Thursday, January 31, 2008

Decentralized grids and the law

Linden Labs has, throughout 2006 and 2007, taken a couple of controversial or unpopular measures to curb possibly illegal behaviour in Second Life. Illegal.. by what law?

As Linden Labs and their Second Life servers are located in the United States, the answer is: US law. Although Linden Labs, as a commercial enterprise, might be sensitive to legal issues arising from foreign law as well. For instance, Linden Labs banned ageplay (avatars posing as kids) mostly because it attracted a lot of negative publicity in Germany and other European countries, which caused governments to take a closer, and often unkind look at what's going on in Second Life. I don't know wether Linden Labs takes non US law into consideration when shaping their policies; perhaps that's a question Benjamin Duranske can answer, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did.

But, as open source simulator platforms like OpenSim mature, new grids emerge. Not owned by a commercial enterprise, not centrally managed, like Second Life. These are geographically dispersed grids, made up of simulators (computers) owned by different people or legal entities from all over the world, often controlled by a central user and grid registry.

I wonder who, if anyone, is legally responsible for such a grid? Who can assert jurisdiction over the grid as a whole? These questions can be of great interest, now that Casinos and banks, banned from Second Life, are contemplating a relocation to these open grids. An interesting but also worrying development, with possibly interesting legal aspects.

In the linked article, Reuters mentions that Casinos are welcome in CentralGrid, as long as they come from a legal entity, and ban American avatars. I wonder how CentralGrid plans on doing that? How are they going to determine from what country an avatar comes from? Is that even relevant in a virtual world? It's easy to choose a completely random country for your avatar (or an alt) if you want to, and even tracing IP traffic may not 100% reliably determine where the human, controlling the avatar, is located. In my opinion, statements like these from CentralGrid
are little more than window dressing, intended to fend off US law enforcement. But, even if it's little more than that, the statement still implies that CentralGrid considers itself subject to US law.

What if I, a citizen of the EU, rent a hosting server in a country with, uh, let's call it a less restrictive legal climate. I base my central user and grid registry on this hosted server, with a couple of sims. Subsequently, people from all over the world connect their sims to this grid, and soon casinos, shady night clubs, banks and an exquise assortiment of weird types of roleplay can be found there. Now what law applies to this grid? It could be EU law as I am a resident of the EU, or it could be the law of the country where my central user/grid server is located. Or, perhaps, each simulator falls under the jurisdiction of the country where it's hosted? If so, it's probably going to be very hard to enforce any law.

Any informed opinions out there?

Flickr groups for OpenSim and Twinity

One of the things I like about Flickr, is the ability to create groups. My snapshots didn't get much attention at first, but after I started posting them to the secondlife group pool, the number of views rose steadily. As I am also posting photographs and snapshots of other virtual environments (like OpenSim based worlds and Twinity), I tried to locate groups for those as well, but to no avail: no groups for Twinity and OpenSim existed. So I created them myself! They are of course public groups, so if you have relevant pictures or snapshots to contribute: be my guest!

The groups can be found here:

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Twinity: not yet a world

Yesterday I blogged about my first experiences with Twinity, the 3D virtual world that's currently in limited beta. In the mean time, I have had the opportunity to think things a bit through, so here's another take on Twinity.

First off, yesterday I mentioned that Twinity doesn't know land as it's known in RL and SL. Instead, Twinity offers locations; anyone with a Twinity account can create one. A location is either an apartment, a club, a public place or a shop; for each of these, default layouts (rooms, floors, garden) are available.

A location is tagged with a real world geographical location. You can have a shop in Toronto, or an aparment in New York, for instance. But, as for now, Twinity doesn't seem to do anything with those real world places: a certain type of apartment is identical all over Twinity, wether it's located in Amsterdam or New York; even the view from the windows is identical. It is left to the creativity of the apartments' owner to give the place a personal touch, by redecorating or placing furniture.

Apparently it is possible to build stuff for Twinity yourselves, but as of now you can't do that in world. You will have to do it on your own computer, and upload the results to Twinity. I have not yet found out how that works.

Second Life is, and I know it sounds odd, a real virtual world. It has seas, continents, skies and stars, land you can walk on, with countless different buildings, landscapes and views. Twinity, in it's current incarnation, does not resemble a world to me; it's a list of geographically tagged locations you can redecorate, and to which you can TP to. For me, that's the main difference between SL and Twinity at this stage of Twinity beta.

