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!