Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Blue Mars in Linux: I'd keep it, but...

After reading a tweet my friend Zauber put up a few hours ago, I decided to download and attempt to play Blue Mars in Linux via a beta of Wine v1.2. After the quick registration and activation, I downloaded and ran the Blue Mars installer.

The install went without a hitch. I launched the desktop link to Blue Mars, halfway expecting it to bomb out, like when I tried to run the There.com client a while back. To my surprise, I got the login screen working great.

I login, choose to download Caledonia, restarted the client as instructed, clicked go and then...

It works pretty well, as you can see, but there's a big problem here: it's too damn glowy for me to use. It's like Windlight on crack.

To be sure, the glow is due to Wine's DirectX incompleteness, but it's enough of a turn-off to keep me away from Blue Mars unless they make a Linux client, or the Wine developers work to make Blue Mars visually comfortable for my eyes.

Note: Before anyone suggests it, let me state for the record that buying a copy of Windows 7 at $200 USD just to play a game is incredibly stupid, IMHO. Between SL, my XBox 360 and soon a PlayStation 3, I'm perfectly sorted in the gaming department.

Quite a shame. Blue Mars, you almost had me.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The XStreetSL Commerce Forums: A hotbed of creator/merchant elitism?

<rant>
Yesterday I checked up on the Commerce Forums to see if anything hopefully interesting or positive was being discussed. What I found was something absolutely disgusting: A merchant championing the total abolishment of Basic accounts and "No Payment Info On File" account status under the paper-thin guise of content protection.

This is another example of the elitist attitude that has been boiling over in the Commerce Forums since the XStreetSL listing taxes announcement. While the OP of that thread got tremendous and firm pushback, it has emboldened some to suggest other economically destructive ideas such as requiring a premium account to be able to sell things, and even creating a separate grid for free accounts.

This elitist hate of Basic accounts has to stop. Now. It is ill-conceived, misguided and ultimately destructive.

What the elitists fail to see is that Basic(and NPIOF) membership is what gets people into SL, as it's the easiest point of entry to a virtual world compared to some competitors, and as a result Basic accounts are extremely vital contributors to the economy(Hint to elitists: In other words they are your customers). The Premium account status is a carrot-and-stick proposition for Basic residents who want some relatively small perks(not counting Linden Homes) in exchange for a recurring fee to the Lab. Lording premium status over the entire grid will result in an economic disaster that will see Second Life crumble faster than the current XStreetSL exodus, leaving only the few elitists left to wonder what went wrong.

Nobody who loves SL(including the elitists) would want that to happen, but that is the direction this movement is pushing the Lab. The only way to stop it is to vigilantly keep pushing back until the elitists give up. So keep on pushing back, folks. Stand up for your right to be Basic and proud!(Disclaimer: I've been a Premium account for over 3 years, but I stand with many of my friends and customers who are Basic accounts as I know they are the heart and soul of SL, as Prokofy eloquently put it.)
</rant>

Thursday, December 17, 2009

LL goes begging for banner ads, again

In an earlier post I talked about yet another piece of fallout from the XStreetSL listing taxes scandal: Banner ads on XStreetSL plummeted like a rock and the Lindens went begging to Solution Providers to fill in the gaps.

It seems that trick didn't work, since the Lindens are now extending a half-price ad offer to all merchants(well, those who still haven't jumped ship yet) for the holidays. Unfortunately, this will suffer the same problem that the SP offer had: What good is a half-off ad offer when the consumers are leaving the ad providers' site in droves? It doesn't matter if it's the holidays, the bottom line is what counts.

The Lindens are obviously trying to at slow the bleeding from XStreetSL, but they're applying relief to the wrong area, and they know it. Until Colossus and Pink publicly acknowledge that they royally screwed over customers and merchants, the result of this second round of begging will remain the same: FAIL.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Down to the old (e)Pub instead

Lately I've been thinking about writing a book or two. Nothing serious or professional. Just for fun. And since digital distribution to mobile devices(smartphones, Kindle, Nook, etc) seems to be a good way to get out there without a dead tree publisher, I want to make ebooks in the open and mobile-friendly EPUB format.

The first step on my digital publishing journey was to find and grab a decent open source ePub creation program. Dredging through Synaptic on Ubuntu shows only the Calibre ebook management and conversion program. I'm not looking for a converter. So I hit up Google and I get hits for eCub, Sigil, Feedbooks and some others that I won't mention because they're not available for Linux.

First on the list was eCub. I had quickly downloaded and installed it, but then I noticed it isn't open source. So eCub gets the uninstall from me.

Next up is Sigil. I download and ran the .bin installer and get "You must be root to run this installer". My response: Why? I absolutely hate .bin installers that insist on getting root when the application it's meant to install doesn't need root access to run. A local install within the $HOME directory should be perfectly fine for .bin installers. So Sigil isn't getting installed unless they fix their installer or provide a proper .deb package.

Finally, there's Feedbooks. Feedbooks is primarily two things: a place to download public domain ebooks and a web-based epub creation and publishing tool. I've bookmarked it, but I'm looking for an offline creation program.

So, where does this leave me? Well, I said "screw it" and wrote up my own epub creator based on the Wikipedia entry on ePub. It's a menu-based shell script that can be used to create ePub books from start to finish.

The script(called "Skelepub.sh") is licensed under the terms of the GNU GPLv3 or later and can be downloaded here.

Update: I've also made a GUI-fied version of Skelepub for those who are averse to command lines. They're both functionally equivalent, but the console version is more portable across Linux distributions.

Now, what to write for my book... hmm, that's gonna take a lot longer than two days to figure out...

Note: If you read the title of this post and thought "Hey, isn't that the name of a song by singing comedian Stephen Lynch?", you are indeed correct, laddie:

Monday, December 7, 2009

More XStreetSL Fallout: LL goes begging to Solution Providers for banner ads

In yet another telltale sign of XStreetSL's business losses due to their own greed, Prok dishes the dirt on a "limited time complimentary banner ads" program to Solution Providers. While I don't really care about banner ads on XStreet anyhow(I rarely, if ever, clicked on one anyway), in the comments it's revealed that non-LL banner ads have dropped faster than a rock.

