Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Google Analytics, and a Plea

Mordecai pointed me at Google Analytics. Establish an account, insert a little blurb at the end of your web page(s), and it will keep track of a wide variety of information. A lot of it only makes sense if you're using Google Ads (which I occasionally contemplate, if only to see what on earth it would come up with to advertise!), but I like it because it provides evidence that yes, people actually read what I write. :)

One thing I have found out is that almost 44% of the visits here since I turned on the tracking are done with some version of Internet Explorer. If you use Internet Explorer, I'd like to take this opportunity to urge you to switch to Firefox. Do it for your own computing safety.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sky on My Skirt, IMs on My Tuchis...

Every so often, I notice that I'm arbitrarily stood up from a poseball without my intending to do so. Putting on or taking off something is a sure way to make that happen, but sometimes it happens without apparent stimulus.

Such was this morning. Up I went from a poseball on a bench without having done anything to provoke it. "OK," I muttered, "I'll sit back down," and I did, but then I noticed... this.

Somehow, a snapshot of the scene had been painted on my skirt. It's nominally a miniskirt, but I think it actually goes below that and is just transparent up to the nominal length, because as you can see in the picture, the sky goes all the way down. As you can see if you look closely, there's a tree, and a bit of my IM conversation with Mordecai resides on my posterior. I sat back down, and took a picture for posterity... ah. The IM wrapped around to the front, too!

To show that this isn't by design (though maybe it should be... a sufficiently scenic landscape could make a heck of a skirt!), we append a shot from after I logged off and back on:

This is using the latest First Look SL client for Linux. I'll be posting on the LL forum about the bug and linking back here, since the pictures are here. (I suppose it might drive up blog readership, too, but that wasn't my intent, honest!)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Things That Make You Go "Hmmm...."

I've always had a hard time with opera. It requires independent twin I-beam suspension of disbelief to hear Mimi belt out one last aria while dying of TB, you know?

Second Life isn't quite that bad, but it does differ from RL in a lot of ways. Some are good. I'm glad I can fly, and that falling doesn't hurt me, and that I can teleport. I can do without having to eat or sleep or do other tedious physical things in SL. I love having an unbounded closet that doesn't take up any room, even if it's currently disorganized.

Some things still bug me, though. Others strike me as weird. Still others are kind of a bummer, but can be passed over with sufficient motivation.

"We are the hollow men..."

If you zoom in closely enough, you'll see that your avatar is hollow! It's probably not worthwhile to change, but it sure is weird. (Cheyenne did a nice blog entry on this a while back.)

"Whoa... those jeans look painted on..."

In SL, they are. Shirts and blouses, too, so if they come down far enough, it looks like they're vacuum sealed to your posterior. That may give rise to imagined discomfort and very unfortunate mental images, but as far as damage to verisimilitude, it's worst for shirts and blouses. The better endowed you are, the worse the effect... well, if you're interested in realism.

(Actually, that may not be entirely true. I have some jeans that I can put on and then look up the legs... and see that it looks like the jeans were filled with flesh-colored stuff after I put them on, and my ankles and feet stick out from it. I bet they are at least partly prim-based.)

"In one ear and out the other"

SL doesn't always bother with that thing about matter... you know, the bit about no two pieces being able to occupy the same location at the same time? This is useful for building, no doubt, so you can approximate a non-prim shape as the union of overlapping smaller prims, but it can lead to weird results, like having your prim hair go through your body.

Animations, poses, and the non-average man (or woman)

At least so far, animations and poses aren't parametrizable; they're made by someone who's got two particular figures acting it out, and it looks good on them. The more you vary from those figures, the more off the animation looks. In an embrace, you reach up and grab the air above your sweetie's head (if you're tall) or attempt to strangle him or her (if you're a bit short), or you gaze lovingly into your partner's torso (if you're very short, and for purposes of discussion, we will ignore the chorus of "So what's wrong with that?" that might arise). You sit... and if your legs are too long, your feet go underground.

I could believe it's computationally intensive to customize such things on the fly, so one might as well grin and bear it. If you're in an embrace, you're paying attention to other things, anyway... but in a photo, everyone will notice the glitches, darn it.

