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Monday, November 21, 2016

A Visit to Gee's Wonder Island

There are many magnificent builds in Second Life.  My fellow blogger Inara Pey just posted about the return of one such, Mont St. Michel.  There are even more tacky builds.  But there are very few places that can lay claim to being both!  Recently, I found one on my very doorstep.

As many of you know, or suspect, I'm not a great explorer of Second Life.  I'm a homebody, and spend most of my time on my home region of Masocado or at Caledon Oxbridge University.  A few weeks ago, I noticed that the large parcel in Impish Glee, the region just to the north of Masocado, that had been up for sale had been purchased.  And soon I began to notice some building activity going on there.  Would it be a competitor offering rentals?  Another marina?  Something atrocious like the ninety meter tall pink Barbie castle that had infested the parcel for a couple of months?

A few days ago, my curiosity got the better of me and I popped over for a closer look.

It was an amusement park.  I love amusement parks, and have visited some really great ones in SL, so I wandered about and started playing with the rides and attractions.  The first one I rode was an enormous roller coaster with loops and a 360 degree roll.  The cars ran on a pink track.  The ride was properly thrilling, and at several spots I threw my arms up in the air and challenged gravity and speed to do their worst!

There was a Tornado, a tower that blows a column of air up and lets you skydive while hovering stationary.  An archery game.  A water pistol arcade challenge.  A gypsy fortune teller.  There was a rocking Pirate Ship, a Beanstalk, and a hoverplane ride.  There was The Geyser...a platform that got blown aloft atop a powerful fountain of water.  A Ferris Wheel.  And of course, the Clown College Bumper Boats.

In fact, the place seemed to have just about every carnival ride that ever caused a preteen to lose her funnel cake, and they were all scattered about without much rhyme or reason.  In nooks and crannies between the rides were kiosks selling drinks, hot dogs, hamburgers, and all manner of junk food...the better to help you enjoy the rides, of course!  There were also pleasant gazebos and other places to sit and chat and rest up for another go at the rides.

Clown College Bumper Boats, Beanstalk, Ferris Wheel

Eeek!

I See Motion Sickness in Your Future

Mine Ride

Skating Rink...and skates!

The Tornado Tower

Gee's Wonder Island


In addition to all this, there was a large open space with helipads, to accommodate visitors arriving by air, and spacious docks for those arriving by boat.  If you forgot to bring your own vehicle, there were rezzers to try out various forms of transportation, and a number of vendors with helicopters and aircraft for sale.

At about this point, I met the author of all this, Geetaraa...or "Gee" to her friends.  She explained that the place was called "Gee's Wonder Island" and offered to show me the rest.  "There's MORE?" I said.

And, as it turns out, there was.  All that I'd seen was only the ground floor.  There are three sky platforms in addition, which boast even more coasters and rides, plus an ice skating rink and a War of the Worlds game.

Gee's Wonder Island is laid out with absolutely no discernible plan or theme.  It's a hodgepodge.  But there is, I think, an underlying motif:  Carnival Tacky.  The place conveys the unmistakable air of an old fashioned traveling carnival.  You can practically smell the caramel corn and the sawdust, and feel the soles of your shoes sticking to the pavement.  Gee herself describes it as "unique, one of a kind," and it is most certainly that!  Besides which, it's a ton of fun!

Wonder Island is living proof that you don't need the latest Mesh models, or have to be an incredibly talented architect or 3D artist to create something of worth in Second Life.  Gee obviously put a lot of effort into it, and just as obviously had fun doing it.  I think if you visit, you'll have fun too.  But don't wait too long; Gee told me that unless the visitor traffic justifies keeping Wonder Island open for a while, she'll move on to new projects in a few months.

Gee's Wonder Island SLURL


Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Horizons Homes

For a long time now, Linden Lab has offered a free Linden Home to Premium members of Second Life.  These were always intended to be "starter homes" and as such, they have a number of limitations.  The most obvious is, they're small.  They are on 512 square meter parcels, and until recently only allowed 117 prims (the recent prim limit increase to Mainland regions has raised that to 175.)

Besides being small, you can't get rid of the Linden Home and put a house of your choosing on the parcel, or place a skybox above it.

Linden Lab is attempting to address these limitations with a new offering in the Horizons regions.  The Horizons Experience is a quest-type game against the clock, featuring a number of challenges.  But besides the game, the new Horizons regions offer residential parcels.  These are 1024 square meters in size.

You can rez your choice of several pre-installed Horizons-themed houses (which don't count against your 350 prim allowance, similar to a Linden Home), or you can place your own structure.

Horizons parcels are NOT offered as a free Premium benefit.  You can, however, use your 512 sq. m. land allowance and apply it to your Horizons parcel.  That means that you will only pay tier on the remaining 512 sq. m., or $5.00 USD per month (in addition to your Premium membership fee.)

Horizons parcels are currently being sold on the Land Auctions page.  After they've been auctioned off, the only way to get one will be to buy it from another resident, or find one that has been Abandoned by its former owner and purchase it from "Governor Linden."

Surprisingly, the Horizons regions are rated Adult.  This is a departure from the Linden Homes, which are on Moderate regions.  I would never have expected LL to associate themselves so closely with Adult activities...heck, just a few years ago they scraped up all the Adult stuff on the Mainland and exiled it to a whole separate continent, Zindra.

For lots more about the new Horizons land parcels, see this Wiki entry: http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Horizons_Parcel_Ownership

I'm sure these will be of interest to many people, especially those fairly new to SL.  But, as a landlady, I'm feeling quite grumpy about them.  Once again, Linden Lab is setting itself up in direct competition with the Residents.  Phooey.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Prim Increases - Pros and Cons

This week, LL increased the land capacity of Mainland regions, and they will shortly be increasing the capacity of Private Estate regions as well.  Here's a breakdown of the changes:



While full Mainland regions are getting a boost from 15,000 to 22,500 (a one third increase), full Estate regions will only go up to 20,000.  That's still a nice increase, however.  Plus, LL says that for an additional $30 initial fee and an extra $30 per month, Private Estates can increase their land capacity up to 30,000.

