There is a new search tool available as beta for Second Life, being developed of the Electric Sheep Company at the moment and open for public now since a few days ago.

What's this thing and how does it work? Well, the searching part of it is a bot named Grid Sheperd, that runs from sim to sim, scans the objects of a sim and connects them with avatar names. The part available on the world wide web at the moment is a search interface, that enables everybody to lookup the items owned by the avatar. It is only showing the items of the avatar though that are tagged as "for sale". So the Sheeps are telling us: it's adding value to all of use, since it's automated and it's opt-out, if you don't want those infos available at all. They're very excited, announced the availability of this service here, described the options and doings of this search bot in this FAQ and an progress update in this blog entry. Important: opt-outs are now taking effect immideately!

Heck, I don't care about that! This thing is invading my privacy, plain and simple. I am going to ban the bot on every parcel I can and I am going to spread the word around and this bot makes me really, really angry, and I mean it!

So, what's wrong with this toy? Many things.

My few main reasons why I took an instant hate about it are:

  • Not everybody is going to know it is existant or how to ban it or can ban it.
  • On big flaw in the approach: it is opt-out! Sheesh! This thing should be opt-in only! I want to be asked before, not afterwards, it's that simple.
  • The technology used for this machine works and generates a big database. While per default only items tagged for sale are going to show up, I can visit the Sheep Island and make all of my items public available, if I wish. This means: it can be used to generate a big database with nearly all the objects I've placed in world somewhere. Bummer. Even if they don't use it to leave those items in the database, the technology is ready. Ready for what? Well, who guarantees me that not another person or company is going to use this to really scrape all data available on the main grid about me, generates files about me and is going to sell them to companies interested in my data for whatever reasons? This is a really, really big, bad breach of privacy! And this is also in my opinion a flaw in the architecture of SL and/or the handling of bots by Lindenlabs. This incident just pointed to a whole can of worms unsolved, we should be therefore thankful for it. Not everybody would announce such a thing in public, and that with good reason.
  • They're claiming it's adding value to the community. Well... perhaps to a small part of the community, but in whole this approach is very arguable. It would have been better if this bot was opt-in only from the start, but even then it's troublesome.
  • If I publish a website, I expect it to be indexed by a search engine. I can adjust the behaviour with a file named robots.txt, I can restrict access on my own and so on. When I open a store or build my house in SL, I don't expect such a thing happening at all. And if I don't read about it, I might never know it's there.

So, what's the conclusion of it? SL has lost some more of its innocence, if you want to protect your data, you must get your ass off and do it yourself. Since this bot is still in the beta, the default policy could change - perhaps. Then again, perhaps not. But if someone really wants to scrape the data of the grid about you, well, the technology is ready, and he's going to do it silently. You're never going to know what hit you until it is to late, then. And, believe me, there are many compromising objects around an avatar could place in his home which can backfire on your real life - badly. Very, very bad.

It would be even more easier for Lindenlabs, to do this on their own, since they're sitting on the whole database and just need to run some queries. Easy. But this would ruin their reputation at all, many people would perhaps threatening them with law suits, so this is not going to happen and we should trust them on that matter. Besides, you've got a contract with them.

And how is this new feature being reviewed by the community? That's really even more surprising: most are happy with it and welcome this! This seems for me that many really don't have a clue about what this actually could mean for them.

Some examples are:

Of course, such a tool has never only people supporting it; someone who got the whole shebang right and has the right views about it in my opionion is Prokofy Neva. He wrote actually a whole bunch of articles about it on his own blog and on the Second Life Herald and I must say, I share his views, that's very rare. Find his article about the search engine itself on his blog here, about the need to regulate the usage of bots (I wonder if it is possible) here and his article about it at the Second Life Herald here. He also wrote an open letter to the CEO of Lindenlabs, Philip Rosedale, in which he raises many valid points.

By the way, not only I've got a problem with this approach, according to another article of Prokofy Neva at the Second Life Herald Anshe Chung thinks this is a violation of her covenants and has banned the bot on her whole continent Dreamland. I can understand that move.

