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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Evolving the Language

As we introduce new technologies, we come up with new language to describe them.  Think about words like "airfoil" and "slipstream".  A hundred years ago, they did not exist, but now they are in, if not everyday use, at least in common use by people talking about airplanes and aviation technology.  Or all the acronym-laden jargon of the computer age -- RAM, pixels, inkjet, CPU, GB, HDTV, CMOS, SSD.  Old words are dusted off and given new meanings, too.  Consider the humble "mouse", or the word "cache."

Second Life has produced, and continues to produce, new vocabulary of its own.  "Rez", for example.  This term was borrowed from the movie Tron.  It has several meanings:  To create an object in the virtual world -- "Rez a cube and pull up a seat."  Or it can mean dragging something out of your inventory and into the world.  "I rezzed my house."  Or it can mean letting the entire world come into focus around us, or ourselves coming into focus for others, following a teleport to a new location.  "Wait until things have rezzed for you."  "You're still not rezzed for me, darling."  Other terms abound, like lag (not unique to SL, of course), perms (short for permissions), and poseballs.

I like encountering new words, even if they are horrid neologisms.  (Oh, for pity's sake.  Go look it up!)  Recently, I ran into the following:

Script tease - Taking off highly scripted items to reduce lag.

Divafy - Making one's avatar more beautiful.

and my own addition from yesterday, SLeaze -- used to describe an ugly build in Second Life.

What are some of YOUR favorite SL words?

SLeaze

It's not what you think.

One of my penniless newcomer friends (she's not even a week old yet!) called me up tonight, very excited.  She'd gotten a job at a strip club!  And could I come and watch her dance?

I sighed to myself, because I was almost sure what I would find...but I went.  Sure enough, the place was the very definition of Second Life Sleaze.  Now, I don't mean it was sleazy simply because it was a strip club.  I have seen a great many very well-designed and well-executed strip clubs in SL, in every style from posh and swanky to urban grunge.  No, it wasn't the stuff going on there that was sleazy.  But everything about HOW it was presented was just...well, let me just list some shortcomings.

- Terrible music stream.  Yes, I know, tastes differ.  But a strip club should play music that's...well, sexy!  This was not; it was barely even danceable.

- Terrible dances for the strippers.

- Terrible dances for the customers.

- Awful, clashing decor.  The overall impression was that of a retro art deco diner in which someone had planted dance poles.  Harsh, garish colors, clashing tones.  My eyes started to bleed after fifteen minutes there.

- Poor lighting, and poor sight lines.  You couldn't even see the dancers unless you were sitting in one of the chairs next to the poles.

- Poor customer seating.  Each seating position only permitted one person -- there was no way to cuddle with a friend, or even have more than one person watching a given pole.  The poses in the seats were all male too...which was odd, given that this club features both female AND male strippers.

- They hired newbies, and didn't provide any training.  We weren't greeted on our arrival, the dancers didn't have any banter, and when there was any emoting, it was clearly cut-and-pasted emotes from a poorly-written crib sheet.

My partner Cindi summed it up:  "This place is to strip clubs as McDonald's is to restaurants."

It's like Remy the rat chef says in "Ratatouille":  "Sure, anyone CAN cook.  That doesn't mean that anyone SHOULD."  Everyone can be a creator in Second Life...but not everyone can be a GOOD one.

Talent and skill play a part, a large one.  But I also think that one's focus is important.  If you create something for the sake of creating it, because you love the feeling of making something, of bringing an idea in your head into the world for everyone to see, you're more likely to create something good.  If you create something because you think it will make you a lot of money fast, then you're a lot more likely to create SLeaze.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Fun?

I had another late night encounter last night.  I popped into the Adult Infohub at Oritz, to see what the Sex Maniacs were up to.

Apparently, not too much.  I didn't spy any Wild Orgies going on.  But, while I was looking about, a relatively new person came up to me and opened an IM.  Apparently, he didn't speak much English.  His come-on was a model of wit, tact, and brevity though.  He said merely,

"Fun?"

