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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Accept, Discard, Mute?

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll know that I often caution people about various scams and practical jokes in Second Life.

New users, in particular, should be wary of accepting gifts from strangers.  One person of my acquaintance accepted a "soft drink dispenser" item that she was told could earn her money when people bought soft drinks from it.  When she rezzed it, it produced a message saying it wanted to take $L from her account.  Not being the sort to read her notices carefully, she clicked "Accept," and the object proceeded to take all the money out of her account!

But, on the other hand, there are lots of helpful and generous people in Second Life who are quick to pass out things to newcomers that are actually useful.  Yesterday at Social Island, I tried to help a newcomer solve an animation problem by giving him an undeformer tool in the shape of a red rose.  He refused it, politely, saying that he was reluctant to accept things from strangers.

How is one to strike a proper balance between caution and paranoia?

Accepting objects can, in fact, be risky...especially if the object is sent to you unasked for by some avatar you have not seen or spoken to.  Most of them are OK, but they can, like my acquaintance's demonic soda machine, be malicious.

Accepting a URL can also lead to trouble.  Some URLs are phishing scams, just like the phishing attempts you get via email.  They lead to sites that look legitimate, but try to get you to enter your user name and password.  Be sure the website you're on is secure (https, not http) and that the domain is secondlife.com, not something close like sec0ndlife.ru

But accepting a landmark, or a notecard, is almost always safe.  The note can contain embedded objects, of course, but you don't have to rez them or use them.  As long as they stay inside the notecard, or inside your inventory, they are harmless.  (Thus, you can pretty much always click Accept in response to an offer...just be careful about actually rezzing the "gift.")

I've taken to handing out notecards to every newcomer I run across.  My standard handout is a long list of freebie stores, and helpful places like Caledon Oxbridge University. 

Just as in Real Life, a good touchstone is, "if it sounds too good to be true...it probably is!"  Offers of easy money or "free $L" should always be suspect. 

If you have talked with someone for a while, you'll get a sense of them.  If they seem hinky or "off," be cautious.  But if they feel OK, it's probably OK to accept items from them.  If they have only been in SL a few days, they could be an alt created just to cause trouble -- but if they have been in SL for several years, they're more likely to want to preserve their good name.

So, be careful out there...but also keep yourself at least a little open to the good that's in most people, both in Second Life and out of it.

Getting Started in Second Life...an Update!

Those of us who have been in Second Life a while remember what the New User Experience was like...although, because of changes made over the years, we may remember quite different things!  Although the current New User Experience has been in place for quite a few months now, I thought it might be interesting, for both new and prospective residents, as well as us oldbies, to see what it is like to enter Second Life for the first time nowadays!

Signing Up.

Before you do anything else, make sure you have the latest Adobe Flash plugin installed in your browser.  You'll need it to view the website correctly.  Also, make sure your computer is up to the challenge.  A lot of the current crop of PCs have "integrated graphics" instead of discrete graphics cards to save money...and these are, in many cases, not capable of running a graphics intensive application like Second Life.  See some minimum system requirements here:  https://secondlife.com/my/support/system-requirements/?lang=en-US

When you first browse to http:\\www.secondlife.com you see this page:
Click the Play for Free Button!
After you click the orange button, you get this:
Choose an Avatar
You can select from several different groups.  Here I'm showing the "normal humans" selection, but you can also choose from among furries, vampires and lycans, animals, and vehicles.  Don't feel pressured here, because you can always change your mind later and put on a different avatar appearance.  Plus, you'll quickly start to collect new appearance items and customize your look with them.

