THE RETURN OF LAST NAMES

THE RETURN OF LAST NAMES AND CHANGES TO MARKETPLACE, EVENTS & PREMIUM

As the end of the year approaches we’re working hard on improvements to Second Life, including your most-requested features such as Name Changes, enhancements of the Marketplace, Events, and Premium Membership. Here’s a rundown of what to expect, including some important fee changes which will soon take effect.

THE RETURN OF LAST NAMES — UPDATE & CONTEST

We heard you loud and clear. Soon it will be possible to change the name of a Second Life account. This is one of our Residents’ most requested features and we’re working furiously to make it available by the end of January.  Name Changes will be exclusively for Premium members at an additional fee. Changing one or both of your First and Last Name will be available as a single transaction. Last Names will be picked from a list, which you can help us curate.

What’s a last name you would choose for yourself? We’ll soon hold a contest seeking your contributions to the pool of last name options. From all of the suggestions, we’ll pick five, and those five lucky Residents will be able to change their names completely free of charge! You will not need to be Premium to participate or to win. The contest will run December 16 through January 15th, and participation details will be announced shortly.

MARKETPLACE CHANGES & FEE UPDATES

Effective December 2, 2019, Marketplace Product Listing Enhancement fees will be reduced by 10%. Listing enhancements allow merchants to promote their items by displaying them as “Featured Items” on Marketplace pages.

On December 2, 2019, commission rates on Marketplace sales will become 10% of the item price. This will be the first commission increase since the Marketplace debuted a decade ago. This new rate remains significantly lower than most digital content commissions across the industry. Apple and Google charge a 30% commission on sales in their app stores, as do many other popular virtual worlds, VR and gaming platforms, such as Oculus and Sinespace.

This fee change helps offset our costs as we invest heavily in new Marketplace features and improvements, which remains the Internet’s largest user-created virtual world Marketplace with more than 5 million items. Over the past year we’ve added a store owner’s ability to designate other Residents as Store Managers, who can help merchants run their businesses.  Recently we have taken steps to clean the Marketplace of outdated or inactive listings so that higher-quality listings are more visible to purchasers.  We’ve also added long-requested features like customer-initiated redeliveries, a Revenue Distribution page, Wishlists, Favorite Sellers, and much more.

More changes are coming in short order. The ability to filter limited quantity and demo items is just around the corner. A number of improvements for navigating shopping and order history for shoppers, and a way to prevent limited-quantity item redelivery for the Merchants.  Mobile-friendly layouts are coming. Additionally, we’re working to improve the ability for Merchants to issue refunds. We’re also planning to give the Marketplace a facelift later in the year, and we’re looking into a way to develop a native vendor system that better connects inworld sales and tracking with Marketplace transactions.

EVENTS FEES & CHANGES

Improvements to the Events pages are in the works for 2020, too. You’ll soon see more functionality and a new look, such as the ability to set an alert on an event you want to attend, to follow your favorite event hosts, to share your event calendar with friends, and to see the latest event developments in a news feed. Here’s a peek at a concept design (subject to change):

events_concept.png

Pictured: Early concept for redesigned Events pages

We’ve heard many complaints from our Residents about duplicated event listings and spam. To combat this problem, we’re introducing a nominal fee which will help discourage spamming and encourage higher-quality events from committed event hosts. Basic members will be charged L$50 to create an event listing while Premium members will pay L$10. On the heels of this change, we will introduce the ability for Premium members to schedule recurring events.

PREMIUM PLUS

Changes are underway for Premium Membership. In 2020, you’ll see a new membership level, Premium Plus. This new option will join our classic Premium tier as an additional choice for Residents who want to get even more value from their Second Life.  We think that many Residents will appreciate the new benefits and features of Premium Plus.

Speaking of Premium … some astute Residents have noticed a lot of Mole activity around the Belliseria continent.  Could something be afoot? Speculations abound! We are happy to confirm…

NEW LINDEN HOMES

Yes, it’s true! A new Linden Homes theme is on the way. On the heels of our recent additions of new Traditional, Houseboat, and Camper themes, the final touches are being put on for the next theme.  You’ll be able to get an exclusive first peek at the newest Linden Home offerings at the SL Christmas Expo, held Dec. 5-25 in Second Life.

It’s Just Around The Corner!

Do You Believe In The Magic Of Christmas?