I took a quick look at XStreetSL for old time's sake, and sure enough a LL ad shows up quite often each time I reload or navigate around the marketplace. Before the listing taxes announcement, I would rarely, if ever, see a LL banner ad on XStreetSL.

I'll let the commenter who blew the whistle on the XStreeSL ads sum it up for me:
I would suggest this is a combination of desperation at trying to get some fresh ads up there and the beginning of their push to make xsl work friendly - which is never will be.
Until the Lab comes clean and kills the listing taxes in favor of a more balanced solution, expect things to only get worse for the Commerce team.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Why the "Linden Homes" program is not a threat to mainland rental business

In my previous post I mentioned the new "Linden Homes" program announced by Jack Linden as a Christmas present for new Premium account signups. I also noted that the expected outrage post from Prok claiming that this will demolish mainland rental businesses is pure BS.

Prok claims that the Lindens have been methodically destroying mainland in favor of private islands. She attempts to buttress her claim on numbers based on a thrid-party grid survey, as there are way more private islands than mainland sims. The numbers actually tell a surprising story about mainland rental business owners/landlords, rather than the Lab.

Of course the Lindens would like to grow more private islands. That is the biggest money-maker. So given the practically anaemic state of the mainland, despite all the recent moves to clean up the Mainland from ad farms and land extortionists, why haven't mainland rental business owners demanded more mainland sims be made? While mainland sims clearly don't make the kind of money for the Lab as private islands do, they are still quite profitable, especially in combination with mainland rental businesses coming along to hustle the land for them.

Yet Prok takes the familiar and tired "I'm a victim" tack here. She blames the Lab for her and her peers' lack of action in trying to grow their mainland investments. Instead of collectively pushing the Lab, they whine and complain that the un-terraformable, un-joinable, un-sellable 512 plots with an un-removable small home, only available to Premium residents will destroy mainland rental businesses.

No, they won't. They're not designed to compete with mainland rental businesses. Unlike mainland rentals, Linden Homes aren't available for Basic accounts. Unlike mainland rentals, you can't create events or classifieds for it. Also, the Lindens may consider a time limit for Linden Home residency(to reinforce the fact that a Linden Home is an introduction to land ownership), unlike with mainland rentals where people can remain as long as they remain tenants in good standing.

Would I get a Linden Home? Nah, I'm an oldbie Premium member who would rather be more content with a regular mainland 512 plot or higher. But as I mentioned in a response to an anonymous commenter, still I'd love to just see the themed Linden Homes and who made them. It would be a great way for me to discover other builders and businesses.

Friday, December 4, 2009

My predictions for 2010

In less than a month from now, 2009 will officially be history and the New Year will be upon us. So let's look at Second Life in 2009 and see if we can divine where we will be going in the New Year:

Snowglobe and Third Party Viewers:

2009 seen a prominence in third-party viewers, even Linden Lab's Snowglobe viewer joining the mix. However, the newfound popularity of these viewers has also brought controversy. Where will this lead us in 2010?

I predict that the Viewer Registry will see the light of day, with the Hippo, Imprudence and Meerkat viewers easily making the cut. Emerald will be included in the registry, much to the anger of a "certain comrade", but only after certain controversial features are removed or changed. Put quite simply, I see a bright future ahead for third-party viewers.

OpenSim:

This year we've seen the introduction of OpenSim archives, inventory archives, megaregions, the Diva distribution, Hypergrid and a highly experimental in-world currency module using PayPal. This has been the year that OpenSim has finally become a halfway decent alternative to buying a sim in SL.

In the New Year expect to see the stabilisation and maturation of Hypergrid, megaregions and the possible inclusion of an in-world currency system to finally push OpenSim as a marketable alternative to SL.

XStreetSL:

Never have I seen something go from one of SL's greatest innovations to the biggest example of corporate greed and favoritism. It all started when the Lab bought out XStreetSL and OnRez. They shut down OnRez, horribly redesigned the XStreetSL site, and replaced the forums with a P.O.S. "blogorum". But the coup de grace came last month when the Lab announced higher commission fees and introduced unconscionable listing taxes on freebies. This prompted myself and many others to de-list our items from XStreetSL, trash our magic boxes, and sell our items on competing sites. This has caused a significant loss of business for XStreetSL, leaving merchants and customers alike to question the future of SL's once favourite online marketplace.

Where will XStreetSL go in 2010? Judging from this year's failures, unless the Lab realizes just how much damage they've caused themselves, XStreetSL may get shut down due to sheer lack of business. This, however, will be a boon for third-party e-commerce sites who stand to gain the most from it.

Second Life*:

We've seen overall greater grid stability and growth, Zindra, a bottoming out of land prices in line with the RL economy, Second Life Enterprise, Philip Rosedale leaving, and the forced disbandment of the Mentors group on the same day as the XStreetSL listing taxes announcement. It's been a mixed year for the grid.

Where will Second Life go next year? I predict there will be new features to the official viewer borrowed from third-party viewers, but that's where the good stuff ends. I am sadly predicting a return of the "prim tax"(or an in-world sales tax), caused by the failure of XStreetSL to extort more profit for the Lab. There will be revolts and protests like the last time, but the Lab will not buckle and this will force people to completely jump ship and set up on OpenSim or an OpenSim-based world. It will be a harsh year in SL, for both residents and the Lab. 2010 may be the year SL completely loses its' mojo.

*Update: Looks like the Lindens have given new Premium residents a nice Christmas present: Linden Homes. It's essentially a new incarnation of the previous "First Land" program. It won't change my predictions, though. It's all just to get more Premium memberships to offset the cancellations that resulted from the XStreet fiasco.

