fit the curve of your lash line.  They are usually quite inexpensive.  But they also have a serious drawback...they don't blink when your eyelids do.  They can look very lovely, but it would really be nice to be able to flutter one's eyelashes.  Finally, because of the alpha channel in their texturing, they can exhibit "alpha channel conflict" with other transparent textures, producing some odd-looking effects from time to time. 

A minor variation of the four-prim lashes are sculpty eyelashes.  Aside from more flexibility in designing the lash curve, I don't see much difference between the two types.

So, someone then invented all-prim eyelashes.  Each lash is constructed from an individual micro-prim.  One prim for each little hair!  Astonishingly, I have never had a fitting problem with these, which is just as well because editing that many tiny prims one at a time would drive me insane.  The primary outlet I've found for all-prim lashes is Kimber Carter's CCD.  These lashes look absolutely stunning close up, but can start to look spikey when viewed from more than a meter or two away.  And they have the same non-blinking nature as the older four-prim eyelashes.

But  Today I ran across...drumroll please...MESH EYELASHES!  I found these at Gaeline Creations when I was there looking for AO poses. 

They come with a set of lashes, and several eyeliner tattoos.  They come with an adjustment HUD, too.  Normally, I like to edit my attachments myself, but in this case the HUD made it easy to make little micro-adjustments and get the lashes fitting perfectly.  They have an option for texturing the lashes in different colors too, and saving your favorites as presets.  This set of lashes is going to be my current "go-to" item for eye enhancement!
Mesh Lash HUD

But there is one last development...the Mesh Avatar Head.  I don't yet have one of these, but if you are a HUD type of girl, you might look into it.  Wear the mesh head, and adjust all your makeup choices by HUD.  In addition, the eyes have a slooow, sexy blink that looks very attractive.  You are, of course, limited to the choices in both the shape of your facial features and your makeups that are provided by the head's creator, and the facial features will not respond to the standard SL facial emotion triggers for smiling, laughing, etc.

Here are some examples of the different eyelash types.  As with all the pictures I publish, click on one to get a larger view, and a slideshow!
Plain Old Painted On Lashes
Four-prim Eyelashes

Sculpty Lashes

Micro-prim Individual Lashes (CCD)

Mesh Lashes - My New Fave!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Seek, And Ye Shall Find

Today’s post is about finding things.  More specifically, nearby things. 

Oh sure, you can just look around yourself and see things.  But sometimes, that’s not enough.  An object might be hidden inside a wall or under the ground.  Or maybe it is a griefing object and it has deliberately been made hard to spot by its creator.  Or it is a tiny prize object that’s part of a hunt.  At times like these, it’s good to know that there are special tools that make it easier to find stuff!

View Transparent Objects.  The keyboard shortcut to toggle this feature on and off is CTRL+ALT+T.  When enabled, objects that are partly or completely transparent will be shown in red.

Particle Visibility.  An object spewing out smoke or other particles may be hard to see through all the fog!  You can toggle particle visibility off and on with CTRL+SHIFT+ALT+=.  (Yes, the last character is an “equals” sign.)  You can also open Preferences (CTRL+P), click the Graphics tab, and move the Particles slider to 0.

Beacons.  You can cause objects that have certain selected properties to display a “beacon” highlighting them.  Go to World/Show More/Beacons.  You can select objects that are running scripts, or emitting sounds, or…   For added visibility, you can cause a bounding box to be displayed around the object.  Beacons can be especially useful for finding very small objects that you might otherwise overlook.

Object Owner List.  If you own land, you can use a feature of the About Land window to find things owned by a specific person.  Right click the ground, and choose About Land.  Then click the Objects tab, and hit the Refresh button just above the list window.  You’ll see a list containing the names of each person who has objects on your land.  Left clicking one of the names will cause those objects to be highlighted in yellow in world.  If the objects are not supposed to be there, you can Return them to their owner with a simple mouse click.

Area Search.  If you use the Firestorm viewer, this is a great feature for cheating in hunts.  Go to World/Area Search.   You can give the search window clues such as part of the object’s name, or its owner, or creator.  Then you can left click one of the search results, and you’ll see a beacon in world highlighting where that object is.  If you don’t see the beacon, it may be behind you.  Turn around until you can spot it.