I said, "No, but thank you for asking".  There was a lengthy pause, and he replied,

"Sadly"

Some people might've been offended, but actually, I was touched.  We could barely communicate, but somehow this lad came across as being, basically, a nice guy in only two words.  Here's to International Relations.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

All About Chat Logs

While I was writing my last entry, about people who offend others in chat or IM, the topic of chat logs came to mind...so, while I am thinking about it, let's talk about that, shall we?

Linden Lab logs EVERYTHING.  Well, not Voice, although I bet they can listen in if they want to.  But they do log everything that is typed in text.  I sometimes imagine some pimply-faced geeky temp worker at LL, calling up some of my more intimate discussions, and shudder.  The non-private nature of Second Life is one of the reasons that corporate users don't trust the platform for anything involving sensitive or proprietary material.  Still, it's sometimes useful to know that, if you get into a serious dispute with someone, there is an impartial (hopefully!) third party who has access to who said what to whom. 

You can log everything, too.  There are settings in your Preferences (in the Privacy tab) for turning logging of local chat and IMs on or off.  You can specify a directory on your computer's hard drive where these logs will be stored.  The default is C:\users\username\AppData\Roaming\SecondLife\avatar_name.  (This is a hidden folder.  If you don't see it, turn on the visibility of hidden folders in Tools/Folder Options/View in any Windows directory window.)

In that folder, you will see many text files, each with the name of an avatar, or a group, with whom you have had an IM window open.  Each of these files represents a log of all the IMs you have had with that avatar or group.  Whenever you add a new IM session, the .txt file is updated.

You will also see a text file called chat.txt.  This is the log of your local chat.  It can get unmanageably large...I open mine up several times a year, Cut off the oldest three months or so, and Paste that older data into a new file called, say, OldChatJanMarch2011.txt.

There are some restrictions on what you can do with this data.  You can cut and paste relevant sections of your log to document a case of Abuse, when you are submitting an Abuse Report.  Please remember that LL also keeps their own logs...DON'T edit yours to make yourself look better, or the other person look worse.  You can also use your logs to refresh your memory about what was said in a previous conversation.

You may NOT share your chat or IM log data with any third party besides Linden Lab, unless you have the permission of all the other persons involved.  It is a violation of the Terms of Service.  Doing things like posting your logs on the Second Life forums, on your blog or website, or in a notecard you give to anyone else in SL is a No-No.*

There are people who try to get around this.  They put a notice in their Profile that says, "I log chat and IMs and reserve the right to do whatever I want with them.  If you talk to me, you give your consent to this."  Such declarations have no legal force and the avatars who hide behind them will find that they provide no defense.

There are, I admit, some gray areas, particularly in the case of roleplay areas.  In many of these areas, local chat is used for roleplay, and IMs are used for "out of character" communications.  The rules of the roleplay area may state that a moderator can ask for your chat log, to adjudicate a dispute.  By participating in the roleplay, you agree to such rules and don't really have grounds to complain when the roleplay area's owners or moderators insist you abide by them.

*Technically, that is.  In practice, people violate this every day in Second Life.  "OMG, take a look at what Studlyman Resident just said to me! <Pasted IM conversation>"  I've done it, and I bet you've done it too.  The practical consideration is intent, in my opinion.  If you intend harm to someone by passing on a conversation they expected to be kept in confidence, you're doing wrong.  If you just want to share a giggle with your friend, or pass on complex technical information...it's still a violation, but (again, in my opinion) a peccadillo.

The Nanny State Mentality

Oh look!  A blog post that is NOT about the new changes to LL's Third Party Viewer Policy!  That's being discussed elsewhere...pretty much EVERYWHERE else, so I'll pass, except to say that both Inara Pey and Glorf Bulmer have some of the clearest and most well-reasoned reports I've seen so far.  Check them out.  I'll wait...

OK...back now?  I have a bit of a rant too, but on a different topic.  Several times this weekend, I've been asked the question, "How do I report so-and-so to Linden Lab?  They said nasty things to me!"

Well, it's easy to Abuse Report someone.  Just go to the Help menu, choose Report Abuse, fill out and submit the form.  Linden Lab will take it from there.  Of course, you won't find out if they actually took any punitive action against the person who offended you.  And, truth to tell, they probably won't do anything about this sort of complaint unless it is truly egregious. 

