Tag Archives: Second Life

A skewed perspective on Second Life

There are probably very few of us active within the blogsphere, either as writers or readers, who are not aware of the brouhaha which boiled-up over the course of the last week in response to Hamlet Au’s take on a recent article published in Atlas Obscura.

The latter offers a broadly positive look at Second Life, and drew praise from many SL users, including myself. However, Mr. Au’s take on the matter was to largely dismiss the Atlas Obscura piece as a “distorted” piece of journalism because it didn’t delve into the more pornographic aspects of Second Life sufficiently enough to be to his liking. Understandably, his view drew a considerable amount of flak by those actively engaged with the platform.

Wagner James

Wagner James “Hamlet” Au: a stereotypical view of the SL outsider

As a consequence of this, Mr. Au was invited to participate in an interview on show #68 of The Drax Files Radio Hour, to discuss his point of view. What’s interesting about his original article and the subsequent Radio Hour podcast is the way in which Mr. Au appears content to perpetuate a number of misconceptions about Second Life.

The first of these misconceptions is that the Adult rating equates to a region having “pornographic” content.

However, as Honour McMillan correctly states, “If you do have Adult content, it does not automatically mean it’s pornographic. Sex exists in Second Life. Fact. Having a popular Adult sim does not make it pornographic. That is also a fact.”

The second fallacy evident in Mr. Au’s argument comes at the 14:27 mark in the Drax Files Interview, in his suggestion that anyone can be unwittingly re-directed to an Adult environment and encounter avatars engaged in sex – and thus, the world needs to be told this is the case.

Yet by default, the viewer is set to display / allow access only to material that is rated General or Moderate in nature. Therefore, the only way for anyone to access an Adult rated region under any circumstance whatsoever, would be because they took the conscious decision to set their viewer to access Adult material. And let’s be honest here; while all Adult rated regions may not be pornographic in nature, the label on the setting itself makes it fairly obvious as to the type of content one might encounter as a result of enabling it.

Therefore, it’s fair to say that Mr. Au’s presentation that anyone can somehow inadvertently finish-up in an Adult rated area and catch people in flagrante delicto, as a matter of pure happenstance and through no direct action of their own, borders on the nonsensical, and he does himself a disservice in presenting the matter in this way.

Contrary to believe in some quarters, one can only inadvertently wind-up at an Adult hub (or other Adult location in SL) if one has consciously decided to enable their viewer to access Adult content - the default is General and Moderate only

Contrary to belief in some quarters, one can only inadvertently wind-up at an Adult hub (or other Adult location in SL) if one has consciously decided to enable their viewer to access Adult content – the default is General and Moderate only

A further fallacy voiced is the idea that because the “main assumption” among people at large is that Second Life is all about “weird sex”, then articles providing insight into Second Life must include an exploration of that “weird sex”.

However, while many who have heard about SL do perhaps think of it as a place for “weird sex”, the huge volume and diversity of content, pursuits, interests, activities and events available in Second Life would suggest that it is in fact a misconception.

Misconceptions aren’t dealt with through reinforcement – which is essentially what Mr. Au is advocating.

Misconceptions are dealt with by presenting reasoned counterpoints which encourage those holding them to re-evaluate their position / attitude. This is precisely what the Atlas Obscura article does, intentionally or otherwise; while acknowledging there are sexual activities and content in SL, it seeks to offer a broader view of Second Life that doesn’t play to, or reinforce, the stereotypical view. This isn’t in any way being “dishonest” or “misleading” as Mr. Au states – and again, he does himself a disservice by suggesting it is.

Tyche Shepherds Grid survey summary for May 10th, 2015, from which the figures in this piece are taken

Tyche Shepherd’s Grid survey summary for May 10th, 2015, from which the figures below are taken

And just how prevalent is all this “weird sex” anyway? On May 10th, 2015, there were 7,031 Mainland regions in SL, of which 346 were rated Adult. Given these are all located on the Adult continent of Zindra, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the larger portion of them is devoted to sexual content to one degree or another. Even so, that still amounts to less than 5% of the total Mainland content; hardly a preponderance. When the grid as a whole is considered, the figures are 25,460 region, of which 4986 are rated adult – that’s just 19.6%  – or to put it in Mr. Au’s parlance: “less than one-fifth”.

