Sunday, September 09, 2007

Economic activity in SL dropped by half

Since gambling was officially banned in Second Life, economic activity was completely devastated - it dropped by nearly 50%, as I had predicted earlier. In just about any normal economy, this would cause a complete collapse. But thanks to the tight control Linden Labs has over the primary means of trading lindens to dollars, Linden Labs was able to maintain the value of the Linden to 270ish per one dollar. How?!?!?

Linden Labs had to slow down printing their own money, which was also a recipe for disaster in its own sense (inflation would far out-pace demand). If Linden Labs' own self-reported statistics are to be believed, they dropped their printing by nearly 75% for the month of August. However, it looks like they panicked and resumed printing at their previous rate in September - they've already matched their August output in the first week of September. After all, printing their own money is a lucrative business for Linden Labs - if you ignore the whole inflation problem, they actually do pretty well for themselves.

Linden Labs pretty much has a monopoly on the trading of lindens to dollars. You can't go to too many other places and buy or sell lindens. Inexperienced traders (or new users who haven't set their exchange setting to "advanced", which is probably the case for most newcomers) buy at a built-in disadvantageous rate, which artificially keeps the demand high. With Linden Labs still printing their own money and selling it at the inflated disadvantageous rate to the newcomers, they continue bringing in bucks for the company and artificially creating the sense of demand and contribute to the ever increasing inflation. Obviously, this isn't sustainable forever. As fewer and fewer newcomers buy lindens, the value of the linden will plummet.

A quick scan of the last few transactions -- oh, wait, Linden Labs have disabled that feature *wink wink nod nod* -- would show that although gambling was officially banned, you can still gamble at a lot of places. It's relatively easy to find large gambling halls who will gladly still take your lindens. Sure, a lot of the major gambling halls have been shut down, but there are still several out there who haven't shut down, and new ones keep cropping up like Whack-a-mole.

So what does all of this really mean? The statistics are telling. The number of new island sales sharply decreased. The volume of trade was shaved in half. The number of logged-in residents is continually dropping. The sinks for land have plummeted. In just one month after the gambling shutdown, the economy is on the verge of collapse. It will keep on churning as long as they can continue to bring in new users, but if you have any money at all invested in Second Life, the smart thing to do is get out while you still can.

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Second Life Casinos Dealt a K,6, K - BUST!

I am a gambling man. Not exactly a high-roller kind of a guy - the largest bet I've ever placed was a $2 lottery ticket. But I have written all kinds of gambling simulators and players to study betting strategies, playing strategies, and etc. I've got pages after pages of graphs and charts. My simulators have played billions upon billions of games. The end result? Well, depending on the house rules, smart, patient black jack players actually do pretty good for themselves. But in Second Life (as I've mentioned before), there is absolutely nothing stopping a casino from cheating. No regulation, no recourse, no relief, no nothing. I've shown statistically that some casinos cheated in the past and I've seen several people lose a lot of money to these fraudulent casinos--even after I've warned them!

Well, that won't happen again any time soon. Linden Labs finally shut down its casinos. Wait, strike that - Linden Labs shut down its "simulated" gambling. Yeah right. The whole process was a farce from the very beginning. California and several states have laws specifically banning this kind of behavior, but Linden Labs claimed that its out was the fact that the Linden had no real value. Never mind the fact that Linden Labs facilitates, advertises, and profits from the selling and buying of said Lindens with real greenbacks. It is in their very best interest to keep those transactions fluid. And what do you suppose fueled a huge chunk of their economy? That's right, gambling.

I'm sad to see legitimate, honest casinos go down, but without tight regulation, nobody else is there looking out for the consumers' interests. I would not be surprised at all to see a sudden and complete collapse of the Second Life economy - a very notable percentage of transactions will have suddenly stopped and the over-inflation of the economy will finally catch up. You can't keep printing your own money and hope that everything will sort itself out. You'll either run out of new users or run out of reasons to spend the cash. In this case, it's going to be both.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Virtual Worlds: Where Business, Society, Technology & Policy Converge

IBM and MIT teamed up together to present the Virtual Worlds consortium last Friday, June 15 in Cambridge. Here are some of my notes:

Frank Moss, Director of the MIT Media Laboratory, opened up the session by asking, "Is the 3D internet over-hyped?" From my experience on various virtual worlds (There, Second Life, Active Worlds, etc.), I think it is over-hyped at the current stage of development, but the potential is easy to see. Dr. Moss says, "No, but...." In order to get us from here to there, we need transformations: identities, interactions, and institutions.