When you've picked your look, you next have to choose a name:
This is Important!
This will be your "user name," but it's not like most account user names.  It will also be your NAME in Second Life, and everyone (everyone who wants to, anyway) will be able to see it.  It must be one word, and can contain letters and numbers, but no special characters.  DON'T pick an obscene name, or one that can't be pronounced, or one that's too long.  DO pick a name that can be used with a variety of avatars, especially if you think you might be trying on different genders.  A boy named Sue or a girl named Bruno can result in some raised eyebrows.  If your name is taken -- "Jennifer" is long, long gone -- you can try variants, like "Jenn1fer," "Jennifer3795," or "JenniferPeterson."  But take your time here, because you can never change your user name once you have selected it.  When you are finished here, you see:
More Important Stuff!
 This is another important step...choosing a password, and entering your email, real life birthday, and a secret question/answer combination.  Don't use the same password for SL that you use for other web sites.  USE YOUR ACTUAL BIRTHDAY.  If you are under 16 and you get caught lying about your age you will be permanently banned from SL, and so will anyone else using your computer.  If you are 75 and think that it would be great to be 17 again, don't do that either...you won't be able to get into a lot of interesting places in SL.  Nobody except Linden Lab will ever be given this data, so enter the correct date.  And for heavens' sake, WRITE DOWN the user name, password, email address, and secret question/answer and save them in a secure place.  Recovering a "lost" account without this information is possible, but it's a huge pain.

Next, we move on to:
Basic or Premium?
Here you can choose your account type...a free Basic account or a paid Premium account.  The Premium account has some benefits, but for now, choose Basic.  You can always upgrade later.  Besides, most people find that a Basic account works just fine for them!

Here's the last screen.  The next step is to download and install the "viewer" software, the program that lets you get into the Second Life world.
Don't Forget to Download and Install a Viewer!
Your First Login.
Once you've installed the viewer and fire it up, here's what you see:
Whoops!  Error, Will Robinson!
Well, sort of.  My screen's not showing any information in the What's Hot Now (places with a lot of avatars present) or Destinations (popular places selected by Linden Lab) windows.  But that's not important.  Down at the lower left of the screen, enter your user name and password, then click the Log In button.  (EDIT:  The latest viewer has moved the login boxes to the TOP of the screen!)

You will be presented with the Second Life Terms of Service.  You MUST scroll the TOS down, at least a little bit, to let the software know you have read them.  Then click Accept.  I know you are anxious to get on with it, so I won't tell you to actually READ the entire TOS and all the secondary policies that are linked to them.  But I do encourage you to look them all up, and read them at some point.

After several seconds, you should see something like this...
Eek, I'm a Cloud!
Up at the top of your screen is your location.  This is "Learning Island," the first of two mandatory stops on your way into the main Second Life world.  See the arrow on the post?  Follow those to get to the exit.

At the bottom right, you'll see a communications window.  Here you can communicate with everyone in the vicinity using Local Chat, or with people privately, one-on-one in an IM.  You'll see I'm chastising Dav2 here...the fellow holding the sign.  Dav has a whole slew of alts, and can be found at most of the new user areas most of the time.  Unfortunately, he doesn't always give correct or intelligible advice.  He's not malicious, but I think his brain is wired differently than almost everyone else's!  But, perhaps fortunately, he's in so many places at once that he's almost always AFK...Away from Keyboard.  Dav is only the first of many eccentric personalities you'll meet in SL!

You'll also note that I am a white cloud.  I did not manage to overcome this until I changed my outfit.  If you have this problem, and find you can't change your outfit*, see some additional things to try here:  http://wiki.phoenixviewer.com/fs_bake_fail

One of the most scenic things at Learning Island is the shipwreck.  It doesn't DO anything, but it's very picturesque.

As you move along the path, you may notice another small window open up on the right side, just above the chat window.  This is an information HUD (a "Head Up Display.")  Most HUDs in Second Life stay on your screen all the time, but this is one of the new-fangled kind that appears for a while, and then disappears when its job is done...in this case, providing you some basic information, like how to walk, run, and fly.
Information HUD on Right Side
Follow the path as it meanders over the island.
Aerial View of Learning Island.  Start at the left, wind up on the right!
One of the bridges is out.  This is to encourage you to try flying across!
Fly, Young Avatar!
At the end of the path is a coliseum with a single portal door.  Walk through this door to be teleported to the second (and last!) mandatory stop, Social Island.
Our Goal is in Sight!
On to Social Island
For a tour of Social Island, see my previous post, "A Visit to Social Island."  Ignore any crowds of griefers or troublemakers, should they be present.  Just enjoy exploring the island and continuing to play with your menus and controls.  Then use the Search or Destinations buttons (a magnifying glass and a map push pin, respectively) to find other places of interest to visit in Second Life!  Or, there is a coliseum there too, with a variety of portal doors.  Each door will take you to a random destination within its general category.

