HAPPY 15th BIRTHDAY, SECOND LIFE! FIFTEEN REASONS TO CELEBRATE

To kick off our year-long birthday celebration, we’ve rounded up 15 exciting improvements and features that make Second Life better than ever in 2018 and beyond!

SL15B_logo.jpg

  1. Lower Mainland costs – Did you hear the newsWe’ve reduced Mainland costs by over 10 percent. This change is part of our continued commitment to move toward a healthier economy, with more balance between costs and fees associated with land ownership, Premium subscriptions, commissions and transaction fees. For more information and context on this and other pricing changes, see the section “Updates to Mainland Costs & Other Pricing Changes” below.
  2. Double Mainland tier – We also recently announced that Premium members get DOUBLE the Mainland allotment! That’s twice as much space to build, create and design your own home, business or experience in Second Life at no extra charge!
  3. More Value for Premium Members – In the coming months, we’ll be announcing new features for Premium subscribers — including brand-new advantages that will add more value for Merchants, Creators and Landowners. There’s never been a better time to upgrade to Premium!
  4. Environment Enhancements (code name: EEP!) – Soon you’ll see a series of new customizations in the environment rendering system (also known as Windlight). Creators will have more control over the sky, water, lighting and atmosphere. You’ll be able to adjust the number of real-world hours in the Second Life “day” to match that of a real world location; the cycle can be as short as the 4 hours it is now – or up to 7 real world days long. These changes will give more value, flexibility and marketability to land. Environment settings will also become tradable assets, so that they can be bought and sold in the Marketplace, creating another avenue for residents to profit from their creativity.
  5. More exclusive games and experiences – Last week, we unveiled “Linden Realms: The Wrath of Ruth” — a fiery update to a familiar classic that awards skilled players with unique prizes. There are more exclusive experiences on the way, including something special for our 15th anniversary celebration this summer.
  6. Themed Learning Islands – Getting connected to people who share your interests will be easier than ever with “Themed Learning Islands.” Soon newcomers may start their adventures in one of several themed areas, so their first experience in SL will be among Residents who share similar interests. This new initiative is in addition to our existing Community Gateway program which empowers independent communities to develop their own newcomer-friendly experiences.
  7. The return of Last Names – You’ve asked for it (a lot!), so we will provide a way to customize your last name in Second Life! More details will be available later this year.
  8. Gridwide Experiences – Currently, Creators can use the increased scripting capabilities of an Experience only in a region or parcel whose owner has explicitly enabled their Experience. One of the new Premium abilities will be an Experience that is enabled anywhere on the grid unless the landowner has blocked it.
  9. Auctions – We are updating our system for conducting Land Auctions. The new auction system will be integrated with Place Pages, providing much richer possibilities for describing the land for sale. Most importantly, Residents will be able to create an Auction to sell their land.
  10. Linden Homes improvements – We’re bringing newer and better Linden Home designs this year.
  11. Marketplace updates – We’ve got a number of improvements to Marketplace in the works, too! We’re integrating many long-requested features that will help to reduce clutter and improve the functionality of listings as the Marketplace gets a facelift later this year.
  12. Improved performance –  We’re working on a number of improvements to performance, from faster rendering in the viewer to reduce client lag, to changes in the simulator designed to allow more objects, scripts, and avatars.
  13. Animesh – Last year, we introduced Animesh in beta available to all Creator participants. This year, with diligent and invaluable input from the community, we plan to roll out this exciting new feature for everyone!
  14. Bakes on Mesh – Extends the Viewer and the Avatar Baking Service to allow wearable textures (such as skins, clothing and tattoos) to be applied directly onto mesh body parts as they are on system avatars. To do this, you’ll ‘wear’ the textures as you would for the system avatar, and then edit the mesh body part to indicate the body part that should be used on each of the mesh faces; the corresponding system body part is then automatically hidden for you. This project also increases the supported resolution of wearable textures by 4 times (from 512 pixels square to 1024 pixels square).
  15. Migration to the Cloud – Finally, a huge effort is underway to move our Second Life infrastructure to the cloud. This update aims to enhance the quality and performance of Second Life for all Residents, but it will be of particular value for those who are far across the world from us. We look forward to exploring new products and more flexible pricing possibilities once this migration is complete.

 

UPDATES TO MAINLAND COSTS & OTHER PRICING CHANGES

 

Last year, we shared with you our plans for millions of dollars of new investments into Second Life and its communities to make our virtual world better than ever. Our recent investments are already paying off with numerous improvements including the introduction of a new 64-bit ViewerPlace Pages and a refresh of our starter avatars. We’ve also added more value to Premium subscriptions and a unique grid-wide hunt. We’re also continuing to hire new software and web engineers.

