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Monday, May 27, 2013

The Great FPS Mystery

A few posts back, I mentioned that something had happened to increase my frame rate, the "smoothness" with which Second Life performs.  My frames per second (fps) had gone way up, from an average of maybe 15-20 to 50, 60, or even more.  The improvement was so significant that it even enabled me to use Shadows for the first time ever (barring the occasional photograph).  Just what it is that caused this, I have no idea.

Now a new factor has reared its head.  In my home region of Masocado, at ground level, I'm seeing some terrible lag...but ONLY when I face a particular direction.  Face one way, fps = 50.  Face the other way, fps = 2.  The problem does not occur if I'm under the water, or high up in the sky.

From that, I suspect that there is some texture out there, or some object, that is really hammering my graphics card.  But where is the darn thing?  I've moved to various parts of the sim, and tried to "triangulate".  The problem seems to be coming from somewhere on the docks, or the condo tower building, or the new beach house by the towers. 

(Although my partner Cindi reports a different result.  She gets a change in fps with the direction she's facing too, but for her it's a different direction!)

I started de-rendering things in the hope of finding the culprit.  When I temporarily erased the boats at the docks from my sight, my fps took a jump up, and I rejoiced briefly.  But then, back it plummeted again.

So far, I have no idea how to find or fix the problem, but it's making life at Masocado less than pleasant.  If anyone reading this has some ideas, please post a comment here or IM me in world.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

FLASH! Cubey Terra Pulls Out

If you've been in SL a while, and are at all into things that fly, you know the name Cubey Terra.  He created many of the first aircraft in SL.

However, Cubey is having a final "Going Out of Business" sale at Abbott's Aerodrome.  All his creations are available, for a limited time, for just $L10 each.

Sure, there are scale aircraft made of Mesh now.  But Cubey's craft fly well, and cross region boundaries reliably.  Here's your chance to pick up a hangar full for pocket change.  Skydiving equipment, jet scooters, balloons, and a blimp are also available, as well as a teleport and an elevator system, and a modular skybox construction set.

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Abbotts/60/162/68

Thursday, May 23, 2013

FLASH! New Viewer Crashes New Users

ATTENTION NEW SECOND LIFE USERS!

If you downloaded the "official" Linden Lab viewer as part of your signup process, and you are crashing, please either uninstall that viewer and re-download the LL viewer, or download and install one of the Third Party viewers such as Firestorm

The problem viewer is version 3.5.2, and you can see what version you are using by going to the Help/About Second Life menu item at the login screen.

The crashes are occurring on Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8, and ONLY affect new Second Life users.

LL removed 3.5.2 from their download page, and put back version 3.5.1.  It should be stable.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Messing with the Economy, Messing with the World

Over the last couple of weeks, Linden Lab has been whipsawing us.  The most visible way has been their recent change to the Terms of Service.  First, they said that third party Linden Dollar exchanges were "not authorized", and you used them at your own risk.

Then they said they were "not allowed", and backed that up by requiring all third party exchanges to remove any ATM machines in world and banning a number of avatars used to conduct the business of the third party exchanges.  They didn't even give the exchanges the 30 days to comply with changes that's in their own TOS, and most of the exchanges had to stop doing business in $L practically overnight.

Now, they've announced that SOME third party exchanges will be allowed to do business as "authorized $L resellers".  These resellers will be able to buy $L from the Lindex, and sell them to others.  However, they will not be allowed to buy $L from anyone else...that is, you won't be able to sell your $L on one of these authorized exchanges to "cash out".  You'll have to do that through the Lindex and Linden Lab.

For a great deal more on all of the above shenanigans, see the link provided in my last FLASH post to Gwyneth Llewellyn's blog.  Plus, you'll find lots of discussion about it on the official SL forums, on the independent forum sites like SL Universe, and on many other virtual world blogs all over the web.

I won't carry on a long and detailed rant about that here; others are doing a far better job than I can.  I will merely say two things.  First:  It is always a bad idea to tinker with an economy.  Any economy, even a simplified one in a virtual world, is a complex and delicately balanced system.  Making even small changes to it can have huge and unintended consequences.  And second:  Linden Lab is not known for their insight and delicacy.  Even Congress is better, when it comes to economic tinkering.

