July 2007 Archives

Is it a game, or is it not?

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I did more or less expect the comments as posted by Ash and Nadia - for that didn't read those yet, it basically came down to "do you spend real money in a virtual world?!" and "stop over regulating everything and the inhabitants will find their own way" - so I'll try to answer the questions posed and in the mean time throw out some new one out there for everyone to choke on.

For those that don't have a clue what Second Life is, I'll try to write it as I see and experience it. The "What is Second Life" question is also the hardest one to answer, as it definitely is different for everyone involved and we all may get something out of it, even if it's the exact opposite.

Some say that Second Life is a game, and one with no predefined purpose. Some say it's a glorified chat box where you walk and fly around and talk to people from all over the world - social interaction at it's best. Others consider SL a true virtual economy or a micro nation even with everything that comes with that : money, work, laws, regulations, banks, stock markets, land ownership, Intellectual Property rights,....

My opinion on what SL is exactly was "it's a game" at first but within days that changed to "it's a virtual micro nation" as I took a dive deep into the economic system and became part of it. I'll throw in some numbers to give you an idea about the economic powers that lies within Second Life : in the past 24 hours a total of $1,040,450 was spent in world.

That's a figure in USD, not in the virtual Linden Dollar L$)! I must admit that I don't know how Linden Lab came up with that figure, and there is a possibility that their data is inflated in the same way as their number of total residents (8,501,546) is far from the daily average population online. But even if that is the case, over 1 million USD in a 24h time frame is massive. It definitely changes my point of view when it comes to defining something as a game or not.

Anyway, where was I? Ash wanted to know whether I - or others I assume - spend real money on this, and once again the answer is different for everyone : I have indeed pumped a nice stream of hard earned Real Money into this virtual world. Some don't and only use the resources they also earn in SL to do their thing, but back in the days I opted to inject real money into Second Life to support and grow my virtual self. Money can be brought into the game, by buying L$ on the LindeX or some of the third party L$ exchanges, and using the same mechanisms you can sell L$ and transfer it to a bank account, credit card or paypal account. There is a very real link between the virtual L$ and the USD.

By establishing that there is more to this than pure fun, I think in some way I also answered Nadia's question or statement that there should be less regulation and moral judgment passed upon others. However, as we all - should - know, businesses thrive in an environment that is stable and regulated just enough so they get to protect their investments yet are very free to pursue and chase their goal of making a profit and keeping their shareholders happy. Second Life is a micro nation with the fundamental laws being written as it grows and expands, and at times this leaves the economic foundation of this "world" very vulnerable and in flux.

This is what happened on July 25th when LL decided to ban wagering in Second Life effective immediately : all the financial and emotional efforts that were poured into creating and running a virtual business were nullified and erased with a stroke of a pencil, or in this case, a post of a new policy on the SL official blog. Sure enough, not everyone was struck as not all of the SL residents ran a casino or entertainment place, but the economic numbers don't lie either and SL is not that different from Real Life : sex and gambling are a considerable part of the economy and often rather innovative when it comes to technological challenges and creations.

I'm gonna leave you with a blog post by Nobody Fuzagi titled Towards A Healthy Economy - an interesting read if you want to know more about this "game".

Bad press?

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As some of you know, I've been spending a lot - too much? - time in Second Life the past three months. This virtual world with virtual currency was my new playground, and pretty much allowed me to do and be whatever I wanted to be. It was a sunny world, with lots of positive energy and limitless opportunities to prosper, but the past two weeks the complete world has been covered in thick black clouds. The fun is over, the ship could be sinking and avatars are panicking.

I'm not one to easily panic or to jump ship - I rather sit out the ride when the roller coaster goes down, and I wait for it to go up again. But let's take a look at some of the recent happenings in Second Life, shall we? I'm too lazy to come up with an exact time line and data, so if I put one thing before another, excuse me. You too are responsible for doing your homework, I'm just pointing at some recent occurrences.

- Land prices are constantly rising and virtual land is a hot asset.