Well, what's left to say is: I don't think that ECS is evil. In my eyes they took the wrong approach to this delicate kind of matter, which is now backfiring great lengths on them. Backfiring how? Well, I know many potential investors, who are angry about it and for sure are now not going to give them orders for in world buildings and such, in contrary, even try to convince other people not to give ECS orders at all.

Another important thing is that this would have happened sooner or later, because Second Life allows this data to be scraped without much efforts at all, perhaps it already has happened many times and is still happening, done by others, and we just don't know it. Such things also have happened with different social network on the web many times, so better watch your steps. SL is like the wild west there, it seems - if you want security, your on your own - mostly. Better get used to it that an avatar is something in a database.

If you want to read more about that privacy in general, I suggest you visiting the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

In the Avastar #14 there's a comment of Gwyneth Llewelyn about the scaling of Second Life on page 6. She's claming that one possible move to relieve the grid of stress would be to store the texture data, which seems to go into the hundred of Terabytes (wonder where she got this number from, I thought all data is around 34 terabytes at the moment according to this article, so I stuck with this number, so hundred of terabytes is wrong on a great scale), from outside the grid, perhaps even allowing users to store them on their own servers. While I don't see the textures stored on the own servers, because of possible protests, she continues.

She's stating that if that move occurs the 2000 servers of SL would be able to hold 20 million simultaneous users and this could be achieved within a month with the work of one developer!

Personally, I doubt that - really. I know they're going to switch from their own data protocol to HTTP somewhat this year. Serving a texture is a quite simple task - provided it's stored in a simple filesystem and not in a database. Storing textures - binary data - in a database system is always very dumb; the clever way to do it is to store the filesystem name in the database only, since the database is much, much slower to the task and adds far more complicity to it.

And, of course, the textures and so on are really not stored on one hard disk, but I guess on a logical volume or clustered filesystem. There are enough technics around to do it under Linux.

I personally think that serving the textures is not what strains the servers, because they're loaded into the cache and that's it, then. It's more computing the viewing range, making database querys about the prims (if stored in database) with their textures, it is interpreting scripts, computing the locations of all the avatars, doing the physics stuff and so on. And that's why I think even if the textures are located somewhere else that the technic now available on the main grid is not up to the task to handle 20 million users at the same time

Over at Sleeds.org is an interesting movie how they made a building, the process started with PDF, exporting it with Adobe Illustrator into SVG, this was processed by a script to get LSL snippets posted into a notecard and then got finally rezzed in SL.

This looks much like e.g. blender to prim, but it's impressive, none the less, though I guess if you really want to build good things you need so stuck up with the client. Period.

Torley Linden has a nice entry about a series of photographs of the Lindens! Go ahead and take a look at it, it's nice to see them, especially since some are complaining they're more or less invisible nowadays on the main grid. 

A few days ago I visited Mercedes-Benz Island to take another look at their in world presence. Well, there was not much happening, anyway and there was also no employee of the company present at this time. They are around there, normally, at some time.

They've got not very tight settings on security there, either. This means - just pushing is forbidden, all else works - user scripts, flying around and placing objects is available for every visitor. This means: very bad settings in concerns of security and an open invitation to griefers. I guess, autoreturn is in action, though, but placing objects allows the use of weapons.

And guess what? There were some bored griefers, who came into the island and wrecked havoc upon it. They were somewhat harmless, though, since they did not cage or orbit people. This would have been possible for them, too, without big effort at all.

So, how do bored people or griefers look like? Well, like the gentlemen on the picture down below, for example. Click the thumbnail to get the bigger view.

Well, and how does it look like, when they're doing there hobby? For example like on the picture down below; David Hasselhoff spreaded all over the place. They also nuked virtual bombs all over the place, used weapons to bring avatars to them and made other stuff. Unfortunately there was no one of Mercedes-Benz around nor the info how to contact one of them. Well, it lasted a few minutes, then they left.

When I asked one of those, if he's bored, he just told me: "This game is shit." Riiight... then just leave it and go away playing Scrabble!

When you're online for quite a time, you're going to develop a feeling for those bunch of guys when they're around; they always mean trouble and just want to get attention. In a way they're like spammers; ruining the whole thing if you're not doing something against them.

