A raven’s view

Update: This region has changed hands and has been redeveloped.

I was drawn to Raven Lake Fathoms, created by Eriwen, as a result of reading the opening line of its Destination Guide entry, “Surrounded by vast mountain ranges, in complete isolation, is this lake of mystery for you to explore….” – and I wasn’t disappointed I went to take a look.

Located on Dumb N Dumber, Raven Lake Fathoms is a Homestead region that offers a lot for the intrepid explorer, and might even said to be something of a metaphor for Second Life. Topside is a placid lake, in the centre of which lies a house atop a rocky outcrop which pokes above the waters. Mountains surround the lake, and while the surface is occasionally broken by the fins of a fish or the passage of a ray, and ravens wheel overhead or perch on the shore, not a lot seems to be going on…. But take a look under the rippling surface of the lake, and there is a whole world to explore.

Raven Lake Fathoms

It is easy to come into Second Life and immediately feel lost. It’s a vast place, yet all to often, the surface appearance is that nothing is going on. Where are the people, where are the things to do? How do we find them? And it’s sad, because SL is actually constantly alive and vibrant; there are stores to visit, music venues in operation 24/7, clubs for dancing, games to be played, as well as all sorts of social interactions going on, just under the placid surface, waiting to be discovered. How to solve putting newcomers more directly in contact with the things they will find – or even may find – appealing has been the crux of much debate throughout SL’s long history.

Like Second Life, Raven Lake Fathoms is also hard to quantify descriptively. Above the surface of the water, it is tranquil; a place for possible reflection or to be captured by the photographer’s virtual lens. But the tranquility has a slight edge to it, particularly as the day fades … there is a slightly haunting edge to the beauty of the scenery, perhaps heightened by the presence of the ravens, which leave lines from Poe’s The Raven echoing in the back of one’s mind.

Raven Lake

Then there is the world beneath the surface, populated by fish and jellyfish and rays and other watery life, with fumaroles puffing, suspended islands of colour offering refuge in the depths, and more splashes of colour from vivid plant life dotted on the lake floor, together with a dew surprises.

Metaphors aside, however, Raven Lake Fathoms is a wonderful place to explore and for the mind to invent tales. You can wander the lake shore and observe the ravens, or gaze across the lake to the lonely house atop its knoll and wonder if Poe himself might not be there, a bust of Pallas above his chamber door. In you wanderings you may come across a beached steampunk submarine, perhaps stranded from the pages of a Vernian novella. The lake shore is also where Eriwen has her home, so if you happen to come across it as you explore, be sure to respect her privacy.

Raven Lake Fathoms

You can visit the house via rowing boat. Simply touch the sign near the landing-point to have one rez. It’s not just any rowing boat, either, but rather a grand one, although it did give me a few issues with camera positioning when seated. Within the house, Poe’s presence does seem a lot closer; the ghostly clearing of a throat, the books mysteriously floating above the floor, the strange sounds and the haunting repeat of a lullaby…

Underwater is an entirely different world – one where divers and merfolk are most welcome; in fact, I’d suggest that dressing / appearing in a suitable avatar form would be de rigueur. There is a lot to see here, and places to relax with a friend or from which to pass the time in quiet thought.

Be aware that there are predators here; this can only be a saltwater lake, as the sharks are cycling not far below the surface and the giant squid is a sight to behold. Leave them alone, however, and they’ll leave you to enjoy the sights and sounds of this watery world.

Raven Lake Fathoms

Raven Lake Fathoms is a wonderful use of a Homestead regions as both a home and a place for travellers to visit. If you’ve not been there before, I urge you to pay a visit. You might even find me out on the water, sitting in a rowing boat; or possibly under the waves. If the latter, don’t be surprised if I’m also sporting a tail…

(Click here to see slideshow full-screen)

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SL viewer and project mini-update

A couple of items came up at the Open Dev meeting held last night (Thursday 27th September) which are worth pushing out by way of updates to my SL Projects Update from earlier in the week.

