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Monday, January 30, 2012

It's not a "Room"!

Lately, we've been getting a lot of immigrants from IMVU, Sony's virtual world.  There, the world consists of "rooms", which may be public or private...and may not look like a room at all, but more like a bit of the outdoors.

People from IMVU are coming to SL, thinking that our world works the same way...and this can result in them making costly mistakes.  Yesterday, someone posted on the SL forums that she'd bought a "room" and wanted to know "how to make it public so my friends can come to it".

What she had bought was a HOUSE...a rather large mansion, in fact.  What she didn't realize was that she would also need land to put the house on...a rather large and expensive piece of land, too...at least 1/8 region.

IMVU players, listen up!  Second Life has no "rooms".  It has "regions", also called "simulators" or "sims" for short.  The regions are the grid squares that you see on the main Map.  Regions are generally open to the public, unless the region owner takes special steps to achieve more or less privacy.  Most regions are subdivided into smaller parcels, which are owned or rented by residents for their homes and businesses.

While we do teleport from region to region, much as you went from room to room in IMVU, if regions share a border, you can also simply walk from one to the next, just like walking from one county to the next in Real Life.

Get those "rooms" out of your head, and welcome to the somewhat more realistic world of Second Life.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Land, Part I

You don't have to own land in Second Life to have fun.  But owning (or renting) a little bit of the virtual world, where you can have your own private (well, mostly) little retreat can add a lot to your enjoyment of SL.  I have owned land since very early in my Second Life.  There was one brief period where I was "between homes" and I felt very uncomfortable.  I guess I don't take well to being rootless.

I like having land, with enough square meters and free prims that I can be creative whenever I want.  I like having a pretty home, where I can invite guests to sit and chat.  In fact, I like having more than that...I like having enough land that I can rent some of it out to other residents.  I like having neighbors that are also friends.  My tenants have a stake in our shared land, and I like the feeling of community that comes from that.

Maybe I am just projecting my own personal preferences, but I think that anyone who really "gets" Second Life is eventually going to want some land of her own.  So let's talk about land!

Land is the ground basis (sorry about the pun) of the Second Life economy.  You have to have land in order to bring objects into the world and have them remain there.  Land supports prims.  The more land you have (in any given region) the more prims you can have there.  A 512 square meter parcel can have up to 117 prims on it.  That's enough to build and furnish a very modest home, if you choose your objects carefully.  A full region, 65,536 square meters, can have up to 15,000 prims.   Linden Lab charges between $195 -- $295 USD per month for a full region.  Those basic facts are what drive the SL economy.  Businesses, whether stores selling content or land barons renting out parcels, must make enough money to cover their monthly land costs to Linden Lab (with enough left over, hopefully, to show a profit.)

There are lots of ways to own land.  Perhaps the simplest is to buy a Premium membership and apply for a free Linden Home.  There are four different styles you can choose from, and if you get tired of one, you can abandon it and get another.  The Linden Homes are on small parcels (512 square meters), and you only have 117 prims to play with.  But, unlike other 512 m2 plots, the prims of the house itself don't count against your 117 prim allowance.  Although the houses are jammed close together, you can use ban lines and parcel visibility restrictions to gain a measure of privacy.  My major objections to them are that 1) the regions they are on are so crowded that they tend to be very laggy, and 2) there are a lot of restrictions on what you can build there.  No skyboxes, no stores or clubs, and you can't modify the home itself.  About all you can do is decorate the interior.  But even with the limitations, a Linden Home is a good way to get an introduction to land ownership in Second Life.

You can read more about Linden Homes here.  http://community.secondlife.com/t5/English-Knowledge-Base/Linden-Home-overview/ta-p/700103

That's it for Part 1.  In Part 2, we'll talk about Mainland.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Ghosted!

It seems that no matter how often Linden Lab squashes a bug, sooner or later it comes back again.  The latest one is the old problem of "ghosted" avatars.