Chatty Objects.  A lot of lost vehicles, pets, and griefing objects will send out chat messages, or send you a private IM.  These messages will include a set of object coordinates, such as “Object ‘ExDepart’ owned by Lindal Kidd, Masocado 56, 125, 4024 has offered you inventory.  Accept/Decline/Mute?”  To find the object that’s sending the message, go to the coordinates given in the message.  If no region name is given, it’s in the region you are in.  Your own current X.Y, and Z coordinates are shown in the information bar at the top of your screen.  Coordinates within a region can range from 0 to 255 for X and Y position, and 0 on up for Z position…but you won’t find objects above 4096 m altitude, so consider that a practical limit.  Zero coordinates are always in the southwest corner of a region.

Buried Objects.  If an object is buried inside another object, there are several ways to see it, and to get it out.  You can cam inside solid objects with a careful use of the Alt key, the left mouse button, and a sidewise sweep of the mouse to swing your camera “past” the exterior of a wall (see this earlier post on camming).  If your viewer supports derendering, you can cause the obstructing object to vanish.  You can also check “Build/Hide Selected” and then select the obstructing object.  It will vanish, allowing you to then select the buried item.  (It will vanish too, when you select it, but it will remain selected and you can drag it out from its hiding place.)

If an object is buried beneath the ground, you may be able to cam under the surface to find it, just as you did with the wall.  Or, you can turn on the Advanced menu (CTRL+ALT+D) and go to Advanced/Rendering Types.  Turn off “ground”.  Now you can see your buried treasure!  While you are there, experiment with turning the other rendering types off and on.  Selective rendering can be a very useful tool.

These tools should help you find missing, invading, or embarrassing objects much more easily.  Embarrassing?  Oh yes, it can happen.  One of my friends lost a chatty set of genitals underneath her living room floor!  Isn’t virtual reality strange and wonderful?

See you next time!

Land: Buying, Leasing, and Renting

It's Back to Basics time today!  And today's topic is one that has caused much confusion even among experienced Second Lifers, because the terms used are slippery, and it's very common for two people to be using the same word to describe different things.

Yes, dear readers, I'm going to talk about virtual land again.

In one sense, all of the land in Second Life is owned by Linden Lab (it's their servers, after all) and only rented by us Residents.  But in SL terms, we usually think of the land "owner" as the resident who pays Linden Lab a monthly fee for the land.

On the Mainland, this is pretty straightforward.  If you buy the land, then you pay LL tier on it.  You are the "owner" and only LL can kick you off your land.  You can also RENT land on the mainland, paying another resident, the landlord, a weekly or monthly fee in $L.  In this case, the landlord is the owner, and has the power to kick you off if you don't pay on time or otherwise are a nuisance.

But then we come to Private Estates.  The only true "owner" of a Private region on SL is the estate owner, who pays a monthly fee to LL.  That fee is $295 USD per month, or $125 USD for a Homestead region.  If you are not paying LL this fee, you are not the true owner, you are only "leasing" the land from the estate owner.

It may appear that you are the owner.  When you leased the land, the estate owner probably called the transaction a "purchase".  You may be listed as the owner in About Land.  You may have full land management abilities...terraforming, setting object entry and build permissions, allowing some avatars and excluding others.  But unless you own the entire region, and are paying LL directly, YOU DON'T OWN THE LAND.  The Estate Owner does.  If there is a dispute between you, or the estate owner goes out of business, or the region is sold to another estate owner, you could find yourself kicked off your land with no notice.

That's the risk when you lease a land parcel from a private estate owner, and it's why you should research the owner before getting land on an estate.  How long have they been in business?  How many regions do they own?  What's the occupancy rate?  What's their reputation with their tenants and former tenants?  How well do they communicate with you and answer your questions?

A good estate owner can (and should!) make your land-owning experience on their estate pleasant.  A good owner will respond quickly to resolve problems, whether it's poor region performance, a griefer attack, or a dispute with a neighbor.  Estate owners are, after all, in competition with each other and with LL for your virtual land dollar.  It's a highly competitive business, and poor ones don't stay in business very long.  And that is the upside to owning land on an owner who is more responsive to your needs than Linden Lab.

