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Saturday, July 19, 2014

New Offers from Linden Lab and a Problem with PayPal

Hello again, faithful readers!  Today's post is a quickie to talk about a couple of recent developments.

First, we have new offers from Linden Lab for existing and prospective Premium members.  For all Premium members, there's a new Premium Gift.  It's a Pirate Airship vehicle, with plenty of sit positions for captain and crew, and firing guns.  That's nice...but it's also very primmy, with a Land Impact value of 502.  Don't sail into any almost-full parcels, matey!

LL is also repeating their periodic offer of 50% off on a new quarterly Premium membership.  Note that this applies only to NEW Premium members.  You can't cancel your current membership, then sign up again and get the discount.  It only applies to the FIRST quarter.  After that, you pay the regular quarterly Premium fees.  What all this boils down to is that you actually get a better deal if you simply sign up for the annual plan at $72 per year.  But do be aware that LL never gives refunds.  If you decide you want to downgrade back to Basic, you will NOT get a refund of unused time on your membership!  You're locked into whatever period you select until the end of the billing cycle, whether that is monthly, quarterly, or annually.

The Official Blog Post: http://community.secondlife.com/t5/Featured-News/Limited-Time-Offer-Save-50-on-Premium-Membership-and-Get-the-New/ba-p/2779820

Everything You Should Know About Premium Membership: http://community.secondlife.com/t5/English-Knowledge-Base/Premium-membership/ta-p/1054477

Last, we have a New Bug.  Some people who use PayPal as their payment method are finding themselves unable to log in, getting the message "Unable to Connect to a Simulator."  If this sounds like you, first go to your Account page and remove PayPal as your payment method.  Then log in.  After you've logged in successfully, you MAY be able to add PayPal back to your account.  Read more about this bug here: https://jira.secondlife.com/browse/BUG-6735?

Oh, and one last tidbit:  N-Core is retiring all their old sculpty shoes, and is offering them at 60% off for a limited time.  There's not a thing wrong with using sculpties for shoes instead of Mesh, so this is a great time to save some money on some of the cutest shoes in Second Life.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Linden Lab Clarifies Terms of Service! Or Do They?

Almost a year ago, Linden Lab modified the Second Life Terms of Service.  In that change, they included wording that appeared to many creators to be a sweeping grab of intellectual property rights.

In the ensuing months, there was a great deal of discussion about this, including several open forums held by residents who were intellectual property lawyers in Real Life.  A number of popular creators removed their products from the grid, or even left SL in protest.

Now, finally, LL has modified the Terms of Service to, as a post in the SL blog today puts it, "more closely match our intent."  The blog post also states that LL has no plans to appropriate or re-sell content created by residents.

Although it's taken them the devil of a long time to do it, I have to give LL kudos for this action.  Read about it here:  http://community.secondlife.com/t5/Featured-News/Updates-to-Section-2-3-of-the-Terms-of-Service/ba-p/2777874

And be sure to re-read the new Terms of Service here: http://lindenlab.com/tos

But, despite the soothing, upbeat words of the official LL blog, others are still taking LL to task, pointing out that the new wording does not substantially change the TOS.  And, from a legal standpoint, they're right to do so.  It's the TOS that constitutes the binding agreement between you and Linden Lab no matter what they may say on their blog or elsewhere.

Those of you with nasty, suspicious minds should have a look at this blog post:  http://insertfunnyname.wordpress.com/2014/07/16/linden-lab-whiffs-the-tos-again/

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

"The Woman Tempted Me, and I Ate"

The title of today's post is, literally, the oldest excuse in the book.  The Book of Genesis, in fact.  That's what Adam said when God asked him why he'd done the one thing that he'd been commanded not to do.

But you know, as lame as his excuse sounds, poor Adam deserves some sympathy.  Men have always been susceptible to temptation from a woman.  They probably can't help it...it's hard wired into the species, part of the male imperative to spread their genes as widely as possible.  Or, as some of my cruder-minded friends put it, "men think with their dicks."

Why, you may ask yourselves, is Lindal going on about this well-known phenomenon?  I'll tell you in a moment.  But first, let me call your attention to a situation that occurs all too often:  cheating.  Specifically, cheating on your partner -- having sex with Someone Else.  It happens in Real Life, and it happens even more often in the virtual world.

Why more often?  I think there are several factors.  For one, there are not the same sort of consequences as there are in Real Life.  There, cheating can lead to broken marriages, divorce, huge legal fees, alimony payments, loss of reputation, and on and on.  In the virtual world, outside of upsetting one person (your partner) and maybe some of her friends, there are very few consequences to cheating.  And if you are even a little careful, the chances of actually getting caught are slim.

