HTTP pipelining viewer reaches release status as CDN support is grid-wide

On Wednesday, October 29th, the Lab promoted the HTTP pipelining viewer to the de facto release viewer, a move that came just after the grid-wide deployment of CDN support on Tuesday, October 28th. While the two are complementary rather than reliant upon one another, both should help improve the majority of users’ Second Life experience to some degree.

Monty Linden: the HTTP pipelining viewer marks the culmination of over 2 years of work inproving SL's HTTP capabilities

Monty Linden: the HTTP pipelining viewer marks the culmination of over 2 years of work improving SL’s HTTP capabilities

The HTTP pipelining viewer is the latest phase of over two years of work on Second Life by Monty Linden, and which has involved both the viewer and the servers and back-end services which support SL.

The work, originally a part of Project Shining, which was itself heralded as complete in June 2014, initially focused on texture handling between the servers and the viewer. Since then, Monty has gone on to tackle a number aspects of improving the use of HTTP in Second Life, such as making connections more robust and reliable, improving throughout to the viewer via HTTP, and so on.

The HTTP pipelining viewer, as the name suggests, leverages HTTP pipelining, a technique in which multiple HTTP requests are sent on a single TCP connection without waiting for the corresponding responses, which significantly improves the download of data (currently avatar baking information, texture data, and mesh data) to the viewer. The upshot of this is that the impact of a user’s physical location on scene loading is reduced, improving their overall experience.

As well as this, the HTTP viewer includes significant improvements to inventory folder and item fetches, which can markedly decrease the time taken for inventory to load, particularly if a user’s local inventory files have been flushed as a part of a cache clearing (or similar) exercise.

These inventory updates alone are liable to be appreciated by users as the viewer-side HTTP code gains wider adoption by TPVs. Tests have shown that a decently structured inventory (e.g. one that uses a folder hierarchy, rather than everything dumped into just a handful of top-level folders) of 100K can have a “clean” load time of 16-18 minutes reduced to around 3 minutes.

Earlier in October 2014, Monty blogged on his work, showing how both the CDN and the HTTP pipelining viewer, coupled with his earlier HTTP improvements have benefited texture and mesh fetching in SL. If you’ve not read that blog post, I recommend that you do.

Monty Linden's recent blog post shows how the HTTP work has improved texture and mesh fexture within SL

Monty Linden’s recent blog post shows how the HTTP work has improved texture and mesh texture fetching within SL

As well as working on HTTP, Monty has also been engaged on rebuilding and cleaning-up many of the third-party libraries used in the building of the viewer. This work should not only improve the viewer build process and such third-party libraries are consistently used in the build process, it may also help pave the way toward the Lab producing 64-bit versions of their viewer in the future.

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SL project updates week 44/1: Server, CDN update

The Pines at Jacob's Pond, Jacob; Inara Pey, October 2014, on FlickrThe Pines at Jacob’s Pond, Jacob (Flickr) – blog post

Server Deployments Week 44

As always, please refer to the server deployment thread for the latest information and updates.

Main (SLS) Channel

On Tuesday, October 28th, CDN support was deployed across the Main channel, meaning that the entire grid now utilises the Highwinds CDN for texture and mesh fetching.

As the 130 regions deployed to the Snack channel were all originally from the Main channel, they have been / will be reabsorbed into that channel, and Snack will once again be dissolved.

Release Candidate Channels

On Wednesday, October 29th, all three RC channels should receive the same server maintenance project. which includes some minor improvements.

SL Viewer

There are currently two RC viewers possibly vying for promotion to the de facto release viewer. These are the HTTP Pipelining RC (version 3.7.19.295700) and the Benchmark viewer (version 3.7.19.295759), which should put an end to the use of a manually maintained list of GPUs in order to initially set the graphics defaults in the viewer.

Both of these were updated on Friday, October 24th, which has delayed any promotion to the de facto release viewer while the Lab gathers performance statistics on both of them. commenting on the status of both during the Simulator User Group meeting on Tuesday, October 27th, Oz Linden indicated that all things being equal, the HTTP Pipelining viewer should be promoted in the next 24-48 hours. He also indicated that there may be a further round of updates to come to Benchmark viewer in the offing as the Lab continued to tweak it.