If this sounds negative, it's not intended to be. If Twinity primarily wants to be a social environment with some limited options for expression and creativity (as I believe they do), they are right on track. And, I think there's probably an audience for such an environment, too! Many of those who tried SL once or twice but never really made it off orientation island, may feel right at home in the more limited, less confusing environment Twinity has to offer. For instance, ease of use and the familiarity of RL elements in locations and names may be beneficial in that regard.

For those who missed it yesterday: I posted some Twinity screenshots at flickr.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Twinity: first experiences

Today, I got an email message saying I have been allowed into Twinity beta. Twinity, built by the German company Metaversum, is a 3D environment which mashes up the real and virtual world. Currently, Twinity is in a closed beta phase, where every now and then new batches of users, who have applied for an account, are given access.

Twinity is a 126 MB download and requires a reasonably up to date graphics card. My ATI RADEON X300 is officially not supported if I read it correctly, but it works nonetheless.

As a Second Life resident, SL has profoundly influenced my view on virtual worlds. I am used to the SL client (yes, really!), the SL world, the SL way of doing things. Wether that is the best way remains to be seen; but being used to SL will undoubtedly show, in a report on first experiences with another virtual 3D environment.

And while we're talking about environment: Twinity's physical environment is very different from SL. To begin with, Twinity is based on real world locations, and the Twinity map is simply a map of the world as you can find in any school atlas. The day and night cycle per location also follows the physical world; it's evening now in The Netherlands, and so is it in Twinity, but in Canada, both RL and Twinity, the sun has not yet set. Not that there is a sun in Twinity. At least, I haven't seen it; neither are moon and stars, for that matter.

As for locations: everyone can create one, you don't have to buy land. A Twinity resident can choose from a certain list of countries to create their place; in each country, you can choose from a couple of cities to put your place. In The Netherlands we're obviously talking about Amsterdam, for Canada it is Toronto and Vancouver.

Speaking of land: there is none in Twinity. Not as we know it in RL or in SL, anyway. When you create a place, you choose a certain location for it, e.g. San Francisco or Amsterdam. This may show in the view from your window (as it does in Amsterdam), but nothing else will indicate the actual physical location. There is no minimap that shows nearby avatars; you don't see your own or anyone else's avatar indicated on the world map either. You can't leave your place and take a random hike outside; you can't fly out of the garden or over the garden wall; you can't TP to a random place on the world map. Only the user created shops and apartments are available, as isolated locations presented in a list, to TP to. This does give a claustrophobic feeling to Twinity: there's almost no open spaces, no open sky above my head. This is not a positive part of the Twinity experience, as far as I am concerned. I did read, however, that Multiversum intends to add more outside, open locations as Twinity evolves, so this may change in the future.

Another part of the environment is the day and night cycle. As indicated, Twinity follows the RL physical day and night cycle, and, unlike in SL, you cannot change that. Again, this is perhaps a logical choice for a world like Twinity. it means however that, as it is currently winter and I have a day job, I can only spend time in Twinity in the evening - when it's a bit dank and dark in my own Twinity appartment.

The last word on the physical environment in Twinity: water and sky are not yet as evolved as Second Life Windlight, but Twinity definitely has potential here. Water reflections for instance are not bad at all. And, let's not forget, not everyone likes Windlight.

As for creating stuff and houses: you can't do that like to are used to in SL. You can rightclick on the floor of your apartment, and choose to add a script or object from your inventory, your hard drive or the shop. I bought a chair for 20 Globals like that. Globals, that's the game currency Multiversum is contemplating for usage in Twinity, although the specifics are not yet public.

So how does an avatar live and move in this Twinity mirror world? Well, not bad at all, to be honest. Avatar movement is quite smooth, flowing and natural. Avatars display a breathing motion, at a slightly higher pace than my RL body, which makes the avatar look a bit unstable or busy, even when left to stand still or when avatar appearance is changed.

Twinity offers two modes of avatar control: basic control, which is really not much different from SL, and Action Controls mode, which offers a more game like experience. Twinity also has 3D voice chat; it can be disabled, but is enabled by default.

