SL16B Meet April and Oz Linden: summary with audio and video

Courtesy of Linden Lab
On Tuesday, June 254th, 2019 at the SL16B celebrations, the second of five Meet the Lindens sessions was held in the SL16B Auditorium. It featured the Lab’s Senior Director, Second Life Engineering, Oz Linden and April Linden, Systems Engineering Manager, Operations.

The following is a summary of the session covering the core topics raised, with audio extracts where relevant.

Note that there are three videos of this event that I’m aware of:

Table of Contents

When reading this summary, please note:

  • It is not a full transcript:
    • Discussion points have been grouped by topic, and not necessarily in the order raised during the session.
    • I have focused on those topics liable to be of the most interest to readers / generated the most informative answers, so this is not a summary of all comments. etc.,
    • Topics are give as bullet-point highlights for ease of reference.
  • Audio extracts are provided.
    • These have been cleaned-up in places to remove repetition or pauses, etc.
    • Audio extracts may concatenate comments on specific subjects that may have been made at different points in the discussion, and so do not always match the chronology of the video.
  • Timestamps to the part 2 of the SL4Live – TV video are provided for those who would prefer to listen to  comments “in the raw”. This video is also embedded at the end of this article.

About April and Oz Linden

April Linden

April has some 20 years of experience in systems engineering, and is genuinely passionate about Second Life. She first became involved in the platform in 2006, and is still extremely active as a resident.

I actually own a couple of regions, and I’m in-world probably way more as a resident than I am as a Linden. At the end of the day, I leave the Lab, go home, have some dinner and then log-in as a different account and spend my time in Second Life.

– April Linden, Meet the Lindens, June 25th, 2019

In this, April is one of a large number  – in difference to the hoary old claim that “Lindens don’t understand SL” because they’ve “never been residents” or they’re “never in-world” – of Lab employees who have joined the company from the ranks of SL users (in fact if you look at the list of those Lindens who have attended Meet the Lindens over the years, the many are former residents who have not only joined the company, but have also risen to senior positions within LL.

Joining the company in 2013, April worked within the systems engineering team, and was promoted to her current position of Systems Engineering Manager, Operations, some 18 months ago. For her, the great attraction of the platform has been, and remains, the empowerment it gives people to express themselves positively.

I come from a background – well, I’ll just be frank, where LGBT issues were not to be discussed, and it was through Second Life that gave me the power and the anonymity and the courage, really, to learn more about myself. And Second Life gave me the power to make my life so much better … This platform is so important to me, I work here to keep it going; It gave me the courage to be more than I was, and I really appreciate Second Life for that. 

– April Linden, Meet the Lindens, June 25th, 2019

The bunny and the wizard who bring us Second Life: April Linden (Systems Engineering Manager, Operations) and Oz Linden (Senior Director, Second Life Engineering). Credit; Strawberry Linden

Oz Linden

Oz is the Technical Director for Second Life. He joined the company in 2010 specifically to take on the role of managing the open-source aspects of the Second Life viewer and managing the relationship with third-party viewers. In his previous role, he had been responsible for leading the company his was working for in taking their product from closed-source to open-source and then managing the technical side of the product as a open-source project for a number of years.

Over the first two years of his time at the Lab, he was primarily focused on the open-source viewer work and in refining the overall viewer maintenance process, before his role started expanding to encompass more and more of the engineering side of Second Life. When work on Sansar started in earnest, he pro-actively campaigned within the Lab for the role he has now, with responsibility for managing all of the engineering side of the Second Life platform.

He came to Linden Lab out of a desire to do something “fun” after working in the telecommunication arena, notably with voice over IP systems (VOIP), which he defines as being “really interesting technology with some really fascinating challenges”, but in terms of it being fun, it really didn’t do what I wanted it to do.” He had actually signed-up to Second Life around three years prior to joining Linden Lab, but wouldn’t classify himself as a resident at that time as he didn’t have a particularly good computer and so couldn’t really do that much – although interestingly, he did use his SL account for around half of his interviews with the Lab, all of which were conducted in-world.