CDN: Next Steps

In the vast majority of cases, the CDN is working as expected for users. There is a very small minority who, possibly because of their geographical closeness to the Lab’s servers or possibly due to issues between their ISP and the Highwinds services, are experiencing slightly worse ping times to their nearest CDN nodes when compared with pinging the Lab’s servers directly.

Even with the deployment to the Main channel, the Lab is continuing to monitor reports from CDN closely. However, as previously mentioned in my CDN coverage, it is likely the scope of CDN usage will be expanding in the future to handle other asset data – sounds, animations etc.

Also, and as noted in my week 43 TPV Developer meeting report, an offshoot of the CDN work is that there is a belief within the Lab that viewer caching may not be working as well as it might be. Internal discussions have held on possibly validating whether or not this is the case, and it is likely some work will be carried out in this area – and may well involve TPVs.

However, where both the viewer cache and extending the use of the CDN to cover other asset data are concerned, there are no time frames currently in mind. At the moment, the focus is very much on get the new tool chain and build process for the viewer finalised and into production, and in dealing with bugs and issues. As such, it might be a while before specific work on the viewer cache and / or work on extending the use of the CDN gets underway.

On a wider front, as well as monitoring the direct effectiveness of the CDN service, the Lab will be “spending quite a bit of time and effort assessing just what the effect of this change has been on operations from a number of perspectives”, to quote Oz.

Other Items

LI Issues?

There are reports circulating of unexpected changes to Land Impact (LI) values. While the Lab hasn’t altered land accounting, there have apparently been incidents of LI suddenly increasing in builds which have gone unchanged; one instance quoted during the Simulator User Group meeting referenced a door which apparently increased from 0.5 LI to 3 LI.

There have been instances in the past of the viewer incorrectly reporting the LI for an item when it is pulled from inventory. Corrections can generally be made either by relogging or by returning the item to inventory and rezzing it again. Altering the physics shape of linksets (from prim to convex and back again) can sometimes lead to problems, particularly if a prim in the linkset is contains torturing (such as a hollow or advance cut / twisting) or a script. However, this issue appears to be new, and a cause is proving hard to identify.

As always, if you have encountered the problem, and it is both persistent and reproducible, please raise a bug report.

Graphics Profiles in the Viewer

A suggestion was put forward during the Simulator User Group meeting for the Lab to allow the saving of graphics profiles. This would mean, for example that you could have a graphics profile where various options – the quality slider, shadows, occlusion, draw distance, etc., could be pushed towards their upper limits; and another where the setting are more conservative and less taxing on your GPU / system.

Then, where you are in a region (your own, or somewhere you know), where you know you can use the higher settings, you can quickly enable that profile, but when you move on to a region where (say) there are a lot of avatars and a lot going on, you can select the more conservative profile and thus reduce the potential performance issue on your system without actually having to go through and manually adjust all your settings.

Responding to the idea, Oz suggested the idea might be best suited to being a code contribution – and there was some potential interest in taking the idea on. However, this does not guarantee the idea will be carried forward – but it will be interesting to see if the idea does move forward at all in the coming months.

Alchemy 3.7.19: mainlining HTTP and enhancing legacy search

Alchemy-logoOn Monday October 27th, the Alchemy team released version 3.7.19.34077 Beta of their viewer. This latest release brings with it a series of updates, nips, ticks and tweaks which collectively move the viewer further towards a full release status.

As with the last release (for which I also provided an overview), the latest version is available for Windows on both 32-bit and 64-bit flavours, and a “universal” Mac offering suitable for both 32-bit and 64-bit (Linux is still “coming soon”). As is common for my reviews of viewer updates, this is not a detailed examination of every change made in the release, but rather an overview of those items which are liable to be of significant interest to users. Details of all updates can be found both on the Alchemy release notice for the viewer, and the change log.

Lab Updates

As this release of Alchemy is based on the Lab’s 3.7.19 code base, it has almost all of the most recent updates from LL, with the notable exception of the revised log-in splash screen – so the log-in area remains in its familiar place at the foot of the screen. And I say “notable” here only because I’ve become familiar with using the Lab’s log-in screen while playing with various versions of the official viewer, not as any indication of anything else.