Logging Out.
We always say "log out," but there's no "log out" button apparent, and that confuses some people!  When you have to get back to Real Life, just hit the big X in the upper right corner of the SL window to close it, or hit CTRL+Q.

See you next time!

*Changing your outfit.  Open your inventory, the button with the suitcase symbol (shortcut:  CTRL+I.)  Find the folder Library/Clothing/Initial Outfits.  Pick one of the sub-folders, drag it and drop it onto your avatar...er, your cloud.  You should appear ("rez") within a few seconds.

EDIT, Nov 24 2014:  Instead of Library/Clothing/Initial Outfits, try an avatar from the folder Library/Clothing/Older Outfits.  The "Initial Outfits" folder now contains all-mesh avatars, which are not customizable and can really confuse you when you start to try to change your look.  Use an avatar from the Older Outfits folder, or any avatar that does not have "Mesh" in its name, and you'll learn how to wear different clothes and change your look a lot faster and easier!  An even easier way to do this is to use the Avatars button...the top button on the left side of your screen, with two people on it.  Choose one of the "classic" avatars...you'll find them much easier to edit and customize.

EDIT, Sept 3, 2016:  The Initial Outfits folder now contains "hybrid" avatars...ones that use the classic avatar body (easier to understand and edit) and Mesh clothing.  It also contains the all-mesh avatars mentioned above.  Some of the new hybrid avatars feature a new "fantasy" theme...you can choose from among ten avatars suited for fantasy roleplay.  In addition, Social Island has gotten a complete makeover, and now features a much more comprehensive set of tutorials and learning experiences.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Ginormous Chat Log

Here's a slightly more advanced topic today.

I log my chat and IMs, because my memory is not as sharp as it used to be (and it probably never was, either!)  Besides, chat logs can be useful for determining if or when you met a person, when you went on line or offline, and for documenting Abuse Reports.

Your chat log files are kept on your local hard drive, in a directory that you can specify in your Preferences.  Exactly where in Preferences you do this depends on your viewer, so I'll leave finding it as an exercise for the student.  Besides, that isn't the main focus of today's post.

What I want to talk about today is one log file that can cause trouble if you let it get too large.

If you have opted to log local chat, it's stored in your chat log directory, and it will have the name "chat.txt."

Like any of your chat and IM logs, this file is added to each and every time you log on and send or receive chat...in this case, local chat.  Because you ALWAYS will have at least some local chat in every session on line, this file quickly grows much larger than any of the other logs.  If left unattended for too long, it will get too large to be easily handled by Notepad, the default text editor in Windows.

You can get around this somewhat by opening and editing it in a more powerful text editor (Wordpad) or a word processor (Word or Open Office.)  But even if the application you are using can handle a large file, having a couple of years' minute-by-minute chatter to wade through can be a total pain.

What I do is, once every few months, I open chat.txt and edit it.  I lop off three months' chat at a time and save each of these chunks in a new .txt file that I label chat_arc_XQ_YYYY.txt.  These quarterly chat archives are much more manageable.

I have no evidence that keeping the chat.txt file size down improves the performance of the viewer, but hey, it can't hurt!

On my last inspection of my chatlog folder, I also found that over the years I had collected well over 4,000 IM conversations.  That's every person I've ever spoken to in IM...not only close friends, but passing acquaintances and group chats too.  A great many of these were very short files, under 1KB in size.  Since I was in a housecleaning sort of mood, I deleted all these little mini-conversations.

I mean, sure, chat logs are useful, once in a while...but there's such a thing as being too much of a pack rat.  Just ask the NSA.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

An Example of the Empty Box Scam

Hello, Dear Readers!

A while back, I warned you of a scam on the Second Life Marketplace, one which I call the "empty box scam."  Today I decided to name some names (well, one name, anyway) and post an example of this exploit.

If you go to https://marketplace.secondlife.com/p/Elvira-Mesh-Avatar/5861787 you will see the ad in the picture below.



If you look closely, you'll notice a few things that should tip you off to this particular scam.  For one thing, the beautiful woman in the picture is giving you the finger.  This is not one of the limited number of hand position morphs available to SL avatars.  Also, her skin and the level of detail shown is far beyond anything that is available in Second Life.