- Linden Lab floods the market with tens of new sims a week, and these sims often are auctioned off between USD2,500 and USD3,000 a piece.

- Land prices drop hard, and people are getting stuck with a pretty much negative ROI.

- LL announces a new continent to be formed soon : which means more land in the world

- LL bans all advertising for gambling related games and businesses through their central search directory and classifieds.

- LL bans all gambling (for the specific rules and words, check the SL blog) effective immediately, invalidating the investment (both financially as well as emotionally) of thousands of virtual entrepreneurs in SL.

- One of the largest virtual stock exchanges for SL suffers a loss of L$3.2 million (about USD12,000) in what could be considered theft. Details remain rather unclear, but this stock exchange which had 75 companies listed has remained closed for the past days. During the closure, the ATM's were offline for several days, trading has been halted, recommenced and halted again effectively freezing the assets of several companies, and the investments of hundreds of investors. As I write this, trading should be open again at 12PM PDT today. Earlier deadlines have been extended several times before, so I don't see anyone meeting this one to be honest.

- Some people are investigating some of the - unregulated - banks in Second Life, claiming there may be a scam going on. On the other hand, it could also be a result of the current economic panic that's happening which people trying to recoup as much as they can. Who knows.

- Servers go down, virtual goods and creations disappear and they can often not be recovered. This happens mostly during weekends when the load is high. Wednesday are "update days" when the grid goes down for several hours and everyone eagerly waits to see what's been borked in the newest release. Teleporting is impossible or rather flaky at best, if you can log in, you don't gain access to your L$ balance (which means no purchases or sales) yet the official blog happily states : all issues resolved!

My conclusion : in this virtual world nothing is safe and nothing is set in stone. Rules change and are changed by the Upper Deity (in this case LL) as they see fit, and businesses are unregulated, virtual and possibly fraudulent. Is an investment in a virtual world a game? Is it real and should it comply with real world rules and regulations? I for sure don't know where it'll all be heading, but I know that it will be an interesting path to travel.

Contributing to the hype

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Help, I've been simpsonized! - click to enlarge
by simpsonize me (click/enlarge)

So nice

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I get home after a long day at work, to find out I can't get my ADSL modem to sync with the ISP modems. I just managed to hijack a wireless connection in the neighborhood, but it took me long enough to find one that wasn't based on the same ISP as I use. I guess that means the problem is not so much with my modem, but rather with their infrastructure. It better work correctly on monday, coz I've got a ton of things to do that require access to the internet.

Tai is sitting outside with me on the terrace, at 00:36 which is the middle of the night for most people I assume, even on a Saturday night.

That's all folks!

Geek'd

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This is gonna be an entry that fellow geeks may find interesting, but I assume the majority of people will find quite boring. However, even for them, there may be a lesson to be learned.

I just installed the new beta release of the Secunia Personal Software Inspector (download here : Secunia PSI beta) and the initial scan scored my system at 89% up-to-date. I had a few insecure programs installed, and some others got an end-of-life warning. Some uninstalling, rebooting and installs later, I managed to get my rate up to 97% - which is much better, but still not perfect. (Update on July 26th : I'm up to 98% now, with just two end-of-life programs left)

Two tools I currently use - not regular though - have gotten an end-of-life warning and one is plain insecure and should get a service pack applied asap. I don't recall why that hasn't been done yet, I guess I tried it before and it failed back then, and I forgot about it. I'll see if I can patch it and remove or replace the two programs that are no longer supported. The less vectors for attack and intrusion, the better.

Please feel free to run and download the tool yourself and post your initial score in a comment. Then install as many updates and patches as possible, and post your new rate. The one who manages to score best will get... absolutely nothing. Well, not from me anyway, but they'll get to work on a more secure system that is less prone to getting abused. Which should be all the incentive you need :)

Let's get married

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Yesterday evening I was invited for the festivities surrounding the marriage of D and M, and let me tell you : the couple knows how to throw a party :) Congrats to them both, and it won't be 500 miles before we see each other again!

Oh my...