But that's not the real problem, as I see it.  The problem is the victim...the person who is doing the complaining about that nasty person who said nasty things.  They want to report the problem to The Authorities, and they insist that The Authorities Do Something To Stop This, and do it right now!  In short, they are displaying a very childish approach to life, and they want Linden Lab to be the parent who steps in and fixes all their problems.

Having been a parent myself, I sympathize with the poor schnooks at Linden Lab who have to read and deal with these Abuse Reports.  I've been there.  "Moooooommmm!  He's touching meeee!"

I have but one thing to say to these little kids:  Suck it up.  Stand up on your hind legs and take charge of your own Second Life.  There is even a handy way to do this...it's called Block (or Mute, for those with older viewers.)  If someone is being a jackass, right click their avatar and select Block.  Or if you have done a sensible thing and teleported yourself off elsewhere, call up their Profile, and select Block from there.

Instantly, their avatar will become a two dimensional, gray silhouette.  You will no longer hear their chat or their gesture sounds.  You won't receive IMs from them, and they cannot send you any notecards or other inventory items.  In effect, they have been erased from your Second Life.

Problem solved, and without any need to call on Big Brother.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Wheelers and Dealers

Today's post is for those who own Mainland, and deals with a way to work around the coarse tier "levels" offered by Linden Lab.  Fair warning:  it involves some Math...but nothing more strenuous than simple arithmetic.

Let's say that you buy...oh, I don't know...say 3/4 of a Mainland region, to take an example not-quite-at-random.  According to Linden Lab, this puts you in the Full Region tier level, $195 USD per month.  (A table of tier levels can be found here.)  Oh dear...we are PAYING for a whole region, but we only OWN 3/4 of one.  That certainly does not give us the best monthly cost-per-prim figure, does it?

We could solve this problem by buying another 1/4 region somewhere.  It would not cost us any additional tier.  But if we don't really care to own and manage more land, there is another way.  We can rent out our spare tier to someone that does not have quite enough to cover the land THEY own.

Huh?  Rent out tier?  How does THAT work?  Well, you can "donate" tier to a group, to help pay the monthly tier costs on land the group owns.  I belong to a group called The Forum Cartel, and that group maintains an in-world "clubhouse".  The land costs are paid for by group members' donations of tier to the group.  You can make a tier contribution to any group you are in, by using the "Land and $" tab of the group information window.  If you need the tier back at a future date, you can adjust your donation at any time.

Some groups are formed specifically for the purpose of trading in land tier credits.  NinjaLand, and some other businesses, provide this service.  They pay you for your spare tier, and then re-sell it to others who need it, while taking a middleman's profit.

Here is a specific example.  My land group, Kiddees, owns 55,296 square meters of the Masocado region.  Because of the 10% tier bonus given to groups, I only need to donate 50,300 square meters of tier to cover this.  I also make a "charitable donation" of 2048 square meters to The Forum Cartel to help pay for the land that group holds.  But, I am paying tier at the full sim level...65,536 square meters.  That means I still have 13,188 square meters of tier just sitting around, doing nothing, but still having to be paid for each month.

Now another group, SKF Enterprises, comes into the picture.  SKF pays $L0.16 per week for spare tier.  I donate my 13,188 square meters to them, and get a payment of $L2,110 per week.  This works out to $L2,110 X 52/12 = $L 9,143 per calendar month.  Divide by 248 to get $36.87 USD per month that I can apply against my monthly tier bill to Linden Lab.

If I wanted to, I could set this up another way.  I could "tier down" to the half sim level, $125 USD per month...and then BUY the additional 22,528 square meters of tier I need from NinjaLand.  They would charge me $L 0.25 per square meter per week for this, or $L0.25 X 22,528 = $L5,632.  Applying conversion factors, that's $L 5,632 X 52/12 / 248 $L/$USD = $98.41 USD.

So my monthly bill for my 3/4 sim would come to $125+$98.41 = $223.41 USD.  It's less economical doing it this way, since I'd be paying that "middleman's fee" to the tier rental group instead of paying tier directly to Linden Lab.  However, there are some times when this is the preferable method, for example when you are holding extra land for a relatively short period of time.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Where Have All the Renters Gone?

