Friday, December 3, 2010

52 1/2 of 52 1/2 - A year gone by

Looking peaceful from a distance, but try to walk close...

One year ago, I was going to close down this blog.   I felt out of inspiration, empty of things to write about, and generally fed up with virtual worlds.  Then I got a few unexpected comments that somehow lifted the confidence in my own writing, and inspired me to start again.  So I set myself a challenge: To write at least one blog post a week for a whole year.

One year later, the count is 99 posts.  It's done!

Google Analytics is an interesting tool.  I don't have hundreds of readers, but it tells me that during this year, people from 64 different countries have visited my blog.  That's kind of awesome!

During this year, my interest in SL and virtual worlds have changed.  When I started my challenge, I found it more fun to write about SL than actually living it.  Now I feel that my need is more back to exploring the world instead of writing about it.  More about making stuff instead of takings snapshots for the blog.

It's like I have written myself back to SL.  Even if I still have too little time to spare for it.  Work is taking a lot of time and attention these days. 

I have also taken a few steps out of SL and into the OpenSim environment by getting my own sim in ReactionGrid.  I have a building project there that suffers of a serious lack of progress.

Even if I love writing, it does take a lot of time.  I tend to formulate and reformulate a lot, even if the result is rather far from Shakespeare's English. 

The net result of all this is that I won't repeat my commitment for periodic postings on this blog.  No, it won't disappear, and I will still write from time to time, but next year will be more inworld focused (at least that's what I hope:-).

There are so much to see!  So many gifted people doing awsome stuff in lots of different worlds.   I so want to see it all.....

Feathers Boa has an awsome exhibit at Four Island North.  It shows how virtual world art can be of a quality matching the best of RL, and also surpass it because of the added possibilities the grid makes possible.  It's deeply moving too.  Do go take a look.

And this I guess is what will happen to my blog.  2011 will be the year of virtual art and art alone.  I will write when I find something awsome worth sharing, and I hope some of you might find that interesting.

So there we go.  A year has gone by.  A new one is starting.  I do look forward to what it will bring!

Friday, November 26, 2010

52 of 52 1/2 - Shamen Gallery reopens!

Really no reason for a gallery to be indoors -  This is SL after all!

Back in July, I wrote about the closing of Shamen Galleries.  That was a rather sad happening.  So more the happy was I when Rune IM'ed me and told me about his plan to reopen for himself.  He kindly asked me over to check out the place before the official opening on Sunday, November 28th (at 10:00 am SLT).

I arrived meeting him and Tegan Jenvieve chatting around in voice while playing backgammon.  Now, for some reason, I am trying to force myselves to get familiar with Viewer 2, and doing voice there was a first-time.  I spent several minutes trying to find out how to activate voice, only to conclude that there is no way to deactivate it.  And the button has moved to the lower left, and stopped being a "hold down while you talk" kind of toggle.  If you want to do voice, just click on Speak, the green light is lit, and you just talk.  I had to admit the whole thing worked pretty smoothly, and it is a nice experience talking to people you meet.  I do feel, however, that doing voice makes me loose some of the immersion.  Voice becomes the main line of communication, and the avatar reduced to a kind of puppet.  But in a lot of situations thats quite OK. 

After telling me about his vision for the gallery, Rune called a nice turtle to show me around the lawn.

Anje Aichi has a nice series of female avatars - they kind of display some emotions and life that are very unusual in my experience.

Sandralee Palianta had some RL (almost) nudes (of herselves, if her profile picture tells the truth...).

He plans to have several exhibits where the visitor can participate in the art.  There will be a permanent exhibit along with themed ones.  The first theme is erotica, and this one will be open for the rest of the year. 

One of Shamen Galleries great strength was the connections Rune and Cierra had with a lot of artists in SL.  They allays seemed to be able to get both well-known and exciting new artists for their shows.  It is a pleasure to see that Rune have not lost that network.

Fuschia is doing erotic art - thats new!  

When I looked at them I thought "gee, these gives me sensations down my spine, whoever made those?", and when I did an Edit it was no real surprise that it was her.  One of SL's greatest artists, she makes great art in all the different expressions she explores.

Also on show is some of the work she has done togheter with Tegan.  A must-see.  Tegan is the director of the new Shamen Galleries btw. 

Bobbi Laval is a new artist for me, but I hope it will not be the last time I see her work.

There are lot of different artists' work around - and that's a big strength to this place.

I have always loved black rooms in SL, having built a few of them myself.  Rune has made one too, and again Fuschia blows my breath away with her sculpture "forbidden fruit":

The fruit of passion burning violet

After the tour it was nice for a sore-foot avatar to just sit down and relax for a while.  I'm glad the SL community still have people like Rune and Tegan, artists and hopefully a lot of visitors:-)  All people with a genuine love of life, beauty and art that makes this such a unique place to be.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

50 of 52 - Aristocratic Rezday and Blogger Pessimism

 When the Ladies and Gents in Winterfell get together to celebrate a 5-year rez day, it's rare to spot an ARC below 2000. 

There are a lot of negative blog coverage about SL and LL these days.  The lab goes through all the typical pains any upstart business settling down does, and that is bound to create frustrations amongst a lot of their customers.  This, in combination with a more mature OpenSim technology, has led to a certain exodus from Second Life to other worlds.

