Category Archives: News

Concierge support closed for Thanksgiving

secondlifeThe Lab has issues a reminder via the Grid Status Reports page that there will be no concierge telephone and chat support available from midnight SLT on Wednesday, November 26th through until 08:00 SLT on Friday, November 28th.

This is to allow support staff in the USA to enjoy Thanksgiving with their family and friends.

The status update reads in full:

Concierge phone and chat support will be offline this coming Thursday, 27 November, so that team members can spend the Thanksgiving holiday with their friends and family. Both services will close at midnight Wednesday evening and will re-open at 8am Pacific on Friday morning.

To the support staff and all at Linden Lab, I’d like to pass on my best wishes for a happy Thanksgiving, and the same also goes out to all those I’ve come to know in SL who are  celebrating Thanksgiving as well.

Magic Leap: bringing augmented reality to film in 2015

The Age of Starlight Promotion picture

Magic Leap technology is to be “premiered” at a UK festival in 2015, in a special film / show entitled The Age of Starlight (image: Manchester International Festival)

Professor Brian Cox may not be a familiar name to everyone, but in the UK and for those with an eye for science on television, he has become something of England’s answer to Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Professor Brian Cox

Professor Brian Cox

Cox, who played keyboards in the pop group D:Ream whilst studying physics at the University of Manchester in the 1990s, started his television career in 2005, appearing on the BBC’s science and philosophy series, Horizon.

Since then, he has fronted a range of science programmes and series, as well as appearing on chats shows on both sides of the Atlantic. He’s even  had a guest starring role in the adventures of the very master of time and space itself, Doctor Who.

Now, the BBC reports, he will be presenting in a cutting edge show / film (which he is also scripting) entitled The Age of Starlight, telling the story of the universe, intended to be one of the focal events of the 2015 Manchester International Festival. The production will also feature visual effects by Framestore, the team that won an Oscar for their work on the 2013 George Clooney / Sandra Bullock sci-fi vehicle Gravity, and will be directed by Kevin MacDonald whose films include the Oscar-winning Last King of Scotland and One Day in September and the BAFTA-winning Touching the Void.

But what makes The Age of Starlight particularly interesting is that it will utilise augment reality technology being developed by Magic Leap, the company that hit the headlines in October 2014, when it received $542 million in funding from a broad range of investors.

For those of you who missed it, Magic Leap is the company behind a headset that uses augmented reality to combine realistic computer graphics with everything the wearer sees in real time, in what the company calls “cinematic reality”. The results can be startling, going on the available promotional material: tiny elephants in the palms of your hands, dragons flying among flocks of birds,  yellow submarines sailing through streets, humpback whales floating over crowded beaches, and more.

One of the Magic Leap promotional images: a yellow submarine apparently floats down a street the Magic Leap wearer is walking along

Magic Leap merges realistic computer graphics with everything the user sees in the real world, in what the company calls “cinematic reality”.

However, beyond the stunning promotional images and video, the company has publicly revealed very little about what it is up to. But what they have shown behind closed doors has been enough to get John Markoff from the New York times very excited, and has been sufficient to get Google to lead that US$542 million (£346 million) round of investment in October, which itself came on top of an initial $50 million of funding earlier in 2014.

Given all the apparent mystery surrounding Magic Leap, Sean Hollister over at Gizmodo, decided to spend a little time digging around trying to find out more on what Magic Leap is all about.

In his article, Hollister starts out by framing something of the company’s history, revealing that Magic Leap has been chipping away at things for quite a while. In a fascinating track through the company’s history, he references their 2011 collaboration with Weta Workshop on something called The Hour Blue, as reported by Dice (see the video, below). This still appears to be around today, although exactly what it is, isn’t clear. This collaboration may have been the reason why Weta’s co-founder, Richard Taylor, opted to make a personal investment in Magic Leap during the $50 million round of funding and now sits on the board of directors.

Making augmented reality of the kind Magic Leap is trying to achieve is a significant challenge, as Hollister explains:

If you’re looking at the real world, your eyes are focusing at a variety of different distances, not necessarily on a tiny piece of glass right in front of your face. The real world also reflects a lot of light into your eyes, which is why the images from heads-up displays like Google Glass appear transparent and ghostly. Because you need to see the real world, you obviously can’t have a projector covering the front of the glasses: that light has to be bounced in from the side, which generally results in a narrow field of view.