My little 3/4 sim rental operation at Masocado has been a going concern for over a year now.  For the last five or six months, I've been very happy with my tenants, and my occupancy rate.  We've always had a vacancy or three, but in general, rentals were paying the bulk of the tier fees.

That started to change a few weeks ago.  One by one, tenants began leaving.  Nobody gave a reason, or seemed to be unhappy with me or my management.  Yet one by one, they didn't renew and moved their things out.  Out of fifteen rentals, I now have only four occupied.  The Masocado Resort condominium tower stands almost completely vacant.

I know other landlords are having problems too.  One of my friends who owns 50 or so regions has been cutting back his holdings, and he tells me of others doing the same.

It had to come, of course.  Because of Linden Lab's ill-considered policies of the last three years, there is a huge oversupply of land and an undersupply of regular Second Life users.  There has to be a re-balancing.  But it makes me terribly sad to see our virtual world even emptier than usual.  Everywhere I go, it seems I see empty, torn-up Abandoned mainland areas and empty stores and clubs.

My friends assure me that it will turn around, that SL experiences these up and down waves, and I believe them.  But it is still painful to ride out this downslope, and there is always the thought at the back of one's head, "WILL it turn around this time?"

I feel like closing this entry with the tagline from the Motel 6 commercials -- to any of my readers out there who may find themselves looking for a cozy rental:  We'll leave the light on for you.

A Pleasant Late Night Encounter

To balance the frustrated newbie with the underperforming laptop (see my previous post), very late last night I had a most pleasant encounter.

The girl had an account almost a year old, but she still wore one of the starter avatars.  She was standing next to one of the signs at White Tiger Help Island, apparently reading it.  She didn't respond when I first greeted her, but when I tried again after a few minutes, she said "hello, I'm new and don't know what I should do."

She turned out to be very intelligent, and caught on quickly to my suggestions.  She also turned out to be Finnish.  (I am not sure how you can be Finnished when you've only just started SL, but there it is.)  I've met several Finns in SL, and they all speak excellent English and are Good People.  She was looking for the sim sponsored by her university, and I was able to find it after a brief search, and take her there.

We parted as Friends, and I'm looking forward to speaking with her again.  The whole encounter was just so...so nice that it completely made up for the frustrations of earlier.  Thank you, Aksimooni!

Leaping Before You Look

Today I encountered a very angry and frustrated newcomer.

This poor girl had experience with IMVU, had heard about Second Life, and was eager to try it.  She went Premium from the very start, and even bought $L.  Then, when she installed the viewer software, she discovered that her inexpensive laptop and shaky wireless internet connection would not let her use the virtual world she'd paid for.

Although I worked with her for some time, trying different graphics settings, installing a different viewer, and so on, she still saw the world as gray, formless shapes and her avatar as a cloud of vapor.

In the end, she logged out, declaring that Linden Lab WOULD refund her money for this scam.

On the one hand, I sympathize with her.  It's enormously irritating to pay for something and find that what you bought does not work as advertised.

One the other hand, it's easy to see that, in her eagerness and blithe confidence that everything would be like IMVU, or the pictures in the ads, she made some serious mistakes.  I see similar errors in thinking all the time, for example by people who ask "Can I run SL on my smartphone?"  There are an awful lot of people out there who think that anything with a screen and some kind of connection to the internet can run any application.  They have absolutely no idea of any of the technology behind the shiny new toys.  Their eyes glaze over when you mention things like bandwidth, pixels, frames per second, gigabytes and megabits per second.  Like my hapless newbie said, "I don't understand any of that.  I just use my computer."

Second Life (and computers and the internet in general) is new technology.  Companies market shiny new toys to ignorant consumers, who don't have, and don't even want to have, a clue about how they actually work, and it's a recipe for disaster.

Please, people -- if you want to live in the Internet Age, go back to school, take some courses, or at least sit down and talk with your teenagers, who probably know a lot more than you do about this brave new world.  And if you are thinking about trying Second Life, DON'T spend a penny on it until you try it out for free first!

And for heaven's sake, be at least a little methodical about it.  Go to http://www.secondlife.com/ and READ the website first.  Read some of the forums and the blogs.  Be sure to have a look at the minimum system requirements, https://secondlife.com/my/support/system-requirements/?lang=en-US .  Have a look at the "What's Next" section of the website.  Then and only then, create an account and download and install the viewer software on your computer.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

What Is This Thing Called SLove?