But it's actually just a certain.  The statistics in HyperGrid Business shows that the total growth in virtual worlds is more than 10 times larger than the decline in SL regions.  1605 regions increase in OpenSim based worlds versus 137 lost from SL.

A sim is not a sim, as Ener loves to say, but even so these numbers indicate that virtual world usage is rising. And for those of us that loves these fairytale places thats a good sign!

The single most interesting strategic decision that Linden Lab will need to make during the next few years is weather to embrace or resist the OpenSim ecosystem.  There are several interesting options available for them.  They can choose to work with a few major OpenSim Grids to allow hypergrid and asset transfer to and from SL.  They can themselves offer lower-cost OpenSim based regions integrated with Second Life.  Or, at the extreme end, they can try to convert the Second Life world to OpenSim.  True, that would be a huge project, probably too huge, but it all depends on the will.

From the IT world, an example comes to my mind. 

IBM, faced with the growth of the free Linux operating system and the Java language, both competing with their proprietary systems, have chosen to embrace and offer these technologies as an alternative to their own.  And it seems they are having great success with both lines.

So I think thats the middle ground that the Lab ought to run for: Work with and extend the OpenSim product.  Offer OpenSim Grids with the competitive edge of being able to interact with the Second Life grid.  And perhaps do that together with some OS grid operators.

Ladies and Gentleman, a toast for the future of virtual worlds:-)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

49 of 52 - Stacking Prims

Victorian outfit for a Victorian Castle Builder

SL's model of payment for server space is the use of Prims.  The price of a Prim vary, as do the amount of land you get for each prim.  In a normal SIM, prims and land are tied together with the constant of 2,295 sqm/Prim.  This is actually a fairly high value compared to the real world, and it limits the level of 3D detail that can be recreated virtually.  As I am writing this, I am looking at the bookshelf in my living room (a home-made 28 prim piece LOL) that contains at least 400 prims worth of books and CD's. And there are lots of other stuff in here that would require lots of prims to recreate truly.  Even being a bit conservative, this 32 sqm room contains at least 1000 prims, requiring the constant of just 0,032 sqm/prim.  Thats two orders of magnitude better resolution than SL, and if it where to be matched would require each sim to hold 2 million prims instead of 15.000....  Virtual worlds still have a long way to go!

To cover up this loss of details, builders commonly paints what should have been individual prims onto a surface; that is a complete bookshelf with books is just 1 prim with 2 different textures: Front and sides.

The same things happens with prefab houses.  Builders draws windows and other details on textures.  This looks nice from a distance, but close by you notice the lack of true 3D windowposts and the like.  Also, most prefabs I have seen using this technique has a kind of "blurry" feel. 

Anyway, building my own homes I prefer to build using discrete prims.  So, in my castle-in-spe, the thin glass window prims are truly recessed into the thick stone walls.  And since all the windows uses the same texture, and all the walls are using the same texture, the viewer can render the outside walls of the castle loading just 2 different textures, even if the layout of the walls vary.  This leads to faster rezzing.  

Meshes might change all this, allowing us to create true 3D details without using prims.  However, it seems that the lab will still count "equivalent prims" - that is one mesh object will count as several prims.  Noone knows these rules yet, but I do hope they do not "punish" detailed 3D design too much.  If they do, we will still get prefabs with painted windows, and that would really be a vaste of this new technolog.

But I think stacking prims will still be the most engaging way to  build!

48 of 52 - Writers block

So after 48 weeks, I have failed.  One complete week and no posting on the blog.  My only comfort is that earlier this year I have actually posted more than once a week. 

SL is kind of depressing sometimes.  Friends disappears.  Old places vanishes. 

But new people and fantastic creations surfaces too, so I guess the future is not all that bad.

Monday, October 18, 2010

47 of 52: House of Cards @ Burnning Man

Miso Susanowa, Xenophile Neurocam and Trill Zapatero has made an interesting build on the Burning Man grounds: House of Cards.  To quoute:

House of Cards: 
The History of Social Networks 
Considered As A House of Cards

The theme and inspiration of this build is based on personal experience
in the growth stages of the social networking scene leading
up to Second Life and the present virtual worlds.

Beginning with the earliest BBS and MUD environments, through the
VRML and 2D progenitors of the mid-90s to the  current VWs, the
birth and growth of virtual worlds and communities is imagined as a
tenuous structure: a house of cards.

An Avatar has climbed these shaky and transitive platforms and is
reaching for the future hypergrid/worlds.

Inside, the build is decorated with screen shots and other materials from old virtual environments.  Also, there are animated texts and other effects floating all around. 

There is an extensive sound environment inside the build, so please turn up the sound if you are normally wandering SL as a deaf (like I do at the office LOL).

 The terminal gives you a notecard with more info

I found the idea quite interesting: That SL is just the top card in the stack (for now) in a big house of earlier attempts to create an immersive environment.  Some day, SL will be as old-fashioned as text-based MUDs feels today. 

Now, MUD ruled some 25 years ago.  That makes you think, because who can imagine what kind of environments will we have 25 years in the future?  Will we even be able to detect any difference between our first and second lives? And how will that impact how we live them?

Follow the white rabbit!  This is an innovative build well worth seing!

Friday, October 15, 2010

46 of 52: Viewer 2 and "fast fun easy": One of three isn't that bad?

