SL projects update week 14 (3): Viewer releases, server-side AO

Server Deployments – week 14

On Tuesday April 2nd, the Second Life Server (SLS or Main) channel received the interest list update which has been running on the Magnum RC channel for weeks 12-13, together with fixes for the following issues:

  • BUG-1779 – Updates for objects that are out of view are delayed for a maximum of 5 seconds, at which point they will be sent
  • BUG-1795 – “Agent appears in incorrect position to other agents after being moved by a sim teleporter”
  • BUG-1814 – “No object updates from vehicles after some region crossings” – yes, the vehicle region crossing bug fix reaches the Main channel (and should be on BlueSteel and LeTigre following the RC deployments on Wednesday 3rd April).

Deployment release notes.

On Wednesday April 3rd, the Release Candidate (RC) channels received the following updates:

  • BlueSteel and LeTigre received the same package as week 13, which includes the new Animation Override LSL capabilities together with the following:
    • The changes deployed to the Main channel on Tuesday April 2nd
    • A fix for BUG-2134 – “Avatar pre-jump is sporadic”
    • Release notes are available (BlueSteel link)
  • Magnum received Monty Linden’s new server-side HTTP updates – release notes.

SL Viewer

There has been some activity within the various viewer channels, and the promise of more to come.

The Communications Hub User Interface (CHUI)

CHUI has now reached the  viewer release channel with LL issuing viewer 3.5.0.273444. This release includes both the new CHUI UI for conversations, etc., as well as a lot of additional refactoring of code. A blog post has accompanied the launch, complete with Torley’s original video on the interface.

Server-side Baking Viewer Code

The viewer-side code for Server-side Baking / Appearance (SSB) reached the SL development viewer with the release of version 3.5.1.273529. With CHUI now in the release viewer, SSB should also be appearing in the SL beta viewer view shortly.

Materials Processing

“Materials is actually making great progress,” Oz Linden reported at the Open-source Dev meeting on Wednesday April 3rd. He went on to say the latest work on the code is showing promise and was due to go to LL’s QA department. If things go well with QA, it is possible that a project viewer could finally be emerging from the darkness. However, as Oz again warned this will only happen when, “We’re confident that 1) it won’t do any serious harm, and 2) it’s not so terrible that it’ll give the project a black eye.”

Nevertheless, things are moving.

Server-side Animation Override Capabilities

New server-side AO capabilities coming soon
New server-side AO capabilities: LSL functions now being deployed to main grid

While the new Animation Override LSL capabilities have only just rolled-out BlueSteel and LeTigre, the server has actually supported overriding animations for over a year; it has just lacked the required LSL functions and some bug fixes. This means that if you use the new capabilities on either BlueSteel or LeTigre, any animations you set will continue to work across the entire grid until you log out.

In noting this at the Server Beta user group meeting on Thursday April 4th, Kelly Linden went on to say:

The new override functions do not allow setting by UUID. My original version (well over a year old) set by integer constants. However there was some desire internally to make the system more flexible, to allow for different states or modifying the state machine diagram, and for that string constants were used. Right now those string constants are converted to integer constants for use in the existing internal state machine.

In other words, the system allows animations to be specified by name (string constant), making the capability somewhat more user-friendly than might have been the case has UUIDs for animations been required. The the string constants are converted to integers for handling by the server’s state machine (the “engine” for animations on the server-side) means that it should be possible for the state machine to be updated in the future without potentially breaking content using the capabilities.

In answering a question on the lack of support for animations such as idling and typing, Kelly again explained that some animation types are not supported by the state engine. These are either handled within the viewer (idling) or elsewhere in server (typing), as such they fall outside the new AO capabilities. Swimming is also excluded, although Kelly couldn’t remember if that is handled viewer-side or elsewhere in the server.

