Level of Detail

Just a very quick one.

I logged onto SL recently and noticed that sculpts and meshes weren’t rendering properly unless I zoomed in, and I remembered that there is a debug setting to fix that and it must have got reverted for me at some time.

The fix is as old as the hills, but I thought I would note it down here simply so I can easily find it again. If it helps someone else too then so much the better.

Go to Advanced -> Debug Settings (or use Ctrl+Alt+Shift+S)
(If the Advanced menu is not enabled then enable it with Ctrl+Alt+D)

You need to set both the RenderAvatarLODFactor and RenderVolumeLODFactor settings.

A value of at least 4 is recommended, whilst 6 is better.

RenderAvatarLODFactor

RenderVolumeLODFactor

Compiling your own Viewer

Note: Although this article was first published in February 2014, I continually update it.

Last updated: 19-Jun-2017.


NOTE: This article assumes that you are a competent software developer who is comfortable with build environments and command windows. Most people will have no need to build their own version of Firestorm.


Back in September 2010 I wrote about the pain of compiling your own Viewer and of the efforts of my friends Mariana and Forestaurora to try to write tutorials on doing it. Fortunately, things have moved on enormously since then and now it is fairly easy to do a private build. A majority of the work is in setting up your build environment.

After encountering and solving a few “gotchas”, I have successfully built Firestorm v5.0.x under Windows 7 64-bit and also Ubuntu 16.04 LTS 64-bit and Ubuntu 17.04 64-bit.

I thought it was worth noting down the “gotchas” I encountered, which is what this article is about.  If it helps just one other person in short-cutting the issues I have had, then this article will have been worth writing.

So without further ado, here they are.

Continue reading

I still use MystiTool!

If you’re not familiar with MystiTool, it is a HUD that is a veritable Swiss Army knife of useful things. It dates back to the earlier days of Second Life, where many things we now take for granted were absent or severely basic. For example, you needed an object or HUD called a Flight Assist (or Flight Feather, or Flight Ring, or any number of other names) if you wanted to fly above 200 metres. Rather than take up valuable attach points, back in the days before we had multiple attach points, having that in the MystiTool rather than as a separate object was beneficial. Since then, the flight limit has been raised several times and then in 2012 was removed altogether, making that feature of the MystiTool redundant.
Similarly, as Viewers (both Third Party and Official) have added functionality previously offered by the MystiTool, so those too have become obsolete (or, at least, less useful). Examples include the Radar, scanning a sim for avatars, chat notifications (such as an avatar entering chat range), TP to camera, Favourites, and TP History. Some are only included in Third Party Viewers like Firestorm, but some have even made it into the Official Viewer.

The feature erosion is not too dissimilar to the history of Microsoft Windows; in the early days, various tools, utilities and applications filled in the gaps in functionality missing from Windows itself, and gradually Microsoft incorporated the ideas and made many redundant. A case in point was Icon Hear It which added sounds to events in Windows 3.11, and was rendered instantly obsolete by Windows 95 which had that built in. But I digress.

But that doesn’t mean that MystiTool is now obsolete, as there are plenty of features that are still useful. Furthermore, with v2.0 of MystiTool, many of these features are now implemented as plugins which means you can choose to uninstall them, which reduces your script count and memory usage by allowing you to prune them out. You can therefore trim the MystiTool right down to only those non-obsolete features that you actually use.

Personally, I regularly use the Elevator & Sky Platform Rezzer, the Pose Stand Rezzer (especially the more fully featured deluxe pose stand, although the basic one is also useful), Object Chat ID (useful for finding the owner of a chatty object), Facial Emoter (I use it for photography), Collision Notification, Avatar Information and Channel Listener (useful to find who is talking to scripted objects, but also for debugging your own).

As the feature set continues to shrink, the argument for having a MystiTool gets weaker. It is no longer the must-have tool that it once was, but for many ‘oldies’ like me (currently 6 years & 3 months, or 2300 days) it is something that has been part of our SL for so long that it is something to which we have become immensely attached (no pun intended) and will probably hold onto until completely redundant, if not beyond.

