Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Three Hours That Can Change Your Second Life

Audio version of this blog post, for multitaskers, the visually impaired, and anyone else who feels like listening to nine minutes of me chattering:

We've been holding classes for Firestorm users for over two years now, attracting a range of people, from folks brand new to Firestorm—or to Second Life—to long-timers interested in filling in the gaps in their knowledge. 

Some come only once to learn about one specific Firestorm feature, like the client-side AO or the contact sets. Others attend our full slate of fifteen classes, over and over, until they're sure they've absorbed everything they can. And then they come back again the next time the viewer is updated and there are new things to hear about.

There's no specific order in which the classes need to be taken. They're held with starting times ranging anywhere from 8am to 7pm SL time, seven days a week, including two text-only class slots. Most of them last about an hour or less, with an open-ended Q&A period after every one.

But if the class schedule overwhelms you, and you're still not sure where to start, or you know you don't have the time to devote to fifteen entire one-hour classes, then let me narrow it down for you.

There are three classes that I would recommend to every Firestorm user, one of which is fully applicable to other viewers, as well. I'd call these the Power Trio, the ones that help you learn about your viewer's everyday performance, as well as what you can do to fix problems or to get them fixed when things go wrong. At the risk of sounding like a motivational speaker from an infomercial or the "bestselling author" of Smile Your Way to Bliss, the hour you spend in each of these three classes can make you a happier Second Life resident. 

Prevention is the Best Cure: Preferences Set 2

We have four classes on the preferences because there are so darn many of them. This one sort of blends in with the other three in the schedule because of its generic name, but it's arguably the most valuable class you could attend in Second Life.
A class being taught at Wailele Moku,
one of our three usual class locations.

That's because the preferences it covers are those most critical to your performance in and overall experience with SL: the Graphics and Network & Cache tabs. They are also the settings that are most underestimated, overestimated, or wildly misunderstood. 

Preferences 2 covers each one to explain its possible effect on your inworld experience and how to determine the right settings for yourself (hint: it's not one size fits all). As is true with many of our classes, the core material for it is also available on our wiki. But rather than just summarizing what they do, the class attempts to reframe your understanding of how these preferences interact with one another and how you can respond intelligently to changes you notice in how your viewer seems to behave.

Home Remedies: Basic Troubleshooting

Although our support staff is ready and willing to help you out with suggestions for a variety of problems, there's actually quite a bit you can do on your own before you come to us, either to fix the problem yourself or at least to narrow down the possibilities.

In most cases, these are the same steps we'd be putting you through when we first start working with you anyway. The Basic Troubleshooting class goes over what you can try and where to look for more information, both in the viewer and on your computer.

While we would never call the viewer bug-free (no viewer can make such a claim), the simple truth is that ordinary users have a lot more control over the majority of issues than they may realize. Although it's easy to mutter, "Stupid Firestorm" (or your favorite curse word in place of "stupid"), whenever you have a problem, it's often not accurate or productive. Many times, prematurely blaming the viewer means you've actively chosen to look in the wrong place for a fix. If you assume you have no control over the issue, your prophecy will be self-fulfilled.

This class is only the tip of the iceberg in getting a feel for the factors that might be playing a role in your issues, not just on Firestorm but on any viewer at all. Or just come to hear about why the phrase "Clear cache and relog" seldom escapes our lips.
Graphics are the most important yet misunderstood
settings. Learn about them in our Preferences 2 class.

By Prescription Only: Reporting Bugs, Requesting Features (RBRF)

In some ways, this one is a companion class to the troubleshooting one. Because sometimes problems are viewer bugs.

But most bugs affect people differently; any bug that affects everyone—or everyone on an entire operating system—is easy enough to spot in QA (quality assurance, our pre-release beta testing phase). It's the bugs that affect specific types of users (by combination of computer components, for instance, or by inworld habits and activities) that fall through the cracks. 

This means that any viewer bug that didn't affect our beta testers needs to be reported to the JIRA by someone experiencing it, or it simply will not get fixed.

If you want to be sure that happens, it's useful to know how to do it yourself and not hope that by some random chance someone else will jump in and take responsibility for it.

I'm aware of a lot of reasons people don't want to use the JIRA, and I've spent a lot of time in this blog addressing them and giving my rebuttals. The Reporting Bugs, Requesting Features (RBRF) class is designed to assist those hindered by many of these reasons: the impression that it "doesn't work," a lack of familiarity with the process, intimidation with the interface, and so on.

This is the third of our Power Trio of classes designed to make your SL much more awesome. Having reported a few bugs in my time, I can tell you it feels super when something you filed ages ago finally gets fixed—and knowing that the fix might never have happened if you hadn't simply filled out that JIRA form.
We have a team of volunteer teachers who rotate through
fifteen classes every 9–10 days. Schedule updated regularly.

Now… I said there were three Power Classes, but I'm going to add a cherry on top of our triple-scoop treat, with an extra half-class.


This is a mini-class, usually paired with a second mini-class on customizing your quick preferences. And the name says it all. It teaches you about lag.

In this one, you learn how to differentiate among client, server, and network lag and what to do about each. There might be a few surprises in store, such as how poor building practices contribute to sim lag (the key word here is "collisions") and some of the myths and facts about script lag (for example, that script lag is unrelated to the scripted object's proximity or visibility to you).

Unsurprisingly, this is one of our more popular classes. It's our most-requested class for private or semi-private presentations (yup, we do that—just send an IM or notecard to Ed and/or me for scheduling at your home region).

So to sum up:
  • We've got Prefs 2 to help you wade through the muck of information out there about what your most important settings should be to keep things running as well as they can.
  • We've got Basic Troubleshooting to help you pin down the causes and possibly the fixes for the majority of issues you might fall victim to.
  • And we've got RBRF to help you properly report the problems that turn out to be rooted in the viewer after all.
  • Plus a bonus mini-class on Lag to… well, that one's probably obvious.

We're looking forward to seeing you at one or some or maybe all the classes on the schedule!

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