Homestead and Openspace regions will also be getting an increase, to 5,000 and 1,000 respectively, across the board.

What does this mean for us?

For the ordinary Second Life resident, it's terrific.  In effect, prims have just become about 33% cheaper.  Alternatively, you can think of it as being able to add 33% more Stuff to your home.

This is especially beneficial to those with small parcels of land, such as Linden Homes.  Instead of 117 prims, now you can have 175!

It's an incentive to creators to make more realistic content, too.  Regions can now support more Mesh objects with higher levels of detail.

On the other hand, I see some downsides.

For those of us who are in the land business, land has just, in effect, been devalued by a third.  The price we pay to LL has not gone down, but instead of being able to charge, say, $L 7 or 8 per prim for a rental, we'll now be faced with charging around $L 5 per prim.  We can make that up, but ONLY if our tenants are willing to rent more prims from us.  If they aren't, then we'll have to think about renting smaller parcels to our tenants, and squeezing more tenants into a region.  With SL slowly shrinking, I do not think this model is going to be very attractive.

Some landlords may not be willing to pass the additional prims or the lower cost of them on to their tenants.  This will probably result in some changes in who's living where, as people seek the best deal for themselves.

The additional prims available to Linden Homes and the owners of other 512 square meter parcels may reduce the incentive for them to upgrade to a larger parcel, or to rent additional square meters and prims from a landlord or Private Estate owner.  This will further increase the pressure to reduce rental fees, and could result in more landlords being unable to remain in business.

While we're talking about devaluation, you may also have noticed that the Linden Dollar has been devalued a bit as well.  A couple of months ago, the exchange rate for selling $L was about $L250 to $1.00 USD.  Now it is steady around $L261: $1.00.  (If you go back a few years, the normal rate was around $L270 : $1.00, so if you take the long view, this change may not be all that significant.)

One may speculate on any number of reasons for these moves on the part of the Lab:  for example, the coming of Sansar, or declining interest in SL.  Whatever the reason, though, SL is still alive and well and I expect it to be so for a good long time to come.  We'll adapt to these changes just as we've done for many others in the past.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

FLASH! Mainland Prim Allowance Increase!!!

Linden Lab is rolling out some changes.  We're told that the full announcement will be made this Thursday, November 3...but astute observers have already noticed one of them:  The prim allowance (Land Capacity) of Mainland regions has increased from 15,000 to 22,500.

This is wonderful news to those of us who suffer from Prim Addiction!  It means that for a 4096 sq meter parcel, you'll now have 1,406 prims available instead of 937, and on a little 512 parcel, you'll get 175 prims instead of 117.

Wow.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

FLASH! Latest Viewer Includes an Outfit Browser

Ever since Linden Lab added the ability to make and save Outfits...and then to change looks with a single mouse click...our inventories of Outfits have been growing like mad.  I have hundreds of Outfits in mine!  The only problem is, it's hard to remember just what a particular Outfit looks like.  I try to give them descriptive names, but even so, I find myself putting on one Outfit after another, just to find the perfect one.

Well, the software team at Linden Lab has come to our rescue!  The newest viewer has an Outfit Browser in it!  This looks a bit like the starter avatar browser, the one you get by clicking the Avatars toolbar button.

Read all about it here: https://community.secondlife.com/t5/Featured-News/Visual-Outfit-Browser-is-Live/ba-p/3066497

And, for more about Outfits, see my blog post here: http://acrossthegridwithlindal.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-ins-and-outs-of-outfits.html

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Calling Out Two Intellectual Property Thieves

I haven't ever done this before, but today I'm going to publicly clobber someone.  Two someones.

While searching the Marketplace for couples animation HUDs for a friend, I came across this listing:
https://marketplace.secondlife.com/p/HugKissPounceDance-Animator-HUD-Fully-Customizable/4018235  being sold by Epic Trapdoor.

This device is a straight ripoff of the Meike Hug&Kiss Deluxe 2.0, originally created and sold by Meike Heston.  Meike has left Second Life, but she changed the permissions on her HUD to allow it to be freely distributable.

That was a marvelous present to the Second Life community, and I reported it in an earlier blog post.

Epic Trapdoor has taken advantage of Meike's generosity, and is re-selling this freebie for his/her own profit.  For shame!

Further searching turned up another probable ripoff of the Meike HUD, this one at an even more exorbitant price.  It's being sold by Link Zero.  The description and the pictured animations lead me to believe it's the Meike, although this listing does not show a picture of the HUD itself.  https://marketplace.secondlife.com/p/Valentines-Special-Hug-n-Kiss-Deluxe-HUD-Final/4078067


Anyone who wants this HUD can get it for free.  There's a vendor in the lobby of the Masocado Resort, and another vendor in the College of Avatar Motion at Caledon Oxbridge University.

EDIT:  I have placed the free, full permissions version of the HUD on the Marketplace!  Get it here:
https://marketplace.secondlife.com/p/Meikes-Hug-Kiss-202/9714182

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

FLASH! New Marketplace Search

Linden Lab announced the arrival of a new (and, hopefully, improved) search engine for the Second Life Marketplace.

The new Search still supports Boolean logical operators (NOT, OR, and AND, typed in all capital letters.)  LL did not specifically say so, but this writer hopes that the new search is less sensitive to the case of search terms!

The new Search, according to LL, is "smart", in that it will learn from your searches and get better with continued use.

