Cica’s Waiting in Second Life

Cica Ghost: Waiting

It seems like only a few days since I was writing about Cica’s Sandcastles, so I was surprised to receive an invitation to return to her installation region and witness Waiting, which opened on September 19th.

This is a very different environment to Cica’s most recent installations – Sandcastles, Lollipop, Summer Day – in that the theme here is darker, both in tone and potential meaning. However, before going into specifics, while Cica’s environment settings are always central to her work, it is particularly important that Waiting is viewed under its intended environment settings, or an important detail will be lost.

On the one hand, this is a setting where the orientation seems clear: across a desolate, parched landscape with desiccated trees hills rise hump-like or broad and flat, and on which what might be the remnants of a town stand: tall, aging buildings that stand without glass in windows or roofs on top. This all seems straightforward enough. But then there is the sky.

Cica Ghost: Waiting

Stretching from horizon to horizon, the sky is a frozen expanse of flat, parched ground hanging over the setting. And while it may be difficult to initially discern, not only are the trees towards the centre of the land stretching up towards this desolate sky – they also appear to be reaching down from it, branches interwoven like bony fingers. It is a disquieting sight, once noticed, but its and the desolate land below (or is that above, if you flip your perspective to match the “sky”?) are just the start.

As well as the empty buildings and dried-out trees, this is a setting that is home to tall figures. Stone-like grey, emaciated and with faces largely caught in shadows frowns, they are almost golem-like, looking as if they have been formed out of the clay of the Earth beneath the feet of the majority as they sit atop of the central hill (although individuals might be found elsewhere). Why they are huddled together is unclear, but they sit under the tangle of branches “growing” down from the sky – but whether the latter are trying to grasp them or simply form a canopy over them?

Thus, this is a setting with many potential interpretations. These might be aided by consideration of the quote Cica includes with the installation: time waits for no-one. It’s a truism we’re all familiar with, but how might it be applied here? Could it be a reference to the idea that while we have been caught within the worry of the pandemic, life and the world have continued to move forward without us, or might the installation reflect the idea that life is something that happens whilst we sit around waiting for something to happen, or might it mean something more personal, is a matter for how the installation speaks to you as a visitor.

Cica Ghost: Waiting

However, when visiting, do be sure to look around carefully and mouse-over things: there are some interesting characters awaiting discovery – check the trees for a couple of them; and there are the expected sit points and dances that mark Cica’s settings, but which many also not always been easy to spot (but as a clue: when all you have is a hammer…).

SLurl Details

  • Waiting (Luna Sea, rated Moderate)

Mojo Linden, the Lab’s new Engineering VP discusses SL at TPVD meeting

Andrew Kertesz

Linden Lab’s new Vice President of Engineering, Mojo Linden (aka Andrew Kertesz) dropped into the Third party Viewer Developer meeting on Friday, September 17th, both to say a few words and field some questions. These notes offer a summary of his  comments, together with some audio extracts.

When reading / listening to the following please note:

  • The bullet points within the topics are designed to help provide context to the audio.
  • Unlike my usual approach, I have not attempted to group comments by topic per se, but have ordered things as they were discussed through the TPVD meeting, so that the notes and audio extracts here do parallel the video recording of the TPV meeting, which is embedded at the end of this piece.
  • The audio extracts have been edited to remove pauses, repetitions, etc., and to remove break-in comments from others at the meeting. However, in doing this, every attempt has been made to maintain the actual context and meaning of Mojo’s comments.

Mojo’s Background

  • Mojo started his career at Microsoft, spending over 16 years working on a variety of products and services: Visual Studio, the DirectX API, XBox development (technology and game development). This also saw him help establish the Forza Motorsport Studio and work on a lot of the major Microsoft games like Halo.
  • Joined a former CTO for XBox at IGT (International Game Technology), a company producing slot machines, where he worked in a highly regulated software environment.
  • Moved on to Double Down, another gambling / gaming group, where he worked on mobile apps.
  • Thereafter moved to Level Ex, a company specialising in making games specifically aimed helping doctors face the chellenges of modern medical practice.
  • Developed a significant interest in virtual worlds and virtual spaces, which led him to join Linden Lab.