Do you Believe in Tinsel and Garland?
In Jinglin’ Bells?
Trimmed Trees and Sparkling Lights?
Stockings Hung With Care?
Peace on Earth and Good Will?
Do You Believe in The Magic of Christmas?
It’s Just Around the Corner – The 9th Annual SL Christmas Expo
Helping the American Cancer Society and Children With Cancer!
Mark Your Calendars for December 5th to 15th
And Give The Gift Of Hope this Holiday Season!

MORE TO COME IN 2020

We’ve got more in the works for 2020, too.  Don’t forget that you can contribute your own feature requests for our team to review in JIRA. Simply login to create a new JIRA and select “Feature Request.”  Did you know that most of the recent improvements to the Marketplace came from Feature Requests?

Thanks for your continuing dedication and creative contributions to the Second Life community.  We are so excited for everything that lies ahead!

Have a great week and if your in the US Happy Thanksgiving From all of us at Zoha Islands/ Fruit Islands

Oculus CTO and VR pioneer John Carmack is stepping away

This directly impacts Sansar and High Fidelity and insures that they still have a long way to go before we can see mainstream VR on these platforms or it seems at least with Oculus.

John Carmack, VR Pioneer Who Once Described Developing VR as a “Moral Imperative”, No Longer Focused on Developing VR

John Carmack Oculus Rift CTO

Oculus CTO and VR pioneer John Carmack is stepping almost completely away from the company and virtual reality development in general to go in a totally different direction:

Starting this week, I’m moving to a “Consulting CTO” position with Oculus.

I will still have a voice in the development work, but it will only be consuming a modest slice of my time.

As for what I am going to be doing with the rest of my time: When I think back over everything I have done across games, aerospace, and VR, I have always felt that I had at least a vague “line of sight” to the solutions, even if they were unconventional or unproven. I have sometimes wondered how I would fare with a problem where the solution really isn’t in sight. I decided that I should give it a try before I get too old. I’m going to work on artificial general intelligence (AGI).

I’m not sure how many people in the VR industry grasp the significance of this move. The announcement comes only days after Carmack said this about the current state of VR:

“I’m often kind of grumpy around the office because I really haven’t been satisfied with the pace of progress that we’ve been making. When I’m in VR I see the magic there, but my brain is always throwing up these giant ‘to do’ Post-It Notes on top of everything, reminding me of all the work that’s yet to be done.”

Putting the two statements together, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Carmack has decided that virtual reality won’t or can’t be improved, or sufficiently matured into a mass market product, within the span of his career. And so instead, he’s devoting the rest of his work energies to developing AI.

The statements also stand in sharp contrast to how Carmack fairly recently described the importance of bringing VR to the masses — as “a moral imperative”.

As he explained  Wired article back in 2016:

 

“VIRTUAL REALITY WILL dramatically transform movies and gaming, but some see an even loftier goal for the burgeoning technology: Providing the world’s poor and underprivileged with a better life. Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus Rift, and his chief technology officer, John Carmack, even speak of a “moral imperative” to bring virtual reality to the masses.

Carmack, a pioneer in 3-D graphics, has championed this mission for some two decades, but only recently has the underlying technology reached a price point where VR headsets can cost as little as a cheap smartphone. And that, he says, makes it possible for virtual reality to improve the real lives of people worldwide, even the less fortunate.

“These are devices that you could imagine almost everyone in the world owning,” Carmack says. “This means that some fraction of the desirable experiences of the wealthy can be synthesized and replicated for a much broader range of people.”

Somewhere since then, it seems, that moral imperative became less imperative. It’s possible he still believes in VR with the same zeal, but just lost interest in developing it on a daily basis. One insider suggested to me that Oculus’ development and launch of the Quest — a greatly reduced (if relatively popular) vision of virtual reality — might have been a touch too demoralizing for his aspirations. In any case, the VR industry is losing one of its leading lights.

Have a great week from all of the staff at Zoha Islands and Fruit Islands.

 

Can a Virus Really Destroy a Hard Drive?

Sometimes I hear from people who say a virus ‘destroyed’ their hard drive and they had to buy a new one. But are there actually viruses that can physically damage a hard drive? Is it even possible for a virus to damage hardware, or is this an urban legend? Read on to find out the truth…

Beware the Horrible, Terrible, Evil, Hard Drive Destructo Virus!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say “A virus wiped out my hard drive, so I had to buy a new one and re-install everything.” When I ask what exactly they mean, the victim sometimes claim that a virus ‘fried the electronics,’ ‘crashed the head,’ or otherwise physically damaged the drive. In other cases, people were told by a repair technician that a virus had permanently damaged the hard drive, and they needed to purchase a new one.

