Firestorm Q and A January 11th: next release, fitted mesh and more

firestorm-logoOn Saturday January 11th, the Firestorm team hosted the first of their informal question-and-answer sessions for 2014. The meeting was called at short notice, and I was unable to attend. Due to other pressures and work, I’m not in a position to provide a full transcript of the meeting. Instead the following is offered as a summary of the key discussion points raised in the meeting (with timestamps so that the relevant parts of the recording can be listened to), and a summary of the main questions asked during the Q&A session.

As always, please note:

  • Questions /comments were made in chat while speakers were talking. This inevitably meant that replies to questions would lag well behind when they were originally asked. To provide context between questions and answers, questions in the transcript are given (in italics) at the point at which each is addressed by a member of the Firestorm team, either in voice or via chat
  • There was some general discussion to topics such as lag and clearing cache which took place during the “Q&A”, notes on these have been included in the General discussion section below, rather than in the Q&A section
  • This report  is provided for informational purposes only. As such, questions on technical issues relating to Firestorm and  / or project-specific questions cannot be answered here unless one of the Firestorm team drops by.

There was a lot of back and forth and sundry chat during the meeting on a range of topics which is not reported upon here.

As ever, my thanks to North for recording and supplying the video of the meeting.

General Discussion

0:00:01- 0:03:09 Firestorm Support: One-on-one Help

The Firestorm support volunteers will be commencing one-on-one help for users who feel they need it. The support will be offered as and when volunteers are available, and will take place in the ground-level central area of the Phoenix Firestorm Support Island. Sessions will likely be held on a drop-in basis: if you have a particular issue with which you need help, drop by and if there are volunteers available, they’ll do their best to help you, both in voice and / or in text.

The Phoenix Firestorm Support region: one-on-one assistance
The Phoenix Firestorm Support region: one-on-one assistance

Do keep in mind that the support team are all volunteers, and as such, they have individual approaches to providing assistance (some will not provide support in IM, for example). Also, as volunteers, it is possible that there may be times when the drop-in area is not staffed; if this is the case, people can either seek assistance through the Firestorm support groups or try the drop-in area another time.

0:03:15-0:10:00 Official Firestorm Support

There have been issues of users presenting themselves as “Firestorm advisors” and IMing people in the support group chat, etc. If anyone using Firestorm is unsure as to whether someone talking to them in support chat (or IM), they can verify the person’s status in a number of ways:

  • If the conversation is taking place as a result of contact via the Firestorm support group chat (either in chat or initiated from their and taken to IM) – check to see if the person’s group chat is in bold – if it is, this indicates they have moderator status, and are a member of the Firestorm Support team
  • If you use Firestorm legacy profiles, open the profile of the individual concerned and check the Account section  – if they are a member of the Firestorm support team, it will be listed (If you’re using web profiles by default, go to Preferences > General and uncheck Use Web Profiles by Default, top right – a viewer restart is not required.)
  • Check the Support page on the Firestorm web site. This lists the support volunteers – but do check the last updated timestamp at the bottom of the page, as it may not have been updated recently (although the team do maintain it).
How to identify if someone is a member of the Firestorm support team (top) and how to see the Firestorm legacy profiles (bottom)
How to identify if someone is a member of the Firestorm support team (top) and how to see the Firestorm legacy profiles (bottom)

This is a something of a sensitive issue, as the support chat is a community service, and as such the support team members appreciate other Firestorm users providing help to one another if official support team members are unavailable or already busy. As such, they do not wish to discourage users from providing such help to one another. However, what is (understandably) not appreciated is people presenting themselves as “official” Firestorm reps when they are not, and who consequently may not be in a position to access all information relating to a support issue or provide accurate information on the viewer’s future.

1:40:24 How Does Firestorm  Select Support Team Members?

The existing support team leads and support members watch the support group chat for people who provide the correct answers to those seeking help and who demonstrate the right attitude towards other users in giving assistance, etc., and who are keen enough to keep helping people over a lengthy period of time. As a result of these observations, some individuals may be asked if they would like to join one of the Firestorm support teams. There are no courses in becoming a firestorm support team member or application process. It’s all done on the basis of the skills a person brings to the group and the level of understanding they demonstrate.

0:11:45 – 0:13:56 – The Next Firestorm Release

The short answer to this is “when it is ready”.

As per the last Firestorm Q&A of 2013, there has been some discussion within the Firestorm team as to the best way to proceed: whether to wait until various elements of linden code are ready to be incorporated into TPVs, or whether to work of “stabilising” the current code and issuing it as a further release.

Currently, there is a lot coming down the pipe from the Lab in terms of viewer-side code (SSA / AIS v3 code, HTTP updates, a stable version of the viewer-side interest list changes, etc.). Unfortunately these have taken / are taking longer to appear in a state where they can be incorporated into viewers than had been hoped. The interest list code is still going through update as a result of bugs, for example, and the viewer-side HTTP code has only just reached a project viewer release status as of the start of the year.

