Saturday, January 18, 2014

Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is?

When we last spoke, we discussed the use of our time, and why using it to make money in Second Life isn't generally a great idea.

But speaking about time, there's a lot of confusion about time in Second Life, and I'd like to talk about that today.  There are two basic causes of this confusion:  clock time (time zones), and sidereal (sun) time.

Time Zones
The real world is divided up into a number of time zones.  By an arbitrary historical convention, the "home" time zone for the world is located at the longitude of Greenwich, England, the so-called "prime meridian".  All time zones are referenced to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).  Locations to the west of Greenwich are earlier in the day.  For example, New York City is five hours behind GMT, or "GMT-5"  When it's noon in Merrie England, it's only 7:00 a.m. in the Big Apple.  Similarly, locations to the east of Greenwich are in "GMT+" time zones.

"GMT" is actually an older term.  The current, politically correct term is "Universal Time" or UTC, but I'm old fashioned in some ways.  I still think of Pluto as a planet!

By the way, for the rest of this piece, I'm going to switch to 24 hour time, or "military time", to remove any confusion about a.m. or p.m.  The 24 hour clock is easy, fast, convenient and much cleaner all around.  In this naming system, midnight is 0000, and the hours of the day are numbered consecutively, using four digits and no colons separating the minutes.  2:30 a.m. becomes 0230 hours.  Lunchtime is 1200, and quitting time is 1700, not 5:00 p.m.  Dinner is at 1830 and the kids have to be in bed by 2200.  Got it, Lieutenant?  Good!

To complicate matters, some time zones change by government decree.  Some of the border lines don't follow simple lines of longitude, but meander to include some country, state, or district in one time zone instead of another.  And some of the time zones vary with the seasons, like Daylight Savings Time in the United States.  There are places you can go on the web to find out what time it is anywhere in the world.

Second Life has residents from all over the world.  You might be in world, talking to a friend from Japan.  If you are in New York City, and it's 1530 on Saturday, January 18 for you, for your friend Kimiko, it's SUNDAY, January 19, 0530.  (The date change comes because Tokyo and New York are on opposite sides of the International Date Line, the longitude directly opposite Greenwich, where the time is 12 hours different from GMT.  New York is GMT-5, and Tokyo is GMT+9, a difference of 14 Tokyo is in "tomorrow", compared with New York.)

In the Real World, we try to minimize this confusion by using GMT as a standard time.  Scientists and space travelers all use GMT.

In Second Life, we do much the same thing...but we use Second Life Time, or SLT.  All in world events are listed by their SLT.  This time is also shown in your viewer, in the upper right corner...but instead of "SLT", it's labeled either "PST" (Pacific Standard Time) or in the summer, "PDT" (Pacific Daylight Time.)  Linden Lab is located in San Francisco, California, and runs on Pacific Time...and therefore, so does Second Life!

That's pretty easy to understand, once you get used to it.  What's REALLY confusing, at least to me, are the time stamps shown in your communications window.  The time stamps shown next to lines of chat or IM are in SLT, but if you get a message while you are offline, the notification uses your LOCAL time!  This has never made any sense at all to me, and rather than try to convert such notifications, I generally just ignore the time stamps.

So much for clock time!  SLT = California Time, and everything is good.  What's that?  Oh, you say it's 0600 SLT, but the sun is just now setting in SL?  Well, that happens a Second Life, the sidereal time -- the sun position -- bears no relation to the clock on the wall (except of course, where it does!)  We'll talk more about that next time!

Meanwhile...have a nice day! 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Time and Money

"How do I get linden dollars?"  I get this question all the time from newcomers in world and on the forums.  And when I tell them, "Just buy some with your credit card," a lot of them say "Oh, I don't want to spend any money on this game!"

Well, it's a lot better idea than you might think.  Sure, SL is free to use, and some people even make all the money they need to buy the things they want by getting a job as a dancer, or learning to create things and sell them.  But it's just not the best use of your time.

See, here's the thing:  Everyone is concerned about money, when what they ought to be thinking about is time.  You can always get more money, but you can never get more time.  Once an hour or a minute is gone, it's gone.  And we all have a fixed amount of time...just 24 hours per day. 