Twinity has a nice and clean user interface. There are not many configurable options (yet?) so a few buttons here and there is all that's needed. I could get used to a client like this. Imagine an SL viewer with only a HUD like bar in the screen, that allows an avatar to call common functions or the more advanced menus - very easy to work with. When using Basic Controls, chatting is also easy: just start typing. Your text will appear in a grey chat bubble, where you can still backspace and/or edit; when you hit 'enter', it's sent, and the color changes to green. There is no specific chat text box to use.

All in all, there's some areas I'd like to see improved when the beta progresses: I want to be able to leave an apartment and walk outside, for instance. But I am already quite satisfied with the usability of the client and the ease of controlling an avatars' movement, and the smoothness with which avatars move.

My Twinity screenshots can be found here.

I will have to put more effort in getting to know Twinity better!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

More childplay at Ciuso

My kids love to run around our OpenSim island Ciuso Prime. Here's some of their latest work! The first one shows my eight year old daughter as she puts ornaments on a garden wall; the second one shows my six year old son, as he creates a letter and posts it to the mailbox at his house. His sister and me had to help him a bit, but he did most of it himself!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

OpenSim Ciuso

This is an OpenSim based island my kids (aged 6 and 8) and their nieces (age 9 and 12) use. Most of what you see there is built by them, although, of course, I have helped them occassionally.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Windlight and Flying - not good on ATI X300

I created this machinima to show SL Windlight, but the combination of flying and Windlight wreaks havoc on my ATI X300 graphics card. There's just not enough computing power to draw the landscape and objects fast enough! The result: a laggy, bumpy flight over an empty Caledon landscape. For me, flying is only feasible with the main SL viewer, 1.18.5(3).

Dazzle flying

I like to testdrive new stuff! Today I stumbled upon a post from last year about Dazzle, a tryout for a new SL viewer interface. Granted, the post was from November 2007, so it's not really that new anymore :-)

But, I like Dazzle. I hope they pursue this direction, as I find it an improvement over the existing, dark and green interface.

Griefbuilds in Second Life

Hamlet, Ordinal Malaprop, Rik Riel and others have paid attention to the ad farms littering the SL landscape. There's even a Flickr stream for Griefbuilds, which I contributed to. This plot at Thetidia looks ugly, but is not for sale; apparently the owner is trying to make a few lindens by placing ads on their land?
The plot in the back, in Timandra, however is for sale for a cool 28.000 lindens for 512 square meters.. I don't suspect they will be bought out anytime soon.

(manual crosspost from My BlogHUD page.)

Monday, January 21, 2008

IBM: the era of social networks

Right now, in Orlando, Florida, IBM Lotus has it's yearly party/conference: LotuSphere. A big reunion for IBM Lotus aficionados from all over the world, who happen to form a very active community with many online discussion forums, blogs, RL conferences etcetera. I have been at 'Sphere once; a terrific experience. But, this year I didn't get to go unfortunately.

The formal opening of LotuSphere is the General Opening Session, traditionally featuring IBM Lotus' General Manager, currently Mike Rhodin. I didn't get to see it live, but well known IBM blogger Alan Lepofsky liveblogged Mike's speech here.

Mike said something interesting, and for followers of virtual worlds relevant, about how people collaborate online: first there was document centric collaboration, then we saw people centric, but now there's community centric.

Let me expand briefly on that thought.

At first, online collaboration was document centric. The typewriter and overhead projector got replaced by the word processor and powerpoint, but the document is, in this paradigm, still central to collaboration, storing knowledge and exchanging it.

The next generation of collaboration put people at the center: email and instant messaging are the tools which let people work together. In my opinion, the document is still a strong presence here; it's just that people centric tools emerged, to help people deal more efficient with (document centered) collaboration.

But both these styles of collaboration are now eclipsed by the third style, community centric collaboration: social networks, and social networking software enable people to exchange knowledge, locate expertise, find and provide answers. Knowledge is stored in wikis, on blogs, in profiles, and yes maybe in documents too.

This fits in with the emergence of all the well known networking sites: LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, Hyves (the dominant social network site for The Netherlands), plaxo etcetera.
But, it also fits in with the emergence of virtual, 3D worlds like Second Life: these are social environments, where people (ok, avatars..) and communities are central. These worlds largely revolve around meeting new or likeminded people, sharing activities and experiences, talking, meeting, discussing, doing stuff together, like shopping, visiting a concert, or having a dogfight using WW1 era airplanes.

