May 30, 2009

Potential Privacy issue with XStreet SL dropboxes

... and for that matter with any other dropboxes, be it Hippo, Apez, Deliverator, Subscribe-o-Matic, DSN or similar dropboxes. Whenever an object sends inventory to an avatar who is offline, the system sends a message along those lines:
The object 'Xstreet SL Magic Box v3.0.10' in Second Life has offered you inventory.
Log in to accept or decline this inventory.
= Xstreet SL Magic Box v3.0.10 is owned by Xxxxx Yyyyyy
As you can see, the location of the dropbox itself gets shown in that message. In this (faked) example the dropbox is on the sim "MyFancySim" at the coordinates 129,70,2004. A dropbox in an altitude of 2004 meters will most likely be on a skyplatform used as personal home or workshop. I know some (designer) friends carefully guard the locations of their homes and workshops in the sky, mostly because of the wish for privacy, but also as security measure against prying eyes regarding the things they work on. As normal as it may seem to place your dropboxes at your personal place, as much devastating is it for your privacy.

If you turn this around, there is a good argument to be made to place your dropbox(es) into your shop. With the same information someone could find out about your personal skyplatform, they can also find out about the location of your shop. Also most dropboxes give out a weblink when touched by someone else than the owner.

Finally, it should be noted that some dropboxes can be placed multiple times. You can take a full Xstreet dropbox to inventory and place a second copy on a different sim. That way, one acts as backup for the other, and deliveries can still be made when one box should be inaccessible.

May 29, 2009

You are hanging on a VERY thin thread

Hyang Zhao joined SL a month earlier than I did, in September 2006, and soon started to work as an official SL mentor, helping new users find their way around SL. Hyang is a community figure, well known to a lot of residents. Hyang is also a Premium member, paying hard currency to Linden Lab each month. Hyang comes from Russia, which makes some things more difficult compared to Western users, but Hyang takes it with a smile. The next software crash, redmapping or power/network outage might be the death sentence for Hyang Zhao, and she will never be able to get back into SL again.

Yesterday, Hyang changed her password on the SL website, something a sensible person should do every once in a while. Something went wrong during the process, a wrong click, a typo, something simple that can happen to anyone, and suddenly Hyang was locked out of the system. The options for password recovery given were:
  • Last amount of US$ transaction
  • Name 3 friends
  • Answer security question
According to Hyang - who was in a state of mild panic when she IMed me - she answered the friends question but the system refused the answer. This lead to the request of calling a phone number in the US which is quite expensive from Russia:
Are you having a little trouble with your password or security question? We can get this straightened out by talking to you. Please call us: (866) 476-9763.
I started a live chat session with LL Support on her behalf, and they confirmed there is no way around phoning them:
LL Support Employee: The only way we can reset a password is by speaking to the account holder, so she will need to call us
Eventually Hyang called the US number, and got asked for the security question which - in her case - was what her favourite book is. She got it wrong. She entered the security question in 2006, and since then tastes have changed, new favourites were added, and she did not recall which book she claimed back then. Linden Lab Support refused to reset her password, even after Hyang identified herself with real name, address, credit card number etc. - no valid answer to the security question, no password reset.

This got me wondering, what my security question might be. I set it almost three years ago, and even thinking about it hard I can not recall what it might have been. So alarmed by Hyang's experiences I tried to update my security question, but unfortunately you can't do it yourself. So I opened a ticket and asked them how to do it:
Dear Peter, Thank you for contacting Linden Lab support.
In response to your query regarding changing your security question. This can only be done via calling us on the below telephone numbers and requesting this via the phone call. Kind Regards, Brian, Linden Lab support.
Hum. I better call them and have that sorted out. Hyang's experience shows that all that separates you from digital oblivion is that security question. So you better know damn well what you entered there!

May 28, 2009

Another Personality Test

My friend and great fashion designer Milla Michinaga has plurked about a new personality test called 41 Questions, 1 Personality. I decided to give it a try, not really happy with the results of the other test I took a few weeks ago. I have to say the questions asked where quite interesting, and the results come close to what I see myself as:
Your personality type:

Enthusiastic, idealistic and creative. Able to do almost anything that interests them. Great people skills. Need to live life in accordance with their inner values. Excited by new ideas, but bored with details. Open-minded and flexible, with a broad range of interests and abilities.

Careers that could fit you include:

Actors, journalists, writers, musicians, painters, consultants, psychologists, psychiatrists, entrepreneurs, teachers, counselors, politicans, diplomats, television reporters, marketers, scientists, sales representatives, artists, clergy, public relations, social scientists, social workers.
There is a fancy graph going along with the results too.

May 22, 2009

When I was 16...

