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Thursday, July 26, 2018

FLASH! InWorldz Closing!

Sad news today.  The popular OpenSim-based virtual world, InWorldz, is closing due to financial problems.

They aren't exactly broke, but they have been getting a serious runaround from PayPal.  Here's the full explanation of what's going on:  https://inworldz.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/360007381013-State-of-InWorldz

If you have regions or inventory on the InWorldz grid, you should read the above and follow Rachel's instructions on how to wind up your affairs there.


Thursday, July 5, 2018

Second Life in the Fast Lane

Today's post is about speeding up the performance of Second Life!

Lots of people who are familiar with computer games get frustrated by SL, because its performance is typically a lot worse than the games they're used to.  The main reason for this is that SL needs to download content almost continuously...while most games download a whole level's worth of content to your hard drive, where it can be accessed quickly.

You do have a cache for SL though.  Three of them, in fact, for your inventory, for textures that make up the world around you, and for audio.  If you have enough hard drive space, you can increase the size available for the textures cache to almost 10 GB.  Unless you go to new places constantly, this will help your performance.

If you are a builder, or even just decorate your own spaces, you can improve performance by limiting the number of high resolution textures (1024 x 1024 pixels) you use.  It doesn't take very many of these before your graphics card starts to complain.  I try to keep the textures I use to 512 x 512 or less, especially when I'm texturing very small objects.  Many tiny things can do just fine with 64 x 64 textures.

You can limit your draw distance, and turn off or turn down other options in your viewer's Graphics preferences tab.  If you can't afford to upgrade your computer or your internet connection, this may be your only option.  If you have to, don't be afraid to trade off pretty graphics for the ability to walk and communicate!

You can pay more for a higher bandwidth Internet connection.  Lots of ISPs are offering 100 Mb/sec, or even 1 Gb/second connections.  If you have gigabit internet, don't throttle it when it gets to your house...use a Gigabit router, and Cat 6 cables.  Even if you don't have that much bandwidth, don't use WiFi...connect your computer to your local network with an ethernet cable.

You can get a better graphics card.  There are three major graphics solutions:  Nvidia, ATI/AMD Radeon, and Intel.  Intel's solutions are not stand-alone graphics cards, they are "integrated graphics" that are designed into the main processing chip of your computer.  Nvidia and Radeon have chip-based solutions too, but they also make stand-alone graphics cards.  Any of these three major systems are capable of running, SL, but (arguably) the best solution is a stand-alone Nvidia GEforce graphics card.  Look for a GTX 970 or better.  As of this writing, cryptocurrency miners have driven up the prices of top-of-the-line graphics cards, but weakening cryptocurrency prices may turn that around soon (I hope!)

If you are still using a spinning hard disk drive in your computer, get a solid state drive (SSD)!  You can keep the old drive for storing images, old documents, music and videos...but put your operating system, your software programs, and your SL cache files on the SSD.  If your motherboard supports it with an M.2 slot, the new NVME type of SSDs are even faster than the kind that hook up with a SATA cable.  An SSD will make your computer feel like a brand new machine.

The price of RAM (the main memory in your computer) is also high these days, but adding more RAM to your machine can improve its performance, especially if you set aside some of it for a RAM drive.  A RAM drive is just a small piece of software that makes a part of your RAM act like a very, very fast hard drive.  I tried this with a freeware program called Soft Perfect RAM Disk, and put my Firestorm viewer and its cache on a RAM drive.  The performance boost was amazing!  I more than doubled my frames-per-second at ground level in most locations.  I have 32 GB of RAM, and allocated about 6 GB to the RAM drive.  You can download this software from Major Geeks.

Don't put anything you can't afford to lose on a RAM disk, though.  Even if you set it up to "image"...that is, download itself to your hard drive before your computer shuts down, and reload itself from that image when you start up...it's still less reliable than an actual disk drive.

I hope some of these tips will give you a better Second Life!




Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Free Games!

As most of you know by now, I rent out condos and homes in Second Life.  My philosophy is, I provide the home and prim allowance, and the tenant provides the furnishings and makes his or her or their own fun.

My friend and neighbor, Geetaraa, takes a different approach.  She's always re-doing her build, and always with a view toward giving visitors to her land a fun time.  I've written about her before in this blog, when I told you about her amusement park

That's now been replaced.  Gee has a sky platform with over twenty games...board games, arcade games, games of skill, games of chance.  She's got pool, and bowling, and dozens of other amusements.  All of them are free to play!

It's people like Gee who make SL what it is...people who want to share the wonder
and the sheer fun of our virtual world with others, with no thought of "what's in it for me?"

So grab a couple of friends and go for an evening of games!

Gee's Free Games

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Second Life Private Regions Price Cut!

Linden Lab continues their policy of reducing the cost of virtual land in Second Life, a move that residents have been requesting for years.  Last Wednesday, they announced new, lower costs for private regions, both the initial setup fee and the ongoing monthly land fee.

When I joined SL in 2007, it cost $1,000 USD to purchase a new private region from Linden Lab, and a fee of $295 per month to maintain the region thereafter.  Some time back, LL reduced that setup fee to $600, but private regions still remained out of reach for many people.

The new setup fees are $349 USD for a full region, $149 for a Homestead region.  Openspace regions will no longer be available.  (Homesteads and Openspaces are regions with reduced prim allowances and reduced maximum avatar capacities.)

Monthly land fees drop from $295 to $249 for full regions, and from $125 to $109 per month for Homesteads.  Existing Openspace regions drop from $75 to $60 per month.

The bad news:  LL has to do something to offset the loss in revenue.  Some, it's hoped, will be made up by increased interest in private region ownership.  But LL is also increasing the transaction fee for buying $L from the current $0.99 to $1.49.  All this takes effect July 2, so if you are putting off buying $L, now is a good time to stock up.  If you were thinking of adding Openspace water regions to your private estate, you have a narrow window for that, too!

Read the official announcement from LL here: https://community.secondlife.com/blogs/entry/2375-another-15-for-15-lower-land-prices-and-reduced-set-up-fees/

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Phone Support for Second Life

Well, I have a bit of bad news for Second Life users outside the USA.

Recently, my friend LittleMe Jewell noticed that the list of Billing Support phone numbers for SL had been changed.  Instead of the old list...

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: 0800-086-9081
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

...the website now lists only the number for the US.

Toll-Free (US/Canada): 800.294.1067
Long-Distance: 703.286.6277
    
Our Billing team is available from 9am to 6pm EST(6am to 3pm PST), Monday through Friday.

 
I called Billing to ask them about this.  I was told that yes, LL had recently changed their support system.  All support is now US-based.

As before, only billing related questions are handled over the phone.  For technical issues, either use Live Chat (if you're a Premium member) or submit a Support Case.

There is one other phone number, though.  If your account is compromised...if, for example, you've fallen for a phishing scam and someone's changed your password...or if you fell for some other scam and all your $L have vanished...you can call the Fraud Hotline at 800-860-6990.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Coincidence?

Yesterday, I wrote a post titled "Bank Statements."

Today, my blog stats show four times more page views than the average, mostly from Russia.

Kinda makes me want to go change all my passwords.

(My post wasn't really about bank statements, comrades.  And it contained no personal information.  Sorry.)

(Мой пост был не совсем о банковских заявлениях, товарищи. И он не содержал личной информации. Извините.)

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Bank Statements

Well, not exactly, but sorta.

Every so often, we need to check on some transaction, though.  Maybe you bought something in a store in Second Life, and the product wasn't delivered.  Or you bought something on the SL Marketplace, and need to contact the seller about something.  Or your credit card got charged by Linden Lab, and you don't understand why.

This is where it helps to have some sort of record of the transaction.  In Second Life, such records are found in three places.