The viewer does, however, get the latest bug fixes, etc., from the Lab to make it to release status and incorporates things like the updated snapshot floater and AIS v3. More particularly given the deployment of CDN support across the grid, it includes Monty Linden’s latest viewer-side HTTP updates, which should see the viewer handle scene loading a lot faster, as well as generate significant improvements in inventory fetching.

Search

Search has been given an impressive overhaul with this release, allow the use of both the v3-style web search option and also legacy search. Considerable effort has gone into how results in the legacy search options are displayed, so that all the information relating to a specific search item can be shown in the right side of the search panel without the need to open additional floaters (see below).

Alchemy now has full legacy search support, which includes the ability to display all the information on a selected item (such as my profile, as seen above) in a single pane of the search floater

Alchemy now has full legacy search support, which includes the ability to display all the information on a selected item (such as my profile, as seen above) on the right side of the search floater panel

Another nice refine is that when searching for groups, if you select a group you have not joined, only the essential information is displayed – group description and purpose, the JOIN button, creator, who can join, etc. However, should you join the group, simply click on the reload button, and the displayed group will update to show all options and information.

When using the Search option to locate a group you have not joined, the results pane will only display the essential information on the group (l). However, should you then join the group, clicking on the reload button (highlightd on the left image) will refresh the g

When using the Search option to locate a group you have not joined, the results pane will only display the essential information on the group (l). However, should you then join the group, clicking on the reload button (highlighted on the left image) and the group information will update to a full display

World Map

The World Map gets an update with this release, with some trimming and realigning, together with a noticeable move of the legend and search options to the left of the map tile area. If I’m honest, I’m really not sure of how much of a difference this makes. There doesn’t seem to be that much space reclaimed, and the move of the legend, etc., to the left of the map seems as much as change for the sake of change rather than presenting a specific benefit. But then, that is the subjective nature of using viewers – we all see things differently.

Camera Floater

The old and new camer floater - note the button for minimising the controls on the latter

The old and new camera floater – note the button for minimising the controls on the latter

A potentially more appreciable change lies with the camera controls. Until now, Alchemy has defaulted to the v3-style camera floater which, as the website release notice states, takes a fair amount of screen space, a lot of which is made up of a blank panel.

The new Alchemy camera floater is a lot smaller and neater, making it a lot less real estate hungry without losing any of its useability.

For those who would like it almost completely out-of-the-way without having to close it entirely, the control buttons now include a button (highlighted in the lower image, right) which will hide / show the actual camera movement controls, sliding them neatly out of, and into view.

All told, a nice, tidy update.

Chat Updates

Alchemy 3.7.19.34077 includes a number of updates to chat, including:

  • When an avatar is typing in chat, “Typing” is displayed over their head (can be enabled / disabled via Preferences > Chat > Show Nearby Chat Indicators)
  • When someone engaged in an IM conversation with you is typing a message, a pen will appear alongside their name in the Conversations floater, indicating they are typing, and “XX is typing…” will appear in the header bar of the conversations floater, where XX is the other person’s name
  • You can prevent Alchemy from sending those people your own IM typing notifications via checking Preferences > Chat > Don’t Send Typing Notification in IM
  • You can change the nearby chat channel for use with translators and scripts:
    • /setchannel \  will set the desired channel (so /setchannel \1 will set it to channel 1)
    • /setchannel 0 will change it back
  • Alchemy will now allow up to 3096 characters in a single chat message.

Other Items of Note

  • Ability to display a pop-up when people enter / leave a region (People floater > Options > check Radar Alerts)
  • Option to select the display of user names, display names, both, etc., (Preferences > General > drop-down menu under Usernames (the Highlight Friends option the drop-down replaces can now be found under the Colors tab)
  • Preferences > Move & View includes three new check boxes:
    • Always enable flight ability
    • Moonwalk (aka don’t turn avatar around when walking backwards)
    • Nimble (aka don’t run certain animations, such as the landing “splat” when falling, to appear more nimble)
New movement options under Preferences > Move & View

New movement options under Preferences > Move & View

  • Inventory auto-accept options moved from Preferences > Privacy to Preferences > Interface > Inventory
  • Preferences > Interface has two new sub-tabs, mouselook and Security, and numerous new options throughout all the sub-tabs
  • Teleport progress bar now displays the region to which you are teleporting
  • Geenz Spad’s projectored reflections improvements.

