June 30, 2009

Running SL on extreme hardware

A couple of years ago I was a strong vocalist for regular PC's, defending their "horsepower" and versatility as superior to any laptop or notebook. Until I embraced the liberty a laptop gives you. For a while I smiled at the people with small and lightweight notebooks, loving my IBM ThinkPad with its nVidia graphics card and fast processor. However the laptop did not like being transported twice a day on the bicycle much, and also my upcoming vacation made me wonder if there is something ... well... lightweight.

A lot of people suggested I should get an iPhone. However Apple chose the least desirable provider in my country, and the monthly rates were more than I wanted (and in fact could) afford. I toyed for a while with an iPod touch which has wireless LAN built in, until my friend Rika Watanabe suggested the Asus Eee PC for the first time.

It still took me a couple of months more, during which I pondered and investigated, but finally I was back at Rika's suggestion and looked into the Asus Eee PC range again. There is quite a lot of models, with and without harddrive, and with various processor types and configurations. In terms of durability and battery life, soon the Asus Eee PC 901 range presented itself as best solution. The lack of a regular harddrive and the Intel Atom processor both guarantee a pretty long battery runtime (about 8 hours). It runs a regular Windows XP Home, and USB ports, Bluetooth and Draft-n WLAN make it literally connect to everything.

New devices are still rather expensive, but I checked on eBay where there was ample supply of the various machines. I settled for a price range I was willing to pay and started to bid, and finally ended up with a model with 1GB memory and 12GB solid state disk for approx 280 US$.

What I need to maintain my digital existence is mostly only a browser to access the various Google services where Peter Stindberg "lives": Google Mail, Google Talk, Google Docs and Google Reader, along with Flickr and Plurk. On top of that I installed Open Office, Notepad++, two text-only SL viewers (OMVviewer ligh and SLLiteChat). And then the question was - does Second Life itself run?

Again following Rika's suggestion I installed the pre-Windlight CoolViewer by Boy Lane, which is based on Second Life 1.19. Tuning all the graphics settings down as far as possible, I get a whopping 3 frames per second. That is not thrilling, however I can walk around, access objects, work with my inventory, script, pay people, deliver notecards and interact socially.

I must say I am impressed. I never cared much for the LOOK of my computers, but the Eee PC looks elegant, is lean and incredibly small (the photo shows it next to a regular cellphone). It runs SL better than I had expected, and it is definitely more than a last resort backup. The browser functionality is of course not affected by the comparably slow processor - even YoutTube videos work acceptable.

If you look at a portable apartment for your digital life, looking at a netbook in general and the Eee PC in particular would be a good idea.

Update: in 800x600 fullscreen mode I get 5-7fps which definitely gives a halfway "fluent" feel.

June 28, 2009

Two years Babel Translation

"Language exerts hidden power, like the moon on the tides," American writer Rita Mae Brown once wrote. Those who recognise the power of language realise that much can be achieved by wielding this power wisely.

Second Life is a world that depends very much on language, more so than the so-called "real world": content creators communicate with customers through words on vendor ads, notecards, and IMs. Language therefore becomes crucial to communication. The content creator who is able to employ language to do his bidding will forge a stronger connection with his customers and see greater rewards.

The nature of SL has meant that people all over the globe and from all walks of life are populating this virtual world. The diversity is such that less than 50% of residents claim English as their first language. Babel Translations was founded with the vision of helping content creators to fully take advantage of the power of language in order that their business might reach as many potential customers as possible and have the greatest chance for growth and success.

Founded in June 2007 by Peter Stindberg, over the past two years Babel has established itself as the premiere translation and copywriting agency in SL, bridging the language gap between content creators and their customers. While its core business focuses on language translation services, Babel has also branched out into associated services and business solutions, offering assistance to content creators wishing to establish a business in SL.

Thus, the company not only provides language translation services for all kinds of documents including specialised texts like license agreements, covenants, and terms of service; it also offers consultation and copywriting services. Stindberg and his team work with content creators to not only translate, but also create and develop texts that will fit into a business's marketing strategy, thus spurring the business's success and growth. Product descriptions and advertising texts can be written or edited to match a specific user group and audience. This ensures that a content creator exploits the power of language to its fullest potential, for the greatest reward.

