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Saturday, May 31, 2014

FLASH! Another $L-Stealing Scam

Hello readers!  This is a Scam Alert.  The perpetrators are targeting newbies, so if you are new to SL, or spend a lot of time in newbie areas, you should be on the lookout for it.

Regular readers will recall that some objects you rez will ask for permission to take $L from you.  This is a necessary function for things like rental boxes and vendors that you use for your business.

But the scammers are taking advantage of this.  They are offering an object which carries the label, "BONUS!! Win up to L$10.000. (Wear and allow.)"  If you wear it, and then click Allow when it requests permission to take $L from you, IT WILL TAKE ALL YOUR MONEY.

Do not wear it or rez it.  Above all, do not click Allow when it requests permission.  Abuse Report anyone who gives you such an item.  Delete it from your inventory.

You Have Been Warned!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Business Model, or Scam?

Tonight I was browsing the Marketplace, and I came across this item, a freebie rental box:  https://marketplace.secondlife.com/p/Menace-RentBox-Boxed/4341022
A Freebie That Wants a Piece of the Action

I think the thing is aptly named...notice that at the tail end of the description the seller says, "I get 10%."  Menace indeed!  Anyone who is not paying close attention might start to wonder after a while why they aren't getting all the rent that they thought they would.

But to be fair, the creator is right about one thing.  The major makers of rental systems do charge quite a bit for them.  The popular HippoRent system (which is the one I use) costs $L1,995.  I have used this system for about six years now, and aside from the occasional box that goes wonky and has to be re-set or replaced, I'm extremely happy with it.  The high purchase cost is more than offset by the fact that HippoTech has a great web site that keeps track of all my boxes, all my tenants, and all payments to the system clear back to when I set up my first-ever box.  Plus they have very good tech support.

That seems to be a very fair deal, compared to some fly-by-night dealer who wants to cut himself in for ten per cent of the gross from now until the end of time.

There is another reason for going with a known and reputable product in this area, too.  Any rental box is going to produce that scary "This object is requesting permission to take Linden Dollars from you.  Allow/Deny?" message.  It has to have this permission in order to issue refunds.  But it would be very easy for an unscrupulous creator to simply have the box take ALL your money.  I am not saying that the "Menace Rent Box" is such an item, or that its creator is a con artist.  But there ARE items that are maliciously scripted to steal your money in this way.

Caveat emptor.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

FLASH! More on the Meshed Up Starter Experience

This just gets worse and worse.  I just discovered that all of the "starter avatars" that are in the inventory folder Library/Clothing/Initial Outfits are No Modify.  If you go into Appearance mode, you can't save the results as an Outfit, or save the shape, or use it as a starting point for creating your own shape.  The "Save" option is grayed out.  This is true not only of the new Mesh avatars, but ALL the starter avatars.

In their attempt to insulate newcomers from all possibility of making mistakes, Linden Lab is making it very difficult to enjoy the wonders of Second Life these days.

My advice is to find some freebie stores and stock up.  Then ditch the starter avatar as soon as you can and have fun learning how to play dress-up, SL style (and get frustrated, if that's what it takes.)


Saturday, May 24, 2014

PayPal and Second Life

You can have fun in Second Life for a long time with no money.  But eventually, most people want to be able to move up from freebies and buy some of those fantastic fashions in the virtual stores, or they want to own some land.  That takes Linden Dollars ($L) and it takes money to buy $L!

(If you are lucky at Zyngo or have terrific content creation skills and earn all your $L in world, you can stop here.  For the rest of you, read on!)

To get money into SL, you need to give Linden Lab a "payment method."  This can be simply a major credit card.  There are two major drawbacks to credit cards, though.  First, not everyone has one!  And those common workarounds like pre-paid cards and debit cards are not accepted by Linden Lab.  Second, credit cards work in only one direction.  You can use one to buy $L, sure.  But what if you have a profitable Second Life business and actually MAKE money?  You can sell your excess $L, and they go into your "$USD balance" in your Second Life account.  But you cannot transfer dollars from Second Life to your credit card...they are not designed to work in that direction.

The solution is PayPal.  PayPal is, arguably, the premiere way of transferring money on the Internet.  It's easy to set up a PayPal account, just go to https://www.paypal.com/ and follow the signup process.

Ah, but we are not done yet.  Linden Lab accepts only "verified" PayPal accounts.  "Verified" means that you have gone through some additional steps on the PayPal web site to link your account to a Real Life source of money...either a major credit card, or a Real Life bank account.  This verification process takes a few business days, and PayPal will make a couple of very small transactions to and from your designated funding source to verify that it works.

Now here is where we come to the heart of today's post.  Linden Lab prefers that you use a major credit card to back up your PayPal account.  This is because transfers from the card to PayPal to Linden Lab are near-instantaneous.  Linden Lab refuses to wait several days while your bank transfers money to PayPal to pay for the shoes you just bought on the Marketplace.  LL wants their money, and they want it NOW!

