Firestorm warns: “be careful what you wish for”!

firestorm-logoPssst! The next release just might have group bans after all!

Jessica Lyon, project manager for the Firestorm team has officially announced the upcoming release of the next version of SL’s most popular viewer, although no actual release date is given.

A new release has been hinted at several times over the last few weeks, and the team is working hard to keep to a 3-monthly release cycle. At the moment, the upcoming release is focus of the Firestorm QA team and is being poked at by beta testers.

Releasing a viewer isn’t necessarily straightforward as might be thought; new features and shiny have to be measured against current code status, stability, and so on, and bugs and their fixes must be weighed against the opportunity to add new shiny or not. All of this made for a balancing act for all concerned; one in which  – especially given the size of Firestorm’s user base – not everyone is going to come away happy when a release arrives.

There have been a lot of updates flowing out of the Lab during the past year, many of which have yet to find their way into Firestorm. But as Jessica notes, stability tends to win-out over trying to crowbar everything into a viewer release:

Firestorm is not, and has never been, a “bleeding-edge” viewer. We have always focused on quality over quantity, stability over shiny. Slow and steady wins the day. Despite complaints and objections, this strategy has helped make Firestorm the most widely used viewer in Second Life by a long shot. In code, almost anything new has bugs and kinks that need to be worked out regardless of who wrote it and how vigilant they were at it. That’s because despite how much testing you do, it isn’t until it lands in the hands of the many that the deepest rooted software glitches start to crop up. Knowing this is one of the reasons we do not merge in and release new features from Linden Lab right away.

While the updates coming out of the Lab have all be to the good, they’ve also not been without their own problems. The AIS v3 code updates, for example, resulted in some od bugs and issues of a non-trivial kind, some of which have only recently been fixed in the new Attachments RC viewer (version that appeared on Wednesday, November 5th. And while the CDN and the HTTP pipelining viewer have brought improvements to the majority of SL users, they also have generated some issues.

The SL Share 2 features for sharing photos with Flickr and Twitter, and adding post-process filters to images, will probably not be in the next release of Firestorm
The SL Share 2 features for sharing photos with Flickr and Twitter, and adding post-process filters to images will probably not be in the next release of Firestorm

The upshot of this is that while the upcoming release of Firestorm will have new features, bug fixes and improvements, in order to keep code merges, etc., as straightforward as possible and avoid issues which may arise from cherry-picking features and updates from different LL releases, Jessica warns that when released, the new version of Firestorm will be without AIS v3, HTTP (although obviously, it will work with the CDN, just as all viewers do already), SL Share 2, and may not have group bans.

But it’s not all bad news, as Jessica notes:

But we absolutely will have plenty of other features, bug fixes and improvements worth updating for to which I’m very excited about!

Testing is still underway, so it will be another few weeks, most likely, before the new Firestorm release appears. When it does, if you’re a Firestorm user, please do keep in mind that if the feature you were really looking forward to isn’t in the release, it doesn’t men they’ve forgotten it or are ignoring it; they’re just trying  to bring you the best, more reliable experience they can whilst trying to avoid showering you with unwanted bugs and issues.

I’ll of course have the usual review of the release when it appears.

High Fidelity launches documentation resource

HF-logoHigh Fidelity have opens the doors on their new documentation resource, which is intended to be a living resource for all things HiFi, and to which users involved in the current Alpha programme are invited to contribute and help maintain in order to see it develop and grow.

Introducing the new resource via a blog post, Dan Hope from High Fidelity states:

This section of our site covers everything from how to use Interface, to technical information about the underlying code and how to make scripts for it. We envision this as being the one-stop resource for everything HiFi.

What’s more, we want you to be a part of it. We’ve opened up Documentation to anyone who wants to contribute. The more the merrier. Or at least, the more the comprehensive … er. And accurater? Whatever, we’re better at software than pithy catchphrases. Basically, we think that the smart people out there are great at filling in holes we haven’t even noticed yet and lending their own experience to this knowledge base, which will eventually benefit everyone who wants to use it.

Already the wiki-style documentation area contains a general introduction and notes on documentation standards and contributions, a section to the HiFi coding standard; information on avatar standards, including use of mesh, the skeleton, rigging, etc; information on various APIs, a range of tutorials (such as how to build your avatar from MyAvatar), and client build instructions for both OS X and Windows.

