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Friday, July 26, 2013

FLASH! Educational Discounts Return

Linden Lab created a minor furor last year when they discontinued the 50% discount given to educational and non-profit institutions on private region purchase and ownership.  A lot of educational sims disappeared from the grid as a result.

Now, LL has done an about-face and the educational discounts are back.  The official announcement can be found here: http://community.secondlife.com/t5/Featured-News/Updated-Pricing-for-Educational-and-Nonprofit-Institutions/ba-p/2098039

Inara Pey beat me to this (she usually does, that woman is tied into everything and writes like lightning!)  Read her take on it here: http://modemworld.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/return-of-50-discount-to-educational-non-profit-groups/

As a teacher, I applaud this move.  I do think that it may be too little, too late -- a lot of the educational institutions that left Second Life are now set up on OpenSim grids.  While OpenSim based grids are less content-rich than SL, they are also MUCH cheaper.  In many cases, they are free. Still, it's a good move.  Kudos, LL!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Don't Pay Us, We Must Punish You First.

Linden Lab, the creators of Second Life, have a long history of doing things to make life difficult for their customers.  This blog post is about their latest idiocy.  If you prefer keeping your blood pressure down, or don't like rants, just click and browse away now, Dear Reader.  You Have Been Warned!

RANT MODE ON!

To be a Premium member in Second Life, or to own land, you pretty much have to have an accepted method of payment on file.  Linden Lab doesn't accept prepaid or debit cards, but they do accept most major credit cards, as well as "verified" PayPal accounts.  "Verified" means that you have gone to the PayPal web site and gone through their process to link your PayPal account to a major credit card or to a Real Life bank account.

All well and good, except for the huge numbers of people, especially outside the USA, who don't have and can't get a major credit card or a PayPal account.  But it's been that way for ages, and that's not the subject of today's complaint.

Those of us who like to keep ahead of our obligations and don't like to see those charges from Linden Research on our monthly statements have two ways to pump up our Second Life accounts to meet those bills from LL for Premium membership and land tier.
  1. We can collect enough $L from other residents with our in-world businesses to meet our bills (after selling the $L and converting them to money in our $US dollar balance.)  Or,
  2. We can send money proactively to Linden Lab with an "Increase Credit" option on our Second Life account controls. 
A lot of us do both.  Our SL business ventures don't bring in quite enough to pay the bills, so every so often, we give our accounts a little infusion of cash from our PayPal accounts.

But now, LL won't take our money!  I just found out about this today, but for at least the last two months, hitting the Increase Credit link takes you to a sweetly worded web page that tells you that the "Limit Buy process has been streamlined" and that you no longer need the Increase Credit option.  So they took it away.

Well, gee, Rod.  Maybe some virtual currency traders used Increase Credit to play the $L markets, but most of us ordinary mortals used it to keep you from having to bill our Payment Methods.  Did you ever think of that?  Apparently not.

Now, that is bad enough.  Still, you'd think that the new, "streamlined" system would work.  We'd sell our $L, the Lab would drain what was in our $USD balance, and then bill our Payment Method for the shortfall.  But nooooo....

To add injury to insult, if there is not enough money in your $USD balance to pay your bills, your account is placed on an IMMEDIATE HOLD!  WTF, Rod!?  I mean, really, *W*T*F*!!!??  The Billing Department, by the way, will blithely assure you not to worry, nothing bad will happen, they will simply bill your Payment Method as I've sketched out above.  Apparently nobody told them, either.

The only way that the shoestring and duct-taped LL billing system will charge your Payment Method is if your $USD balance is ALREADY at $0.00!

Rod, this needs an immediate fix, please.  Even before you finish the Server Side Baking rollouts.  By preference, put the Increase Credit option back into the system.  But if you can't figure out how to do that -- my kid could probably suss it out, back when he was in middle school, but never mind -- then at least make sure your billing software exercises the Charge Payment Method branch before it suspends the account.

And while you are at it, how about holding a senior staff meeting and ask your people one simple question:  "Why do we make it so hard for people to give us their money?"  Then have them turn that around, on pain of losing their heads.  Don't you WANT your company to succeed?

RANT MODE OFF.

Drat, I had intended a much stronger and more inventive rant, but the sheer massiveness of this stupidity has left me nearly speechless.

EDIT:  After reading a bit more about this new "streamlined" system, I found that someone has come up with a clumsy, but workable way around it.  Here's how:
  1. Make a "Limit Buy" of enough $L to be equivalent to the $USD you want to add to your account.  When setting the limit, set it high enough so that the order will NOT be filled.
  2. Once the order is placed and your payment method has been charged, cancel the order.  The amount of funds you would have paid for the order will be placed in your $USD balance instead.
This workaround avoids the conversion fees from $USD to $L and back to $USD.  Thanks to Vania Chaplin for this suggestion!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Power of the Shadow

I just upgraded my computer, yay!  Well, actually the Resident Geek did the upgrading (thank you, dear!)  I got a new solid state drive that opens Windows and programs like lightning, and I got a new Nvidia GeForce GTX 670 video card (the Resident Geek is hollering, "with TWO gigabytes of memory and a factory overclock!"  I figured that this would be a shoo-in for running Second Life, even with the advanced lighting model and shadows enabled.

And in fact, it does a great job!  I don't see any marked improvement over my previous GTX 560 Ti, but then again I am driving two new, larger monitors (27 inches, 2560x1440 pixels).

But as an experiment, I enabled my GPU-Z monitoring utility and watched what happened when I ran SL.

At idle, with nothing going on, the card loafs along at about 35-40 deg C, fan at 30%, GPU load at zero to 4%, power at about 12%.

