Firestorm TTT: building

firestorm-logoIn the Firestorm Tool Tip Tuesday video for Tuesday March 31st, 2015, Jessica takes a look at the assorted tools and options Firestorm provides in order to assist people with in-world building. As with some of the other TTT video, various options described within the video are not exclusive to Firestorm, which makes the video a worthwhile watch by anyone wishing to get more to grips with building, manipulating prims, and so on; although admittedly, if you’re not using Firestorm, you’ll have to poke at your preferred viewer’s Preferences, etc., to see where the options might reside.

Starting with changing the default colour of the basic rezzed prim shapes, the default size, prim status (physical, phantom, etc), and the next owner permissions (a function now common to all viewers, including LL’s own), Jessica takes a rapid-fire run through many of the the more frequently used build options and tool additions.

The build sub-tabs on Firestorm, located under Preferences > Firestorm, present access to the majority of additional options and capabilities associated with building using the viewer

The build sub-tabs on Firestorm, located under Preferences > Firestorm, present access to the majority of additional options and capabilities associated with building using the viewer

This includes a look as assorted features within the build floater itself, many of which are, again, presented through other viewers as well, including the ever-popular prim alignment option (which, sadly, remains as something the Lab have refused to adopt, as they feel it does not fulfil enough potential use cases, despite the fact it actually achieves precisely what it sets out to do).

The video concludes with a look at the Z-drop and Z-take options, which respectively allow you to drop the contents of a folder into an in-world prim without needing to select and physically drag-and-drop them, and to take a number of in-world objects and place them within a root folder in your inventory – both of which are powerful and useful options, before finally providing an overview of one of the most useful building resources within Second Life: Builder’s Brewery. You can also find out more about BB through their website.

Getting to grips with building isn’t easy, and while this video isn’t intended as a beginning guide, for those who have paddled in the shallows of building, it offers some very useful pointers. Even those with a little more experience might also find it contains some interesting little tips!

 

Of Premium perks and problems

On Monday, March 20th, the Lab announced A New Perk for Premium Subscribers, which saw the cap on delivery of offline IMs you can read raised from 25 to 50 if you’re a Premium account holder. 

Premium benefits are often hard to quantify in terms of value (although the "new" in the current Linden Homes ad really needs to be dropped nowadays...)

Premium benefits are often hard to quantify in terms of value (although the “new” in the current Linden Homes ad really needs to be dropped nowadays…)

While the rise in the limit did result in some amused comments in various groups about it being an early  “April Fools” joke, and some sarcastic feedback on the forums, it is at least indicative that the Lab do have Premium accounts, and the need to try to improve the offerings associated with them, on their collective minds. 

Indeed, this increase in the cap for off-line IMs had been informally mentioned at a number of the Server Beta User Group (SBUG) meetings in recent weeks, while a server-side deployment that went grid-wide in week #12 included “internal improvements for premium users”, which were described as offering the means by which the Lab might be able to offer new perks to Premium account holders in the future, should such opportunities develop.

Of course, we can argue as to whether or not such a modest change and the IM cap update deserves heralding in a blog post of its own – but how else is the Lab supposed to get the word out in a manner that will be spotted?

However, the general response perhaps indicates once again that coming up with the right balance of Premium benefits isn’t as easy as we might like to think. The problem here is that we’re such a rich and diverse group of users, that trying to find something that will have a really broad basis of appeal, and which is relatively easy to implement, isn’t so simple a proposition as may appear to be be the case. Even the ideas we ourselves put forward might be said to be of limited appeal or aren’t entirely straight-forward to implement. Thus the Lab tends to be caught in something of a cleft stick.

Gifts have been a staple part of the Premium account offering. While well-intended, and something liable to have reasonably widespread appeal when compared to other ideas, they've not really endeared themselves to users as well as might have been imagined

Gifts have been a staple part of the Premium account offering. While well-intended, and something liable to have reasonably widespread appeal when compared to other ideas, they’ve not really endeared themselves to users as well as might have been imagined

An example of the potential narrowness of appeal came up at a recent LL-led meeting in which the question of Premium benefits was raised. The responses given, which related to things like additional scripting options, special file stores, etc., undoubtedly sounded good to those making them, but, when taken as a whole, really only held appeal to a very narrow group of users, making them hard to justify as a “benefit” everyone might appreciate.