**Update 2: As quite a few people expected, Prok responds to the Linden Homes announcement with the kind of tl;dr outrage that screams BS. She thinks these un-terraformable, un-joinable, un-sellable plots with an un-removable small home, only available to Premium residents are a threat to her mainland rental business. I'll write up a post later on why she's really just shoveling manure on the subject.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The "unintended" consequences of XStreetSL's listing taxes

As the first of the big changes to XStreetSL(L$99 freebie monthly tax) will be coming soon(sometime between Dec. 18 - Jan. 18), "unintended" consequences are already being clearly seen.

XStreetSL now has a big rash of active item listings that no longer have any items associated with it. This was due to merchants neglecting to de-list their items before trashing their XStreetSL magic boxes. This will force the Commerce team to eventually do a sweep and remove the "dead" listings, but until then these listings serve as a proof of lost income for the Lab: customers can't buy them, the Lab can't get a commission, and heaven help them if they try to extract listing taxes from those dead listings.

So many of the merchants who left now leave the Lab with a significant liability in terms of both monetary and reputational value. XStreetSL's primary strength was it's ability to buy items in a browser and not have to go through the trouble of finding them in-world. With these dead listings, the departed merchants have effectively undermined that strength and simultaneously made alternatives more appealing. And it may get worse when the listing taxes go in effect, causing more merchants to leave abruptly when they are truly faced with the Lab's greed.

Congratulations, Commerce team. You've fostered the creation of content black holes on your site.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Some proof of how XStreetSL's listing fees are anti-competitive

I just stumbled onto Massively's latest article covering the XStreetSL listing tax announcement, and I found a revelation in the comments, courtesy of Imprudence developer Jacek Antonelli: By XStreetSL's own rules, they are engaging in anti-competitive practices. To wit:

  • Anti-Competitive or Abusive Behavior. Examples include, but are not limited to:


    • inflating prices on Xstreet SL compared to in-world or other e-commerce sites,
    • hostile reviews or comments on a competing merchant's items, and
    • item listings which are abusive against another merchant or their products.


    Okay, let's apply these rules when the listing fees kick in, particularly for freebies. You list a freebie, and get hit with a $L99 fee. How do you compensate for that? Assuming it will actually remain a good seller, you adjust the price to, say $L4, which subsequently lowers the fee to L$10. You then decide to note in the listing "this item is free if purchased at my store in-world". Guess what? You just violated XStreetSL's rules and if caught the listing will be de-activated until you either change the XStreetSL price to match the in-world price of $L0(thereby incurring the $L99 tax again) or change the in-world price to match the XStreetSL price(effectively making the freebie "free no more").

    So where is XStreetSL itself violating it's own rules? Look more closely at the above scenario, and extend it out by adding that the merchant has also listed the item on other marketplaces that do not have listing taxes. According to XStreetSL's rules now, the merchant must also bump up the price on the other sites to maintain the XStreetSL listing. So XStreetSL is, in effect, using the listing taxes in combination with it's own rules to extend it's reach beyond it's own marketplace to their competitors. That sounds pretty anti-competitive, yes? Monopolistic, even.

    So now the merchant only has two choices: either grudgingly comply with XStreetSL and make the freebie a non-freebie everywhere, or de-list and remove the freebie item from the XStreetSL marketplace forever in order to preserve the merchants' freedom to price as he/she fits.

    Oh, and lest you think this is all just bitching about "paying the equivalent of a nickel more", take a look at this breakdown of how the listing taxes build up for one merchant and tell me if it's still peanuts.

    Wednesday, November 18, 2009

    The New XStreetSL "listing taxes": WTF are the Lindens smoking today?

    Today the Lindens delivered a swift kick in the stones to both Second Life Mentors and XStreetSL merchants.

    First, they are going to disband the Second Life Mentor Volunteer Program. Taking the long view on the move would seem it's not too bad as it won't affect the ability to create and run volunteer groups in-world, but from a PR standpoint it's a spit in the face to the volunteer community, no matter how much the announcement is sugar-coated.

    But the really big Linden blunder announced today finally exposes the real reason behind the merchant survey Pink Linden recently sent out: They want to further tax residents for use of XStreet and pander to only high-volume merchants.

    Don't let the "it's just to manage freebies" lie fool you. All listings will be charged a monthly tax(and it is a tax). This will effectively kill, not "manage" freebies on XStreet and lock out residents who previously used XStreet as a way to sell inexpensive products or give away creations as a gift to the Second Life community. It may also wind up screwing over shoppers too, as merchants who choose to live with the listing taxes may simply bump up prices to cover it.

    For me, this means that I would wind up paying XStreet L$490/month for all my non-freebies and $L198/month for my two freebies. That comes out to $L688/month + the already existing 5% commissions. And let's factor in that my most expensive listing is only L$175 but rarely sells and I find out that a pretty big chunk of sales gets gobbled up by XStreetSL "listing taxes". So what will I do?

    The Silver Lining

    First, I will remove every single listing I have on XStreet, as doing business on it has now become untenable. Only the big business merchants can play on XStreet, I get that now.

    After I remove my listings, I'll save my products in an inventory folder, trash my magic box and XStreet merchant vendor signs, and only list my products on meta-LIFE.They don't charge for listing freebies, and have a great vendor branding system to promote your business with(also free). I may look into others like SLapt.me and Apez(even though the site design of it is beyond ugly).

    From the discussion thread, it seems that a majority of other merchants will follow suit, and hopefully shoppers as well.

    Goodbye XStreetSL, it was a great run:


    Update: I got word that there have been at least 3,000 de-listings from the Apparel section alone on XStreetSL in less than 24 hours. The income loss from these de-listings are most likely very significant. While other section de-listings haven't been quantified yet, it's safe to say that this is one of the biggest disasters the Lab has pulled on us.