We’ve got big plans for this year, as you can glean from above, and we’re continuing to invest even more to ensure that the Second Life economy and community will be around for another 15 years and beyond.  A significant part of this effort is continuously re-evaluating the health of our business and the Second Life economy.

Currently, Land costs can be quite high, and make up a lopsided portion of our Second Life revenues. To improve this imbalance, we plan to increase revenues in other ways so that we can lower land costs further. In order to avoid shocks to the in-world economy and to take care that we keep the business healthy, we plan to make these changes in a measured way, taking time to assess the impacts of each change as we go.

Last week, we announced that we have lowered the cost of Mainland by over 10 percent and doubled the Mainland tier allocation for Premium members. In the coming months some other fees may increase, including Marketplace commissions, Linden Dollar exchange fees, and cashout fees. In addition, we will soon announce new tiered Premium membership offerings that allow Residents to choose the membership level that provides the benefits most important to them.

We are committed to keeping Second Life a vibrant and growing community with a healthy economy well into the future. Stay tuned – this 15th year will see some of the biggest improvements to Second Life in many years so that you can continue to enjoy it for the next 15 years.

Best,

Ebbe Linden, CEO,  and the Second Life Team

 

Spectre and Meltdown

You may have heard of Spectre and Meltdown, two security vulnerabilities that exist in virtually every CPU ever made by the chip giants Intel, AMD, and ARM. Either vulnerability can expose your system to “arbitrary code execution,” the geeky way to say, “A hacker could take complete control of your computer” and run any malware he wants on it. Read on to find out more, and if your computer is vulnerable to these attacks…

The Specter of a Meltdown?

Hacker in a hood on dark blue digital background

The Spectre flaw enables one compromised program, such as a web browser, to compromise another program running on the same machine, such as Microsoft Word. If a hacker can penetrate your browser via the Internet, he can leapfrog from there across every program running on the system.

The Meltdown flaw allows hackers to gain access to a portion of a computer’s memory that should be off-limits to all software except the operating system. And Meltdown doesn’t care if you run Windows, Linux, or Mac OS X. Any of those systems may be vulnerable.

As Meltdown’s name suggests, truly bad things can happen when a rogue program gains access to that portions of memory that should only be accessible by the operating system.. You may have seen the dreaded Blue Screen Of Death (BSOD) where Windows displays the cryptic “fatal memory fault at address…” Boom! Crash! But what’s the point of crashing some stranger’s computer? “Some people’s children” just do it for the “lols,” that is, for laughs. Global superpowers may do it in the name of “national security,” their intelligence agencies spending unlimited money to develop nuclear-grade malware… which, as we now know, “spook shops” like the NSA have allowed to escape into the hands of the “children.”

Worse, Meltdown enables an attacker to access all memory, including areas where your personal information is stored while you are working with it. There lies the profit motive that drives the most widespread attacks. The mercenary “adults” can use Meltdown to make millions.

The titans of tech including chip makers, Microsoft, Apple, and the Linux community, have scrambled to issue hardware and software patches for Spectre and Meltdown. All hands on deck, as they say!

But there is still lingering uncertainty about whether the patches work, or if they do more harm than good.

Ah, fun with words. The software flaw known as “Spectre” is a homophone for “specter.” The former refers to a ghost, phantom, or apparition, and the latter is defined as “a source of terror or dread.” Both can be scary, but only one of them is likely to attack your computer.

As of January 23, Wired! magazine reported that firmware patches issued hastily by Intel, AMD, and ARM to close Meltdown vulnerabilities in their chips “can inadvertently cause serious problems beyond processing slowdowns, including random restarts, and even the blue screen of death.”https://www.wired.com/story/meltdown-spectre-patching-total-train-wreck/ Microsoft went so far as to release a patch that disabled the Intel patch.

On January 22, father-of-Linux Linux Torvalds said, in one of his more diplomatic comments, “the patches are COMPLETE AND UTTER GARBAGE.” Speaking of Intel’s patch crisis managers, he asked rhetorically, “Has anybody talked to them and told them they are f***ing insane?” At least he used an asterisk. (I added two more.)

Since then, there has been thunderous silence from the tech press corps. Does that mean the coast is clear? Is it safe to install firmware updates to your CPU and BIOS, as Intel, AMD, and ARM urge you to do? And how is that done, exactly?

We Need a Gadget Inspector

Before tinkering with the most delicate parts of your system’s delicate “brain,” I recommend that you run the InSpectre (“inspector,” get it?) utility developed by Steve Gibson of Gibson Research Corp. InSpectre “was designed to clarify every system’s current situation so that appropriate measures can be taken to update the system’s hardware and software for maximum security and performance,” according to no less an authority than itself. (Sorry, I couldn’t let that one pass by!)