On performance and General Improvements

Mojo Linden

Following his comments about working on DirectX APIs, Mojo was asked if enhancing the viewer’s rendering capabilities would be a focus for him in terms of determining projects at the Lab, and also responding to comments about the value of working to fix issues and properly polish features and capabilities, rather than trying to push “big” new features.

  • As he was unclear on all the the Lab’s preferences regarding mentioning specific projects and times lines, was understandably cautious about talking in detail about specific projects.
  • Having had exposure to graphics APIs has an interest in improving rendering in Second Life.
  • However, has a broader interest in improving overall performance, which he sees as much a part of the platform’s feature set as any new features.
  • Agrees with the view that many users would prefer to see fixes and improvements to current capabilities rather than a massive push for new shiny features, and notes that the Lab is looking to “delight” its user community.
  • Acknowledges the point-of-view that functionality isn’t always delivered in a manner users were expecting it to work and that capabilities can be delivered / added, but then fail to receive the degree of polish that would make them more fully usable.
  • Indicated that LL have been discussing different lighting models  – and in doing so mentioned he has been made fully aware of the expectation among many users that whatever is introduced does not “break” existing content, etc.
  • Recognises that SL has a lot of users with a deep understanding of the platform, and is already thinking on ways that could be leveraged to help expand the platform and give practical improvements.
  • In this latter regard, he realises that TPVs have done a lot of work in the area of performance for themselves, and is keen to explore how this work can be better leveraged.

About Avatars, Complexity and Performance

  • Recognises that unbounded avatars with high complexity are not good for performance.
  • Questioned whether it is better to throw controls and options at users for them to deal with performance issues they hit, or whether it would be better for the viewer to deal with matters more inherently, based on the user’s system.
    • An example of this might be the viewer being able to more intuitive handle very complex avatars though automated imposter, etc., based on the capabilities of the system being used to run the viewer, etc.
  • During the discussion, Vir gave a brief recap on project ARCTan (the work to realign complexity calculations, starting with avatars), and Mojo questioned whether the user community is offering potential solutions (Beq Janus and Elizabeth Jarvinen (polysail) have been looking extensively at the question of avatar meshes – see my CCUG / TVPD meeting notes for more on this).
  • Is aware of the issues of avatar customisation, and is open to hearing back from those who directly face the issues new users have with their avatar looks, etc., on what might be done to improve things.

(My apologies for the sound balance in the extract below – the recording software went slightly wonky during the mid-point of recording the meeting, and attempts to re-balance after the fact didn’t exactly work…)

On Making Changes and Bringing New Users to the Platform

  • (Alexa Linden pointed out that Mojo has been through the avatar selection / customisation and experiencing its pinch-points, and since joining the Lab has been spending time in-world exploring.)
  • In terms of changes and improvements, Mojo is very aware that users can be resistant to change, particularly around things like the UI, where muscle memory plays a big role and people are simply unwilling to learn how to do things differently.
    • Alexa noted that Lindens are not immune to this, and the push-to-talk change in the current RC viewer has resulted in much internal grumbling about having to change behaviour.
  • He is very aware that the viewer has to address (broadly speaking at least) two different audiences: those who simply want to come aboard Second Life and grip to grips with the basics, and those who are more experienced in using the platform and want to carry out more advanced activities.
  • In this, he (again) recognises the value of TPVs and the commitment of the user base as a whole to Second Life and its growth, and so is interested in exploring opportunities for his own engagement with assorted parties via meetings and other possible forums of exchange / engagement. As such, he intends to drop into things like the TPVD meetings as often as he can – particularly if there is specific news to announce.

For completeness, here’s the video of the TPVD Developer meeting with Mojo’s input:

2021 CCUG and TPV Developer meetings week #37 summary

A Touch of Scotland – Bluebell Coast – blog post

The following notes were taken from my audio recording and chat log of the Content Creation User Group (CCUG) meeting held on Thursday, September 16th 2021 at 13:00 SLT, and the TPV Developer’s meeting of Friday, September 17th.

With the meetings once again falling on the same week, and with the degree of overlap in content between the two, core discussion points from both have been combined into this one summary. The TPV meeting was also recorded by Pantera Północy, and her video is embedded at the end of this article, for those wishing to refer directly to that meeting.