The same could be said of Mainland landlords.  They have somewhat less control over their land compared to a Private Estate owner (they cannot re-start regions, for example, and must ask LL to do it) but on the other hand, Mainland locations offer direct access to large, connected areas of land and sea to explore.  Some mainland landlords are not responsive to tenants, while others work to make your stay on their land an enjoyable one.

You can, in fact, actually buy a whole region from an estate owner and become the new estate owner.  This can save you a lot of money over buying a private region directly from LL ($1,000 USD setup fee).  An estate owner anxious to get out from under may sell you his region for $500, $200, or even less.  Be sure that you use the proper procedure for this type of transfer.  DO NOT pay the estate owner directly.  Once you have agreed on a price, you both submit support tickets to LL, and you send the money to LL, who acts as the "escrow agent".  When the transfer is complete, you get the region and LL sends the money to the seller.  ANY OTHER transaction with an estate owner is not a true's a lease.

Class dismissed.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Second Life Turns 10!

It's hard to believe, but Second Life has been around for a decade now.  Each year, a special event commemorates Second Life's birthday.

For most of the past celebrations, Linden Lab has been in overall charge of the event.  However, last year when LL announced that they would not be providing special regions for birthday events and exhibits, and were leaving any celebrations up to the Residents...the Residents responded in their usual gung-ho fashion and put on what was undoubtedly the best Second Life Birthday exhibition ever.

This year, they're doing it again!  There will be 20 regions of SL10B (woohoo!), and the theme is (appropriately enough) "Looking Forward, Looking Back".

The organizers are putting in an unbelievable amount of time to get this put together.  And if you want to be a part of SL10B, you can!  They need exhibitors, performers, volunteer helpers of all sorts.  Check it out on the SL10B website,

Even if you don't get actively involved, do be sure to visit the event.  It'll be open from June 16-29 (SL's official birthday is June 23).  This is perhaps the biggest annual demonstration of just what Second Life's residents have done, can do, and look forward to doing in the future.  It's an incredibly moving experience to see what people can do when they really put their minds to it.  Don't miss it!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Second Life for Educators

Well, hello again, faithful readers!  My New Year’s resolution to post here more frequently seems to have gone the way of most of my resolutions.  But I have something new for you today, and it’s a wonder I haven’t talked about it much sooner, since I am a teacher in SL and have been a teacher in RL in the past.   

Like most of my articles, this one comes about because of an encounter in Second Life.  A couple of weeks ago, I met a newcomer at Caledon Oxbridge.  As it turned out, he is an educator in Real Life, and was interested in using Second Life in his high school classroom.  So today’s piece is all about doing that…and also some reasons why you might NOT want to do that.

SL is a great educational tool.  You can have a virtual classroom, and talk (with voice or text) to an audience of students who may be physically separated by thousands of miles.  You can have a display on which you can present PowerPoint-like slide shows.  You can display video clips that you have uploaded to sites like YouTube.  You can give out “handouts” to your students…notecards, URL links, images, and virtual objects.

SL is ideally suited for teaching about SL, of course, and my own classes at Caledon Oxbridge deal with Second Life topics.  Things like how to buy virtual land, avatar safety, and how to shop for things in SL.  SL has also been used to teach real world topics such as languages, or even anatomy.  Programming skills can be taught using the Linden Scripting Language (LSL) and students can see the results immediately, in the operation (or non-operation) of their scripts.  

You can teach lessons on how to interact with others.  SL is a very social environment.  You can teach roleplaying and how to “get into a character”.  You can hold debates.  You can teach lessons in business and economics, even having students create their own virtual products and attempt to market them.

As a teaching environment, SL has several advantages.  These include:

  • Ability to reach a group that is geographically dispersed (distance learning)
  • Anonymity.  Differences and biases caused by race, gender, age, or disability can be erased
  • Time flexibility.  You can build a self-paced tutorial or class that students can access at any time
  • Multimedia tools.  You can teach using text or voice or both.  You can display images, and link to streaming media and websites
  • Ability to create 3D models of all kinds of things
  • Opportunity to practice social skills in a different and nonthreatening environment.