    Monday, November 16, 2009

    The Spectrum of Open Source Viewers

    The other day, Dale Innis posted a piece about the leaked Viewer 2.0 testing comments and how it relates to third-party viewers. A good read for sure, but what got my brain neurons firing off was from a part of a comment in a humorous response post from Adric Antfarm, about third-party viewers and Prokofy Neva's views on them: "The truth is in the middle. They are neither the savior you claim or the devil she does."

    I was going to put up a comment on Adric's blog responding to the statement, but it got too TL;DR-ish, so I'll put my thoughts down below(don't worry, I'll try to keep it concise and brief).

    I think the answer isn't in the middle, but rather that the answer is all three due to the fact that there are viewers that fit in each category. A spectrum, if you will. For example, let's look at viewers like Hippo, Imprudence, Meerkat and Snowglobe. The first three have third-party grid login management far superior to the official viewer's clunky "--loginuri=" command-line method. Imprudence and Meerkat have legitimate object backup capability(creator or full-perm only). Snowglobe recently gained text chat translation, Open Grid Protocol login support, and LLMedia API support(my favorite feature). These viewers, as well as some special viewers like omviewer-light and ajaxife.net are clearly beneficial to the metaverse community as a whole and should be held up as excellent examples of open source community at work.


    Then there's the undeniably malicious viewers. First it was Copybot, now we have an unholy trinity of Cryolife, Thuglyfe and Neillife. All three are at their core a continuation of CopyBot's malicious intent(copy objects with no regard for the Second Life permissions system). Thuglyfe goes a step further and includes features designed to avoid parcel and estate bans. These are the kinds of viewers, open source or not, that should be fought against vigilantly.

    And currently straddling the middle of the spectrum is Emerald, the most popular but controversial third-party viewer(Disclaimer: I have used Emerald, but as of late I have been using Snowglobe and Imprudence instead). There are so many cool features of Emerald I can't list them without turning this paragraph into TL;DR, so I'll go straight to some of the controversial features. First there's de-friending notification. It's okay in SL to de-friend someone and letting it pass quietly. Getting a notification that you've been de-friended is a quick way to cause drama and grief. Showing real online status and avatar keys in profiles can also be griefing-enablers.

    Also the past activities of some Emerald developers don't help their viewer. However, the Emerald developers seem to be willing to work with Linden Lab on viewer policy, and they are now keen on combating malicious Emerald derivatives such as Neillife, so the jury is still out on Emerald. It can go either way.

    So to either wholly allow all viewers or condemn them as Prok does are completely irresponsible and one-sided views. It will lead to either rampant copyright infringement and crime or feature stagnation, greatly harming the value of SL. A balanced view of the spectrum, however, will ensure that Second Life and it's derivatives will continue to succeed for a very long time.

    Wednesday, November 11, 2009

    Ogg Vorbis Audio Streaming *finally* comes to Second Life!

    Yesterday, the latest release candidate build of the Snowglobe viewer was released with relatively little fanfare. But for Second Life residents who use Linux as their operating system of choice, yesterday marked the arrival of a feature long desired: the ability to stream an open source audio format(Ogg Vorbis) within the virtual world.

    The crapiness of FMOD and the awesomeness of LLMedia

    Ever since the Second Life viewer had the ability to stream music, it did so through an audio library known as FMOD. FMOD was great for streaming MP3 music, but wound up crashing the viewer when attempting to stream Ogg Vorbis. Yet according to FMOD's product description page, Ogg Vorbis is supposedly supported. This situation prompted a JIRA bug to be filed, where it never got fixed at all, despite Tofu's insistence that OpenAL fixed it. For over two years, nothing. Then hope came with the coming of the LLMedia API: a media-rendering plugin system for the viewer. Initially, LLMedia was built for Windows and Mac viewers, but as of yesterday it finally hit Linux, and it works pretty damn well.

    Testing it out

    Testing it out is pretty easy if you own a plot of land in-world(alternatively you could try it with your own local OpenSim installation): just grab the RC, set the audio stream in-world as you would normally do, but be aware that parcel audio settings now have their own tab in the "About Land" window. Then just hit the play button on your viewer HUD.

    There is a spot of bad news, though. While Ogg Vorbis streams wonderfully without any extra plugins, Theora video does not(perhaps a Theora plugin may come out soon). Plus, rendering web pages on prims uses qtwebkit now instead of Mozilla, so depending on your Linux distribution you may need to install qtwebkit via package manager.

    All in all, this is a greatly welcome development for Linux-using residents. Bravo, Linden Lab!

    Update: Oh, I forgot to mention that Snowglobe also has built-in text chat translation(no more language HUDs!) and Open Grid Protocol login support.

    Thursday, November 5, 2009

    The Biggest Spectacle of Bawling I've Ever Seen

    The Lindens just announced an open beta of their "behind the firewall" enterprise solution, and announced a "Work Marketplace" for enterprise customers to get content from third-party providers(such as Gold Service Providers and others who qualify;down the line they might open it up to non-GSPs).

    Sounds like a reasonable next step to cater to enterprises.

    Of course, almost anything the Lindens do will inspire a typical Linden/chicken killer/Woodbury/FIC/communist conspiracy rant from Prok, no surprise there. But this time she's gone way, waaay off the hinges. Not because of an in-world griefing/chicken-killing, but because she got caught violating Linden blog discussion rules by listing a bunch of in-world furniture companies(one she admits is owned by one of her tenants) and Blue Linden removed the offending post on grounds of advertising.

    What resulted is, in my opinion, the biggest spectacle of bawling in Second Life over nothing. Prok declares self-exile from the Linden forums and blogs, claiming that her rabid posts are a benefit to the Lindens. Yes, she's that deluded. She's welcome to exile herself, however short it may be. Update: I just found out just how short that exile was: less than 24 hours. She made a post on the discussion thread about SLE here, trying to bait Blue Linden or Maggie Darwin. I guess Prok can't go a day without getting her forum fix, lol.

    Next she says she'll boycott the Lindens by severing communication with them. No "dearie", you boycott the Lindens with your wallet. But she won't do that because then it means she has to give up her mainland rental business. So severing communication with the Lindens won't affect them one bit, but she's opening herself up and potentially her tenants to major griefing with impunity. I doubt that "boycott" will last long.