We need more simplicity, scalability, "stuff" (events, objects, etc.), search, standards, etc. Dr. Moss' group is working on many of these issues. They're looking to upgrading humanity (new minds, new bodies), virtuality (2D to 3D and consumer to creator), and reality to 4D (knowing where all things are all the time). Research is converging to a real-time simulation of everything, which will drive everything from 3D worlds to biological research. His whole notion of "You-nity" focuses on putting the human being in the middle. He had a chart that put the power shift from power of processors in the pre 90's, then the power of networks in the 90s, then the power of people today. Virtual worlds are more than just creating a virtual conference room; we need to transform the way that people make decisions. Transform the autistic to an author. Transform how people interact.

Colin Parris, IBM's vice president of digital convergence, spoke about virtual worlds and their emerging business value. His agenda included evolving web capabilities, emerging business scenarios, interoperable integrated virtual worlds, and our critical tasks.

Collin observed that the web has evolved from finding information, then sharing information, and now to participation and co-creation. Participation and co-creation accelerates individual and group development and training -- collaboration at its best. This powerful collaboration-enabled acceleration of learning and training is a substantial and positive effect - transformational in Dr. Moss' sense.

IBM is working on several business scenarios, including apps that enhance current presales activities (immersive environments that allow consumers to explore product), more data collection that enables better upsale and other product recommendations, education and training, and collaboration and events.

Collin spoke about the importance of integrating virtual worlds. Users can reuse assets, reducing costs and risks. Content creators can design/write/create once, use everywhere. This all assumes that virtual worlds will be able to meet the requirements (scalability, security, privacy, protection). He didn't really go into the specifics of how this would be done, or some of the technical, social, and political issues involved in this, but he stressed that this capability will sustain the long-term survival of different virtual worlds.

The critical tasks include creating better interfaces (a common theme throughout the day), improved graphics, faster responses, better tools, and more robust systems. We also need to manage trust and identities as contextually appropriate, provide suitable legal and social guidelines, and create more business and social applications.

After Collin spoke, a panel on digital convergence and identity met and discussed issues around identities in virtual worlds. Some of the more interesting comments:

-"When running a business, `Are you who you are?' has always been an important question. [...] Identity is much richer and supplemented by actions and speech. Rich Identity Information is important as stakes get higher" -Harriet Pearson, Vice President, Regulatory Policy and Chief Privacy Officer, IBM

-"You can be whatever you want to when you’re hanging out with your buddies, but if you’re having a professional meeting, there are rules of etiquette that say you should be something different." -Irving Wladawsky-Berger, Chairman Emeritus, IBM Academy of Technology and Visiting Professor of Engineering Systems MIT (moderator)

-"If I’m a chipmunk in Second Life in one place and I'm in a business suit in another; the strengthening of the pluralism of identities that are not only divorced form their first world IDs, but also their roles as vice president of a company, for example, is key." -Beth Simone Noveck, Professor of Law, Director of the Institute for Information Law & Policy, New York Law School

-“The developer says, ‘You are a space pirate going out to kill people in this space opera.’ And The Goons say, ‘You might be playing that way, but we’re playing goon.’ And they go out and grief the system.” -Dan Hunter, Associate Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics, Wharton, University of Pennsylvania

Kerry Lynn, Christian Renaud, Ankit Goel, and I had lunch with Rita King. We talked a bit more about identity in virtual worlds. Christian gave a story about being completely thrown off a presentation on the grid by a colleague who was, well, less than professional. I observed that some people are completely detached from their avatar whereas others see the avatar as a natural extension of themselves, which makes interacting somewhat complex . Rita said that some people recognize her in real life from seeing her virtual avatar in second life. The whole notion of identity varies between each person. I noted that part of the problem with virtual worlds like Second Life is that it is whatever people want it to be. Christian countered by saying that it's not so much of a problem as it is an opportunity and that we have the ability to help shape that.

Rita King is a freelance reporter and heads up "Dancing Ink". Her website is .

After lunch, Mitch Kaopr, the chair of Linden Labs (and creator of Lotus 1-2-3), gave the keynote speech. His main point was that Virtual Worlds are the New PC -- the disruptive technology with largely unforeseen and unknowable impact. He claimed that virtual worlds are at the tipping point; there's significant media attention, hundreds of thousands of people spending time in virtual worlds, there's an economic critical mass .. enterprises are intrigued and experimenting (even Cisco).

