Sunday, September 21, 2014

Premium Pros and Cons

Over and over again, we get people in the Second Life Answers forum who've just gone Premium asking "where's my money!?"  You can read all about how Premium membership works by checking out this link: Premium Membership

But lots of people don't read that, it seems, or they read it but don't understand it.  So today's post is a very brief discussion of Second Life Premium Membership.

A Premium membership costs $9.95 per month.  Because you are paying LL money each month, you also need to have an accepted payment method on file.  There are two forms of payment LL will accept:  a major credit card, or a verified PayPal account.  Debit and prepaid cards are not accepted.  See this link for cards that ARE accepted:  Accepted Credit Cards

For PayPal, "verified" means that you have to back up your PayPal account with a Real Life bank account or a major credit card.  If you choose the bank account method, you must ALWAYS keep enough money in the PayPal account to pay your Second Life bills.  Linden Lab will not wait several days for money to make its slow way from your bank to PayPal to LL.

You will NOT get a notice that your Premium payment is due.  LL will simply charge you automatically at the start of each new billing period.  They will take the money first from your $USD account balance.  If there is not enough there to cover the charges, they will charge your payment method for the difference.  It's up to YOU to keep track of when your payment is due!

Note that having a payment method on file is NOT the same as having a Premium membership.  You can register a payment method with LL WITHOUT having to sign up for Premium.  You might want to do this if, for example, you are setting up a store in the Marketplace to sell things you've created, or even if you just want to buy some $L occasionally.

You can save some money by choosing the Quarterly or Annual Premium plans.  The Quarterly plan costs $22.50 every three months.  The Annual plan costs $72.00 per year.  Here's the comparison on a monthly basis:
  • Monthly Plan    $9.95/mo
  • Quarterly Plan  $7.50/mo
  • Annual Plan      $6.00/mo
The annual plan is the best deal, but there's a catch:  if you decide to cancel and downgrade back to a Basic membership, you will NOT get a refund on unused time.  In fact, your membership benefits will continue until your last paid-for period ends.  At that time, you'll drop back to a Basic level.

Linden Lab occasionally offers a half-off introductory rate on a Quarterly Premium membership.  The rate goes back to the normal $22.50 level in the second quarter.  The Annual plan is actually the better buy, even with the introductory offer.

What do you get for your $6 - $10 per month?  There are several Premium benefits.
  • Mainland ownership.  This is probably the biggest Premium benefit.  You can't own land on the Mainland unless you are Premium.  However, lots of people prefer living on a Private Estate.  Estates make up about 75% of the land in Second Life, and you don't need to be Premium to live on one.  You can also rent land on the Mainland from another resident. 
  • A Free Home.  You can get a Linden Home on a 512 square meter land parcel.
  • If you don't want the restrictions of a pre-built Linden Home, you can buy land anywhere else on the Mainland, and you will not be charged a monthly land fee on the first 512 sq. meters.
  • A weekly "stipend" payment of $L300.  This is paid on Tuesdays.  If you signed up for Premium on a Wednesday, you'll have to wait almost a week for your first payment.
  • A one-time $L1,000 retention bonus.  This is paid only after you have been a Premium member for 45 consecutive days.  It is not, repeat NOT paid as soon as you sign up!  You will not get a second bonus if you downgrade to Basic and then upgrade to Premium again later.
  • Access to better technical support.  You can file support cases for things like inventory loss that you can't do as a Basic member.
  • Access to Live Chat.  This can be a lot more responsive to problems than filing a Support Case.  However, Live Chat will NOT help you deal with griefers, only with technical issues.
  • Access to certain Premium-only areas.  These include Premium-only sandboxes which are generally a lot less infested with griefers than the fully public sandbox areas, as well as the Linden Wilderness area.
  • Premium gifts.  These are offered at irregular intervals, and are usually not all that great in terms of build quality.  Still, it's something that Basic peons don't get!
There is a potential drawback to a Premium membership.  Some people leave SL for a long period.  As long as your payment method remains valid, LL will continue to charge you automatically at the start of each new billing period.   When your credit card expires and LL can't collect its fees, they will delete your account.  This means you'll lose your land, all your $L, and all your inventory.  This does not happen to Basic members, whose accounts are retained indefinitely.  If you are leaving SL for an extended time, be sure to get your account in order!