 


Further reading

I Still Use My Mystitool by Cheyenne Palisades
Posted in January 2013. A similar article to this one, but slightly out of date now. More descriptive about some of the features than this article is.

Official MystiTool blog by Mystical Cookie
The official MystiTool blog

MystiTool on the SL Marketplace
A link to MystiTool on the Marketplace, which also summarises the full feature list.


 

Are you a MystiTool user? If so, please do comment below with what features you regularly use!

Second Life increasingly a misnomer?

There has always been a blur between Second Life (SL) and real life (RL), with residents choosing how separate they want to keep the two.
However, it seems to me that Linden Lab (LL) are losing sight of what SL is meant to be. Or, if you prefer to rephrase that, they are moving SL in directions that are different from how they started out. And, increasingly, those changes are removing some of the choice residents have as to how separate the two remain.

For me, the clue is in the name “Second Life” – an alternative life, secondary and separate from your real one. But it seems that is becoming less and less the focus of SL, with residents being encouraged (and in some cases forced) to involve their RL more and more in their SL.

So when did this rot start to set in?

Some might say it started with Age Verification where you were required to provide some form of RL identification. This was probably the first time you were required to disclose your RL identity. Up until then, provided you didn’t have payment information on file and were using a free email address like Hotmail, Yahoo, etc., there was no link between your RL identity and your SL one.

Others might say it started when LL stopped the idea of a firstname & lastname and instead moved to having just a username and an optional Display Name. In many ways this weakened the separation between SL and RL – a username is just a login for a website or service. You were no longer creating an identity or character; you were just creating an account. Perhaps the distinction is subtle, but I think it is relevant and significant.

Others might say that it was the introduction of Viewer 2.0 and the different way in which it presented profiles, no longer calling the tabs “2nd Life” and “1st Life” but “Avatar” and “More Info”.
Or perhaps Viewer 2.0’s emphasis on voice chat, with text-based interaction being de-emphasised and harder to find in the User Interface.

But, for me, what really highlights the fundamental shift in attitude are the profiles at http://my.secondlife.com

One of the sections of your profile is called “Social Identities” where you are able to link with your Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, Plurk, Twitter and YouTube accounts.
Now I happen to know that Facebook and LinkedIn are adamant that you must use your real name and real identity to have an account with them. Yes, many SL residents do have a Facebook account for their Avatar but you are on borrowed time there – when Facebook get round to noticing they *will* delete that account.
So Linden Lab are encouraging you to link your SL account with RL services that only have relevance to your RL.

Of course, you could argue that just because LL allow you to do this it doesn’t mean you have to – and you would obviously be right. But I think it highlights a push by LL to make Second Life just another social media / social networking tool; a glorified 3D chatroom and messaging facility for the casual user, with the immersion and roleplay that many of us enjoy being of secondary importance. There is even talk of a reduced functionality internet browser-based Viewer to make SL “more accessible” to more people. And if that doesn’t sound foreboding to you, then it probably should do.

So one has to beg the question at what point Linden Lab should rename “Second Life” to “Augmented Life”?

 


Update:

Here are some links to the issue of Facebook deleting accounts of SL avatars

http://community.secondlife.com/t5/Forums-Blogs-Answers-and/Facebook-deleting-Secondlife-Avatars/td-p/887663
http://community.secondlife.com/t5/General-Discussion-Forum/Deletion-Of-Hundreds-Of-Second-Life-Facebook-Accounts-Being/td-p/884697
http://virtualoutworlding.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/your-avatar-identity-in-facebook-issues.html

Oh no! I deleted half my house! (and other disasters)

Photobucket

A friend recently IMed me with exactly that. And, to be fair, most of us have been there. But don’t panic, and all is not lost.

Likewise do not panic if you accidentally moved something. Or if you rezzed something and exceeded your prim count and half your house got returned to you instead (that happened to me once), or your landlady had a blonde moment and returned half your stuff (happened to me also).

Here are some handy hints on what you can do in each circumstance.

 

You moved something

If you’ve moved something by accident the first thing you should do, if your Viewer supports it, is to hit Ctrl-Z which is the shortcut key for “undo”. Very often this will snap things back exactly as they were.
Phoenix and Firestorm both have this functionality, and doubtless many other Viewers do too.