By this, I don't mean that your avatar looks like a cloud.  That's a different problem -- while you may look like a ghostly cloud of vapor, the technical term for it is "bake fail".  Your textures have not downloaded successfully.

Ghosting is another matter.  You crash, or log out.  Then the next time you go to log in, you get an error message:  "The system is logging you out.  Please try again in a few minutes."  If you keep getting this message after two or three tries, you are ghosted.  Your avatar is still in world, but your computer isn't connected to her.  This is a very frustrating phenomenon.  People can go to where you last logged out, and your avatar is there...just unresponsive.  And you can't get back in.

Linden Lab claimed to have fixed this problem, back before Christmas.  But this week, it's resurfaced.  There is a Grid Status report on it here:  http://status.secondlifegrid.net/2012/01/28/post1553/

If the suggestion there (logging into a different region than the one you left) does not work, there are a couple of other things you can try.

1.  Log in with a different account (an alt).  Pay your ghosted account $1L.  This is often enough to break the log jam and complete the failed log out.  If you don't have an alt, contact a friend who can get in world and try the same trick.

2.  Contact Support.  If you are a Premium member, you can use Live Chat.  Otherwise, you will have to submit a support ticket.  Links to both can be found here: 
https://support.secondlife.com/contact-support/

There has also been a JIRA (a bug report) filed on it.  You can see that here: 
https://jira.secondlife.com/browse/SVC-7634

Friday, January 27, 2012

Hey, Gang! Let's Put On a Show!

It’s a disease.  Got to be.  You go to a club in Second Life.  You see how beautiful it is, you love the music, you have a great time.  You put a tip in the DJ’s tip jar, and one in the club’s donation jar, and when you do, you notice the floating text above them.  “Total contributed, $L2,596.”

"Wow," you say to yourself.  "This place is making a mint!"  And that’s it, you’re infected.  You’ve got Club Fever.  You want to have a fun place of your own, a place where all your friends will come and enjoy themselves.  “And,” you tell yourself, “I’ll get rich and party, all at the same time!”

There’s no doubt about it, Second Life clubs ARE fun.  And with a bit of luck (well, a truckload of luck), they can make money.  I just finished building a very nice ballroom-type club, and we had a terrific opening night, danced our feet off, and both the performer and the club made a nice evening’s profit.  Watch for “Ava’s Gardens” in Events and come check us out! (Shameless plug.)

A few quiet minutes before Opening Night

But before you start shopping for dance balls and tip jars, I want to inject you with a healthy dose of Reality.  The reality is, clubs are a heck of a lot of work, and the old adage about boats (“a hole in the water into which you throw money”) applies to them.

Like anything else in Second Life, building and running a club should only be done if it’s something you love doing.  Don’t go into it expecting to make a bundle of money, and be sure that you understand that the club’s not going to run itself*.  It’s going to take a lot of your time.  A lot.  Empty clubs don’t attract many customers.  Guess who’s going to be spending most of her time there?  Look in the mirror.  You will be managing groups, writing ads, interviewing DJs and performers, creating event listings.  Your friends are going to threaten to mute you if you send them one more spammy notice to “come on down!”

What makes a good club?  A lot of things go into it.  The build itself has to be not only attractive, but distinctive.  You want people to see things that they don’t see in a hundred other places in SL.  Having a theme will limit your choices in some ways, but it can also give you a framework to build on.  You might want a casual, sawdust-on-the-floor country and western place, or a swanky, glittery ballroom.  Or a biker bar, or a futuristic spaceport tourist trap, or a perpetual beach party, or a hall in a great castle…the only limits are your imagination and your budget.