Other ideas, while sounding obvious, may suffer the same issue of appeal and bring with them problems of their own which could easily offset any potential benefit they present. Take the idea of increasing the amount of land offered as either part of a Linden Home or as free tier from 512 sq metres to 1024 sq metres. Sounds simple enough on the surface, but it belies the fact that many SL users, Premium and Basic, don’t see the appeal of either Mainland holdings or Linden Homes.

More particularly, increasing the amount of land available to Linden Homes brings with it problems of its own, as it essentially means that all of the existing LH estates would have to be rebuilt from ground up in order to both provide the additional land per unit and preserve the necessary protected land per region in order to be able to supply each home with it 117 LI – and that’s a big task, one that would include something of an increase in the overall number of LH regions to boot. It would also mean the need for those already occupying Linden Home to have to relocate, causing additional disruption the Lab may not feel happy about creating.

Increasing the parcel size for Linden Homes to 1024 square metres sounds good, but brings with it headaches of its own when you consider the amount of re-working required to make all LH estates fit with the new parcel size

Increasing the parcel size for Linden Homes to 1024 square metres sounds good, but brings with it headaches of its own when you consider the amount of re-working required to make all LH estates fit with the new parcel size

While this issues are perhaps smaller, the same goes for upping the amount of free tier offered Premium accounts from 512 sq m to 1024 sq m. Does the personal currently using their 512 sq m actually have enough land around them to benefit from the increase in free tier? Will they have to move to make use of it? If they deed their land to a group, does the group have enough land from which to benefit? Then there are the necessary changes which need to be made to the billing system to account for the change.

Obviously, these are not insurmountable problems, and those relating to free Mainland tier might even be regarded as edge cases. But, the fact that they do raise questions marks over their ease of implementation and may not deliver the hoped-for levels of increased appeal do make them that much harder for the Lab to consider as potential solutions.

SL go logo

Even ideas around offering SL Go as a Premium offering, while simple in concept, are potentially less-than-simple to implement

The same is true for ideas for combining Premium accounts with other offerings – such as SL Go, as Jo Yardley  has suggested, may potentially be non-starters. While the idea sounds great in principle, it perhaps overlooks a few things.

At its most basic, it is hard to see how such an arrangement would offer a decent level of return for OnLive. As it is, it would seem the service has already gained sufficient critical mass for the company to enjoy a meaningful revenue stream from it without any such partnership; ergo, it’s hard to quantify any real gain that might be made in wrapping the service as a part of LL’s Premium membership.

More practically for both companies, however, is that the idea would seem to introduce numerous additional billing requirements which will take time and effort to implement and which, once done, might not be matched by the overall pick-up in interest SL users have in the Premium account offering. Support issues also rear their head as well. Currently, SL Go stands as a service independent of LL. Bundle it with a Premium offering, however, and users are going to expect the Lab to support it, regardless of OnLive’s own support activities, and are probably going to be unimpressed when referred elsewhere.

Thus there are a broad range of issues which would have to be addressed for such an arrangement to come about. While they may not necessarily be insurmountable, they do nevertheless call into question the overall benefits of such a partnership when compared to the overall effort in making it happen.

Premium sandboxes have proven popular among premium members for providing relatively quiet and griefer-free building locations

Premium sandboxes have proven popular among premium members for providing relatively quiet and griefer-free building locations

One idea that could have appeal is that of increasing the number of groups Premium members can join. Given the ongoing improvements being made to the entire group chat mechanism (which had previously been impacted, performance-wise, by the sheer volume of group-related “management” messages the system had to deal with), this could well be something the Lab could provide in the future.

Another idea has been that perhaps the Lab could offer a range of options users could then chose from to build their own “Premium package”. However, this again brings up the question of management and support for such a system, as well as the sticky issue of ensuring all that is offered represents equitable value across the various combinations of options users might pick.

Will Burns, far back in the mists of time (OK, February 2013), pointed to one potential for Premium accounts, and that would be to revamp them as “Professional Accounts”. He nipped and tucked the idea since then, but it is an interesting concept, and one that has significant logic behind it. However, it is also one I rather suspect the Lab is considering (in some form, at least) with regards to their next generation platform, rather than “retroactively” apply to SL.

