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.


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:

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 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

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:

Nosy People

I've spoken here many times about the "Facebookers" you meet in Second 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:  " 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.