The record I use most often is my "$L Transaction History."  You can find this on your Second Life Dashboard page.  Click the Account link in the upper left, and then "$L Transaction History."  There are some controls here that will help you find the transaction you are looking for:
  • The "Show $L0 Transactions" box.  This is checked by default.  If checked, it will show every time you were sent a landmark or a picture by someone, or gave someone something.
  • The Date Range boxes.  You can set these to cover a range of dates, if you aren't sure exactly when a transaction happened.
  • Filters.  You can add filter terms to, for example, show only transactions with a specific resident.
$L Transaction History

Note that this history only goes back 32 days (90 days for Premium members.)  If you need to find transactions older than that, you're out of luck.

However, you can download and save this data as a CSV (comma separated values) file.  This can be put into an Excel spreadsheet.  If you are a merchant, or even if you just want to have records that go farther back than a month, you may want to make a habit of doing this on a regular basis.

There's one drawback to this history file.  If you bought something on the Second Life Marketplace, it shows the person you paid as "Commerce Linden".  If you want to contact the seller of the product, this is not too helpful!

So, we turn to the next transaction history tool.  You can go to the Marketplace page, then click My Marketplace/Account/Order History.  This will open up a list of all your Marketplace purchases.  Unlike the main $L Transaction History, this list goes all the way back to the first thing you ever bought on the Marketplace.  Sadly, there is no way to sort or filter this list, so you may have to do a LOT of scrolling if the item you want was purchased a long time ago.

Marketplace Transactions


Sometimes, the transaction is one we made directly with Linden Lab:  a payment for land tier fees, or a Premium membership renewal.  You can find a history of these transactions on your Dashboard page, under Account.  Click Account, then "Account History/Statements".  You can select any month to view.  The statement will cover not only Premium dues and land fees, but purchases and sales of $L.
Monthly Account Statement
You can download and save these statements as either CSV or PDF files, but I don't see much of a need to do that.  Statements remain available all the way back to when you signed up for SL.

I hope your Second Life is carefree and happy.  But now, if you ever run into a money question, you know where to look!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

FLASH! Preparations for Second Life's 15th Birthday are Underway!

SL15B's website is live and applications for performers, exhibitors, helpers and bloggers are now being taken.  Be a part of this annual week-long, grid-wide event!

Ha.  Calling it an "event" is like calling the extinction of the dinosaurs a "minor change in climate".  This is the Big One, a whole week of events!  Plus eight or nine regions jammed full of exhibits showcasing the talents and creativity of Second Life's residents!  It's  the World Fair of virtual worlds.

Fifteen years is a Crystal Anniversary, and so that's this year's theme, "Crystal".

Check it out here: http://www.slcommunitycelebration.info/

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Replacements and Alternatives to Second Life

Second Life is the oldest, biggest, most diverse and most successful virtual world in existence.  But ever since about Day Two of Second Life, people have been predicting The End Of SL.  Despite the Rants of Doom, though, SL continues to soldier on; aging, a bit clunky, and increasingly a collection of old and newer technologies kludged together.  Today, we'll take a brief look at some other virtual worlds that (some people) claim will replace SL.

OpenSim.
OpenSim is an open source alternative to Second Life.  You can download the OpenSim software and run it on your local computer, creating a region, or even several regions, that you can access with a number of Second Life viewers.  You can even give other people the address of your little virtual world and they can visit it.
http://opensimulator.org/wiki/Main_Page

OSGrid.
OSGrid is one implementation of OpenSim.  If you set up an account there, you can use OpenSim to create region(s) on your computer, and link them to OSGrid so that they show up on its world Map.  For better performance or reliability, you can rent server space and host your regions on a commercial server.
https://www.osgrid.org/

There are any number of other virtual worlds like OSGrid, based on OpenSim.  You can use an analog of SL's teleportation to travel from one to the other.  Collectively, they're known as the "Hypergrid." Members of the Hypergrid are known as "open worlds"; you can exchange content from one to another of them.  In contrast, SL is a "closed world".  You cannot teleport to it from another Hypergrid location.