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It's a good thing that Joco and I decided to go to the sauna yesterday, we had a wonderfully sunny day with few clouds and no rain at all. Today it's pissing down like crazy. I sure hope this doesn't ruin the day for a few people :)

And... we're back!

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Thanks to the excellent advice and instructions published in the castlecops MRP wiki, I was finally able to remove that damn Vundo adware infection that I somehow had gotten. I'm currently processing over a 120 mails that had come in over the past 4 days, most of them being spam so it'll take me but a click on a couple of buttons to zap those.

While going over all the programs installed on my machine, I noticed that QuickTime wasn't updated yet, and the adobe flash player had a new version available as well. Coupled with an even stricter update policy and IT security for my machines, I hope to stay adware free for at least the near future - it's always a battle and a constant evolution on the side of the attackers as well as those defending and coding removal tools.

Or not that good?

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Around 9AM I started cleaning the machine, hoping to be able to bring it back to life without too many problems. It's 13h49 as I start writing this entry and I've not gotten one step further :(

The problem is this : two DLL files are linked to the WinLogon registry entry, causing them to be be loaded the second I boot into windows. Once they are loaded, I can't remove the files themselves, and if I manually delete the registry entries that refer to those files, they add them again. It's a catch 22 as far as I'm concerned. I may try booting into linux using a live CD, and see if I can kill those DLL's then, since windows ain't running, the files shouldn't be in use or protected.

I've ran Spybot S&D, I've ran AVG AntiSpyware, I cleaned up my system using CCleaner and I've attempted to run Trend Micro Housecall, which unfortunately often caused my browser to crash. I may give it another try soon though. HiJack!This does find the rogue entries, and tries to remove them, but fails as the running process interferes. I've asked for help on the CastleCops forums, hoping the expert volunteers there may be able to help out getting this crap out of my system.

Half a day wasted with this already and not all too pleased with it. I had other plans for the day...

Looking better

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I'll be running a couple of more checks, but this morning a first check gave my main machine a clean bill of health. A secondary check is running as I write this, and once I get home tonight - though it may be postponed till tomorrow - I'll be running at least two more scans before considering the box to be free of bugs.

The warning below still stands till I'm 100% certain the nasties have been eradicated.

Down for at least 36 hours

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Yesterday I noticed some things weren't as usual on one of my computers. The machine was throwing errors when trying to launch IE - which I rarely do anyway - and I suspected something was amiss : and right I was. A couple of scans and checks later, it seems it has become compromised by something referred to as "torpig".

It certainly is a pig as I have not yet managed to remove it. I am glad however that even though one machine has become infected, my defense in depth techniques have safeguarded all the other machines in the network.

I've been working on it for a couple of minutes just now, but I need to head off to bed and get some sleep coz tomorrow it's gonna be another long day. Thursday I'll be picking the system apart to see if I can clean the box while maintaining data integrity, and if that's not the case I'll take the only course of action possible : format and complete reinstall. Something I'm definitely not looking forward to, though on the other hand I can't keep on working on an infected machine either. Anyway, it's shut down and disconnected from the network as well as from the internet while I gather information about my little unwanted guest.

It certainly is a setback as I was hoping to get other things done on Thursday, but this has just become my new priority task. I can't afford to loose my main machine to some crappy trojan/spyware program.

The best thing about this all is that I can be almost certain the infection occurred less than 24 hours ago, which leaves the window of opportunity for an external entity to really snoop around on my machine rather short.

Consider this a very serious notice that if you happen to receive a mail from me that looks weird - well, more weird than is usually the case - or that you didn't ask for, it should be deleted, shredded and evaporated without opening it. At least till I post here that everything is at status green again.

Flimsy

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That's the best word to describe the plot of Hostel 2. Sure, it's a sequel and sequels are usually "more of the same" but this one really didn't add anything to the story. If you plan on seeing Hostel 2 yourself, stop reading here, coz I'm about to give away a bunch of key scenes, which would take the little excitement the movie has to offer out of it.

Bring in Paxton, sole survivor of Hostel. Off him and show that the bad guys are everywhere. Bring in Axelle, cutie that hooks, lines and sinks new victims, only this time they're gals and not guys. They had to create a new bait character since Paxton ran over them all in the first movie.