The temptation is, arguably, greater as well.  Second Life is full of stunningly beautiful, exotically dressed avatars.  For anyone who immerses at all, it's almost a certainty that you're going to meet someone (besides your current partner) that you find alluring.  If they seem at all willing, it's terribly easy to let one's libido rule one's actions.

So:  A lot of people cheat in Second Life.  We all know it, we've seen it.  The next question we have to ask ourselves is, "does it matter?"  After all, as I just pointed out, there aren't many social or financial consquences.  We don't have to worry about the kids not having a father.  For gosh sakes, even the sex isn't REAL, it's just people talking over the internet and arousing each other.  What's the big hairy deal? 

Well, in fact it's "no big deal" for a lot of people.  "It's only a game" is an attitude I've encountered many, many times.  However, I don't agree.  Even though the physical, financial, and social costs of cheating don't apply in the virtual world, the emotional consequences do, or at least they do for many people.  The relationships we form in Second Life are real, the emotions are real, the time and effort we invest in them are real.  The hurt from a betrayal of trust is real.  If you partner with someone and agree to a monogamous relationship, your promises and your moral responsibility are real.

I say, cheating on your partner in a virtual world is wrong.  It's bad.  If you do it, shame on you.

Having said that, let's go back now to the subject of temptation.  Some people, it turns out, are so insecure in their relationships that they decide to "test" their partner's fidelity.  They get a friend to flirt with their partner, trying to seduce him (or her...but men are a lot easier to tempt in this way.  See paragraph 2, above.)  Or they will create an alt, and do the same thing themselves.  (Of course, IS it cheating if he cheats on you with...you?  Ow, my head is starting to hurt.)

All too often, the partner who is tempted in this fashion will, in fact, succumb.  Then his partner can feel justified in screaming at him, "YOU CHEATED ON ME, F*CKER!"  Well, of course he did, dear...after you trailed an irresistable bait in front of him.

In this case, while it was certainly wrong of him to give in to temptation, the greater sin lies with the temptress...no, not the friend who actually seduced the poor shmuck, although she gets a share of the blame for participating in this little virtual badger game.  No, the person who is really at fault is the Wronged Woman, the insecure and jealous partner who set the whole scene up in the first place. 

To any immature, insecure folks out there who are thinking that they need to see if their partner is REALLY faithful, I have only one piece of advice: Don't.  You have to let go and trust.  You really do.  Sometimes, your trust will be misplaced and you'll be hurt.  That's a risk in any relationship.  But if you put your relationship to the test, you are far more likely to break it...even if it wasn't broken to begin with.  Or, to put it more simply, "If you can't stand the answer, don't ask the question."

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Overkill and Games of Skill

Well, dear readers, it appears that Linden Lab has done it to us AGAIN.

Back in 2007, LL banned gambling in Second Life, to avoid falling afoul of US regulations on internet gambling.  Those of us who were around back then remember what a huge blow this was to the Second Life economy.

But some games, especially the "slot machine" types of games such as Zyngo, were deemed to be "games of skill" and not "gambling."  So, they remained.  There were also a number of popular table games like "Greedy Greedy," which is roughly based on the popular Real Life game of Yahtzee.  And there continued to be a large number of "sploders" at clubs...devices into which you could deposit money, and after a preset time/number of players, would "explode" and pay out random prize amounts to the players.

The slot machines, in particular, seem to me to have been making something of a comeback.  At least, I have been running across an increasing number of "arcades" featuring rows of them.

But in a recent blog post, Linden Lab announced a new policy on "skill games," effective August 1, 2014.  On this date, skill games will only be permitted on "skill gaming regions."  These will be private estate regions...no skill games will be permitted on the Mainland.  Owners of these regions must register as "skill game operators" and pay a nonrefundable $100 registration fee.  In addition, such regions will cost $345 per month (regular estate regions cost $295 per month.)  There are additional costs as well, since LL is requiring that operators and game creators obtain an opinion from an attorney that their games comply with the definition of "skill games."

This last one has me scratching my head, because it seems that what's really needed to make this determination isn't a lawyer, it's an LSL script expert.  But, since the whole issue revolves around LL's legal exposure, I suppose it has a certain cockeyed logic to it. 

I suspect that the greatly increased costs of getting permission to make or have these games will cause most people to simply give them up rather than jump through all the new hoops.  If LL were being honest, instead of titling their blog post "Coming Soon:  Skill Gaming in Second Life," it should have been "Going Away Soon..."

Not everyone will be able to participate in skill gaming.  Residents of about ten or so U.S. states will be prohibited, due to laws in those states.  You'll also have to be at least 19 years old.

