Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Rug and hair-pulling behaviour

Oclee and I were planning to use this weekend to make a film of the nurse training demonstration that we have been working on for the last six months.  As you will appreciate, it is pretty difficult to waltz into offices in institutions and companies and demonstrate Second Life.  Even if you try to make contact with the potential client's IT bods in advance, there are generally issues with firewalls and connectivity which are hard to overcome for an hour's meeting.

I'd tried bringing a dongle and using external connections, but that really isn't much better, and depends upon what sort of signal you can achieve in the location.  Thus I found myself at one demonstration, turned to grey plasticine and apparently naked.

So, we thought that a practical solution to these problems was to make a film, which shows everything the demonstration can show, but in a stable environment on a good connection.  Logging into Second Life on Saturday, the first thing we discovered was that the HUD (heads-up display, something which presents like a window on the screen, within SL, see above) we have made wasn't working in the expected way.  It's been a while since we did the last demonstration, and there's been an update since then.  And they broke shared media on a HUD.

Our HUD links to a database which serves the images up, and the avatar making clicks in world.  If shared media for HUDs is broken, so is our HUD.

Initially I was sceptical that LL could possibly have put out a viewer which breaks their much-trumpeted shiny shared media whatsit, but they did.  They knew during the beta testing that it was going to break HUDs using shared media and they did it big fat anyway.

We searched the JIRA, found a lot of people complaining about the same thing.  Added our comments and votes to the issue and then spent the weekend on other things.  I have now found that Snowglobe, the open source viewer, is working for shared media on HUDs, although I am tending to crash frequently with any of the v2 viewers.  I am going to have to try to spend some time finding out what's going on.

One tip which Oclee passed on to me, was that the preferences revert back and don't tend to "stick" for some things, especially if you switch viewers, and so it is worth checking whether you have "enable openGL vertex buffer objects" checked.  (In v2 you'll find your preferences under the Me menu, and that setting is on the Graphics tab and then the Hardware button.)  If you have had problems with v2, you might try unchecking that option and seeing whether that makes a difference.

I'm still struggling with a lot of the changes in the v2 viewer, not least the fact that so many things I use all the time have been seemingly buried.  I'll have to see how I get on with Snowglobe.  It's very annoying though, that it is broken in the main viewer, and makes it difficult to persuade very conservative institutions and companies that SL is a stable platform for development, when something that was working perfectly well a couple of weeks ago is no longer working.  Coupled with the high cost of development in SL, it may well be a deal breaker.  OpenSim looks ever more attractive.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The sky is falling... again

It's been pretty lively on the message boards and forums since the Emerald viewer debacle at the weekend.  It seems that a lot of SL residents are returning from holiday and playing catch-up because of the number of changes and announcements that have been made over the last few weeks.  So, in case you've been off on a round-the-world trip, or in a cave with the troglodytes, here's a summary of what's happened over the last few weeks:

Linden Lab laid off about 30% of their workforce.  It seemed initially that maybe they were slimming down the community Lindens in order to get ready for take-over or merger or public offering (theories varied) but then people began to notice that it wasn't just the people who give support who were being booted, but also the coders and programmers who knew all about mono/sculpties/flexis like Pastrami and Qarl and others.

Initially it seemed that things were going to plan.  The residents held a wake for the Lindens who died, virtually-speaking, and awaited the next move with baited breath.  Then, all of a sudden, M Linden didn't turn up to the SLB7 celebrations and Philip Linden was back and did.  The king is dead... long live the reincarnation of the last king.  Er, what?

Since the recrowning of King Philip, things have gone a bit bonkers.  Among the announcements is one that the teen grid is going to be amalgamating with the main grid.  It seems that the residents of the main grid were touchingly convinced that the teen grid had successfully rounded up all the under-18s and put them in a safe place where their underwear was nailed on and they weren't given any sharp things that they could hurt themselves with.  Thus, they are panicking at the prospect of the 16 years and over teens joining the main grid.

Actually, SL main grid is teeming with under 18s and has been since the beginning.  The only difference that the new policy will make is that the 16-18s  are more likely to be accurately labelled.  The under 16s will still be pretending to be adults though.

Linden Lab announced the "display names" change.  Residents think this is a cynical move to allow them to link SL with social networks like Facebook.  Possible it is, but it is also the case that some residents would like to be able to use their real life name when that is appropriate:  ie when you are at a conference or business meeting and want people to know who you are.  Not when you have discovered a predilection for furry sex in the bushes... you prolly want to use an SL name for that, preferably one belonging to someone else.  Oh look, you can.  And that's the main problem that long-time residents see with the name changing thing:  the possibility for spoofing someone else's identity.