Bring in two american males who think they will change and become all feared if they bid and kill a girl in a controlled environment. The "I'm the man" guy cracks before he can complete the job in a proper way, who'd have thought? The "I'm not so sure about this all" guy takes a shot at it and kills one semi dead girl and then bites the bullet when one of them successfully negotiates herself out of her predicament. He just didn't have the balls - watch the movie, you'll understand.

Survivor turns the game upside down and finishes off Axelle, end of movie.

I'm sorry but the original Hostel had suspense and a new and dark environment. The gore, blood and insanity was sort of unprecedented in a mainstream movie. Hostel 2 lacks all of that and replaces it with nothing much. Seeing a girl get slashed over a tub where someone bathes in the blood while cutting her up, I can't say I had seen it before, but it wasn't all that special either.

Which reminds me : didn't "the factory" burn down in the original? If so, how come the movie features the exact same location in the sequel. Don't tell me "they rebuilt it" because sheesh... how lame can it get?

Now, in order to make things at least a bit interesting, here's my question for all of you :

If you had the chance to kill someone knowing very well that you wouldn't get caught or have to face the consequences, would you? Purely for fun, because you can, because you have that power?

Here's my answer (skipping all political correctness) : I won't say I wouldn't do it.

Does that scare you, does that surprise you? I guess some people think of me as a freak now, but admit it : wouldn't you want to know what it's like? In real life I'm quite the calm and non violent person, but I have to admit that I wouldn't know what the result would be if the opportunity was there. How about you?

Different and definitely more up tempo, but still very recognizable as Bjork - I like it...

The Sandman ate my entry title

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Clerks 2 was quite a funny movie, but not really challenging on a mental level. Nothing wrong with that every now and then I guess, there is a time and place for mindless starting at a screen, isn't there? On a side note, I thought Rosario Dawson (playing Becky) was totally hot in this movie.

I just had 8 pistolets for breakfast - hey, don't look all funny at me, I wanted to go catch a movie last night and have a meal, but I got caught up in customer support in SL and didn't get to leave in time for the movie - and read the Sunday newspaper outside on the terrace while Tai was keeping himself busy chasing flies and other moving and inert objects, and now I'm ready to take a short nap till about twelve thirty. I hope to go see Hostel 2 tonight, though that'll depend on what pops up during the day that needs my attention.

And now I'm off to a real life dream world, instead of living a second and third life in a virtual computer and user generated world called Second Life. When I wake up I'll take a look at the insane prices people are willing to pay for a full mainland sim - I bid for two sims (Wolf Walk and Earpoint) and I went as high as USD1251 per sim which was my maximum, yet I was easily outbid. Last time I checked the Wolf Walk sim had a high bid of USD2393 and so had Earpoint. Sorry, but that's not worth it for me, I may get myself a privately owned estate/island for USD1675 instead, on which I have full control, and that I can rent out, sell or develop as I see fit.

I love Open Source :)

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As I was searching my hard disk to find a program to mount a CD image file (.cue + .bin combo) - something I know I have, somewhere - so I could preview the contents of the file before burning it to a disk, I noticed that according to the icon my VLC player should be able to open and play it. Refusing to believe it, I double clicked the file and without much ado VLC opened and started playing the video in the image file. How's that for ease of use?

Now I'm gonna watch Clerks 2, a movie that has Rachel and Shannon appearing in it briefly.

VideoLAN is the software project behind the free cross-platform multimedia player released under the GNU license. Download here : VideoLAN - VLC free cross-platform multimedia player

Fall - Cat - Skin

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It's July 6th, the summer should be in full swing but for the past two weeks it appears to be Fall over here. It's rainy, it's windy and I love it. Apart from the rain, I admit. Right now I'm sitting outside on my terrace, looking out over the street and checking my mail and some sites while Tai is strolling around trying not to get in trouble. Well, I don't know whether that is his intention, but I sure do hope so. He's hiding under a turned over plastic dog bed, probably because he doesn't like all the wind that much. My tiger really ain't a tiger, but rather a big pussy.