I could hardly believe it, but when trying out the latest Viewer 2 on Lyra (my tiny netbook), it actually outperformed Imprudence on frame rates!   Even in the sculpt-heavy estate I live in it was easy to move around.

Viewer 2 still ain't fun and it still ain't easy, but one of three is at least something:-)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

45 of 52 - Linden Lab and Moore: Do they keep up?

In 1965, Intel Co-funder Gordon E. Moore formulated what has later been known as Moore's Law:  The number of transistors we manage to squeeze into an integrated circuit doubles each year.  In 1975 he amended it a bit, reducing the growth rate to a doubling in two years.  A colleague of his factored in the performance gain made from this, and predicted that the performance of computer components doubles every 18 months.

In practical terms, it means that if you buy a new computer every 3rd year, you would expect a 4-times increase in performance if you run the same programs.  Often enough, you don't, because the new computer comes with a new version of Windows that consumes even more of the machines resources, but that's another story LOL.

I've been in SL for 3 years now.  And I wonder: Has Linden Lab kept up with Moore's Law?  Have Second Life performance doubled twice the last 3 years?

It's easy to forget how bad things where in "the good old days".  I could never expect to be able to be online for more than an hour at a time without crashing.  Several times a month, the whole grid would be down because of unexpected or (sometimes) planned maintenance.   Remember the pictures of the monkeys:  Clearly inspired by the novel 2001 by Arthur C. Clarke, it was clear to all that Linden Lab was run by cool people who also knew their sci-fi literature.  It kind of made us all happy to feel that we lived in a world where our creators was still busy shaping it.

I have not seen this picture for ages.  One reason might be that the grid is almost never down anymore; clearly a performance increase we all love, even if it is seldom prised.  And when we talk about performance: It's now generally possible to walk around a dense club with 40 other avatars with no problems.  In short, a SIM mostly just works.  I remember my first beach party; we where about 15-20 people, and everyone was happy about how smooth things worked:  Somehow, 20 people in a sim was a great feat!  Sure, nowadays we complain when 80 people tries to get all their attachment in at the same time, and long for the day when technology will allow 40.000 people in one place, but the hard fact is that NO VIRTUAL WORLD IN EXISTENCE TODAY OUTPERFORMS SL.  So yes, actual capacity has at least doubled.

When I joined SL, median concurrency was around 30.000.  During the next 18 month, that figure doubled to more than 60.000.  So, at least during that time, Moore's law held true.

Since then, concurrency have flattened, to say it nicely, but somehow I feel that technology is not to blame for that.

A more important reason for the absence of the monkeys, however, is that the Lab has somehow "grown up", no longer profiling themselves with these kinds of images.  And it seems to me that this is what the long-term residents and bloggers miss the most: The feeling of being "pioneers", of being loved by the kings and the queens and the demigods that used to be around.

Now, we have a world with a few well-defined options for server space rentals; options that has mostly remained stable during the three years I've been in SL.  As we are used to when we order a web hotel or a virtual server on the net, we use automated systems that fixes everything, and have no rational need for a spike-haired arch-angel to show us around or care deeply about what we do.

Is that the simple reason while SL is not growing anymore?  Because we just miss the monkeys and the punkhead CEO and the magic bean plants growing outside Gov' Lindens mansion?

Whatever, in 3 years I expect to be able to invite at least 160 people to my 6-years day!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

44 of 52 - Three years in SL

There is a certain tradition of jumping naked from the sky on your rezday.  It's supposed to make you reflect on your second life, what it's worth to you and to help you decide whether or not to go on with it.

What to say: Those incredibly hot pictures was snapped on the office computer, and the office is now a week away LOL.  So I'm sorry to say you all have to miss my naked butt falling down on the Winterfell estate.

That ought to make you happy:-)

So, my forth year in SL started by looking at the beauty of the sea and the green and my naked ass.  Sounds quite appropriate.

To see what the future might hold, I then decided to try the Display Name feature.  Fired up an old alt account, logged into the dreaded Wiewer2 GUI and managed to find the correct button.  Just to get a grip on how it would feel, I set my real life name as display name and started to walk around.

Yes, if ever one can talk about avatar identity, it was a bit lost now.  This was just me, walking around the project grid.  When this is going to the main grid, I will definitively explore this further - it somehow felt rather cool.

I see the attraction for some "serious use" of virtual worlds.  If ever SL will be the platform of choice for such use.  Of course, in OpenSim, you can register any name you like, so this is really not needed, except perhaps for the unicode possibilities.

This was a kind of hasty and messy post, I guess a bit like how my SL feels right now.  Now it's on to a RL vacation instead:-)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

43 of 52 - Living IRL in San Fransisco

Live music in RL too!  Sound level unreachable in SL at home, a fact my neighbors probably appreciates...

This week has actually been very busy blogwise, even if none of you my ignored faithful readers here would have noticed.  Attending the Oracle OpenWorld conference in SF, I have made 20 RL blog posts in 4 days, actually right now I'm starting the 21th...  Ok, it's mostly technical, but there are exception, like the event yesterday at Treasure Island, where the Black Eyed Peas set the night on fire:-)   Hmm, Cristopher would have liked to be there too!

Now, are there any relevance between this conference and virtual worlds?  Actually, there are several!

