Aug 28, 2017

The Art of Deceit

Persona Ambiguity in Virtual Worlds


Also known as a continuing misrepresentation, lying by omission occurs when an important fact is left out in order to foster a misconception. Lying by omission includes the failure to correct pre-existing misconceptions.

In the Metaverse, whether a virtual world system or the Metaverse as depicted in Ready Player One, there is a curious complacency inherent for the act of being dishonest. It’s one of those things which is taken as read and even adamantly defended. We have a right to reasonably privacy in the online world, and this includes basic facts about ourselves with which we would like to not disclose in favor of living our idealized avatar life.

Maybe you’re married, so your avatar persona is single. Maybe you identify differently than your genetic gender, and so you play the opposite in a virtual world. Maybe you’re trans or cis. In the book Ready Player One, Art3mis had severe insecurity about her real life self because of a wine stain across her face.

These are all general reasons why we find the virtual world so appealing. It allows us to take on the illusion of our ideals, even for a short time. But that illusion is addicting when your virtual life is better than real life, and you fall into the rabbit hole.

That being said, when you’re dealing with real people behind the avatar, we’ve long since forgotten that lying is still lying. In a matter of speaking, we’ve come to insist on our right to lie. Whether overtly or through omission of information which would clearly be attainable simply by seeing you walk out the door into public.

There is, I believe, a difference between keeping personal matters private and keeping public matters private. If you are married, you wouldn’t normally take off your ring and go dating under the premise of being single – and if you would, then that is generally known as being dishonest and cheating on your spouse. However, this is common in the virtual world and generally thought of as acceptable because we don’t associate relationships (romantic) in a virtual world as “cheating”. It’s “just a game”, is what we tell ourselves.

And so, we can disassociate the lying and justify it as harmless. We even act surprised when a virtual relationship falls apart when the truth comes out. We attempt to play the victim of our own deceit and place the blame on the ones we’ve been lying to for having the audacity to want honesty.

But that’s not how things really work. Even if you are in the virtual world, it is still cheating on your spouse. The actual term for it is emotional cheating.

Simply knowing whether the person you are dealing with is a woman or a man is of public knowledge on first glance, and if you’re transgender or something, that too should be discernible or at least up to disclosure – otherwise you are lying either overtly or by omission.

There has been, in the last ten or twenty years, this crusade to demonize honest people and shame them for seeking the truth about situations or people they are dealing with – and I have no sympathy for the people who attempt to pull this tactic. If you’re one of these people, I will personally go full Sherlock Holmes on you.

When Wade begins the thought experiments about whether his teacher in the OASIS is a woman or not, or whether Art3mis is really a girl or some hairy knuckled guy, we see a horrid reaction from typical SJW (Social Justice Warrior) types decrying his actions in “forcing gender assignment” – but it isn’t that simple, nor is he mentally trying to assign gender out of malice.

In the Metaverse, people lie. So what he is really trying to do is ascertain the truth about a particular person he is dealing with. If you’re on the “lying as a right” side of the coin, you’ll see this as invasion of privacy – I have the right to be dishonest when dealing with you, and how dare you try to get the truth!

This obviously causes a lot of drama and headaches in the virtual world, especially when you deal with interpersonal interaction. On the one hand, you have people who are masking their real identity and circumstances to a degree which is unhealthy, omitting even the basic observations to live out their chosen illusion, and on the other hand you have the people you interact with who (at the baseline) deserve even the basic disclosure if you value their friendship or more.

I’ve personally had (and have) friends from the virtual world who are playing female and end up being the hairy knuckle guy behind the avatar. Now, did I have a romantic relationship with them? No… because I have a rule in virtual worlds that simply says:

How do I actually know what your are saying is true?

Which is to say – I am more than willing to acknowledge what I know, and more importantly what I don’t actually know by asking How do I know this?

Send me a picture of “yourself” and it doesn’t count in my eyes. How do I actually know this other than taking what you say at face value? Being a moderator over on OKCupid has given me the insight into just how far people will go to construct and maintain their illusions/delusions*. I’ve seen people set up entire Facebook pages filled with stock photos to pretend having an interesting life, and for the less technologically inclined, just swiping photos from an open profile is good enough to suffice. Women (and men) posting pictures from obscure porn sites and cam girl directories as their own persona. The list goes on and on. You don’t use voice? Well I assume then (and usually correctly) that something shady is going on.

*Not to mention a particular insight into what the business model of dating sites actually is – hint: they’re counting on your failure.

And there is yet another point to be made, in that when we are lying by omission like this, or overtly, we ultimately do not value the relationships we form. At the very least, those relationships – whether cursory or deeper, should remain cursory at best and taken with a grain of salt because they are coming from a place of deceit as a foundation.

Ultimately, what this situation signifies is that we have a lot of damaged goods running around the virtual world. This is the harsh reality we come to the Metaverse to escape from, in our idealized perfect little world. We’re in relationships in VR to escape a bad marriage. We’re transgender in real life but play a female (or male) in VR. We’re overweight in real life so we’re wearing a porn-star Barbie avatar, or six-pack abs Greek god if you’re a male (and a penis the size of your forearm).

The general rule of thumb is and always has been – take whatever the persona is representing, and reverse it. That’s likely what their real life looks like for them:

  • Porn-star body? You’re probably very insecure and overweight in RL
  • Young, single? Statistically speaking, you’re in your mid-forties, have kids and are married – either in a bad marriage or an indifferent one.
  • Predominantly focusing on sex in-world? You probably haven’t been laid in years.
  • Don’t use voice? Your avatar is the opposite of you or; You’re lying about something and being on voice would effectively get you busted.
  • Same goes for using a cam in video chat. Doubly so.

You can cite the predominance of horny guys in SL wanting you to be a whore on camera as your reason all you want… but there’s nothing forcing you to comply with their wishes, any more than if you were sitting over a cup of coffee talking and they told you take off your clothes.

There’s a simple response to that – No.

Which is why, if you want a meaningful relationship beyond cursory with me, whether that is friendship or more, the actual truth needs to be known, and just like Wade in Ready Player One, if you’re digging deeper into interpersonal interaction with me, then I’ll start looking for the truth and who I am dealing with beyond the make-believe persona.

The list goes on, but the underlying issue is the same – you’re in the virtual world to escape reality instead of deal with it in a healthy manner or supplement it.