Feedback

A further nice update from the Alchemy team, which adds some neat additions to the viewer – the work on legacy search is particularly impressive. There has also been a lot of under the hood work as well, with memory leak fixes, fixes for bottlenecks, slowdowns, etc., which the Alchemy team say should lead to better performance in addition to the updates that have come from the Lab.

For those who tend to ask, there is still no support for the Restrained Love API as yet, but it the promise is there that it will be added in the future.

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Blood, lust, letters and sleuths as MadPea go adult

posterSamantha Mason, blonde, beautiful, sexy, provocative … deadly. A woman with an appetite for lust – and for murder. “The Mantis” they called her, someone in whom “evil never looked this sexy.”

It didn’t matter whether her victim was male or female, the pattern was the same: seduce, lure, kill. Before being finally apprehended, she had been responsible for no fewer than eight gruesome deaths. Tried and convicted, she was locked away, and society breathed easy once more.

But now, a year later, the murders have started again. Sadistic and twisted, each a measure of erotic savagery wreaked upon a helpless victim. It seems that perhaps someone is picking up where “The Mantis” had left off. But just who is responsible, and where will it end….?

This, in essence (and with thanks to Kess Crystal from the team for the press release) is how the scene is set for the latest hunt to come from the folks at MadPea Games – Blood Letters.

Starting on Saturday, November 1st, 2014, and running through until the end of that month, Blood Letters is billed as the first adult-themed hunt to be run by MadPea – and it is also somewhat timed-based, which makes it a double departure from past events, something which has “Queen Pea” Kiana Writer, who heads-up MadPea, pretty excited. And everything hinges on a series of letters – the Blood Letters of the title.

“Participants take on the role of a private detective,” she tells me as we discuss the new hunt. “And they have their office. Every day a letter will appear at the office; this letter reveals a part of the story, a quest that leads them to a location. And when they solve that day, they will receive a prize from that store.”

Participants in the hunt take on the role of a private detective, operating out of the offices of Checkmate Inc

Participants in the hunt take on the role of a private detective, operating out of the office of Checkmate Inc

In all, 25 creators and stores are taking part in the hunt, each one a destination for those joining the hunt. But finding the daily prizes are only part of the story. The name of the game is finding the killer.

“Once they have visited all locations, on day 25 the big end game begins,” Kiana says. “So they’ll have to be good little detectives, because there are clues to be discovered throughout the 25 days. They truly need to check all the locations and make sure they’ve collected everything to solve the case!”

With a touch for the noir about it, Blood Letters is in some respects a further step down the investigative storytelling route for MadPea, a path they so successfully trod in 2013, with Room 326 and Mad City, and which this time takes a more narrative flow.

Like all of MadPea’s games, Blood Letters is HUD-based, the HUD in this case being used to reveal the contents of each day’s letter. Vendors for the HUD will be available outside the office of Checkmate Inc., the same office in which the letters will make their daily appearance. Located in a suitably shabby corner of R3volt’s home region (R3volt being one of the stores participating in the hunt) and which is also the home of MadPea’s new satellite store, the office is intended to be a focal-point for those engaging in the hunt. “We thought that would be nice to have a central location where people can meet each other. A base of operations,” Kiana notes.

Take on the role of a private detective in MadPea Games slight nior-esque adult murder mystery hunt starting on Saturday, November 1st.

“The name’s Bullit. Traci Bullit…” – Take on the role of a private detective in MadPea Games slight noiresque adult murder mystery hunt starting on Saturday, November 1st.

And the adult aspects? Well, the team are staying tight-lipped about that; there should be some surprises, after all. However, the promise of “sexual content and gore” isn’t an idle one, so participants had better be ready to engage in some careful sleuthing and be ready for a shock or two as the mysterious and deadly killer taunts them with his or her Blood Letters, leading them across the grid and towards the final end game…

Blood Letters launches at 12:00 noon SLT on Saturday, November 1st. For those Private Eyes who like to party before taking a case, there will also be a special “Kinky Killers” themed launch party at !Exodus! Rock Club, starting at 13:00 SLT the same day.

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