The documentation resource includes a number of tutorials, including the basic creation of an avatar from the MyAvatar "default" (top); and also includes sections on standards, such as (bottom)
The documentation resource includes a number of tutorials, including the basic creation of an avatar from the MyAvatar “default” (top); and also includes a section on avatar standards, which includes information on the avatar construction, the skeleton, joint orients, rigging, etc. (bottom) – click for sull size

All told, it makes for an interesting resource, and Dan’s blog post covers the fact that the documentation project is also linked to the HiFi Worklist, allowing those who prefer not to write documentation to highlight areas of improvement / clarification or which need writing to those who enjoy contributing documentation, and being rewarded for their efforts.

As well as the link from the blog post, the documentation resource can be accessed from the High Fidelity website menu bar – so if you’re playing with HiFi, why not check it out?

Related Links

With thanks to Indigo Mertel for the pointer.


Of triumph and tragedy

The last week has seen some momentous and tragic events occur in the annals of space flight and space exploration, with tragedy leading the way following the break-up of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo vehicle on Friday, October 31st, resulting in the death of co-pilot Michael Alsbury and the serious injury of pilot Peter Siebold.

The loss of SpaceShipTwo came just a few days after an Antares booster, operated by Orbital Sciences and which should have been launching an unmanned Cygnus resupply vehicle to the International Space Station (ISS), was ordered to self-destruct seconds after lifting off of the pad.

Understandably overshadowed by the loss of SpaceShipTwo was the news that China has enjoyed a further success as a part of its ambitious lunar mission plans, and NASA has achieved a further “first” on Mars with Curiosity.

The news from Curiosity came after what has been another period of relative quiet from the MSL team following the successful gathering of a rock sample from a drilling operation into a target rock outcrop dubbed “Confidence Hills” within the “Pahrump Hills” region at the base of “Mount Sharp”.

Since that time, Curiosity has been on something of a “walkabout”, as NASA JPL is calling it (“roll around” probably doesn’t give the right impression…) within the “Pahrump Hills” area whilst simultaneously analysing the samples gathered from “Confidence Hills” at the end of September, and also keeping an eye out for passing comets.

Curiosity’s “walkabout” in the “Pahrump Hills” at the base of “Mount Sharp” in October 2014. The route starts at “Confidence Hills”, the site of a successful drilling operation, and winds up to “Whale Rock”. Red dots indicate points at which the rover paused overnight, white dots denote points at which it stopped to gather images and data, perhaps over several days

As well as the familiar aboriginal reference, “walkabout” is also a term used by field geologists to describe walking across a rocky outcrop in order to determine the best places from which to examine it – which is precisely what Curiosity was ordered to do through October.

During the walkabout, Curiosity made a number of stops for data and image gathering, before arriving at a point dubbed “Whale Rock”, just below another high point which appears to mark the point at which “Pahrump Hills” join the “Murray formation”, the next destination for the rover once studies of “Pahrump Hills” has been completed. The rover will remain parked at “Whale Rock” as the science team analyses the images and data gathered in order to determine where the rover should return to carry out more detailed investigations.

The material obtained from the “Confidence Hills” drilling operation contained in the rover’s sample scoop after being sifted and graduated by the CHIMRA device in the rover’s robot arm turret, and about to be delivered to the input ports ready for analysis by the instruments in the rover’s body. This image was taken by Curiosity’s Mastcam, and has been white-balanced so that lighting conditions match daytime light on Earth

In the meantime, and in the “first” mentioned above, Curiosity has confirmed that the samples gathered from “Confidence Hills” contain mineral deposits what had been mapped from orbit. The mineral in question in Hematite – which has been found elsewhere on Mars by both of the MER rovers, Opportunity, and the now defunct Spirit.

However, the significance of the “Confidence Hills” analysis, carried out by the rover’s on-board Chemistry and Mineralogy (ChemMin) instrument, confirms predictions made from the analysis of data returned by the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter that Hematite deposits would exist within the rocks of the mountain’s lower slopes. This confirmation gives the science team greater confidence that the analysis of orbital data can help them make even better choices of while the rover should carry out drilling operations etc. It also means that the rover’s on-the-spot analysis and observations can be set directly into the broader geologic history of “Mount Sharp” as obtained by orbital data.

Curiosity may spend weeks or months at Pahrump Hills before proceeding farther up into the “Murray formation” and on to “Hematite Ridge”, a further location of interest to scientists. The mineral is of particular interest to scientists not so much because it might be indicative of a water-rich history in the region (as was the case with the discoveries made by Opportunity and Spirit) – Gale Crater has already more than yielded enough evidence of wet conditions being prevalent in its past history. Rather, the hematite on and in “Mount Sharp” helps scientists further understand oxidation conditions within the region. Continue reading “Of triumph and tragedy”