There is a common saying which I noted years ago – an observation as such, and it holds mostly true:

The better your real life is, the less you need a Second Life.

You’ve seen this before, I’m certain. The friend who just disappears off of your contacts for months or even years. You didn’t have a falling out, they’re perfectly fine and in good health… as a matter of fact, they’re better than fine and they’ve been improving their real life.

My best friend Julie spent a god-awful amount of time in Second Life when we first met. Over the years, she met Jason in-world… they spent a ton of time in Second Life together. They eventually met in real life, and that became an ongoing thing, they’d spend less time logged in. Eventually they got married in real life, and she moved to Texas. Now they rarely log into Second Life.

My friend Al spent a lot of time in Second Life, which is where he met his girl Honey. They are into BDSM and for a good while they were a couple in Second Life, her being a submissive and him being a Dominant. Then they got together in real life, they had a kid together and settled down. Both rarely log into Second Life anymore.

I’ve seen this countless times in the virtual world over the past twenty years. Even if they aren’t meeting people and eloping to the real world together, you notice that when people start making positive changes in their real life, they log into Second Life less often because the surrogate they needed at the time no longer applies.

These are examples of using a virtual world to supplement your real life and not replace or escape it.

Of course, one could ask about people like myself who regularly log into Second Life and participate in the community. I believe folks like that still apply to the above rule – because we start out in Second Life as ourselves. I’m in the virtual world to supplement my real life experience and not replace it with a fantasy. You would know this simply by looking at my profile and even my Real Life tab, where you’d see an actual picture of me and a ton of real life information and what I’ve done. But none of that information you know about be isn’t really anything more than you could find out just by looking at me or in a public manner. A cursory Google search would bring up most of it.

You may ascertain that I am a male, age 38 (yeah, I’m getting old), and that I live in New Jersey. You may guess that I’m fairly average in height and weight – though if you ever asked, I’d flatly tell you that I used to weigh between 300-350 lbs but now weigh about 165 because I stopped bullshitting myself and decided to get in shape. You’d know I am unmarried, have no kids, and maybe I look pretty good by statistical odds otherwise. You’d also know that while I do spend a lot of time in front of a computer, I regularly go for 3+ mile walks multiple times a week.

And that is just the thing… you would know things about me that could be ascertained just on cursory glance or very little inquiry. None of that information is taboo to me, because it’s just minimal disclosure and common sense. They are all things you deserve to know about me in order to make up your mind as to whether you want to associate with me.

If you’re lying by omission or overtly, you are effectively disrespecting the people you are interacting with, saying you don’t trust them, and ultimately insulting them by robbing them of the right to make up their mind for themselves if/how they want to interact with you.

And therein is the root of our drama problem in virtual worlds.

Do I have ambiguous friends in the virtual world? Absolutely… One of them played female for years before showing me they were actually that hairy knuckled man (grey beard and all). Did it change the context of interaction between us? Yes, of course (to an extent). But I’m still friends with them nonetheless. We could even go as far as putting the virtually famous Bryn Oh in that ambiguous group.

I’ve “known” Bryn in the virtual world for many years now. I have absolutely no fucking idea if Bryn is a woman, man, trans, a kitten with a tineh netbook, nada. In the virtual world, Bryn Oh is just Bryn Oh, and around me (at least) favors the female interpretation, and so for the sake of pronouns I identify Bryn Oh as Female – even though for all I know Bryn is a guy.

For all I know, Bryn is both and cis, but chooses gender identity as she pleases and often times both or none. Would that change my view of Bryn Oh if I found out definitively? Absolutely… but not like you would imagine. The exchange would go something like – “Oh, well that’s interesting.”

And then I’d continue treating Bryn Oh like Bryn Oh because it’s only when you want a much more involved relationship with me that reality comes into play and those things make a difference. Being my friend in a virtual world? Doesn’t matter with those details.

Wanting a romantic relationship or something deeper with me? Yes, it absolutely matters. Because at that point, and this is something you need to understand, it is no longer your decision alone. The minute you involve somebody else in the equation, it becomes their decision as well.

Does that mean they might choose not to associate with you anymore if they find out what you’ve been hiding? Yes, and that’s real life for you. Otherwise you’re creating a hostage situation built on lies.

And that is why it’s better just to be honest.

That doesn’t mean tell everyone your phone number and street address. But only information they could figure out by seeing you face to face, and information that is actually relevant to the situation at hand. Like being married, open relationship, etc before you try a relationship with them. Honest communication is paramount.

No, the situation won’t always be ideal and the consequences are still there for disclosure. But you can’t win them all… you can only be respectful of others and their involvement in your life and yours in theirs.

Aug 16, 2017

The History Problem

Alt-Right Idea, Wrong Approach


I’d like to begin today by stating clearly, and in no uncertain terms, that racism, hatred, exploitation, and white supremacy in general are reprehensible. I feel I need to preface this post before ya’ll get the wrong idea about me. I’m originally from South Florida, which was part of the Confederacy during the Civil War, while my grandparents lived in North Carolina, and I absolutely did grow up around a hell of a lot of racism. But that isn’t who I am today nor was it at any point in my past.

To be completely honest, this is a post I’ve been avoiding writing for some time. It is such a dark subject matter to address, and the intellectual outcomes of this writing aren’t what you’re going to want to hear when it comes to these subjects.

That being said, if you really want to put an end to racism, exploitation, slavery, and hate, then it helps to actually understand the premise of the situation in better detail. This means there are a lot of inconvenient truths to swallow about not just a “them” mentality but also ourselves. It’s easy to point fingers at others to condemn, but we get up in arms when it turns out we’re also at fault for the thing we so despise.

So let’s begin with a simple statement, one that will make every reader (except white supremacists) recoil in horror:

White supremacists are actually correct.

Before you wander off or fire up the comments section to tell me off, please hear me out in this post. The reasoning behind that statement isn’t what you (or a white supremacist) is going to expect – and in fact, doesn’t make them look good in the bigger picture. So bare with me, please.

Charlottesville, Virginia

Let’s summarize what is happening here. A bunch of white supremacists from different groups come together in Charlottesville, Virginia under the premise of “Unite the Right”. My understanding is that a Confederate monument was being protested to be taken down – one side saying it has no place being up as it glorifies a screwed up past, and the other being the white supremacists who feel it should remain. A fight ensues among both sides and all hell breaks loose.