Read LL's announcement here: https://community.secondlife.com/t5/Featured-News/New-Second-Life-Marketplace-Search-is-Live/ba-p/3057353

(And, for any of you who are new readers, this post, like all "FLASH!" posts, is a very short announcement of an item of late-breaking news!)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

I Bought $L But I Never Got Them

We helper types are seeing this question appear more and more on the Second Life forums.  So in today's post, I'll talk about the most common reasons for this.  There are three of them.

If you are buying $L for the first time, you have to first register a "payment method" with Linden Lab.  LL will accept most major credit cards, or a "verified" PayPal or Skrill account.  They will NOT accept prepaid credit cards, debit cards, or gift cards.

"Verified" means that your PayPal or Skrill account has been backed up by linking it to either a major credit card or a Real Life bank account.  The procedures for doing this can be found on the PayPal or Skrill web sites.  The process will take a few business days.

There's one point to keep in mind here.  If you use a bank account, you must be careful to keep enough money actually in the PayPal or Skrill account to pay your Second Life bills.  Linden Lab won't wait several days for money to be transferred from your bank account, to PayPal, to them.  They insist on instant payment, and if they don't get it, the transaction will simply fail.

When you set up a payment method for the first time, LL will make a $1.00 test transaction.  This test transaction will be quickly reversed, but if you are quick to check your balance, you'll see it.  Don't be alarmed, it's not a real charge to your account.

So...the first reason that people claim they bought $L but didn't get them is because they used a payment method that isn't accepted by LL, or there wasn't enough money in the account, or there is some other problem like your credit card being past its expiration date.

The second trap that people fall into is the "limit buy".  You buy and sell Linden Dollars on the Linden Dollar Exchange, or LindeX.  This is a market of buyers and sellers, just like a stock market or a Real Life currency exchange.  The price of the $L fluctuates a little bit over the course of a day, just as the price of a stock goes up and down in response to the market pressures of supply and demand.  Linden Lab, acting through its own account, serves to stabilize the market, preventing large swings in the price.

When you open the "Buy $L" page on the Second Life website, you will see two windows.  On the left is a window where you can place an "instant buy"...a purchase at the current market price.  If you use this window to buy your $L, you'll get them immediately.


But to the right is another window, and it says "Best Rate".  This tempts a lot of people, because who doesn't want to get the best rate, after all!  However, if you use this window, you are making a "limit buy."  Here, you specify not only the amount of $L you want, but the exchange rate that you are willing to pay.  If the current price of the $L is $L265 per $1 USD, and you offer to buy at $L270 per $1 USD, your order won't be filled right away, since no one is willing to sell at $L270 when they can get the better price of $L265 (it's a better price because the seller has to give up fewer $L in exchange for a dollar.)  So, your order will just sit there in the queue until the price of the $L gets to $L270:1.  Depending on the market, and how greedy you are, that could take hours, days, weeks...or never.

Besides market movement, another factor that can affect how long it takes is how many other people are ahead of you in line.  Limit orders are filled on a first come, first served basis, so if there are many millions of outstanding $L orders, it can take longer for yours to be filled.  You can use the Market Data provided by LL to see what might be a reasonable asking price to buy or sell.


Using the limit buy option can often get you a better deal, if you are patient and not too greedy.  But people who don't understand about limit buys use this window, and then wonder why they have never gotten the $L they paid for.

NOTE:  When you make a limit buy, the money is taken from your payment method (or your $USD balance, if there's money in there) immediately.  It's held "in escrow" by LL until the order is either filled, or canceled by you.  If you cancel the order, the money does not go back to your credit card or PayPal, it goes into the $USD balance of your Second Life account.

The third reason that people sometimes don't get the $L they tried to buy is, of course, the one that people always think is the cause:  Linden Lab messed up.  Sometimes, the payment system is down for maintenance, either planned or unplanned.  In this case, your purchase might actually fail halfway...you're charged, but don't get your $L.  It's much less common than people think, but it does happen on rare occasions.  If it does, you can call LL Billing.  Here are the phone numbers:

US/Canada: 800-294-1067
France: 0805-101-490
Germany: 0800-664-5510
Japan: 0066-33-132-830
Portugal: 800-814-450
Spain: 800-300-560
UK: 0800-048-4646
Brazil: 0800-762-1132

Long distance ( not free, but you can use Skype to save some cost ) : 703-286-6277
**Note: Support is offered only in English

Monday, August 8, 2016

FLASH! Firestorm Gets Avatar Complexity Settings

A new version of the Firestorm viewer, 4.7.9.50527, is now available, with the new Avatar Complexity functions.  Now you can adjust your viewer to get better performance, at the expense of seeing more complex avatars rendered as monochrome "jelly dolls."

Get it here: http://www.firestormviewer.org/downloads/

To see more about these functions and how to use them, see this: https://community.secondlife.com/t5/Featured-News/Why-are-all-these-people-made-of-colored-jelly/ba-p/3031255

Sunday, June 19, 2016

FLASH! What's She Wearing?

In my Shopping class, I teach people how to right click an avatar's attachments and use Object Profile (or Inspect, in the Firestorm viewer) to find out what that great outfit is that someone else is wearing.

But with Mesh clothing and attachments, there's often a problem with that.  Rigged mesh, especially, can be difficult or sometimes even impossible to select.

Just today, one of my students gave me a link to the estimable Strawberry Singh's blog, where she, Strawberry, reviewed a freebie item, a HUD called "What is She Wearing!?!?"  It easily lets you inspect your own clothing attachments and those of avatars near you...and it's FREE!

Find it here: https://marketplace.secondlife.com/p/MB-What-is-She-Wearing/9129140?id=9129140&slug=MB-What-is-She-Wearing

Happy outfit snooping, and happy shopping!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Grid Down! Residents Scratch Heads

It's Friday night, time for my weekly Land Basics class.  But, when I sat down to log in, I got the message you usually get when you mis-type your password, "The system was unable to log you in.  Check your caps lock, blah blah blah."