However, this does not always work. So you will have to move it back manually. Now your first inclination will be to grab the object and start dragging it around but this is the worst thing you can do as, trust me, you will not get it back to exactly where it was. Oh, sure, it may be “good enough” and that’s fine. But then you wouldn’t be reading this if you were happy with just that. Besides, in the case of segments of a house it will not look right unless correct down to the smallest decimal point.
What you need to do it right-click on the object, select Edit, and then choose the Object tab. If you look at the screenshot above you can see what I mean. I was running Firestorm Viewer so if you’re using a different Viewer it might look slightly different.
If you look on that you’ll see all the numbers for the exact placement of the object. Now, with some rezzboxes (the box that rezzed your house) they add the exact position co-ordinates of when they were rezzed to the description field. So if that’s the case then you’re sorted as you can manually set them back to the correct value. They will very likely write the X, Y and Z values as , eg. <105.83778, 146.98111, 35.75515>
If not, you may be able to deduce the settings by looking at surrounding objects. This is often hard though.
One sure-fire way, albeit rather tedious, is to rezz a copy of the house (you may need to go to a sandbox if you have insufficient prims to do that) and examine the values of the offending segment and also those of an adjacent one, and with some very simple maths deduce the offset of one to the other. Then return to your proper house and apply the same offsets, thus returning the moved segment to its correct position. So if, for example, SegmentA is at 100,100,100 and Segment B is at 100,110,100 on the new house, and on the proper house SegmentA is at 200,200,100 then SegmentB should be at 200,210,100 because there is an offset of 10 on the Y co-ordinate.
I find that using a simple spreadsheet to do this helps enormously. If there is enough demand I could make one available.

Finally, prevention is better than cure. Once you have things back the way you want, be sure to lock the object. All this does is mean you can’t accidentally move it again until you unlock it; it’s just like the safety catch on a gun. You’ll find a tick box to lock & unlock objects on the same tab as all the numbers we’ve been looking at – it’s called “Locked”.

 

You deleted something

First thing to do is to find it in your inventory, and it will be in your Trash.
Note the name of the object, then right-click on it and choose “Restore” to undelete it. Do NOT click “Purge”!!
Then find the object again (searching for it by name if necessary) and see what menu options are available. On some Viewers there is the option to “Restore to last position”. Phoenix and Firestorm definitely have this, and I’m sure many other Viewers do too. If that is the case then use this option and you will very likely find the object restored to its correct place. However, I disclaim all responsibility if for some reason it doesn’t, especially if it is a no-copy item that disappears into the far blue yonder never to be seen again. You have been warned.
The other option is to just rezz the object in approximately the correct place and then use the techniques mentioned earlier for moved objects (although obviously not the first one to do with “Undo”)

 

You had something returned

First thing to do is to find it in your inventory, and it will be in your Lost & Found. Something worth bearing in mind is that if a large number of objects are returned to you, SL may package them up. You will find what looks like just one of your objects but it will have an icon that looks like a pile of building blocks rather than the normal icon for an object which is a box. Rezzing this will rezz all the returned objects inside the package, although possibly in the wrong place. But at least they will be rezzed in the correct relative positions to each other so it should be a case of calculating the offset to their correct position (as I outlined earlier) and then moving them.
However, if it is just one object, and not a package, then use the same technique as outlined above for deleted objects.

Mesh

Slink Mesh Boots!!, originally uploaded by Nana Minuet.

I have to say I was getting very excited by Mesh, especially with the recent announcement that Phoenix is going to be supporting it (thanks to some dedicated work by Henri Beauchamp of the Cool Viewer).

These boots are a great case in point – imagine how wrong the knees would look in that pose if those were sculpt boots!

However, all is not as good as it seems; I’ve learned that the current implementation of Mesh is worse than useless, for clothes at least. It would seem that a mesh object attaches to your skeleton, not your “flesh”, and cannot be resized in-world. That means that if you are slim like the model in the above pics, those boots would look great. However, if you are any other size than her they won’t fit. Oh, sure, an alpha layer will mask out the bits of you that the boots cover but if you have bigger thighs than her you’re fresh out of luck.