The main problem here is that for all the good intentions of the tolerant protestors – equality, no racism, etc… their premise is and always has been that the ideals of the Confederacy aren’t those of these United States in modern times.

I beg to differ.

When we look back on history, and specifically the Civil War, we were taught that it was about slavery and the right to own slaves. That the Confederacy seceded and fought, while the Union (North) was against slavery.

This is a total fabrication at best, and an example of how easily we’re misled.

The honest truth of the matter is that both sides were fighting for slavery. The Confederacy was fighting for overt slavery while the Union was fighting for covert slavery. Because the north merely changed the semantics of the process, and people are on the whole really dumb, everyone saw the overt “freeing of slaves” and totally missed the covert slavery institutions taking their place.

Back in those days, it was common to have slave traders, slaves working on plantations, indentured servitude (which England was fond of – sending prisoners to the Americas to work off their debts). Essentially, it boils down to more powerful societies exploiting weaker peoples and societies for their continued gain and dominance.

This was the overt slave trade, exploitation and white supremacy at work. When you’re on top of the world, why bother trying to hide it?

Well, there’s a reason why: Because public opinion of the practice and attitudes was shifting, and it’s hard to continue those practices when the population are against it.

But how, then, do you keep all the benefits of slavery, exploitation, and white supremacy without wearing it on your sleeve?

Enter modern times.

Modern Slavery

And now we get to the heart of the matter, the reason I was so remiss to write this post. Slavery, white supremacy, hatred, exploitation, imperialism… none of that went away at the end of the Civil War. It was merely rebranded as something else, and the method by which was made palatable to the public who accepted it.

Let’s begin this section with a simple premise:

Capitalism in and of itself is bad. That isn’t to say Communism is good either, but when you operate on a system that requires “haves” and “have nots”, therein is an incentive to exploit the have nots, and an incentive to make sure they remain have nots so that you can continue to benefit from it.

It is in your best interest under Capitalism to make sure there are far more disenfranchised and kept “under heel” at a disadvantage for your own personal gain.

You see it in the minimum wage, or even “right to work” states. You see it in how the legal system effectively screws over and actively targets poor people and minorities to catch them in an inescapable circling of the drain leading to jail-time.

You see it in the for-profit prisons, their 95% occupancy clauses, and their exploitation of inmates for “work release” to business and corporations.

You see it in the society disproportionately stacked against minorities, immigrants and actively sabotaging them in order to supply that legal slavery and keep minorities and the poor at a marked disadvantage so that a bunch of rich white people can continue to benefit.

Worse off, the people behind this are in plain sight; They are your senators, congress, and Government. Backed by places like ALEC, an extreme right-wing group helping to craft the very laws that perpetuate this slavery, exploitation and disenfranchisement. They are the major corporations like Nike, Nestle, and Apple. They are GEO and CCA – for profit prisons.

While you’re busy targeting the white-supremacists on the streets and fighting to take the monuments down, and ban the Confederate battle flag from being flown under the guise of “It is not representative of the United States”, you’ve missed the fact that it actually is representative.

Or more aptly, your representatives.

Welcome to America

Tearing down statues and banning flags, or petitioning to get Dukes of Hazard off the air is probably the most ignorant thing any of us can do. Because if you’re so against the Confederate Battle flag and Confederate Monuments, under the guise of it not representing our moral compass in this country, the only person that’s lying is ourselves. In which case, if the symbolism such monuments and flags represent are reprehensible to you, and you insist on removing them, then I have a simple suggestion:


The whole damned country is operating on this reprehensible behavior as a foundation, not just in the past, but in the present day – while an oblivious population rallies against a moral indignation and history.

History, I might add, is an easy target because it can’t fight back. History cannot defend itself, and so is a great empowerment exercise for those who want to pretend to care about these issues.

We can turn a blind eye toward the actual racism, slavery, and exploitation happening today all over the country and worldwide as a norm, while protesting the statues and flags (symbolism).

If you want to stop racism, slavery and exploitation – leave the monuments and symbolism alone. That’s not your biggest problem. It’s not the racists in the streets you have to worry about, it’s the ones running corporations and your governments – local, state and federal.

Turn your attention to the real problem at hand if you want to solve it.

Because those Alt-Right folks showing up and protesting/rioting… those are just the symptoms of a country that has clearly shown them that that is exactly how the real world works.

Of course they have this notion of white supremacy… because it’s fucking true under the Red, White and Blue.

That doesn’t make it right, and that doesn’t make it any less appalling or reprehensible. But it’s the truth, and that truth is damned ugly.

The sooner we face that ugly truth, and the sooner we can go after the real culprits to change this fucked up system and country, the faster we’ll actually eliminate racism, slavery and exploitation.

Until then, you’re all just chasing red herrings.

Aug 1, 2017


Don’t call it Second Life 2


As I sit here with my coffee, I find myself in a precarious position. Sure, the sun is shining and the wind delicately meanders through the leaves outside for a serene atmosphere, but something still doesn’t feel right.

In my mind, I find the duality of SANSAR and whether to call it something good floating haphazardly among countless other random thoughts.

On the one hand, I could take the easy route and just be an unabashed cheerleader for the new flagship virtual reality “experience” like so many others, but then I wouldn’t be giving it an honest review.

I remember back in the day, I had made mention on numerous occasions about the “SL Cheerleaders” who effectively have their lips planted firmly to the PR department of Linden Lab in exchange for preferential treatment. Yes, I’ve included folks like Strawberry and Draxtor in that group – but more often than not there was a missing context.

I don’t necessarily believe these are bad people. After all, they’re just performing their part and it is a crucial aspect of their purported fame in the virtual world. They talk it up, no matter what, and they get the exposure and access. It’s a sweet deal and it makes total business sense, however much you are willing to trade integrity for it.

But even today it is a bit of mental gymnastics to watch even Strawberry make videos trying to say nothing but good about SANSAR and having an immense amount of trouble finding those talking points.

What I see from SANSAR is a lot of smoke and mirrors – selective journalism from cheerleaders trying to narrow that angle of view to omit the bigger picture and show only the good, or in this case a totally non-critical viewpoint.