With a team of well over 50 translators, Babel is able to provide translations in languages such as English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and many others. To ensure that the service is affordable, pricing is oriented at in-world (not "real life") rates. Furthermore, all the translators are themselves residents of SL and therefore understand the culture as well as the context of the communication taking place; this places them in a unique position to be able to effectively bridge the language gap between content creator and any potential customers.

In March 2009, Linden Lab officially recognised Babel Translations as one of the official Second Life Solution Providers. This award further demonstrates that Babel has come of age as a company that is reliable, efficient and fills a crucial role in the virtual world we live in. The importance of Babel's work has been recognised by content creators behind brands such as Adam'n'Eve, Mechanized Life, Calla Hair and Botanical, all of whom have benefited from Babel's services.

However, Babel's focus is not solely on businesses and content creators. No document is too unimportant to translate, no piece of writing too trivial. Babel not only wishes to help content creators forge stronger communication with their customers, but desires to draw various SL communities and residents closer together. The company is therefore proud to announce its participation in the sixth SL birthday celebrations, SL6B. It is a significant landmark for Babel to be able to celebrate its second anniversary in the same month that Second Life turns six years old.

Babel's presence at SL6B will celebrate the richness that the various languages in SL can bring to a resident's Second Life experience. As "Your partner in the written word", Babel aims to raise the awareness of the language gaps that create chasms between various communities in SL and to educate visitors on the necessity of bridging these gaps.

June 26, 2009

First Look: SL Dashboard

When I checked the transaction history for the store alt, I got an invite to test the new SL Dashboard. The first impression is graphically appealing and reasonable fast.

The single elements can not be moved around as one would expect. Also the opened/closed setting is not persistant between sessions.

What I like is the direct integration of Xstreet SL under "Merchant Tools". What I dislike is that the Transaction History takes a lot more screen real estate.

If it would be possible to permanently delete elements and move elements it could actually quite useful.

If you want to test the dashboard yourself, but did not get an invite so far, simply add /my/ to the URL or click here: https://secure-web2.secondlife.com/my/

Goodbye Billy Jean

What a sucky day that was yesterday. Apart from annoying news at my RL job that sort of overshadowed my whole day, the news yesterday evening was that Farrah Fawcett finally lost her battle against cancer, and a person I never managed to get to know well enough (Sophrosyne Steenvag) left SL. And when I woke up this morning, I heard Michael Jackson has died as well.

Emerald Wynn shares her teenage memories of Michael Jackson in a - for me - very moving blogpost. From past posts I know that Em and I are about the same age. And while she grew up in the US and I grew up in Europe, our teenage days were to a certain extent similar.

I was an introvert young boy, castaway on the countryside while all my schoolmates lived in the city. Artists like Mike Oldfield, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis and Tangerine Dream opened my ears, my soul and my heart for the beauty of contemporary music. And then came Michael Jackson. I remember listening to my favourite radio station when I heard "Billy Jean" for the first time. My radio had a tape recorder included, and usually it always held a fresh cassette for impromptu recordings. "Billy Jean" played, and after the first seconds of mesmerized shock, I feverishly pushed the "record" button only to find that no tape was inserted. Like crazy I digged through my tapes and finally jammed one in and pushed record, only to get the last 30 or 45 seconds of the song, which I then played over and over again. A week later, I took all my allowance to the record shop and bought the vinyl - it must have been my first, I did not even have a record player.

Years later I learned about the "Jackson 5", saw video recordings of their performances, saw a cute Michael Jackson, black, with curly hair. Even more years later I heard about the over ambitious father, about the beatings, about the cruel regime Michael Jackson had to endure. From an artistic point of view, we got estranged. My tastes broadened and refined in certain areas, Jacksons music became too bland for me often. "History" or "Him" were albums that gave me nothing - "Thriller" is in fact the only record I ever bought of him.

Jackson is a prime example that money alone does not make happy. I am not a psychoanalyst, but it seems obvious that Michal Jackson tried to compensate for a lost childhood at all cost, and that he also wanted to prove himself to his father. I think Michael Jackson was a very sad, a very unhappy, and in many aspects a very poor person. He chased a dream but never got it right. Did he molest children? Maybe, maybe not. When huge sums of money are involved, the truth is hard to find, and many own agendas are in play. From a strictly legal point of view he probably has. From a factual point of view he probably has not. From a psychiatric point of view I tend to think he was a child himself. A tragic Peter Pan.