One of the biggest benefits of Second Life is you can be who you want to be. You (or, rather, your avatar) can be exactly as you want it – it’s the overriding expression of your individuality and what makes Second Life so wonderful. But if Mesh clothing is going to force us all to resize our avatar to the clothing, rather than the clothing to the avatar, then this is a bad thing.

There is a JIRA running on this. It’s rather technical but the gist of it is “change Mesh to resize to your flesh not be fixed size and attached to your skeleton”.
See https://jira.secondlife.com/si/jira.issueviews:issue-html/SH-2374/SH-2374.html

Killer features (Imprudence & Phoenix)

What I like the most about Third Party Viewers such as Imprudence and Phoenix is that they are developed by people who actually use Second Life and so have features that, whilst they may not grab the headlines, are genuinely useful. As an aside, I think it’s pretty clear that the developers at Linden Lab who developed Viewer 2.x don’t, but that’s not the subject of this entry.

This is a roundup of what I consider to be genuinely useful features. It’s by no means an extensive or all-inclusive list.

Imprudence

Profile groups
When viewing your profile, groups that you have hidden from public view are shown greyed out, giving you an idea of how your profile will appear to others.

Communicate window
When new IMs come in, the title bar of the ‘communicate’ menu updates to say how many are unread. My friend Mariana actually ported this to Phoenix and submitted it as a patch and it was rejected as the person who rejected it didn’t see it as being useful, which was a shame as I think it is.

Group chat
You can suppress Group Chat for individual groups. This is just so useful for those busy groups where people just can’t STFU in group chat but you still want to receive group notices.

Radar
The client-side radar / Avatar List is very compact and hung off the bottom of the Mini-Map. I actually really like this as it is very compact and can be up all the time, unlike the Phoenix one which takes up too much screen space to be up all the time.

Phoenix

Intra-sim teleports even when there is a Landing Point
By this I mean teleports that take place within a sim, rather than when teleporting into a sim from another sim.
Sim Owners have long been able to set a Landing Point to dictate where you land when entering their sim. I can see the value of it, as it means people are forced to rez near a rules giver, or a prim notice, or a shop display, or the starting point on a tour, or whatever. But when you are already in a sim, is it still necessary? I don’t think so. In fact it is really, really annoying when you want to cam around a large shop (for example) and then TP to where your camera view is to get closer to a vendor board, or the like. Most Third Party Viewers allow you to double-click teleport, but often you fall foul of the Landing Point and get an unhelpful message saying you are unable to TP closer than where you are. Or, worse, you get zapped back to the Landing Point.
However, there is an option in Phoenix when using the LSL Client Bridge to use llMoveToTarget for double-click TPs and this zips you straight to where you double-click even if this sim has a Landing Point. It does this because llMoveToTarget is a script command used to move things around rather than a teleport as such, so isn’t restricted by the Landing Point rules. For me this is the killer feature as it is just so useful for enabling me to shop in a large store the way I want to.

Aspect ratios on textures
As I’ve blogged about before [link], Second Life stores pictures (textures) in squares, or rectangles made of squares, and unless the Aspect Ratio exactly matches that of the texture it’s going to be distorted. With most Viewers you have to stretch the texture till it looks right.
Phoenix adds a useful little drop-list at the bottom of a texture view to let you tell it what Aspect Ratio it should be. So for a 16:9 picture stored in a texture you can send it to a friend and, provided they are using Phoenix, tell them in IM “you’ll need to view that at 16:9”. They set the drop-list selection to 16:9 and ‘hey presto’ the picture looks right. Useful!

Profile pictures
This one has been around since the Emerald days. When there is a picture in a Profile (wherever it appears) you can pop it out into its own window and view it actual size (which will be bigger than it is being displayed at in the Profile). Of course the Aspect Ratio may then be wrong and you might need to refer to the above and also my blog post on Profile pic aspect ratios [link]

Prim manipulation – cut & paste values
One for the builders and tinkerers amongst us. Phoenix has a really useful feature where you can copy the size, rotation, etc. of a prim and paste it to another. It saves you having to individually highlight and copy each value for x, y & z and paste it into the same box on another prim.
It’s easy to miss this feature, but if you look next to the values you’ll see little buttons marked “c” for copy and “p” for paste.