Even when we see pictures of maybe 50 avatars stacked on each other at Drax’s build in SANSAR, we see headlines like “People are piling up in SANSAR to get a look! It’s so popular!”

But we both know that’s not the case. For one, if they’re all piled up on each other at the entry point, that means they’re all logging in and not interacting or even moving when they get there. Secondly, it’s mostly a flash in the pan experience so to speak… if you logged in right now, that location is likely empty, barring all the folks reading this and logging in to check the validity of that claim.

And therein is a bigger point to be made about all this hype, which is exactly all it is… just a load of hype.

So I sit here with my coffee, contemplating how to go about this post. Believe it or not, I don’t enjoy shitting on every project. I know a lot of people spent years working on this project and it would be unduly harsh of me to tear it up. But it has to be done for the sake of honesty and integrity in virtual worlds journalism.

Nothing Special

Let’s get some things out of the way up front.

SANSAR is nothing special, regardless of what the hype machine is trying to sell you. As a matter of fact, it looks suspiciously like a clone of Avatar Reality BlueMars, though not using the Crytek engine.

Which brings me to a major sticking point – it’s built predominantly as a controlled and publish only environment. Don’t mistake SANSAR as “the next Second Life” because it’s anything but.

When you have a publish environment that is highly controlled for assets, then yes… obviously it’ll likely look a lot better. That’s the entire point of a publish environment, in that you can set things in “stone” and then apply additional shaders and effects to the scene because the scene nodes are “compiled”.

Insomuch as this aspect, the question begs to be asked:

If you’re looking for a published scene system that looks prettier but takes away the live editing and organic aspects of Second Life, then why not just use Sinewave Space? They’re essentially SANSAR but far better in that regard.

Authors Note: Sinewave Space actually does have a live editing ability alongside the publish model.

If we are to look at the “VR Headset Focus” of the SANSAR Model, I believe it’s a mistake to build an entire system like SL or even SANSAR on the premise of betting on the ubiquity of VR headsets. Sure, it’s a nice inclusion for a niche audience (because that’s what it is and will be for the foreseeable future), but it makes zero sense to build an application for a niche audience and then split that niche audience into an even smaller niche to cater to.

It’s a lot like getting into the automobile business and catering to just Bugatti Veyron owners with a bit of a nod to the peasants driving a Honda Civic. If your goal is to have market saturation and be the ubiquitous go-to for virtual worlds, this is not how you do it. Instead of trying to build an entirely different platform, one should learn what worked the first time and replicate those variables with better execution.

What Project SANSAR represents is a team of coders and executives who believe they actually understand the future of virtual worlds and attempting to make a flagship project based on faulty comprehension. Focusing on the wrong aspects of what makes shared virtual spaces like Second Life amazing, and distilling those out-of-context talking points into a product of its own misses the point entirely.

The sum of the whole is greater than the parts.

That isn’t to say they’re bad people. No… just very misguided on their understanding of what makes an amazing virtual world system. Second Life as a popular platform came as a sort of spontaneous quirk that Linden Lab wasn’t entirely prepared to either comprehend nor handle when it did happen.

Remember: It was billed as a game, and had game aspects before the inkling of open-ended, user generated, virtual world snuck in and things were rebranded to focus on those aspects in the rise of popularity for it.

It was a lot like building a video game and realizing that the modders are doing unintended things with it, however amazing… then you start catering to what the customers want and use it for to capitalize on it.

Hell, Second Life as a concept isn’t revolutionary (regardless of how Philip Rosedale would frame it). I mean, while he himself has said he had the idea in the mid-1990s but didn’t think it was feasible which is why he continued working at Real, that in itself is a fabrication… Because you know what else existed in 1995 when he insists such a virtual world system wasn’t feasible?


And while Activeworlds looks outdated by today’s standards, it would be a disservice to it if I didn’t also state that if you know what you’re doing with the platform, you can create worlds in there that are on par and sometimes even better than Second Life. After all, they have Zones and the ability to implement screen space particles for weather. Not to mention they actually have a built in particle editor that is dead simple and powerful to use, unlike coughs Second Life who (for the love of God) has access to Windlight and Nimble (the weather system that came with Windlight).

Oh, that and mirrors. Activeworlds has working mirrors and figured out how to do it without lagging the place up in the process.

But I digress. Yeah, that’s how old this open-ended virtual world concept actually is. Second Life is special not because it was the first or even the best. It is special because it improved on an already existing formula, even begrudgingly.

After all, they didn’t have the foresight to implement a marketplace online until years after XStreet did it – which goes to show that you, the virtual world inhabitants, are far more responsible for pushing the ideal virtual world system than the companies that produce the platforms. Your third party viewers and dedicated teams of volunteers are proof of this just the same. Your outright ingenuity in how you use the virtual world is just as responsible for its advancement – when mesh was implemented in Second Life, you used it as clothing and mesh bodies, and so on… Linden Lab didn’t think of that one (apparently) and so you didn’t have stuff fitting correctly.

Though even mesh was a non-Linden Lab innovation for an SL platform. It showed up years in advance via the RealXtend viewer and implementation, all while Linden Lab was saying it wasn’t possible. Once again, you are the innovators here – or at the very least, the driving force of it.

It is you who are continually driving that advancement – with or without the company running the platforms. OpenSim is a good example here, though not as coherent as a proprietary system like SecondLife.

What SANSAR is, in a nutshell, is a company trying to wrestle that power back from you and severely constrain your ability to innovate – to make themselves the sole channel of that innovation, and the sole purveyor of it. At the baseline, this is removing a large portion of the “magic” formula that is Second Life in the organic nature and trying to bottle it into bite-sized snippets under tight control.

It defeats the entire point.

Out of Context

The most interesting part about SANSAR is that if you took it out of context, it would be fine. But coming from Linden Lab, that isn’t quite possible. On its own, it’s a pretty nice piece of software – albeit nothing revolutionary in any manner.

When an “experience” is filled up – as in, you reach a set concurrency limit, the scene just creates a copy and starts teleporting the newcomers to the new copy instead. The term for this is “sharding”, and this alone makes me shake my head. Given the opportunity to start from the ground up and redesign the virtual world experience platform using modern approaches, Linden Lab immediately screwed up and built a sharded system. This is going to haunt SANSAR for the entire shelf life of the project.

