Local payments update

Frank Ambrose – FJ Linden – is an unsung hero of Linden Lab and Second Life. Since he’s been a part of Linden Lab, he has worked hard to communicate openly and directly with users in a manner that really cannot be faulted – and which should be taken as the standard be which others in the Lab should communicate.

Changes in the way non-US users can make payments has been the source of much controversy of late. Overseas Paypal payments were no longer acceptable, and the new local currency system has been less than confidence-inspiring.

These issues have lead to concerns among users as to what happens if payments fail – as has been the case – and Frank’s latest post on the subject is clear and concise on matters, and provides precisely the required level of reassurance on matters that is needed.

It’s also good to see that it actually shows up on the Featured News list on the Dashboard for once. Is this a sign that that particular problem is being fixed?

Another Alt detector surfaces

It seems there is another Alt detector on the loose. This one is a little less noxious than RedZone, and the speculation is that it is a variation on the previously banned Quickware scripts – although the author denies this.

As with all these things, it requires media streaming to be enabled on the target avatar’s Viewer – if they don’t have media enabled (or run Sione’s excellent Media Filter available in most Viewers) then the tool is a useless box of hot air. If one can talk favourably of the device, one has to say that the author is up front on this fact. Indeed, reading the advertising blurb gives reasons enough not to part with even L$250. I quote:

“* This method only works on Viewers having media enabled, there are no scripts or filters to stop it (NO THERE ARE NONE!) but simply deselecting media in preference is however an effective way to protect yourself from this and these kinds of devices. 
* This method is not 100 % reliable in any way and alot can go wrong. Actual detection means nothing more then that the target and detected share the same way into secondlife as in PROXY,Public Wifi-points (like mac Donald) etc. So take this into account when a positve match has been made !” [sic]

There is also mention of the detection method being flustered by dynamic IP addresses, which concludes, “It is important that the target ‘visits’ you often” in order to avoid the device being fooled by Dynamic IPs.

More interestingly, the author intimates that the tool is “safe” as it does not actually reveal IP addresses, nor does it collect or save them in any way. Technically, this would seem to bring the tool within the letter of the revised Community Standards, which restricts itself to the sharing of private information. However, whether this remains the case or not remains to be seen; if nothing else the tool does stand against Rod Humble’s own comments (to Dusan Writer) on people’s right to privacy where their alts are concerned – and it is really time that LL indicated they are prepared to stand behind Rod’s comments rather than staying silence on the matter of privacy, for reasons I’ve gone into elsewhere.

Overall, this new device is clearly intended to feed of Drama: it’s a one-avatar-per-box solution – that is, each purchased unit can only detect one designated target Avatar’s alts (allowing for all the caveats as to why it most likely won’t work).  This means that mass bans aren’t possible (unless one is willing to part with considerably more than L$250 in order to “protect” one’s venue).

But again, this isn’t really the point; if this tool is allowed to stay, there will doubtless be some 14-carat blockhead out there who will take it as a sign that they can make something even more intrusive, and we’ll be back on the merry-go-round once more.

Phoenix .1050 goes “final”

Phoenix .1050 was issued as a Release Candidate on the 21st April, and slightly surprisingly made the jump to a Final release on the 26th, without requiring any further downloads. The decision to flip the status of the Viewer to Final was bashed on a combination of reduced reported crash rates and generally good user feedback.

The core changes to .1050 comprise:

  • Media filter
  • Bridge prim update (please see the Phoenix READ BLOG on this)
  • HTML link parser updates for local chat
  • Correctly identify server 2008 and 2008 R2, added detection for Windows 8 and Server 2012
  • Windows XP no longer shows as running compatibility mode in help → about
  • Added cookie support for internal web browser
  • Debug setting for making Linden chat blue (PhoenixColorLindensChat and PhoenixLindensChatColor)
  • URLs in picks and profiles are now clickable
  • Links in group charter are clickable
  • Sound fixed in Linux (no more needing to copy files from 373)
  • Sculpt rendering fixes (all those sculpts that didn’t look right should be fixed!)
  • Added more viewer tags
  • Added entries to GPU table to recognize more video cards
  • Messages that fail to send to a group now say what group it failed to send to
  • Ability to not show TP Offers (Prefs > Popups > “Show teleport offer popups”)
  • Added to windows install the ability to have this build used for handling SLURL links from web browsers.