Since Valentine's Day is nearly upon us, I thought I'd muse a bit today on the topic of love in the virtual world.  Whole volumes have been written about it, television documentaries have exposed it, and endless forum debates have argued it.  I'm sure I won't add anything new to all that, but at least I can try to summarize the different viewpoints.

There are those who say that you can't "love" someone you can't actually see and touch and smell.  I disagree with this group completely.  People have been falling in love at long distance since long before Second Life, and even long before the internet.  Before telephones, even!  There are endless documented romances that were carried out by handwritten letters.  One of my favorites is the May-December love affair between Joy Davidman and the famous Christian apologist C.S. Lewis.

There is a closely related group, probably a larger one, who are not excited (sexually excited, I mean) by cyber-sex, the combination of animations and chat used for sexual activities in Second Life.  I feel sorry for these people...in my view, they lack some essential component of imagination.  While it is very true that cyber-sex is not nearly as real, immediate, and intense as Real Life sex, it can (for most people) provide sexual stimulation and release.  Someone once said of it, "It's like drinking decaf", and I think that's not too far off the mark.  But even decaf is better than nothing, and sometimes it tastes just great even if it is decaf!

Next we have those who regard everything in Second Life as roleplay.  They may enjoy cyber-sex (some of them come to SL only for "teh sexxors",) but they do not develop strong feelings for any of their avatar sex partners.  Or they may role-play such feelings as part of their Second Life "character", but put them away when they log off.  Unless one is a member of this group, one should be wary of them...because while you may be in love with them, they are not in love with you, and can cause you a lot of real heartache.

At the opposite end from the roleplayers, we have those (mostly men) who insist you tell them your Real Life history on your first meeting.  After the first dance, they ask you to send them a Real Life picture of yourself.  Or they ask, "R U as beautiful in RL as U R here?"  Come to think of it, a lot of these fall into our first category; they are completely tied to Real Life, and that is the only "reality" for them.  If you aren't young, pretty, single, and female in RL they aren't interested in you at all.  SL is just a dating service for these people.

In between the roleplayers and the Facebookers, there are at least two more categories, and these are very interesting.  The first one is a group of people (mainly women, in my experience) who are perfectly willing to meet someone in SL, get to know them, have cyber-sex with them, fall in love with them...but with the eventual aim of expanding the Second Life relationship into Real Life.  Indeed, that is the "brass ring" of the Second Life romance game -- find a life partner here, and marry them in RL.  I personally know at least three couples who have managed this, and know of a number of others.  They have my most heartfelt congratulations.  But these romantic "success stories" are far, far outweighed by the number of broken hearts littering the SL landscape.

I've left my own group for the last.  These people, for one reason or another, have no desire to build a Real Life affair or marriage out of a Second Life one.  And yet, they aren't roleplayers.  They really do love the people they have their Second Life relationships with.  They and their partner(s) know that their relationship will always remain within the bounds of the virtual world, and manage to come to terms with that limitation.  In my own view, these are the people who really "get" virtual reality.  They live in it, love in it, immerse themselves in it pixels and soul. 

No matter which group you fall into, if you find yourself falling in SLove with someone, be sure to discuss your feelings, your long term goals for a relationship, and any limitations with your partner.  Differing outlooks and goals are the leading cause of heartbreak in Second Life.

Whimsicalities

I've known Glorf Bulmer for some time.  Glorf is one of the pleasant and helpful people who make Caledon Oxbridge University such a delightful (and useful!) place for newcomers to learn about Second Life.  Glorf also is one of the best people I know at general roleplay (the Victorian Steampunk theme of Caledon).  She plays the intrepid mad scientist with wit, humor, and panache, taking you into her wacky world while at the same time being open, friendly, and informative. 

Glorf recently opened a small shop in Steam Sky City.  There, she offers some of her whimsical creations.  I bought an Infallible Divinatory Sphere (a sort of steampunk Magic 8 Ball), and an Elephant Gun.  This latter is not for killing elephants...instead, it's for killing your foes WITH elephants, which it fires off at considerable velocity.