Prim manipulation – linked prims
Following on from the above, there are also useful buttons for linking / unlinking prims when editing parts of a linked prim set. There is also functionality for moving through a linked prim set.

Autocomplete for names in chat
Finally, a useful little feature for open chat. If you type part of someone’s name you can hit the tab key and Phoenix will try and complete if for you based on who is in chat range.

It’s a shame that Phoenix is now in a maintenance phase, with no planned new functionality, because I would love to see the features I mentioned for Imprudence brought into Phoenix. However, I have it on good authority from one of the Lead Developers that this is not going to happen.

Is Imprudence withering on the vine?

I like Imprudence. I’ve been using it for 3 months now and I feel very attached to it. But I think the time is approaching when I’m going to have to look to other Viewers, with Phoenix as a prime candidate.

Why is this? Well, one reason is that there is a show-stopper of a bug in v1.3.0 which is forcing me to continue to use an earlier Release Candidate (RC3) as it directly affects my photography.
Imprudence v1.3.0 was released in early October (ie. 2 months ago) and around a month ago this bug was fixed, along with Jacek commenting that it should provoke an immediate v1.3.1 due to the severity of it. However, this has not happened and I’m unwilling to adopt a beta release to get this fixed.

However, for me, the writing is on the wall for two very significant reasons. One is that there have been no releases at all for several weeks, not even Experimental releases, suggesting that the development team are spending all their time on Kokua (the new Viewer based on SL 2.x) at the expense of Imprudence. And the other is the thorny issue of Multiple Attachments.

The developers of Imprudence have always been quite bullish about multiple attachments, stating that they would not support Emerald’s “hacky” multiple attach point code, not even to properly render avatars being run by people using Phoenix (despite it being easily added to Imprudence by simply updating a single XML file as it turns out) because they were going to support the “proper” Multiple Attachments of SL 2.x by back-porting it.
Well, a couple of days ago a new version of Phoenix was released that supports just that, whilst Imprudence still does not.

This, to me, says that Phoenix is still actively being developed and supported and Imprudence is withering on the vine and is not. It also feels as rather an egg-on-face moment for Imprudence (in my humble opinion).

As I said, I really like Imprudence, but I feel like it is being left further and further behind by Phoenix and eventually I’m going to have to jump ship.

Sorry, Imprudence. It’s been nice knowing you.

Profile pics and profile Picks (a tutorial)

A lot of people who have made their own picture for their Profile find that it appears squashed or stretched. There is a very good reason for this and it is fairly straightforward to work around. The aim of this post is to try to explain how.

Before I go any further though, do bear in mind that this whole tutorial is all to do with 1.x Series Viewers (ie. official Viewer up to 1.23.5 and most Third Party Viewers such as Imprudence, Phoenix, Emergence, and the like) since Linden Lab in their infinite (lack of) wisdom changed it for Viewer 2.

The key thing to remember with textures (which is the name Linden Lab uses to refer to anything that looks like a picture, which includes snapshots) is that they are always square or else rectangles made up of squares. And those squares are always powers of 2. So a texture can be 256×256 pixels, 512×512, 1024×1024, 512×1024, 512×256, etc. – you get the idea. The maximum size allowed in any one direction (in Second Life) is 1024.
If a picture does not fit into one of these combinations then it is stretched or squashed accordingly, and this is where the deformation comes from.