He told of his first realization of the tipping point - he saw an in-world video of a live Suzanne Vega performance. Suzanne was in a real studio playing a real guitar, but she was being portrayed in world as an avatar strumming a virtual guitar with her music being streamed through Second Life; several people all throughout the world were at the virtual stage listening and watching the virtual (but real) performance. He also noted that the virtual worlds become whatever we imagine them to be.

Mitch noted that we're in Macromyopia. Macromyopia is the notion that short-term effects of new platforms are less than predicted, but long-term impact is far greater than expected. He said that there are still a lot of problems in 2007 that we hear all the time:

-These things are just too weird. (Which is true when you have flying penises all over.) -They're too hard, which is true and we talk about it. -No reason for most people to use. -There's not enough control for business.

Why are we at a tipping point now? Fast PCs, big memory, good graphics, broadband and the global internet, and, most importantly, and ethic of participation (open source / free culture).

Why Second Life? In-world tools for object creation and scripting, all user-generated content, free service, residents own and control content, and an open economy with economic incentives for entrepreneurs.

After the keynote speech, Mitch then changed hats to be the moderator for the panel on virtual worlds and business value. Here are a few quotes:

-"It’s not what can happen inside these virtual worlds, but what these worlds can teach us about the real world." -Thomas Malone, Patrick J. McGovern? Professor of Management, MIT Sloan School of Management

-"Cheap communication is going to lead to much more decentralized control. When more people have information to make decisions by themselves, there are advantages for giving them the power to do so. It should be no surprise that we’ll see a lot more of these decentralized structures in the real world." -- Malone

-"The pragmatic question [is] of why people are going to show up and do things. Right now dating is a big motivator for getting people online. The big road block then is when is my mom going to do this."--Scott Johnson, Managing Partner, New Atlantic Ventures

-"Mostly young people look at the Internet as a social tool while older people look at it as a big encyclopedia. It will take a generational flip when the people who grew up in gaming will be making important decisions." -Rob Burns, President of Proton Media

The last event was a panel on technology and system design. Here are a few quotes:

-"We have to talk about the idea of whether there are multiple technologies underneath or multiple visions for the same technology" --Mark McCahill?, E-Learning & Collaborative Systems Architect, Duke University

-"Robotics isn’t just a tool to use at the distance, but a mode of communication." --Cynthia Breazeal, Director of MIT Media Laboratory’s Robotic Life Group, MIT Media Laboratory

-“If you develop an avatar that is similar to you and moves like you, you don’t want to have to relearn it every time [you visit a new virtual world].” – McCahill?

-"If your purpose in Second Life is to collaborate, it makes sense to change it. We've seen richer interactions, richer role-play, richer engagement between strangers all over the world." --Joe Miller, Vice President, Linden Labs.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

More on Christians and the climate

I had a conversation recently with an extreme right-wing Christian who insists that global warming is a farce and is nothing but a money engine for researchers who must continue to claim doom and gloom to keep their funds flowing. They go so far as to say, "If you all believe that the Bible is the infallible word of God then according to Revelations Jesus will return to earth someday and take us all up to Heaven. If I understand that and believe it to be true then the Earth must still be here and humans must still be alive hence the Global Warming Doomsday crowd are nothing more than propagandists."

Wow. I am simply amazed at how delusional we can be at times. Consider, if you can, the possibility that Jesus doesn't come back until 40,000 years from now, long after global warming has come and gone. Billions of lives would have been wiped out by global warming, but the world would have recovered - the waters would have receded. Generations would have come and gone, civilizations risen and fallen, but the prophecy can still be fulfilled, even if it's tens of thousands of years from now. If this is at all a possibility, it simply makes sense to try to save those billions of lives.

A wise person said, "We must stop thinking of the individual and start thinking about what is best for society." As a Christian, that is even more true. For it is society we are trying to save; it is our neighbors, our cities, our nations, and our world that we are responsible for.

Oh, by the way, that wise person is Hillary Clinton.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Annoyance solved: Putty and OpenSSH keys

Since I'm a notorious windows user, I alternate between using Cygwin's (or any *nix variant) openSSH client and Putty to connect to various SSH hosts. The only problem is that the openSSH-generated private key is not compatible with Putty.