InSpectre is freeware, less than 200 KB of code, and perfectly safe to run. It will analyze your Windows PC no matter who made its CPU and BIOS, detecting and reporting its vulnerabilities, if any, to Spectre or Meltdown. InSpectre reports its findings in clear, simple terms that even non-geeks can readily understand. (I don’t know of a similar utility for Linux or Mac OS X systems.)

Best of all, its user interface includes two big buttons allowing you to Enable or Disable protection for Meltdown and/or Spectre. If either is greyed out, your system lacks that type of protection. Gibson goes into detail on why you might want to disable either of the protection options, to avoid the performance penalty they may impose. But unless you are noticing a marked decline in speed, I would not recommend doing so.

If InSpectre reports that your PC will remain vulnerable to Spectre or Meltdown until its firmware is updated, then it will be necessary to contact the maker of your PC to download a firmware patch specific to that make/model of PC. A Microsoft Support Page bears a “List of OEM /Server device manufacturers,” including links to their respective Spectre/Meltdown firmware and BIOS update help pages. https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/4073757/protect-your-windows-devices-against-spectre-meltdown

The only annoying things about InSpectre are the goofy sound effects, and the display of the results. Looking at InSpectre report is a bit clunky, because the window cannot be resized, and the small font can be hard to read. Position your pointer anywhere within InSpectre’s text window, press Ctrl-A to “select all,” then Ctrl-C to copy the selection, and then Ctrl-V to paste the report into a word processor or text editor. Then you can make the text as big as you like, save the report, or print it.

The best protection against Spectre on the operating system side, as opposed to firmware and BIOS, is Microsoft Windows 10, Fall Creator’s Update, version 1709. Automatic updates are on by default in Windows 10, so you should have v 1709 unless you have deliberately delayed its installation. If you have, go to Windows Update Settings and allow v 1709 to be installed.

Windows 7 users should have auto-updates enabled, too. Run Windows Update and let it install all critical and important updates to protect your system as much as possible via Windows.

It is shocking to learn that nearly everything digital, from desktop PCs to phones and tablets to Internet of Things things, contains a chip that is vulnerable to Spectre or Meltdown. But bear in mind that the world is still not on fire; these vulnerabilities can and are being fixed, if they are not already fixed in your device(s). For now my best advice is “Keep calm and carry on,” auto-updating all of your software.

Have a great week.

Zi Staff

Discord Resources For Virtual World Users (Second Life and Sansar Links)

Discord Resources For Virtual World Users (Second Life, Sansar, Sinespace)

So I’ve been using Discord for quite some time for online communication – gaming etc.  I’ve found it much more reliable than Teamspeak and 100% more reliable than Skype, without being a tremendous resource hog on my PC.  It allows users to connect via text and voice channels, I’ve been on the lookout for SL content and user based servers – so I’ll add and update this list as I find more!  There are sub servers for photography, mesh creation, bloggers, vloggers, event organizers etc…get connected!

I’m loving New World Notes’ new Discord server, which has already become one of my go-to places for post ideas and fun random chat.

Here’s some more Discord resources for fans of Second Life and other virtual worlds:

 

Extra Servers for VR:

If you’re a Sansar user, here’s details for connecting your account to the official Sansar discord server.

Bonus: Here’s the link for joining the official Discord to new kid on the block, VRChat.

 

SL Tutorial: How To Cut Land Impact & Memory Load Of Second Life Buildings By 40%+ With Modding

Coming Soon To Firestorm: Customized, Kickass Skies For Your Second Life

Coming Soon To Firestorm: Customized, Kickass Skies For Your Second Life

If you use Firestorm, the popular 3rd party viewer for Second Life, and enjoy shooting outdoor photos and machinima, you should connect with Stevie Davros. He’s creating what you’re looking at above: an alternative cloud system for use in Firestorm, which he plans to put on the Marketplace in March. The words “alternative cloud” don’t quite convey how vivid, jaw-dropping, and insanely cool these customized skies are, so you should watch that video and the one below: they totally transform the low-res, default skies of Second Life into something pretty profound.

“I have been a RL travel and landscape photog rather for decades,” Davros explains, “and skies are a fundamental part of what I photograph. In SL I was delighted with all the imagination and care taken in sim design and also the creativity on show, but was disappointed in how bland the skies looked compared to real life.” Firestorm developer Cinder Roxley added a feature that made it possible to swap the system skies with custom ones — and Davros’ photos and others made his system possible: “The TGA graphics files I have used are all extensively modified from numerous cloud photographs, some from my collection, some sourced from public internet weather images.”

His skies are not just taken from reality, however:

“[I’m also working on] fantasy clouds, hand painted clouds (including one sampled from Vincent van Gough’s brushstrokes), and some novelty and prop clouds.” (He created these cartoon clouds I blogged about recently.)