You need places to sit and chat, as well as a dance floor.  You need a place for your DJ or performer(s).  You need dances.  Not just any old freebie dances – you need quality dances that make people look good.  You need enough variety that people can find a dance to match any music tempo or mood.  You need both couples and singles dances.  You will probably want to add other ways for your customers to have fun, too…maybe some gaming tables, or other games like Trivia, Truth or Dare, or a sploder ball.  You could have an area outside for strolling, or upstairs rooms for more privacy.  Some places combine a shopping area with a club.  Bogart’s was the first place like this I encountered…you had to pass by a lot of stores selling gowns, tuxes, shoes, and jewelry to get from the arrival point to the club proper.  It was a clever move…someone who felt underdressed could easily buy herself a stunning new outfit and be dancing in it a minute later.

You DON’T need a lot of poofers, rotating spotlights, or animated  neon dance floor textures (unless your theme demands them).  This sort of “bling for clubs” can really contribute to lag, and with a crowd of customers all dancing, you are going to want to do whatever you can to keep the lag down.

But even the best build won’t succeed unless it’s a fun place to go…and that means people.  The manager, hostesses, DJs and live performers, to start with.  A great DJ can practically guarantee a club’s success.  You need to find people who other people enjoy being around.  From this core, you build a group of regulars…people who come to your club often.  It’s very difficult at first – but if you get the mix right, it can take off and develop a life of its own in a sort of domino effect.  The very best entertainers already have their own “following.”  If you can get them to play at your place regularly, they’ll bring along a sort of “built in” audience.

What should you pay your performers?  Well, what can you afford?  Some live performers charge the venue a hefty fee for their appearance.  Others will work for tips only…and some of the latter are very talented (I’ll put in another Shameless Plug here for our Opening Night singer, Potlatch Foggarty.  He was amazing!)

It’s the DJ’s job to provide the music and keep the party atmosphere alive.  It’s the hostess’s job to greet people as they arrive, answer questions, solve problems, and remind people to tip the performer and the club if they’re having a good time.  It’s also her job to keep the peace and enforce the club’s policies (unless there is a separate security person to do this).  If you have a lot of staff (exotic dancers, for example), you may also need an on-duty manager.  It’s her job to see that people show up for their shifts and stick to the club’s policies, to hire and fire people, and to referee any employee disputes.

When should your club be “open”?  In one sense, all clubs in SL are open 24/7…but even though you can go there, most of the time the club will be empty.  They only have scheduled events at certain times.  The big name clubs really are open 24/7…they have several shifts of hosts and DJs to keep things going around the clock.  Weekends are when the most people find time for SL, so most clubs are more active on the weekends.  But you have to take your own schedule into account, too.  Timing is everything…you have to be open when most of your customers and potential customers are on line, and avoid being open during times when there are no customers to come visit.

Getting the word out about your new club can be very hard.  Of course, tell your friends…but you don’t want to push too hard, or you may lose your friends!  List your club in Second Life Events, when you have something actually going on.  Post about your club in the Second Life forums, too.  You can apply to be listed in the Destinations Guide, but Linden Lab decides that, and it can take a long time to happen, if it ever does.  You should take out a Classified ad, and be sure that your club’s parcel is set to “Show in Search”.  You’ll want to form a group for your club; the more people you can get to join it, the more you will be able to easily reach a “target audience”.  (Note:  uncheck the group ability “share group dividends and liabilities” for your rank and file members.  It’s not fair to ask them to share in the cost of your listing fees.)  Put your club in your Profile Picks, and encourage others to put it in theirs.

Most of all, visit some of the successful clubs in Second Life and take a close look at them.  What are they doing right?  Don’t be a copycat, but incorporate ideas that work into your own project.  And when the curtain goes up on opening night…break a leg!

*There's only one place I know that was an exception - the MoonGlow Ballroom.  This dance floor by the sea was completely unattended, and was open for years.  But it appears that even the long-running MoonGlow has succumbed to economic reality.  When I went there today, it was gone.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Pay Up!

You can have a lot of fun in Second Life for a long time without spending money.  But if you stick around, eventually you are going to want to do something that requires a monetary transaction with Linden Lab.  You may want to buy land, or shop for things that cost more $L than you have.  Or, you may be wanting a transaction in the other direction...your Second Life business is booming and you want to take out some of the profits.

