Friday, August 20, 2010

More Emerald Viewer Security Issues

In my post from Tuesday, August 17 (a few days ago) I mentioned that security concerns keep me from using the Emerald viewer to access Second Life. It wasn't the place to go into details, nor is this post, but in summary, I stopped making frequent use of the Emerald viewer some time ago after one of the developers that I know told me about a major inventory loss that they traced back to the viewer itself.

Now, it appears that the viewer has been used for a Denial of Service attack. Read more about it here. A few people I know are uninstalling the viewer and switching to various others. Including me.

The Death of In-World Retail

Some bittersweet news came my way yesterday. One of my favorite stores was having a 50% off sale. They were having the sale because they were dropping their in-world presence. BINA Gorean Clothing (SLurl) moved from a beautifully crafted full region to a nicely crafted Homestead region that retained the essence of the former despite the loss of detail last year in what I assumed was a move to economize. A number of stores had done so about the same time and quite a few malls had completely closed. It looks like the process is continuing.

Cymoril Lightfoot, BINA owner, cited "several factors" in the closing in a note card to her group, but I'm betting that the declining in-world economy and the emphasis on the use of XStreet SL (soon to me SL Marketplace) by The Lab since it acquired the service are factors. Like many, Ms Lightfoot will maintain some land in-world to house her XStreet server box so she can continue having a presence in the economy. Without having to pay for large tracts of land this could be a boon.

Its a calculated risk and I'm not merchant enough to discuss the merits of such a plan. After all I've opened and closed more shops than I can count. But I will miss visiting BINA for the atmosphere as well as the high-quality clothes. Shopping should be an experience and I like supporting merchants that feel the same way. Spending time exploring the environment that sets the mood for the merchandise is a powerful sales tool. Some in the Real World have derisively called it the Disneyfication of retail -- stores and shopping malls becoming a destination -- but it works (Web). Yes, I often use XStreet to shop, but mostly to find the merchandise and to find where I can see it in-world. It also gives me a certain satisfaction to buy in-world because the merchant doesn't have to share the sale by giving The Lab a commission.

To support shopping in-world, especially at themed shops and malls, I'm going to make an effort to post profiles of such places on this blog. You'll also find some on the Lucky Kitty Crew blog (Web) in as many of my future posts as I can get away with writing. In my previous posts there I frequently advocated getting out and exploring beyond hitting the Lucky Chairs or the Midnight Mania boards for the fun of it (as well as finding more freebies).

But while you can, visit BINA. You don't have to be Gorean to appreciate very high quality clothes, a great sale, or just a great build to explore.

(Thanks to Zyx Flux for tipping me to the closing and for posing with me in the pic above. She's a cute and clever pixy. The store closes August 30th.)

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Display Names, the "next big thing" from The Lab, was announced on the 17th and will enable Residents to have a name other than their self-given names floating above their heads. In the process, our self-given names will be reduced to old-school machine language truncations. I will thus become uccello.poultry upon implementation sometime later this month with SheWhoMustBeObeyed floating over my head. At first blush, this is a cool idea. I know so many Residents, some long-timers, that regret their self-given names for one reason or another. Me, at times, for example.

When I moved from the Teen Grid to the main grid I did not retain my name ... sort of a "gifted-amnesty" program so folks wouldn't point and say "It's her!" in hushed tones as they think of my infamy there. So when I was picking a surname I saw Poultry and thought hard about what an attractive but funny first name would go with it. I looked up bird in many languages and found the Italian word uccello. Then I went to the library and looked in an actual Italian dictionary since I knew that online translators were often poor. Yep, it was bird, alright. Apparently not to Italians that I've met in-world. 99.999% of the ones I have met go to great lengths to point out, in great detail, how uccello is slang for ... well, something a fine lesbian like myself would not want to have for a name. So whenever I can, I tell folks to call me Uccie. In fact, on the InWorldz grid I'm Uccie Poultry. And I've even asked The Lab to let me change the name (not our problem was the response). So with Display Names, I can be Uccie Poultry. Or Uccie Seale so I can share a last name with my SLwife.