    Speaking of her tenants, she's also attacking two of them who happen to be Gold Service Providers: Gwyneth Llewelyn and Kim Anubis. Discriminating against successful tenants? What message does *that* send to current and potential future tenants?

    Prok, quit bawling and overreacting, grow up and accept that the Enterprise offering is, and should be, for enterprises and not for the majority of us. Whether or not it becomes a successful venture for the Lab isn't going to affect the main grid residents much. It may even open up a few new opportunities. Second Life will go on. The sky is not falling.

    On the other hand, don't stop bawling. It's comedy gold.

    Update: I just seen Kim's responses in Prok's post comments. She's got no problem knocking Prok down a peg. In fact, she does it better than I could. Way to go, Kim!

    Saturday, October 31, 2009

    The 1st Brownbag Meeting: Looking Pretty Good so far

    Yesterday, I stumbled onto this wiki page with a transcript and an MP3 recording of the first brownbag meeting between Linden Lab and third-party viewer developers. The third-party developers were well represented, with some people fairly well known(McCabe Maxsted of Imprudence, Fractured Crystal, Chalice Yao and Lonely Bluebird of Emerald) and several other developers who I'm not familiar with. The Lindens were equally represented, and the discussion in text chat and voice was pretty formal and informative.

    The meeting opened up with "What 3rd party viewer features do you think are very useful to users?" and then a Q&A with the Lindens about how the registry process might work out.

    From the tone of this first meeting, the Lab might cook up a registry that is fair to all parties involved, including users. The Lab might work closer with 3rd party devs, but not get heavy-handed like the devs feared. Users could get a detailed description of approved viewers along with user reviews and ratings. And perhaps most beneficial, the Lab may finally incorporate some 3rd party features into the official viewer.

    So now I'm less cautious and more optimistic about the registry, but there are more brownbag meetings to come and nothing's finalized yet. I'll post when more details surface.

    Saturday, October 24, 2009

    The External Grid Selector Script, Version 0.2

    Okay, I've managed to implement simple autodetection of Second Life, Emerald and Snowglobe viewers to the script thanks to the elegant find command. So here's the code so far:

    =========

    #!/usr/bin/env bash

    #Second Life Grid Selector and Client Launcher
    #A simple grid manager for the official Second Life viewer,Emerald and Snowglobe
    #(C) 2009 Jose A. Agudo aka Second Life resident Antonius Misfit
    #Licensed under the terms of the GNU General Public License v3 or at your option any later version

    viewer=$(zenity --list --title="Viewer Chooser" --text="Choose a viewer:" --column="Viewers" $(find SecondLife*/secondlife GreenLife*/secondlife Snowglobe*/snowglobe))

    #retrieve grid "database" which is simply a bash array variable sourced from a file
    if [ -e $HOME/.grids.db ];then
    source $HOME/.grids.db
    else
    cat > $HOME/.grids.db << EOF
    #Feel free to add grids here

    grids=("Second_Life" https://login.agni.lindenlab.com/cgi-bin/login.cgi "Localhost" http://127.0.0.1:9000 "3rdrock" http://grid.3rdrockgrid.com:8002/ "OSGrid" http://osgrid.org:8002/ "NixTech_Forge" http://97.107.142.118:9300/)
    EOF
    source $HOME/.grids.db
    fi

    main()
    {
    action=$(zenity --list --title="SL Grid Launcher" --text="Choose a grid:" --column="Grids" --column="Login URI" --print-column="2" ${grids[@]:0} "Exit" "Exit")
    case $action in
    Exit) exit;;
    *) $viewer --loginuri=$action;;
    esac
    }
    main

    =========

    Thursday, October 22, 2009

    The External Grid Selector script for Second Life/Snowglobe and Emerald viewers

    I had promised to post this once I polished it up, but I think it's usable enough in it's present form to be considered as a 0.1 release. So here's the code:

    ==================
    #!/usr/bin/env bash
    
    #Second Life Grid Selector and Client Launcher
    #A simple grid manager for the official Second Life viewer,Emerald and Snowglobe
    #(C) 2009 Jose A. Agudo aka Second Life resident Antonius Misfit
    #Licensed under the terms of the GNU General Public License v3 or at your option any later version
    
    viewer=$(zenity --file-selection --title="Client viewer to run:" 2>&1)
    
    #retrieve grid "database" which is simply a bash array variable sourced from a file
    if [ -e $HOME/.grids.db ];then
     source $HOME/.grids.db
    else
     cat > $HOME/.grids.db << EOF
    #Feel free to add grids here
    grids=("Second_Life" https://login.agni.lindenlab.com/cgi-bin/login.cgi "Localhost" http://127.0.0.1:9000 "3rdrock" http://grid.3rdrockgrid.com:8002/ "OSGrid" http://osgrid.org:8002/ "NixTech_Forge" http://97.107.142.118:9300/)
    EOF
     source $HOME/.grids.db
    fi
    
    main()
    {
    action=$(zenity --list --title="SL Grid Launcher" --text="Choose a grid:" --column="Grids" --column="Login URI" --print-column="2" ${grids[@]:0} "Exit" "Exit")
    case $action in
     Exit) exit;;
     *) $viewer --loginuri=$action;;
    esac
    }
    
    main
    
    ================

    There's definitely room for improvement, such as the possibility of using an online database of grids and choosing from an autodetected list of clients instead of manually choosing a viewer via file selection. I'll be working on those features, but if you have any other ideas, let me know in the comments.

    Tuesday, October 20, 2009

    Linden Lab announces a policy for "approved" third-party viewers

    Linden Lab just announced the formation of a new policy regarding third-party viewers. Basically, the Lab will finally be putting their foot down on illegitimate viewers such as Cryolife, Thuglyfe and Neillife and work closely with approved third-party viewer developers via a "viewer registry".