You need to register Payment Information with Linden Lab.  We call that PIOF for short...Payment Information On File.  Many people feel that residents who are PIOF are more trustworthy than those who are NPIOF, because they are less likely to be a "throw-away" account.  This isn't fair to the vast majority of NPIOF residents, I know...but accounts used by griefers, scammers, and copybotters are almost always NPIOF.

Linden Lab accepts two forms of payment:  A major credit or debit card tied to a real life billing address, or a verified PayPal account.  LL does not accept most prepaid credit cards or gift cards.  If you can't get a credit card that is accepted by LL, you do have an alternative way of buying $L -- you can use one of the reputable third party web sites that offer this service.  I've used VirWox a few times and had no problems, but there are others.  Here is a somewhat outdated Wiki page listing some of them:  http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Archive/Third_Party_Linden_Dollar_Exchanges.  NEVER buy $L from someone on eBay!  These are very likely to be $L that were purchased with a stolen credit card.  If you buy stolen $L, Linden Lab will take them away from you, and assess you a 50% penalty.

Reputable third party exchanges use the Linden Lab Exchange Risk API.  Using them is safe, but there is a cost.  The best rate for purchasing $L is obtained by using the Lindex...i.e., buying them direct from Linden Lab.  Also, if you need to exchange them for $USD to pay tier or Premium membership fees, there is a small transaction cost.

To use PayPal, you must have a "verified" account -- this means that you give PayPal your bank account number.  The verification process is easy, but does take about five to seven business days.  Once you have set up an account with PayPal, their site explains the verification process.

There are four reasons I prefer PayPal over a credit card:

1.  Some credit card companies have been known to refuse payment to LL; their "fraud meter" kicks in and the transaction is blocked.  It takes a call to your credit card company to get the issue resolved.

2.  Credit cards expire.  You may wind up with a failed transaction because you forgot to update your credit card information with a new expiration date.

3.  By linking your PayPal account to a bank account that is used solely for this purpose, and contains only a few hundred dollars, you can limit your exposure to things like hackers getting your information.

4.  PayPal allows you to make transactions in both directions.  You can sell your excess $L, exchange them for $USD, and transfer that money to your PayPal account.  You can't do that with a credit card.

To add or update payment information on your account, open your Dashboard page, click Account, then Billing Information.  I suggest you do not use the Internet Explorer browser, it can have problems with the Second Life web page.  Use Firefox or another browser.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Build or Buy?


That’s an interesting question!  Second Life is largely user-created.  Everything you see around you, except the basic avatar mesh, the land, water, and sky, has been made by the residents of SL.  The buildings, the plants, the clothing and hair we wear, the vehicles, the animations, and the scripts that make everything work.

And yet, many people in SL don’t make anything.  They buy it instead, from other creators.  Blessings on the consumers, for they make the Second Life economy work!

At the other end of the spectrum, there are some talented individuals who make everything they use in SL themselves.  They build their own homes and design their own clothes.  They create their own animations, and write their own scripts.  Blessings on the creators, for they make Second Life a magical place.

Most of us fall somewhere in the middle.  We make some things, and buy those that we don’t have the skills to make for ourselves.  I make buildings, for example…but I buy scripted parts for them like doors and working curtains, and I buy my clothing.  Other people are good at scripts, or clothing design, but buy prefab houses.

Which brings me to my latest dilemma:  I want a bar for my new club.  I’m certainly good enough to build the basic structure of a bar…it’s mostly just boxes.  And I think I can use textures I already own…either just as they are, or with some modification in Photoshop where needed.  I can probably even manage to script well enough to create a set of menu-driven sit poses for the bar stools.  But…all of this takes time.  And so, I have to ask myself if the hours I would spend creating and texturing and scripting a bar would be worth it?  I found a delightful little wine bar by Blot Brickworks for only $L100…less than fifty cents in “real” money, and there are a ton of multi-pose bar stools on the Marketplace.