What I see with SANSAR is a missed opportunity from Linden Lab to really push the boundaries and reinvent their flagship namesake, Second Life with modern technology and approaches, applying what they’ve learned since its inception. That being said, it seems like Linden Lab hasn’t learned anything over the past fifteen years.

Here we find that Linden Lab had the opportunity to design a single shard system and do it right this time, but failed to do so. After all, Novaquark is designing Dual Universe as a single shard universe and is what I would say an iteration of Second Life should have been from the get-go. It’s pretty bad when a crowdfunded system is kicking your corporate seasoned ass.

This isn’t news, if you remember the tenure from Rodvick Humble (Rodimus Prime).

Instead of moving forward, we see a company taking steps backward in their application of understanding the virtues of virtual worlds, while others are sailing ahead with innovation.

When I was giving my presentation at OSCC, I brought up Dual Universe as the winning baseline for the future of virtual worlds specifically because of its innovation in single shard technology. Allowing thousands of people to simultaneously be present in a single location persistently is a major factor.

Though that opportunity is now missed when it comes to Linden Lab and SANSAR due to its baseline model. In Dual Universe, you have a shared, persistent virtual universe that you can build in like in Second Life, but more importantly you can build a spaceship and literally fly, seamlessly, off planet and go land on another one.

That is absolutely incredible – a word I’d love to use about Linden Lab and SANSAR but is not justified.

What about Second Life?

Here’s an interesting tidbit about Second Life versus SANSAR that most probably wouldn’t know:

You can create a sim in Second Life that is comparable to SANSAR if you know what you’re doing. Just like you can use 20 year old ActiveWorlds to create worlds that would be comparable to Second Life.

That’s it… the big secret. See, if you baked all of your lighting and exercised control over the sim settings, you can come up with something similar to SANSAR. Will there be lag? Well, that depends on a lot of factors.

If you know how to create content that is game optimized, use standard tricks of the trade to do mesh and bake in lighting effects instead of forcing it on the high-end machines only, then Second Life can look absolutely stunning and on par with AAA titles. Albeit you don’t get things like HDR and God Rays in your shaders with Second Life, and sure you prolly don’t have Bloom effects like in SANSAR, but let’s be honest -

We already have shaders in Second Life, and adding HDR, Bloom and God Rays (etc) to the Advanced Lighting Model would put it on par with SANSAR.

But what about the lag, I hear you say?

I’ve already outlined here how to remedy the situation with the single shard technology approach that Dual Universe is using. However, that being the case, I’ve previously outlined how Second Life can retool their server approach on the back end to virtually eliminate that lag on multiple fronts.

1. Have the idle servers kick on to help co-process simulators that are popular. Much of the problem is that a single region is on a quad core server, which is fine until you push it to a breaking point. If they get to that level, there’s no reason why you should have thousands of idle servers and countless processing power just sitting there twiddling thumbs about it.

2. Remember SLGo? Linden Lab totally dropped the ball on that one. Yes, it was a third party system that Linden Lab wasn’t in charge of – but the take-away should have been crystal clear if they were paying attention. The cloud streaming system which allowed even a crappy tablet or phone to run Second Life on Ultra Graphics should have been built into Second Life itself as a Premium option. This is added value proposition in a nutshell. It was a unique added value proposition that wasn’t replicating pre-existing services from their community – and that is what counts.

3. The Fu** Off  button. Yes, that’s what I originally called it when I jokingly asked for it on Twitter. You have one now in your viewer and it simply derenders everyone in the room except friends. Why is this important? Well, because a majority of you lot have no clue about optimizing your avatars for looks and speed to be considerate of the sim and surrounding avatar resources. All of your high-end mesh attachments and high-resolution mega textures for skins and items may work when it’s just you and one other person, but it absolutely tanks a server and other computers when there’s a group in the same area.

4. Content creators need to up their game (collectively). The very thing that makes Second Life awesome is the organic nature of user created content and world creation, but it’s a double edged sword – because those same content creators are making things without the explicit understanding of optimized game assets. So we see these high poly, massive texture using, monstrosities being sold for all manner of use which in turn brings anything but a NASA launch console to a screeching halt. Then on the other side of the coin you have badly designed assets that look like absolute shit. Because of this dichotomy of melting pot mentality, we have a mixed bag in a virtual world where one minute you could see a breathtaking sim and the next a bunch of assets from the turn of the century.

As I’ve already said, I don’t see any reason why Second Life couldn’t look as good as SANSAR here and now, and even be optimized enough to drastically lower lag. To do that, it’ll take a concerted effort on our part as content creators and world designers, as well as on the part of Linden Lab to apply better management approaches to how SL runs.

Final Thoughts

SANSAR for all the hype isn’t special, however much it may look pretty at this time. The publish model alone harkens back to the early 1990s with Worlds Inc, and more recently BlueMars. In my opinion, it is the theme park to our virtual world lives.

Which is to say – it’s a nice place to visit, but we live elsewhere. When you want a short term experience, SANSAR is a good vacation (though Sinewave Space is still better at it), but when you really want to spend time in a virtual world that is organic and user-generated – you should stick to Second Life.

If Linden Lab understood the reasons why we love Second Life, they would have never made SANSAR the way they did, but instead made a true successor to Second Life.

Jul 13, 2017


We broke Firestorm, and that’s ok.

Indiana Jones

For those who read the prior post about the Adventures in Unicode, you may have come away thinking that Firestorm was the clear winner in extended character sets with everyone else falling short.

After all, it appeared that way from our end as well.

That is, until we ran one last test and brought over Tonya Souther, (one of the Firestorm devs who originally implemented the Noto font and Unicode for Firestorm), over to the workshop to click on the ONYX radio.

There may have been a very large explosion involved…

The following are screenshots provided courtesy of Tonya:

Firestorm Linux

ONYX menu Linux

Firestorm OSX

ONYX menu OS X

Firestorm Windows 7

ONYX menu Windows 7

Revenge of the Tofu

It would seem the Unicode implementation for Firestorm is not consistent across operating systems!

At first glance this looks bad – after all, this means using Unicode in the menus for content is an entirely hit or miss situation now. However, upon further inspection, there has to be a reason why the Unicode shows up sometimes while failing in other situations.

Overall, this is a shared experience issue. If you were to listen to Linden Lab over the past number of years, then shared experience is a number one priority. The user experience should be consistent for all in-world users, and now that the Unicode inconsistency has been identified, we know this is not the case.