And (again) leave us not forget Honour McMillan’s sage words: “If you do have Adult content, it does not automatically mean it’s pornographic. Sex exists in Second Life. Fact. Having a popular Adult sim does not make it pornographic. That is also a fact.” Therefore, the actual number of pornographic regions accessible to those who have chosen to view adult content is liable to be somewhat lower than that “one-fifth”.

So where, really, does all this leave us?

The bottom line is actually pretty straightforward:  yes, there is a fair degree of sexual content and activity in Second Life. Just as there is on the Internet as a whole and in the physical world. However, the degree to which anyone coming into Second Life might be exposed to it is really hard to judge; unlike a wander through the streets of San Francisco (a parallel Mr. Au draws), where it is possible to accidentally and unwittingly stumble upon the seedier side of life, the degree to which one chooses to be exposed to the more sexual side of Second Life can be  controlled, greatly reducing the risk of any accidental or unwanted exposure to it.

This being the case, the suggestion that an article such as Eric Grundhauser’s piece in Atlas Obscura is either “distorted” in its presentation of Second Life or somehow “misleading” simply because it doesn’t delve into the sexual side of SL or play to the stereotype that SL is “all about the sex”, is itself a skewed perspective on Second Life.

With due respect to Hamlet Au, the approach he advocates is not good journalistic practice – but it could easily be interpreted as encouraging continued salacious titillation.

Related Reading

I’ve added the two links above, as they also had an impact on my thinking during the gestation of this article.

Streaming Second Life (and other grids): Frame enters the arena

My original ruminations on Amazon AppStream have led to a couple of people giving the service a go.  Nabadon’s Izumi  has tried the service with the OnLook viewer and OS Grid, and Bill Glover has given feedback through his blog on using AppStream with Firestorm connecting to Second Life.

However, as several people have said, AppStream isn’t the only way to go – there are other options. One of these is Frame, which uses Amazon’s AWS and Microsoft’s Azure cloud services. In fact, it was Frame’s founder, Nikola Bozinovic, who suggested people look at the service as s potential means of accessing SL and similar grids via the cloud through a comment he left on this blog. He also provided a link to a demonstration he his have said up using the official viewer, together with an invitation to try it out.

Nikola Bozinovic, founder of Frame, who extended an invitation to try the service as a possible means of accessing Second Life (and other grids) from the cloud

Nikola Bozinovic, founder of Frame, who extended an invitation to try the service as a possible means of accessing Second Life (and other grids) from the cloud

I don’t want to get blogged-down about what Frame is, but the infographic below should give the basics – suffice it to say here that it allows you to stream Windows and web apps, using a number of locations around the world, to a range of devices. It also provides a number of different use levels: Personal, Education, Business, and Platform. You can also find out more about it here.

The key point with Frame is that it potentially offers two approaches to accessing Second Life and other grids via the cloud:

  • As a do-it-yourself option, where you can sign-up for a Personal account, upload your choice of viewer and run it yourself when needed
  • As a packaged service similar to SL Go – which is how Bill Glover is approaching things through his Bright Canopy project, which has a demo up-and-running using Firestorm, and those interested can sign-up to find out about the work and try the demo version.

Nikola extended an invitation to me to try the Personal account  / “do-it-yourself” option for myself, which I was happy to do as a proof-of-concept attempt, and this article is primarily focused on doing that, and providing some short-form feedback. As Bill is working on the packaged service option, I’m not touching too much on that at this point in time.