And of course, you need some way to track your head and your surroundings so that CG objects appear to occupy a real place in the world, instead of looking like a flat image— which, sadly, is how many existing augmented reality specs do it.

Given this, Hollister reasoned, the best way to understand what the company might actually be developing is to take a look at the patents they have filed and which address such challenges. In taking this line, he’s actually following the lead set by Tom Simonite, a bureau chief at MIT Technology Review.

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Monty Linden discusses CDN and HTTP

Monty Linden talking CDN and HTTP

Monty Linden talking CDN and HTTP

In show #46 of The Drax Files Radio Hour, which I’ve reviewed here, Draxtor pays a visit to the Lab’s head office in Battery Street, San Francisco. While there, he interviews a number of Linden staffers – including Monty Linden.

Monty is the man behind the Herculean efforts in expanding and improving the Lab’s use of HTTP in support of delivering SL to users, and which most recently resulted in the arrival of the HTTP Pipeline viewer (the code for which is currently being updated).

He’s also been bringing us much of the news about the content delivery network (CDN) project, through his blog posts; as such, he’s perhaps the perfect person to provide further insight into the ins and outs of the Lab’s use of both the CDN and HTTP in non-technical terms.

While most of us have a broad understanding of the CDN (which is now in use across the entire grid), Monty provides some great insights and explanations that I thought it worthwhile pulling his conversation with Drax out of the podcast and devoting a blog post on it.


Monty Linden talks CDN and HTTP with Draxtor Despres on the Drax Files Radio Hour

Monty starts out by providing a nice, non-technical summary of the CDN (which, as I’ve previously noted, is a third–party service operated by Highwinds). In paraphrase, this is to get essential data about the content in any region as close as possible to SL users by replicating it as many different locations around the world as is possible; then by assorted network trickery, ensure that data can be delivered to users’ viewers from the location that is closest to them, rather than having to come all the way from the Lab’s servers. All of which should result in much better SL performance.

“Performance” in this case isn’t just a case of how fast data can be downloaded to the viewer when it is needed. As Monty explains, in the past, simulation data, asset management data, and a lot of other essential information ran through the simulator host servers. All of that adds up to a lot of information the simulator host had to deliver to  every user connected to a region.

The CDN means that a lot of that data is now pivoted away from the simulator host, as it is now supplied by the CDN’s servers. The frees-up capacity on the simulator host for handling other tasks (an example being that of region crossings), leading to additional performance improvements across the grid.

LL's CDN provider (Highwinds) has a dedicated network and 25 data centres around the world which should help to generate improvements in the speed and reliablity of asset downloads to your viewer, starting with mesh and textures

LL’s CDN provider (Highwinds) has 25 data centres around the world and a dedicated network from and through which essential region data on textures and meshes (at present) can be delivered to SL users

An important point to grasp with the CDN is that it is used for what the Lab refers to as “hot” data. That is, the data required to render the world around you and other users. “Cold” data, such as the contents of your inventory, isn’t handled by the CDN. There’s no need, given it is inside your inventory and not visible to you or anyone else (although objects you rez and leave visible on your parcel or region for anyone to see will have “hot” data (e.g. texture data) associated with it, which will gradually be replicated to the CDN as people see it).

The way the system works is that when you log-in or teleport to a region, the viewer makes an initial request for information on the region from the simulator itself. This is referred to as the scene description information, which allows the viewer to know what’s in the region and start basic rendering.

This information also allows the viewer to request the actual detailed data on the textures and meshes in the region, and it is this data which is now obtained directly from the CDN. If the information isn’t already stored by the CDN server, it makes a request for the information from the Lab’s asset servers, and it becomes “hot” data stored by the CDN. Thus, what is actually stored on the CDN servers is defined entirely by users as they travel around the grid.

The CDN is used to deliver "hot" texture and mesh data - the data relating in in-world objects - to the viewer on request

The CDN is used to deliver “hot” texture and mesh data – the data relating in in-world objects – to the viewer on request

The HTTP work itself is entirely separate to the CDN work (the latter was introduced by the Lab’s systems engineering group while Monty, as noted in my HTTP updates, has been working on HTTP for almost two-and-a-half years now). However, they are complimentary; the HTTP work was initially aimed at making both communications between the viewer and the simulator hosts a lot more reliable, and in trying to pivot some of the data delivery between simulator and viewer away from the more rate-limited UDP protocol.