I hope he finds peace now.

My friend Kitty O'Toole has shared her impressions as well on her RL blog.

June 25, 2009

The Future of Virtual Worlds

When I grew up "The Russian" waited heavily armed at our borders, prepared to kill us all. And now the better part of my life happens in cyberspace, and one of my best friends is from Russia. And if there is ONE thing that will prevent wars, it is actually the global, social interaction on the internet.


Can you long for a place you have never been in your life? Can you experience a feeling of home, of belonging, of pieces falling into place for a landscape you have never travelled? Can you have your heart beat faster, your soul light up for a place you have not been born at?

I am tired. I am confused. I am full of fear. I want the hamster wheel to stop, so I can get off. Find some peace. Have someone hold me in their arms, rock me and whisper "It's all going to be alright...". I want to go home.

The place in the picture looks like home. The place in the picture FEELS like home. I am standing there, and my heart aches, my eyes water as I write this, and at the same time a calmness comes over me.

I want peace. I want to go home. Can I go home now, please?

June 23, 2009

Snowglobe - a first look

Yesterday my SL sister Trinity Dechou mentioned the "Snowglobe" project to me, an open source approach initiated by Philip Linden. While the regular viewers are open source too, it takes rather long until fixes and extensions added by the community find their way into the official viewers. This causes quite a lot of frustration in the community and contributes to the perception of the Lab being "slow" or "uninterested", but basically has to do with the quality assurance procedures behind the scenes. The slowness of the Lab to adapt community fixes and expansions has led to a whole culture of alternative viewers for the more tech savvy residents: Gemini, Imprudence, Kirsten's Shadow Viewer and Rainbow Viewer among the most popular ones and even some old Nicholaz viewers still in use.

Project Snowglobe tries to shorten this process and to establish a very close cooperation between selected open source developers and developers from Linden Lab. This is intended to basically implement quality assurance on a submission level and a planned/steered development process. Instead of checking submitted patches and see the impact, a roadmap for development is used.

I have not used an official viewer in ages. I think during the 1.12 or 1.13 viewer release I switched to the Nicholaz Viewers which I would happily still use if not for the annoying sculpt bugs. So after that I switched to Imprudence, the viewer I liked best so far. Imprudence uses a very strict no-3rd-party-components approach, and as a consequence the graphic library used is significantly slower than in any other viewer. So reluctantly I switched to Boy Lane's Rainbow Viewer (previously known as Cool Viewer) - the viewer I primarily use these days. I have yet to check the Gemini viewer, which gets advertised for power users and has some promising features.

Getting back to an official viewer (or at least a Linden Lab released viewer) after that many months is strange. The viewer feels odd, and a lot of known functionality from 3rd party viewers is missing. However during my test-run I did not run into any issues.

What I can tell is that this viewer is fast. Right now Snowglobe has two major areas of change compared to a regular viewer: texture download via HTTP instead of UDP (and thus making textures being cachable in the net infrastructure itself) and a completely revamped map interface. The map is blazingly fast. The island screenshots come up in full resolution in instants. The reason for this is that the map tiles do not get queried from the SL servers, but gets cached on the worldwide internet backbone of Amazon (yes, the book guys). Texture rezzing seemed very fast as well, however I have no idea how much of this is the effect of a cleaned cache - I have to run experiments.

The overall impression was good, and I will certainly test it a bit more. It's too early for me to give a final verdict, and I am dearly missing some features I get with CoolViewer. But I encourage you to try it for yourself.

You can download the Snowglobe viewer from the project website.

June 22, 2009

ARC and lag revisited

I wrote about lag and the myths regarding ARC a lot of times in the past, and often referred to Gwyneth Llewelyn's one year old article on the issue. Today, Gwyneth has made an update to the article. Read "Anatomy of Lag" as a guest post on Ana Lutetia's blog.