Don't they sew those skirts up all the way?

Ah, flexi-prim skirts. They look so beautiful... until you sit down. Then you find out just what those "glitchpants" are there for. Or, you start your descent, after fastening your seatbelt and raising your chair to the full upright and locked position... and have your vision blocked by your skirt, which looks like a beautiful if wind-blown flower with your legs as the stem. (And you really discover what glitchpants are there for.) Ah, well. One must simply deal with it... and stand up if someone's taking your picture.

One of these days, SL and graphics technology and processors will improve, and we won't have to ignore things quite as doggedly. Even now, though, it's scary how easy it is to immerse oneself in it, so I can't imagine how hard it might be for some to tear themselves away from it when it gets really good.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Mild-Mannered Reporter

Mordecai has already written about his start as an SL journalist. I'm particularly happy to note that the new Metaverse Messenger is out and his byline appears on two columns therein!

(OK, by definition, the new Metaverse Messenger is always out, because whichever one is out is the new one... better to say that a new issue has just come out as I type this.)

I look forward to more of his work appearing in (virtual) print!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Giant Human Avatar

There are folks on SL who have worked around the constraints of SL avatars. The main group is that of the creators of furry avatars. Some have figured out how to overcome the size limits on SL avatars, by building enormous avatars with prims. All the examples I'd seen were furry... until the other day.

I was over at Northstar, which caters to size extremes, and saw a large human avatar!

I talked a bit to Selsey, the lady with said avatar, and she was nice enough to let me take a picture. I'm there for scale, 7'6" tall in heels, so I'm guessing that she's close to forty feet tall.

Selsey said she had adapted a large furry avatar. I'm still very impressed, and look forward to seeing what she does next.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Norway in SL

Sweden's decision to establish an embassy in SL made the news recently... but after a brief but fun trip to Second Sweden with a dear friend a few weeks ago (and being moved to track down Radio Sweden, one of my regular childhood listening stops on the shortwave dial, online and subscribe to their podcast), I'd not given any thought to things Scandinavian until yesterday, when I found out, a few hours too late, that the wonderful Bill and Pam Havercamp were performing in Bryggen.

I was curious (no, I'm not alluding to those silly movies, which in any case were made in Sweden, not Norway...), so despite having missed the performance, I went to take a look. I'm glad I did.

Bryggen is built around a small inlet (fjord?)... ah, excuse me for a second.


There, that's better.

Bryggen is very music-oriented. There's a lovely outdoor stage, with seating (and tables!) for the audience, as well as an indoor stage in one of the shops in town... a guitar shop, come to think of it. (If you ever wanted to do a Pete Townshend-style windmill guitar chord, the "air guitar" poseball gives you your chance.)

One can also indulge in what IMHO is the real obsession of SL, fashion, in two stores featuring the work of the multi-talented Neferia Abel. (Mathematicians will recognize that last name and its appropriateness.) One features clothing for men (which Mordecai seized upon with a cry of delight when I was there with him later. I didn't give in to the temptation to run my hands over his new shirt... sorry, darling).

Brumm Bricklin is the man behind Bryggen in SL. Bryggen in the real Norway is the oldest part of the Norwegian city of Bergen, and if you take a look at a panoramic photo of Bryggen (warning: really big graphic image!) and visit SL's Bryggen, you'll see the amazing work Mr. Bricklin has done in reproducing the look and feel of the actual Bryggen (though prim constraints make the SL version necessarily smaller).

His attention to detail is quite impressive, and shows in his architecture as well--one of the buildings features prefab houses he sells.

Speaking of detail... Norway is famed for its seafood, and at the end of the inlet is a table bearing an assortment of seafood. I couldn't quite persuade myself to defy the gull standing guard over it, so I can't say much else about it!

By the seashore there is a small spot where one can relax and enjoy the sea. (I'm not sure whether you'll want to go swimming; I've seen jellyfish in the water...)