... I was pretty crazy about sex. And while some people will claim that this has not much changed since then, being a 16 year old boy, living in a hole in the middle of nowhere with no girls my age around was rather depressing. My body changed in scary ways, unknown reactions, disturbing thoughts, disturbing dreams with sticky and messy results in my pajamas - nature plays a cruel game with you during puberty.

I was lucky to got raised by liberal and educated parents. Sexuality did not get tabooed, neither did nakedness. Still there are some things you do NOT discuss with mother, but who need an outlet nevertheless.

During visits to hairdressers or doctors I preferred reading magazines who were known to have the occasional nude pic in them (it was in the early Eighties). I raided my parent's book shelves for erotic literature, there were porn magazines exchanged at school - candidly - and the older boys loaned them with a sleazy "no stains or you pay it!" - a sentence that took me a few months to understand. And finally we exchanged nude images on 5.25" floppy disks for my Commodore 64 computer. GIF files with 256 colors - GIF, by now a mostly outdated file format, being jokingly dubbed as "Girls In Files".

That was almost 3 decades ago. Access to nude images and videos, and even to pornographic images and videos, is ridiculously easy. Even with "safe search on" a query on Google will deliver the required result in a few tries. With "safe search off" I can see all the boobs I probably want right away, in vivid color and high resolution.

And now there is talk about protecting our children from the sex happening in SL. Sorry, I don't get it, I really don't get it.

  1. Second Life is a "game" for adults. If your kid is stealthily accessing SL, you as parent have done something wrong.
  2. The visual component of sex in SL - also known as "poseball humping" - has the quality of a bad cartoon. As nice as we can style our avatars, the arousing qualities of a naked avi are rather limited. Our 640x480 files in 256 colors back in the Eighties had better visual quality than a naked SL avatar. The typical erotic/pornographic images and even the videos you can get today are light years beyond what is possible in Second Life today. Same applies for the vast majority of sex anims - boring repetitive stuff.
  3. The non-visual component of sex in SL - the cybering, the emoting, the spinning of a scenario, the painting of a landscape of arousal and desire in your partner's head is something not even a young adult masters, not to mention a teenager or a kid.
A 16 year old in 2009, who wants to see nudity or sexuality, would go to dozens of other places before trying to get what he wants in SL. There are thousands of places with instant access and no hassle. The idea of a teenager creating a fake account, downloading SL, stealing the ID of a parent to get age verified, maybe even buy some L$ to pay a virtual hooker to jump on a poseball sounds just plain ridiculous to me.

I do absolutely accept that a percentage of the adults in SL don't want to come across sexual content. It is their right to do so, and everything that makes selecting and deselecting this content is basically a good idea. But please STOP claiming we need to protect our children from the stuff going on in SL. If they are determined - and from a certain age on they ARE determined - they will find it elsewhere easier.

May 17, 2009

Observations on the Xstreet SL rating system

Whenever I buy something on Xstreet SL I leave a rating, and sometimes even a review. For me it is normal to give this kind of feedback, since as a shopper I look for it as well. However I seem to be a minority - my own items on Xstreet SL barely get rated and I hear this from others too. Looking a bit closer at the rating system I started to see discrepancies. Items I got sent from Xstreet SL did not appear in my to-be-rated list. Items the store-alt for GREENE concept bought did not appear either. I even filed a ticket with Linden Lab and got some interesting tidbits of information.

In a nutshell, this is what happens:
  1. Your own items send as gift can not be rated. You can send your own items from Xstreet SL to others with the "send as gift" option, however they will not appear among the rateable items for the recipient. This is most likely to prevent "friendship ratings" where you send an item to a friend (or an alt) in order to get a favourable rating.

  2. Items bought from the same system can not be rated. This is a bit more complex and I could not find out with enough tests what Xstreet SL considers to be the same system. But if the GREENE concept store alt buys an item from me - even though the store alt using Google chrome as browser and me using Firefox - the store alt does not have the option to rate it. Whether this is a simple IP address check, and whether this info is stored persistently, needs more testing. And while the reason for this is the same as above, it can be tricky if for example a friend uses your PC to access Xstreet and after that Xstreet assumes forever that you and your friend are identical.
My friend Gumi Yao contributed another interesting observation: if you change an item's price by more than 50%, the ratings get deleted! In Gumi's case it was an introductory offer for some of her flowers, who got a lot of favourable ratings. After the introductory period, she set the price to the initially intended one - and the ratings got lost!

I tested her observation with an item of my own, that received a lot of negative ratings due to a misunderstanding in the description. The item was offered as a freebie and has received 35 ratings. I changed the price to 2L$ and once I reloaded the page, all ratings were cleared. I changed the price back to 0L$ and have a "clean" item again.

What are the implications of these observations?