As Monty admits in the second half of the interview, there have been some teething problems, particularly in when using the CDN alongside his own HTTP updates in the viewer. This is being worked on, and some recent updates to the viewer code have just made it into a release candidate viewer. In discussing these, Monty is confident they will yield positive benefits, noting that in tests with users in the UK,, the results were so good, “were I to take those users and put them in out data centre in Phoenix and let them plug into the rack where their simulator host was running, the number would not be better.”

So fingers crossed on this as the code sees wider use!

In terms of future improvements / updates, as Monty notes, the CDN is a major milestone, something many in the Lab have wanted to implement for a long while,  so the aim for the moment is making sure that everyone is getting the fullest possible benefit from it. In the future, as Oz linden has indicated in various User Group meetings, it is likely that further asset-related data will be moved across to the CDN where it makes sense for the Lab to do this.

This is a great conversation, and if use of the CDN has been confusing you at all, I thoroughly recommend it; Monty does a superb job of explaining things in clear, non-technical terms.

Viewer-managed Marketplace: beta testing and a look at the project viewer

In October 2014, I reported on the viewer-managed Marketplace (VMM) project, which the lab has been developing for several months.

The aim of the project is to enable merchants to manage the creation and management of Marketplace product listing through the viewer, bypassing the need to use the Merchant Outbox (and have copies of items stored on the Marketplace inventory servers) or using Magic Boxes.

VMM does this by adding a new Marketplace Listing panel to to viewer, of which more below.

On Friday, November 21st, the Lab announced that wider beta testing of VMM is now ready to start on Aditi (the Beta grid). and is inviting merchants to download a new VMM project viewer they can use to test creating and managing product listing through the viewer.

Alongside of the announcement, the Lab also made available:

If you are a merchant and wish to test the VMM functionality, you’ll need to download and install the project viewer, and use one of the following three test regions on Aditi: ACME D; ACME E and ACME F. Using the viewer anywhere else can generate error messages when first logging-in (designed to indicate VMM is not available, and which will not interfere with using the viewer for other activities).

If you’ve never logged-into Aditi, please refer to the instructions on how to do so on the beta grid wiki page.

You may also wish to be logged-in to the Aditi Marketplace place.

When testing VMM, remember that it is not intended to enable all Marketplace-related activities through the viewer. Rather, it is intended to allow merchants to create new Marketplace listings with inventory, associate inventory with an existing Marketplace listing, remove items from a listing and unlist goods entirely. All other Marketplace activities will still have to be carried out within the Marketplace itself.

Also note that at present there is a bug within the Aditi Marketplace that will cause purchases to fail. The Lab is working to address this, and it shouldn’t interfere with testing VMM to create and modify product listings.

The following notes are intended to get you started with the project viewer and beta testing, please refer to the Lab’s VMM FAQ for other pertinent information.

The Marketplace Listings Panel

An active Marketplace Listings panel showing the four tabs used to manage inventory

An active Marketplace Listings panel showing the four tabs used to manage inventory

The heart of the viewer-managed Marketplace is the new new Marketplace Listing panel within the viewer. This will eventually replace the Merchant Outbox,  although both are provided in the project viewer.

The Marketplace Listing panel allows a merchant to carry out a number of Marketplace tasks from within the viewer, such as:  create a new product listing, modify a listing, change the items associated with a listing, etc.

It does this by enabling merchants to directly associate products in their inventory with product item listings on the Marketplace, eliminating the need to either upload copies of products to the Marketplace inventory servers via the Merchant Outbox or, in the case of limited stock No Copy items, having them stored in-world in a Magic Box. When a customer purchases an item listed via VMM, it is delivered to them directly from the Lab’s asset servers.

This does mean that care must be taken when handing product items in inventory in order to avoid occidentally deleting items associated with Marketplace listings. To help with this, the folder associated with the Marketplace Listing panel remain hidden from view (as far as is possible) when working directly in the inventory .

Google Form

The first time you open the Marketplace Listing panel, it may display the following message:

This feature is currently in beta. Please add you name to this Google form if you would like to participate

Should this happen, click on the link to go to the Google form and enter your merchant name (or names). When you relog with the project viewer (and assuming you are in one of the VMM test regions) the Marketplace listing panel will be good to go – see my overview later in this article).

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