Is Premium worth it?  You'll find a lot of arguments on this, both pro and con.  It's a personal decision.   For me, the answer is "yes," for the mainland ownership, the weekly stipend, and the access to tech support and Live Chat.

Oh, a last word here...there is also a membership level called "Concierge."  You become a Concierge level member if you pay LL $100 or more in monthly land fees.  That applies whether the land fees are paid for Mainland, or are paid because you own one or more Private Regions.  Concierge level members have access to Live Chat and better tech support whether or not they are also Premium members.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Virtual and Real Bodies

In the seven-plus years I've been in Second Life, one of my greatest concerns has been my appearance.  I think that's true for most of us in the virtual world, with some notable exceptions.  My friend and personal hero Desmond Shang comes to mind. Desmond is so focused on being himself that he has no time or patience to waste on what he might look like.  His words and actions tell you who he his, the avatar is just a placeholder. 

But Des is a wonderful exception to the rule.  For most of us, our avatar represents who we are in SL, our own ideal self-image made visible.  It says "Look!  This is who I am!"

And I like my Second Life self a lot.  In SL, I'm young, slender, curvy and beautiful.  I wear high fashion clothes, expensive jewelry, sexy shoes.  In short, I'm one put together babe, honey.

One of my SL friends told me that her sexy SL appearance had had a salutory effect on her Real Life one...since starting SL, she said, she'd dropped 20 pounds in RL so she would look a bit more like her avatar.

I think I've finally come around to that attitude.  Since coming to SL, almost all of my spare time has been spent sitting in front of a computer monitor.  My fingers are about the only part of me that's gotten a workout in a long, long time.  And my physical body has, not to put too fine a point on it, gone to hell.

Well, it's time to do something about that.  I can't do anything about the "young" part (sigh!) but I can and do hereby resolve to do two RL things religiously from now on:  Diet.  Exercise.

It's a lot harder to re-make our physical selves than to put on a new shape and skin in SL.  But I'm going to Do It!  If you are spending too much time in front of your monitor, maybe you should, too.  I bet it will improve both your SL and your RL, and might even give you a few years longer to enjoy them.

Monday, September 15, 2014

FLASH! Across the Grid Picked by LivingSL

A couple of weeks ago, I screwed up my courage and asked the nice people at the big LivingSL blog feed if Across the Grid might be added to their (large!) stable of Second Life blogs.  Today I got a lovely email from Alianna telling me I'd made the cut.  (Her actual words were a lot more welcoming than that, even I won't repeat them here.  You'd think I was being immodest!)

In any case, we're now a part of the Second Life Blogosphere, along with some HUGE names like New World Notes and Living In A Modem World.

PLUS we have broken the 100,000 pageview milestone.

All I can say is WOW.  And hey, thanks for reading.

Run over to LivingSL and bookmark it or subscribe to the feed, it's a terrific resource.

Monday, September 8, 2014

FLASH! Fine Adjustment of Avatar Height Above Ground

I've written before about the Hover adjustment in the Appearance/Edit Shape/Body sliders, and how it can be used to get your feet up out of the floor, or down to the ground.

But as you probably know, the Hover slider has two big drawbacks.  One, its adjustments are too coarse.  Even a one-number change can leave you either floating, or embedded.  And two, it doesn't work with No Modify shapes.

But the clever Nalates Urriah has come up with a workaround for this.  It takes some effort, and two more attachments, and it's kludgy, but it works.

For the gory details, see her blog:

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Avatar Appearance - A Fragmented Landscape

Actually, it's more like a minefield.

Avatar appearance in Second Life used to be pretty straightforward.  Way back at the beginning, you just used the Appearance sliders to change everything.  If you wanted a new shirt or pants or skirt, you created a texture in Photoshop, uploaded it, and applied it in the Appearance window.  If you wanted to change your shape, the Appearance sliders were what you used.  If you wanted different makeup or hair, well, there were Appearance sliders for that, too.

But Second Life residents are endlessly inventive, and kept looking for ways to improve on the look that was available with the Appearance sliders.

First came fully painted, detailed skins.  These could not be modified with Appearance makeup sliders, so creators offered them in "fatpacks" with an assortment of makeup choices.