    I'm cautiously optimistic about this new development. I'm optimistic because it would mean that the Lab may finally get off their butts and perhaps incorporate some features of these other viewers, hence no longer relegating the official viewer as the "newbie" viewer in comparison. Plus working with third party devs the right way would help build trust with potential new users.

    What I'm cautious about(and the Lab should be, too) is the possible negative effects it may have on third party viewer development if done with a heavy hand. Apple's condescending and abusive practices against third party iPhone/iPod Touch application developers come to mind here. And even worse, the possibility of the approval process being gamed by those with an agenda against third-party viewers(you guys know who you are) is present within the ongoing discussion with the Lindens.

    I must admit here that before the policy announcement I was thinking about diving into the Snowglobe source code and try my hand at creating my own viewer(Not "the next Emerald", but rather a plain viewer with eventually one feature no other has: Ogg Vorbis/Theora streaming support). Now... I'll wait and see or go for it but develop the viewer for OpenSim exclusively.

    This has the makings of a debacle, I'd say.

    Saturday, October 17, 2009

    In development: an external grid selector for Second Life/Emerald

    Just a quick post announcing that I'm in the process of writing up a crude, but functional "external grid selector" for the official Second Life viewer, Emerald and Snowglobe. It will be a bash shell script using zenity to create a selectable GUI list of grids. It's written for the Gnome/XFCE desktops in Linux, but porting it to KDE, Macintosh or Windows is trivial. I'll post the code in a future post once it's polished up.

    Sunday, September 20, 2009

    Free Speech and This Blog

    If we don't believe in freedom of expression for
    people we despise, we don't believe in it at all.
    -- Noam Chomsky
    The above quote is the view of free speech I've adopted ever since I first discovered the Internet many years ago. And a good dose of common sense and law also says that while freedom of expression is a right, there are acceptable limits. From my very first post here I've gone above and beyond what some blogs allow as far as comments go. Consider this post my commenting rules and rationales, as well as to demonstrate a contrast to another certain blog.

    I allow:
    • Conversation: As long the language used isn't abusive, offensive or randomly off-topic, I encourage conversations in comments, even if it's just between commenters.
    • Criticism: Again, as long as the language isn't abusive or offensive, I allow criticism and dissenting opinions. This is core to free speech, and the source of Chomsky's opinion(as well as mine).
    • Anonymity: Anonymous criticism is also a part of free speech, as a defense against unlawful retaliation. While I'm certainly not the type to retaliate against anyone for practicing free speech, I am aware that there are some people who have dissenting opinions, but are afraid to voice them for fear of such retaliation. So anonymous commenting is allowed here for that reason, but not to be used to launch attacks.
    So those are my commenting policies in a nutshell. The comments here are open for business :)

    Friday, September 18, 2009

    Section 3.3: A Virtual Copyright blocker?

    As a Second Life and OpenSim user, there's a natural desire for me to be bring over content I create in one virtual world to another(I'm not alone there, either). When I first got my local OpenSim up and running, I immediately proceeded to copy over a few pieces of my own tiny avatar. I had copied over the helmet, chest piece and my own Pet Rock in a pouch. In this instance it was totally legal since what I brought over had virtually no textures that I didn't create. When I thought about exporting some of my builds that had textures that weren't created by me, I hit upon an important legal question: Is bringing your own content(prims and/or textures) from Second Life legally allowed?
    My gut was telling me "No", and it turns out I was right. Why? Because according to Section 3.3 of the Second Life Terms of Service, you don't own the account you use to access SL, and nor do you own any data on their servers that represent your content. Plus the license to the textures in question did not specifically address "inter-grid use", so the safest course of action was to assume it's not okay to export them.

    What could be done about this? Is there a legal workaround? Yes and no. No, if the virtual world where the content(including textures) you made originates from is Second Life. Yes if the originating virtual world is OpenSim or any other virtual world that allows inter-grid use.

    So I did an experiment to create a very simple house in my own OpenSim, export it with Meerkat, package the XML file and the textures used(from the OpenSim library) into a zip file, add a public domain notice, put the zip file up on a web site, import the build into Second Life, add metadata to the object description(such as "[Creator: Antonius Misfit] [Virtual World: OpenSim]"), then package it a box containing the public domain notice with the URL to the zip file sources. It all went pretty smoothly. I had successfully brought over a piece of content into Second Life that is not bound by Section 3.3!

    This process easily applies for public domain, copyleft and Creative Commons-licensed content, but it also makes sense for commercial and even proprietary content creators who want to expand their content beyond Second Life and profit from it. You can follow the process I did, but instead of a public domain or Creative Commons license, you can use any license or EULA you want, provided inter-grid use is addressed. And of course source releasing isn't required, as long as you can prove that the content did not originate from Second Life(hence the metadata). So until Linden Lab properly addresses the "inter-grid use" in their Terms of Service, this may be the only feasible solution.

    Thoughts?

    Saturday, September 12, 2009

    Getting a Standalone OpenSim up and running on a Linode VPS: A tutorial

    Ok, I know there are several tutorials out there that detail how to do this in general, but there are none out there that are specific to Linode, and I have encountered enough speed bumps on the way to warrant a specific HOWTO. So here goes:
    1. Go to Linode.com and get the "Linode 540" VPS solution. It's $15 more per month than the cheapie Tektonic VPS, but I found OpenSim runs very smoothly on it.
    2. Deploy a Linux distro on your VPS. I prefer Ubuntu 9.04 "Jaunty", and for this tutorial that's what I'm going to assume you will use. Make sure your distro is at least over 10GB(I used almost the entire disk) and have a swap size of 512MB. Also set the root password on your deployed distro, as you will be using it to login to your VPS in the next step.
    3. Remotely login to your newly created VPS. You can use PuTTY, as referenced in this old tutorial or use the ssh command-line client like I did: [ssh root@my.ip.address]. Enter the root password for your VPS, and you'll be logged in with a standard shell prompt.