Reading on, we see some contradictory things in the item description.  In one place, it's described as a "full mesh avatar"...which it would have to be, to have that level of detail over the whole body.  But further on, the ad copy describes it as "hybrid mesh," a combination of a mesh head and a standard avatar body, which would enable you to wear regular clothing layers with it.

Are we beginning to get the idea that this might be "too good to be true?"  Good.

So next, we try to look up the "creator" of this wonder, a "KochSL."  Neither the old fashioned Search or the Web-based Search turns up any result for this name.  Clicking the KochSL link in his Marketplace Store also fails to open any profile.  Looks like KochSL has already flown the coop, leaving this one item and storefront behind.

Let's see if the images themselves lead to more clues.  Open images.google.com  Now click the little camera icon at the right of the search bar.  Right click and drag the image of the girl in the ad and drop it into the search box.

Well, well, well.  We see that the same image can be found on a hentai porn story site.  So this is not a Second Life avatar at all, but merely an image stolen from elsewhere on the web.

Finally, the price is out of line.  Other full mesh avatars are selling for around $L2,000 or so, but this one must be super special, huh?  Or why else would it be selling for $L15,000?  I'll tell you why...because it's a SCAM.  Buy this, and you'll get an empty box.

Here are a few bits of advice for newcomers contemplating expensive purchases to make them "instantly beautiful" in Second Life.

  • Don't spend more than $L2,000 for ANYTHING, and preferably a lot less, until you have been in SL for at least six months.  By that time, you should have an idea of how SL works, and be able to tell when someone is trying to snow you.
  • Don't believe you can make a single purchase and instantly overcome noobitude.  It takes time, and some wrong turns, and some effort on your part to select things that work well with each other and that, together, make the statement about yourself you want to make.  There's no one-size-fits-all, instant solution.
  • Don't spend big money for anything on the Marketplace unless you can see it in world first.
  • Don't buy any expensive items from people whose account is very new, and who don't have a completed Profile.  Such things are a clue that this person is a "throwaway" alt account.
  • And above all, remember:  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!  
Be careful out there!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Purse

I'm never without my purse in Real Life, and if you're a woman, Dear Reader, I bet you aren't far from yours, either.  So why don't we wear purses in Second Life?

Well, for one thing, we don't have to!  Everything, INCLUDING the kitchen sink, is right there in our inventories, no matter where we go.  So there is no need for a bag.  One could make the argument that the Inventory is the Handbag, Done Right, were it not for the fact that one's inventory is not much of a fashion statement.

For another, the darn things are useless.  They can't actually hold anything.  Anyway, see above.  The inventory does a much better job of that.

But there are times when I've wanted a purse or a handbag in Second Life, just as an accessory to complete or complement my outfit.  And yet, most bags are a terrible nuisance.  They only look good in one particular pose, and if you change your stand (or worse yet, fly or sit) they just look silly, sticking out in some unlikely direction.

Even if the bag has a "bag hold" animation, it's more than likely that your animation overrider will, um, override it.

But the other day, I finally found a bag that looks good...not only on the store shelf, but when worn.  It's the Satchel Bag by Maitreya, and it comes in a variety of colors to go with most outfits.  It's Mesh, and it has a slouchy, weighty appearance and a beautiful pebbled leather texture.
Best of all, it's versatile.  It comes with four different versions -- carried in the hand, carried on the forearm, and both a rigged and a non-rigged shoulder carry version.  All the bags are editable except the rigged mesh shoulder version.  Each version has an appropriate "bag hold" animation, and wonder of wonders, they work with my SEMotion AO poses. Well, almost...when my AO switches stands, it overrides the bag hold, but a quick switch off and on again brings it back.

If the satchel bag isn't your preferred style, there are a couple of options you can explore...not the bags themselves so much (although there are thousands in the Marketplace!), but carry poses that will work with your AO.  Vista Animations has some AOs now that include handbag poses for your arm, and SEMotion has a set of stands that are designed for use with a bag.  And SLink makes a pose for their mesh hands that's specifically for carrying a purse.

For those times when your outfit just cries out for a handbag as the final touch, I recommend the Maitreya Satchel Bag.