In terms of the AIS v3 code (aimed at improving inventory loading speed and reliability), while this has been released by the Lab for inclusion in test versions of TPVs, it is still subject to further testing (such as via an upcoming pile-on test) and changes. Therefore, it is not yet ready for any viewers to include it in release versions of their offerings.

All of this means that it is likely to be a while longer before another major release of Firestorm is forthcoming.

0:46:40-0:55:10 Firestorm 64-bit Linux

Techwolf Lupindo is currently working on the 64-bit Linux version of Firestorm (as has been for a time when his RL work allows). There have been a couple of builds made, and these are undergoing closed testing and bug reporting / clearing. A lot of the work has involved rebuilding many of the libraries used in the viewer build process, and the is a slight problem in that some of the autobuild scripts are missing their associated licence files. Currently, there’s no confirmed date on when a 64-bit version of Firestorm for Linux will surface.

0:14:00-0:16:20 Fitted Mesh

In my preview of the Fitted Mesh project viewer release, I pointed to issues viewers which do not have the Fitted mesh code have rendering clothing which is rigged for Fitted Mesh. At the time of that preview, Darien Caldwell suggested that one way to overcome this is to manually replace the avatar .XML files (Avatar_skeleton.XML and avatar_lad.xml) in a viewer without the Fitted Mesh updates with the same files from the Fitted Mesh viewer.

What happens when you see Fitted Mesh in a viewer without Fitted Mesh support
What happens when you see Fitted Mesh in a viewer without Fitted Mesh support

While this works, it is hardly the most ideal way of ensuring older versions of viewers can render Fitted Mesh garments correctly, and certainly not a recommended way of doing so. However, Tonya Souther from the Firestorm team will be looking to see if this can be achieved in some manner for users of Firestorm 4.4.2 and 4.5.1 without them having to necessarily manually replace files.

0:23:02-0:26:10 Firestorm Classes

  • Classes are generally held daily and cover all aspects of viewer use – not necessarily just Firestorm features (although these are the focus)
  • Individual classes are repeated at different times of the day to try to suit all geographic locations
  • Each class also includes an open Q&A session
  • Check the Firestorm Classes schedule for further information
  • If you cannot attend a class, drop by the Firestorm classroom and pick-up the class notes

0:26:25-0:43:20 SL Lag

Lag is complicated subject and can take one (or more) of several forms, all of which can impact a person’s experience of Second Life: viewer lag (also referred to as client-side lag), network lag and server lag. A goodly proportion of lag can be traced by to the viewer side of the equation, and s the result of a combination of things: the computer itself, the hardware installed (CPU, GPU, memory, etc) and to people simply pushing their viewer too hard, settings-wise (a problem which can also create network-related lag.

Two good resources for understanding and trying to mitigate lag are:

The Firestorm team also run a class on lag (combined with lessons about Firestorm Quick Prefs).

Lag is often misunderstood and misrepresented. Therefore, using sources such as those above are a good means of not only learning to deal with lag but also in understanding both where the lag may reside, and whether or not having excessive viewer settings is exacerbating the situation on your own computer.

This section provides a general introduction to various causes of lag, such as on the server-side (physics, scripts, the impact of other simulators running on the same server as the simulator you’re using) and also dispels some of the myths surrounding server-side lag (e.g. that an avatar carrying a large number of scripts within a region is automatically lagging things for others), and that script counts alone are not indicative of the impact an avatar may be having on a region – what is of more relevance is the amount of CPU cycle time the scripts are using.

1:24:24-Cache versus Relogging

This is an oft-repeated topic  at Firestorm meetings. Unless you are encountering very specific issues with a viewer (e.g. textures and inventory), it is likely that clearing cache will not actually resolve the issue. And even if they are, it is preferable to try to avoid clearing cache as a first resort.

A common instruction that used to be heard (and can still at times be heard) between users is to log out, clear cache and log back in, with the result that the problem is resolved. When this happens, it is the clear cache aspect of the instruction which is attributed to resolving the problem – when in fact it is more likely that it was simply the act of relogging that resolved it.

Clearing cache can actually have the reverse effect: it can make things (even temporarily) worse for you. This is liable to be more particularly felt once the viewer-side interest list updates, which allow the viewer to make far more practical use of the local cache, start finding their way into all viewers.

Q&A Session

The following is a summary of key questions asked. The Q&A session commenced some 19 minutes into the meeting.

0:19:13:  Is there any chance that Firestorm could have the option of using people on your friends instead of the closest avatars for avatar imposters, if you only have a small number of such?

No. Avatar imposters is a rendering issue, and works on the principle that those avatars which are closest to your camera position, as those are the one you are effectively “looking at” and will want to see in the greatest detail.

0:20:35: Every time i change the height of my avatar, it changes my hover status and puts me in the floor. Is there any way to keep the hover the same?

This is a difficult issue to resolve because some people do not have the problem when adjusting their height, while others find it is an issue every time they do so. As such, there likely isn’t a single “fix” to the problem that will address all situations. See also FIRE-9951.