Or perhaps the solution needn’t be that complicated, and we’re simply looking at the issue too hard. Maybe a simple increase in the weekly stipend back to its old level of L$500 might be enough of an enticement (money talks, as it were, despite potentials sinks), particularly if, going forward, it is part of a package of visible in-world options … such as a higher group limit, raised cap on offline IMs, etc.

In terms of the raising of the IM cap – and to bring this discussion full circle – one of the criticisms voiced directly at it is that it seems a trivial change, and should have been higher. Perhaps so, but as was pointed out to me when discussing the change, notifications have to be loaded each time you log-in, and people are really bad at clearing down their saved notifications. Thus setting the limit too high could result in some people’s log-in being impacted as the notifications file is loaded, and so it might be that the Lab is erring on the the side of caution in order to see how things go.

But be that as it may, the fact remains that the Lab are at least trying to offer more useful benefits to Premium members. It may well be that given the state of things, all they’ll ever be able to do is twiddle at the fringes in order to try to make things more attractive. If so, then hopefully as small as it is, the IM cap change will prove the be just the tip of the iceberg, and in time we will see a broader range of perks and tweaks sufficient to give us all some measure of satisfaction with Premium accounts.

RC regions and inventory issues

Update: March 31st: The Lab hopes to have a fix deployed to all three RC channels on Wednesday, April 1st. In terms of the problems related to disabling the HTTP Inventory option, which this fix does not address (see BUG-8917), the Lab notes that going forward, users should keep this option enabled, otherwise issues of load failure will occur. As such, it is anticipated this option will be hidden from general view within the viewer at some point in the future. 

The server-side deployment to the three release candidate channels (Bluesteel, LeTigre and Magnum) during week #13 included updates focused on reducing instances of inventory loss, and also included some server-side code clean-up. Unfortunately it also brought with it the potential to create a few inventory-related issues.

The problems are reported in BUG-8877, and have the potential to affect anyone running a version of a viewer that does not have the recent AIS v3 updates (e.g. the current release of Firestorm and, I believe, Singularity), and / or any viewer with or without AIS v3 updates which is running with HTTP Inventory disabled. However, they will only occur when you are actually located on an RC channel region, and then only in situations described below.

You can ascertain whether or not you are on an RC region via the viewer’s Help > About floater.

You can tell whether or not you are on a simulator RC channel via your viewer's Help > About floater. If you are currently on a region running on the Main (SLS) channel the viewer will report "Second Life Server", followed by the version number. If you are on an RC channel, the viewer will report "Second Life RC" followed by the channel name (Magnum, Bluesteel or LeTigre) and version number

You can tell whether or not you are on a simulator RC channel via your viewer’s Help > About floater. If you are currently on a region running on the Main (SLS) channel the viewer will report “Second Life Server”, followed by the version number. If you are on an RC channel, the viewer will report “Second Life RC” followed by the channel name (Magnum, Bluesteel or LeTigre) and version number. The problems noted here will only occur on RC regions (click to enlarge, if required)

There are two problems which are being encountered:

  • If you empty Trash and relog when using a viewer without the AIS v3 code updates (e.g. the current release of Firestorm), the purged items will reappear in Trash the next time you log-in to SL. This will not happen if you are running a viewer with the AIS v3 updates – your Trash will purge and remain empty, as expected
  • If you are running the viewer with HTTP Inventory disabled, and clear cache, your inventory will not fetch as long as you remain on an RC channel region, leaving you a cloud (see below). This will happen regardless of whether you are running a viewer with or without the AIS v3 code updates
One of the current RC issues: If you have HTTP Inventory DISABLED (see the unchecked item in the Develop menu) and then clear your cache in an RC region, on relogging, you'll find your inventory will fail to fetch

One of the current RC issues: If you have HTTP Inventory DISABLED (see the unchecked item in the Develop menu) and then clear your cache in an RC region, on relogging, you’ll find your inventory will fail to fetch

Until such time as the server-side code has been updated, these issues can be overcome / avoided by:

  • Moving to any non-RC region to purge Trash properly without items returning following a relog
  • Re-enabling HTTP inventory in your viewer (CTRL-ALT-Q to display the Develop menu, if required, and then checking HTTP Inventory), and then relogging to overcome issues of inventory fetching following a cache clearance when on an RC region.