After testing out the diabolical device (and littering my property with spent pachyderms), I sent Miss Bulmer an IM complaining that this gun of stupendous power lacked an appropriate "bang".  She responded within hours, with a full refund AND a revised, bang-equipped, Elephant Gun for both me and my partner.

That's the kind of customer service on which commercial empires are founded.  Please visit her shop, Hebe GBE, and prepare to be amused.  You can also see a list of her initial offerings at Glorfblog.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Land, Part 3

Private estates are by far the most popular choice when it comes to virtual land.  80% of the land in Second Life consists of these private regions.

You can buy your own private region...you pay Linden Lab a startup fee of $1,000 USD (ouch!), and a monthly maintenance fee of $295 USD (ouch ouch ouch ouch...)  Although this is expensive, there are advantages.
- You have more control over the land itself.  You can terraform up to +/- 100 meters.  You can apply a .RAW terrain file to create the land contours you want without all that tedious terraforming.  And you can alter the terrain textures.
- You have access to tools that let you see in more detail what scripts are running on your land (and which ones are causing the most lag).
- You can restart the region if things get messed up or bogged down.
- You can request a "rollback" from Linden Lab to take the region to an earlier time period (prior to, presumably, the time that Something Bad happened.)
- If you wish, you can have your region placed where there are no adjoining neighbors.  If you then restrict teleport access, this gives you a completely private place in Second Life.  It is the ONLY way to ensure complete privacy.
- Owning one full private region allows you to buy the "lighter" homestead and open space regions as well.
- And of course, paying this much entitles you to Concierge level support.

However, most people don't have the money to spend on an entire region.  Instead, they "buy" a parcel of land from another resident, the Estate Owner.  I put "buy" in quotation marks, because even though a lot of Estate Owners claim "you own the land, and have full permissions", really the Estate Owner is still the owner of record, and pays that $295 per month fee to Linden Lab.  You are really renting land on a private estate, no matter what anyone else says.

It's an important distinction.  Because if the Estate Owner decides she doesn't like you, or wants to do something else with the land, she can kick you off with no warning and no refund...and you have no recourse.  If she sells the region to a new owner, they can kick you off too.  If she fails to pay her fee to Linden Lab, the region may get deleted right out from under you, taking all your stuff with it. (If that ever happens to you, file a support ticket with LL.  They will usually put a deleted region back on the grid for a short time to allow you to get your stuff back.)

The point to remember is that, on a private estate, you are at the mercy of the estate owner.  This is usually not a problem, but it can be, and you have to be aware of that.  Most estate owners are honest, and want their tenants to be happy, so they can stay in business.  But you should do some research on your potential landlord BEFORE you lease land with them.  Ask their tenants how they are treated.  Google the owner and look for complaints about them on blogs and forums.  If they own more than a few regions, and/or have been in business more than a couple of years, it's a good bet that they are in it for the long haul and will be careful of their reputation.

You should also read the Covenant before you buy.  The Covenant is found in the About Land window, and it sets out the owner's policies...what you can and cannot build there, how much you will pay, and how often, what activities are not permitted, and so on.  Be sure you understand everything that's in the Covenant.  If you have any questions that what you want to do with your land might not be allowed, discuss it with the Estate Owner before you buy.  (Some large estates have their own websites that provide additional information about the estate, parcels for sale, and events of interest.)

Now, the above probably sounds scary, and you might be asking yourself, "Why would I ever want to buy land on a private estate?"  The reasons all stem from the same thing that creates the cautions: the Estate Owner.

Estate Owners generally are more active managers of their regions than Linden Lab is.  They are very often more readily available to help solve problems.  They do a better job of enforcing their zoning restrictions.  They can and do help keep griefers and troublemakers away.  Their continued business depends on their making their tenants happier to be there than on the Mainland or on someone else's estate.

Estates may have a theme.  The Victorian Steampunk theme of Caledon makes it a fun and interesting place to visit or live, and the residents who get into the theme have a lot of fun with it.  Other estates may have different themes...dark urban post-apocalyptic settings, tropical paradises, or realms of magic and fantasy.

