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Monday, May 07, 2007


Picasa vs Flickr
I had a great experience with another Google product this weekend (Google Checkout) so I thought I'd give Picasa another try. It is the one Google product that I regularly use the competition of (Flickr). One of the things I thought I'd like about it was blogging images without having to use the web editor-since emailing through Flickr limits me to one image as an attachment. As it turns out, this limitation exists on Picasa's 'Blog This! as well, so I could just as well be using an email submission. The Picasa application itself is a very nice way to view your photos, and it's nice and quick. I'm not particularly impressed with the Picasa web service though. The only thing it does better at this stage (from what I've seen) is the ability to share 'private' photos with selected individuals, without requiring them to sign up for the service themselves. Otherwise, Flickr is an infinitely better solution for now. Hopefully Google will step up Picasa soon, and bring it up to Flickr's level.
Second Life asset rights and security
The image I've uploaded is the product label for one of the Second Life items I created, a Bamboo and Steel garden set. Yes it's simple, that's kind of the intention. The items themselves consist of only two primitives each (excluding the pose balls) so they may not be particularly fancy, but they are resource friendly. Everything in second life is created out of parametrised primitives. And while there is no limit on the number of primitives an object can use, land owners (or renters, as in my case) are limited to a certain number of 'prims' on their land, so keeping the prim count low on items can be very important.

The 'Copy', 'Mod' and 'Trans' check boxes in the image represent the rights that buyers have over the item. Since the ability to sell items for currency in Second Life is paramount, controlling resale is built into the asset system. The rights are individually assignable to sub-objects and higher objects inherit the lowest common denominator of rights, keeping things as secure as possible. The 'copy' permission on an object gives the next owner the right to make infinite copies (there is no way to limit the number of copies), trans allows the object to be transferred to another resident, and mod allows modification of the object. Obviously copy+trans is a bad idea as the owner could decide to resell or freely redistribute whatever you have created. Mod permissions are often included at the top level for the next owner to be able to make small changes to fit items into a space or other such requirement. Scripts are very often non-mod, since they are text and should they be set as mod, the next owner could easily copy the text out of the editor window, and paste it into a 'new' script that they have full rights on. There is an interesting quirk in the hierarchical rights system in that inherited rights are only applied when an object is 'rezzed' (basically instantiated in-world). This allows a 'gifting' trick, whereby you can pack non-transferable objects into the content tab of another object (say a box), take the object back into your inventory, and then set the rights on the box to allow transferal. This allows the 'gift box' that is then bought by a customer to be given to another resident, and only when the box is actually rezzed do the no-transfer rights get assigned.

Charge it!
The great Google experience I referred to earlier was with their online payment system, Google Checkout. I have wanted to get hold of a pair of Turtle Beach Ear Force X1 headphones for ages, and with the amount of overtime we pulled last month (and my birthday coming up) I thought it was about time I spoiled myself with them. I went to (which really needs to start getting support from South African online retailers) and did a price search for them. I picked the cheapest listed place (which also had a very high rating) and ended up at I went through the order, sign up and checkout, and got to the point of entering payment details-and there was no Visa option-despite the Visa logo at the bottom of the page!? I sent a support email querying this issue, and was informed the next day that to use an SA Visa card I would have to fax through scans of the front and back of my card, and my ID. So not only was I being treated like a criminal for being from the wrong continent,I had to risk some unnamed web retailer employee having my credit card and ID details!?
Of course I wasn't prepared to do that and was about to beg a friend in the US to pick up a pair at Best Buy and mail them to me. I thought I'd have one last try on Froogle. Then the 'show only Google Checkout' option caught my eye and I gave it a try. What a pleasure, I use my CC details for a checkout account, I don't have to sign up at a retailer site, the retailer never even gets a hint of my card details or even my email (you can optionally hide this and allow them to send all invoice and other data to a temporary Google generated email). It has proper localized support (even warning me the retailer doesn't ship to SA) and allows billing and delivery addresses in different countries as well, and to top it all off I got a 10$ discount on my first checkout purchase, covering the cost of the US shipping and effectively getting the product at $20 less than the official Turtle Beach site price-and that's before adding Turtle Beach's shipping cost.
This is one Google product that has the potential to take over the SA import market, where for ages we have had to make do with unfair security drills, ridiculously overbearing financial laws and being treated like criminals by foreign retailers. All Google have to do now is take over our Post Office..

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