Game creators will also have to register with LL, and in many cases will have to revise their games.  Here is why:  The new policy classifies any game which relies on skill, AND requires that the player pay money to play, or can be set to pay-to-play as falling under the "skill gaming" policy.  Unfortunately, many popular games like Greedy Greedy have this flexibility.

This is why the new policy has me all steamed.  I have a small game room in our Mainland rental parcel in the Masocado region.  It has a Greedy Greedy game table, and two other games from the same creator.  All of them have always been completely free to play, to everyone.  They are there for the amusement of tenants and guests.  However, the fact that they could be set to require payment from players means that either the creator will have to provide a revised "free play only" version of the games either as a free update, or as a new version that I would have to purchase.  If not, I'll have to remove the games.

Or, of course, one could argue that because these games do have some element of chance, they are not "skill games" at all, but fall under the Gambling policy instead.  Interestingly, under THAT policy, as long as I keep them free to play, they're allowed.  It's only if I set them to pay-to-play that they become "gambling" under that policy.  So, like most of LL's policies, what seems black and white becomes instead a gray area. 

Of course, LL could change the policy in response to resident input, or issue some meaningful clarifications.  But, um, I wouldn't bet on it.

For Further Reading:
Coming Soon:  Skill Gaming in Second Life (LL Blog Post)
LL Skill Gaming Policy
Skill Gaming Participant Requirements
Skill Gaming FAQ
LL Forums Skill Gaming Thread

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Game Changers

This blog is almost entirely about Second Life (and occasionally, other virtual worlds.)  But I just had a thought that I wanted to share with you all about Game Changers.

Game Changers (with the capitals, please!) are innovations.  They could be things like social institutions, or novel investment schemes, but since I happen to be trained as a scientist and engineer, I tend to think of them as actual inventions.  A Game Changer is something that is so revolutionary that it completely revises the world and the way we look at it.  The automobile and the airplane were Game Changers.  The personal computer and the internet were Game Changers.

Here are three Game Changers that we need very badly, and they all have to do with energy.
  1. Cheap, clean power.  No, not wind, solar, or nuclear power.  I mean something really cheap, and really clean.  There are rumors of this sort of Game Changer here and there on the internet.  Most of them are probably hoaxes, or at least wishful thinking on the part of their proponents.  However, I recently ran across a report of an Italian fellow who claims to have made cold fusion work in a generator about the size of a picnic cooler.  Independent investigators confirmed that the device seems to be making a heck of a lot more heat than can be attributed to any chemical reaction, but the inventor hasn't come forth with any of the details of how it works.  So, it could be a hoax as well...but we NEED something like this so much!  Even if this report is a hoax, there are others working on the problem.  Electrostatic confinement for fusion looks very promising, if they can just scare up some funding.
  2. High power density storage.  Batteries suck.  They are heavy, expensive, contain harmful chemicals, and don't store nearly enough power.  The person who invents the battery that stores as much energy as your car's gas tank, in the same weight and volume, will go down in history.  And there is a report that some scientists have (maybe!) come up with a way to do it, by producing "spongy" electrodes that have enormous surface area for their physical size.  If the lab experiment can be scaled up to an industrial process, we could see cell phone batteries the size of postage stamps that charge in ten seconds and last for days.  We could see REAL electric cars, at prices like today's gas buggies.
  3. Low loss power transmission.  We need a low cost room temperature superconductor.  I haven't seen any recent reports in this area, but the problem is being worked on.  I hope there's a breakthrough soon.
And one more, not in the energy area:  Really high strength materials.  There are great strides being made every day in this field, particularly with "carbon nanotubes."  As we learn more about this stuff, we could find our cars becoming so light you could pick up a car body.  Or someone building a "space elevator," and making it possible to get into orbit without all those expensive and risky rockets.  No, no, I am dead serious.  Game Changer, remember?

And one last one, this time in industrial processes:  3D printing.  Right now, you can get a "maker cell" that will let you "print" plastic jewelry and knick-knacks in your own home.  There are industrial 3D printers that can "print" rocket engine parts, or medical prosthetics.  Even actual replacement internal organs, or skin.  There is a big machine that can extrude concrete to "print" an entire house right on the building site.  They are even "printing" food!  The latest term for this sort of thing is "additive manufacturing."  Instead of cutting parts out of a chunk of material, the parts are built up in many layers with an extrusion or spraying type of machine that's controlled by a computer and a digital template.

All right, let's tie this discussion back to virtual worlds, at least a little bit.  Virtual worlds are, at least potentially, a Game Changer too.  Second Life and its competitors have changed the way in which we interact with others, as well as the way we perceive others.  As the fidelity of the virtual world experience increases, we'll see even greater impacts on our lives.