No official announcement has been made afaik, but  one of the Ontyne support staff posted to SLU that ther jobs are disappearing and LL is subcontracting them out to an American company.  I don't know how far this going to go, and whether the remaining Linden Liaisons are going to be contracted out is anyone's guess.

Linden Lab announced the ending of the Community Gateways project, with no advance warning to their partners in the Community Gateway project, and its replacement with a selection of handpicked landmarks.  Thus, instead of being put into an educational sim whether they liked it or not, and having to learn enough to leave and explore the rest of the grid, newbies will now suddenly find themselves in the middle of Bare Rose or similar, and have to work out how to leave, without the benefit of the tutorials/mentors/educational events they were previously getting in the hubs and gateways of the previous system.  Even the shopowners of the places which have won listing on the newbies places list, don't know how they came to be chosen.

The companies and institutions who have spent considerable sums in setting up newbie reception points, are understandably a bit miffled about suddenly losing their supply of newbies, although some places, like Caledon, report an almost uninterrupted supply of newbies due to their having got onto the List.

Talking of newbies, LL introduced a new viewer v2 some months ago, with a view to increasing retention rates, apparently.  It is alleged that the new viewer is more newbie-friendly and easy to use than the old one.  I don't honestly know if that is true - or how you would ever quantify it, because everyone can only use one viewer as their first viewer - but for oldbies it is a total nightmare.  Things you have used all the time, like the current location and position information which used to be at the top of the screen... have gone.

Many people reverted to the old viewer, or looked to the list of the alternative viewers, and from thence has come the drahma which unfolded over the weekend, over the Emerald viewer.  It seems that over the past few months, Emerald has become the viewer of choice to anything from 20 to 50% of the residents of Second Life.  It's hard enough to get figures on how many people there are in SL, let alone what proportion of them are using a particular viewer.

Rumours have abounded about the dodgy backgrounds and behaviour of some of the developers working on the Emerald project.  Some of the people said to have previously developed so-called "black-hat" viewers, which enabled people to do things like export objects which don't belong to them, were working on Emerald.

There's been some acrimony between the Emerald developers and others, which seems to have developed into a full-blown hate, in which one of the Emerald developers inserted code on the login page which hijacked the users computer to download data from the other developer's website.  There is dispute over whether this constitutes a distributed denial of services attach, or DDoS, mainly because it was unsuccessful at bringing down the website.

Linden Lab has removed the viewer from the list of approved third party viewers, Emerald have had a lot of staff changes, with people resigning, being asked to resign, returning to post, rearranging themselves...they seem to have put most of their effort into sending out PR bots to troll the lists and reassure everyone that Emerald is a safe and trusted viewer.  Which it is not, not any more, sadly. 

So, there you are, you should be more or less up to date with things in Second Life.  I'm making no promises though.  Things change quickly, and it's often all smoke and mirrors: I suggest you put on full body armour and mosey on over to SL Universe if you want to keep up.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Emerald viewer users beware

I haven't used the Emerald viewer, although people around me have been talking about it a lot for ages.  There are trial uploads to test new textures, the ability to export your own products and creations from SL to OpenSim and a whole lot more. 

Having set up my own OpenSim locally, I needed a viewer that would allow me to transport my builds to OpenSim from SL, legally, and so I got to the point of downloading the Emerald client just as this thread began on the SL Universe Forums.  Initially it was a bit gossipy, speculation about the comings and goings of Emerald developers and of limited interest to me... read on though.  By page three it is alleged that the login screen for all the users of Emerald viewer was used to attack a blog written by someone the developers at Emerald don't seem to like much.  I am hazy on the history, but my attention was caught by the idea that they could embed something in their login screen which was just one pixel square, which would have my computer trying to download from the hapless blogger's website.

This means that not only did it appear that they were organising an illegal attack on a blogger, but that they were prepared to use the customers for their viewer to do it.

According to Arabella's blog, this wasn't a distributed denial of service attack (DDoS)... it was a "poor attempt at boasting that failed miserably".  Like the people discussing it at SLU, I don't buy it.  Notwithstanding their claim that Data Linden and Qarl Linden have joined them, I'm afraid the undermining of trust was complete for me... I deleted Emerald without ever having fired it up.  Frankly, given that they admit the attack on the blogger, they are in deep trouble.  I think LL should ban the viewer,  as being untrustworthy.

I'm looking at Imprudence.

Edited to add:  you might want to check out Talwyn Mills' summing up of the Emerald situation, as there is a bit more details.