When I came home this morning, I stepped out and enjoyed the morning chill. I bet if people would have seen me they'd think I was crazy, but I don't mind. I guess I'm getting used to it.

The weekend should be getting more sunny and warm - who knows, I may even go outside and let the sun warm my white skin :)

And some good news

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I just checked the stock market and am glad I caught a trend yesterday and adjusted my orders accordingly. I had gotten 31% net growth on one of the stocks I purchased about 2 years ago, and decided to cash in, which I did successfully today.

I still recall some people advising against buying this particular stock, and for a while it did indeed drop like a stone but I rode out the bottom wave and got out at the current high. It wouldn't surprise me that it pushes through to another high - possibly even €27 or €27.5 - but that's all water under the bridge.

Cash in and get out when you're ahead is my way of working, if you want it all and go for the last drop, you often end up empty handed.

Oh what a night

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Yesterday's night shift went sour beyond all belief. It all started when I left for work and noticed signs above the highway that announced speed limits in place, and they normally only show when an accident has happened or there is a serious traffic jam up ahead. As I was running late a bit already, I decided to not take any chances and left the highway and continued my way through the city center. It usually only takes me a couple of minutes longer, but it would still save me time when compared to being stuck in a traffic jam.

As I left the highway and peeked over the side of the road onto the ramp below it, it was clear that there was no congestion to be seen! Anyway, as I had exited already, city center route it was... There was an intervention going on by the fire brigade however and all traffic was directed away from where I needed to be. After some turns and twists I managed to get back on my route at a point that was not blocked by police and I continued my way. I arrived at work late but still in time.

Then - and I already had a feeling that was about to happen - I had forgotten my password to log on to the system again. This is the second time in 4 days, so I called in for assistance to have them reset my password. This required some extra verifications and actions to be taken by someone else, but those got delayed due to something that required our immediate attention. A situation that would be easier to handle if I could actually log on to the secondary system, but you know trouble always travels in pairs, don't you?

Finally I gained access to the system, and was able to process the paperwork for the event that had occurred, but the whole thing had put me behind so much that I played catch up all night. A problem that I thought was finished and dealt with about two weeks ago also popped up it's ugly head again and bit me in the ass. More delays, but I think it's all settled and solved now. I guess I'll find out tonight...

Tax Time

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I admit that I almost forgot to complete and send in my tax form this year, but today I finally got around to it. I'm not too pleased with the results and I'm rather irritated because of all the "promises" made on the folder that came with the dreaded brown envelope.

Let's take a look, shall we?

Last year, I paid an extra 90 euro in taxes, in addition to everything that had already been kept from my paychecks and such. This year I'm looking at an extra bill for 468 euro - how anyone can claim that "everyone pays less taxes" is beyond me.

Here are some of the categories of people that can benefit from the reduced taxes, or increased options to deduct :

- purchase an environment friendly car. I have one, but I can't benefit from it, because it's not "new".
- increased deduction of costs for daycare for kids. D'oh, I don't have kids.
- Increased deduction if you prove work-home travel expenses. Probably my mistake, I think I may benefit from this, if I would have done so. Will need to inquire and prepare for next year.
- Increased limits for scholars working a job during the holidays. Hm... not for me either.
- Increased deduction for pension savings. I should verify and possibly increase my payments.
- A simpler way to deduct mortgage payments for your home - for mortgages after January 1st 2005. Again, not for me.
- Internet for everyone - I've been on the web since the mid nineties people, this comes a bit late, don't you think?

I think it's time to have a professional take a look at my income and expenses, to optimize things. For once I actually tried to read the "manual" that came with the forms - it's supposed to help you out - and I just got more confused. This is insane and even tax administration employees admit that it's become impossible for Joe Average to correctly file their taxes without help. For those of you unfamiliar with how the tax forms look, think Lotto, with one slight drawback : the chance that you actually win on this form is 1 to a gazillion :(

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This page is an archive of entries from July 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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