But the economy of Second Life is not all that LL has been messing about with lately.  As many of you know, new server and viewer code has been put in place to implement a major change in how our avatars are rendered.  These changes are known as "server side baking", or SSB for short.  Right now, your own PC and graphics card do most of the work in determining what your avatar looks like.  However, as the avatar has become more complex, this has resulted in an increasing number of "bake fail" issues.  We are always having to "rebake" ourselves, or fiddle with our internet connections, to keep from showing up as clouds of fog. 

Server side baking is, we all hope and pray, the answer to most of these problems.  However, even if everything goes right, you are going to have to have a new viewer that will work with the SSB code, or you are not going to be able to see avatars correctly.  And of course, LL does not have a history of getting everything right the first time.

SSB has not yet been turned on, though.  But even so, I think that SOMEthing that happened with the latest server code rollouts this past Tuesday has affected graphics...at least, there has suddenly been a big change in how I see the world since then.  The change is both good (mostly) and bad (a little).

The good part is that my frame rates have suddenly gone WAY up.  Where I was seeing 30-35 fps, I am now seeing 120-140 fps.  For me, that's unheard-of performance in Second Life.  For the first time, I have enough of a performance margin that I can enable Shadows, and even then, I'm getting 22-35 fps.  That's amazing!

On the bad side, I'm still seeing the "interest list" bug.  This is where you do not see objects, or parts of objects, until you right click where they are supposed to be.  A more comprehensive workaround is to enable the Develop menu, then toggle wireframe mode on and off (CTRL+SHIFT+R) to make the missing prims reappear.  This bug has been around a long time, but only happened rarely.  Recently, it's begun affecting almost everyone, at least part of the time.

And my clothing layers have gotten much slower to rez, too.  Sometimes, they won't rez at all, and I will have to re-log after changing clothes in order to see the changes.

I would say it's a sinister conspiracy to sell me more Mesh clothing, except that now it's going to be harder for the sellers of Mesh clothing to cash out all the $L I'll be paying them...

Friday, May 17, 2013

FLASH! $L Exchange Update

I'm not going to repeat what you can read elsewhere.  Please see Gwyneth Llewellyn's excellent post,
http://gwynethllewelyn.net/2013/05/17/financial-crisis-in-second-life-ended-linden-lab-launches-linden-dollar-authorized-reseller-program/

While you are there, follow the link to her much longer analysis piece, "How to Create Your Own Financial Crisis".

And, just to top things off, see her NON-financial piece on "There are No Humans in Second Life".

Great reading, great insights.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Keeping Your Feet on the Ground

It's pretty amazing when you think about it...everybody is always just the right height.  Yep, we all start at the top, and we stretch alllll the way down to the ground!  Sadly, this is not always the case in virtual worlds like Second Life.

Avatars floating several inches above the terrain, and others with their feet mired in concrete floors like Jimmy Hoffa are all too common.  Especially these days, and I'll try to explain why.

The main reason for these height-above-ground problems is those lovely sculpty and mesh shoes, complete with sculpty and mesh feet and alpha masks that hide the ugly "regular avatar" feet.

It's those alpha masks.  The maker of shoes generally works from her own avatar shape, and it's probably not the same as yours or mine.  She chooses the point at which the alpha mask leaves off, and your legs begin.  The shoes must be edited so that the top of the shoe correctly meets the (apparently) sawed off end of your leg.  Depending on how different your shape is from the creator's, this can leave your shoes seemingly several inches above the floor, or sunk several inches into the ground.

Until recently, to compensate for this problem there was a Z-axis avatar height adjustment in the Debug Settings.  Some viewers, like Firestorm, even put a handy adjustment control in Preferences, or on a special button. 

But, sad to say, one of the recent updates from Linden Lab removed this functionality.  However, they have provided a clumsy sort of work-around:  Go to Appearance/Edit Shape.  Look at the Body tab, and you will find a new slider control at the bottom, called "Hover".  This defaults to 50%, but can be adjusted to correct your height above ground.