Stevie Davros Custom Skies Firestorm SL

“The standard SL sky uses a TGA graphics file which is 512x512pixels and 263kb in size. Pretty low res, but it works. The largest I have created is 4096×4096 pixels and 67Mb in size, most however are 4096×4096 and 16.7Mb in size. The big files seem to have no performance impact, so I am unsure why a better default sky has not been introduced by the developers?” That’s a good question, because who cares how large the sky files are, if you download them beforehand, and they make your virtual world that much more awesome?

Emphasis on “your”, because, of course, only the user with Davros’ Firestorm feature can see these skies — which is just fine for photographic and machinima purposes.

“If you are just sitting indoors doing glam pics, like a lot of people enjoy doing, it will be of little interest,” as Davros puts it. “But for those who like to get out and about and explore SL beauty, it is for them. And yes, will make kickass machinima and photo blog imagery as this [above] shows.”

More on Davros’ skies when they’re available!

Gacha creators frustrated by Second Life Oversight

(Image courtesy PocketGacha.)

Second Life, with a much bigger economy than that of OpenSim, also has a much bigger problem with copyright infringement than OpenSim.

For instance, copybotters have long been using specialized third party viewers to duplicate creators’ content and offer them for sale, lowering demand for the legitimate versions of the items and demoralizing creators.

More recently, content thieves have been exploiting a glitch to create illegal copies of products are reselling them.

These dupers may have cost creators and original owners thousands of dollars over the past two years, Oobleck Allagash, founder and creator of PocketGacha in Second Life, told Hypergrid Business.

This is a particularly vexing problem for the extremely popular Gacha ecosystem.

Gachas are vending machines that give customers random items, some more rare and valuable than others. Customers who get items they don’t want can trade them or sell them, creating a hot resale market and increasing the appeal of the Gatcha system.

“The best I can muster for a speculative look at this would be that tens of thousands of real life dollars were lost over the past two years,” he said. “That would be a significant blow to sales by creators, many of whom are one-person cottage industry artists whose livelihoods depend on every sale.”

Allagash recently discovered that items from his company were being resold without permission on the Second Life Marketplace. He discovered this by checking the back-end records for PocketGacha, a HUD-based system for merchants that tracks players and sales.

“It is an exploit that involves the person crashing a sim and duplicating a transfer item in unlimited amounts,” he said. “It duplicates perfectly with all the original aspects intact and the creator name the same.”

PocketGacha helps users to “buy on the fly” as they demo products and avoid lag issues in a crowded sim. Without PocketGacha, users would need to first gather demo items, go home, try them on, make a list and then go to find the items at the event to buy the ones they like.

For the past few years, Second Life has been lax in addressing the problem, said Allagash. The company has been reluctant to remove dupers from the ecosystem, and instead remove only the affected Gacha, but the duper remains in the ecosystem, and continues to re-post the removed Gacha.

“Many of these dupers have multiple DMCA take-downs of single sets yet continue as users and sellers without being banned or removed from the game,” he said.

That is beginning to change.

On Wednesday, Second Life banned one well known duper, an act Allagash applauds.

“We are very happy that in light of it taking time to patch all of the exploits Linden Lab is now taking steps to properly remove violators and a develop a stop gap to protect creator content,” he said.

The company said in post last month that they are continually creating new tools and discovering new techniques to solve this problem and have put in place techniques and methods that are bearing fruits. They also said their move to the cloud would allow introducing new products that would help stop the bad guys.

But while errors and glitches that allow copy of transfer items can occur, Linden Lab should, after two years, have come up with a method to identify and remove the bad actors from the grid, according to Allagash.

“Linden Lab has the ability to investigate the dupers and see within minutes irregularities with listings on Marketplace which have impossible quantities loaded for sale,” he said. “In addition, while an IP ban might not completely work, each person is required to have billing information and there are ways to regulate things with these obvious culprits.”

Being too aggressive about removing these sellers may hurt the bottom line, both in terms of resources spent addressing the problem, and in the form of lost revenues.

Linden Lab collects a five percent commission on all products sold in the Marketplace.

The behavior is also unwelcome and those doing it also hurt their creativity, another creator who has been in Second Life since 2003, Lupus Furyo, told Hypergrid Business.

“Second Life creators, just like any other, infuse their spirit in their digital creations, and it’s impossible to steal their work by just copying and selling their stuff,” he said. “That’s exactly what many people engaged in such activity never got right. One does not learn anything by following that kind of path in their life whether virtual or real”.

Meanwhile, High Fidelity has already rolled out Digital Asset Registry, a blockchain-based system that lets virtual world users attach digital certificates to their creations using digital fingerprints to secure item origins and unique ownership.

Item ownership will remain on the items regardless of where the items are distributed in the virtual world. There will also be a new cryptocurrency-based High Fidelity Coin that users can use to purchase products from the marketplace Avatar Island, and which can be traded on cryptocurrency exchanges.

Users can also offer their items for sale to other users on the Avatar Island.