Plus a series of bug fixes and under-the-bonnet interface improvements. From a personal standpoint, the clickable URLs are perhaps the biggest “new feature” in this release. As I run this and other blogs, having the means to direct people to them straight from my Profile without them having to copy/paste is a major boon. The same is very much true for any merchant advertising their goods on the likes of the Second Life Marketplace. If you plan to include URLs in your Profile, remember that they’ll only be active for others viewing your Profile – links will not work in your own view of your Profile.

There are still issues with 1050; many people are reporting reduced frame rates, while the amount of memory the Viewer uses appears far larger than either the last “Full” release (908) or the last Beta (977). Some have reported issues with rezzing and sculpties taking longer than expected to load as well. These last two points may be attributable to the fact that HTTP Get texture loading is now OFF by default. To turn the faster HTTP texture loading back on:

  • Preferences -> Phoenix -> Page 2 -> Advanced Graphics and check  HTTP Get Textures and then APPLY.

You’ll be prompted that you’ll have to restart Phoenix for the change to take effect. This is because your existing texture cache must be cleared. On initial re-logging, allow time for your inventory to full reload.

Another potential performance gain would be to re-enable OpenGL Vertex Buffer Objects, which are turned off by default with this release:

  • Preferences -> Graphics -> click on the HARDWARE OPTIONS button
  • Check the option to Enable VBO and optionally enable Streamed VBOs.

In order to ensure these options are benefiting you, it is best to carry them out one at a time and monitor what happens – so enable HTTP Get and see if there is any significant improvements as you use SL before you try enabling VBOs.

The Phoenix release notes suggest that, as a last resort, you perform a completely “clean” install of the Viewer. However, before you do so, I would recommend you read Nalates Urriah’s excellent blog entry Second Life Clean install – it could save you a lot of time and frustration.

From a personal standpoint, I find 1050 a mixed bag; as stated, I like the click-enabled URLs when viewing other people’s Profiles, but at the same time, 1050 doesn’t get along well with my GeForce 9800-series graphic card as well as 977 or 908, and I’m still finding myself flipping between it and 977 at times.

Bouncing bewbs beget blog bit

Well, Enhanced Avatar Physics are finally formally released  – and blogged about by Samuel Linden, aided by Amanda Linden (honestly, the bouncy bits are that big they require a double team effort?!).

The news isn’t exactly new; people have been blogging and filming the new undulating body parts and having mild fits of hysterics playing with the sliders for a while now.

And truth be told, the enhanced physics are fun and add another level of realism to SL (and without the angst associated with the way bewbs bounce in viewers like Phoenix).

However, we’ve come through nigh-on a month of almost deafening silence from Linden Lab while a myriad of things bork, bomb and basically bugger-up (OK, not quite so alliterative, but you get the point). So you can understand it when people take a tongue-in-cheek line of reportage on the subject, or indeed, mix a little acidity into their view on the news, as Marx Dudek did (sorry; hard to avoid that particular alliterative bit) on Twitter:

What I like best about SL jiggly bits: My breasts bounce with just the right amount of realism while I hover after another failed teleport.

Yes, bouncy bits are fun – but unless this announcement marks a renewal of the Lab actively communicating with the community, people are going to remain pretty unimpressed, even if those of us blessed with them can have bits that wiggle and jiggle and bounce and flounce.