There are three disadvantages to doing things this way.
  1. You can't use the function with a No Modify shape
  2. The increments are too large.  While 50% might have your feet in the ground, 51% has you floating above it.
  3. You have to save your changes, creating a new version of your shape.
This last one can be dealt with, with some planning.  Create three versions of your shape, calling them (for example) "Lindalshape49", "Lindalshape50", and "Lindalshape51".  If you need to, you can create more, but I think you get the idea...a series of shapes, each with a slightly different Hover setting.  Then use the appropriate shape when you create a new Outfit, or when you change your shoes.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Third Party $L Exchanges Banned?

Today, Linden Lab made a change to its Terms of Service.

You can find the ToS here:  https://secondlife.com/corporate/tos.php?lang=en-US
The change is to Section 5, which deals with Linden Dollars ($L).  Specifically, Section 5.3 now reads,

5.3 There are other exchanges that are operated by third parties on which Linden dollars are exchanged.

Third party exchanges are not authorized by Linden Lab and Buying or Selling Linden dollars on third party exchanges are not authorized transactions. Third party exchanges are wholly distinct from both the LindeX exchange and Linden Lab and they have no affiliation with Linden Lab. We do not endorse or otherwise guarantee the legitimacy of the Linden dollar transfers offered on them, and we are not liable for purchases of such Linden dollars. Buying or Selling Linden dollars anywhere other than the LindeX is done so solely at your own risk. If you Buy Linden dollars that are traced to unauthorized credit card activity or other fraudulent activity, we will recoup these Linden dollars from your Account. The only authorized exchange is the LindeX.

Now, this wording is clearly distancing Linden Lab from the various third party $L exchange services.  They say that this is to better protect Second Life residents from fraud, and indeed there have been cases of fraud using the $L.  Up until now, LL provided their "Linden Lab Exchange Risk API", a software tool designed to reduce the chances of fraudulent activity, to legitimate third party exchanges.  However, the Second Life website has been updated to remove the references to the Exchange Risk API.

But, at least in the new ToS, LL does not prohibit using third party exchanges.  They merely say, "...done so solely at your own risk."  However, in a blog post on the Second Life website, http://community.secondlife.com/t5/Featured-News/Updated-Second-Life-Terms-of-Service/ba-p/1996185 , they say,

"... trading of Linden dollars (L$) on exchanges other than the LindeX, Second Life’s official L$ exchange, is not authorized or allowed." (italics mine).

In my view, this is not only to prevent fraud.  There are two additional reasons for LL to hog all of the $L exchange activity.
  1. Fees.  LL collects fees when you buy or sell $L.  There is a problem with this thinking, though.  Most people who use the third party exchanges do so because they cannot use the Lindex, due to the fact that LL only accepts certain forms of payment (major credit cards, for example -- but not gift cards or debit cards.)  Also, many SL creators/merchants outside the US cannot use PayPal, and use the third party exchanges to cash out their in world earnings.  By cutting these people off from a way to buy and sell $L, LL is going to lose a significant part of its user base.
  2. The US Treasury.  The government has begun to take a closer look at online currencies used in games, with a particular eye to them being used as tools for money laundering.  Despite the fact that LL uses legal mumbo-jumbo to say that the $L is not a currency, in the eyes of government regulators, if it quacks like a duck, it's a duck.  And Uncle Sam doesn't take kindly to private citizens issuing money.  So LL is likely taking steps to make the $L seem less like a freely traded currency by limiting it to the LL-controlled Lindex.  They are, by doing this, also separating themselves from any audits or actions that might be taken against these third party exchanges.
Most people haven't yet become aware of these deeper issues...the only thing that worries them is that they have to click that they have read and accepted the revised ToS on the login screen.  But I think this development could have far-reaching consequences for Second Life, its economy, and us users.

EDIT, May 8 2013:
Linden Lab sent an email to operators of third party exchanges, telling them to remove in world ATMs.  While there is still plenty of doubt about whether LL means that third party exchanges are simply "not accredited" or in any way associated with LL, or that they are not permitted, the Lab's actions in the matter so far speak louder than their contradictory words.

For more details on this, including what a number of third party exchanges have done in response to the new policy, see:  http://www.hypergridbusiness.com/2013/05/lindens-no-outside-currency-trading/