Don't confine your travel to Bryggen proper; the surrounding region is mountainous and beautiful, with waterfalls and two spheres (built by Alex Ge) suspended in mid-air. Actually, one is a three-quarters sphere, set up for meditation, while the other is a half-sphere, filled with water and available for floating. Very relaxing, but I'd urge not playing the streaming music there if relaxation is your goal.

Do check out Bryggen. It's a beautiful place. Alebi 68,92,24 will put you right by that table and the ever-vigilant gull, and you might wish to head north from there to a spot where a shaft is driven straight into a mountain...

Valentine's Day in Fairyland

I'm way overdue for writing about this...

Mordecai, as he says in his blog, does not associate Valentine's Day with happy memories. (Truth be told, for a long time I didn't either, though my Valentine's Day woes are small potatoes.) It is therefore all the more touching that he went to a great deal of effort to turn our home into a magical place.

There's not much I can add; the pictures say it best. Thank you, love.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Begging Your Indulgence

I'm way overdue to write about how wonderful Valentine's Day was, but I hope you'll forgive me a brief technical diversion.

People concentrate on what graphics card one has in discussions of the SL client, and indeed it is an important thing... but there's something else that's important, as one can tell from checking on the processes running...

do-not-directly-run-secondlife, resident memory: 277.9 MB

(That's just after starting it; I've seen it in the 300s and pushing 400.)

So, yesterday I finally installed an extra stick of 512 MB of RAM, bringing me to a gigabyte... and it makes all the difference in the world.

Basically, you name it, and the SL client eats it: CPU cycles, disk space, graphics, and RAM. If your system is thrashing while the SL client is running, life is far worse. Make sure your system has enough RAM. Your Second Life will be much happier!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Advice for Gentlemen

If you wish to impress a special person this Valentine's Day, seriously consider following the example of my wonderful partner Mordecai. Make something for said person! In SL, it's particularly easy, and a gift made by loving hands is truly special.

Above is a picture of me in an outfit Mordecai made for me... in a burst of misguided modesty, I increased the opacity of the skirt panels, but upon reflection realize that doing so was a mistake, and I'll be changing it back.

It's a few days early, but... happy Valentine's Day, and thank you, love.

Friday, February 09, 2007

SL vs. RL

I try to keep RL and SL scrupulously separate, but of course they can't help but affect each other in some ways.

I just ran into one of those situations. I've been laid off.

Looking for a job is itself a job, so it shouldn't greatly affect my time in SL unless things don't go well.

Wish me luck, please.
In this proud land we grew up strong,
We were wanted all along;
I was taught to fight, taught to win,
I never thought I could fail.

No fight left, or so it seems,
I am a man whose dreams have all deserted.
I changed my face, I changed my name,
But no one wants you when you lose.

—"Don't Give Up," Peter Gabriel

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Castle in Lavender

Yesterday Mordecai took me to see an amazing castle.

Angelic Harbor Nights Castle is a huge, beautiful castle (with quite a modern kitchen!). The amazing thing about it is that it is all done in lavender. The stones are lavender, as are the roof tiles. The stained glass windows are purple, and even the fireplace burns with a lavender flame.

The rooms are huge and imposing. We went out and found a cozier spot to sit and chat. Eventually I want to go back and take pictures of the castle proper and the beautiful rooms.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

A Butterfly Morning

I've not been sleeping well lately, so yesterday morning when Mordecai asked me whether I had time to go somewhere, I almost said no. What a mistake that would have been!

We went to La Promenade des Papillions [sic, and apologies to all Francophones reading this]. It's a beautiful seaside walkway ending in a circular area surrounded by benches with spots at which one can dance. In accordance with the name (papillon is French for "butterfly"), all the poseballs and dance balls are in the shape of red and blue butterflies! We couldn't resist, and soon Mordecai and I were oblivious to all but each other and the glorious music of Albéniz ("Asturias" from the Suite Española).

The poseballs are romantic and tasteful; go there with someone special. (Next time, we'll visit the lighthouse just offshore!)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A Brief Trip Back into RL...

I know what the subtitle says, but this is too important to let pass without comment. So, all you young computing whippersnappers, gather 'round and let Auntie Melissa tell you a story about the Bad Old Days of mainframes, and how they may return in a new form...