Repeated entries of my password didn't work.  I tried my alt, and got the same message.  Thinking maybe I'd had my password stolen, I went to the SL website.  But I was able to log in there, although I kept getting very slow loading of the pages, and several failures to load.

Maybe it's my PC, or my internet connection?  So I rebooted everything.  I could get to other internet sites, and after a while, the Second Life website started working normally again too.

Checked the Grid Status Blog.  No mention of any problems or outages.  Tried logging in again.  This time, instead of a failed login message, it said "We are performing unscheduled maintenance."

Now, normally when this sort of thing happens, at least SOME of the grid stays on line.  If you try to log in to a part that's off line, you get shunted to a random Infohub and land in a big people pile.  But not this time.

I went back to the website and checked the Answers forum, and checked the Second Life Twitter feed.  Sure enough, there was a steady stream of people in both places, complaining bitterly.

So...SOMEthing bad happened.  But at this time, we don't know what, or how long it will take to fix.  This has got to be the worst outage I've ever experienced in nine years of Second Life.  At least these days, outages are pretty rare.  I remember when they used to be an almost daily occurrence.

I'll update this entry when I know more.  Current time is Friday, May 6, 1720 PDT.

UPDATE:  They got it fixed pretty quickly, but (as usual) there's not much information about the cause.  Here's the Status Blog entry:

[Posted 4:54 PM PDT, 06 May 2016]  We are performing unscheduled maintenance. While the maintenance is in progress, some residents may experience login issues and residents in-world may be logged off or experience degraded performance. Second Life websites also may not be accessible. Please check back here for updates.

[Resolved 5:43 PM PDT, 06 May 2016] Our unscheduled maintenance is now complete.

Um...thanks, guys.


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Flash! Check Your Security

In a recent blog post, Linden Lab advises everyone to check both their web browser(s) and their Second Life viewer(s) to make sure they are using the latest security protocol, TLS 1.2.  Not only are older protocols less secure, but as of next month (June 15) you will no longer be able to use those web browsers and viewers to make Second Life $L transactions.

Here's the link to the blog post, which includes clear instructions on how to test your browsers and viewers:  https://community.secondlife.com/t5/Featured-News/Update-Your-Web-Browser-to-Ensure-Secure-Payments/ba-p/3027363

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Quick! Get Rid of QuickTime!

Hello, faithful readers!

Today's post is short, but it deals with a serious issue.

Second Life has always recommended installing Apple QuickTime on your computer.  It's required to view videos in the .mov format.

However, Apple has announced that they are no longer supporting QuickTime for Windows (they're continuing support for QT on the Mac...of course.)  Even worse, two vulnerabilities have recently been uncovered in the Windows version that could allow a hacker to get access to your computer.  No less an entity than U.S. Homeland Security is recommending that if you have QuickTime for Windows on your computer that you uninstall it at once.

You can get more information on this here:  http://blog.trendmicro.com/urgent-call-action-uninstall-quicktime-windows-today/

As if that wasn't bad enough, when I was doing some research for this post, I ran across an article written in 2011 that reported on a QuickTime exploit aimed specifically at Second Life residents.  Attackers using this exploit could steal $L from anyone entering their land.  Here is the link to that article: http://www.zdnet.com/article/quicktime-hack-allows-second-life-currency-theft/  (Note:  I do not know if either Apple or Linden Lab patched the software subsequent to this report.)

"But...will Second Life work without QuickTime?"  I'm glad you asked.  I wondered about this myself, since I have always had QT installed.  I uninstalled it, and went to see for myself.

Everything appeared to work normally...with the single exception of video media players.  This is highly annoying, but not a deal-breaker for me, because I very seldom watch TV in Second Life.  If I wanna watch TV, I'll do that in Real Life!  The MOST annoying part is that the new LEVAHome TVs that I had JUST bought last month from VEA Media for my tenants no longer work AT ALL...and the VEA Media showroom has vanished.  I guess they pulled up stakes and walked off into the sunset when they realized their product wasn't going to work any more for most people.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

LL Offers Lower Tier!

For years, people have complained about the high cost of land in Second Life.  And it is expensive, at least compared to most other things you can buy in SL.  However, for various economic reasons, it seemed unlikely that LL would ever cut tier fees significantly.

The highest fees are paid by the owners of private estate regions...$295 USD per month for a full performance region.  But it used to be less.  Way back in time, estate owners paid the same monthly price as the owners of mainland regions, $195 USD per month.  These regions became very valuable when estate land fees went up to the $295/mo. level, because the rate was "grandfathered".

But that only helped the original owner.  If they sold a grandfathered region, the new owner would have to pay the current $295/mo. fees.

A few months ago, that changed.  For an additional up-front purchase fee of $600, an existing grandfathered region could be sold to a new owner and retain its lower $195 per month tier level.  See: http://acrossthegridwithlindal.blogspot.com/2015/11/flash-major-savings-and-minor-update.html

Now, for a limited time, LL is offering to sell NEW private regions at the $195 per month tier level.  A similar savings is offered for Homestead regions.  To lock in the lower tier, you must pay an additional $600 one time "buy down" fee up front.  This is a GREAT deal for anyone who plans to hold their land for more than 6 months, which is the break-even point.

Only time will tell, but this could help reverse the slow, steady decline in the number of private estate regions on the grid.  I'm cautiously optimistic!

For the official word on this remarkable offer, see: https://community.secondlife.com/t5/Featured-News/Want-Lower-Tier-Now-You-Can-Get-Grandfathered-Land-Rates/ba-p/3019148

Monday, April 11, 2016

"What are the key aspects you think of when making your avatar?"

The title of today's post is an exact quote of a question asked by Ht241 Resident in the Second Life Answers forum.  I thought it was interesting enough to follow up!

