Bright Canopy: positive response forces change of direction

BC logoSaturday, August 29th saw Bright Canopy, the new cloud streaming service delivering Second life (and the viewer) directly to your web browser, officially launch.

Already extensively previewed by SL bloggers – you can catch my overview of the service here –  the launch was given a further boost when the Lab also blogged about it. announcement of the formal launch led to a huge amount of interest being shown in the service.

While there were the inevitable hiccups which tend to accompany such launches, it was the overall demand which perhaps caused the fledgling company the most problems. So much so, that Bright Canopy have been forced to revise their subscription model, and suspend the service while they do so.

The news of the change to the subscription model came via an e-mail to existing subscribers which was also posted to the Bright Canopy blog. Currently the plan is that:

  • From Sunday, September 6th, those signing-up to the service will be charged $17.00 a month for up to 20 hours of use. Additional time will be charged at $0.013 per minute
  • From now until 12:00 am on Sunday, September 6th, those who signed up for the service will be charged $7.00 for 20 hours, then at the $0.013 per minute
  • All existing subscriptions have been cancelled, and all existing users will need to subscribe to the new plan once the door is open to subscriptions once more.

Bright Canopy are the first to admit this is hardly an ideal situation, and the hope is that it will be an interim measure, until more favourable terms can be introduced in the future, once a few more things have been put in place.

Discussing the situation with me, Bill Glover, Bright Canopy’s founder said, “It’s been a whiplash weekend. We had more than 1000 sign-ups in just a few hours and that actually worked really well.”

However, there were some niggling issues as the launch progressed into the weekend. Transitioning those users who had been on the beta / pre-launch service raised a few problems, as did the migration for those users best served by it to Bright Canopy’s US East coast POP, which also came on-stream as a part of the launch. It was while working on these issues the alarms started ringing around unconstrained cost risks due to the volume of use, forcing  Bright Canopy to take action.

Bill Glover: remarkable response to Bright Canopy forced a re-think in approach

Bill Glover: remarkable response to Bright Canopy forced a re-think in approach

“The alarms required us to throttle down use,” Bill told me. “When the experience suffered long wait times, I pulled the plug [on accepting subscribers]. We’re not going to charge people unless we can be sure this is going to be there for them and they will get value for the money.”

The throttling also meant that over the launch weekend, users were limited to one hour’s in-world time before they were disconnected and had to re-log. To compensate people for this, Bright Canopy have indicated they’ll not be charging anyone for their time over the weekend of 29th / 30th of August.

To understand why the pricing structure change was required despite the good response, it is necessary to understand how Bright Canopy is provisioned. Currently, when logging-in to the service, users are hosted on individual servers, supplied by Amazon’s Spot Instance bidding system. The problems here are twofold.

On the one hand, using an entire server to host just one user isn’t terribly efficient; Frame, as Bright Canopy’s infrastructure partner, are already working to offer more efficient means of hosting without impacting individual user’s experiences with Bright Canopy. On the other, and as I’ve previously reported, Amazon’s Spot Instance mechanism, so long the most cost-effective means of obtaining server space, has become subject of bidding wars which have caused sudden and unpredictable spikes in service pricing.

Spot Instance pricing with Amazon is making it difficult for Bright Canopy to firmly pin-down their monthly subscription price – click for full size

Volatility with Amazon’s Spot Instance pricing has caused huge fluctuations in pricing, making it had to predict how realistic fees charged by small start-ups like Bright Canopy are in meeting costs – click for full size

While Bright Canopy were aware of this, and developed contingencies they hoped would be sufficient to handle pricing fluctuations, etc., until such time as better hosting options were ready to roll, the sheer volume of demand for the service meant that these contingencies were burnt through in the course of the first weekend, thus prompting the current situation.

As noted earlier in this article, Bright Canopy hope the new plan will be an interim measure.  The problem here of course is that 20 hours + $0.013 a minute isn’t going to be that attractive an offering to users – something Bright Canopy is all too aware of. With many users spending tens of hours a week in-world, the additional costs could easily mount up, and so people are understandably going to be more focused on the potential for additional costs than on the potential for improved pricing down the road.