He classifies the attraction to working with Second Life as perhaps falling into three core areas: through the open-source nature of the viewer, he is directly involved with how SL users are using the viewer and what they do with it – which can often times take the Lab entirely by surprise; through the fact that the Second Life offers the challenge of trying to implement new technologies alongside of (rather than simply replacing) older technologies; and working with the operations team and others to ensure SL constantly evolves without (as far as is possible) breaking anything – a process he refers to and rebuilding the railway in front of a moving train.

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On Working at the Lab

[Video: 5:06-21:40]

  • Induction at the Lab is referred to as “drinking from the fire hose”, in that all new starters have an enormous amount to learn (although those who come from the ranks of residents may have it a little easier due to their familiarity with the platform as users).
    • Part of this used to include a series of Jira-based tasks new starters would be given, which they then had to come in-world and do.
  • Most employees at the Lab refer to it as a “fun” place to work  – and most are there a long time.
  • One of the appeals of working with Second Life is that it is a constant surprise: users make use of the platform and its capabilities in so many (often unique / unintended) ways, that seeing  / hearing about how the platform is used is something of a daily voyage of discovery.
  • Most rewarding aspects of the work:
    • Hearing about the positive impact Second Life can have on people’s physical lives.
    • Being able to run the platform and help / be with users.
  • Most challenging:
    • Oz: trying to introduce new features while maintaining backward compatibility, be it the way a function used to work, how it’s anticipated SL should work, how SL looks, or making it harder for people on older systems to use SL, and how user content works within SL.
    • April: trying to keep all of the SL services (not just the simulators, they are just a part of the story) running without interruption, be it from issues developing internally, or for outside influences such as DDoS attacks.
      • This complexity is increased at SL has continued to grow technically over 16+ years, so systems and subsystems can all behave differently to one another, which means root causes of issues can often be found in unlikely places.
      • Given SL is intended to run 24/7, it is not as if those working in the Ops team today can take a system down, figure out how it works and put it back together – they often have to do that as a part of trying to fix an issue.
      • Much of the work April’s team carries out is invisible to users: they are often in and fixing issues before the problems rise to the point of impacting users.
      • As a resident, April believes it’s important for users to understand what has happened when things go sideways, hence her honest (and appreciated) post-mortem blog posts on outages.

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Current Projects

Bakes On Mesh

[Video: 22:39-24:33]

Project summary: Extending the current avatar baking service to allow wearable textures (skins, tattoos, clothing) to be applied directly to wearable mesh (e.g. bodies) as well as system avatars. This involves viewer and server-side changes, including updating the baking service to support 1024×1024 textures, but does not include normal or specular map support, as these are not part of the existing Bake Service, nor are they recognised as system wearables.

  • Still in development with the viewer at Release Candidate status, but the project has had multiple small, but irritating issues (at the time of writing, a significant issue is still being resolved).
  • The project has been more complicated to implement than LL had hoped, partially due to feature creep – adding elements to the work that should hopefully make it a better feature, but which also add to the development time.
  • The hope is still that Bakes on Mesh will prove to be well-received and help make wearing clothes on mesh bodies easier for people.
  • Note: I provide updates on Bakes on Mesh progress via my Content Creation User Group meeting summaries.

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Environment Enhancement Project (EEP)

[Video: 32:38-37:05; no audio extract]

Project summary: A set of environmental enhancements allowing the environment (sky, sun, moon, clouds, water settings) to be set region or parcel level, with support for up to 7 days / 168 hours per cycle and sky environments set by altitude. It uses a new set of inventory assets (Sky, Water, Day), and includes the ability to use custom Sun, Moon and cloud textures. The assets can be stored in inventory and traded through the Marketplace / exchanged with others, and can additionally be used in experiences. Also includes changes to the viewer shaders than manage the environment rendering.