Who am I?  This is my first thought.  I don't mean "what do I look like in Real Life."  I mean, who am I, when I'm inside my head?  Am I old, young, male, female, outgoing or shy?  Am I old-fashioned or modern?  Assertive or agreeable?  I want my avatar to say something about who I am.

On the other hand, maybe I intend this avatar for a specific roleplay purpose.  In that case, the question becomes, "Who do I want to be?"  This could be formal roleplay, in a group with rules, and maybe even some sort of scoring system.  Or it could be informal roleplay, simply presenting myself as a winged faerie, or a sultry vampire, or a jolly, overweight, donut-breathing dragon and riffing in character with the people I meet.

But roleplay isn't a general thing with me.  I might "put on a costume"...wear an unusual avatar for a short time, for fun or for a specific event...but usually I am "myself", my main avatar.  While I change clothes, hair, makeup and even eye color frequently, I'm still recognizably Lindal.

Do I look good?  My Lindal Kidd avatar was not made in an hour, or a day.  I worked on my shape off and on for oh, probably about six months, tweaking it until it was just the way I wanted.  And even today, I might make minor changes now and then.  Skin was another thing that I altered, over the course of about five years.  My first purchased skin was hideous, although I thought at the time that it looked good. That could also be said of my hair.  Over time, as I found better products, my appearance improved.
Early Lindal.  Ewww.

Fast Forward About Four Years

Me, Today

A subset of that might be, "Do I look good to the sort of people I want to attract?"  Perhaps I want to have a high fashion, haute couture, polished look.  Or if I am interested in SL's adult activities, maybe I want to look sultry, lush, and provocative.  One wants to look a part of one's group, even while looking unique.

Do I look human?  Of course, this only applies if you are using a human avatar.  But so many human avatars don't look human!  With some, this is glaringly obvious...women with enormous breasts and hips that won't go through a doorway, avatars with short little T-Rex arms, eight foot tall men with biceps as big around as sixty year old oak trees and tiny heads.  It's possible to keep your avatar within human proportions and still look handsome or beautiful, and unique, but you have to have a gentle touch on those Appearance sliders!

The advent of Mesh avatar bodies has made it easier to get Instant Beauty and sensible proportions, although they have also made it harder to look unique.

Now, I consider "making your avatar" to consist of the process of making (or buying) your shape, and finding a suitable skin, or set of skins for it.  Everything else...hair, eyes, clothing, manicure, jewelry, shoes...is simply "getting dressed."

Getting dressed can take a good bit of time every day, unless I have an Outfit already put together and ready to go with a single mouse click.  I'm declaring "getting dressed" to be outside the scope of Ht241's question...but shopping for new things, trying them on, putting together a Look...is a big part of Second Life's attraction, at least for me!  Oh, all right, it's an adult version of playing with dolls, if you insist.  But it's still fun!


Friday, April 1, 2016

Free Hugs!

Hi everyone!

One of the gadgets that I wear ALL the time is my hugger.  A hugger is a HUD that lets you offer to hug, kiss, or do other couples animations with another avatar.  It's one of the best ways I know of to express affection and pleasure in the virtual world.

Many years ago, Meike Heston created what I consider to be the best hugger in Second Life.  It has eleven different animations built in, which can all be performed for a set interval or indefinitely.  It can be set to Male or Female users.  Its positioning is quite accurate, if you start facing your intended partner, and if you wind up misaligned, it's fairly easy to re-position yourselves to hug correctly with the usual movement keys.  The controls are simple and compact, and it can be minimized to take up very little screen space.  The HUD was fairly expensive, as you'd expect for such a well-made device.


Unfortunately, Meike left Second Life and her small shop is long closed.  But before she left, she gave us all a wonderful present...she made her hugger full permissions, and now it's a freebie!  I've put the hugger into a vendor and you can pick one up for free in the lobby of the Masocado Resort.

EDIT:  I just realized that I posted this on April 1.  If any of you were thinking, "oh, an April Fool's joke," no, it isn't.  There really IS a free hugger in the Resort lobby, and it doesn't make your avatar turn into a chicken or anything.  Honest!

Friday, March 18, 2016

TANSTAAFL

The title for today's entry isn't some obscure Russian word, or the name of an exotic ethnic food.  It's an acronym coined by Robert A. Heinlein in his book "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" and it stands for "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch."

But some people are always looking for that elusive Free Lunch...and when they do, they are laying themselves open to con artists, thieves, and scammers.

Over and over in Second Life, people ask me, "How do I get free $L?"

The answer is, "You can't."  Oh, you can get $L without paying money for them, sure.  You can win a contest at a club, or get paid for teaching a class.  You can get a job as a stripper or an escort and earn pretty good tips.  You can try the "Fish Hunt" or "Gold Hunt" gaming systems.  You can play Linden Realms and exchange the crystals you collect for $L.

But all of these cost you time, even if they don't cost you money.  Time that you could have spent exploring SL, or learning to create beautiful things to sell, or enjoying the company of your friends.

Some people looking for a Free Lunch don't want to spend either money OR time.  These are the people who become the scammers' victims.  They fall for things like:

"Click this link for Free Stuff!"  They click the link, enter their user name and password, and their account is stolen by a phisher.

"Wear this object and click Allow to win $L10,000!"  They do it, and the object sucks all the money out of their account.

"Sign up to Take Surveys and get paid!"  The survey sites they visit install malware or spyware on their computers.

"Here's $L50,000.  Pay $L45,000 of it to my friend ShadyCharacter and keep the rest as a service fee."  They do that, and find LL has banned them from SL for participating in money laundering.

It's a law of nature.  You don't get something for nothing.  You get something for SOMETHING...your time, your skills, your talent, your investment.  True in Real Life, true in Second Life.