Sometimes I decide to go ahead and build something myself.  I do it for the fun of it, and the joy of creation, and even to teach myself new skills.  If I do a really good job, perhaps other people will like my creation enough to buy a copy of it for themselves.  This is the ultimate reward for the creator.  Other times I realize that I simply can’t hope to come close to the result I want, at least with any reasonable investment of time and effort, and turn to other creators.

How about you?  Are you a consumer, or a creator, or a little of both?  If you’re a creator, or aspire to be, here are a couple of places with some great tutorials for you!

The Ivory Tower Library of Primitives (self paced building tutorials)

The Particle Laboratory (tutorials on how to use Particles)


College of Scripting Music and Science (scripting help)

Monday, January 9, 2012

My Kingdom for an Undo

Crap.
Crap, crap, crapcrapcrap.  I did it again.
It's my partner's fault, really.  She bought us an assortment of great new couples dance animations for Christmas.  Once we got them installed in our dance ball, I realized that they deserved a better setting than our tired, down-at-the-heels club build.  So I decided to build us a new one.

Over the weekend, I started the project.  When I build, I tend to sink into a trance-like state and just keep at it, oblivious to the passage of time, for hours.  Saturday, I finally stumbled into bed at about 5 a.m.  Sunday night, somewhere around midnight, I got the thing to a point where it was ready to be lowered to ground level and moved into place.

But I messed up.  Somewhere during the process of trying to select all the prims, and then moving and rotating the assembly into position, I introduced a couple of degrees of rotation in the X-Z and Y-Z planes.  In other words, I tilted the bugger.  And then I didn't notice it until it slowly began to dawn on me that when I moved things from one side of the building to the other, they didn't line up like they should.

A couple of hours of laborious prim-by-prim realignment later, my new club is finally squared up again.
Mostly.  I think.  Except that every so often, I'll notice one bit that I missed.

The building tools have an undo function, CTRL+Z.  Unfortunately, it only works for one level of backpedaling, and sometimes not at all.  If you use the numeric number entry boxes to make your change, there is no undo -- only if you use the movement and sizing handles.

I'm sure that every builder in Second Life would fall down and bow in the direction of San Francisco if only LL would implement a multi-level undo function like Photoshop's...and like every serious content creation tool on my computer, from the word processor to the video editor.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Year in the Life - Second Life

I ran across this really great little machinima piece the other day.  It's on YouTube, and you can watch it here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgNcTxgCMLQ

It's the story of two avatars as they spend a year in Second Life, starting out as clueless noobs and winding up as seasoned residents with a big house.  And, it's a promotional piece by Linden Lab.

For once, I can't find too much to complain about.  In fact, I found myself watching the thing several times (it's less than three minutes long).

Some may say that it's an unrealistic depiction of SL...there's no lag, the avatars exhibit facial expressions and just the right gestures and animations at just the right moments.  It doesn't show any of the typing and mouse clicking and so on that goes on "behind the scenes"...and often detracts from the immersive experience.

But that's the nature of machinima, and of promotional material in general.  What the piece gets right is much more important.  It gives a picture of what SL should be, and in fact, at its best, is.

One of the themes of the video is one that resonates with me -- the idea of passing on what we've learned and helping others.  At the start of the video, Our Hero is given a stylish safari hat by a helpful stranger.  At the end, another clueless noob drops in (literally) on Our Hero's patio...and is given the same hat.

There is no dialog, titling, or narration, only a catchy music track, but the video gets its message across superbly.

The people behind this little gem (or at least the ones shown in the credits) are Pooky Amsterdam and Russell Boyd.  My safari hat's off to you, lady and gentleman!  Well done.

EDIT:  Pooky Amsterdam has a nice website, http://www.pookymedia.com with a lot more machinima and recordings of her "talking heads" show, "The 1st Question".