It's not an accident that IBM is investigating ways to integrate this third dimension into it's existing collaboration software, most notably IBM Lotus Connections. This is the era of social software, of open networks where knowledge is easily accessible and shared by people, and IBM Lotus is actively trying to integrate those values (which are at the heart of what Lotus has advocated for years) into business computing. I wonder if IBM's own Metaverse software will play a role in this, and wether it will interoperate with Second Life.

As an aside: I get to witness all these stages at once, at one customer of ours.
At their Systems Administration department, management is struggling with how to store and index operational knowledge, how to use it efficiently. Some people still think all that knowledge should be stored in Word documents, according to a strictly determined structure (chapters which should be covered etc) and those documents should reside on a shared network drive. But many younger employees percieve these digital documents on a shared network drive as too static and too inflexible to store knowledge that should be readily accessible and easily editable in a browser. Among many professionals working at this department, the wiki is now the preferred way of storing the departments' operational knowledge. Management is still at the first stage of collaboration; instant messaging has only been turned on recently; but most of the workforce is at the third stage, and would rather see wikis and blogs. Too bad they are a Microsoft shop; these are always a bit behind when in comes to innovation and collaboration.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Sopwith Camel 1917

A Sopwith Camel 1917. Easier to fly than the Spitfire, but I miss the HUD.
posted by Sered Woollahra on Caledon Morgaine using a blogHUD : [permalink]

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Not a dog fight

When flying over Caledon Penzance, I suddenly noticed a Spitfire suspended in mid air - all alone. I was afraid it was one of mine, as it has happened to me before: if you crash in mid flight, the plane stays at your last known coordinates, motionless, until you go and pick it up. Upon inspecting the airborne wreckage, it turns out it's owned by someone else. So..I beamed back to my own plane and off I went.
posted by Sered Woollahra on Caledon Penzance using a blogHUD : [permalink]

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


As far as I'm concerned, on of the most beautiful planes of the 20th century.
posted by Sered Woollahra on Caledon Penzance using a blogHUD : [permalink]

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


bought a Dutch WW2 era uniform, which seems to be more fitting for the RCAF.
posted by Sered Woollahra on Caledon Penzance using a blogHUD : [permalink]

handy map..

..this map of Caledon shows the safe areas for flying: the green lines. Red sims have less than 30 prims fee, and should be avoided like a ship avoids an iceberg.
posted by Sered Woollahra on Caledon Penzance using a blogHUD : [permalink]

I swear..

..I'm not doing this on purpose. I'm just not paying enough attention to flight altitude, that's all :)
posted by Sered Woollahra on Caledon Speirling using a blogHUD : [permalink]

a good landing.. one you can walk away from!
posted by Sered Woollahra on Caledon Morgaine using a blogHUD : [permalink]

another unfortunate landing..

..this time a wet one :-)
posted by Sered Woollahra on Visit using a blogHUD : [permalink]

Sunday, January 13, 2008

at Penzance Field,

home of the Royal Caledonian Air Force. Take the ornithopter demo ride if you're there, it's a lot of fun! Get one by touching the green orb near the antique airplanes at the end of the runway.
posted by Sered Woollahra on Caledon Penzance using a blogHUD : [permalink]

on board!

On board of SimplyAmy Iwish's airship.
posted by Sered Woollahra on Caledon Penzance using a blogHUD : [permalink]

Saturday, January 12, 2008

for all you science geeks.. should take a look at the ISM. It's got rockets from all over the world!
posted by Sered Woollahra on NASA CoLab using a blogHUD : [permalink]

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Vanity fair

Do you know the Flickr group for Second Life pics? There are many, but this one is linked from the blog page. Anyone who wants to draw some attention to their photos, can use this group to reach a larger audience. I've tried it, it works.

Because some of my own shots are in that pool, I check it out more often than I used to. And, to be honest: I think there's a lot of wasted creativity in those photographs! Most people seem to think SL photography is mostly about avatars - usually their own, or a friend. People apparently love their avatars very much. I can appreciate that: if you've put a lot of effort in creating something beautiful, be proud of it and show it off! By all means! Twice, even ;-)

But after three or four pics of your golden perfect body, that mysterious gaze in the distance, or that sensually, moodily lit female avvie, could we perhaps move on to other areas of virtual life? There are definitely more things to photograph out there. There are venues, clubs, landscapes, sunrises, gatherings, art, games, banks (take a picture while you still can!), islands, mountains..