But for some, five or six or eight makeups wasn't enough.  So when the Tattoo layer was introduced, along came makeup tattoos that could be applied over the skin.

The ugly "system hair" was replaced by much prettier prim hair (although system hair is still around, in the form of the mandatory "bald head" body part.)  Then hair became flexible, when flexiprims were introduced.  Mesh hairstyles took away the flex, but created hair that didn't penetrate our shoulders.

Bodies became more flexible, first with the system introduced in the old Emerald viewer (which later evolved into Phoenix and then Firestorm) and then in the stock viewer with the addition of the "physics" clothing layer.

Fingernails evolved.  First there were nails painted on the glove clothing layer, and later on the tattoo layer.  Then someone invented prim nails, which were much more crisp and detailed than the glove layer nails...but tended to "pop off" in certain hand poses.  When Mesh was introduced, we got whole hands and feet, with the nails built in and adjustable with texture "appliers."  Now, in fact, it's getting harder to find shoes that are NOT made for the wildly popular SLink mesh feet.

Speaking of feet, when sculpties were introduced, we got pretty shoes for the first time.  Then the creators started making shoes with integral feet (which I must admit, looked a lot better than the clubs that come with the standard avatar.)

Soon, prim attachments, then sculpted prim attachments, supplemented clothing layers, making clothing much more realistic...but also more complex.  A shirt might require not only a shirt layer, but attachments for collar, shirttail, front ruffles, and poofy sleeves or cuffs.

Then Mesh clothing came along.  Since it wasn't resizable like the old clothes, we now had to worry about "what size will fit me?"  And even if we wore a "standard mesh" shape, nothing was guaranteed.  An alpha layer was almost always needed in addition to the mesh clothing item, and even when Fitted Mesh came along, the alpha was still a requirement to keep us inside our mesh clothes.

Shoes used to hide the avatar foot with "invisiprims" but when Alpha mask layers were introduced, those became obsolete.  Alphas look much better, but you do have to pay attention and manage your alpha layers.  You can have one for your shoes, another for a skirt, a third for a top, another for your head, and yet another for your mesh hands.  You're maxed out at five.

Girls who wanted a more voluptuous figure were accommodated with mesh breasts and buns.  But again, these required special attention...texture appliers had to be included with outfits by designers to paint the clothing texture on the mesh attachments.

Oh, what the heck, why not replace the entire avatar with a mesh body?  Some of these are very beautiful.  But they can't wear standard clothes, or indeed any clothes that are not created to work especially with them.

If you're new to Second Life, nobody can blame you for feeling lost and confused as you try to navigate the complexity of today's avatar appearance choices.  Maybe you would feel less stressed if you just put on a Furry avatar and told the clothing designers to take a long walk off a short pier.  (Or maybe not.  My friend Tali Rosca pointed out to me that Furries have had to deal with all these problems longer than us human avatars, what with all the attachments that make up a Furry avatar!)

Or maybe LL will cut through all this with the design of the new virtual world that may one day replace this messy old Second Life.

You'll have to excuse me...I'm behind on assembling outfits for all the new dresses I just bought!

Monday, September 1, 2014

Caledon Oxbridge University - Gateway to Second Life and the Steamlands

Hello again, faithful readers!  I've mentioned Caledon Oxbridge University many times in these pages, so today I thought I'd give you a little tour of the campus.  But first, some background information!

What is This Thing Called Steampunk?
Steampunk is the overall term for a genre of literature.  One could think of it as a sub-genre of science fiction, or possibly historical fantasy.  In the world of steampunk, we hark back to the 19th century and the reign of Queen Victoria.  Women wear long skirts and have "limbs," not legs.  Gentlemen dress in top hats, frock coats, and cravats.  But it's not just the 19th century, oh no.  Imagine the Victorian era in a parallel universe, one where Science...even Mad Science...reigns supreme.  Clockwork automatons, steam-powered airships, aetheric communicators...even Death Rays and reanimated creatures to put Dr. Frankenstein's monster to shame.