My first Second Life "home" was on a private estate, and it was a beautiful, quiet, and peaceful place.  I never had to add anyone to my parcel ban list.  Now I live on the Mainland, and life is more...colorful.  I like that somewhat edgier flavor, but you may very well prefer the peace and quiet of a well-run private estate.  Certainly the majority of SL residents seem to!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Land, Part 2

In the beginning, there was Mainland.  Mainland consists of regions that are owned and managed by Linden Lab.  There are several Mainland "continents", from Jeogeot in the south to Gaeta in the north.  Plus the all-Adult continent of Zindra, far, far to the east, and the Nacera Linden Homes continents to the far south.  Except for Zindra, all Mainland is rated either General or Moderate, with the vast majority of regions being Moderate. (Don't worry too much about continent names, by the way.  Almost nobody uses them.  What's really important is the region name.)

Mainland generally has a less cohesive "feel" to it than do private estates.  This is because LL takes a very "hands off" management approach.  There are no set themes or building requirements, only the Terms of Service and Community Standards.  Thus, you may see a modern glass-and-steel tower built next door to a run-down old barn.  Scruffy pirate ships rub scuppers with gleaming mega-yachts.  Stunning, detailed, well-planned builds are next door to a couple of plywood prims tossed on the ground.  Mainland also often appears to be "cut up", with many little parcels all at different levels.  This is because a limited amount of terraforming is allowed (generally, +/- 4 meters).  Because of all the different parcel owners, a region can come to resemble one of those terrace-farmed mountain villages.

But not all Mainland looks like a used car lot or a battleground.  There are many Mainland areas that are very lovely.  I like Mainland, and live there (in the Masocado region, bordering the Blake Sea).  I like the "spacious" feeling you get by putting many regions together.  On many private estates, one must teleport to go anywhere outside one's own home region, because the regions don't share common borders.  You can walk, fly, or sail a long way on the Mainland and its surrounding waters (subject to the hazards of ban lines, security orbs, and sim boundary crossings, of course.)  Yes, I know that I could live halfway across the grid, and yet teleport to the Blake Sea to go sailing with a simple mouse click.  But it doesn't feel the same, emotionally, as actually living there and keeping my boat at the dock.

Mainland is still the cheapest place to live in SL.  This is because tier for a full Mainland region is $195 USD per month, while the monthly fee on a private region is $295 per month (with the exception of  older "grandfathered" private estates, which are also at the $195 per month level).  In addition, Linden Lab gives you the first 512 square meters for zero tier. 

The minimum cost to live on the Mainland is a Premium membership.  As we discussed last time, this entitles you to a free Linden Home.  But, if you want more flexibility, you can abandon your Linden Home (stand in the home, open the About Land window, click Abandon).  Then find another Mainland parcel.

There are three ways to buy a Mainland parcel. 
1.  Auction.  Linden Lab auctions off land that they hold, on the Land Auctions part of the Second Life website, http://usd.auctions.secondlife.com/.  These auctions work like eBay auctions and can be in $L for smaller parcels or $USD for larger ones.  I don't recommend buying land with this method.  You always pay top dollar, by definition.  Also, very few parcels are sold through this method.
2.  Buy Abandoned Land from LL.  Because of LL's policies of the last year or so, there is a lot of mainland that people have simply abandoned and let go back to "Governor Linden".  You may see a parcel that is for sale with the description, "Abandoned Land - For Sale".  All such land may be purchased for only $L1 per square meter.  The downside is that most abandoned land isn't particularly desirable...it's not waterfront, for example.  Still, this is a very inexpensive way to buy land!
3.  Buy Mainland from another resident.  This is by far the most common way to purchase Mainland.  Prices may run from as little as $L1 per m2 up to $L12-15 per m2 for protected waterfront, and up to really ridiculous prices like $L100 per m2 for "special" themed areas like Bay City or Nautilus City.