    4. Add the "universe" and "multiverse" repositories. First install the text editor nano so you can edit files: "apt-get install nano". Then do "nano /etc/apt/sources.list" to edit your APT sources. Here's what mine's looks like after editing:





      ## main & restricted repositories
      deb http://us.archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/ jaunty main restricted
      deb-src http://us.archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/ jaunty main restricted

      deb http://security.ubuntu.com/ubuntu jaunty-security main restricted
      deb-src http://security.ubuntu.com/ubuntu jaunty-security main restricted

      ## universe repositories
      #deb http://us.archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/ jaunty universe
      #deb-src http://us.archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/ jaunty universe
      #deb http://us.archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/ jaunty-updates universe
      #deb-src http://us.archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu/ jaunty-updates universe

      #deb http://security.ubuntu.com/ubuntu jaunty-security universe
      #deb-src http://security.ubuntu.com/ubuntu jaunty-security universe

      deb http://archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu jaunty universe multiverse
      deb-src http://archive.ubuntu.com/ubuntu jaunty universe multiverse

    5. Update your distro. Now do "apt-get update && apt-get dist-upgrade" to get the latest patches to keep secure.
    6. Install the packages needed to build and run OpenSim. The packages required are listed in this old tutorial(You can replace "mono-gmcs" with "mono" as it now includes the gmcs*). Also do "apt-get install git-core" to install the git distributed source code manager. You'll need it to download the latest stable OpenSim source code.
    7. Download the latest stable OpenSim source code. Follow the instructions on the OpenSim download page.
    8. Within the OpenSim directory, do these commands: "./runprebuild.sh && nant". If there are no prebuild or nant build errors, then OpenSim has been properly compiled.
    9. Follow the steps in this tutorial from Step 7 onwards, and then you can exit your ssh session and login to your shiny new OpenSim!
    So now you ask, "What's next?". In the next few posts I'll show you how to administrate your OpenSim to do stuff like properly startup/shutdown your sim, add user accounts and even perform sim backups.

    *Update: I just remembered about that nasty bug in Mono I blogged about earlier, where I described how I fixed it. Details about the bug and the patch for it are available here.

    Monday, September 7, 2009

    Struggling with Hypergrid

    Now that the process of getting my sim up, running and add accounts for my friends from SL is done, I've attempted to Hypergrid my sim. But so far it's been mostly fruitless. First it was a "Region too far" type of error, caused by a bug in the Hypergrid protocol that only allows a jump up to 4096 coordinates in both dimensions. But after editing the [Network] section of OpenSim.ini and the coordinates in /bin/Regions/Regions.ini, I can link to most regions listed, but then I get an error like this when attempting to go there: "Destination is not allowing teleports. Failed to authenticate user Antonius Misfit@xx.xxx.xxx.xxx:9300".

    I have tried every available Hypergrid address listed on gridhop.net, but with no luck. Am I missing something? I've been going a little nuts trying to figure out the problem. Help!

    Friday, September 4, 2009

    The NixTech Forge: My Own OpenSim

    Less than an hour ago I was finally successful in compiling, configuring, running and logging into my own OpenSim hosted on a VPS. Currently it's just one small, empty sim and I'm the only avatar on it(I changed the terrain though; it's not a tiny bump of land over water). But creating avatar accounts is very easy, and I'm certain the sim can handle a few simultaneous avatars. So if you want an avatar on the Forge, contact my Second Life avatar "Antonius Misfit" in person or via IM with your desired avatar name and password, and I'll create it and send you the login URI.
    P.S - I highly recommend using either the Meerkat or Hippo viewers to access the sim because they have a built-in grid manager to make logins to third-party grids very easy.

    The headaches of running an OpenSim on a VPS

    I've decided to try and set up a single OpenSim on a VPS solution. After looking at several options, I went for a VPS on Linode.com(the "Linode 540" plan, to be specific). At $30/month it's not bad at all, and the dashboard makes booting, rebooting and shutdown as simple as one mouse click. And I discovered just how ungodly easy it is to actually use ssh("I am now a true geek").

    That was the good news. When I actually ssh'ed into the server and tried to follow the normal instructions to build OpenSim, I ran into a few problems. First, apt-get couldn't find any mono packages. A quick look at the sources.list file showed that the universe and multiverse repositories weren't enabled. So a quick edit and "apt-get update && apt-get upgrade && apt-get dist-upgrade" fixed that. So then I go and install all the dependencies needed for OpenSim. I download the OpenSim sources and compile it right after a bit of trial-and-error. I set up the sim accordingly(being careful to input the server's external IP address when prompted by OpenSim), and it runs fine. I fire up Meerkat and add my sim's info to the grid manager. I hit login and then on the OpenSim console...

    Got a bad hardware address length for an AF_PACKET 16 8
    Got a bad hardware address length for an AF_PACKET 16 8
    Got a bad hardware address length for an AF_PACKET 16 8
    Got a bad hardware address length for an AF_PACKET 16 8...

    An endless loop of that message. I Google the error 'OpenSim "Got a bad hardware address length for an AF_PACKET 16 8"' and I find out that the error is a bug in Mono. There is a patch for it, but it requires me to compile Mono. Sigh. Well, at least all I need to compile is the base Mono tarball.

    If and when I finally manage to get my sim up and running, I'll let everyone know. This experience so far has given me a greater respect for the Linden Lab "grid monkeys" and in general anyone else whose jobs require to go through this kind of torture and still manage to keep their sanity.

    Sunday, August 30, 2009

    Some Resources for OpenSim Users

    Just a quick post to list off some useful resources I've found for OpenSim users:

    I've yet to find any public domain or Creative Commons licensed prefabs for SL/OpenSim via Google or XStreetSL, sadly. I'll come back to this post and add to this list if I find anything.