As a result of the overall situation, Bright Canopy have opted to keep the service suspended while discussions on the situation continue.

The announcement that Bright Canopy will remain down as they continue to try to work through the price / cost issues, as Tweeted and delivered via in-world message

The announcement that Bright Canopy will remain down as they continue to try to work through the price / cost issues, as Tweeted and delivered via in-world message

“We are verifying and double verifying so that when we come up, we stay up,” Bill said to me as the announcement was sent out.

I’ll have more updates on this as further information becomes available / announcements are made.

A farewell to Forgotten City in Second Life

Forgotten City; Inara Pey, August 2015, on FlickrForgotten City August 2015 (Flickr)

Ciaran Laval was perhaps the first blogger to bring word that Forgotten City, the marvellous mechanoid town, largely the brainchild of Jenne Dibou and Mandy Marseille, would be closing in September 2015.

His article, which also contains a link to Mandy’s SL Universe forum post announcing the news and which includes some of the fascinating history behind the region’s development, was followed by numerous other posts about the region and its closure. As such, I decided to hold off a while and pay a further visit in farewell once I had a little time available to put together a video on the region as (hopefully) a reminder to all of this utterly enchanting build, which I last wrote about in June 2013 (a further visit in 2014 sadly didn’t make it into these pages).

Forgotten City; Inara Pey, August 2015, on FlickrForgotten City August 2015 (Flickr)

If you’ve not visited before, then I strongly, strongly urge you to do so before the gates of Forgotten City close, possibly forever. There is so much to see and charm and delight. Not only is the multi-tiered, steampunkish city beautifully scaled and executed (so much so that it was selected by the Lab as a location for some of the early in-world testing using the Oculus Rift), there really is so much to delight and discover.

Forgotten City; Inara Pey, August 2015, on FlickrForgotten City August 2015 (Flickr)

You can, for example watch its mechanical populace go about their daily tasks, possibly in the hope that the human inhabitants responsible for the city – and them – might one day return. Or, if you prefer, you can board a steamship and journey elsewhere, or, witness the arrival of the cat-a-maran (emphasis on the “cat” – complete with mechanoid kittens!), or you can teleport high into the sky and to the City’s Winter Parkland or visit Jenne’s store, the islands it occupies held aloft over the city by three airships. You’ll also find games to be played and – for the careful explorers – hidden secrets to be found.

Forgotten City; Inara Pey, August 2015, on FlickrForgotten City August 2015 (Flickr)

It’s not entirely clear when the gates will close – although it appears this will be later in September, rather than early on. Even so, if you do want to make a visit or a return visit, I’d recommend not leaving it too long, just in case.

SLurl Details

2015 viewer release summaries: week 35

Updates for the week ending: Sunday, August 30th

This summary is published every Monday, and is a list of SL viewer / client releases (official and TPV) made during the previous week. When reading it, please note:

  • It is based on my Current Viewer Releases Page, a list of all Second Life viewers and clients that are in popular use (and of which I am aware), and which are recognised as adhering to the TPV Policy. This page includes comprehensive links to download pages, blog notes, release notes, etc., as well as links to any / all reviews of specific viewers / clients made within this blog
  • By its nature, this summary presented here will always be in arrears, please refer to the Current Viewer Release Page for more up-to-date information.

Official LL Viewers

LL Viewer Resources

Third-party Viewers

V3-style

  • Restrained Love updated to version 2.9.13 on August 30th – core updates: VMM, Experience Tools, increased texture memory allowance (release notes)

V1-style

  • Cool VL Viewer updated on August 29th, the Stable branch to version 1.26.14.5 and the Experimental branch to 1.26.15.4 – release notes (both)

Mobile / Other Clients

  • No updates.

Additional TPV Resources

Related Links

Space Sunday: of selfies, sprites, and black holes

CuriosityCuriosity, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover has departed “Marias Pass”, a geological contact zone between different rock types on the slopes of “Mount Sharp”, some of which yielded unexpectedly high silica and hydrogen content.