While Windows 10 machines will show the full menu icons via Unicode, Windows 7 machines are missing two, while Linux and OSX Firestorm installs will get a bunch of Tofu altogether. According to Tonya, this shouldn’t be the case at all if Noto is packed into every Firestorm version. If anything, the Noto font bundle with Firestorm should make the Unicode display consistently across viewers and operating systems.

But this isn’t the current case, as demonstrated by the ONYX radio menu at the Andromeda Media Group workshop.

The entire purpose of Noto as a font is “No To(fu)”.

What Happens Now?

Under normal circumstances, this would be the end of the line. However, because it was Tonya Souther (one of the devs who implemented Noto for Unicode compatibility in Firestorm) who found the glaring issue, she insisted on fixing it as well.

This is, after all, a Major Bug in Firestorm that breaks the shared experience.

After I filed the JIRA for this, Tonya jumped in and personally assigned herself to the cause – taking up the crusade against Tofu for the benefit of everyone in Second Life.


This sort of dedication is what makes the Firestorm team so awesome. I could have filed the JIRA and then have the devs just say “Yeah, whatever…”, but in this case the Firestorm dev was right there in person, helped document the glaring flaw, and owned it like a boss.

Why This Matters

For years, one of my biggest gripes about Second Life is the inconsistency for supporting Unicode characters. You are probably just as keen on this issue as well, since there are plenty of times you’ve seen people with “fancy text” names or some sort of decoration characters in their profile or chat which showed up as a bunch of [] characters instead.

Because these characters show up for some but not all, I would call this a major break in “shared experience” protocol touted by Linden Lab. The “simple” solution to fix this would be something along the lines of -

1. Extend the Noto font for Firestorm to support a large number of common icons and glyphs, but not “everything” like all the foreign languages. By focusing on the icons/emoji/glyphs of Unicode as a fallback font, and then making sure all versions of Firestorm use it, we ensure a consistent display of characters in Second Life.

2. Unifying the Font.XML file for Windows, Linux and OSX to make sure they all point to and properly use the extended Noto font for the Unicode compatibility, regardless of your operating system.

Because this is a “shared experience” issue, fixing it should be a priority. Therefore, if/when Firestorm team makes the Unicode implementation consistent among their own viewers, the code and fix is open source and can/should be included in the Default Second Life Viewer (I’m looking at you Oz Linden), and also other 3rd Party Viewers.

However – in order for Linden Lab to include such a fix in the Default viewer, they would have to probably bring back the font.xml implementation that seems to have been taken away (for unknown reasons). This would likely be true for other 3rd party developers as well.

By making the Unicode implementation consistent and reasonably up to date, we can see better use in local chat, menus on products in-world (accessibility), and more. Fixing this would have sweeping changes in the entire Metaverse in how we see various menus, information text in chat, and more displayed – with glyphs and icons now being more universal we can all expect a consistent experience for the same characters being displayed.

I applaud the fact that Tonya Souther was so quick to assign herself to fixing the glaring issue, and look forward to seeing a unified Unicode implementation in the near future.

Jul 10, 2017

ɑժѵҽղԵմɾҽՏ íղ մղíϲօժҽ

The Not-So-Shared Experience in Second Life

Unicode Header

On June 20th, 2017 the Unicode foundation updated the international standard for universal character mapping to version 10. Unicode 10.0 adds 8,518 characters, for a total of 136,690 characters. These additions include 4 new scripts, for a total of 139 scripts, as well as 56 new emoji characters.

If you are a regular user of Second Life, then you’ve very likely seen these Unicode characters in use for things like announcements, custom names, and various decoration and fancy text for profiles.

But there is a bit of a problem.

While the Unicode standard is now up to version 10.0.0, a majority of Second Life viewers (including the default viewer) doesn’t really support a majority of the Unicode standard characters. So much for that “shared experience”, right?

The Unicode set comes in quite handy when you want to add a visual element to your displays. For instance, there are a number of Unicode characters for icons and emojis that, while useful in a frivolous manner for text decoration, are very useful as universal symbols to denote common tasks.

For instance, if you wanted to use the age-old icon for “Save”, you’d use the floppy disk icon, right?

What if you wanted an icon for “Favorite”? Well, the obvious symbol would be an icon of a heart, like this:

If all you saw with those two characters was [] for each, then you’re out of date for your font and/or Operating System. As far as I can tell, most modern operating systems and programs can see more recent Unicode characters by default.

The problem is that with Second Life, the Unicode support is all over the map at best. The default viewer (and most third party viewers) simply do not support a wide range of Unicode characters. That diskette icon from before would show up as a tofu – which is the name of the empty block symbol “[]” you see whenever the font you are using doesn’t have the symbol being used.

You’ve probably seen a lot of those “tofu” blocks in Second Life as you wander around and see people’s custom names, gestures and whatever. This is your viewer failing to support a wider range of Unicode characters which are standard internationally. More importantly, it’s your viewer not including fonts that support those Unicode characters.

The default viewer for Second Life comes with a few fonts installed, and they all fail the wider scope of Unicode support. Third party viewers like Singularity use Dejavu in a reduced format as the default font set, and doesn’t support a lot of Unicode characters up to version 7, which is actually from 2010 (7 years old!).

I won’t even get into the recently released Unicode 10 standard. That’s probably out of the question entirely, but it isn’t too much to ask for consistent support for a four year old Unicode character set.

Comparative Testing

While a majority of the Second Life viewers more or less fail a more comprehensive Unicode character test, the one viewer that actually fares better than all of them (including the default viewer) happens to be Firestorm.

As a test, the ONYX Stereo Receiver in Second Life uses Unicode icons on the menus in order to better differentiate. Keeping in mind that we didn’t use any Unicode past version 7 to be “safe” – we assumed characters that have been around for 4 years would be supported without a problem by now.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

Here’s the visual comparison -

Default SL Viewer

ONYX - SL Viewer Default Font Menu UNICODE

One thing you’ll notice among the viewers that fail the Unicode test is that they all effectively crap out around Unicode 3 or 4 support in their included font(s). With Second Life Default viewer, you’d think Linden Lab would have the foresight to support a much wider set of characters in their included font.