If you ever want to live somewhere in SL or make business, better choose a region with a tight covenant on it. While standard "anything goes"-attitude on most parts of the mainland first sounds like real fun, it can for sure fast enough turn otherwise.

And now I've got a very good example for the necessity on a good, tight covenant. A friend of mine lives on the new continent in the east of the old mainland in the mature rated region Carrion that's without covenant at all. They're having a business there, but she lives there, too. It's been mostly a nice, quiet sim. Until some days ago a new neighbor showed up in the region. This new neighbor's business was making signs, he had a big enough parcel to upset the whole sim.

First he made his building very high compared to the other building, second he put some animated signs on his building and third he put some naked penises at display, too. This caused him an abuse report, the building is not there anymore, so this time it went good for the other parcel owners in the sim. But if he would have been a little bit more clever, his building would still be there.

Well, to take a look at how it was, just click on the two thumbnails here to see two screenshots of this now gone building, the mature content has been edited out, by the way. Ah, and yes, the mountain was an instant countermeasure from the neighbors to cover up this butt-ugly building and hide it. It's fascinating how one wrong building can ruin the whole region!

12

This has only to do a little with Second Life, but since Microsoft also celebrated the launch of Windows Vista back then in Second Life, too, at different locations, so why not.

It's got to be said: Windows Vista is shit! So, now blame me, burn me, do whatever you want with this statement, but what needs to be said is now said.

While the exceptionally good PR department from Microsoft is now celebrating the sale of 20 million licenses of Vista already, the question remains: is Vista ready yet for the primetime? No, it isn't! Of course Microsoft wants to make you believe it, but there are good reasons to stick with Windows XP or Windows 2000 - yet. In my own opinion the best Windows Microsoft ever made is still Windows 2000. Also the number of 20 millions is in the discussion, some commenter over at eWeek suggested a good method how to validate this. BTW, in February Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer was still disgruntled about the bad sales of Vista and blaming piracy as the main reason for it, read this and that, too. Bwahaha! So, go figure! 20 million copies? In your dreams, pal!

Take my advise: if you really want to use Vista in a critical business environment - and which business environment is not critical - better wait another year. Perhaps then most of the outstanding issues with Vista are fixed, somewhat.

So, what's wrong with Vista? Well, let me give you some reasons:

  • It's a memory and ressource hog, period. While 128 MB RAM were the minimum to work with Windows 2000 and 256 MB RAM with Windows XP, you should better have at least 512 MB RAM to work with Windows Vista and a decent CPU, too. Graphics? Well, you can live without Aero, this is eye candy, but nothing you really need. I mean, an OS should be the tool enabling to use your PC well, but not the star!
  • Vista should have been more secure than XP and have many new features. Heck, it was over five years in the making, for the software industry this is like eternity! But, what happened? Vista phones home frequently, and this is now called WGA - Windows Geniune Advantage! Pah! It's even more worse in that kind of issue than XP was used to be. It can be blocked by a firewall, but really - who knows about that and how to do that anyway? No wonder it has been frequently cracked already in the past, no wonder even more when you consider that WGA considered in the past legitimate copies of XP and Vista as illigetimate and hassled the users of it!
  • Vista needs to be activated - now even in a corporate environment. More work for the system administrator - yadda yadda. No wonder this has been cracked already, too.
  • Vista has builtin new features, that should make it more secure than XP and more hard for trojans and viruses to run on it, called PatchGuard and Code Integrity. PatchGuard is supposed in the 64bit version of Vista, it has already been breached more than once - and is hopefully fixed, already.
  • We all love drivers, because we all have hardware we've grown accustomed to and still want to use. So, if you need such tools - better wait. Drivers are still an issue! For example, the drivers for the newest, shiniest, brightest Nvidia graphics card are not yet ready for the prime time! Proof? Here! I mean, the early adopters just bought a Nvidia Geforce 8800 perhaps, dreamed of using it under Vista and are now facing a driver, that's still in the development and somewhat lacking. No wonder some gruntled users are considering filing a class action suit against Nvidia!
  • Drivers are a fiasco as stated above. I mean, Vista has been available for corporate usage since end of November 2006, for private usage intentionally since end of January this year, so that the hardware vendors had enough time to produce drivers for Vista. And - they're still not there!
  • The famous anti virus makers Kaspersky claim it's less secure than XP in some aspects at the moment!
  • Vista is crippling the output of high quality content on purpose. While this might have it's legitimation in some use cases, it has not in many use cases, but it seems you cannot turn off those features.
  • It's too expensive and has too many versions of it, most of them crippled in a way that you need to stick with the more expensive ones in corporate use cases or sooner or later are upgrading it with the Anytime upgrade, anyway. Mac OS X Tiger, which is a decent operating system, costs 129 US$ for the user - full version. The best Vista version, Windows Vista Ultimate, which many need, costs 259 US$ directly from Microsoft, Windows Vista Business is still 199 US$. For the upgrade editions! What, you're not eligable for an update? Well, Microsoft is your friend, of course. Vista Home Basic, the most crippled version, costs as full version at least 174 US$, Vista Business at least 262 US$, and Vista Ultimate at least 324 US$. Those prices are sick!