Whirly Fizzle’s EEP Saturn looms over the EEP test regions on Aditi, as seen for her test parcel
  • Work is progressing, but has been hampered by issues of backward compatibility with windlight.
    • For example: the deployment of EEP to the simulators has resulted in non-EEP viewer rendering stars black on daytime skies; certain windlight files do not render as expected on non-EEP viewers etc,
    • It is hoped that many of these issues will be resolved when EEP is available in all viewers.
  • There will likely be some “compatibility” issues when EEP is fully deployed, as it does involve rendering changes, and trying to get EEP to perfectly match every single set of windlight settings, as seen in every single viewer no matter what the local settings, is impossible.
  • Note: I provide updates on EEP progress via my Content Creation User Group meeting summaries.

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First and Last Names

[Video: 28:20-32:35]

  • Frequently referred to as “last names”, important to remember the capability will give people the opportunity to change both their first and last names.
    • First name selection will be free-form (pick any first name you like (within the bounds of LL’s ToS and the SL Community Standards).
    • Last names will be selectable from a pre-set list. This list will change on some basis (TBD). It may be possible for users to offer suggestions for new last names.
    • Combinations of first name and last name must be completely unique (i.e. never used previously in Second Life).
    • Currently, it is not planned to make  previously used last names (e.g. Pey, Sideways, Starr, Rubble, etc.) available for re-use.
  • A major reason why the ability to introduce the ability to change names is taking so long to implement is because none of the SL services were coded with the expectation that avatar names would NEVER change.
    • As a result, many of these services reference avatars in multiple places using their FIRST+LAST name, not their avatar key.
    • ALL of these points must be found, updated to use avatar keys, and tested to confirm everything continues to work s it should.
  • The ability to change your name will likely be via a new page available through your account dashboard.

Questions on First and Last Names

[Video: 38:04-47:59]

  • Will incoming users be able to pick a last name when they are signing-up? – Most likely no, they won’t. Incoming new users will continued to have “Resident” as a default last name.
    • This is because picking a last name was found to be a major blocker to users signing-up.
    • They will, however, be able to change their name(s) like everyone else, once they are in Second Life.
  • Why is there a charge being applied to name changes? – Mainly to discourage people from frequently changing their names. These changes will have a impact right across the SL services, and this needs to be managed, and the Lab would prefer not to impose artificial limits (e.g. “you can only change one a month”), if possible.
  • How much will it cost to change names? – This will probably be one of the last things to be decided, as it only needs to be done when the capability is ready for deployment.
  • Will friends of people who change their name be notified, or will they have to discover this for themselves? – Hasn’t been considered, but potentially no reason why friends shouldn’t be notified.
  • Will people who change their names remain on a friends list? Yes; this is one of the systems the Lab has to parse through to make sure things behave as expected.
  • Will name changes be reflected in everything (the name of creators of object rezzed in-world, the owners’ names, etc)?
    • That is the goal, and again why it is taking so much time to get this feature to a point where it works as would be expected and then deployed.
    • However, there will likely be a some delays on seeing name changes, simply because they need to propagate and cached across multiple services.

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Transition to the Cloud

The transition to a cloud-based infrastructure is progressing. Credit: Linden Lab / Amazon Web Services Inc.

[Video: 58:40-1:02:43]