My short and simple answer to the question is “no”. To the best of my knowledge, no antivirus researcher has ever discovered a virus that causes physical damage to hardware. You can be sure that such a discovery would have made headlines all over the world. It just hasn’t happened.

People who claim it has happened are wrong, or are being disingenuous. Or it could be what I call “Cousin Vinny Syndrome” — a modern day version of “I heard it from a friend who knows a guy who lives near the police department in a major city, and he knows about this stuff.”

It’s not unheard-of for an unscrupulous repair technician to tell a naïve customer that a virus has “destroyed” a hardware component, usually a hard drive. Then the technician gets to sell the victim a new hard drive, memory stick, motherboard or power supply. They’ll also charge for the “service” of re-installing the operating system and apps, in addition to the hours of labor that went into “diagnosing” the bad news. The customer leaves thinking that viruses can damage hardware, and blames viruses for any future hardware problems.

Then there are the amateurs who, upon failing to fix their own hardware, conclude that “it must have been a virus because I couldn’t possibly have done anything wrong.” There are various computer glitches (which may include a virus, a power spike, or just poorly written software) that can wipe out critical sectors of a hard drive. When this happens, you’ll be greeted by a startup screen that says “Disk Boot Failure”, “No Fixed Disk Found”, “Missing Operating System” or some other ominous error message that *seems* to indicate that the hard drive is physically damaged. But in almost every case, it’s not really a hardware problem.

Of course, there are some perfectly good reasons for intentionally destroying a hard drive.

Viruses can and have turned hard drives into seemingly useless bricks. But the only thing they can damage is the data stored there. A virus that overwrites the drive’s boot sector renders it inoperable. But a corrupted boot sector is fixable; only the data written to that sector has been damaged, not the magnetic media that stores the data. Reformat the drive, or reconstruct the boot sector, and the drive will work again. If a virus wipes out files, you can restore from a backup, and you’re back in action.

Hard Drives, Head Games and Semantics

Getting back to the original point, is it possible to write a virus that destroys hard drives? A hard drive (like many other PC components) is controlled by embedded chips that contain low-level “microcode.” This microcode can be replaced in what’s called a “flash update.” So why couldn’t a virus replace the legitimate microcode? In a Computer World magazine column published in 2005, columnist Robert Mitchell got a Western Digital VP to admit that it is possible, in theory. Mitchell claimed this admission proves that a virus could “essentially destroy” a drive.

But Mitchell was playing a semantics game. “Essentially” does not mean “physically.” In his context, “destroy” means “render unusable.” A virus could make it impossible for the system’s BIOS to communicate with a drive, but it could not damage the drive’s hardware. If the virus could be flushed out with a new legitimate flash upgrade, the drive would work again. Again, there’s no physical damage — only the DATA on the device is affected. And data can be replaced.

I’ve also heard about theoretical viruses that write data so frantically to the hard drive, that it just eventually crashes the head or wears out the surface of the drive. I just can’t buy this theory, because that virus would have to be running non-stop for months or even years before anything bad happened. I struggled to find an analogy for this, and I thought of the Etch-a-Sketch. Its surface is kind of like a hard drive platter, and the little “pen” you control with the dials is the read/write head. You can scribble all you want, but you’re not going to damage the device. And anything you write on the surface of the Etch-a-Sketch screen can be wiped away by shaking it and starting over. That’s similar to reformatting a hard drive, which will wipe out the virus and anything that it did.

And then there’s the Chernobyl Virus, which appeared in the late 1990s. Some have said that it could cause actual physical damage to the BIOS chip, but that appears to be the stuff of legend and rumor. It might have been able to erase data on a hard drive, or over-write the data on the BIOS, but that’s not permanent physical damage. Oh, and I have to mention StuxNet, the virus that targetted computers controlling uranium enrichment equipment in Iran. In this case, the virus tried to affect the functioning of centrifuges and other equipment being controlled by the infected computers. There was no physical damage to the computers, and it’s not even clear if the centrifuges were damaged.

Let Me Be Perfectly Clear..

I am NOT trying to say that a computer virus can’t damage files or destroy data. Of course it can. And 15 or 20 years ago, old-school hackers might have been interested in doing that type of thing. But today, viruses are not created to destroy hardware or data. Viruses are created to steal data and money, to send spam, or to disrupt other users with denial of service attacks. And they’re written so as to do their dirty work in secret. Virus creators WANT your hard drive to last a long time, so they can continue to use your computer to do their bidding.

Of course, computer components such as hard drives, motherboards, RAM, graphics cards and power supplies can wear out, or burn out. But those things are caused by defects in manufacturing, poor quality materials, overheating, or power surges. If a computer repair tech tells you a virus caused it, take your computer somewhere else.