Regarding content, it seemed to me that the musicians and dancers in the Black Eyed Peas had costumes one normally only see in virtual worlds:-)

Cloud Computing is a major theme this year, and any OpenSimulator based world with intention of growing towards the size of SL will need this kind of technology to be able to scale.

The third facet is that Oracle, afterbuying Sun this year, also owns the MySQL database engine.  And MySQL is actually used by both Second Life and OpenSimulator-based grids to keep track of all the items in world and in our ever-growing inventories.  So it's good to be ensured of the continued support and development of this product.

The last point is that Linden Lab's HQ is actually just down the street from the hotel, but more of that in another post, when I get home and get the Jet-lag out of the body:-)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

42 of 52 - What's the carbon footprint of an avatar?

Sitting on the bus the other day, feeling very environmentally friendly (/me not flying around like in RG), I started to wonder about the impart virtual worlds and avatar has on the world.

To find out if avatars have a carbon footprint at all, we need to look at servers. Boring square boxes with expensive components that runs our world. If you don't love the look of a data-center in the dark, feel free to jump to the conclusion at the bottom:-)

The main component in a server is the CPU/Processor. It's the closest thing to a brain that a computer has. Back in the dark ages of the beginning of the PC era, a CPU was only capable of thinking of one task at a time (some say that's typically male:-) ). Todays processors have several "cores", that is, they are capable of running several tasks at the same time, thus somehow acting like several processors on one chip (not unlike some woman I know....).

The Second Life server software runs one full region per dedicated CPU core, while 3 homesteads or 4 openspaces shares a core. Doing some simple math, we find that the grid as of today demands 24.500 CPU cores. In addition, there are database clusters, inventory servers, login servers, web servers, development servers, the aditi test grid, and so forth. To keep it simple, we estimate 5.500 cores for these, giving us a need of 30.000 CPU cores.

A modern server deploys 2 6-core CPUs in a 1U rack mounting for a total of 12 cores per server. This gives us a need for 2.500 servers. To be able to visualize the volume of servers: 2500 servers needs 55 full-height racks, or a row of lockers around 30 meter long.

A typical "pizza-box" server - the hei1ght is commonly measured in U - this is a 1U server holding 12 full sims!

Our hero system admin has servers stacked closely in racks.

Alternatively, 2500 servers is about the equivalent of a so-called "cloud container" - a kind of superserver installed in a housing the size of a 40 foot container, designed for huge datacenter usage. One interesting aspect of these containers is that they are designed for out-door operations, to get the benefit of free cooling. So, next time you encounter a 40 feet container (the long ones), you can think that as of today, this is the smallest box our world can fit into.

Unfortunately, most of Second Life probably runs on older servers, perhaps with just dual core CPUs, making it a potential total of 7.500 servers or 170 racks in an 85 meter row..

Is this how Second Life looks like?

7.500 servers each taking 200 watt power and 200 watt cooling consumes 3 million watt, or 26 million kWh per year. Thats a lot of power, but it's actually a lot less that the viewers! If we assume a mean login concurrency of 60.000, each running on a PC consuming on average of 150 watt, we must add a whopping 79 million kWh per year for a total of 105 million kwh per year.

That's the equivalent of 5200 average Norwegian households, or a bit less than 20.000 people. Considering that second life is the home of more than 500.000 avatars logging in at least once every week, this means that an avatar consumes just 4 percent as much power as a human being, or about 210 kWh/year. Add to this the fact that an avatar seldom drives a car, and when they do it's always a zero-emission vehicle, so maybe it's not too bad:-)

According to this report, the mean carbon footprint per kWh in the US was 1.4 pounds in 1999. Converting to metric, it gives each avatar an average carbon footprint of 133kg/year, or 0.15 metric tons. To visualize that, my medium-sized car, running 20.000 km/year, has a carbon footprint of 4.55 metric tons.

An avatar has a carbon footprint of 0.15 metric tons a year!

So yes, an avatar actually have a measurable carbon footprint, but fortunately it's a lot less than us human. For me, using the my bike just 2 km/day instead of the car would offset my avatars carbon footprint (not to mention giving me a body he would envy me lol). Anyone up for that challenge?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

41 of 52 - The Traveller

Hermes Kondor is an artist I discovered a long time ago. He describes himselves as
"Spiritual healer
Student of Spirituality
Digital artist
Professional Photographer, in RL and SL"

I am impressed with his used of colors; vivid and strong, yet not over the edge. The motives are often a bit mysterious; focusing on spirituality and (as I feel it) space. His new exhibit, The Traveller, is really a must-see. Grab the taxi and discover your own spirituality.

I'm off for some live music; Max is in town:-)

Friday, September 3, 2010

40 of 52 - And what about Open car rental?

It's certainly big, but where is the engine?

Imagine a world where the sole inventor of cars are the only one producing them, and they are making them for rent only. Part II (Part I here).

A few years ago, Linden Cars decided to publish the blueprints for the dashboards in their cars. At the time, they felt that innovation was needed because frankly, even if their cars was OK, the dashboard was dull blue with some rather old-fashioned rounded buttons. True enough, before long, several people was making their own dashboards and contributing improvements to the official one.