Of course, Microsoft is not putting much effort into making it well known, that there are also system builder's versions around of Vista. A system builder version is the same like the full version, except it does not come into such a shiny box like the full version and you don't get any direct support from Microsoft, like calling by phone or via email. Of course, you get the patches, too. Aside of that, it's identically to the full version. Want a system builder edition of Vista Ultimate? Hey, it's 189 US$ only over there at Amazon.com! Do the math and go figure; it's the best shot to get a legal copy of Vista, if you need to have one, and much cheaper than the normal, legal, full version, and also comes from Microsoft.

If you really want a decent operating system, go buy yourself a Macintosh with OS X, stick with Windows 2000 or XP - they're both mature enough or use Linux. The biggest competition for Vista is XP and Windows 2000 itself. Having said that, what else should be noted?

You can already have many of the advanced features of Vista under earlier Windows versions. So you want desktop search? Google, Yahoo and Copernic are gladly providing it to you for free! Ok, it's of course better when it's coming with the OS and application can use a standard API, but those desktop searches have been around for years now and are doing their job very well.

Want eye candy? There are also enough tools around to achieve it and so on.

BTW, here are some news regarding the topic of using Vista in large scale environments:

So, what's the moral of the story? Though Vista is here, it's still immature and not ready for the primetime, yet. If you really want to use it, better make sure that you've got decent hardware and better just wait until 2008. Most of the outstanding issues should have been ironed out, then.

The biggest competition for Vista is Microsoft itself, namely Windows 2000 and Windows XP. Vista is a whole new dimension of crippling user rights and phoning home, though.

Vista is going to emerge slowly on the market; while it was being hailed as a revolutionary operating system in the beginning of design and making, in reality it has become an evolutionary operating system. Vista is not getting market share by direct sales, it's gaining market share because many computers are coming prepackaged with it. This process is going to take some time, so, it's emerging slowly.

Oh, and by the way, if you want to pirate software, Microsoft wants that you pirate them instead of the competition. That's a pragmatic point of view, I must say, quite understandable, but software vendors very rarely dare to say that openly in public. Yadda yadda!

Of course, competition is tough and it's hard to be Microsoft, but Vista is really disappointing me on great lengths, especially when you consider it has been over five years in the making. But then again, it's the future standard, since most computers are going to be shipped only with it from now on, so better get used to it.

Today is the 1st of April and that means: time for April jokes! I've found the first SL related today already in the Second Life Herald. To quote it:

In a cross-border caper organized in the wee hours of Saturday morning
by otakup0pe Neumann of libsecondlife, notorious griefer Plastic Duck
and infamous blogger antagost Prokofy Neva were married at a brief
ceremony on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls.

[...]

Asked why Plastic Duck, whose RL name is Patrick Sapinski, suddenly
switched from griefing and stalking and poking a stick at Prokofy, who
has furiously exposed his antics in lenghty blog blasts, to wooing the
50-year-old single mother of two, Duck said, "I've never had a mother's
love."

BWAHAHAHA!

While stilll doing business with IBM (haha!) I've stumbled upon this somewhat older article about the formation of IBM's Second Life business group. What the goals of IBM are, what they're planning to do and have already done. Quite interesting read!