TANSTAAFL!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

A Very Belated Tour of Men's Fashion

Way, way back in April of 2015 I wrote a piece in which I ruminated on the lack of men's fashion in Second Life, and some possible reasons for it.  In the Comments section, a reader asked for advice on where to go to turn his avatar into a studly male fashion plate, and I replied, "See tomorrow's entry"...and then apparently forgot all about my promise.  Oops!  Today's post is a very belated response to that anonymous commenter!

Hunts.
The preeminent annual hunt for men is "MenStuff."  This year's hunt ended Feb. 29, so you have rather a long wait until the next one.  Still, bookmark their page to keep abreast of news.  http://menstuff.stuff-sl.com/

While you are waiting, many hunts with more general themes also have items for men.  Keep up to date on all the major hunts here:  https://slhunts.wordpress.com/

Blogs.
Quite a few of us girls keep up with SL fashion by following a selection of fashion blogs.  You guys can do the same.  A Google search on "SL Men's Fashion" will find many of them, but here is a shortcut.  Visit the SL Male Fashion Feed for a long list of male fashion blogs and related links.  http://malefashionfeed.info/

Fashion Showcases.
There are several places where you can go to see an item or two from each of a large number of participating creators.  The Men's Department, a showcase that is male-oriented, can be found here: http://themensdeptsl.com/

Freebies.
Though they've closed their dedicated in world freebie store, Fabulously Free in SL ("FabFree") remains an incredible source of information about freebies.  Their blog allows you to filter by categories, and the Men's category has over 2,000 entries!  You can join the FabFree group in world too, to get a notice when someone runs across a new freebie.  https://fabfree.wordpress.com/category/mens/

Bargains.
The various bargain hunter programs...Sixty Linden Weekends, Secret Wednesdays, 55L Thursdays, My 60L Secret, and so on...all generally have at least a few men's items.  You can join their groups and get a weekly list of all the offerings.

Mesh Bodies.
Although I own one and sometimes use it, I'm not the greatest fan of mesh bodies.  I think the improvements which they offer over the classic avatar body are incremental at best, and come at the expense of having to deal with a whole new set of configuration controls.  I think it's very easy for a guy to look super hot with a classic avatar body, and it's a lot cheaper too.  Still, if you really want to jump on the Mesh body bandwagon, the best place for mesh body and body part reviews is here: http://meshbodyaddicts.com/mesh-body-reviews/mens-bodies/

Hair.
Most large hair stores in SL have a selection of styles for men.  In addition, many styles can be worn by either men or women, as you will see from some of the advertising pictures in the stores.  Don't be afraid to try on a "woman's" hair style...it might look great on you!  I was in Alli&Ali the other day, and noticed that they have a very large selection of men's hair.  http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Wonderland%20Beach/155/127/24

Shapes.
I've always advocated making your own shape, with the Appearance sliders.  It may take some time and tweaking, but it costs you nothing.  If you go this route, I would make the following suggestions...but feel free to ignore them if you wish, it's YOUR body!
  • Keep your height under 2.5 m. at most.  Unless your girlfriend is super tall, then you may want to go a few cm. over her height.
  • Don't overdo the shoulders and biceps.  Personally, I find a flat tummy and a six pack to be way sexier than apelike arms.
  • To avoid short little T-Rex arms, you'll need to go further to the right with the arm length slider than you might think.  Stand up, let your hands hang at your sides.  Notice how far down they go.
  • Neatly trimmed facial hair is sexy.  Big, bushy lumberjack beards are not.
There are free shapes available that many designers use as their models for making Mesh clothing.  These will tend to fit Mesh quite well.  Get them here: https://marketplace.secondlife.com/p/Standard-Sizing-Package-Updated-Male-Female/2894727

Skin.
You'll probably need some minor tweaks to your shape, especially the facial features, to get the best results from any given skin.  This is one reason why it's important to try the demo version before buying a skin.  Here are some places to check out:
Private Parts.
Again, don't overdo it with the size.  I don't find it very exciting when a fellow's tool goes in my front and pokes out my back.  Ouch.  I also must give Two Thumbs Down to the "On Duty" product...I don't appreciate being "made pregnant" without my approval or consent.

You can find genital attachments in all degrees of realism, all price ranges, and with a wide range of operating features.  If your regular partner(s) use a particular system, such as Xcite, then consider getting a matching product for interoperability.  Otherwise, check out the suggestions below.
Remember:  Don't wear your genitals in public, even with them turned invisible.  A gentleman doesn't attach his bits until the appropriate time and place.

Formal Wear.
Every woman I know is a sucker for a guy in a tux.  Yeah, me too.
So there you have it, gentlemen.  Now go out there and make Second Life a showcase of male Eye Candy for us gals!




Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Good News, Bad News - Changes to $L Payouts

Yesterday, Linden Lab announced changes to their system of buying and selling Linden Dollars ($L).

On the good news side, one of the things I've complained about for a long time is the time it takes for LL to get money from your $USD balance to your PayPal account in a "Process Credit" transaction.  They say "5 business days" but it sometimes takes as long as 10 days.  At the same time, LL insists on INSTANT payment when WE pay THEM.  This has never seemed fair.

In their announcement, LL says that now, most Process Credit transactions should complete in 2 business days, although they do hedge their bets and say that some transactions may continue to take up to 5 business days.

That's the good news.

In the same announcement, LL says that they are raising the fee for purchasing $L from $.30 to $.40 per transaction...a 33% increase.  That seems excessive, although because of the small actual amount of the fee, I suppose most people won't complain much.

The announcement does not speak to the 3.5% transaction fee charged for selling $L and converting them back into $USD, so I'm assuming that remains unchanged.

Then there is the $1.00 processing fee they have been charging for a Process Credit transaction.  That is now changing to a 1.5% fee per transaction, with a minimum charge of $3.00 and a maximum cap of $15.00.  That is a MINIMUM increase of 200%!  Ouch.