0:21:09: What are replacement avatars [avatar imposters]? I mean, where are they rendered and what’s the difference? I see they look different, but what are the differences technically?

Avatar imposters are avatars which are not fully rendered by the viewer. They are designed to lighten the rendering load on the local computer (because avatars are incredibly render-intensive), and so help cut-down of viewer-side lag induced by rendering them.

0:43:23: What about taking a long time to log-in? – A question related to Lag (see earlier in this article)

The time taken to log-in to SL can be down to the network connection, what’s happening at the logging server end of things, establishing a connection with the region you’re logging-in to,  and (possibly) what else is being run on the local computer when logging-in, who else is using your home network and what they’re doing, etc.

When running Second Life, it’s worthwhile making sure your viewer(s) of choice(and associated plug-ins) are whitelisted in your anti-virus software to avoid potential conflicts and issues there.

0:48:40: I had my bandwidth set to 500 and could hardly log-in until I set it to 1,400

Some people can run SL with a very high bandwidth setting, and enjoy a better SL experience by increasing the amount of bandwidth the viewer can use. However, they tend to be the exception, and Firestorm recommend care in setting the viewer’s bandwidth and keeping it within certain limits.

0:49:49: One thing I’ve noticed is that objects attached will sometimes seem to persist after detaching. Would this be something viewer-side or server-side?

A rough rule-of-thumb is that if others are seeing the same behaviour, then it is quite likely server-side (asset servers). If you are only seeing an attached object persist after detaching it, it is likely either a network issue or something on the local computer / viewer. In the case of the latter, people should first try relogging, which should clear the problem, or try resetting their router if the issue is persistent.

0:58:00 What I’d like to see is an ability to mask off parts of a texture when tinting it. I have an idea how to go about doing in without breaking existing content. Say you have a dress texture and you want to tint only the fabric and not the buttons, so in a mask you could upload, the tintable parts would be white and the buttons black.

Such a change would operate in a similar manner to a specular map, but would require further changes to the asset server, and it is possible that Linden Lab would not see a lot of value in introducing such a capability. The best way of raising topics like this is to put them forward as a JIRA with the subject item of Feature Request and / or consider sounding-out initial feedback via the Content Creator User Group meetings held most Mondays at midday SLT.

1:06:42: So every time someone opens a new chat in my inbox, it just about crashes me. Any ideas for a workaround? It locks-up on Windows XP with Service Pack 3 [Can also happen when opening Preferences.]

This is a curious, if limited in terms of the numbers of affected users, situation which can be triggered a number of ways – opening chat windows, Preferences and other panels, but which doesn’t appear to have a single source point for those affected by it. Symptoms generally comprise the viewer freezing for up to a minute (60 seconds was the common reference, but more recently some have found it lasting for around 15 seconds). See FIRE-11322, and if you are experiencing the problem – especially if you are not a Mac user – please add your feedback to the JIRA, including your system details (Help>About Firestorm & use the Copy to Clipboard button).

1:10:01: It is worth noting that microwave ovens operate on the same frequency range as wifi routers, and it is possible that an operating microwave oven may affect wifi connectivity. Newer routers / access points are engineered to avoid this, but older systems, notably the likes of Linksys systems, may still have problems.

1:12:19: I was thinking of buying a new iMac. Do you guys know if the graphics card will work well?

Tonya’s rule-of-thumb: most Mac systems will work well as long as it doesn’t have Intel graphics. There is some disagreement on this, especially where the very latest Intel graphics are concerned.

1:29:30: There are times when I sit on a poseball for furniture or the like and I won’t get the “xxx would like to animate your avatar” message and my avatar just sits there in the default sit pose.

If this happens, check Preferences>Firestorm>Protection and make sure Revoke on SIT or Revoke on STAND is not enabled. If not, check your block list to ensure the object in question hasn’t been muted / blocked.

1:31:00-end: general chat, more discussion of lag, Firestorm classes, etc., and mobile versions of Firestorm (with the usual response of try Lumiya, Pocket Metaverse, etc.).

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4 thoughts on “Firestorm Q and A January 11th: next release, fitted mesh and more

  1. Thanks for the update. I’m just wondering, does anyone care about 64 bit Firestorm for mac at all? Seems like it is always glossed over or never mentioned. I don’t have time to go to every meeting and ask. Just seems like not many on the firestorm team work on mac issues at all. My understanding over this is it would be a huge improvement on how Firestorm works on modern computers.

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    1. I’m not sure it’s a case of anyone not caring where Firestorm and the Mac are concerned. I think – and I stress this is just my opinion, not anything “official” from the Firestorm team, whom I do not represent – it’s more a case that the Mac side of things has a lot of issues (not all of them necessarily specific to Firestorm) which need to be nailed down ahead of any expansion of Mac work, such as the Cocoa issues, to name a few.

      Unfortunately, the best way to get an answer on specific subjects like this is to ask at one of the Q&A meetings. I’ll endeavour to try to remember to ask myself next time around if you’re not there.

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