Meeting Details

  • CCUG meetings are held on alternate Thursdays each month (generally the 1st and 3rd Thursday, subject to the vagaries of month length), with dates available via the SL Public Calendar. The venue for the CCUG is the Hippotropolis camp fire.
  • TPV Developer meetings are generally held on alternate Fridays each month, although dates are not currently listed in the SL Public Calendar. The venue for meetings is at the Hippotropolis Theatre.
  • Both meetings are currently chaired by Vir Linden, and are led using Voice, although attendees can use either Voice or text to provide input / feedback (with text generally being the preferred medium).

SL Viewer

[TPVD Video: 1:08-5:52]

Simplifying the Viewer Pipelines

LL have have hit a bottleneck in current viewer development, Essentially, projects are tending to push multiple viewers internally for testing and QA work, creating a backlog; plus there are currently multiple RC and project viewers in flight. To this end, work has started to try to merge various viewer development tracks together and combine them into more “composite” offerings where this makes sense. This has been done with the two Maintenance RCs (see below), and if successful, will pave the way for other viewer project merges in the future.

Viewer Updates

  • Maintenance RC viewer  was issued on Thursday, September 16th.
    • As noted above, this viewer combines the former Grappa and Happy Hour RC viewers into a single viewer.
    • This RC also now makes Push to Talk with Voice the default behaviour. To change this, open Me → Preferences → Controls, then scroll down to Sound and Media, then click Primary Control for Toggle Voice and finally press Middle Mouse Button (MMB) for legacy behaviour.
    • However, these is a issue with this (see: BUG-231212 “[Maint G+H] Toggle speak on/off when I press button conflicts with key binding Controls”), which LL plans to address via a hotfix.
  • The Simplified Cache viewer updated to version on Friday, September 17th.

Remaining Viewer Pipeline

The rest of the official viewer pipelines remain unchanged from the start of the week:

  • Release viewer: version version, formerly the CEF Update RC viewer, issued July 24 and promoted August 10th.
  • Release channel cohorts:
    • Simplified Cache RC viewer, version, dated August 9th.
  • Project viewers:
    • 360 Snapshot project viewer, version, issued September 3rd.
    • Performance Floater project viewer, version, issued September 2nd.
    • Mesh Optimizer project viewer, version, issued September 1st.
    • Legacy Profiles viewer, version, dated October 26th, 2020.
    • Copy / Paste viewer, version, dated December 9th, 2019.

General Viewer Notes

  • LL are specifically looking for feedback on the 360° Snapshot project viewer and the Performance Floater viewer ahead of these being moved forward.

Mojo Linden

[TPVD Video: 6:22 onwards, interspersed with other discussions]

Mojo Linden, AKA Andrew Kertesz, the Lab’s new VP of Engineering, attended the TPV Developer meeting.  After giving a run-down of his career, he spoke about Second Life and responded to questions and feedback from those at the meeting.

Rather than cover his comments here – where it may only be read by those specifically interested in matters relating to the viewer / the CCUG meeting – I have attempted to offer a summary of his comments, with audio, and written context for his feedback based on the questions from those at the TPVD meeting. See: Mojo Linden, the Lab’s new Engineering VP discusses SL at TPVD meeting.

Avatar Discussions

The core of the CCUG meeting focused on mesh avatars and issues of complexity, performance, usability, etc. Taking the discussion in order:

  • Bakes on Mesh related issues:
    • The left arm/leg asymmetry (to allow things like independent left arm / right arm  tattoos) is seen as incomplete / complex / unworkable (e.g. having to use new channels that are “incompatible” with skin handling compared to the “old” channel, the limited use of the UV map by the left arm / keg (around 10%, etc.). Some have managed their own workarounds to this (e.g. by using the hair channel), but an official fix is seen as preferable. While this is seen as possible, it a) isn’t likely to be seen as a priority item; b) raises concerns over content breakage as a result of further changes.
    • The fact that the alpha wearable does not recognise the new channels introduced with BOM, and so it is possible to end up with the right arm alpha’d as expected, but the left are still visible, which is unwanted. While a Jira has been received to produce a new alpha wearable, this has yet to be implemented.
  • There are reports that people arriving in regions are seeing some avatars with “faces [initially] pasted on the back of their heads”. It is thought (by other users, not the Lab) the primary cause of this is the Lelutka Evo X head using a non-standard UV, and the Bake data arriving in the viewer ahead of the mesh head data (which corrects it).
  • Avatars and performance:
    • As most are aware, a significant hit on performance comes from the fact that mesh avatars are pretty poorly optimised. Beq Janus and Elizabeth Jarvinen (polysail) have been investigating just how hard segmented avatars impact people’s systems, and the results of their work has been summarised by Beq in a couple of technical, but well worth reading blog posts:
    • One suggestion is to implement a means to algorithmically generating the collapsed mesh – or to put it another (simplistic) way: “bake” the entire avatar: body, clothing, attachments, into what would effectively be a composite mesh with fewer faces, limited (or no) body segmentation etc. But exactly how this would be achieved, and what would be required (and exactly how it would work in terms of making on-the-fly changes to attachments, etc.), is unclear.
  • Calls were made to completely replace the SL skeletal rig completely, which lead to a discussion of the flexibility of the rig compared to capabilities found in Unreal Engine and Unity (two engines oft cited as examples of the engine Second Life “should” have). Animator and creator Medhue Simoni questioned the value, pointing out that from a professional standpoint, he finds the SL rig far more capable for avatar creation than the commercial offerings (which is not to say that as capable as it might be, there are not serious issues with the SL rig).
  • The subject of having a new default avatar in SL was raised, with fingers pointing to Patch Linden’s comments at SL18B, which can be found summarised (with a link to the discussion point in the official video) here.
  • The issue with any new avatar system is that it encompasses significant areas of work – the rig, the meshes, the animation system, improved IK, etc.

Two-Factor Authentication

[TPVD Video: 29:46-29:59]

This has been a long-requested capability and something the Lab has been working on for some time.

According to Grumpity Linden we should – with fingers crossed – be seeing some form of announcement on the on Monday, September 20th.

In Brief

  • [CCUG] The Graphics team currently remain primarily focused on drilling down into the data being gathered by theTracy debugger / system analyser.
  • [CCUG] User Joe Magarac (animats) has been experimenting with better asset loading prioritisation based on screen area. This is something the viewer doesn’t usually do. The video below gives an example of his results (although you might want to turn the sound down a little, if you have speakers on!).

This appears to work well with the cases shown in the video, but as was noted by Animats (and othera) in the meeting:

    • As presented, the code doesn’t currently account for faces using the same texture.
    • Further work is required to account for off-scale meshes that are corrected using prim scale, and with rigged meshes, which don’t report their on-screen size.
  • [TPVD] Some considerable time ago, TPV developer NiranV Dean submitted a contribution to LL for a pose system that propagates avatar poses/animations between viewers for multi-avatar posing. This has been “on hold” for a while, with a promise that discussions should be resumed.
    • Mojo Linden indicated that puppeteering is something the Lab is actually actively discussing / thinking about.
  • [TPVD] Kitty Barnett (Catznip) has been testing scene optimisation through the viewer and has encountered a problem where if a scene is “over optimised”, viewer frame rates collapse until complexity is added back to the scene (such as by enabling shadow rendering).  The precise cause is still TBD, but appears to be related to random OpenGL calls being generated, possibly by the Nvidia GPU, or as a result of a debug setting, or even a flush call being missed, and too much render information being queued at once.
  • [TPVD] Firestorm has been compiling a list of “most wanted” fixes and improvements based on feedback received from their user base by way of feature requests filed with them, questions put to their various language support teams, direct comments, developer experience in handling the viewer code, etc. This is to be submitted to Linden Lab so that they might seen common trends / requests from users.

Duna’s Simply Nature in Second Life

Janus Gallery II: Duna Gant – Simply Nature

Currently open at the Janus Gallery II at Sinful Retreat, Chuck Clip’s superb arts centre, is Simply Nature by Duna Gant. As the artist notes, this is something of a continuation of an earlier exhibition from around two years ago, entitled Poetic Lines, in that it furthers the minimalist theme started in that exhibition, turning the direction fully onto to nature. Thus, the twelve pieces offered at Janus Gallery II capture the elegant beauty of nature, as reflected in so many ways by creations within Second Life, in a marvellously minimalist style that have woven into them a central thematic thread of the interplay of light and water within nature’s realm.

This interplay is perhaps most directly expressed within the sculpture by Duna that spans the entrance to the gallery, itself called Light and Water. As well as offering an anchor for the surrounding images, this sculpture also personifies Duna’s central inspiration for her Second Life photography.