Liars

There's something that I point out in my "Avatar Safety" class...people tell the most outrageous lies about themselves in Second Life.  This is one reason why some users wish SL was more like FaceBook...they think our avatars should look like our Real Life selves and we should use our Real Life names.

Sometimes, I even think that they have a point.  I mean, I enjoy being a different person in Second Life, and I know others who enjoy being  many different people.  I would not want to be in a "Real Life Only" version of SL.  But the anonymity of user names and malleable avatars also provides an ideal smoke screen for malicious liars and mind-gamers to hide behind.  Let me give you two examples.

The Kid.  A couple of days ago, I got a call from a fellow mentor to come and help a new resident with his Voice settings.  When I arrived on the scene, we were in a shop in a Moderate region of the grid.  However, the other mentor said that when she had first met this newcomer, it was in an Adult sandbox region.  I was able to tell the new resident how to fix his too-loud Voice settings in pretty short order.  However, both of us noticed that he had a very childish-sounding voice.  We called in yet another, more experienced mentor to assist.

Now, I don't like to Abuse Report someone for being under age unless I have solid proof...i.e., an admission of age in IM or local text chat.  There are voice morphing programs, plus some people just have a very deceptive-sounding voice.  It's easy to make a false accusation.  But in this case, it wasn't just a matter of pitch.  This resident didn't sound like a woman, let alone a man...he sounded like a little kid, maybe 10 or 12 years old at the most.  Even worse, his word choice and the way he responded to us was very "child-like".  When we pressed the newcomer for an admission of age, he stopped using voice entirely and switched to text, and when we continued to ask him to admit to being under age, he teleported away or logged off. 

After discussing the matter, the three of us decided to AR him on suspicion of being under-age.  I believe it was the best of a poor set of choices.  Pre-teen children should not (in my opinion) be exposed to the content of Second Life...and should not be allowed to freely masquerade as adults.  The potential for harm, both to the child and to the unsuspecting adults he or she interacts with, is too great.

The Accident Victim.  My second vignette is about an attention seeker.  We'll call him "J.R."  This fellow hung around the White Tiger Help Island area for several days, chatting and making friends.  Then, one day, he showed up with a distressing story.  He was not, he said, J.R.'s usual operator, but a friend of his, and he had come to tell us that the real J.R. had been in a bad auto accident.  He was, we were told, in such severe pain that he'd been put into an induced coma.

This upset some of his new friends a great deal, as you might expect.  I, on the other hand, had heard this story over and over again from other mind-twisters.  This scenario dates back way before Second Life, to the days of internet chat rooms.  The details differ, but the stories all have a striking similarity too...so much so that after you have heard it a few times, you begin to wish that people would be just a little bit more original.

A couple of days later, I happened to run across J.R. in another sim.  I addressed him sardonically, telling him that all his White Tiger friends would be happy to see he'd come out of his induced coma.  He responded with the same story, but with enough holes and twists that it was pretty easy to figure out that is was a story.  Besides, his style of texting was, shall we say, rather unique...full of typos, grammatical errors, and transposed letters.  I am morally certain (though I can't prove it of course) that J.R.'s operator was, in fact, J.R. and not some stand-in.

It's a twisted bid for attention, to tell someone their friend is in trouble, or sick, or dying, or dead.  People like J.R. get their kicks out of sowing emotional upset and mental confusion in their wake.  Very often, cowards use this ploy to get out of an SL relationship they no longer want to be in.  Sometimes, the tale is accompanied by a plea for money.  "All of us at the office are taking up a collection for J.R., and I thought his Second Life friends might like to contribute."

This kind of malicious lying is, in my view, one of the worst sins one can commit in a virtual world.  When we can change everything about ourselves, personal integrity becomes even more important.  I don't want to change SL into FaceBook...but I do wish there were fewer people in it willing to lie to gain an advantage, or go somewhere they should not, or confuse and upset other residents.