The JIRA reporting the issues has been imported by the Lab for an immediate fix. This probably means – subject to confirmation from the Lab – that the code currently on the RC channels will not be promoted to the Main (SLS) channel on Tuesday, March 31st, and that a fix will (hopefully) be deployed to the RC channels on Wednesday April 1st. I’ll have an update in my usual SL project update reports in due course.

The Drax Files 28: art and SL as cathartic renewal

“You know, when you first asked me to do the Drax Files, I said no,” Whiskey Monday states at the start of segment #28 of The Drax Files World Makers. I doubt anyone watching the show regrets her decision to actually go ahead and appear on the show.

Whiskey is well known throughout Second Life for her incredible artwork, which started with her single frame stories. Her work is thought-provoking, intelligent, evocative, mischievous, fun, pointed, and more – and all of it is certainly some of the finest expressions of art as a medium for social and general commentary I’ve ever seen. It’s also deeply personal, much of it reflecting on Whiskey’s real life; usually in a frank, honest way free from pathos while laying bare her mindset and emotions.

Whiskey Monday at work

Whiskey Monday at work

It is on this latter aspect of her work that the show primarily focuses on, in what is once again one of the most compelling pieces of video journalism I’ve seen in a long while, with Drax almost completely absent from the piece and leaving Whiskey to tell her story in her own words. As such, what is delivered is an incredible journey through Whiskey’s lives (plural intentional) which allows us to witness first-hand how Second Life can be a platform for emotional release, self-expression and cathartic renewal in our lives, as well as a place where creative investment brings additional rewards which help spur us on.

“I have been going through a really difficult personal life the past few years,” Whiskey says just after he opening comment on the video. “And I have used Second Life as a medium to express my frustration with the real world; depression; my issues with my mother; my issues with my sister. It helped me get through those times, Drax. and I couldn’t do that as my physical identity.”

Whiskey's work is intensely personal, but also strikes many assorted chords for those who see it

Whiskey’s work is intensely personal, but also strikes many assorted chords for those who see it

This is an incredibly powerful, open, and honest statement to make; a baring of the soul that requires a huge amount of honesty and trust. That Whiskey is prepared to speak so freely  about matters is itself testament to the degree to which her creativity through Second Life has been cathartic for her.

Through the video, we get to share in Whiskey’s creative process, travelling with her from an initial idea, through to the completed image, with Whiskey describing each step of the journey in creating what are highly personal images. It’s a remarkable and painstaking process, as she honestly admits she’s not that comfortable with Photoshop, and so strives very hard to achieve as much of the finished piece in-world as she possibly can – something which itself speaks to the incredible creative power found within SL, either directly through the tools provided by the viewer, or via scripted tools and systems provided by other users.

Whiskey's most recent exhibition, entitled  Recently, was the debut exhibition for the new– Dathúil gallery run by Max Butoh (see my review here)

Whiskey’s most recent exhibition, entitled Recently, was the debut exhibition for the new Dathúil gallery run by Max Butoh (see my review here)

Framing her images so precisely obviously requires the execution of a high level of control in terms of the subject matter and how the observer sees it. It’s a level of control Whiskey is very aware of; it’s also something that, given the context of her art, might be too easily dismissed as manipulating the audience.

Yet Whiskey makes no apology for this – and nor should she. She certainly isn’t the first artist to manipulate the environment (virtual or real) to focus the audience’s attention and direct their emotional responses; artists do it all the time be it through the initial framing of their shot or via cropping and editing after the fact, or through extensive post-processing. In fact, I’d argue that Whiskey is entirely right in the level of control she exercises – although I’d perhaps refer to it as compositional direction. At the end of the day, these images are her stories, and as the narrator, she has the right to shape the manner in which they are told.

What’s more, it makes her work all the more striking to those who witness it, as it more than likely strikes a far more personal chord within us than might otherwise be the case; hence why Whiskey also tries to leave the images as open-ended in interpretation as possible.

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