Long ago, in a galaxy... er, when computers were huge things only owned by large businesses, universities, and government institutions, you bought, or at least in the case of IBM rented, a computer from a manufacturer, and all the parts were made by that manufacturer (until the "plug-compatible manufacturers" came along, but that's another story...). You looked at their product list, talked to their representative about your requirements, and bought (or rented) a computer accordingly.

As time went on, your needs would grow; you'd need more memory, or a faster processor. Then you would pay for an upgrade. In some notorious cases, this upgrade came in the form of a maintenance person who would shut down the computer, open it up, and go to a particular board and clip one wire or change a single jumper.

Then he or she, though in the Bad Old Days it was pretty much always he, would close the computer back up, and when you turned it on again it ran faster, or had twice as much memory. In other words, you had bought or rented something already capable of the increased performance... but the manufacturer intentionally crippled it so they could lower manufacturing costs by only making one version of whatever board it was, and charge you more money for what you already bought.

Nowadays, you can buy computer components from a wide variety of manufacturers who compete on the basis of price and performance. They are motivated to give you what they think are the best combinations of each; after all, you can always go elsewhere. That tends to work against the kind of sleazy arrangements described above from the old days.

Now, though, news has arrived of a patent Microsoft has applied for. From the title, it sounds good: "
System and method for delivery of a modular operating system." Modularity is a good thing. It lets programmers confine their problems to a limited area, avoiding obscure bugs caused by interactions between things that have no logical relationship. It's good that Microsoft has discovered it; before, they made a point of avoiding it, though for political rather than technical reasons--they inextricably wove the code for Internet Explorer into that of Windows, so they could claim with a straight face before the Department of Justice that there was no way to provide a version of Windows without IE.

But the proverbial devil is in the details, and the details are ominous. The method for delivery is DRM, that code that takes control of your computer away from you. You will pay for each of those modules, and the examples MS gives correspond exactly to the mainframe scenario:
  • paying extra to be able to use the full bandwidth of your Internet connection
  • paying extra to be able to run more than one program at a time
  • paying extra to be able to hook up more peripherals
  • paying extra to be able to use the full throughput of your hard drive
Surely in a free market third parties will provide alternatives, you say? Well... that's what the DRM is for. MS will retain control of what modules it will permit to run. In theory, that could give MS the ability to control what programs you install. So much for that pesky competition.

You'll also recall that DRM allows for situations such as rental, in which you can only view a movie so many times, or until some expiration date. Combining a modular operating system with DRM allows MS to move you to a regime in which you rent the capabilities those modules correspond to. That model, in which you never stop paying for the privilege of using your computer or accessing your own data, is something they've wanted for a long time.

For more information, check out Groklaw, LXer, and Slashdot. If you wish to retain control of your computer and your data, I hope you will consider moving to Linux.


When I first started listening to podcasts, somehow--I don't remember the cause any more--I happened upon Jonathan Coulton's amazing "Thing a Week" podcast in mid-run.

Mr. Coulton had set himself the task of putting out a song a week. Sometimes it was a cover (but what covers! e.g. his great cover of Leonard Cohen's "Famous Blue Raincoat"), but most often it was an original song. All were, IMHO, at least good, and most are very good. In one case at least it was genius, namely the anthem of all terminally shy nerds, "Code Monkey."

I think of that artistic effort when I read Natalia's Second Life Diary. Natalia Zelmanov has, for 129 days at this writing and still going strong, come out with pretty close to an outfit a day, when she hasn't been writing tutorials so that you, too, can create clothing and shoes (and now hair). The outfits are accompanied by stories of the places in SL that inspire them. The results of her effort are available now at her store, Sirena Designs.

Seeing all that amazing work does have the drawback of reminding me that I've done close to none of the scripting and building I told myself I'd do when I first came to SL... so far, I've managed to be Mordecai's muse (if you ask him) or placebo (if you ask me). With tutorials such as Natalia writes, and that are available on the Grid, I have no excuse... so we'll see whether I actually do anything about it.