Web Profiles – a further look

Over the last couple of months the layout of web Profile pages has undergone a series of progressive enhancements. As it has been a while since I’d last looked at web Profiles, I thought a little update was in order, particularly given the most recent change to Privacy Settings, which has come out entirely unannounced by LL.

The first noticeable revision is the provision of a new drop-down list of options that can be accessed by clicking on the down-pointing chevron next to your name at the top right of the Profile page.

Clicking on this displays a drop-down list of options, namely: EDIT PROFILE, PRIVACY SETTINGS and LOG OUT. Clicking on either of the first two options will automatically open your Profile / settings for update, regardless of whose Profile you are actually viewing.

Defining your reach

An issue with earlier iterations of the Web Profiles was that they carried all information about your avatar out into the web. This generated a lot of criticism from users, some of which was valid. While options were later added to limit how far real world and other information in a Profile could be broadcast, it was impossible to disable or stop the About Me section of a web Profile being visible from across the web without it vanishing from Viewer 2’s in-world search, effectively making you a non-person, Profiles-wise.

This has now been rectified. A new option has been added to the Privacy Settings, which defines who can see the About Me section of your Profile page.

As with earlier iterations of the web Profiles, the options for defining how widely the various sections of your Profile can be seen are:

  • Everyone: the information is available to the whole Internet and can be picked up by search engines
  • Second Life: the information is available to all Second Life residents who are logged in to the website or in-world
  • Friends: only your Second Life friends can see the information.

Setting all of the Privacy options to Second Life / Friends means that anyone casually browsing the web (via search or whatever) who comes by your Profile will only see the top section of your Profile page – name, rezdate, etc., together with a button to join Second Life. This should be ample to allay the worries people had about having their Profile information broadcast across the web, and it means that even if access is restricted to Second Life or Friends, a profile won’t completely vanish from Viewer 2.

Social media connections

A further nice addition to web Profiles that I’ve not looked at previously is the ability to connect SL Profiles to other social media accounts (FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr and YouTube) should someone wish to do so. A drop-down list of available options is located towards the bottom of the Profile page when in Edit mode, under the title Social Identities.

To use it, click on the arrow and display a drop-down list of networks and click on the the one to which you wish to connect and follow any on-screen prompts or requests. Repeat for any other accounts to which you wish to links – and don’t forget to click SAVE when you have finished.

Each social media network added to your profile will be displayed in the edit screen directly below the drop-down list, together with an option to remove it later, should you wish.

Once saved, your various social media connections will be shown in the middle column of your Profile’s Second Life tab, in a field entitled Elsewhere. This will be directly under your Picks and / or Group listings, assuming these are visible to people perusing your Profile.

Worthwhile enhancements

These updates are likely to prove popular among users, providing as they do greater control and flexibility over how the web Profiles can be used.

While there are still issues with the web system that need to be examined and resolved – including load times and the loss of data entered into Profiles – which tend to impact the effectiveness of web Profiles, these new changes demonstrate that LL are listening and making changes in response to user requests, as well as providing greater choice as to what can be done with web Profiles. Both of these points are to their credit.

If there is anything upsetting about these new enhancements, it is in the fact that once again, LL have made no announcements concerning them; I only found out about the Privacy Setting changes from Ann OToole. Given the amount of concern previously expressed by users on this particular issue, this has to rate as another mark-down in LL’s ability to communicate, and shows (again) the Lab has a lot of ground to make up where keeping its user base informed is concerned.

SL8B – lifting the lid

Daniel Voyager, ever-roaming, lifts the lid to take an initial peek at the upcoming SL8B sims for the forthcoming 8th anniversary celebrations. Not too much information is available right now – although it appears that it will run across some 21 sims this year, albeit sims with slightly twee names – “Astonish”. “Impressive”, “Beguile” and so on.

Details are currently thin on the ground – no word from LL on the event as yet. However, kudos (once again) to Daniel for getting the inside scoop on what is coming down the road. Look forward to finding out more on the events,