With Second Life running, and water reflections, windlight, and local lights on, the power consumption goes up to about 45-50%, the GPU load goes up to about 30-40%.  Temperatures on the GPU rise to around 50-55 deg C.

But when I enable the advanced lighting model and shadows...wow.  Power consumption leaps to 100%, sometimes even a few percent over.  GPU load goes to 98-99%.  Fan speed increases to about 60%, and temperatures rise up to 87-90 deg C!

I always knew shadows put a huge demand on a graphics card, because they cut my frame rate almost in half.  But this was an eye-opener.  It is amazing how much the new "eye candy" demands from even "high end" video cards.

I was concerned when I saw those 90 degree temperatures (remember, that's degrees Celsius, where 100 is the boiling point of water.)  I have always tried to keep my electronics under about 60 deg C.  But the Geek did some research and it turns out that modern graphics cards are designed to run hot.  I should not get worried unless the temps start to edge into the high 90's or low 100's.

I also verified something else I'd read:  Second Life does NOT benefit from an SLI setup (multiple graphics cards in one computer.)  While my primary card was running hard and hot, its companion continued strolling along, completely unaffected.  (I'm not disappointed.  We got the second card mostly to help with rendering 3D scenes and models and for other Adobe graphics products.)

So, if you want to run SL on "Ultra" graphics settings, get the best card you can afford and give it plenty of cooling.  I don't think I'd ever do it with a laptop...I'd be afraid of second degree thigh burns.

UPDATE, August 13 --
The latest drivers, or maybe a change in LL's server code, have improved my numbers while running shadows!  Temperatures are down around 75C, power and GPU loads have dropped by half.  I am not sure what happened, but I'm happy about it!

A Little Group Grope

No, no, this is STILL Not That Sort of Blog!  Lately, I have been running into people who complain to me about getting charged money by their groups.  Some of them have been charged quite a lot of money, and others only a few $L, but all of them are pretty hot under the collar at these unexpected and "unfair" charges.

So, let's talk about the ways that groups can cost you money.

First, there is the out-and-out scam.  A group promises you some terrific benefit...free gifts, absorbing roleplay, or whatever.  There is a hefty fee to join, let's say $L2,000.  You pay the money, and shortly thereafter find yourself ejected from the group, and none of the group officers will give you the time of day.  After a short time, the group itself is no longer to be found, as the scammers disband it.

This is rare, but if it happens to you, you can submit an Abuse Report.  Enough complaints, and the scammers will find themselves banned from SL.  But good luck getting your money back, there is not much chance of that.

Second, there is the store group that charges an enrollment fee.  This may be anywhere from $L200 to $L2500 or more, depending on how upscale the store is, how pricey its products are, and what benefits they offer to group members.  If you are a regular customer of a store, even a hefty enrollment fee can be a bargain, as you accumulate savings through group gifts and group-only discounts.

But sometimes these enrollment fees catch shoppers unawares.  They are so used to store groups that are free to join they simply click "Yes" when the "You are about to pay Morea Decosta $L 500 to join a group.  Pay/Cancel?" confirmation message flashes up.  The sudden "KA-CHING" of the money leaving their account is the first clue they have that something unexpected is going on.

Store owners have store groups for a reason, and it isn't just to give away freebies.  The group provides a targeted pool of people to whom they can send advertising about new products and events, and KNOW that the recipients are probably going to be interested.  Store owners are not happy with the people who pop in, join the group, get the freebie, leave the group, and pop out!  Thus, we are seeing more and more store owners, especially the big, popular stores, charging an enrollment fee for their groups.  They want to keep you as a group member and send you ads!  (I am not being holier than thou...I've done the join/grab/leave dance too!)

Be aware of this!  In the group window, right next to the JOIN button, is some text that tells you whether the group is free, or if it charges an enrollment fee.  If you forget to look for this, you get the confirmation message I mentioned earlier.  So if you hear "KA-CHING" unexpectedly, you have only yourself to blame!  (And again, I'm not being holier than thou.  I've been tripped by this one, too!)

The third way groups can cost you money is through group liabilities.  If a group owns land, and that land is shown in search, the group pays a weekly fee to LL for the service.  By default, when a group is created, all group roles have the "share group dividends and liabilities" feature enabled.  Many group founders don't know this and neglect to disable it...or they figure that $L50 a week spread over a few hundred group members won't ever be noticed.  But if you are on a Basic account and never buy any $L, you might look at your account and find that you now have a balance of -2L, and you can't even get freebies until you pay the arrears.

Check your Transaction Log on your Dashboard page periodically to see if any groups are slowly nickel and diming you!

If this happens to you, you have several choices.  You can simply leave the group.  Or you can contact the group owner and complain that you don't think it's fair for the rank and file membership to pay for the search listing of their store, or club.  Some owners will correct this, if you draw their attention to it politely.  Others may take offense.  You may find that you HAVE left the group, involuntarily!  A third possibility is to just keep quiet.  If the group owner decides to close up shop and sell their land, all the group members will get an equal share of the sale -- the "share group dividends" side of the coin.  Then it's the owner's turn to feel unfairly treated! "Hey, I sold my land for $L50,000, and only got $L200 of it!"

For lots more about groups, how they work and how to manage them, see this link:  http://community.secondlife.com/t5/English-Knowledge-Base/Creating-managing-moderating-and-disbanding-groups/ta-p/700111

ps - Maybe this IS That Sort of Blog.  After all, we just talked about several people getting screwed.  See you all Next Time!

Monday, July 8, 2013

FLASH! Bliss Couture Closing Sale

Bliss Couture has long been one of the most popular stores in Second Life, especially for ladies' formal gowns.  They're holding a Going Out of Business sale, and you can get their creations for up to 90% off.  Visit them at http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Gown/129/195/353