Although mostly beneficial, it's a bit risky retrofitting your car with a new dashboard. Not long ago, the makers of a very clever green-colored dashboard decided to have some fun. They incorporated an auto pilot that started the car while the person renting it was sleeping, running it over to a rival car designers house to let i stand in the courtyard, flashing the lights and honking the horn. At times, the poor guy could not get out of his own house because of all the cars flooding it. As a result, Linden Cars have discourage users from using that particular dashboard.

While allowing people to use third-party dashboards, the car maker has also tried to make a new dashboard by themselves. Hiring a bicycle designer called "Strange Spaceship", they made Dashboard 2.0 with a non-transparent head-up display that hides the complexity of the roads from the driver, giving her instead lots of tabs with illogical symbol that lists her phone directory and the content of the trunk. Needless to say, the controversial design has lead to a number of accidents, and most new renters of linden cars now retrofit their vehicles with an independent dashboard.

But back to the cars. Some clever people also noted that when they had the blueprint for the dashboard, they could use that information to figure out how the rest of the car was working. Being a bit tone-deaf they choose a manufacturing method called C#, set up a project and a few years later the alpha version of the blueprints was ready. OpenCar was born.

You too can put together an OpenCar in the basement, but it's really hard to keep it running. So most people choose to rent one. Several independent but small outlets have blossomed, promising big car experiences for small money.

Most OpenCars sports an enormous trunk of 4500 liters, and you can have them for as little as US$10 a month. On the other hand, they don't come with an engine. Being quite a modern concept, they draw their power from a shared engine in the sky. Trouble is, if you pack your car with 4 cubic metres of family luggage, and fills it up with kids and a husband, you might not get enough power to make the car move at all. This has led to people renting up to 16 cars at once to ensure they have the sole use of one cloud engine.

Another challenge with renting an OpenCar is that the blueprints are not finished yet. This means that you might start your car in the morning, discovering that the pedals have been replaced by a flight stick overnight, or that the trunk is suddenly in the front of the car in stead of the back, but a lot of people find this just fun.

No-one knows when the OpenCar concept will be more stable, or how long Linden Cars can keep ahead of development. Also, some people are thinking of abandoning cars, finding them rather old-fashioned. An upstart maker of flying saucers have been given lot of attention lately, together with a company that wants us to sail instead of drive. Needless to say, life on the move has never been more fun!

Sometimes turning around is wise

Apple has released a new version of iPod Shuffle. The previous one (on the right) was even smaller and had no control buttons, somehow culminating the trend towards minimalism that this product has developed through.

So, it seems that the lead innovator in GUI design has discovered that it has somehow made a bad design decision with this product. The interface was perhaps too simple for a good first-hour experience?

As Gizmodo said it: "If you need something like this for exercise, or if you just hate the fact that there are no buttons on this one, buy the last-gen shuffle before they're all gone, or wait till next year when Apple changes its mind. To tell the truth, this new shuffle is just okay. We don't know what kind of a statement they were trying to make with it, but suffice it to say, the message wasn't received."

Now, this kind of feedback reminds me of how Viewer 2.0 was received. Add to this the fact that 2.0 is used by less than 20% of the labs customers, and that it has not increased the user retention rate notably, it makes me wonder: When will the Lab do as Apple has just done: Realize it's threading the wrong path, and turn around? And when it does, will they be able to make an innovate back turn?

/me can hardly wait :-)

Because what we really want is this: Not just a U-turn back to the 1.23 GUI, but something with the "I just want this" feeling. Like Apple just did when combining the "new" retro-shuffle design with the iPod Nano screen. That's sexy! Just like we want Second Life to be!

Monday, August 30, 2010

39 of 52 - What if Linden Lab was a car rental company?

Having just spent some RL time (not to mention money lol) to buy a replacement for the 1o-year-old-car-that-had-a serious-oil-leak thing, it seemed a bit natural to apply that experience to virtual worlds.

Imagine a world where the sole inventor of cars are the only one producing them, and they are making them for rent only.

So you want a car too? For some reason or another, no-one is actually selling a complete car. Sure, all the parts are available, some even for free, but putting together your own car has always been a hassle.

That leaves you basically with two choices: Linden Cars and Open Cars.

Linden Car offers 3 different models (Full, Home and Open). They are all extremely popular, well built and whenever you go to a Linden Car event, you get to meet a lot of people. If you want to manufacture and sell equipment and gadgets for Linden Cars, you have to rent from them to be allowed access to their marketplace.

The full car is black, big and powerful - you know you want one!

The Full car has a 1500 liter trunk, one-time rental fee of US$1000, and a monthly fee of just US295. In theory, it accommodates up to 5 passengers, but in practice it's slowing down when it carries more than 3.

The Home car is slick and fast, but don't carry much load

If you can't afford 295 a month, there are cheaper models available. The Home model has a smaller trunk, just 375 liters, and it's a two-seat model only. Even smaller, the Open car has just one seat and a mere 75 liter trunk, really just suitable to shop some nice-looking flowers at the local store.

The Open car: Mostly a toy

To get one of the small models, for some reason you have to rent a Full car also. This has led to a marked where owners of the Full model are sub renting their Home rentals, though this does come at a premium. Even if an Open model is just US$125 / month, you normally have to pay 150 to sub-rent it.