The trouble is, so can anyone. You can be Uccie Poultry. Or Uccello Poultry. Or Uccello Eats Poultry. Any Resident can take any other Resident's name (but not a short version of their name -- no uccello.poultry or uccellopoultry for you! says the Wiki). That happens in real life, actually. My brother has a name twin in the small New England town in which we live. And someone with his name was on the TV show Divorce Court just yesterday. But this is a coincidence of given names, not an action of chosen names. What I haven't seen addressed is how The Lab will deal with griefers using other Resident's names or Display Name harassment. Will there be a special item in the Abuse Report form? What sort of punishment will there be? As a form of Identity Theft, how severe will the punishments be and can a Resident get restitution for monetary losses?

Probably "no" on the latter. The Lab is famous for never making good on monetary losses even if they are to blame. But according to the Display Name Wiki (here) there are ways that one Resident can verify the identity of another. We will all have to be more careful when looking at names and do more verifying, I guess. Another reason that it would be nice to view more than one Profile at a time.

Since Unicode and non-English character sets can be used for names (I'm 鳥家禽!) then I suggest that as soon as the feature hits, everyone access preferences and check Usernames in the General tab. This will mean that you can still address people with some form of their name. Even if it is Spartacus (Web).

Both the announcement blog post and the Wiki mentioned a few reasons why The Lab is making this change and the reasons sound very good. But like most changes I wonder about the quality of execution. As it stands I see a fiasco in the making. Aside from the Residents who don't like change, aside from the various levels of identity theft, I see Noobies and the Search engine alike being confused and upset. I don't see how this will help the Golden First Hour of a Resident's life. Best that this feature be initially hidden. Let it be an "unlockable" item like the Advanced menu. And if the Search database needs up to 72 hours for changes to propagate through then more Lindens need to be fired and faster ones hired. 24 hours maximum should be the limit. If this feature is supposed to be a benefit, execute it in such a fashion that it truly is a benefit. Consider that the Wiki states "All Residents can see your Display Name by default. However, to emphasize your username, don't set your Display Name."

/me holds her head in confusion. Wait ... does /me change now, too?

P.S., I still can't try the feature on the Beta grid, as the Wiki states is possible, with any viewer I've tried (12:48pm).

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Viewer 2.x & The Coming Snowstorm

On August 16th, Linden Lab announced Project Snowstorm (Web), a new viewer development plan and an unfortunate name choice all in one. Despite living in New England I can't say I'm fond of snow even if it doesn't arrive in a storm, but I'll give this one to The Lab since they are at least keeping in theme with the Snowglobe viewer. Let's hope it bodes well for the User (AKA, Residents) as their last effort, the V2.x viewer, has gotten a bad reception by many.

Repeating for clarity, Snowstorm is not itself a new viewer, but rather it is a process by which the next generation of viewers will be created. In short, we'll see more open communication from The Lab, faster release cycles, and all the stuff they promised with Snowglobe, but using different names and rubrics. I'll leave discussion and analysis of this to others (like the talented Tateru Nino and her recent blog post). Rather, I'd like to focus on what is right in Viewer 2 and how I think it should fit into Snowstorm.

"What?" you ask. "This won't be your take on Snowstorm?" No. Politics, sausage, and corporate organization are three things that one should not watch being made.

Since some one-third of Residents access the World via the Emerald Viewer (Web) and a considerable number of Residents pick yet other viewers, I have to admit there is some backlash against Viewer 2 and so I'm not surprised The Lab has quickly jumped at revamping access. But Viewer 2 works for me. Not 100%. No viewer does.

For me, Emerald is slow, crashy, and has too many security concerns (Web). Imprudence (Web) is better and my preferred viewer for in-world photography and accessing InWorldz, but (like Emerald) it still uses the 1.2x Viewer interface which I find hard on my eyes and lacks some features I like from Viewer 2. The Kirstens Viewer (Web) builds on the Viewer 2.x interface and I really like to use it save for the lack of one button. The coders there have, for some reason, decided that 2-3 clicks are needed to close the Sidebar window rather than the one click in The Lab's version.