A quick summary of the technical aspects of Frame (image courtesy of Nikola

A quick summary of the technical aspects of Frame (image courtesy of Nikola

Getting Started On your Own With Frame

Anyone wishing to try accessing Second Life through Frame can do so by requesting access to Frame Personal. An access code will be sent to you, allowing you to set-up your Frame account, and select the nearest PoP to you, and your preferred server type  (I opted for the four core system with 16Gb of memory and 20 free hours running a JavaScript client).

Once this has been done, the Launchpad is displayed. This is the normal starting point for Frame operations, and is used to manage the applications you’re running on the service (two are provided by default). This may take a short time to load the first time.

Adding a Viewer to your Frame Account

  • click on the chevron next to the Frame logo in the top left corner of the screen and select Manage Windows Apps.
  • A list of your installed applications is displayed (Tableau Public and Google Earth are provided by default).
  • Click on Add New Windows App … under the list.
  • Your virtual desktop will launch. Use the Chrome browser in the desktop to navigate to and download the Windows installer for your preferred viewer OR, if you have the EXE on your computer, use the Upload button (arrow in a circle) button in the lower right corner of the desktop screen to upload it.
Adding new applications to Frame is a matter of using the Manage Windows Apps (main menu) and the Add New Windows App function to run a virtual desktop from which you can browser for the application's installer and then download and install it. Frame will then automatically "onboard" it, and the application simply needs to be "switched on" via the toggle to the right of it

Adding new applications

  • Run the installer as if you were installing the viewer on your PC.
  • Once the viewer has installed, Frame will ask you if you wish to “on-board” it – confirm this, and accept the ToS – having read them, obviously! ;) ).
  • When the “on-board” process has finished (it takes about 15 seconds), go to the gear icon in the lower left of your virtual desktop and DISCONNECT.This returns you to your Launchpad
  • Activate the viewer by toggling the “switch” to the right of it so it turns blue (shown above). This adds the viewer (and any other app you activate) to your Frame dashboard.
  • Click on Applications at the top of the screen to go to your dashboard. Double click the displayed viewer icon to launch the viewer.

While it may sound long-winded, the entire process of setting-up an application like this can be done in just a few minutes.

Continue reading

Using Amazon AppStream to stream a viewer

Update, Saturday April 11th: Bill Glover, who has also shown a keen interest in the possibility of using Amazon AppStream, has been carrying out his own experiments with Firestorm and Second Life. He notes of his experience:

I set-up a stream with the Firestorm and was able to use it from both a Chromebook and an Android phone. It was really very responsive over a hotel wifi network, but there are many caveats.

It works, but it’s expensive and nowhere near being useful for just casually streaming SL without some custom client development and viewer integration.

You can read his initial thoughts on things over on his blog.

On Wednesday, April 8th, and following the announcement that the SL Go service is to be discontinued, I speculated on how the Lab (or indeed, someone else) might offer up an alternative to fill the void left once SL Go ceases at the end of the month.

After looking at various alternatives (including Highwind’s GDN – Highwinds being one of LL’s CDN providers), a conversation with Dennis Harper pointed me towards Amazon AppStream, and the more I read, the more it seemed to be a viable option, and hence it became the focus of my article.

As a result, Nebadon Izumi (Michael Emory Cerquoni) sat down to see just how easy (or not) to get something up and running, albeit using OS Grid and the OnLook viewer, and reported some success, as soon in the video below (please use the gear icon to flick it over to 720p when watching if it doesn’t automatically play in HD).

“What made me think to try was your article,” Nebadon told me as we discussed this initial attempt, although he admitted. “You get 20 hours of free streaming per month with Basic Amazon AWS account (required to access the AppStream service), then its 83 cents per hour. I also tried this on my Android Tablet, but while the graphics were beautiful, input is a problem, and the viewer will need overlay controls like SL Go, which will require development.”