You would think that you should be able to just take a snapshot in-world and use it, however this is not the case because the Profile picture, and the picture used in the Picks section of your profile, have specific aspect ratios which are clearly defined by Linden Lab [link]. For your Profile pic this aspect is 4:3, and for a Profile Pick this is 16:9 (for 1.x Viewers. For 2.x Viewers LL changed it to 1:1 and 8:5/5:3 respectively. Don’t even get me started on why the Picks have two aspect ratios in the 2.x Viewer).
If you’re unsure what I mean by “aspect ratio” then please refer to [this link].
Unless you can somehow capture your in-world snapshot at something close to the correct ratio, then it’s not going to look right.
(I should note at this point that the RL pic in your profile has a 1:1 ratio, which since it is square is so trivially easy to do that I won’t mention it further)

So, how do you get it right? Well, provided you are happy to do a little bit of simple post-production then it is quite easy.
In order to do it you’ll need a photo editing application such as Photoshop, GIMP, Paint.net or even an online service like Picnik. All except Photoshop are free so don’t be worried if you don’t have one of them. I’ll leave it to you to choose what to use. I use GIMP myself, because it is almost as powerful as Photoshop but is free and Photoshop is very expensive. However, if you are a beginner then paint.net is a lot easier and more intuitive.

First you’ll need to take your snapshot in Second Life. Take a snapshot, but instead of saving it in-world, save it to your hard drive.
In v1.x viewers then this can easily be done with the Snapshot dialog, assessed with the “snapshot” button on the bottom toolbar (or the Ctrl-Alt-S keyboard shortcut if you’re using Windows). There is a radio button under ‘Snapshot destination’ at the top of the dialog, one option of which is “Save to your hard drive”.
You can also use “Snapshot to Disk” from the File menu.
Save the snapshot to somewhere that you can find it again shortly.

If you already have a snapshot in-world which you want to use then it is possible to save it locally and use it. Provided it has full permissions, you can open it and then choose “File -> Save Texture As” from the top menu (which is slightly counter-intuitive as you might reasonably expect it to be a menu on the window of the snapshot itself)

Now fire up your photo editing software and open the picture you just saved (regardless of which of the above two methods you used to create it).
Select the crop tool and fix the aspect ratio. In GIMP this is a checkbox on the crop tool and an edit box to specify the ratio. Your mileage my vary.
For a Profile pic you’ll want 4:3 and for a Pick you’ll want 16:9.
Don’t worry at this point what the final image size is because we will be resizing it.

Crop the picture to the correct ratio. It’s up to you how you want this to look, and it depends on your picture, but do remember that when someone looks at your profile the picture can look quite small. So, for your main profile pic at least, I find it is best to close crop and get your face quite dominant in the picture since your Profile picture is meant to be about you. However it’s entirely your call, of course.

Now, this is the important bit; the trick that this whole entry is about is coming up. You want to resize the picture so that it looks squashed, so that when SL uses it and stretches it, it regains its correct Aspect Ratio. Sneaky, huh?
You can do this in one step, but I like to do it in two steps as it makes more sense to me.
Resize your picture, preserving the aspect ratio. You’ll want to set the height of the picture to be either 512 or 1024 and let your software work out the width.
You’ll notice that the picture still looks right. Which is what we want.
Now the sneaky part – size the picture again but this time turn off keeping the correct aspect ratio. In GIMP this is a little icon of a chain between the height and width. Now set the width to be the same as the height. Do not change the height.
Your picture will now look squashed. Don’t worry, this is fine!
Save your picture – I’d recommend to a different filename.

Now, we need to get the picture back into SL as a texture.

Fire up your SL Viewer and, when ready, upload your edited picture (it’s under the File menu). It will cost you L$10 to do this. It’ll probably end up in the Textures folder of your Inventory.

Finally, edit your profile and drag the texture (ie. your uploaded picture) onto the appropriate picture box of the profile. Or, alternatively, double-click on the picture box and browse for it.

Hopefully your picture will look correct again – it will have been stretched out to the correct aspect ratio again. If it has not you’ve probably used the wrong ratio for the wrong box. Remember, for your main picture it should be 4:3 and for a Pick it should be 16:9
Also, bear in mind that it will only look right on 1.x Viewers since Viewer 2 uses different ratios.

That’s it! I hope that this was useful to you.

Is “take it or leave it” a choice?

Linden Lab published a revised Terms of Service today.

I started reading through it then stopped, because really the only choices open to me were to accept it or to not use Second Life any more. It occurs to me that the “I accept” checkbox should really have been labelled “I accept. Like I have a choice” and been checked by default.

I’m sure other commentators will be along to tell us just how bad it really is. 🙂