As they say, "time is money."  I could spend a couple of hours in Second Life doing a DJ gig in a club.  If there's a good crowd and they like my music, I might make, oh, $L1500.  That's about $6.00 USD.  In Real Life, a worker at McDonald's will make about $10 an hour.  So, in the same time that I was making $6, the girl asking "do you want fries with that?" has made $20, more than three times as much.

I used DJ'ing as an example, but the same is true of most Second Life jobs.  Even successful content creators and land barons, those elite few who make Second Life their full time job, could usually make more money at some Real Life job.

There's a book on careers called "Do What You Love...The Money Will Follow."  That's good advice, especially for Second Life.  Don't spend hours in a camping chair, don't spend hours on a dance pole, don't even spend hours in Photoshop making clothes...UNLESS it's something that you really enjoy.  If you're having fun at it, it's not "work!"  And you should be having fun in Second Life, not working just to make a few $L.

For most of us, the hours we spend in SL come out of our "free time."  You should never spend your free time doing anything that you don't enjoy!  So, if you like playing music for people, or flirting and showing off...then go ahead and be a DJ, or a pole dancer.  If you enjoy the warm feeling of creating something and having people admire it...then go ahead and become an SL builder or content creator.  But for heaven's sake, don't do ANYTHING in SL just to earn $L.  Do something fun instead.

And if you need some virtual money, use your credit card or PayPal account to get it instead.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Live Lightly on the Land

Hello, Faithful Readers!  And also any lurkers or people strolling by.  Today we're talking about prim addiction and prim misers, two topics that go hand in hand.

/me walks to the lectern and addresses the room.  "Hello, my name is Lindal, and I'm a prim addict."
Audience:  "Hi, Lindal!"

When I got my first Second Life home, it was on 8192 square meters, and I had a Parcel Land Capacity of 1,874 prims.  (Audience:  "Oooooh!")  I thought that was more than enough for me to have all the things I could ever want there.  But after a few months, I discovered that I could not have my yacht, my nature walk, my picnic area, my beach, my swimming pool, my pets, a hidden skybox, and my custom built home there, at least not all at the same time.

Shortly after that, I sold my land and bought half of a region, along with three other friends.  We planned to set up a village, and rent out homes there.  We made a beautiful place...but once again, I found that when you added up all of my things, and my partners' things, and our tenants' things...we started to fill up the land and we had to be careful about how many things we had out.

Then my business partners moved on to other things, and I sold the land.  I found and bought about 3/4 of the mainland region of Masocado.  At last, I thought!  Now I have enough prims to do anything!  And indeed, prims were plentiful...over 11,000 prims to play with!  But...well, I'm sure you know what I'm going to say next!

Yes, even a capacity of 11,000 prims gets used up in a hurry, when you have seventeen tenants or so, and want to have a complex and interesting place for them (and you) to live in.  And so, even though I'm a prim addict, I became a prim miser too.

There are many ways to be a prim miser.  The easiest is to be prim conscious when shopping for things for your home or land.  You don't have to worry so much about things designed to be worn -- the prims of things you are wearing don't count against the land's carrying capacity. 
This is a good thing, too.  Otherwise I'd never be able to visit a friend's 117-prim-capacity Linden Home while wearing my 200-prim hair!

Prims vs. L.I.
It used to be that the only thing we worried about was prim count.  But, since the introduction of Mesh, an object's impact on the land's carrying capacity is no longer strictly tied to its prims.  Now, objects have a "Land Impact", or L.I. value.  An object's L.I. depends on how many prims it has, what scripts are in the object, and the object's "physics", or collision envelope.  If it is a Mesh object, how complex the mesh is, the level of detail vs. distance setting, and how large the object is, are also important.  As a buyer, you don't need to worry about all these factors, all you care about is the end result, the object's L.I.  But next, I'll discuss some things you can do to minimize the L.I. of your own creations.

Prim-Conscious Building.
You should always try to figure out how to make whatever it is you are making with the fewest number of prims.  When using ordinary prims, there are several ways to do this.  Here are a few, and I'm sure the master builders who read this will be able to suggest many more.