Singularity Viewer

ONYX - Singularity Default Font Menu UNICODE

Next on the list for testing was Singularity Viewer, the third party viewer that I recall being the staple for Phoenix and older viewer style holdouts. Here, again, you see it fails the Unicode test on the ONYX menu.

Further research finds that Singularity uses Dejavu (much like Firestorm) but nothing else… or whatever else it has in the Fonts folder still doesn’t support a newer Unicode standard, so there are no fallbacks.

Black Dragon Viewer

So maybe I’m choosing “crappy” third party viewers, then? The low end of the spectrum, and that’s why they don’t handle Unicode so well? I wish that were the case, really… as below,  you’ll see that even Black Dragon viewer fails the Unicode test.

ONYX - Black Dragon Viewer Default Font Menu UNICODE

Firestorm Viewer

And then there is Firestorm.

ONYX - Firestorm Viewer Default Font Menu UNICODE

Notice anything different? Well, what do ya know… all the Unicode characters in the menu show up fine in Firestorm.

What’s Different?

When you look inside the Firestorm Fonts folder, you notice that there are more fonts in there than you’d find in Singularity or the Default Viewer, and while Singularity and the Default viewer also uses the Dejavu Sans font like Firestorm, all this tells us is that DejaVu isn’t the solution.

So what font is responsible for adding extensive Unicode support in the Firestorm viewer?

I’d like to say our secret sauce just might be thanks to Google.

See, I noticed in the Firestorm distribution that there includes the Noto family of fonts along with the other fonts in the folder. Noto (short for No Tofu) is a font family designed by Google to support extensive Unicode characters.

It is a free font and (from what I can see) doesn’t include any real restrictions for bundling it in your applications, and is actually encouraged. Which is probably why it shows up as part of Firestorm, in turn enabling all Firestorm users to see extended Unicode characters by default.

Specifically included in the Firestorm Fonts folder are:

  • NotoMono-Regular.ttf
  • NotoSans-Bold.ttf
  • NotoSans-BoldItalic.ttf
  • NotoSansCombined-Regular.ttf
  • NotoSans-Italic.ttf

The way that the viewers work in the XML files which declare the fonts in use is – you name a main font, and then you name off some “fallback” fonts when the main font doesn’t have a particular character to display (like with Unicode or foreign languages). So when the main font “fails” to find a character, it goes to the other fallback fonts listed to see if the character is in there. At least that’s how they used to work… and now (apparently) only Firestorm kept that ability.

As far as I can tell – Only Firestorm seems to have included Noto (and a few others) in their Font folder, and therefore can render much more Unicode than everyone else. Of course, they declared Noto in the XML file as a fallback font.

Which begs the question:

If it’s really this simple to update Unicode support for Second Life viewers, then why is Firestorm the only viewer that seems to have done so?

I’m actually quite surprised that I haven’t seen any of the other third party viewers do this, nor even Linden Lab with the “official” viewer. This has got to be (hands down) the quickest “shared experience” fix they can all do.

Just include Noto in your viewers.

Until then, we’re stuck answering a design question when creating items in Second Life:

Do I use Unicode icon characters in my text and menus, do I omit the Unicode characters, do I include a toggle button to show/hide them, or do I say “To hell with it…” and just build with Unicode characters knowing a majority of people use Firestorm?

This will be the question until everyone catches up and includes better Unicode font support in their next viewer releases, catching up to Firestorm.

Until then, I’m probably just going to use the Unicode characters in menus whether you can see them or not. It’s a simple fix, and you (the users) should get on your respective viewer developers to include better support for it ASAP.

Yes… even Linden Lab.


After a bit of tinkering/testing, I had the idea that maybe one could simply copy/paste the Firestorm Fonts folder to the other viewer Fonts folder, XML files and all for the fallbacks… but it seems the other viewers just ignore it all.

This is curious to me as there was a time when the Default viewer used the XML setup to declare the fonts and fallbacks. As a result, I believe two things are going on:

  1. The Default viewer (and other 3rd party Viewers) no longer have the XML functionality built in, or it’s disabled hard coded.
  2. Firestorm kept the original XML functionality and put it to good use.

Which now begs the question:

If the third party viewers are open source, including Firestorm, then why is this functionality only in Firestorm? Even more, why would a function that was in the older Default viewers be taken out, if it allowed for such an obvious standards and compatibility fix with little effort?

This is quite possibly one of the easiest “Shared Experience” fixes to include, and (before Linden Lab thinks of it), no that doesn’t mean make Firestorm remove the functionality. That would be the most bone-headed thing Linden Lab could do.

As a result of the other viewers ignoring the XML files, this means that (unfortunately) you will have to petition your favorite viewer developer to put the functionality back in and include the same font set as Firestorm to fix the Unicode compatibility for your particular viewer of choice (including Linden Lab).

Because apparently, they’d all have to include the XML function back into their viewers and include the fonts in the folders of their own accord.

My recommendation, then, is the following:

If you’re not using Firestorm, go to your respective viewer JIRA and file it as a feature request. In the year 2017, there is little reason a modern application shouldn’t be up to date with Unicode compatibility. We should all be raising a little bit of hell over this one…

So go get’em, tiger!

Jul 1, 2017

Speed Demon 2

Browser Enhancement Tricks

speed demon header

Today’s Topic: Browser Enhancement for Speed

Difficulty: Easy


In this blog post, I’d like to discuss some simple tricks you can apply to your web browser to speed up common tasks above and beyond the stock browser offerings. The following “hacks” will let you skip a lot of the clicks involved with doing everyday tasks and cut right to the chase. These are tweaks that I have done personally with my own web browsers (Chrome and Opera) but should also work with Firefox if you’re using that particular web browser. If you’re using Microsoft Edge, then there is a special place in hell just for you.

The main question we’re answering here is:

In the course of our everyday web browsing, we find ourselves doing a lot of repetitive tasks to get to what we want. For instance, searching your favorite sites for content, using the Speed Dial, and so forth. So let’s speed this up a little bit and make our lives easier.

Search Operators

There is nothing scary here, and this trick is quite simple once you get the hang of it. Essentially, all browsers allow you to add custom search operators aside from the built-in options like Google, DuckDuckGo, etc. But how can we “hack” this feature to our advantage?

Well, let’s say you routinely search Youtube for videos.

Normally, you have to type in, wait for it to load, and then click in the search box to do your search. If you’re a speed demon like me, then you want to skip all those steps in between for your favorite sites and just cut right to the chase.