If you (or your Cousin Vinny) disagree with my opinion that a virus cannot physically damage a hard drive, please let me know! And please, cite a credible source when you do.

Have a great week from all of us on the ZI and FI Staff.

Linden Lab Layoffs

Linden Lab Lays Off Over 20 Members of Sansar Team, Confirm Insiders; Social VR Platform to Continue Operating With Skeleton Crew

Sansar Linden Lab layoff social VR

Confirming a blog post from Ryan Schultz (along with some ominous rumblings I heard last Friday), some insiders tell me that Linden Lab has recently laid off over 20 staffers working on Sansar, the company’s social VR platform. Even more tragically, the layoffs include some longtime Lindens who got their start working on Second Life, Linden Lab’s core profitable product, but who were moved to the Sansar team.

Asked to comment on these layoff reports, a Linden Lab spokesperson just sent me this response, in its entirety:

“We have no comment at this time, but we’re continuing to develop both Second Life and Sansar, and we’re excited about the many new partnerships and features on tap for 2020!”

This move is not at all surprising, and follows a round of Linden Lab layoffs last year; more key, Sansar has steadfastly refused to grow its user numbers, with peak concurrency remaining in the low hundreds at most, despite marketing campaigns with major brands like Hello Kitty, Spielberg’s Ready Player One, and top esports groups.

My understanding is Sansar will not be closed down, or sold, but will continue operating with a skeleton crew, and in all likelihood, eventually be run as a spinoff company and product separate from Linden Lab.

In any case, this is a sad turn for a project that began under the leadership of former Linden Lab CEO Rod Humble, when Sansar was conceived as a spiritual successor to Second Life. But between Humble stepping down and Ebbe Altberg taking the reigns at CEO, some management decisions shifted Sansar’s direction:

 

Originally developed to be a direct successor to Second Life, including a heavy emphasis on creation tools, I’m told Linden Lab management ignored the advice of longtime Linden developers who helped launch Second Life, and moved away from that direction. This meant that Sansar creation would only be possible by uploading mesh (as opposed to in-world creation), which made the world less appealing to longtime SLers. Sansar management then jumped onto virtual reality as the new hotness (something Ebbe Altberg fully admitted to me when I interviewed him last Spring), so shifted the virtual world to be a social VR product. The company has been moving away from that VR emphasis in recent quarters, but by then, the Sansar ship was already floundering.

In recent product meetings streamed on Twitch, Linden Lab has suggested they’ll put more focus on Sansar as a platform for live events, as there has been some limited success with Sansar-based EDM shows put on by MonsterCat records. But that shift is meeting some skepticism.

“That’s the spin they going with now,” as longtime third party Sansar developer “Gindipple” tells me. “They’ve changed direction so many times now. They are winging this and hoping. I gave up on them a while ago, so don’t care as much now. They lost a lot of good people in this cut back, some went to SL but many [are] just out.

“And the thing is, when a company does this,” he adds with irony, “the remaining people come to work so highly motivated now.”

As for Second Life, Linden Lab is still hiring team members to work on that 16 year old virtual world.

We at Zoha Islands  wanted to make sure these allegations were correct and true before we passed along in our blog. And we will keep you posted with any updates on this subject as they become available and reliable sourced.

Have a great week from all of us at ZI and FI

How Soon Will Your Hard Drive Fail?

A common question is “How long will my hard drive last?” It’s a very good question, but it might be the wrong question. Read on for some stats on the life expectancy of a hard drive, and find out the more important question you should be asking yourself…

Hard Drive Life Expectancy (and the Right Question)

Whenever I am asked, “How long can I expect a hard drive to last?” I reply with, “How often do you back up your data?” This seeming non sequitur perplexes people, but I have found that the answer to my question is, almost invariably, the reason the first question is asked. The questioner is wondering how much longer he/she can get away with not backing up data.

Technobabble about MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure) in the 50,000 to 100,000 hour range is useless. Those hours are active hours during which the read/write head of the drive is moving. You have no way to monitor and record read/write head activity and you don’t want to be bothered doing so unless you’re a test engineer for a hard drive manufacturer.

Furthermore, MTBF measures mean (average) time before the hardware fails catastrophically, as in “won’t spin anymore.” That is the very last thing that will go wrong with a hard drive, akin to throwing a rod in your car’s engine. Long before the hardware fails catastrophically, you will be experiencing losses of data, and you might not even notice that it’s happening.