One of the very, very best examples of this literature can be found in the award-winning web comic, "Girl Genius" by Phil and Kaja Foglio.  Stop reading this right now and go bookmark it.  A new page appears three times a week (MWF.)  Follow the adventures of plucky Agatha Heterodyne as she makes her way through one thrilling, hair-raising adventure after another!

OK, I'm assuming you've come back here after being immersed for a couple of days in the Girl Genius back issues.  Back to Second Life...

Steampunk is very much a part of Second Life.  There are several estates that feature a steampunk theme.  Collectively, they're known as the Steamlands.  Perhaps the largest and best known of the Steamlands is Caledon, an estate (its citizens call it a mini-nation) of about 40 regions.  Caledon is the brainchild of Desmond Shang, the Guvnah of Caledon.  Guvnah Shang rules with a light touch, and his enthusiastic citizens have populated Caledon with a wealth of peculiar people and astonishing and beautiful places and things.  The citizens of Caledon may be thought of as engaging in a long-term form of "light role play."  That is, there are no rules that you must follow, but if you wish to create a steampunk character with an in-period appearance and a persona to match, you are more than welcome to.

Many people's first exposure to Caledon happens when they arrive at Caledon Oxbridge University.  COU's campus takes up one entire region.  It consists of six "colleges."  Each college is in a separate building, and contains a detailed, walk-through tutorial about one major aspect of Second to move, how to communicate, how to customize your appearance, and so on.  There is also a classroom where professors (including yours truly) hold forth on a number of Second Life subjects in more detail.  Come along with me as we take a stroll through the campus.  (As always, click a picture to see a larger version or to view them as a slide show.)
An Aerial View of COU.  Arrival Hall at Upper Left

Aetheric Transporter Arrival Point.  Start Reading, by the Numbers!

Some Helpful Signs

Class Schedule - Click to get a notecard version
Period Atmosphere
Beautiful Architecture, and the Bunneh, Mascot of Caledon
Across the Path from the Bunneh, the Lecture Hall
The College of Motion
Learn to Walk, Sit, Fly and Teleport
College of Camera Control

College of Communication - Chat, IM, Notecards
College of Finding - Inventory, Search
Learn by Doing:  Sit on a Poseball, Ring the Bell
College of Avatar Customisation

Free Steampunk Avatars!

Discreet Changing Rooms
College of Money and Commerce

All About $L

When you've finished all the tutorials, there's still more to see and do.  There's a couple of large notice boards with links to many other places in Caledon and the Steamlands.
There's the Hall of Caledon, which offers many amusing and informative exhibits and links to places in this fascinating mini-nation.
There is the Caledon Library, where you can click the signs and bookcases to get information on any number of subjects pertaining to the 19th Century and Steampunk.
Library of Caledon
 There's the Train Station, where you can pick up a bunch of free items...and yes, there IS a train that comes through.  You can hop aboard and take a leisurely tour through more of Caledon!
Baggage Claim Area (Freebies!)

If you don't like trains, there are many other ways to see Caledon.  There is the Caledon Air Transport service, an undersea tour, and a horse-drawn carriage ride, all within easy walking distance of the campus.  There is also the "Caledon Quest," a sort of scavenger hunt, that will take you to many of the notable places of Caledon while giving you a deep sense of accomplishment (or frustration, as the case may be.)

If you get lost or confused, or have questions about Second Life, Steampunk, or Caledon, there are almost always live helpers on campus.  You'll most likely find them on the circular benches across from the Lecture Hall.  Look for people wearing a group tag that says "Oxbridge Dean," "Oxbridge Professor," or "Oxbridge Tutor."

If you get bitten by the Steampunk bug and want to LIVE in Caledon, you can do so.  Open the profile of the Guvnah, Desmond Shang, and look in his Picks for available properties.  Or if you have specific desires, send him a notecard and he will get back to you when something meeting your needs becomes available.  There is a notecard drop box in the COU Lecture Hall, or you can drop a note right on his Profile picture.  Desmond is a very approachable person, don't let his title intimidate you!

There is a community group, Independent States of Caledon (ISC.)  If you are a resident, or even if you have a deep interest in the Steamlands or steampunk roleplay, ask Desmond or any prominent citizen for a group invitation.  The group chat is often hilarious, as well as informative, and it's always Well Mannered.

See you around the campus!
Caledon Oxbridge University