So what makes Viewer 2 my favorite? The interface. The light text on dark backgrounds in dialog boxes, windows, menu bars, chat history, and IM windows is much easier for me to see. Chat gestures look funny in the new chat format, but that is a minor irritation. About the only thing I would change about chat is I'd like to see time stamps for Friends logging in and out. I sometimes see the message in the bottom right corner, but it isn't preserved anywhere.

Probably the biggest complaint about the Viewer 2 interface is the Sidebar. I like it. I like the Landmarks section, particularly, and I like that I can consistently look at one place for information. A few things are needed, however, and when I find a way to submit changes to Snowstorm I'll try to get them added. I'd like to be able to resize the frame or pop out any panel like the way Inventory can be popped out. Sometimes I need to see two or more Resident Profiles at one time. There is no way to do that in Viewer 2. A mini-menu should be brought back to the Inventory pane (or an option to have one given). Going through the little gear icon takes more time.

Everything else is comparatively minor, be it a praise-able item, a complaint, or a wish:

Praise: I like being able to set specific window sizes (Advanced > Set Window Size ...). I have a 27" iMac and I seldom need to run full out. Smaller windows reduce lag and make snapshots saved to my computer much more consistent.

Complaint: Some changes to Debug settings don't save across sessions. I prefer to set RenderVolumeLODFactor at 4 to make sculpties rez more accurately. Unfortunately, I have to set it often.

Wish: Go look at the Mini-Map that Imprudence uses then bring it to the next release from The Lab. It has radar and is loaded with a lot of useful information. And Noobs can turn all that off. While you are at it, let me see a clean Mini-Map if I want. Let me turn off color-coded splotches so I can see just the terrain and the little green dots.

Praise: Annoyingly large, blue drop-down boxes used for simple notifications are reduced to small, simple pop-ups at the bottom left corner and are archived in their own little menu for when a dozen things try to get your attention all at once.

Complaint: SLurls created by copy/pasting the Navigation Bar contents create problems for users of other viewers. I can paste into chat or an IM and Viewer 2.0 users can click to visit with no problems. Those on v1.2x-based viewers have to wait for a Web page to pop-up then click a link then wait for a viewer message then pull their hair out. Those users are given as the format when they copy/paste SLurls from the Map. We need some consistency across viewers.

Like & Wish: Can a girl get confirmation that the Lost Inventory Bug I tried to have fixed and was soundly ignored is now fixed (Web)? I like the Outfits feature in Viewer 2 but I'm afraid to use it again.

As you can see, any viewer is going to have quirks and features that some Residents hate or can't live without. Despite being a fairly cutting-edge group, though, I feel that most Residents aren't open to change. And Viewer 2 was a big, BIG change. What I hope the Snowstorm team comes away with from (hopefully) listening to the Residents about the Viewer 2 experience is that we all want something different than what someone else wants. Noobs want and need Simple. Casual Users need Consistency and Reliability. Power Users need more control (and are willing to put up with some lack of reliability ... it's a geek thing). But we all need to feel like we are part of the Community. We've had "Your World; Your Imagination" taken away. If you now take away our Sense of Place then you take away much of our desire to stay with Second Life.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

No Reason At All - Bunny Edition

My Second Life® is no longer filled with bunnies. They've been given away or sold. Well, two still have my name on them, but as far as I'm concerned they belong to someone else and I'm just waiting to transfer them. Too many people I know were hurt during a recent debacle with an in-world bunny "game" and I can no longer in good conscience give my money to the owners. For me it was a hobby. A way to share experience with my friends and to help others. Now it has become a black subject.

For now I'll stay in the game group (I still assist others and begrudgingly have to buy bunny food at times, so I'm still a customer) but I'm bunny-free. Just some nice pics are left and some happy memories I refuse to let the ill-advised behavior of others tarnish.

Check out these sites if you are confused or if you want more information:

Wrongly Accused Ozimal Customer: Points out that many of the problems involved grid issues, that investigations were not conducted, and that customers were not given due process.

Bragg v. Linden Lab: Reminds us that The Lab's Terms of Service (ToS) is inherently unenforceable and thus the bunny game ToS is unenforceable, particularly since the ToS is not given before one makes a purchase to join.

Bunnies left to right in the pic: Pedoretes, Reekalf, Antioch, Caerbannog. I'm in the middle.