Once he had his account created, Nebadon was able to install the viewer and use the supplied web browser to obtain and install the VS C++ 2010 re-distributable packages he needed in order to run the Singularity-based OnLook viewer, “you can go anywhere on the web and download any software you need to make your application run,” he noted to me. “Once I had these and the viewer installed, it took about 20-30 minutes for the viewer to deploy, and I got a set of instructions on how people can connect to it.” The whole process took him, he estimates, about 2 hours.

This is obviously a long way short of providing a full-blown service, and anyone wishing to use Amazon AppStream as the basis for a streaming solution for their grid who obviously have to dig a lot deep into issues of cost and pricing, payment mechanisms, potential demand, management, scaling, and so on; it also has yet to be tried with a viewer connecting to SL. Nevertheless, as a trial exercise, Nebadon’s work at least shows that the viewer can be streamed relatively easily using AppStream, and that’s a good place to start.

Could the Lab use Amazon AppStream to “replace” SL Go?

Sl Go proved itself very popular among SL users running low-end hardware

SL Go proved itself very popular among SL users running low-end hardware

On Thursday, April 2nd, it was announced that SL Go, the streaming service for accessing SL  provided by OnLive, is to shut-down on April 30th alongside OnLive’s other consumer services. The reason for this is because OnLive has sold the IP and patents associated with the services to Sony Computer Entertainment.

Since the news broke, there have been numerous calls made for Sony to maintain SL Go as a service, including  an on-line petition. However, as painful as it is, all such calls and petitions to  Sony are unlikely to succeed, as I explained in a recent blog post.

In that article, I also considered whether or not the Lab might invest time and effort in offering something that might fill the void. At the time, I thought the answer to this would most likely be “no”, as the Lab seem to have enough on its plate already with Second Life and its next generation platform.

But the more I think about it, the more I feel that the Lab should endeavour to offer some kind of “SL Go replacement”.

One potential means by which they might do so could be via Amazon AppStream.

Obviously, there are issues involved in providing such a service beyond the physical provisioning. Anything which requires some form of external hosting is going to incur costs, for example. However, the flip side to this is it’s fair to say the SL Go has demonstrated that if users believe they are getting a beneficial service, they are willing to pay for it, providing the price is not prohibitively high.

Certainly, there are a wide range of potential benefits to be had from such an endeavour, particularly if implemented through something like Amazon AppStream:

  • It offers an easily scaled means by which the Lab could provide an “SL streaming service” to users on low-end hardware and those on mobile devices – something long demanded by SL users
  • It could provide the means by which SL could be accessed through web browsers – again, a long-desired means of attracting new users to the platform who might otherwise be put off by having to download and install the viewer
  • It obviously means that those SL users on low-end systems can enjoy the full graphical richness of SL in the manner LL would like to see all users experience it
  • It could help those preferring to run older operating systems – such as Windows XP – to continue accessing SL even after they might otherwise be unable to even install the viewer
  • It might even help the Lab map and test options which might be beneficial for their nascent next generation platform.

While developing such a service might not necessarily be easy, the Lab isn’t entirely without any experience in this area. As I and many others have pointed out, in 2010 they did experimenting with streaming the viewer, using the Japanese company Gaikai (coincidentally purchased by Sony Computer Entertainment in 2012), which delivered the viewer to web browsers, as shown in the video below. If there is anything remaining of this work at the Lab, it might possible to put it to work through something like Amazon AppStream.

That said, there is a lot for the Lab to consider in attempting to fill the forthcoming void that will be left by SL Go. And while I would not be at all surprised to learn they are already doing so, they might still require some encouragement to take things beyond just considering options. Something which might encourage them, or at least demonstrate to them that there really could be a worthwhile demand for such a service, could be for users to politely speak up.

One way to do this might be to add your name to the existing petition – I would hope someone at the Lab is keeping an eye on it.

Another could well be to leave a positive and polite comment on the subject following this article, as (and all ego aside) I do know eyes at the Lab pass over this blog (just as they do many others).

There is no guarantee that Lab will move to provide some kind of “SL Go replacement”, but on the other hand, as someone once said, nothing ventured, nothing gained.