    Tuesday, August 25, 2009

    Squatter communities and Virtual Worlds

    If you have followed my Twitter microblog for at least the past few days, you may have noticed that I have been traveling to certain places in SL that would seem "seedy" at first glance. Specifically I visited places that on some level or another, represent the favelas of Brazil and Portugal, such as Cidade De Deus(City of God) and Favela Do Capao Redondo.

    I was inspired to do so after stumbling onto a video presentation by Robert Neuwirth, a journalist who has spent two years of his life living in squatter communities in four continents(quite an achievement, I'd say). He argues that these squatter communities are "the cities of tomorrow". To a surprising extent, he may be very right. In fact, Robert's argument is playing out right now in the context of virtual worlds.

    When Second Life began as LindenWorld, everything was a blank slate to explore, build and develop on. The pioneers of LindenWorld began creating little communities, with merely a fraction of the creation abilities of today's Second Life. Yesterday's LindenWorld beared very little resemblance to Second Life. It was "the virtual world of tomorrow".

    As Second Life became more and more mainstream, it simultaneously became more restrictive in certain ways. First it was the gambling ban. Then it was banking. Then ageplay became practically verboten. Most recently adult content is getting thrown into an age-verified only red light district called Zindra. At every point many communities complained it would strip a piece of their freedoms away, but they were ultimately silenced because Linden Lab "had to do this to stay legitimate".

    As something of a response to the increasing restrictive complexity, other but less developed virtual worlds have emerged. Most notably is OpenSim, a clean-room reverse engineered implementation of a Second Life sim server. With this, you can host your own sim and hook it up to an existing online grid.

    In this sense, OpenSim and it's derivatives can be seen in a similar light as the shantytowns and favelas Mr. Neuwirth talks of so fondly: it offers the kind of freedom Second Life does not. Everybody owns a sim, but property rights are either loose or non-existant. Everything that was once commonplace but now forbidden in SL can be seen on OSGrid or any number of smaller clusters of sims. They are the "virtual favelas" where those who have been disenfranchised by SL may wind up going. This is the competition to SL that it and its' residents must not shun, but rather engage with if SL and the virtual world community at large are to prosper in the long term.

    Thankfully, we are seeing a bit or progress on that front, as LL's Content Management Roadmap blog post speaks of best practices for inter-virtual world content interoperability. It is a good first step, but much more engagement and debate must be made on all sides. Otherwise, SL may wind up like Vault 101 from the Fallout 3 video game: sealed off, isolated and left behind. On that, I hope I'm wrong actually, but that's what it seems to me.

    So, what's your take? Does SL need these "virtual squatter communities", or am I simply being foolish praising "virtual slums"? Comments are open for discussion :)

    My bad sionChicken experience

    A few days ago, I had read of the plight of Second Life's most infamous resident, Prokofy Neva, in her quest to raise a group of sionChickens on a farm. I had read about sionChickens before, as they seem to be the latest craze in SL. As I was reading Prok's post, I started to get curious about getting into the chicken craziness. At the end of her post was a SLurl that went directly to her farm. I decided I would go there, observe the chickens in action, and perhaps even ask Prok why chicken farming in SL is worth it. In hindsight, that was the most stupid and naive decision I've ever made in SL.

    What happened? Well, I got to the farm, and it had most of the staples of a chicken farm: a chicken coop, a hen house and a chicken range. I had even seen Prok's favorite chick "Hope". Adorable little things, for sure, as they moved around on their own, pecked around and did stuff just like RL chickens. I was careful to keep a distance though, because I had read that it's very easy to kill a sionChicken(too easy, IMO).

    So I observed the chickens for about two minutes, and then guess who teleports in? Yup, it's Prok. What happened next?
    [20:54] Antonius Misfit: Halllooooo
    [20:54] Prokofy Neva ejected and banned you from this land.
    [20:54] Antonius Misfit: figures

    I simply say "Hi", and I get banned for it? Later on I figure that she believed I was going to kill her chickens, because in her eyes "open source=criminal griefer". A day or two later, she reveals that Hope had gotten killed by a griefer called "Soviet Admiral". I thought about her entire ordeal, and I realized that the griefings and chicken killings could have been avoided if she had made a few simple checkbox clicks in the land management tab. A parcel lockdown would have given her peace of mind. I posed that as a question both on Twitter and her blog comments.

    What did I get as a response? A silent comment deletion on her blog(not entirely unexpected, but again... being naive struck me again), and these two little doozies on Twitter(she's protected her individual tweets, but still visible via her Twitter home page):
    @antoniusmisfit oh, shut the fuck up. We aren't required to live in parcel lockdown just to keep you assholes away. Grow up.

    @antoniusmisfit What a spectacle, violent griefing assholes philosophizing abt how victims didn't lock down. Seriously, go fuck yourself.

    Wow. If there were anything such as a baptism by fire, I just received a taste of it. I'm a "philosophizing violent griefer asshole" now, according to her. Yet, she has the balls to harass a Linden with an alt account(ironically named "Dear Leader", Prok must have a crush on Kim Jeong Il), get that account banned, and actually post all the details of it on her blog? Compare that to what I did, and decide for yourself who is the griefer.

    In a way I should thank her, though. Just after she had banned me from Belarus, I had read in the Herald that the EULA for sionChickens is actually illegal. So between that and Prok's ban-and-flame routine, I'm now of the opinion that sionChickens are cute but devious little scams. They induce lag, die too easily, upgrades are mandatory per EULA(and not free or discounted either), and if Sion or his employees believe you are criticizing their products(even if you aren't but think you are), you are irrevocably blacklisted.

    So I decided to offer an alternative to sionChickens. It won't die, won't force you to buy expensive accessories or food, and can be totally modified to make it uniquely your own. It is technically a parody item, but just like the RL Pet Rock craze, it offers something that no other pet does - a stress-free experience, and for some people that makes all the difference :)

    What's your opinion? Is Prok right, or has she gone off the deep end(yet again)? Am I right about sionChickens, or are they just misunderstood? Comments are open(unlike on Prok's blog).