When data is written to a drive, the magnetic charge of tiny areas of the physical disk is altered. One magnetic state means “0” or zero, the other means “1” or one… or on/off, if you prefer. The patterns of this binary code store your data as a collection of magnetized spots in one state or the other. In order to make the disk reusable, the magnetic state of each spot on it must be changeable.

A lot of things can change that magnetic state beside the drive’s read/write head. A strong magnetic field near a drive can scramble data. Power blips can cause a read/write head to write (change the magnetic state of a spot) instead of read, overwriting data with gibberish. Even cosmic rays can penetrate any computer case and zap the data on a hard drive, although a cosmic ray is so narrow it will probably affect only one or a handful of data spots.

You don’t believe in cosmic rays? As I like to say, choosing not to believe in something doesn’t make it go away. But no matter — natural disasters like fires, floods, hurricanes and tornados also tend to dramatically shorten the lifespan of a hard drive. Even if your brand new 2 terabyte hard drive has no manufacturing defects, it won’t last long in an F5 tornado packing 200 MPH winds. And of course, there are well-known threats from viruses, botnets, and ransomware.

So a hard drive is in constant danger of having all or part of its data either erased, corrupted, destroyed, or otherwise rendered unreadable. It doesn’t matter if the drive is fresh out of the box or nearing its MTBF. (That list of destructive actions reminded me of another phrase: “Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate”. I searched for that and found an interesting 100-year history of the punch card.

What Studies Have Been Done on Hard Drive Life Expectancy?

A study on hard drive longevity was conducted by Backblaze, an online backup provider that has more than 25,000 consumer-grade hard drives in service. They found that 78% of the drives they use are lasting longer than four years. That might sound good, but it also implies that 22% of hard drives fail in the first four years.

The Backblaze study identifies the three most common causes of drive failure: factory defects, random failures, and parts that wear out. The failures due to factory defects tend to happen in the first 18 months of service. Failures due to wear out start to increase much faster after the three-year point.

The Backblaze study has been ongoing for several years. Other hard drive studies done by Google and Carnegie-Mellon University have been five-year spans, and both were conducted in 2007. So there just isn’t an authoritative answer as to how long a hard drive will last. Backblaze has some stats that give them confidence to predict that more than half of all drives will last six years. I think you’ll find their report interesting.

What Are the Implications?

Let me summarize and pontificate a bit. About one in five hard drives will fail within four years. Failure rates start to jump after three years. And there’s a 50/50 chance your drive will last six years. Does that give you a warm fuzzy feeling? I’d rather not rely on luck and statistics. My advice is simple… why take chances?

It’s vital to back up your data regularly and not just whenever you don’t feel like doing something else. Regular, automatic backups are the best defense you have against loss of data.

Have a great week from all of us at ZI

It Will Take Awhile for Bakes on Mesh to Make a Difference in SL

Why It Will Take Awhile for Bakes on Mesh to Make a Difference in SL

Bakes on Mesh body SL onion alpha

Commenting on Cassie’s video comparing SL mesh bodies, and her note that Bakes on Mesh doesn’t seem to improve performance, Patchouli W provides this analysis:

BoM’s true value contribution will only surface once onion-skin geometry is stripped away from BoM-optimized versions of the same body and people stop wearing more than one copy of the body geometry because of the removal of said onion-skins. The other optimization that will need to happen – and this is trickier because of limitations on how BoM works currently as well as so many legacy mesh clothing items being reliant on them – is the removal of legacy alpha cutting in favor of a BoM model that can handle ‘cuts’ made by using system layer alphas – this would reduce the amount of duplicated geometry required to fake smooth transitions between disparate pieces of geometry as well.

Only when these two changes are pushed through in full will the full value of BoM in cutting the impact of mesh bodies on the SL grid be fully realized. Then there’s the issue of trying to port this work over to cope with normal and specular/env channels baking, which is an entirely new kettle of fish since the way normals are blended is a little different compared to diffuse and specular texture layering.

This may be true or not true, but what’s striking to me is all the 3D graphics technical jargon one must know to understand the state of Second Life mesh. Or as it was expressed in the immortal line from The Limey: “There’s one thing I don’t understand. The thing I don’t understand is every motherf#@&ing word you’re saying.”

 


Anyway, Patch’s basic takeaway — be patient:

In short, it’s going to take a while, and you need to support your body maker of choice in the transition by encouraging them and providing the feed back they need as they release beta tests of your current body, because if they see it as a thankless task, they may just give up and let go. And that’s no good for any one of us.

And don’t forget to watch Cassie’s mesh round-up above!

Have a great week from all of us at ZI and FI