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!
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 512 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.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Facelights, Revisited

Long ago, I wrote a tutorial about facelights.  It's still valid, but since Second Life implemented the Advanced Lighting Model*, there are three things to add about facelights:

1) The new lighting model makes most facelights look a LOT brighter than they used to.  If you are using an old-style facelight, there's a good chance that you look like a walking supernova to anyone using the new and improved lighting model.

2) The new lighting model improves the look of avatars even without facelights, to the point that many people think they're totally unnecessary.  They have a point, but I take a more middle of the road view; I think that a modest facelight still has a place.  The key word here is "modest"!

3) The new lighting model introduces a new type of light, projectors.  Projectors can throw light in a specific direction, like a spotlight, instead of spreading it in all directions.  Plus, projectors can use a texture to act as a "virtual gobo".  A gobo is the term lighting technicians use for an opaque sheet placed in front of a light, with various cutouts in the sheet to cause the light to form a desired pattern.

My friend and fellow blogger Nalates Urriah created a facelight using the new projector light.  She both sells a ready-made and very inexpensive one, and shows you how to make your own in this post on her blog: 

*Find the control to turn on the Advanced Lighting Model in your viewer's Preferences, in the Graphics tab.

Monday, December 25, 2017

A Christmas Surprise

Merry Christmas, gentle readers!

If you read these pathetic little offerings of mine about Second Life you may also be a fan, as I am, of the incredibly talented and prolific SL blogger Strawberry Singh.  She offers a continual stream of informative reviews and videos of Second Life products, especially mesh heads and bodies.

A short time ago, Linden Lab informed her that she was in violation of their trademark policy and demanded the removal of some material showing part of the Second Life sign-up process.

She, and a lot of fans of both her blog and Second Life, thought that this was an extremely heavy-handed application of LL's policy.

Well, as we all know, Linden Lab seldom communicates...and when they do, they usually manage to further confuse the issue.  But this time, the Lab surprised all of us with a little Christmas present...they admitted they were wrong, and publicly apologized!

Here's a link to their post:

And here's a link to Strawberry's blog.  If you aren't a reader already, you should be!

Kudos to the folks at Linden Lab for handling this in absolutely the right way.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Can You be Raped in Second Life?

Every now and again, this question comes up.  For example, there's a thread with exactly that title on the SL Answers forum, Can You be Raped in Second Life .

In a similar vein, another resident started a very long forum debate about whether LL should continue to allow very violent and explicit activities.  She was specifically concerned about a group whose purpose is to roleplay "snuff" sex, scenarios in which a victim is slowly killed during the act of sex.

There are a number of very dark scenarios that can be played out in SL.  Slavery, rape, murder, kidnapping and torture, involuntary body alteration, even Dolcett (an innocuous term for the rather horrid practice of sexual cannibalism.) 

But the only form of kink that LL explicitly forbids is "sexual ageplay," situations in which an adult avatar has cyber sex with a child avatar, or an avatar with a childlike appearance and manner.

There are two schools of thought in any debate on these matters.  One school says, "It's only pixels on a screen.  It's roleplay.  People can use it to explore their darker sides without harming anyone, so maybe it's even beneficial."  In short, they are on the side of maximum freedom of expression for everyone.

The other school of thought says, "It's like a gateway drug.  Repeated exposure to horrors makes us indifferent, when we should be outraged.  Those who indulge in such things on screen may go on to commit actual crimes in Real Life."  They are in favor of establishing some sort of moral code, and not permitting behavior that violates those moral principles.

Early in my Second Life, I was "raped."  I had just discovered how to edit attachments, and I was standing on a pose stand in a public location, making some tweaks to my jewelry.  Suddenly, another avatar jumped on my back and started humping me, all the while whispering filthy statements in my ear.  I was paralyzed with fright...what was going on!?  After a short time, he jumped off and disappeared.  I finally remembered to log off, and I shook for what seemed like about an hour afterwards.  Of course, it was only pixels on a screen.  There was no physical harm done.  Nevertheless, I felt violated.  I felt shame, and helpless anger.

Whether or not you see a situation as "just pixels on a screen" or it arouses deep feelings in you depends on your sense of "immersion."  Immersion is the term we use to describe the feeling that many people get in virtual worlds like SL, a sense that you are really there, that you ARE your avatar.  Gamers, for example, while they may be intensely concentrating on game play, are generally not immersed.  If their character "dies," they don't feel devastated...just a bit frustrated at the need to go back and re-do that level again.  On the other hand, when I was "raped" I was immersed.  It produced a real reaction...not as strong as if I had been raped in Real Life, but still.

Experienced Second Life residents develop an ability to turn this sense of immersion on or off at will.  If they are in a romantic situation with a partner, immersion is good; in fact, it's the thing that makes cyber-sex so popular.  If they're dealing with a griefer attack, they un-immerse; they stand back a bit emotionally and deal with the situation.

So a sense, you CAN be raped in Second Life.  You can be affected emotionally by things that happen to you in a virtual world, at least until you develop the ability to separate yourself, to step away from what is happening and remember that "you" are not really there, you're sitting behind your monitor in your room.

Does that mean that we should prohibit rape roleplay, or any of the other kinks I mentioned at the start of this post?  I don't have the answer to that.  It must be one which we, as a society, reach by consensus.  Generally, I am in favor of the most freedom for the greatest number of people, so I would probably say, "no, we should allow it" even if some of those activities disgust me.  But those who argue that such things desensitize us, or make it more likely the participants will go on to even worse things also may have a point.  The most I can say now is, if everyone would work harder on developing their own better natures and wrestling their own inner demons into submission, we'd all probably be better off.

Friday, November 24, 2017

We Love Your Comments!

I love getting comments on my posts, I really do.  It assures me that somebody out there is actually listening.  Unfortunately, when I made the blog open for comments from everyone, I got a LOT of spam comments.  For that reason, I have limited comments to people who actually Follow this blog. 

That doesn't mean I don't want to hear from you!  Please Follow me, and feel free to leave me a comment.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Another long-standing problem fixed

For many years now, people have complained about the Transaction History feature of Second Life.  The complaint usually takes the form of, "I bought something a couple of months ago and I need to provide proof of purchase to the creator.  But my Transaction History only goes back 30!"

But there is no help in this situation.  Your Marketplace History goes back all the way to your very first Marketplace purchase...but unless you are in the habit of saving your Transaction History as a spreadsheet every month, there was no way to get information on your transactions in world further back than a month.

Until now, that is.  Linden Lab has recently increased the amount of data stored in your Transaction History to THREE months.  Now you can review up to 90 days' worth of data!  However, this only applies if you are a Premium member.  Basic members continue to be limited to 30 days.

If you run a Second Life business, or are just the anal retentive type, you will still want to download and save your transaction data...but at least now you only have to do it once a quarter!

Kudos to the good folks at Linden Lab for this small but useful improvement.  They keep adding little goodies to a Premium membership.  Many of them are small benefits, but they do add up.