Certainly there is a great potential for abuse in the Xstreet SL ratings. I witnessed a few times groups of friends openly discussing to make "fake purchases" in order to increase ratings. Since Xstreet SL gets a commission even from those "fake purchases" they have little incentive to stop it. However there are many legit reasons for a merchant to send their items via the "send as gift" option, and I wonder how many are unaware that the recipients can't rate those items. actually with the business I was involved with last year, we considered using Xstreet SL to send out review copies to fashion bloggers.

What I consider problematic is a "black box" that determines whether you come from the same system or not. Especially problematic since there is no way to know how long this gets stored in the Xstreet SL databases.

Using Gumi's documented technique to get rid of unfavourable ratings is legit I think. Many merchants complain about "rating trolls" or fake purchases by competitors for the sole reason of negative ratings. as long as Xstreet SL has no official way of appeal against those ratings, as long as a merchant does not even KNOW who did the ratings, a way to clear the record is important to have.

My own consequence: I will keep monitoring my "cleaned" item after I have clarified the description. If it continues to receive bad ratings I will go back to the drawing board and see how it can be improved.

Social persona test

[Every now and then these tests come up and race through the blogs. Sometimes they are insightful, some times they are annoying, but usually they are fun to take. I am not sure if I am particularly pleased with the result this time, but - oh well...]

The Snowball's Chance in Hell (QTBM)

Quirky Traditional Beta Male

Welcome, friend, to this lonley little club of mine. You are doomed to wander the earth alone and unloved. Okay, not really. But you are kind of a dork. However, your combination of interests, values, and personality is so rare, that it will draw females to you if you just put yourself out there. Work on the confidence a bit too.

You are more QUIRKY than NORMAL.
You are more TRADITIONAL than LIBERAL.
You are more PASSIVE than DOMINANT.

When picking a date, consider: The Rarity (QTAF), The Renaissance Faire Wench (QLAF), The Librarian (QTBF), or The Emo Girl (QLBF).

Avoid: The Man-Eater (NTAF) and The FemiNazi (NLAF)

You can take the test yourself here.

May 14, 2009

Dreaming of Paul, George and Ringo

It was a small room, more club-like, not one of the large concert halls. The audience was great, sang along, they knew all the songs by heart anyway. I was improvising with Paul, bouncing the ball back and forth. He started a riff on his ridiculously tiny bass and I picked it up, added a twist and gave it back to him. Ringo hammered away at his drums, looking as if he were a little out of place, following his usual routine, a tad bored. John was missing, obviously, since he's dead, but I never liked him much anyway. But George was there despite being dead, and he somehow reminded me of Bob Dylan. I'd always thought they looked quite similar.

The audience kept applauding while I gushed down a bottle of water behind the stage. "Let's do 'While my guitar gently weeps' as the final encore," I suggested.
"No, not another encore, and especially not that one!" Paul replied.
I glanced at George, who simply shrugged - being dead gives a certain peace of mind, I assume, and he knew the others had never liked his song.
"Don't you hear how they're applauding - we owe them another encore!"
"No, they've had enough. I certainly won't play another one," was Paul's final reply, ending the discussion.

Reluctantly I handed my guitar over to the roadie and started to unbutton my uniform coat. We've been on tour for so many years now, but I'll be damned if I ever figure Paul out.

6:15am. My alarm rings. At least it's Thursday.

May 12, 2009

Declaration of Independence

This blogpost has been waiting 4 months to be written. I never got around to writing it, and for the longest time had not even any idea how to write it. Today, finally, I had time and inspiration to make this important addition to my profile.

I partnered with Gina Glimmer in January 2007, and we had 3 wonderful months together, until her RL partner forced her to quit SL. She was eventually allowed back in, and even though we are still very close friends, we were never able to re-establish the partnership bond. I met Skinkie Winkler in summer 2008 and we had a great relationship. After Christmas she offered me official partnership. Three weeks later she dissolved our bond. I still don't understand why and have not had
a chance to speak with her since then.

My longtime friends London Spengler and Nadine Nozaki encouraged me to rethink my positions on friendship, affection, intimacy and love. The process took a while, and was a radical paradigm change for me. But I finally am able to declare my Independence. As of today, May 12 2009, this has been added to my profile:
Relationships - I had two wonderful relationships in SL, and both ended in pain. In January 2009 I therefore decided to not enter any exclusive partnership anymore. I love to flirt, and I love to flirt open ended. This does NOT mean I am reckless with other people's hearts, that I fool around or am an egomaniac. The people I allow close to me are close to my heart, and I protect and adore them. I have a lot of love to give, and the people I decide to share it with get a part of my heart and of my soul.
This is me. Take it or leave it!

A letter to Martin, who does not "get" SL

[This is a letter written to the webmaster/friend of my friend Rheta, who brought us the news about her death yesterday. In my email exchanges with him he persists on saying "playing SL" and similar phrases, so I tried to explain SL to him.]