All Linden models include free mileage and gas, which is nice since a Linden car can't be stopped - it's engine is always running even when it's parked overnight. Being an environmental-aware guy or gurl (Calefornian?) you may worry about this a little bit, but since gas is included in the rent most people seems not to care.

Initially, Linden Car was the only car-maker in the country. In later years, a number of smaller companies have started to offer cheaper models based on the Open Car standard. In my next posting I will have a look at that market too.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

RL Interludes

A glimpse from my RL: After a 2 hour walk in the wood, I came here:

OK, so it's by the parking lot, but I DID walk two hours before returning here...

We all need breaks to be able to function as human beings. Be it a 1 minute timeout in the handball game, a 5 minute coffee break, a 1 hour lunch, 2 hours of solitude beneath the trees, a weekend away from work or a months holiday in the sun, breaks are a necessity for us. Because of how our minds and bodies work, we tend to dig ourselves into holes where there are no longer any know exit. That is, until we start to think about something else for a while.

Putting life into perspective, I think it's called.

I can't say anymore that I take a break from virtual worlds, because they have become my breaks. A year ago, that was not the case, and I sometimes miss the exciting feeling of thinking about SL day and night, logging on every time I had a possibility to slip away from my life, but at the same time I fear it.

Night Flower recently returned from a 17 month break from SL. Her pen being as sharp as it ever was, she continues to write very personal from her life. In her NWN blogpost, she writes:

"The wiser, truer part of me takes Night's hand, and settles in to reminisce about old times, wrapped in the warm glow of a virtual sunset."

Sometimes a break need to be really long to work. Welcome back to our world Night; I hope you will be happy:-)

Btw, I really disagree with Soror Nishi in her post where she "...denounce the illusory myth of the Integrated Personality". She says "For one person to demand that the other give up using, say, the phone as it is destroying their lives is clearly rubbish, why would SL be any different?".

I say that virtual worlds ARE different from almost any other media or entertainment. The illusion of reality it creates can be so powerful (partly because lot's of it are not illusions, there are real people behind the keys also!) that it has the strength to tear your person in two.

When you feel that your life is just a shadow of what it could be because you are mentally away most of the time, you do need to take steps to realign yourselves with your shadow. You need to be one and whole to be happy.

Aw, enough crap:-) Next post I ponder the question "What if Linden Lab was a car rental agency?"

Till then: Be happy!

/me playing with my shadow

Friday, August 27, 2010

38 of 52 - Enerville Gone (again, sigh)

The straight edge is the result of a known OpenSimulator bug :-)

Ener has been tidying up her sims in ReactionGrid, even to the point of sinking the landscape down in the sea, as a sort of a sci-fi version of Atlantis. I won't call her silly - whenever I have left land in SL I have allways cleaned up after me. And while I don't loose sleep over Ener Hax (even if I prefer cognaq to martinis:-) ) it's a bit sad that Enerville is gone - again. Whenever I was a bit stuck in RG, I used to tour Enclave harbour just to loosen up and get some inspiration. Thanks for that, Ener! I will certainly start hypergridding in when new Atlantis has again risen from the virtual sea:-)

Still no waiter in this estate, and now I guess noone will ever come:-)

But there are other interesting places in RG. I decided to take a tour around the grid.

A Hebrew teacher is building this temple:

There is a recreation of the 1939 New York World's Fair (WF1)

Here are cities...

... and a small version of London :-)

Now, there are lots of these experimental build sim's (including mine, LOL), and I find it refreshing that lots of people are experimenting with virtual worlds, even if none of us are very professional builders. As a social and entertainment plattform, SL has reached a level of detail and quality in the content available that is unattainable for people who's main focus is not the creation itselves but the use of inworld build mechanisms in education or creativity. The SL tier price is just too high for non-professionals too. Somehow, OSGrid sims seems to have a focus on usability instead of impression; of being the work of involving teachers as a backdrop for their personal contact with their student; of being just pure joy of rezzing prims and feeling good about it.

Virtual worlds are evolving at every level - the future seems bright indeed!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Emerald Mess and Trust in a virtual world environemt

Since I mentioned the Emerald viewer in my post yesterday, I feel the need to raise a general warning about the use of 3rd party viewers.

All software you install on your PC is a potential security threat. There are a few technical security measures on modern operating systems (Linux, MacOS and Windows 7) that limits what an application can do without being given consent, but there is still a lot of headroom for creating havoc.

More specifically, any application can access the net, upload information and receive instructions on what to do without you knowing anything about it. So really, you are at the mercy of the supplier when it comes to your security on the net.

Last week, the head of the Emerald development team inserted code in the splash screen to facilitate a Denial of Service attack on a blog writer he had some grudges about. He misused the computers and network connections of EVERY Emerald user, making us all an unwilling tool for his childish prank. The Emerald project seems to be in deep shit right now, mostly because the lack of trust this incident have created.

But it could actually have been a lot worse. When you use any viewer to log into Second Life, you give that viewer total control over your account.

I don't know what security measures Linden Lab have on the server side, but in principle nothing is stopping malicious code inside the viewer to send your password to an external server, transfer money to another account, or use your avatar to send griefing IMs or do any action whatsoever.

Not only that, but nothing is stopping it from receiving commands from a central server in real time. This is an exploit normally known as a botnet.