However, you CAN use a bank account as a verification method, and still use PayPal with Second Life.  There is only one caveat.  You must be careful to ALWAYS have enough money in your PayPal account to cover any charges from LL.  That way, they never have to wait for their money, and they will be happy.  And you, in turn, can have more control over how much money you "expose" for Second Life purposes, rather than risk your entire credit card limit over the internet.

Remember that a transfer of funds from your bank to PayPal can take a few days.  If you are planning a major SL purchase, such as land, or if you already own a lot of land and pay a high monthly tier, plan ahead and make sure you transfer money from bank to PayPal in plenty of time to meet your obligations.

One last bit of advice:  Use a unique password for your PayPal account.  DON'T, for heaven's sake, use your SL password!

Happy virtual banking!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

The New User Experience - All Meshed Up?

I recently wrote about Second Life's current New User Experience -- the process that one goes through to register for Second Life and get into the Second Life world.  But that post is already out of date, because LL has just released 24 new "starter avatars."  Twelve of them are normal humans, and twelve are vampires or lycans (werewolves.)

These new starter avatars have caused a lot of fuss and bother in the Second Life user community, especially among those of us who spend time helping newcomers.  You would think that we'd be happy about it...after all, a lot of us, including me, have complained that the starter avatars had not kept up with improvements like Mesh and alpha layers.  But no...instead, we're all bitching to each other about the new Mesh avatars.  Read on to find out why!

The new avatars are Mesh.  That is to say, the avatar bodies are not the standard avatar mesh.  They are No Modify, and can't be affected by the Appearance sliders.  This is sure to lead to a tremendous amount of confusion.  The very first thing that most people do when getting in to Second Life is to start playing with their appearance.  Often, I see people rez in and immediately spread their arms and legs in Appearance mode.  Imagine their frustration when nothing works!

Linden Lab has, very Politically Correctly, created the new avatars with a wide range of ethnic features.  Some are black, some Asian, etc.  That's great, but because they are not modifiable, it actually limits the user's choices.  Pick an avatar, and you are stuck with those facial features, that skin tone.

The proportions of the New Batch are markedly different from most SL avatars.  They are, generally speaking, shorter.  The hands are bigger, the arms longer.  Now, this may seem to some to be a good thing...LL apparently took note of the fact that most SL avatars are not well proportioned.  We tend to be a lot taller than average, compared to Real Life.  We're thinner, our figures are, um...exaggerated...and our arms are often too short.  In fact, most of us are closer to the proportions you find in superhero comics, rather than real life people.  The New Batch is closer to human norms.  But, aside from the arm length, I think most Second Life folks are going to think that's just...ugly.  We're used to looking like centerfolds and superheros.  "Normal" people look dumpy in comparison.

Because they are Mesh, the facial morphs that animate (however crudely) our facial expressions...blinks, smiles, and so on...don't work.  The face is frozen in a single expression.  And a lot of those expressions appear upset or angry.  Well, at least LL got one thing right, because I think the users are going to feel like their avatars look!

You can use the Fitted Mesh clothing items from one avatar with other avatars and shapes...in some cases.  The permissions and the fit of clothing is not consistent, even among the new avatars.  Plus, the clothes on some of the avatars don't even fit them correctly, allowing skin to show through when the arms or legs are moved well away from the rest position.

There have also been a lot of complaints about the skins of the new avatars being very poorly done.  Some say that they are reminded of the flat shaded, ugly skins of the avatars we had back in 2007. I think these comments are coming from people who aren't wearing (or possibly, aren't seeing) the alpha masks that are a part of these new avatars...because the skin that covers the "stock" shape IS that awful flat orange stuff.  If you wear the alpha mask, though, that doesn't matter because neither the stock shape or skin will be seen.

And there are complaints that wearing one of these new avatars messes up your natural shape.  I have, in fact, seen that.  And another new (to me) shape bug, in which the shape of the Mesh avatar becomes corrupted.  The corruption will persist if a new avatar is put on, or if the user reverts to another shape and outfit.  This corruption is not permanent, but requires a re-log to fix.  If your arms look pulled in tight to your sides, or your shoulders stretch waaaay out too far, hit CTRL+Q and log in again.