HTTP Updates

Monty Linden’s ongoing HTTP work reached the Magnum RC channel. For those interested in monitoring SL’s port usage, Monty provided a quick summary in response to a question on texture fetches posted to the deployment thread:

The Texture Console speaks truth for texture fetches, either http or udp.  If that is quiet while this transport is going on, it’s something else …. and here are some rules that will determine the traffic:

  • Port 12046 but textures are quiet => mesh fetches
  • Port 12043 (corrected, was 12042) => other HTTP services (“Capabilities”)
  • UDP port 12035, 13000-130XX => simulator communications

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The Drax Files 3: “Second Life is too beautiful a tool…”

The third in Draxtor’s Despres series looking inside Second Life, The Drax Files, premiered on Friday April 5th. In it, he talks with artist and creator Eshi Otawara, a six-year veteran of Second Life.

Perhaps best known for her clothing designs in SL, Eshi is also an artist in her real life, and also  lends support to other SL projects as well. In what only can be serendipity, prior to watching this segment ahead of the release, I blogged on Chakryn Forest a region in which  Eshi has had a hand in helping to design.

Eshi's beautiful and restful build within Chakryn Forest
Eshi’s beautiful and restful build within Chakryn Forest

As someone who has been involved in SL for a good while, and who invests a considerable amount of time and talent in the platform, Eshi offers a considered and insightful view of Second Life, and which perfectly frames both the immersive and augmentive opportunities presented by the platform.

“At the beginning,” Eshi candidly tells us early on in the piece, “I created my avatar to be everything that I was not. She was super, super tall, super, super skinny, [and] had super long hair. When I realised that my personality and my spirit continued to experience life no matter what kind of packaging I put myself into; nowadays I’ve just kind-of become a complete shape-shifter….”

There are times when those of us involved in SL perhaps define it a little too sharply, picturing it as either augmentive or immersionist, with a distinct division between the two – a division which may well have been broadened of late by the Lab’s focus on enhancing the more immersive elements of the platform possibly at the expense of the more augmentive. This may even be a reason why some feel that SL has “failed” and so lost its appeal; because they do place themselves on one side or the other of the divide.

Eshi
Eshi Otawari’s stylish in-world store

Eshi’s words, however, serve as a reminder that SL doesn’t have to be one or the other. It always has been, and remains, a blend of the two – and that really, so much of how we perceive and interact with the platform is really down to our own nature. Her attitude to her avatar, to me at least, is very much a reflection of this: she can both immerse herself in the world through her shape-shifting use of her avatar while simultaneously augmenting her natural talent and love of art and design in ways she notes aren’t always possible in real life and which allow much of her spirit and personality shine through her avatar. In doing so, she has a perception of Second Life which can all too easily be lost after several years of engagement with the platform, but which she has clearly managed to keep very much alive.

Her views on the creative power inherent in Second Life clearly speak to the appeal of the platform. “It’s not a non-existent universe,” she tells us later in the video, “It’s there. It exists. If you just release yourself of that prejudice towards what’s virtual; that’s it’s not real, it will make you happy.”

This is another outstanding piece examining Second Life which again, as with the first two segments (though hardly touched upon in my reports to date) speaks as much to those of us involved in SL as to those new to the virtual world. They help to remind us as to why we’re here and (possibly) reinvigorating our love of the platform.

For me, out of the segments Drax has published to date, it is the one which resonates the most – for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps it is because Eshi touches on the immersive / augmentist elements of SL (which I’ve been thinking about a lot lately) or that her enthusiasm for the platform as a means of extending her both her creativity and her ability to interact with other is so infectious; maybe it is simply that having experienced something of a pendulum attitude towards Second Life over the course of the last year, her insights into the platform as a whole resonate more strongly with me.

Whatever the reason, this another pitch-perfect exploration of Second Life and the many ways it can appeal to us and offer us something magical. Congrats to Drax on again striking precisely the right editorial balance and to Eshi for painting such a vibrant picture of Second Life and her involvement with it.

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The Linden Dollar: token or currency? The US Treasury ponders …

secondlifeA recent set of interpretive guidelines (PDF) issued by the US Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement network (FinCEN) is starting to see questions asked as to the possible future status of the Linden Dollar.