There are a few problems however.  For one thing, the software they're based on, OpenSim, is basically a reverse-engineered Second Life.  It contains all of SL's problems, plus a few of its own.  Being open source, it's not updated as often or as comprehensively as SL, and the updates often introduce bugs of their own.  But the biggest problem is the economy.  There is nothing like the Linden Dollar, although some of the grids have their own currencies.  As a result, almost no one is creating content for these virtual worlds.  And so, almost nobody goes there.  I just now looked at the grid stats for OSGrid.  There are a total of 5,980 regions, and a total of 77 people on line.

IMVU.
This virtual world is nearly as big and diverse as SL.  It has its own currency, and you can create and sell content.  Avatars can look as realistic as in SL.  However, it has a number of significant differences, and I see them as deficiencies.  You can't walk or fly in IMVU...you use local teleporting to hop from one pose spot to another.  There is no actual "land"...there are only "rooms".  While a "room" may be set up to resemble an outdoor space, it's not connected to any other space or room in a physical sense.  You go from one room to another by teleporting only.  IMVU doesn't have the age limitations of SL, so there are a lot of kids, pre-teens, and teenagers there.  It's largely advertising-supported, so if you create an account, expect to receive a ton of email ads.
https://secure.imvu.com/welcome/ftux/

Red Light Center.
This world is very similar to SL, but is even more focused on Adult content.  In fact, one might say that it's All About the Pronz.  Red Light Center has a virtual currency, and a creator community.  It has also adopted VR technology, unlike SL.  I've met people who owned and operated clubs there.  If your focus is on virtual sex, this may be the world for you, but a constant diet of porn quickly becomes old, at least for me.
https://www.redlightcenter.com/vr/  (CAUTION:  Link is NSFW.)

Blue Mars.
This was widely touted as the "next Second Life."  But it never really got off the ground, and has been dead and gone for years.

High Fidelity.
This replacement virtual world was created by Philip Rosedale, the inventor of Second Life.  The idea was to make a virtual reality that was much more "real" than SL, and to make your avatar within it much more like the "real you."  While I have seen videos of people using VR equipment like Oculus Rift headsets and hand controllers, and watched their on-screen avatars moving in response to their Real World motions, I think the avatars themselves, and the world around them, are anything BUT "high fidelity."  The world and the people in it look closer to Minecraft than to reality.  It's currently in beta, and you can try it out.
https://highfidelity.com/started

Sansar.
This is a new virtual world, or more precisely, a network of virtual worlds, created by Linden Lab itself.  Like High Fidelity, it's designed from the outset to make use of VR technology.  The content is all Mesh...none of those clunky Second Life prims.  While some of the environments created by users are fascinating and highly detailed, Sansar is still very buggy and has a LONG way to go before it contains even a fraction of the content and variety of Second Life.  In addition, Sansar is not really aimed at the SL community of users.  It's more for people who want to build a VR environment as a part of, or a supplement to, a web site.  It's unclear, still, how its business model and internal economy will ultimately work.  It will probably never have the huge community of anonymous users that SL enjoys.  You can explore Sansar here:
https://www.sansar.com/

Once the kinks in VR get worked out, and we figure out how to use it to interact with our online simulations in a really effective way, something like High Fidelity or Sansar may replace Second Life.  But I think we still have a LONG way to go before we really get there.  In the meantime, enjoy your Second Life!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

A Look Ahead, from Linden Lab

Recently, I've been talking about the many improvements Linden Lab has been making to Second Life.  Things have gotten cheaper, faster, and prettier.

Today, LL set out their plans for this year, which marks the 15th year of Second Life.  Some of the improvements, like the decreased tier cost of Mainland and the increase in the tier-free mainland allotment for Premium members, are already here.  Others we'll see in the months ahead.