Here is the basic, underlying problem:  The Second Life avatar's appearance is determined by a lot of factors and features, many of which have been added on to Second Life over the years.  This started way back with prim hair, which rapidly replaced the ugly system hair in popularity.  It continued with the introduction of sculpties, and sculpted shoes and other attachments.  Mesh clothing can look great...but you also have to wear an alpha mask to hide the parts of your body under the clothing.  Prim attachments look great...but they can also penetrate your body (or your body can stick out through them.)  Mesh shapes offer more flexibility, can go places where the Appearance sliders can't...but things designed for the normal avatar body like facial expressions and the Appearance sliders don't affect them.  In short, avatar appearance is a minefield of patchwork fixes that presents a hugely confusing landscape to the newcomer.  This is why we don't need new Mesh starter avatars...we need a whole makeover of the Second Life basic avatar, an Avatar 2.0.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Advanced and Develop Menus - A Short Tutorial

This is another one for those of you who are relatively new to Second Life!

You may not know it, but there are two "hidden" menus in your viewer -- the Advanced and the Develop menus.  (Some viewers don't have the Develop menu, but never fear...all the settings are located in Advanced, or in other menus instead.)

These two menus are hidden for a couple of reasons.  One, to keep the user interface relatively simple and uncluttered for newcomers, and two, to keep the curious but clueless from doing something to Mess Things Up.

But these two menus contain a lot of things that are very useful.  I keep them on my top menu bar all the time.  To see the Advanced menu, hit CTRL+ALT+D.  Then, to see the Develop menu, hit CTRL+ALT+Q, or go to Advanced/Show Develop.

Here are some of the more useful things you will find in these menus!  (Note:  I'm using the Firestorm viewer.  If you are using a different viewer, you might not have all of these settings, or they might be called by another name, or be found in another menu.)

THE ADVANCED MENU
Disable Camera Constraints - Check this to let you move your camera much farther away from you, and/or into and through objects.

Hi-res Snapshot - lets you take snapshots with more pixels

Quiet Snapshots - disables the shutter sound and the "take a picture" animation

Rendering Types - Use this to temporarily disable things you don't want to see.  Useful for turning off particles if a poofer is being annoying, or for turning off water or object visibility to see parcel boundary lines.

Release Keys - this can be useful in certain situations where you seem to be permanently stuck in an animation.  But try Avatar/Avatar Health/Stop Animations, or Stop Animations and Revoke Permissions, first.

Fly Override - This will let you fly on land where the owner has disabled flight.  Be aware that some land owners get peeved when you ignore their land settings, and this could get you banned from that land.

Restrained Love API - This enables features that allow another person to exercise a lot of control over your avatar and your Second Life experience.  It's most commonly used by people in the BDSM community to enhance that type of roleplay.  Enabling or disabling this also requires a re-log.  Not recommended unless you know what you are doing.

Debug Settings - this opens a window with a TON of obscure viewer settings.  Don't mess with them unless you know what you are doing...but if you do, and you mess up, you can always change back to the default settings.  There is a Second Life Wiki page that lists all the settings, and gives a little bit more information about what each one does.  http://wiki.secondlife.com/wiki/Debug_Settings

THE DEVELOP MENU
Show Info - this has a lot of sub-choices.  The most useful is "show color under cursor."  When checked, three small numbers will appear in the lower right corner of your viewer, showing the RGB values of the pixel under your mouse cursor.  Useful for doing color matching.

Rendering - another one with a lot of sub-choices.  The most useful is Wireframe.  Toggle this on, then off (the shortcut is CTRL+SHIFT+R) to force objects in view to appear.

UI - make sure the "Double Click Teleport" item is checked.  This allows you to teleport to your mouse cursor by double clicking.  Note:  This may fail if the land owner has limited teleports to the arrival point.

Avatar - the most useful sub-items are Character Test, to put on a default basic avatar if your current appearance refuses to render, and Show Look At, to see where other avatars' point of view is.  But do recall that simply because someone's viewpoint crosshairs seem to be on you, they may not actually be perving you.  I leave this turned off except in special cases, to keep my blood pressure down.  Playing with the Animation Speed settings can be amusing, too.

Request and Leave Admin Status won't do anything, unless you happen to be a Linden.  If you are, it enables "God Mode" and makes you omnipotent.

Enjoy your new mastery over your Second Life experience!





Saturday, May 3, 2014

High Fidelity - The Next Facebook, or the Next Second Life?

For all of you virtual world fans out there, there's a new kid on the block.  It's called High Fidelity, and it's a startup company with a lot of talented and visionary people associated with it.  Perhaps the two biggest names in the mix are Philip Rosedale, the creator of Second Life, and Peter Diamandis, the driving force behind the X-Prize Foundation.

Haven't heard of that?  The $20M prize purse offered by Diamandis and company resulted in SpaceShipOne becoming the first vehicle to carry a man into space, return, and do it again within two days.  That feat, in turn, led to Virgin Galactic and its SpaceShipTwo space tourism venture.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but Peter Diamandis makes history.  I don't mean he gets his face in the history books a lot, I mean he MAKES history.  He's what the corporatespeak guys call a "change agent."