In short, since April 30th, 2010 the Linden Dollar has, under the Lab’s Terms of Service (ToS), been classified as a “token” rather than (as was previously the case, a “currency”). Section 5 of the ToS states:

5.1 Each Linden dollar is a virtual token representing contractual permission from Linden Lab to access features of the Service. Linden dollars are available for Purchase or distribution at Linden Lab’s discretion, and are not redeemable for monetary value from Linden Lab.

However, under the guidelines issued by FinCEN, the Linden Dollar actually meets criteria specified for being recognised as a virtual currency in that: it operates through an “official” exchange, the Lindex (as well as some third-party exchanges); Linden Lab falls under FinCEN’s view that they are both “an administrator and an exchanger of virtual currency”; and Linden Dollars effectively have a real world exchange rate (around L$260 to the USD).

US Treasury's FinCEN: examining virtual currencies
US Treasury’s FinCEN: examining virtual currencies

Alex Kadochnikov, who has been looking into virtual currencies and the FinCEN guidelines as they might affect them, has blogged on the possible ramifications for the Lab should FinCEN’s view move beyond guidelines. He notes that while the guidelines should not have any significant impact on casual SL users (i.e. you and me), the situation may not be the same for LL:

Linden Lab does not want to consider the Linden Dollar as a virtual currency. Second LIfe’s terms of service refer to Linden Dollar as a transferable license. Also according to Linden Lab, when a player “sells” the Linden Dollar, that player transfers a license, not currency. However, Linden Lab terms of service will play no role in FinCEN’s decision to classify Linden Dollar as virtual currency.

FinCEN goes by the approach “If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it is a duck.” And Linden Dollar sure does “quack” like one. Linden dollar is a virtual currency because it has value in real currency.

As such, should the guidelines result in a more regulatory stance being taken by the US Treasury towards virtual currencies, then it is unlikely the Linden Dollar (and Linden Lab) will be entirely unaffected. Again, Alex Kadochnikov comments:

It matters for Linden Lab because they are now both an administrator and an exchanger of virtual currency.  Both of these are a Money Services Business (“MSB”) under the treasury regulation. An MSB must register with the Treasury Department and make Anti-Money Laundering and periodic reports. These reports are not little one page chores a trained monkey can do. There is a reason corporate compliance departments are stacked with lawyers and accountants. As you can imagine both of these items cost a lot of money.

This has led some commentators to the opinion that it’ll set the Lab back a pretty penny, while others speculate it is the reason behind “rumours” of a possible sell-out to Amazon.

Money laundering - a significant threat to Second Life?
Money laundering – a significant regulatory threat to Second Life?

But there would appear to be questions as to how justified concerns over compliance (and the cost thereto faced by the Lab) actually are.

When it comes to money laundering in particular, Linden Lab already has a number of safeguards in place. Whether these are compliant with any requirements specified by the US Treasury is open to debate; I’m certainly not conversant with the details and therefore not in a position to comment reliably. However, it would seem unlikely that such safeguards would be without reference to any legal / regulatory compliance, even  if they only meet the bare minimum required.

As such, the potential impact on the Lab may not be as great as imagined. There are also arguments to suggest that despite the apparent size of the SL economy, the safeguards the Lab have already put in place make the platform unsuitable for “serious” money-laundering operations.

There is another aspect to these guidelines as well, which hasn’t been really touched upon – the flip side of the coin, if you will pardon the expression – and which is perhaps more positive.

Were the Linden Dollar to become a recognised digital currency, it could encourage further transparency in terms of how the Lab manages the SL economy, and make it and the Linden Dollar more trustworthy. In turn, both of these factors could in turn make SL a more viable proposition for potential investors and / or those wishing to utilise the platform as a business enabler.

However one looks at the FinCEN document, it is evident that virtual currencies are very much in the US Treasury’s sights, possibly more so now due to the meteoric rise of Bitcoin over the last few years. Doubtless, they are also going to be the subject of more detailed thinking on the part of the EU and others. As such, this isn’t a matter which is liable to go away. Whether this is a good or bad thing for Second Life is still very open to debate.

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With thanks to Mona Eberhardt and Trinity Dejavu