But Second Life also has some marked drawbacks.

  • Lack of privacy.  Most places in SL are accessible to anyone.  Imagine holding your class on a busy street corner in real life, and you can begin to see what can happen.  Non-students can arrive and disrupt your class.  There are steps you can take to reduce this sort of distraction, such as owning your own land and making it accessible only to your student group.  However, ultimate privacy (your own separate and private region) carries a high cost…$1,000 for it to be created by Linden Lab, and $295 per month in ongoing fees.
  •  Undesirable content.  If your students are under 18, they may only access regions with a General maturity rating.  Even so, there may be visitors who are decidedly not G-rated.  Imagine, for example, a naked man with a rampant erection materializing in your classroom.  If your students are 18 or older, they may access Moderate and Adult regions, and there is no way to keep them from doing so, since they can log on as their avatar from any computer that has the viewer software installed.  Lots of the Adult content in Second Life is, to put it mildly, VERY adult.  Do you want to explain to irate parents that you showed little Shirley how to access smut on the internet?  Or that little Johnny met the pedophile who molested him through the virtual world you introduced him to?
  • SL’s Public Reputation.  Tell people on the street that you use Second Life, and you will likely get one of two reactions:  a) “Huh?  What’s that?” or b) “You’re into that cyber sex stuff?  You pervert!”
  • Anonymity.  While this can be an advantage, it can also be used by the unscrupulous to hide behind.  Young, trusting people can be fooled by an avatar with a smooth line.
  • Age restrictions.  Children under 13 may not access Second Life under any circumstances.  Those 13 to 16 may do so only under strictly controlled circumstances…in an access-restricted region set up and overseen by an approved group, such as a school or a scout troop or a church youth group.  For more on how to set up such a region, see this SL Wiki entry.  Those who are between 16 and 18 may register their own SL accounts, but may only visit General regions.
  • Scams and phishing.  If your students really “get into” SL, they may buy or accumulate some Linden dollars ($L), SL’s virtual currency.  This “play money” has real value, as it can be exchanged for real world cash through PayPal.  Your students could be scammed out of their money by various shady characters.
  • Technical requirements.  You need a fast internet connection and a capable computer to access Second Life.  Even a computer a few years old can be slowed to a crawl by SL’s demands.  In fact, even buying a NEW computer does not guarantee success...a lot of new computers economize by using "integrated graphics", but SL needs a dedicated graphics need to look for a "gaming computer".   And of course, if something goes wrong either on your end or the student’s end, class is over.

Most of the above drawbacks have to do with the fact that Second Life is open to everyone, not only your students.  There’s a solution to that, but it carries its own downsides.

The possible solution is to use a different virtual world, one that is closed to outsiders.  You can create a virtual world very like a Second Life region on your own computer, using open source software called OpenSim.  Your students can then access this region (if they can access your computer via the internet or your school LAN), using any of a number of “viewer” programs.   

If you want your students to have access to a larger world, you can create your region in, or in some cases connect it to, a larger OpenSim grid.  There are several of these virtual worlds…InWorldz, OSGrid, and Kitely, just to mention three.  Connecting to one of these worlds could lead to the same kinds of privacy problems that you find with SL, but it’s not as likely, because they are much smaller in terms of both size and active population.  Plus, the population itself tends to be better-behaved as a group.

The drawbacks of using one of these OpenSim-based worlds, or your own private OpenSim region, are the mirror image of SL’s problems:

  • Lack of social interaction.  You may be the only people in the world.  Even if you’re not, it can be hard to find someone else to talk to.
  • Lack of content.  The enormous variety of user-created content that you find in SL is simply not there in other virtual worlds.
  • Level of Tech Expertise Needed.  It can be tricky to get an OpenSim region up and running on your computer.   Grids like InWorldz and Kitely make it much simpler, and the dollar cost is a lot lower than SL.

For more (much more!) on people who are using OpenSim worlds as educational tools, see Ener Hax’s blog, I Live in Science Land.