OpenSim resources

This is intended as an updatable list of OpenSim resources.  I shall be posting to the blog about my experience of working on an OpenSim grid, but in the meantime, I am going to collect information useful for Open sim on this blogpost.

OpenSim business roadmap - some inaccuracies but a useful general article.

How-to information
Video about installing an OpenSim hypergrid on your computer.  Other parts linked from that first part.
Opensim tutorials
Easy User guide
Linux/Ubuntu set up of OpenSim grid.

Reference information
Wikipedia article about OpenSim.
A useful list of all the server commands for OpenSim.
OpenSim and Unity working together at Rezzable

Fan sites
Koinup fan site.
Justin Clark-Casey's developer blog
Metaverse Ink

Difficult to know how to categorise Adam Frisby's site (he's also known as Adam Zaius in SL).  It's a combination of reference, fan site and how to and very much worth reading.

Let me know if you have suggestions or any of the links go dead! Ping Caliandris Pendragon in SL, or contact me via my blog.

The Virtual Revolution

The Guardian carries an article today about the virtual revolution, which it suggests may be as important as the industrial revolution in terms of the changes it is making to the way we work and do business.  I know that a large proportion of the people I know in real life think that I am involved in some sort of game... they don't understand what the virtual world is, and what is more have little interest in it.  They aren't into Computer Games, they tell me, as though this explains everything.

I have been in Second Life for over six years, and as soon as I arrived I could see the potential that the virtual world has for collaboration, creation, making links between people.  At that time, SL was tiny - a grid of around 100 sims and no more than 1000 people online, many of them from Linden Lab, the owner and creator of Second Life.

The virtual world has changed a lot over the past six years.  Big business has come and gone and come back again, educational institutions have dipped their toes in the water and then plunged into the world, only to jump out again.

Until recently, there didn't seem to be any viable competitors for Second Life, and so much of the development and content available in virtual worlds was on the Second Life grid.  Over the last year OpenSim has made such a lot of progress that more and more companies and institutions are using it for their corporate sims.  It has become possible to run your own OpenSim and to offer access to others - and to link your world with others on the Hypergrid.  Things are progressing at a breakneck pace, to the point where even people who are immersed in virtual worlds are beginning to have to work very hard to keep up with developments.

As for the rest of the world, who have gradually adopted the hideous echoes of the virtual world which are available on Facebook - like Farmville - which seem to offer all the timewasting drawbacks of virtual worlds and virtually none of the advantages - they are on a different planet altogether.  I find that the majority of my real life friends and family lack the vocabulary to discuss virtual worlds, lack the shared understanding of what I mean when I talk about a virtual world, and lack the inclination or motivation to change that.

Consequently, I have stopped even trying to explain what it is all about any more, and wait for articles like that in the Guardian to come along and explain things for me.  Eventually, they'll get it.  By that time, hopefully, I will be Queen of my own virtual world, and in a position to dispense land and virtual bounty to them.  At the moment I am struggling to get to grips with my own local OpenSim, fighting with the terraforming and trying to cope with running a server.  That's one thing I can say for virtual worlds... the big thing for me is that they have presented a constant intellectual challenge, and there is always something else to learn.  How much there is increases with every passing day.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hubs and gateways

Well that's rather spooky.  I posted at SL Universe about the changes to the Community Gateway program which have just been announced on the SL blog, and decided that actually I had a lot more to say on the subject.  Logged into my blogger acount and came here to write the post and blogger suggested I might like to entitle my piece Hubs and gateways.  I'm trying to work out how it knew and why it came up with that title which is absolutely appropriate to this post.

When I first joined SL six and a half years ago, there was a short orientation on an island to show one how to move, chat, fly, and then the hapless new resident was dumped in Ahern Sim to fend for themselves.  In those days normal people hung out by the hubs that brought new people in, and offered them help and friendship.  Of course, the world was smaller, and there were only about 100 sims to explore.  Even so, I found it disorientating to know where to go... and it took me some time to get the courage to move away from the hub and explore.  I worried I would never find my way back again.

As time went by, Ahern and the other hubs became much less friendly environments for people.  They found it difficult to work out what was going on when they were griefed by people the moment the joined the grid.  A new island, Help island, was joined to the orientation experience, to enable people to learn skills before they were dumped into the free for all on the main grid.

This was only partially successful, because people would arrive on help island and have absolutely no clue where they were or what they should be doing there. Men particularly found the lack of guidance very trying.  There is definitely a gender bias when it comes to aimlessly exploring... in general, women like it and men do not.  Men prefer to know where they are going and what the purpose it - and if you don't tell them, they don't like it.