Given this, it should come as no surprise that several of the pieces offers images of the water and the sky, each of which is lightly rendered, both in terms of palette and touch; naturally drawing the eye to the further details within each piece, or which express the natural beauty waiting to be found within the sky itself or upon the ripples of water.

I have looked for those elements that, isolated from everything superfluous that surrounds them, represent by themselves a concept, a poetic line, that invites the viewer to open a door that leads them to interpret the image for themselves beyond what it represents.

– Duna Gant

Janus Gallery II: Duna Gant – Simply Nature

These are images that are almost haunting in their vacant expanse; they naturally draw the eye into them and invite the mind to frame a narrative around them. From Always with its slowly rising (or setting) Moon, through to Loneliness – to offer a minimal sense of progress around the images from lower floor to upper – there is a palpable sense of life, place and wonder, of emotion and thought, that leads the visitor onward from one image to the next, the story forming and re-forming almost prism-like as each new image is encountered. This sense of story is in some respects enhanced by the gallery itself: the dark walls and hidden entrance leaving the visitor with no distraction from the subtle, soft richness of the images.

Through her use of muted tones, minimal colour and both framing and blurring, Duna presents 12 pieces that speak to the beauty of nature, the way in which it can use the simplest of forms over and again, never repeating but also never really changing, to offer something uniquely beautiful, be it the spread of a tree against the sky or the sea, the roundness of a hill or sand dune, or the sense of escape and freedom evoked by the rolls and curls of clouds – a sense further and quite fabulously embodied by the flock of birds to be found in Get Away.

Janus Gallery II: Duna Gant – Simply Nature

An outstanding exhibition, Simply Nature speaks from and to the heart.

SLurl Details

A trip to The Rock in Second Life

The Rock, September 2021 – click any image for full size

There are likely very few of us who have not heard of Alcatraz, the sitting within San Francisco Bay, just 2 km from the nearest shore. As well as being the home of the legendary prison of the same name that operated from 1934 through until early 1963, the island also served as the location of a lighthouse marking the island and the rocks around it and a military fort and barracks that also served as a military prison (notably holding Confederate prisoners of war during the US Civil War). It was in this latter capacity that the island received what is still perhaps its most famous landmark: the great prison block that straddles the island’s spine to this day, construction of which started in 1909.

From the start, the strong currents and cold waters of the Bay were seen as the most effective means of keeping those confined to the island on the island, thus leading in part, to the prison’s reputation when it became a federal prison. Intended to house the those prisoners who repeatedly caused problems in other federal prisons, it quickly gained a reputation for unforgiving firmness – the warders being trained purely in matter of security and control, but on in support and rehabilitation – that eventually lead to the expression that is one of the first things modern day visitors to the island – a US National Historic Landmark since 1986 – read on their arrival:

The Rock, September 2021

These are also the words Justice Vought uses as a tag for his latest region design, The Rock, which recently opened its gates to visitors in-world, and to which he invited me to pay a visit. And as with all things Justice does with his region designs, it offers mix of reality, art and mystery, whilst being highly photogenic as well as catching much of the spirit of the original.

Like the physical world’s Alcatraz, this La Isla de los Alcatraces (“Island of the gannets”, to use the original name coined by Juan Manuel de Ayala but which is oft given as “The Island of the Pelicans”), this one is reached via a ferry boat ride from the edge of the region as it abuts Justice’s main setting of :Oxygen: – just click on the red block over the water at the wharf landing point, then take a seat on the ferry when it appears.

The Rock, September 2021

Chugging away from the wharf, the ferry curves out and across the waters of the region to arrive at The Rock, coming alongside at Building 64, which originally served as a residential building for the military officers and their families living on the island, following its construction in 1905.

Recreating the entire 22 acres of the island  – or  just the 12-ish acres given over the prison – is not really feasible within a single region of 65,536 square metres total area, But what Justice has produced more than captures the core essence of the island: Building 64, the main prison block (sans mess / dining hall), the parade / exercise area, the lighthouse, the power generation building and its chimney and the water tower that forms one of the three major vertical structures on the island visible from the shore (alongside the aforementioned chimney and lighthouse).