One of the announcements that I am MOST excited about is that we will be able to wear clothing layers...the old style baked on avatar skins, tattoos, and clothing...on mesh avatars!  I am SO glad I didn't purge all my old clothes from my inventory.

And last names are returning!  I don't know how LL plans to implement this.  I do hope it's not as clumsy as the Display Name system, though.

One that scares me a little is that Experiences will be made active grid-wide.  That is, if someone creates an Experience (maybe some form of role play scenario, or a hunt game), it can be active everywhere, not just on one land parcel or region.  Depending on the Experience, this could be a problem for a lot of landowners...but LL says that individual land owners can disable such things on their own land, so perhaps it'll be OK.

There's lots of other stuff.  I'm not going to list them all here.  Go read Ebbe Linden's official blog post for yourself!

https://community.secondlife.com/blogs/entry/2328-happy-15th-birthday-second-life-fifteen-reasons-to-celebrate/

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Virtual Land Just Got Cheaper

Hello, gentle readers!

A few posts back, I mentioned that Linden Lab has been gradually increasing the attractiveness of a Premium membership by adding more benefits.

This week, they went farther.  For all the time I've been in Second Life, the price of Mainland has not changed, and people have always complained about how it's too expensive.  LL has finally responded, in two important ways.

First, they've dropped the monthly tier fees by about 10%.  Here's the new table:


So now, Mainland is less expensive.  When you combine that with the increased ability of land to support objects, it's now a LOT more affordable to have nice things in SL.  This should make creators, and those who just like to have a nice place to live in Second Life, very happy!

But that's not all.  LL also increased the amount of Mainland that you can own BEFORE you have to pay any tier.  Up until now, you could own 512 square meters, and not pay any monthly fee for it (aside from Premium dues, of course).  That figure has now doubled; you can own up to 1,024 square meters, tier-free!  That will give you a prim limit of 350.

The size of the parcels that the free Linden Homes are on appears to be unchanged.  At least for now, those homes will still be on 512 sq. m. parcels, with a prim limit of 175.

The new limits also mean that if you want a Horizons Home, you won't have to pay tier on it.

The only downside to this that I can see is for us landlords.  While we will pay about 10% less for our land (yay!) we will also be faced with an increased number of residents who are happy with a 1024 sq. m. parcel and 350 prims.  This may lead to a decrease in demand for rental property.

See the official announcement here: https://community.secondlife.com/blogs/entry/2318-more-land-for-less-money-yes-please-lower-prices-and-double-tier-allotment-on-mainland/


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Those Ultrawide Monitors

You might have seen ads or reviews for them...ultrawide monitors with an aspect ratio of 21:9.  These are touted as being superior in some ways to a multi-monitor setup.  For one thing, there are no monitor bezels breaking up the scene.  And some of them are curved, to produce a more "immersive" experience.

Dual Monitor Set-up
Ultrawide Curved Monitor
I recently got one of these puppies...a Dell 38" Ultrasharp monitor.  It's big, and it's lovely.  It has about 3/4 of the actual screen real estate of my previous 27" dual monitor set-up, and it's the same screen height and pixel size as the 27" monitors.  I don't miss the small piece of real estate that I gave up, because it was outside my peripheral vision anyway, whereas I can see ALL of the 38" monitor.  The curved screen does not appear to introduce any distortion, and it does make for a bit more of an immersive effect.  Not only that, but I get a lot more effective screen real estate in SL, because I always kept SL on my primary monitor only...both because of the bezels, and because SL can produce some strange glitches when you try to extend it onto a second monitor.

But, I have to tell you, gentle readers, that there is one big gotcha that none of the reviewers seem to mention.  A lot of games, including Second Life, have a built-in edge distortion.  That is, things at the edges of your screen are stretched horizontally, at any aspect ratio other than 1:1, a square image.  You can actually see this on your regular old 16:9 monitor, although I had never been bothered by it before.