Good morning,

I hope you found some sleep after the shocking day yesterday. Let me give you a big thank you again for your help. You rendered an important service to the friends of Rheta. Even if this may sound bizarre to you, for us the "parallel world" as you keep naming it is very real. Unfortunately it happens frequently that someone vanishes, leaving friends and also lovers behind you martyr their brains and hearts not knowing what is up. We even have a special word for this, the "Big Quiet". Even though the message you gave us was heartbreakingly shocking, nevertheless it brought closure. Doubts and tormenting was ended and made room to healing suffering.

If you allow I would like to tell you a bit about Second Life. I googled you and even though you seem to be a "normal" person, your business has to do with dream worlds and fantasy worlds as well. I hope you might understand a little bit what I tell you.

With very little exceptions I have only met people in Second Life who have more or less severe issues in the "atomic world" as we call it. In my case it is a son with a mental condition overshadowing my whole family. One of my SL friends is confined to a wheelchair and has to hear on a daily basis that she ruined someone's life. Two of my friends suffer from autism and can only communicate freely with people in SL. One of my friends is a pre-op transgender and uses SL to be the woman she can't be in the atomic world yet. Another of my friends is the victim of multiple rapes and barely leaves her home, not to mention have social contact with men - in SL she can. I could continue this list endlessly. In Rheta's case it was probably the D/s lifestyle and her bisexuality she could not live in the atomic world due to respect for her family/husband or social norm or job repercussions or whatever. For each of us - as well as for Rheta - SL is the way to live things we could not live in the atomic world, or an escape from pressure and hardship. SL is our oasis, in which we find 1-2 hours peace and happiness a day.

One might think this is pathetic. One might think we are people poor on feelings, seeing no other way than an artificial surrogate. Maybe it is true. And surely there are people among us who lose themselves in this world, who don't find the balance. But for us residents of Second Life, for us who we LIVE in this world, it is an extension of our reality.

Thank you for listening.

May 11, 2009

Rheta Shan is dead

There is not much more to say - she got run over by a truck and got killed right away, the unborn she carried died shortly later. I don't know what to say, and my thoughts are with her RL husband and her SL partner Thaddy.

Take a look into her world on her Flickr stream.

Au revoirs, Rheta!

Please don't comment here but on her blog.
Update: I see comments have been disabled at her blog - I asked the webmaster to reenable them.
Update 2: Comments are now enabled on the post. Her friend/webmaster is not in SL and I asked him to not hurridly delete anything as her digital legacy is all that is left.

May 08, 2009

The Western Culture

My close friend London Spengler raised the issue To Nipple or not to Nipple on her blog. What started as my comment to her post turns out to become a post of its own. It often gets claimed that we are all part of "The Western Culture", and while you or me seem to have a sufficiently similar background to our friends in the US or Canada to make us seem alike, we are - in fact - not.

Our friends from Northern America come from a completely different culture, with different values and different ethics. Probably the largest area where this manifests itself is the issue of decency/sensibilities when it comes to nudity. For you or me seeing naked breasts or full frontal (female) nudity is not a big issue. We are confronted daily with it, magazines and TV is full of it. A naked breast is not considered harmful for a kid. And even in daily life and language a certain amount of innuendo does not meet raised eyebrows.

For our friends across the pond many of this might seem bizarre. What we consider banter among colleagues or even friends might constitute sexual harassment for them. What we consider a sexy advertising might seem smut and filth for them. As much as we tend to smile about it or openly state it is silly, we should accept it as the cultural background our friends have.

But there is more difference. Not only do North Americans and Europeans SEEM alike at the surface, but show discrepancies when you dig deeper. Also we Europeans are not as homogeneous. Despite Italy, Spain and France being seen as the countries of hot (latin) love, in fact the Southern countries of Europe are more prude and conservative compared to the more Northern and Scandinavian countries. An Italian woman might play with symbols, but at the same time perceive a Scandinavian woman as ferociously sexual.

This world - atomic or digital - is about variation and versatility. We have all strong sides and weak sides to add to the mix. We are all different - and that is very good. The key is having respect for everybody else. I love to see a naked female body, but I respect if a friend from the US feels uncomfortable with that, and I try to avoid confrontation. At the same time I expect that they respect that I see the issue more relaxed.

Thus said, and getting back to London's original post, when I chose to read a skin review on a blog, I should be prepared to see nipples.

May 04, 2009

Ego boost

Discussion with a new client, and towards the end the obligatory question:

[08:11] New Client: I'm excited about this - thank you for your time. I'll get you the text soon :)
[08:11] Peter Stindberg: OK, how did you hear about me?
[08:11] New Client: oh Peter - I've been reading your blog for ages :)
[08:11] Peter Stindberg blushes
[08:11] New Client: links from friends blogs etc. :)
[08:12] New Client: when I realized it would have to be in multiple languages I just assumed I'd contact you :)

That made my day :-)