  1. Hollow things out.  A hollowed out box can be a fence around your patio or yard, or a window or door frame, a picture frame, or a planter box.  One prim, instead of one for each side.
  2. Path Cut.  A hollowed box can be trimmed with Path Cut, turning it into a coffee table, a simple straight-backed chair, a park bench, or even the sides of a simple house.  Be careful though...I once made a skylight with a simple hollowed, path-cut semi-transparent sphere...and found it had a Land Impact of 45!  Changing the shape to a simple box solved the problem.
  3. Use Textures Instead of Prims.  You can make a doorknob for your door with two prims, but if you can settle for one painted on the door, you use zero prims.  In the same way, you can create a wall texture that has a transparent area on it for a window, saving many prims.  Walls with transparent areas can present their own problems can appear that the tree in your front yard is inside your home, if there are alpha texture conflicts in your line of sight.
  4. Physics Type.  This is the "collision envelope" that SL uses to determine when something has bumped into your object.  It's found in the Features tab of the Edit window.  The default type is "prim"...but if you change it to "convex hull", you will often cut the land impact of your object by nearly half!  Be careful though...if you do this to a hollowed prim, the system treats it as if it were NOT hollow, and you can no longer walk through the hole in it.  Also be careful about using convex hull with toruses, mesh, sculpties or scripted can INCREASE the land impact of these types of objects.  When fiddling with an object's physics type, be sure to not only check the effect on Land Impact, but how the object interacts with you.  Walk everywhere, upstairs and down, go through every door.
  5. Use Phantom creatively.  A wall that is a Phantom object looks solid, but you can walk right through it with no need for a door.  That saves prims AND scripts!  Phantom can also be used to make it possible to walk near sculpty objects whose collision sphere would otherwise keep you far away from them.
Besides being a prim miser with ordinary prims, you can create sculpty versions of your builds, even if you are not skilled with third party 3D modeling tools like Blender or Maya.  There are tools you can buy that let you rez specially scripted prims, edit them, assemble them into a completed object...and then automatically make a sculpt map of that object.  You upload this sculpt map texture to SL, and apply it to a new sculpted primitve shape.  The default apple will suddenly turn into a one prim sculpty version of your prototype object.  When you're satisfied with the result, you can delete the prototype.  I've used this type of tool to turn 20 prim staircases into two prim ones!

The ultimate way to be a prim miser, though, is to learn how to build in Mesh, using Blender or another modeling program that can export objects as a Collada (.dae) file.  Of course, you will need to learn efficiency here too...but this time, your job will be to create a realistic appearing object with the minimum number of triangles. For those who are challenged by programs like Blender, there are some tools similar to the sculpty generators that will make Mesh objects out of a prototype you build from ordinary prims.

Being a prim miser has many benefits.  It will help you live within your means, on a smaller parcel of land.  It will free up prims for the use of your tenants, if you have some.  And it will make the products you create more desirable in the eyes of your customers.

The Empty Box Scam

I've often written here about various scams in Second Life, and today's short post is about a new one, the Empty Box Scam.

The thief creates a throwaway alt, and opens a store on the Marketplace.  Then he steals the advertising from another creator's store and advertises these objects in his own store.  The items for sale are generally high end, expensive things, and the prices are several thousand $L.  For example, the store may offer several deluxe, highly detailed and scripted skybox homes for $L5,000 or more.

When a victim buys the item, they receive an empty box.  When they try to contact the seller, there's no response.  And, in a few days, the store and its owner vanish...either banned by Linden Lab for fraud, or simply deleted by the perpetrator, who's off to create a new alt and repeat the process.

There's no really sure way to avoid this sort of scam, other than doing some rather tedious investigation.  But here are some clues to watch out for:
  • Very new seller.  Look up the seller's Profile.  If he is less than a few months old, you have to ask yourself how such a new person has managed to create so much high quality content.  It takes time to develop that level of skill, and to create such complex items.
  • No in-world store.  This isn't a sure thing, taken by itself; many legitimate creators do sell only on the Marketplace.  But it's an indicator, when combined with other clues.
  • Negative reviews.  Especially if someone writes, "I got an empty box!"
  • Try a marketplace search using some keywords that describe the product.  Does the search produce any identical products advertised by someone else?  If so, SOMEone is lying.
  • Do a Google search on the seller's name.  See if anyone has posted something negative about them in a forum or on a blog.
If you find an Empty Box Scammer, file an abuse report on him at once.

Since we're talking about scams, here's another bit of news:  Linden Lab has disabled the instant messaging feature in, due to widespread abuse of the function by scammers touting "bargain $L"....fraudulent offers to sell $L at well below market price.

See, children?  This is why we can't have nice things.