How do you find your ideal piece of land?  There are several ways. 
- You can use the main Map in world.  Just check the "Land Sale" box in the map legend and look for yellow parcels (or purple ones, which are either coming up for auction or in an active auction).  Teleport to interesting looking parcels and have a look around.
- You can use the in world Search function.  Click the Land and Rentals tab, then click "Show all Land and Rentals".  You can narrow your search by selecting sales/rentals, mainland/estate land, desired size or price range.  You can then narrow it further by entering keywords in the search bar.
- You will find Land Sales and rental forums on the SL website, and also categories for these items in the Marketplace. 
Mainland on the Marketplace
Private Estates on the Marketplace
Land Forums

Before buying the land, check it out thoroughly.  Turn on property line visibility with World/Show More/Property Lines.  See who owns the adjoining parcels.  Check the performance statistics of the region with CTRL+SHIFT+1.  Fly up and check the sky at several levels.  Many skyboxes can't be seen from the ground.  Check your radar or mini-map to find large groups of avatars...there may be a laggy club in the region.  If the parcel is waterfront, who owns the water in the adjoining parcel?  If it's "Governor Linden", you are on valuable "protected" waterfront.  If another resident is the owner, they can block your water access by building or terraforming.

That's all for today...We'll look at Private Estates in Part 3!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Names, Again

Daniel Voyager notes in his blog the latest news/rumors about Linden Lab making changes (again!) to the way avatars are named:  https://danielvoyager.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/rodvik-linden-mentions-baked-plan-for-last-names-in-february-2012/

This news created a mini-flap on the forums, and a spate of messages to Rodvik Humble's profile page.  People care about their names in SL, and it's not hard to see why.  In SL, we can change everything about ourselves.  We can be man, woman, or child, animal, vegetable, or mineral.  We can change our history (or at least, what we put in our Profiles.)  The one thing, the ONLY thing, that is constant about us is our name.  We recognize people in SL by their names -- they are a critical factor in our SL identity, both to ourselves and to others.

Last year, Linden Lab changed the naming system.  Daniel's blog post points out the differences between the old system and the current one, so I won't go into details.  What I WILL say is that I think LL really mucked things up (so what else is new?)  Frankly, I think ANY change to the naming system, however well crafted, is going to upset some people.  But LL did us no favor by eliminating last names and giving us Display Names.

And now, once again, LL is cooking up changes to this one unchanging part of our SL existence, and once again, they are doing it without asking us what WE want.  Well, that's not going to stop me, I'm going to TELL them what I want, right here.

First of all, I want better security.  There is only one private piece of information required to access my account; my password.  That's not enough.  I would like to see LL implement a user name/password system in which both the user name and the password were completely private and used only to log into the SL website or log on to the grid.

Next, I would like to see Display Names go away.  They clutter up the overhead name tags, and the chat and IM boxes.  They create confusion because some people only look at User Names in their viewers, while others look only at Display Names.  Thus, if we have an avatar named Sally Smith (funkyjunkie.resident), one person may say, "Hi Sally" and another, "Hi, funky!"  Then they start asking each other questions like, "Who's funky?'

I would like to see last names return.  I have had many, many new residents ask me, "How can I get a last name like you have?" and I feel bad to have to disappoint them.  I agree with Rodvik that the old system, where people were forced to choose from a Linden-supplied list of last names, was neither user-friendly nor popular.  But being forced to pick a last name that was a NAME, not a random string of numbers, provided a strong implied suggestion that one's user name should be an actual name, not some word jumble.

I think newcomers should be able to choose both a first and a last name, as long as the combination has not already been used, and that numbers and special characters should not be allowed.  There should also be information at the sign up page discussing the pros and cons of using one's Real Life name.

What about people who want to change their name because they picked a really dumb one at first, or want the same last name as their partner?  I think there should be a very limited ability to change one's in-world name.  It should require a support ticket, and LL should charge for it...maybe $10 or $20.  And somewhere, there should be a name history that people could look up to see what name(s) you held in the past.  Maybe an "AKA" tab or sub-tab on the Profile.

What about the "titles conferred by the community" that Rod mentioned?  Majorly dumb idea, Rod.  PLEASE don't go there.

[EDITED TO ADD:]
 It occurred to me after posting this that the system of having a secret user name would permit some major changes to the way accounts are handled.  One user name could have, say, five in-world names (alts).  They would be able to share inventory (perhaps even have only ONE inventory, associated with the user name).  One's "AKA" information could show not only what previous names you'd used, but the names of your active alts.  This would eliminate a LOT of confusion, guessing, and head-gaming by letting everyone know that "Lindal Kidd" and "Lynnette Weston" both have the same Real Life typist.