Second Life is, at heart, a social environment. It's not *that* strange that most of the attention would be focused on people. But please.. Be creative! Picture something else today! ;-)

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The bitching base

For almost a decade, I have been working with software; usually software that would run on the desktop and would be used by ordinary office users. For the biggest part of these years, I have been an active member of several online communities for this software.

As in any software oriented community, there often was a lot of discussion. Feature requests, the user interface, stability, strategic directions, and more, were discussed amongst peers and (intensely I might add) with those responsible - IBM in this case. There was always room for dissent, other voices, differing opinions - but we stayed within certain boundaries: we'd keep it polite, focused on the business, and we'd keep in mind that we all had the same goal.

For over a year now I have been reading blog items and responses concerning Second Life. One of the things that's really wearing me down, is the incessant bitching that can be found in certain parts of the SL userbase. Whatever Linden Labs does or doesn't, there's always complaints - usually quite vitriolic, and there's no boundaries to the ignorance or malice that will be ascribed to Linden Labs.

Either someone is complaining about ancient graphics, or someone is complaining about Windlights' greed for grapics computing power, is only about 'pretty' - or how a skin doesn't look perfect in it.

Either someone is complaining about how SL is only about sex, or someone else is complaining about how LL limits their ability to play out every (weird, strange or possibly illegal) slex fantasy someone can come up with.

Either someone is complaining about how LL suffocates freedom in SL by instituting more and more rules, or someone else is complaining about how the lack of law enforcement or oversight enables fraudsters to steal thousands of Lindens from gullible residents.

Linden Labs always communicates too late, too early, not explicit enough, too explicit, at the wrong location, to the wrong people, didn't invite the right people, invited everyone but meeee, doesn't care about Second Life they only care about ... On and on it goes, often in the comments to blogpost at Second Life as well.

You know, it's entirely possible that one of these complaints is justified, that LL is making big mistakes here or there (and possibly here *and* there). But the high, pitched sound of endless whining drowns out any meaningful debate there could be had in public. Stop it already!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Her gift arrived today!

A while ago, I blogged about this Starfruit shop, that sells SL products, and their RL equivalents. You give someone the SL present, and they can have the RL product delivered as well, nicely tying SL and RL together. The way this works, privacy is guaranteed for all involved.

I ordered this necklace for my wife. She liked it very much, but didn't know that there was an RL necklace on it's way as well - I arranged that for her. Today, the necklace arrived, unexpected of course, and she liked it very much. Points scored: many :-)

Check this store out if you ever need to give someone a special gift!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A little more on OnRez viewer

I have several SL viewers on my desktop: the main viewer (1.18.5(3) at the time of writing), Windlight, OnRez and I had the beta grid viewer as well. It's sometimes useful to have two or three viewers: I can be logged in as myself with one of them, and use an alt account (or my wife's) to login with the other. In doing so, I've noticed a couple of weird things with regards to the OnRez viewer.

For one, it's using much more memory (RAM) and CPU than the main viewer or even Windlight, sometimes using about double of what those other clients use. I did a little experiment, where I put two avatars next to another at the same location. I did nothing else but monitoring the CPU and RAM. As for memory, right now SL main viewer is using 145 MB RAM and holding, OnRez is using 375 and rising. As to CPU, OnRez is using anywhere between the same and double the amount of CPU the main viewer uses - but never less. (all figures according to Windows task manager.)

In a later experiment, I changed some values for OnRez which differed from the main viewer's settings, most notably the cache size, and this improved things a bit; but still OnRez used much more memory than the main viewer - I'd say about half.

And, OnRez is slower to load the environment once you're logged in. I used to think that was because I am starting it as a second client and my laptop must be very busy, but I also noticed this with only OnRez loaded.

Finally, I stood side by side with my wife at our plot of land at Timandra; she was using the OnRez client, I was using the SL Main viewer. The main viewer provided a much better SL experience in terms of visuals. It just plain looked better, at exact the same time and location!

I'm quite happy with what OnRez is trying to do with their viewer, but there's a few issues they need to solve in future releases, in my humble opinion.