Some time ago, LL chose people to run what they called community gateways.  This meant that new people could choose to go to particular places, where there were new orientation experiences, tutorials and guidance for new residents.  Some were good, some were very good and some were a bit dire... and none of them really satisfied the desire to be directed quickly to the things which had attracted people inside SL.

In my experience of four years of mentoring newly arrived people, they were generally quite clear about what had brought them into SL, and I always thought that sorting people according to their interests - and offering them the skills they needed to get into that - would be by far the easiest way to immerse them in the grid.  I thought a series of gateways - like a castle or fortified town, would be the best option, with them choosing their gateway according to what they were interested in, with the option of returning to start over if what they had chosen didn't work out, or they wanted to choose again.

There are so many sims across the grid that are owned by Linden Lab and which are currently empty of real content, I thought it would be easy to have a place to learn how to explore, or with good landmarks for interesting places.  People want and are crying out for guidance, and it isn't that difficult to give it to them.

Now Linden Lab had announced that the Community hubs are going, and that people are to be offered places to go to which interest them... but I fear that sending them straight into the grid is going to send them back into the confusion that I felt when I joined.  Maybe not:  there are a lot of websites and books now about using Second Life that weren't around when I joined. 

I'm still convinced that proper guidance in the first few days of entry into virtual worlds can be the difference between someone understanding the nature of the virtual world and how to explore it, and overwhelming them.  As it is, many of those offering the community hubs and gateways are going to continue to offer the services that they have built up over the last couple of years - the meetings and events which introduce people to the virtual world, the support for new people, mentors and guides. 

There is still one big problem for creators and explorers alike: finding good content and events, knowing how to distinguish the great from the truly awful... I think the virtual world will be a lot more usable once we have an equivalent to google available in world that uses something other than how much one paid for an advert to judge where on the search list to place them.

In the meantime, my advice to a newb is to find someone to act as a virtual tourguide and mentor, to use Google rather than the internal search to find things in world, and not to expect modern gaming graphics in SL.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Grid merging

Shock announcement at SLCC from Philip Rosedale about the merging of the grids. It seems the main grid and the teen grid are going to be gradually merged, with the 16-18 years olds joining the adults first.

There is much furious debating going on around the SL message boards, as though this is a shock horror change that is going to make a huge difference to people in SL.

As I have pointed out in a couple of posts myself, there are already substantial numbers of underage residents and explorers in SL.  Anyone who thinks it is possible to know through any sort of verification system whether someone in SL is 14 or 84 is deluded.  All it takes if for person A to set up an account, and to either abandon the account and leave it where others can find it (with remember me ticked, so they don't even have to guess the password) and even the best and most efficient age verification is defeated. 

In any case, it has always seemed barmy to me that teens can have real sex at 14, 15, 16, 17, or 18, depending upon jurisdiction, and get married at around 16 and have their own babies, but they can't see pixel sex or participate?  That just seems crazy, as though online sex can somehow be more damaging than the real life stuff.

If you are going to indulge in cyber-sex, you had better have a real relationship with the person you are involved with, or else you cannot know if they are maybe 14 or 74 or the opposite sex to the one they portray in SL.  If you are indulging in casual genital shouting sex (ah, I'm too tired to explain) then probably you don't care who the partner is. 

It's all part of reconciling yourself to the psychological challenges of cyberspace.  I have had fascinating discussions with fellow residents who think that we only fool ourselves when we think it is possible to know more about the people we see in real life than we do about the people we meet online.  To a certain extent I agree with that - but it isn't so easy for a 56 year old pedophile to pretend to be a 15 year old boy in real life, as it is online.  Conversely it isn't so easy for a 15 year old to get away with pretending to be over 18, in real life.

I don't know what LL hope to see as the outcome of this merging.  Maybe it has long been in mind and that was the reason for the setting up of Zindra.  Maybe it is a cost-cutting measure that allows them to spread their thin band of Lindens a little thicker.  I guess that the educational industry might be very enthusiastic for this change, because the rules about ages for the main grid and the teen grid are a problem for them.  If you are running courses for people ranging between 16-19, under he previous rules it was necessary to have the under 18s in the teen grid and the over 18s in the main grid.  This change allows everyone to be in the same place.

I don't know how the community in general will react to the change, or how the new teens will be on the main grid, but I don't expect there to be a substantial difference.

As in every environment virtual or real, most people will behave reasonably, without having dire consequences drilled into them or inflicted upon them.  A few will break the rules and behave unreasonably, no matter what punishments they are threatened with.  Those people are likely to be in the main grid already. 

It makes me want to start doing SL basics classes again.  I miss them, although how in hell you publicise something like that nowadays so that it isn't one man and his dog in the audience, I have no clue.