Game Changers are, by definition, unexpected.  And they have unexpected consequences, both good and bad.  The airplane ushered in an age of cheap, rapid travel to anywhere in the world...and warfare in a whole new dimension.

Keep your eyes open for new developments.  The future is almost sure to be more wild and crazy than we can imagine, thanks to Game Changers.

FUD and Second Life II

Are you familiar with today's Internet acronym?  "FUD" stands for "Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt," but it's much more than that.  It's the term for the web's version of mass hysteria.  You know, the phenomenon where people in a crowd can panic and become a fear-crazed mob, even though its individual members are reasonable, rational people.

It happens on the internet too.  In fact, it can happen even easier because of a number of factors.  First, the "data rate" of communication on the web is much lower than in a face to face communication.  You see only words, not the facial expressions and emotions that go along with them.  And this makes it easy to mistake the meaning of the message, or to impose some new meaning that the originator didn't intend.  Second, there is the speed with which rumors can spread.  The web, and social media like YouTube, FaceBook, and Twitter allow rumors and opinions masquerading as facts to spread practically at the speed of thought.

Which brings us to this week's latest news.  You've probably already heard something about it, because there are lots of bloggers who write about this stuff before I finally get around to it.  Linden Lab announced that they are working on a successor to Second Life, a new and improved virtual world.

Oh, you hadn't heard?  Cruise over to Inara Pey's blog and this post, and it will give you the straight word from LL, plus links to lots of other discussions.)  But you SHOULD have heard.  Pete Linden sent out a broadcast email to everyone announcing the project.

Basically, the facts are these:  LL is, indeed, working on a new platform that they hope will be an even better virtual world than SL.  It's still a long way off, and there are still a lot of questions that even LL doesn't know the answers to.  Second Life is not going away any time soon.  It won't be going away even when the "new" world goes live, at least as long as it's profitable for LL to keep it going.  Second Life As We Know It should be around for years to come.

And the new project sounds exciting.  I'd love to go to a virtual world with better creation tools, more realism, deeper immersion, better physics.  Hey, maybe even weather!  Simulated plants and animals with a life cycle and an ecology!  Buoyancy in water!  (No, I don't know if LL's new creation will have any of this stuff.  I'm just tossing off ideas that I think would be cool.)

But now comes the inevitable FUD.  It was not long before people were screaming in panic on the Second Life forums.  "OMG, I won't be able to use my favorite viewer!  I'll have to leave SL!"  "I hear everyone is going to have to pay to use it!"  "Crap, we'll have to use our Real Life names and have avatars that look just like us in RL!"

I think this is a good time to sit back, take a deep breath, and CALM THE FUCK DOWN, people!  Gosh, it felt good to say that.  The real truth is, we DON'T know very much about this new project.  Heck, even LL doesn't know the answers to a lot of the questions.  I, for one, am excited by the possibilities.  And I'm willing to wait patiently to See What Happens before I panic.  It's WAY too soon to panic.  So stop panicking, already, OK?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Happy Birthday to Us!

This week marks Second Life's 11th Birthday celebrations!  It's all called SL11B for short, and a Google search will turn up more things to see and do than you can possibly fit into a week.

For those interested in pinpoint accuracy, the actual Birthday was yesterday, June 23.  But the events go on all week, on the Birthday sims and at many other places all over the Grid.  The Second Life Destinations Guide has a special category for SL11B events, be sure to check it out!

I took a very quick spin through just a few of the exhibits and builds, and here are some pictures to whet your appetite.

There are flags at many locations.  These were near the arrival point, along with the colorful birthday cake in the background.

Welcome to the Party!
For many years now, the Cake Stage build has been a highlight of the Birthday.  At the end of the week, the Cake Stage blows up!  It's a different build every year.  This year, it's not much like a cake...in fact, it reminds me of the Evil Citadel of the Master Control Program in "Tron."
The Cake Stage (Outside)

Cake Stage Interior
The Live Stage is interesting...the performers stand on a pair of enormous hands!
You're in Good Hands!

The DJ Stage looks like the inside of a starship docking bay, or maybe a futuristic industrial facility.

There are a great many fantastical builds, but some are very fine models of Real Life landmarks, like the Seattle Space Needle.

There was a nice exhibit touting the Star Wars Roleplay group.  They have several Star Wars themed areas you can visit in Second Life and play a part in the Star Wars universe.

I've always liked surfing in SL, but I had no idea there was an organization for it!  Visit this exhibit and you can actually surf inside a big transparent sphere!  Free surfing clothes for both men and women, too.
Surf's Up!
There's also an area where you can pick up lots of free gifts and souvenirs...both from Resident creators and from Linden Lab.
"Wonderous (sic) Gifts"

 See the SL11B website for lots more information and the latest updates!