  • Work continues to be in progress.
  • This is a large-scale task requiring the transition of over 200 elements of Second Life, which are being moved on a case-by-case basis. These include services, storage capabilities, caching systems, databases, etc.
  • April’s Operations team is handling most of the heavy lifting with this work.
  • Specifics on what has been / is being moved are not generally being given out.
    • This is to avoid the (usual) user-based assumption that because X has recently changed, it “must” be because the Lab made change Y, when in fact there may be no connection between the two.
    • Instead, the Lab prefer to transition a service / capability / element and  see what (if any) bug reports are filed that may actually be indicative of potential issues with the move.
  • That said, at the start of the year, April’s team were engaged on moving the inventory databases to the cloud.
    • This work was completed around two months ago, and since then that hasn’t been a single bug report filed that might be indicative of any issues resulting from the move (or that assume an issue is the result of the move).
    • This move means that the inventory service(s) are now running on servers far newer, faster and more efficient than the inventory / asset servers operated by the Lab.
    • Outside of this, the Lab continues to work on a range of inventory improvements.
  • It might be that, as with inventory, the Lab might mention specific services  / components that have transitioned, but only “some months” after the move has been made.
  • [Video: 1:15:34-1:17:29] Will the move to the cloud see the Lab offer larger region sizes?
    • There is no current plan for this, although experiments have been carried out, some of the results of which were “encouraging”, others were “terrifying”.
    • It is not one of the primary motivations for the transition, and so is unlikely to be one of the first things the Lab try to do once SL is fully transitioned.
    • Oz is personally more interested in possibly hosting regions much closer to their core user base (e.g. reasons developed and operated by communities in South America being hosted in a cloud centre  in South America), making the experience for those users more performant.
    • However, core focus at present is transitioning services to the cloud with as few changes as possible and ensuring they continue to work as expected.

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In Brief

  • Mesh physics issue [video: 24:42-28:05]: it is often impossible to rez an object on top of a mesh surface, a problem that frequently generates an error stating the user doesn’t have permission to place the object, despite having rezzing permissions / owning the land.
    • This is a mesh physics issue, and down to the way the mesh has been constructed.
    • The error message, while confusing, is because the simulator can lose track of where the user is attempting to place the object.
    • While it is in reference to a feature specific to the Firestorm TPV, Beq Janus has produced a short view explaining the problem.
  • Will we ever get more than 10 Picks in our profiles? [video: 48:14-48:55]:  that’s the kind of thing that might be provided as a Premium perk, as it is the kind of account level change that fits with these kinds of offerings.
  • Are there changes coming to Profiles in the viewer? [video: 54:35-55:45]: the official viewer is reverting to the “legacy” style profile floater (which has continued to be used by some TPVs)
  • Viewer in a browser [video: 56:55-58:36]: not being worked on at present, although the capabilities exist.
    • LL (project Pelican), OnLive (SL Go) and Frame (Bright Canopy – still available) have all done it in the past.
    • If pursued, major issue would be that of cost-to-user. Streaming services require a server, and servers need management and have a cost to run, and this must all be covered.
  • Does restarting regions ahead of events really help with performance? [video: 1:03:41-1:06:24] in theory, there shouldn’t be any difference, in practice there is; a freshly restarted region does run better on its simulator.
  • 360 snapshot viewer [video: 1:06:29-1:07:24]: currently withdrawn as it was very out-of-date. A version bringing it up to parity with the current release viewer is with QA and with hopefully be available soon™. This will likely not have any 360 snapshot viewer updates, these are still being worked on.
  • Will texture memory be increased from 512 MB in the official viewer? [video: 1:07:35-1:09:45]: short answer – yes, there is a project to improve texture handling in the viewer (both caching and use of VRAM on user’s systems.
    • Historically the VRAM use has been dictated by those users on really old systems with low graphics memory.
    • Lab is committed to making the VRAM use higher for high-end system users.
  • iOS client [video: 1:10:09-1:11:20]: work is progressing. No time frame for release, other than Soon™. for an “early alpha” version.
    • This will likely offer log-in and chat capabilities only.
    • At this point in development, is being looked at as a communications assistant, rather than a “full” client.
  • Will the SL web properties (Marketplace. etc.) more mobile-friendly? [video: 1:11:22-1:1211]: yes, but for the more complex web properties like the Marketplace, that may take time to become visible.
  • Any plans for improving the inventory structure and / or providing things like texture previews? [video: 1:12:20-1:13:30]: currently, the inventory work is focused on stability and performance. UI work is not on the immediate roadmap. However, this is the kind of project the Lab might consider as an open-source contribution.

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