Personally, I want to once again point out that the introduction of the "Avatar Rendering Cost" display was one of the worst things Linden Lab ever did. The ARC display has a certain informational character, however the (completely arbitrary) red/yellow/green tinting, and the way it was publicized turned it quickly into a tool for discriminating fellow residents. The ARC display does not tell ANYTHING about lag, not even anything about the capacity of the sim, but SOLELY about your own computer. However, seeing a red ARC number for a fellow resident makes some people... well... see red, and makes them feel entitled to criticize and even insult.

Would I be cynic or indulge in conspiracy theories, I would say the ARC readings and especially the color coding was made on purpose to distract from the real issues behind the scenes. But I don't believe that, I believe it was simply not thought through enough, and nobody estimated the sociological consequences a public discriminating feature would have.

More than ever I am convinced that Linden Lab would be well advised to get a sociologist into their team and run decisions by them and ask for advice.

Anyways, if you believe in ARC, read Gwyneth's article. And if you want tricks to reduce lag, read it too.

June 21, 2009

REZpectable: Donut Launcher

[REZpectable is a blog dedicated to gadgets and gimmicks in SL. I co-founded it together with Shockwave Plasma and Rick Pfalz a while ago, in the meantime Nissa Nightfire has joned the team of authors. Here is a teaser to my most recent article - read the full post on the REZpectable blog.]

The combat potential of baked goods has been grossly neglected over the milennia. Countless times a hard and dry breadroll or ciabatta has saved a life during a melee fight. And also the French baguette gets underestimated in its clubbing capacities. Only the custard pie gets recognized as a means of combat, but lacks the insignia of a 21st century weapon in terms of range and fast reloading.

Continue reading at REZpectable, the SL gadget blog.

June 07, 2009

Getting my hands dirty again - my SL6B booth

People have been complaining that I was rather uncommunicative the past couple of days, did only reply sparsely to GTalk, did not show up a lot on Plurk and was rather busy in-world. The reason is that I was busy building my SL6B booth, and I am quite pleased with the process and result so far.

The theme of this year's SL Birthday Celebrations is "The future of virtual worlds". While exhibitors are encouraged to give their vision of the future, the nature of the 20 sims assigned for the expo are somewhat limiting. A barren, volcanic rock - supposed to be an asteroid - with dark ground textures. An sky featuring permanent starry night. And a grid of roads and paths reminding of the Bladerunner movie.

I initially had a different idea for my exhibition space, trying to build a futuristic version of the tower of Babel. But at the same time I wanted my contribution to be educational, so I needed some display room. Seeing my assigned plot and the atmosphere of the sims, the ideas started to float and almost automatically this type of museum-style building emerged.

One key feature about my building is the concept of "floating words". I chose the words "Language", "Culture", "Context" and "Understanding" in the major languages of second Life and have them floating around my space like bubbles in sparkling water. They are small enough and few enough to (hopefully) be not annoying.

Here is a closeup of me with some floating words around me. So this is what kept me busy the past days, and now I need to work on what I will show on the 32 display panels. What? Thirty two? PANIC!!!

June 05, 2009

Double Take by Cajsa Lilliehook

While I was in-world this morning to check out my SL6B parcel, respected fashion blogger and photographer Cajsa Lilliehook IMed me and asked for 10 minutes of my time. It turned out that Cajsa wanted to portray me for her "Double Take" set on Flickr:
This is a collection of head shots of my Second Life friends and acquaintances who enrich my Second Life experience with their friendship, art or their creativity.
I was very honored. Even though we had contact on and off in the past, I did not think I was prominently on her radar, and as a matter of fact we only recently "friended" in SL. So I was very surprised and pleased to be invited for a photosession.

You can see Cajsa's two portraits of me here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cajsa_lilliehook/tags/peterstindberg/

June 04, 2009

SL6B - Thursday morning happiness

Hello from the staff of SL6B! We are pleased to inform you that your exhibit was selected for the Second Life Birthday Celebration this year! However, *please note* that this does not yet guarantee that you will receive the parcel size you asked for. We are still hard at work determining exactly how to fit the puzzle pieces together on the land we have available.
This was the message I was hoping to receive for the past couple of weeks, and especially for the past couple of days as confirmations were expected for June 1st already. But this email made my day this morning, telling me that I will be assigned exhibition space at this year's 6th Birthday Celebration of SL. Once I know the final size I will have to think about a building and refine the concept I submitted to the Lab. Stay tuned!