To minimize the cashout fee (as a percentage of the transaction) you should plan on transferring at least $200 USD per single transaction, and over $1,000 if you can.  The larger the transaction over $1,000, the lower percentage of it that $15 will represent.  Those of you who have been taking out $20 or $100 per month should re-think your business models.

For the official announcement, see this link: https://community.secondlife.com/t5/Featured-News/Faster-Credit-Processing-amp-Upcoming-Changes-to-Fees/ba-p/3011794

Frankly, Ebbe, I would've preferred to just wait the extra few days for my money.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Terrain Without Pain

In Second Life, there is land.  Virtual land, and it is only one-sided...there's no volume to it, so although you can raise or lower the land surface with the land editing tools, you cannot dig a mine or a tunnel or a cave.

But today's post isn't about that.  I want to talk about the land's texture...the appearance of sand or grass or rock or snow.

The Second Life server software allows you to specify up to four surface textures for a region's land.  But you can only do this if you own your own private region.  On the Mainland, Linden Lab specifies the ground textures, and you can't change them.  Some private estates, like Desmond Shang's Caledon, even change the ground textures along with the seasons!

The height of the terrain determines which of the four ground textures will appear on the land.  So, for example, you might have a sand texture from 20m below sea level to about 5m above sea level, then a grass texture from 5m to 15m, a rock texture from 15 to 30m, and a snowy texture above 30m.

These heights are not exact.  There's a random variation that's applied, to keep the dividing line between the textures from looking unnatural.  This is usually a good thing, but it can be a pain when you want to have a grassy lawn start at a particular point at the back side of your beach.  Moreover, because it's random, you may notice that the texture transition point changes on you from one visit to the next.

But the very worst thing about ground textures, especially for those of us who inhabit the Mainland, is that you can't change them...and some of the textures chosen by Linden Lab are really, really ugly.  I especially hate the patchy orange and blue fungus look on the beaches of some of the older Mainland regions.

What Were They Thinking?


There are ways in which one can work around this.  Sometimes, you can terraform your land so that it moves into the next ground texture region and change it that way.  Or, you can flatten out the land and place a big prim over it, textured any way you want.  Or you can put down a lot of prim grass, or even a grass temp-rezzer to distract the eye from the ground texture and partially hide it.  But all of these methods have their own drawbacks, from prim cost to script loads.

What about sculptured prims, or mesh?  In some cases, you can find a sculpty shape that will fit your land.  The potential problem with this is that sculpties are Phantom.  If your sculpty rock sits more than a fraction of a meter above your land and you try to walk on it, you're going to look like you are up to your knees in stone.

But the other day, I found a solution to all this that's Really Cool:  The JVTEK Land Map.  The Land Map is a sculpty generator device.  You put out a scanner prim on your land, which measures the land in up to a 32 x 32 m area.  You can place additional scanners for larger or irregular land parcels.  Once the land is scanned, you go to a website and download a sculpt map that's been generated from the land's contours.  Then you apply this to a prim in world to create a sculpty that exactly matches the contours of your land, and lay it over the land like a close-fitting blanket.  Then you can apply any ground texture you want to the sculpty.

There are two drawbacks to the JVTEK system.  One of these the creator freely acknowledges...if the land is too irregular, the sculpty may not be a perfect match.  JVTEK recommends using the Smooth tool on the land to minimize this, and notes that if bits of your land do poke through the prim, you can use the land tools to push it down, or raise the sculpty up from the land a little bit.

The other possible drawback is common to all prim generators of this type.  They are dependent on the creator maintaining the support website.  If the creator goes out of business and takes down the external site, your prim generator becomes useless.  This happened to me with the "Rock Wizard" product I bought a few years ago.

Here are pictures of a home at the seaside.  The lovely grassy lawn is a Land Map sculpty!





You can find the Land Map on the Second Life Marketplace here: https://marketplace.secondlife.com/p/LandMap-Change-your-ground-texture-without-land-powers/236734


Sunday, February 7, 2016

Bending with Bento

This is a very short post today!  Some of you may have heard about "Project Bento."  This is an effort on the part of Linden Lab to add additional "bones" to the avatar skeleton, while (we all hope!) not breaking existing content.

What are bones, and why are they important?

Bones are the controls that are used to animate any 3D model.  The basic SL avatar has just under 30 bones.  Animation software moves the bones, and the avatar mesh deforms in response.  The process of adding bones to a model is called "rigging" by animators.  When you see the term "rigged mesh", it means that the mesh clothing has been linked to the bones of the avatar skeleton so that it will bend and move with you.

There are no bones in the Second Life avatar to animate the hands, or facial expressions.  Right now, these are implemented via a limited menu of facial expression and hand position "morphs."  This means that your hands can make a very limited set of gestures...the open, relaxed hand, a closed fist, a V sign, etc.  Your face can make a rather gassy-looking smile or a horrid gaping laugh, a frown, a kissy face, etc.  We all make exactly the same faces.

Project Bento aims to change that, by adding facial bones to allow realistically animated speech movements and expressions, and adding finger bones to the hands to allow them to be animated as well.  Not only that, but nonhuman avatars won't be left out.  Bones for wings and a tail are also being added.  Conceivably, in the future, a camera like a Kinect may scan us as we sit in front of our computers, and our avatars will mirror our Real Life facial expressions and hand movements!

The latest Drax Files video shows what the wizards of Project Bento have managed so far.  Here's the link: https://community.secondlife.com/t5/Featured-News/The-Drax-Files-World-Makers-Episode-35-Project-Bento/ba-p/3001464

Project Bento is now in beta test, so I'm hopeful we'll see these new features in a release viewer this year!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Ay-yi-yi! WiFi!

Why is your Second Life running so slow?  One problem could be the way you're connecting up to the internet.  So today, let's get a little technical!