It's a scary thought, but anyone with such a control over a popular viewer could actually destroy Second Life, or at least force the lab to roll back everything to last backup. Lets say someone managed to insert code into the latest release of the imaginary and very popular Pink (:-)) viewer: Two scenarios are particularly scary:

1. The bored prank's wet dream:
Sunday evening, with concurrency at its highest, every running Pink viewer starts to shuffle money around randomly to other Pink viewer users. If you have payment details on file, the viewer will buy as many lindens it can and transfer those too. The viewer deletes every no-copy item in anyones invent, and when it's done your avatar undresses, shows off a big Pink d**k, and jumps on the nearest avatar it can find. If that avatar too is Pink controlled, well, there is no telling what position they might start to use.... If you panic and close the viewer, another Pink users instance will log in your avatar as a bot, the bot will go around all your land, delete all builds, abandon all land, and the mad dance will continue until Linden Lab is forced to shut down the grid.

2. The cold criminal:
He is in this for the money. So, he will slowly tap accounts and buy lindens with your credit card, hiding the fact from the owner by displaying a fake sum in the top-right corner. If he is not greedy, he might be able to get real dollars out of SL before anyone raised the alarm.

To be sure, I will guess that Linden Lab has server-side and other operational security measures that may detect and stop such attacks, and there are technical and legal ways to find the ones responsible afterwards. Also, it will probably require too much work for anyone to fully exploit the possibilities. But they are scary enough even on a much smaller scale. So, using a 3rd party viewer really requires trust.

How do you find whom to trust? If the viewer is registered in the labs Third-Party Viewer Directory, then it's a sign that the authors are probably not going to mess with you (though it must be said that Emerald was on that list until recently:( )

This brings us directly to the core of trust in a virtual world where the only thing you know about a person is their avatar profile and the sum of all public statements they make: In blogs, on twitter and inworld.

Some viewer developers are active bloggers. I find that attitudes and expressions are rather exposing of the characters behind the av. There are developers I trust and developers I don't trust. I can't tell you who you should trust, because you have to make that choice by yourselves. I just wanted to tell you that yes: there are third-party viewers that is much better than the official ones, but you really do have to be a bit careful when choosing one.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

37 of 52 - Art and Arms race?

Finally back in SL - and trying to keep up with my blog, barely managing this weeks post ... I remember an old quarrel as to whether Sunday or Monday is the first day of the week. Since it suits me I am going to define that Sunday is the last day; that way I managed a post this week too!

The Emerald Viewer has taken the login page one step further. Instead of just showing a picture of some unknown beautiful place, there is a link that will bring you there when you log in - so simple and yet so powerful - that's a feature the lab should work on! But perhaps they just don't want to let the Emerald people head the development. Some more thoughts on that later.

Today the link took me to a place called Springfield Gardens. It's a beautiful garden with a gallery! Connie Arida had some nice works on display there, including a 1973 quote on the need for secondary worlds:

"Man needs a 'second' world, a world of humanity created meaning, a new reality that he can live, dramatize, nourish himself in. 'Illusion' means creative play at its highest level."

Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death (1973)
Really thought provoking!

The garden and the surrounding beaches are very well done - if you like the sea you will love the way the violent waves hits the rocks. It's a homestead; the owners welcome you to explore her art and her home. It's just such a prime example of what can be done with such a sim - it's just so sad that a homestead is just a bit too pricy for most people not aiming to make money in SL.

So what's up with the lab these days? SL enterprise is gone; educators are flocking to opensim grids, and viewer 2 gets more and more decimals: currently it's 2.1.1, but I'm still a grey cloud when I try to log in.. sigh...

The announcement of the new Display Name feature in SL made me suddenly think about the arms race between the US and the former Soviet Union during Reagan's presidentship. The tactic was to force the soviet to spend so much money on the military that the rest of the country would suffer so much that the government eventually would fail.

Now, the features Linden Lab has made lately (apart from the appalling viewer 2 GUI that is) does force the Opensim community to work on catching up with SL instead of introducing goodies for themselves. HTML-on-a-prim, the tattoo layer, new media interface and soon display names means that the lindens are again positioning themselves at the head of the race, using their sheer marked size to regain some control of the direction that virtual worlds will go.

Even after laying off the main developer, the lab claims that mesh import will come. Somehow I feel that this will be implemented slightly different than the Opensim modrex module, again forcing the OS community to redesign. Oh well. History has shown that server side, open software has prevailed. Opensim will be for virtual worlds what Apache is for the web server marked, and its success or failure will mostly depend on weather or not these kinds of immerse
environments will really be commonplace.

But back to viewer development: There is one single crucial difference between the efforts of Linden Lab and all the other viewers: Where all the rest focuses on features that are aimed solely at making a better product for the current users, LL focuses on expanding their marked. If the viewer 2.0 GUI gives them 2 new customers they don't care if they loose one. So they try to find a direction where they think these 2 new customers are. The danger in such a strategy is of course that you risk loosing the one you had and not gaining any new ones. The statistics don't show any huge growth of SL, and whenever I'm in-world using Emerald, it seems that about half of the people around me has ditched LL's viewer (for those that have not tried it, Emerald shows you what kind of viewers other people are using).