But on the ultrawide monitor, it's much more apparent.  Circles become definite ovals if they're off to either side of the screen. as shown by the screenshot below.  All of those prims are identical spheres!
Distortion!
I tried looking at SL using different resolutions and aspect ratios.  While a less-wide image shows less edge distortion, it is still present...and it's present, also, on "regular" monitors.  UI windows and buttons,menu bars and HUD controls on the screen are not affected.  It's only the view of the Second Life world itself that's distorted.  It's not the ultrawide monitor that is to blame, it's the design of the SL viewer itself...and other similar games that exhibit the same distortion.

It's time to write to your viewer developers and tell them it's time they took a...wider view.





Monday, January 8, 2018

Premium Benefits Creep

Happy New Year, gentle readers!  Today's post is on an upbeat note.  Usually, when one talks about "creep" in a program, it's bad.  For example, "requirements creep"...the continuing changing and adding of new performance requirements to a design project...can lead to enormous cost growth.  "Schedule creep" is another bad thing in projects; it's the tendency of things to always take longer than planned.

But today I want to talk about the almost-unnoticed "benefits creep" that's been taking place in the Second Life Premium membership program.  Bit by bit, Linden Lab has been adding new benefits for Premium members.  I'll review them in a moment, but first let's talk about cost.

A Premium membership can be paid for on a monthly basis, or you can save money by paying quarterly or annually.  The costs are:

  • Monthly:  $9.50 per month (down from $9.95/mo.)
  • Quarterly: $22.50 per quarter.  LL often puts this plan on sale for half price for the first quarter.
  • Annually: $72.00 per year.
You save money on the quarterly plan, and even more on the annual plan.  However, if you think you will want to cancel your Premium membership any time soon, stick to the monthly plan; Linden Lab will not issue you a refund for any unused time.

Also, keep track of your payment due dates.  LL will bill your payment method automatically to renew your membership, unless you step in and cancel your membership before the due date.

And make sure your payment method is still good.  If your credit card expires and LL can't charge it, you could find yourself in a delinquent status.  If that goes on too long, your account may be canceled.

Now, on to the benefits!
  • $L300 weekly stipend, paid every Tuesday.
  • $L1,000 one-time bonus, paid after you've been a Premium member for 45 consecutive days.
  • A free Linden Home.  These are located in Mainland "subdivisions".  Maturity rating is M.  Homes are on 512 m2 parcels, and have a land impact capacity ("prim count" for you old-timers) of 175.  (The prims of the house don't count against the parcel's capacity, a nice little bonus.)
  • Or if you don't care for a Linden Home, you get free tier on the first 1024 m2 of Mainland you purchase.
  • Access to a higher level of technical support.  If you have inventory issues that you can't fix yourself with the usual procedures, this can be very useful.
  • Access to Live Chat for faster response to support requests.
  • Premium gift items.  LL issues these on an irregular schedule.  The latest is the "Glytch Bus", LL's take on the 1960's Volkswagen Van.
  • Access to Premium-only sandboxes.  This cuts way down on the chances of griefers bothering you when you are building.
  • Access to certain Premium-only regions, such as the Premium Wilderness adventure, Magellan's Grid Hunt, and Racer's Gulch.
  • Free voice morphing.  (Basic members pay a subscription fee for this service)
  • Increased number of groups.  You can belong to as many as 60 groups, vs. 42 for Basic members.
  • Better access to crowded events.  Basic members are told that "the region is full" if it has 100 people there...but Premium members can get in until the region reaches 110 avatars.
  • Better $L Transaction History.  Basic members can see transactions for the last 30 days.  Premium members can see up to 90 days of their transactions.
  • Higher "cap" on offline messages.  Basic members' IMs are capped at 25.  Premium members get 50 IMs and notices before they're capped.
In my view, the annual Premium subscription is a stone bargain.  You get all the above for $72.00 per year...that's just $6.00 per month.