We use WiFi for just about everything these days.  We carry our laptops anywhere in the house, and don't think twice about using them to get on the internet.  We stream video over WiFi.  We play games.  If we have a computer in an upstairs bedroom, we connect it to our network and to the web with WiFi.  I mean, who wants to run those cables through the walls!?

Well, um...YOU do.  At least you do if you want the best performance over your home network.  This is especially important for services that transfer a lot of data, like Second Life.  It can make a big difference for streaming video too, especially if your video is the new 4K UltraHD variety.

Most home routers these days have two kinds of connections:  Ethernet cables (a "hard wired" connection) that's capable of handling up to 1 Gb/s (gigabit per second, or about one thousand million bits.)  And a wireless connection that supports wireless protocols with varying speeds.  The newest routers boast (in theory) wireless speeds up to 1 Gb/sec, too.  "Well, if the wireless connection is as fast as the wired one, Lindal, what are you going on about?" you may ask.

The thing is, while it is theoretically possible to get just as fast a connection on WiFi as on a wired connection, it is almost never the case in practice.

To get that 1 Gb/sec rate, even in theory, requires that your router support the newest 802.11 ac standard.  Most home routers today support 802.11 a/b/g/n, but not ac.  The 802.11 n standard gives a theoretical maximum rate of 450 Mb/sec, less than half that of the 802.11 ac standard.

Even if your router has 802.11 ac, you probably won't see gigabit transfer rates.  Wireless speeds are strongly affected by distance from the router and by obstacles between the router and your computer, like walls and floors.  Plus, the network adapter or chip in your computer has to be 802.11 ac capable, or it won't even see the router's ac signal.  Routers running the 802.11 ac standard use a radio frequency in the 5GHz band, and these signals tend to be even MORE impacted by distance and obstacles than the older 2.4 GHz band used for the b and n WiFi signals.

Your wired connection might not be running at 1Gb/sec, either.  If your router or the network chip in your computer use the older "fast Ethernet" protocol, you'll be limited to a tenth of that, 100 Mb/sec.  And if your Ethernet cables are the older CAT5 standard, they may limit you to the lower 100 Mb/sec speed too.  You'll want CAT5E or CAT6 cables to be sure your network is really able to run gigabit ethernet.

To get an idea of how all this can affect you in the real world, try this experiment.

  • Find a large file on your computer, around 10GB (gigaBYTES...a byte is 8 bits, so that would be 80Gb.  You gotta pay attention to whether the "b" is capitalized or not.  A lowercase b is "bits", an uppercase B is "bytes.")
  • Copy the file and transfer it to another location on your hard drive.  See how long it takes.  It won't take very long.  This is your baseline, because your computer can move data around internally a lot faster than the data can move on your network.
  • Take the same file and transfer it to another computer on your network.  Both computers should be connected to the network with good quality ethernet cables.  Not quite so fast, was it?
  • Now take the same file and transfer it to a laptop or other computer that is connected with a WiFi connection.  You may have time to run out for a snack!
"Lindal!  I just CAN'T run cables!"  Don't be too sure.  Running cables is not always as hard as you think, although it can mean having to cut some holes in the walls and patch and paint them afterwards.  My Resident Geek recently re-wired the entire basement and main floor all on his own over the course of a few weekends.  But you may be able to improve your WiFi performance and avoid this altogether.  I don't recommend any of the "WiFi extenders" or "networking over power lines" gadgets.  I have not had much luck with either one.  However, you may be able to re-locate your WiFi router or access point to a more central location in your house.  Try to find somewhere that's on the main floor, in the middle of the house.  We wound up using a coat closet!  If you can't get strong coverage everywhere in the house, try for a location that gives you a strong signal in the room where you usually use your computer for Second Life.

There is a free app for your Android smartphone that will let you SEE the signal strength of your WiFi.  Go to the Google Play store and download "WiFi Analyzer."  This is very useful when trying to tweak your WiFi performance by moving the router or reorienting its antennas.

Good luck, and happy Fast Networking!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

PITAs!

No, not a sort of ethnic bread.  Today I'm talking about Pains In The Ass...PITAs.  You know, those many things that annoy or vex you.

We had a blizzard this weekend in Real Life.  This can be sort of fun, as long as you are inside and warm, and you don't have a power failure (we did, but fortunately the power wasn't out for too long.)  But the aftermath is a huge PITA.  As we were slowly and painfully clearing our long driveway of about a foot and a half of snow, I started thinking about PITAs...both in Real Life and in Second Life.

Although LL did their best to make Second Life a pleasant and exciting and fun experience, they're only human.  So SL, like RL, has its downsides.  I made a table for comparison!
Life:  If You Aren't Ticked Off, You're Probably Dead
Click the table for a more readable size
In making this table, I was struck by several things.  First, there really do seem to be fewer PITAs in the virtual world.  Good job, Linden Lab!  This ability to engineer out some of the annoyances of everyday life is one of the things that draws people to virtual worlds.

Second, I noticed that many of the PITAs that do carry over into SL do so through the biggest common factor:  yourself.  Some things that affect you in RL are, unavoidably, going to affect your enjoyment of SL, even if they don't affect your avatar per se.

If the biggest common factor linking reality and virtuality is ourselves, then the other common factor is just that...ourselves, plural.  People are people, whether in RL or SL, and so we find idiots, thieves and predators in both places.  As well as friendly, helpful, and kind people too, of course.

There are only a few PITAs that are unique to the virtual world, and they pretty much all have to do with the technology.  Server crashes, software bugs, internet issues, and things of that nature.  I'd say that these would get better as the technology improves, but that hasn't been my experience.  As the technology gets better, people keep pushing it to new limits...so we will probably always have these sorts of annoyances.

What are YOUR Pains In The Ass?  And are they worse in RL, or in SL?