This is clearly a race. The Emerald people have introduced features like new attachment points only visible to other Emerald users that gives them a richer experience of SL than the official viewer. Now, LL is not going to stand and watch while an external group takes that kind of control over their product. My fear is that if viewer 2.0 adoption is still less than 10 percent at the end of the year, meaning they will have failed in the viewer competition, the lab will be tempted to use the TOS to clamp down on thrid-party viewer development further.

Seems there are interesting times ahead of us, to say the least. I am happy though that with Philip back on the helm, the lab is again focused on the consumer marked. I just hope they will keep focusing on the creative consumers, keeping it a world made by us, for us, and not going the Playstation Home route where everything is slick and smooth and thoroughly commercialised. Walking around there just makes me sad, because in contrast it so lifeless compared to both SL and the OS grids. No, I want worlds where Connie Arida and everyone else that finds joy in creating and showing off can do so even if there are no money in it for the entertainment industry. Luckily, it seems Opensim will make sure this will happen. It's up to the lab to decide if they want to be a part of it still:-)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

36 of 52 - OpenSimulator Diva Release - Offline vacation post 2

Riding a Hippo in my local world - part of the Diva fun

Having a private sim on your own PC can be very nice sometimes when you just need a place to break havoc of everything. OpenSimulator gives you just that possibility. I have done several OpenSim installations in the past, and though I always got them working it used to be a pain editing configuration files and getting all the components to work together.

Now, Diva Canto has put together a nearly complete release called Diva. The only manual steps you need to take to get it running is installing MySQL and using the console to create a database and a user. All the opensim config files are written by a simple config utility.

When it's all up and running, you log into a world with 4 regions configured in a single mega region; that means no region crossings when you fly around! (Megaregions is something sorely lacking in SL; it will allow much more seamless car and boat races for instance.).

Four of these islands makes up your starter world.

I loaded an .oar file exported from ReactionGrid; in less than 15 seconds my landscape and builds appeared.

Not much here yet; too many projects going on....

Even more impressive, the oar also contained a large skybox building ground:

Prototyping heaven...

When you run OS locally on your PC, you have full access to the console, and can make oar exports whenever you want. Low-end OS hosting providors often does not give you that possibility. Its a great way to Undo large changes to landscape and builds that where less than successful (and believe me, that happens all the time:-).

I feel that the 0.6.9 release of OpenSimulator is a kind of a breakpoint for this software. For the first time things seems to work seamlessly. OK, there may be more server crashes than in SL, but when it's running it's working as smooth as one can wish. Even with the region server running locally on the laptop, performance is great.

In addition to the server, Diva also distributes a large library of useful stuff, like nice trees (not to mention the Hippos:-) ). Yes, I can finally have a real forest sim!

When you build something on your PC, you may want to let other people walk around in your creations. There are (at least) two possibilities: Either get a sim in an OpenSim based grid and export your OAR to that sim, or use a tool like Stored Inventory to backup builds and restore them to any other grids (including SL!). If you buy the single avatar version, just remember to name your avatar exactly the same in every world (as if you did not do that already...). I have uses Stored Inventory a lot, and it's simple to use and works perfectly.

Have fun building!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

35 of 52 - Live music - Offline vacation post 1

Joonie sendt a group message about a concert gig last weekend. It turned out it was a set of live-sendt sessions, streamed to SL on a big screen. Sadly, my early timezone made me miss all except an early jam session, but it was a nice expericene to be able to see the real musicians.

While pure SL sessions with avatars on stage is nice enough, you do miss the varied expressions of artists, probably because the animations normally used in such gigs are just repetitive steps and playing motions. There is a distinct lack of technlogy and awareness that would enable musicians in SL to express themselves more through their avatars.

For instance: The rythm in the music should be transfered to the animations, allowing movements syncronized with the beat. Singers should be able to guide the microphone and lower it in pauses. Different guitar playing movements playing in tune with the intensity of the music.

How nice that there are still areas of possible improvements!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

34 of 52 - Winterfell to get a live music stage!

A music-loving avatar just waiting for some live action

Serra Anansi has recently reorganized a few sims in the beautiful Winterfell estate (where I currently live). Now she has found room for a live music stage! And there is a competition for building it too. I think it's a great boon for the estate to have such a gathering point - in reality people are seldom "at home" in sl, so meeting neighboors are not too common.

Winterfell Building Contest

Are you up for a unique challenge? We are looking for a unique mix of steampunk, goth, and elven to be the stage and focal point of Winterfells newest addition; “Anodyne Garden - Winterfells Live Music Venue”. If you think you have a great idea for this unusual and fun stage, send us an entry! If your design catches our eye and fulfills the following criteria you will be awarded L$5000.

- Stage must be 15 meters wide by 7 to 8 meters deep
- Stage may be up to 150 prims
- No seating is required in the build
- Scripts are acceptable if kept to a minimum
- Coordinate with the existing build (textures and sculpts available upon request)
- Accentuate and highlight the view of the water way behind the stage
- Meld the unique styles of Steampunk. Goth (not vampire) and Elven in a pleasing way

Other Details:
- Entries must be sent to Serra Anansi by midnight August 3rd SLT.
- Designers may enter up to three designs
- Check out the location: SLURL
- L$5000 will only be rewarded if we receive a usable design (a winner is not guaranteed)
- Winner will be announced on August 4th
- Winning design must be presented (copy and mod) by 6th of August for instillation.

Thanks for your interest and have fun!
Miss Serra of Winterfell