The first step to this is right-clicking the address bar.

Edit Search

On that resulting menu, you’ll see something like the picture above. “Edit search engines…”

Edit Search B

Very likely you’ll see a list under the main list that says “Other search engines”

By clicking on the “Add new search” you’ll be presented with another pop-up to define your new search keyword.

Edit Search C

For instance, let’s look at adding a custom Youtube keyword.

Obviously we name it in the first box – in this case “Youtube”. In the second field, we choose the keyword to use in the address bar as the shortcut. For this example, I’ve chosen “youtube”. The last is the address to use for this search keyword.

This is where it gets a bit tricky. In order to get the search string for this, simply do a normal search on the site you want to set up a keyword for. In the results address at the top, copy and paste it here in this field when setting up the keyword with one change:

Whatever the string was for the thing you searched for (Let’s say you searched for Rick and Morty"), you replace that with %S as a wildcard.

Then hit Save on this dialog and you’re done. Whenever you type Youtube into the address bar, you can follow it with the search criteria directly and hit enter to skip right to the youtube search results for what you just typed.

In your address bar, you can type Youtube [space] [Search String] and it’ll skip right to the search results.

What else is this useful for? Well, let’s say you want to keyword something like Wikiwand to search for articles. The same process applies, but the address is something like:

And you can set the keyword to be “wiki”.

Pretty much, you can do this on most sites that have a search option. I’ve set it up for Youtube, Wikiwand, Torrent,, Porn (why not?), Discogs (album info search), and yes even Google Play Music, where typing “play” and the search criteria in the address bar will jump right to the search results in my Google Music Library.

Author’s Note: Wikiwand is a much cleaner and modernized version of Wikipedia. I highly recommend using it over the standard Wikipedia site.

This is such a useful trick that I feel gimped whenever I set up a new browser install and can’t use these custom search operators. Trust me, once you set yours up, you’ll feel the same after a short time and wonder how you managed without this for so long.

Suggested Keywords

  • Wallpaper
  • Games
  • Music
  • Icons
  • Marketplace

Obviously use these responsibly and legally.

Additional Uses

It goes without saying that this trick can be used for single word tweaks for your favorite sites. For instance, if you use Google Drive a lot, but don’t want to type in all the time, just set up a keyword named “drive” with the address normally, and from there simply typing “drive” in your address bar will take you there.

Log In and Synchronize

This one is optional, but can save you a ton of time when setting up a new browser install. In your browser settings there is the option to log in and synchronize all of your settings. I highly recommend setting this up. In Google Chrome and Opera (Chromium based browsers), it’ll backup all of your bookmarks, extensions, themes, keywords, etc. When you set up a new browser install, and log in, the browser will “magically” set itself up the way you had it before – installing all of your themes, extensions, bookmarks, keywords and other settings automatically.

No manual import needed here – just sit back and watch it all work automatically.

This is such an awesome time saver that we at Andromeda Media Group are incorporating it into the ONYX land radio system by default. Because who the hell has time to keep messing with notecards and settings every time you rez a radio in Second Life?


This is where the suggestions begin to get subjective, but I’ve found the following extensions incredibly useful for management, themes, and ease of use in Chrome, Opera and Firefox.

For the remainder of this post, we’ll be using our respective extension stores for the corresponding web browser -


opera icon


FVD Speed Dial

The first out of the gate is FVD Speed Dial. While the built-in speed dials for Chrome and Opera are pretty good, FVD Speed Dial takes it to a whole new level with customization, organizing your speed dial bookmarks via tabs, and more.

Once you set up FVD Speed Dial, and get your dials organized, it’ll be a quick and easy task to open your most used sites.



I don’t know about you, but I hate remembering and typing in passwords and repetitive information to fill out forms. With LastPass as an extension, it’s a one and done deal with a master password or auto-fill option.



When it comes to websites and how they look/feel/operate, sometimes the designers just don’t get it. Or maybe you just don’t like how things are laid out to your liking? With Tampermonkey as an extension, you can use scripts which will alter how those sites look, feel or operate (and sometimes adding new functionality altogether).

Installing Tampermonkey isn’t complicated, and it’s mostly a hands-off operation. What makes it powerful though is not just that it is the backbone of scripts to alter sites but when paired with script repositories, such as Greasy Fork, you can customize your favorite sites till the cows come home.

A side note – Tampermonkey is mainly for the OCD power user that wants new features or more control over things, and the mileage will vary for each script in use.

When the scripts work, however… it opens up a whole new world of possibilities for your favorite sites and customization.



What is Stylish you might ask? Well, it’s an extension that works a lot like Tampermonkey but mostly for the purpose of applying themes to your favorite sites. Want Google with a dark theme? Facebook with greyscale? There’s thousands of custom themes for popular sites. With Stylish, it’s also pretty simple to find, apply and change them.

Download Chrome Extension for Opera

For this next one, if you’re using Opera, then installing this extension will let you install and use (most) Chrome extensions in Opera by default. With this, you’ll be able to go through the Chrome Store as well as the Opera Store to get your extensions.

Mileage may vary, as some extensions use API specific things not supported cross browser. In which case, you can usually find the browser specific version in the corresponding store.


If you’re using Firefox and don’ see the corresponding extension in your web store, just pick the extension that is a close approximation.

Mercury Reader

Mercury Reader

The Mercury Reader extension for Chrome removes ads and distractions, leaving only text and images for a clean and consistent reading view on every site.


  • Disable surrounding webpage noise and clutter with one click
  • Send To Kindle functionality
  • Adjust typeface and text size, and toggle between light or dark themes
  • Quick keyboard shortcut (Cmd + Esc for Mac users, Alt + ` for Windows users) to switch to Reader on any article page
  • Printing optimization
  • Sharing through Facebook, Twitter and Email

Pure URL

Pure URL

This add-on automatically removes all garbage like "utm_source=*" from URLs. These fields are provided for the Google Analytics and they are not a necessity.

Example of URL with garbage fields:

Pure URL:

Wrap Up

And there you have it – some simple extensions and tweaks to make using your internet browser much faster for common tasks. These are all tested and used by myself, and most I couldn’t really do without.

Have any tweaks or extensions of your own you’d like to add? Feel free to leave them in the comments below.