And of course, Rosedale's vision resulted in Second Life, the biggest, oldest, and (in your correspondent's humble opinion) the best virtual world to date.  He's been involved in a couple of other startups since...not as successful, but even visionaries don't hit a home run every time.

This time, though, he, Diamandis, and the team at High Fidelity might just knock another one out of the ballpark.

High Fidelity is a concept for a virtual world.  ("Oh, yawn," I hear you say.  "Been there, done that, have the virtual T-shirt.")  But THIS virtual world could, maybe, do away with a lot of the shortcomings that plague SL and its brethren.

High Fidelity envisions a world where you become immersed, connected to your avatar and your world like never before.  Using things like the Kinect motion sensor, Leap Motion's gesture-based controller, and the Oculus Rift VR goggles, your avatar could move the way you do, look where you point your head in real life, and mirror your facial expressions.

It would be a wide, wide world, with the capacity for millions, not thousands, of concurrent users, with little or no lag.

It would be a world for creators, but with in world building tools far superior to the geometric primitive shapes of Second Life.  Instead, it will be based on "voxels."  A voxel is the 3D equivalent of a pixel...in fact the word is a mashup of "volume" and "pixel."  Voxels are a different, and some say better, way of representing 3D objects and worlds in digital space.

The name of the venture, High Fidelity, shows what they're working toward:  a much more realistic, immersive experience on all levels: the quality of the world, the quality of the avatars who inhabit it, the performance of the supporting system...everything, all of it a big step up.

It's very early days yet.  Everything is Under Construction.  But if you want to follow the latest news, or even get involved in the project, here's the website: https://highfidelity.io/

For a more detailed look at the state of development, see Inara Pey's post here: https://modemworld.wordpress.com/2014/05/03/high-fidelity-running-the-client/ 

Depending on the basic philosophy underlying how these new technologies are structured, the resulting product could be an anonymous world like SL, where you are free to be whoever and whatever you want to be, or it could be more like a 3D Facebook, in which an avatar that's close to the Real Life "you" meets and interacts with friends and colleagues from all over the planet.  Maybe it will be something in between, although (not being a visionary) I don't see how.  But however it turns out, the prospects are exciting.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Second Life Lite

In these days of tablets and smartphones, a question we see more and more often in the Second Life Answers forum is "Can I use SL with my [insert name of device here]?"

In the old days, a couple of years ago, the answer was pretty clear cut:  No.  And it's still true today that Second Life is an application that can challenge even "gaming ready" desktop PCs.  Nevertheless, you do have some options now for getting in world even when you're out and about and away from your computer.  So, let's proceed to [insert some devices here]!

Chromebooks:  Nope.  No way.  Sorry.  You can forget about SL on any current Netbook-type machine, too.  They don't have the processing or graphics chops needed for SL.

Windows phones, Surface tablets.  See "chromebooks" above.  Although I've heard rumors that the Surface Pro can run a regular SL viewer, I have no documented proof and would, frankly, be surprised if it worked.  If you, dear reader, have a Surface Pro, give it a try and let me know how it goes.

iPad, iPhone:  You can use the app Pocket Metaverse.  This is a "text only" application.  It has no graphics, but you can IM your friends, teleport to landmarks, and use local chat.  You can see a map showing your current location.

Android devices:  Your smartphone or Android tablet offers the greatest variety of SL applications.  There are three that I know of.

Mobile Grid Client  This is a lot like Pocket Metaverse.  It's text only, plus a map.  The app itself is free, but to use it you must pay a modest monthly or annual subscription fee.  This fee is payable in $L from your Second Life account.

Lumiya  This is currently my favorite "lite" viewer.  Unlike Pocket Metaverse and Mobile Grid Client, Lumiya has a graphic display capability.  You can see your avatar, and the world around you just like you can with the main SL viewer.  You can walk or fly.  You can teleport, and you can change clothes, and share inventory items.  You can interact with the world...sit on things, open doors, pay vendors in a store.  There are no building functions, and the viewer is very clunky compared to a "real" viewer, but aside from that, Lumiya lets you do pretty much everything you usually do in SL...on your smartphone!  There is a small fee to purchase the app, but no ongoing subscription, and the viewer is frequently updated with fixes and new features.

SLGo  SLGo is currently offered in a beta version, for Android only, although they've said that there are plans to offer a iOS version.  It's offered by On Live, and while the app is free, there is a $9.95 monthly subscription fee.  The graphics capability of this lite viewer is astoundingly good, and it's best used on a tablet...the bigger the better.

I'll just close by reminding you that ALL of these mobile options are a poor second to using a "real" viewer on a "real" computer with a screaming fast late model graphics card and a fast fiber optic or cable internet connection.  But at least you DO have some options, and for those of us who really need our daily SL fix, that's good news.

Oh...and don't SLite while driving!