As noted in a recent space update in these pages, silica  is primarily of interest to scientists, because high levels of it within rocks could indicate ideal conditions for preserving ancient organic material, if present. However, as also previously noted, it may also indicate that Mars may have had a continental crust similar to that found on Earth, potentially signifying the geological history of the two worlds was closer than previously understood. Hydrogen is of interest to scientists as it indicates water bound to minerals in the ground, further pointing to Gale Crater having once been flooded, and “Mount Sharp” itself the result of ancient water-borne sediments being laid down over repeated wet periods in the planet’s ancient past.

Curiosity actually departed “Marias Pass” on August 12th, after spending a number of weeks examining the area, including a successful drilling and sample-gathering operation at a rock dubbed “Buckskin”, where the rover also paused to take a “selfie”, which NASA released on August 19th. It is now continuing its steady climb up the slopes of “Mount Sharp.”

A low-angle self-portrait produced from multiple images captured by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera mounted on the "turret" at the end of the rover's robot arm. The images were taken on August 5th, as the rover was parked at the "Buckskin" rock formation from which it gathered drill samples

A low-angle self-portrait produced from multiple images captured by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) camera mounted on the “turret” at the end of the rover’s robot arm. The images were taken on August 5th, as the rover was parked at the “Buckskin” rock formation from which it gathered drill samples

As it does so, initial analysis of the first of the samples gathered from “Buckskin” is under-way. It is hoped with will help explain why the “Marias Pass” area seems to have far higher deposits of hydrogen bound in its rocks than have previously been recorded during the rover’s travels. This data has been supplied by the Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) instrument on Curiosity, which almost continuously scans the ground over which the rover is passing to gain a chemical signature of what lies beneath it.

“The ground about 1 metre beneath the rover in this area holds three or four times as much water as the ground anywhere else Curiosity has driven during its three years on Mars,” said DAN Principal Investigator Igor Mitrofanov of Space Research Institute, Moscow, when discussing the “Marias Pass” DAN findings. Quite why this should be isn’t fully understood – hence the interest in what the drill samples undergoing analysis might reveal.

A stunning vista: the slopes of "Mount Sharp" as seen by Curiosity as it commenced the upward drive away from "Marias Pass". Captured by the rover's Mastcam systems, the image shows an intriguing landscape, with the gravel and sand ripples typical of much of the terrain over which the rover has passed in the foreground. In the middle distance sit outcrops of smooth, dust-covered bedrock, above which sit sandstone ridges. On the horizon sit rounded buttes, rich in sulfate minerals, suggesting a change in the availability of water when they formed - click image for the full size version

A stunning vista: the slopes of “Mount Sharp” as seen by Curiosity as it commenced the upward drive away from “Marias Pass”. Captured by the rover’s Mastcam systems, the image shows an intriguing landscape, with the gravel and sand ripples typical of much of the terrain over which the rover has passed in the foreground. In the middle distance sit outcrops of smooth, dust-covered bedrock, above which sit sandstone ridges. On the horizon sit rounded buttes, rich in sulfate minerals, suggesting a change in the availability of water when they formed – click image for the full size version

The drilling operation itself marked the first time use of the system since a series of transient short circuits occurred in the hammer / vibration mechanism in February 2015. While no clear-cut cause for the shorts was identified, new fault protection routines were uploaded to the rover in the hope that should similar shorts occur in the future, they will not threaten any of Curiosity’s systems.

A Flight over Mars

With all the attention Curiosity gets, it is sometimes easy to forget there are other vehicles in operation on and around Mars which are also returning incredible images and amounts of data as well – and were doing so long before Curiosity arrived.

One of these is Europe’s Mars Express, the capabilities of which come close to matching those of NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Mars Express has been in operation around Mars for over a decade, and in that time has collected an incredible amount of data.

At the start of August, ESA released a video made of high resolution images captured by the orbiter of the Atlantis Choas region of Mars. This is an area about 170 kilometres long and 145 wide (roughly 106 x 91 miles) comprising multiple terrain types and impact craters, thought to be the eroded remnants of a once continuous ancient plateau. While the vertical elevations and depressions have been exaggerated (a process which helps scientists to better understand surface features when imaged at different angles from orbit), the video does much to reveal the “magnificent desolation” that is the beauty of Mars.

Continue reading