The Rock, September 2021

Both Building 64 and the prison block have interior spaces, the former celebrating the legend of the prison and its cinematic history, the latter containing some of the tiny cells in which inmates were confined for the larger portion of their day, and the stark signage used to remind them that beyond food, clothing, shelter and access to medical attention, they had zero right to anything. The are cells made famous by latter-day day and night tours of the island, with visitors getting a brief opportunity to experience what it was like to be within the cells with the doors shut. Within the Rock, we can experience something of the same – and a little more.

Part of the fable of the prison is that, officially, no-one ever escaped alive – but up to three men may have actually done so (Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin), although their actual fates remain a mystery. However, like them, Justice offers visitors the means to make their own escape; only in this case, the escape route appears to make use of historical remains only discovered in 2019 by means of ground-penetrating radar – a “bombproof” shelter, tunnels and ventilation shafts under the former parade ground / exercise yard. Find the way into these, and route to a boat on the shore (rather than a raft, as with Morris and the Anglins) might be found, giving a way for people to get back to the “mainland” of :Oxygen:. I’ll leave you to find the way into the escape route, however!

The Rock, September 2021

Finished with a sound scape reflective of the physical island, the cry of gulls, the crash of surf on rocks and the plaintive call of a foghorn and caught under a lowering sky, The Rock offers a nicely atmospheric visit, one very different in tone – but no less appreciable – to that of :Oxygen: itself as it sits within its latest iteration.

However, a tour of :Oxygen: is a treat for another day and another article. For now, my thanks to Justice for the invitation and the opportunity to make the visit.

The Rock, September 2021

SLurl Details

Persona: emotions and self in Second Life

Kondor Art Centre Main Gallery: Hermes Kondor – Persona

Now open at the Kondor Art Centre Main Gallery is Persona, an intriguing selection of Second Life / Avatar-based images by the art centre’s owner and curator, Hermes Kondor. Intriguing, as that selection of images on display have apparently been selected by Janjii devling – although whether from Hermes’ existing collection of works or from a series of images specifically produced by Hermes with the intent to be used in this exhibition, I have no idea.

The 20+ images are a further tour de force of Hermes’ work as an artist. Each is a rich, digital collage study with an avatar focus. Either presenting a layering of colour or one if monochrome tones, each is a genuinely multi-faceted piece, a glimpse into a life offered through its layered, almost sharded finish, some of which offer a sense of the abstract, others touch upon the surreal, but each one carrying its own narrative. Collectively, these are all exceptionally tactile pieces – they draw out the desire to touch them as much as they call on us to study them and decipher their story.

According to the liner notes accompanying the exhibition, the narrative in each of these images is an intent to explore the idea of persona, the idea that we project facets of our personality depending on circumstance and audience. While this is very true as a theme within the images here, I found it to be somewhat too narrow a view, because while there is a projection of persona in these images, there is a far greater depth of emotion and a capturing of emotional expression.

Kondor Art Centre Main Gallery: Hermes Kondor – Persona

To be fair, this is touched upon within the liner notes, but it is this emotional expressionism that really comes to the fore in viewing the images. In some it is offered directly through the eyes of the subject in the image, or their expression(s), in others it is more subtle – such as the suggestion of music in Persona 091 for example. Of course, emotions and projection  / persona are inter-related, the one tends to give rise to the other; nevertheless so, allowing the mind to explore the former rather than attempting to define the latter – again for me – offered a richer experience.

These are also pieces that, whilst clearly the product of considered experimentation with software, the use of colour or tones, the structured nature of the layering within them, are obviously the result of a cartesian process, both on the part of the software itself (for obvious reasons), and the artist himself. This separates them from what we might regard as “traditional” abstract expressionism in works of art, which tends to be marked by a certain spontaneity, but it also offers a doorway into the medium of digital abstractionism  / abstract expressionism that has a unique richness of its own. Further, and in keeping with the works of Rothko, Newman and Still, these are pieces that carry a strength of symbolism that offers s further narrative avenue awaiting exploration.

Kondor Art Centre Main Gallery: Hermes Kondor – Persona

Evocative, rewarding, challenging and engaging, Personas offers multiple threads of exploration and interpretation. However, when visiting, I would perhaps suggest avoiding reading the posted curator and guest notes that sit on the gallery’s walls along with the images; not because they are in any way “wrong” or anything, but rather because doing so might constrain thinking around, and appreciation of, the images in their own right.