Private keys with SSH allow you to access a remote host without typing your password if the place you're logging in from is a place you trust enough to say, "hey, whenever I log in from this computer, you don't need to ask me for my password." I trust my own laptop enough to store a private key on there. It works great with open-ssh - I just ssh into a host that I've granted my accepted public key to and it lets me in right away without asking for a password. However, for whatever reason, Putty (the really good and simple ssh client) doesn't like ssh private keys. Since I move my private keys around from trusted computer to trusted computer where I use putty and open-ssh interchangeably, it's kind of annoying for Putty to not accept my open-ssh generated key.

Anyway, with PuTTYGen, you can convert the open-ssh keys to a putty-friendly key. The process is as follows:

  1. Create your private key using ssh-keygen.
    $ ssh-keygen -t dsa
    This places the public ( and private (id_dsa) keys in your ~/.ssh directory.

  2. Copy your public key into each remote host you'd like to log in without using a password
    $ scp ~/.ssh/
    Note that the .ssh directory should already exist. If it doesn't, create it.

  3. Test it to make sure it works:
    $ ssh
    This will hopefully let you in to the remote host without asking for your password. If it doesn't, log in to the remote host, change the permissions to 700 on ~/.ssh/authorized_keys2, exit, and try again. If it still doesn't work, use your favorite search engine to figure it out and then come back here.

  4. Convert the key into a putty-friendly key by using PuTTYgen. Start the application, then click "Load", point it to the ~/.ssh/id_dsa file (not, and convert. Save it as a new key - puttygen will add the file extension "ppk" to the file.

  5. Start up putty, load your favorite remote host profile, go to the Connection->SSH->Auth section of the profile and configure the Private Key for Authentication to point to the newly-generated ppk file.

Now both putty and open-ssh can be allowed entry using the same public key. No more password entry! Works well with svn, cvs, ssh, scp, sftp, whatever.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Teen disciplined for creating campus replica

When I read this headline, I was absolutely appalled. A school discovered that one of its students had created a map of the school's campus for the video game "counter strike" and completely freaked out. Counter strike is a FPS where you basically blast terrorists. Yes, it's a violent game involving guns. But is this something for a school to freak out about?!?

When I was an undergrad at a Christian college, I had created a map of our campus for the game Doom 2. (Wow, that dates me a bit!) Not only did I make a map of the school campus, I also made a map of our house and other real buildings. It's fun making maps of familiar places. I obviously didn't plan on any terrorism acts inside my own house! Anyway, my (Christian) friends and I had a blast blowing each other up in familiar buildings. Is this at all related to any terrorist activity?!? Lord help us, because we've got a host of bible-thumping terrorists at large in the US if this is the case!!

Being someone who strangely enjoyed creating a map of a familiar area for the sole purpose of blowing up monsters and other hapless fellow players who happened to be wielding BFG3000's, I can assure you that this has absolutely nothing to do with terrorism. It's a creative outlet that adds more fun to a game. The motivation is purely that of "wouldn't it be cool to annihilate each other in the cafeteria" as opposed to "let's use this map as a training ground for killing real people."

Thursday, April 26, 2007

American Family Association thinks H.R. 1592 helps silences Christians

Original article here

I have to admit, this is among the most absurd AFA fear-uncertainty-doubt articles (FUD) I've ever read. The bill in question, which enjoys co-sponsorship from republicans and democrats, is a very good hate-crimes bill that in no way, shape, or form lays any groundwork for silencing any viewpoint whatsoever. The bill doesn't protect "certain classes of people" or prevent you from having whatever opinion you want on homosexuality. It does, however, authorize the Attorney General to provide technical, forensic, prosecutorial, or other assistance in the criminal investigation or prosecution of any hate crime.

It's a CRIME bill that recognizes that many groups of people, including those of a particular sexual orientation, are victims of HATE crimes. It doesn't stop at homosexuals. Did you know that hate crimes against Christians are applicable here? That's right, if some anti-Christian group decides to commit heinous crimes against a Christian simply because that person is a Christian, then this bill kicks in and gives the attorney general extra help in investigating the crime.

The following scriptures are just a few of the many in support of this bill. Those who commit heinous crimes out of hate violate these scriptures and should be dealt with swiftly.

Genesis 1:26-27 - all humans are created in the image and likeness of God.
James 2:4 - those who discriminate are evil
Matthew 25:40 - whatever you do for the least of these brothers, you do for me.
Acts 10:34-35 - God does not show favoritism and accepts all God-fearing people.