Beta Viewer

The beta release ((3.4.1.265134) made available on September 24th is still suffering from high crash rates. Whether these are related to memory leaks or not is currently unclear, as the Lab is apparently having trouble reproducing specific causes of crashes. It is believed that tcmalloc is no longer a part of the code. As a result of the investigations, the planned frequent deploys of 3.4.1 beta releases as specified by Oz last week has been delayed. This is liable to have a knock-on effect with planning for the 3.4.2 beta releases as well, although 3.4.2 continues to roll to the development branch, with 3.4.2.265141, released on the 25th September being the current development build at the time of writing.

Mesh Deformer

Following the release of version 3.4.1.265139 on September 25th, the Mesh Deformer project viewer updated to 3.4.1.265192 on September 26th. This version has the normals calculation disabled, as it conflicted with how Blender creates sharp edges and would cause the deformer to split the edge. In addition, it appears from comments made at the Open Dev meeting that meshes uploaded prior to this version will not deform unless worn with a mesh uploaded using this version, which is intentional.

There have been further contributions to the test clothing at Hippotropolis, and Nalates Uirriah commented that some creators are placing free copies of clothing for testing up on the SL Marketplace for people to use in tests. Oz requested that anyone doing this to please explicitly state the version number of the project viewer they used to upload the mesh clothing.

At the moment, and based on contributions received, Oz is hoping to arrange for a new series of tests to be run to test the overall functionality for the deformer as it stands. Again, if you do wish to contribute clothing (uploaded using the current version of the project viewer), please refer to Oz’s original request on the subject.

Avatar Baking

Bake fail: a familiar problem for many

Avatar baking is progressing, although there is still no time-frame for any project viewer or roll-out of code on the server-side.

Currently, work is being undertaken to move the viewer’s baking code to its own library, which will be used with the new server-side baking service as well. Thus the same code will be used when changing your appearance locally, and to send your updated appearance out via the new baking service, once it has received the updates from your viewer. This aim of this work is to further eliminate some of the errors which can occur as a result of the current baking process being reliant upon viewer-side hardware, drivers, etc., wherein the same inputs can lead to different results when using different hardware.

One of the biggest benefits of this work will be removing the burden of texture caching from the simulators. With the new system, avatar texture caching will essentially be a global service: the Texture Compositing service becomes a single point-of call for avatar texture information, instead of a simulator having to contact the simulator a visiting avatar was originally baked on in order to obtain texture data.

This not only means that texture caching will be removed from the simulators once the new service is up and running smoothly, it could pave the way for other benefits as well, as Oz mentioned in the meeting, “In theory at least, that lets us introduce persistent connections and pipelined requests (don’t know if that will be in the first version or not), which could enormously speed up getting the bakes when you enter a crowded area.”

Plans for the project remain aimed towards providing TPV developers with as much advanced warning as possible prior to the new service being enabled on the main grid (Oz has been aiming at around two months’ notice), to give them time to incorporate the viewer-side code changes and assist with testing the new service. When the server-side code is ready, a project viewer will be released, and a series of regions on Aditi (the beta grid) will be updated to use the new service for testing purposes.

I have a more explicit explanation of the core aims of the new avatar baking service available in an overview of the Shining project.

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Curiosity: the rivers of Mars

NASA has released images returned to Earth by the Curiosity rover of what appears to be an ancient stream bed, together with images showing further evidence of liquid water once having flowed freely within Gale Crater.

The images have been captured at separate locations on the route to Glenelg, with the first images being captured on Sol 27 (September 2nd), with additional images of another location being captured on Sol 39 (September 14th).

The Link outcrop images on Sol 27 using the 100mm Mastcam

The first set of these images were of an outcrop of rock dubbed Link, and showed rounded gravel fragments, called clasts, up to a  few centimetres in size within the rock outcrop. Too large to have been moved as a result of wind action, these clasts have been deemed to be consistent with a sedimentary conglomerate, or a rock that was formed by the deposition of water and is composed of many smaller rounded rocks cemented together.

A close-up of Link (l) compared with similar rocks seen on Earth (r).  Erosion of the outcrop on Mars has resulted in gravel clasts which have fallen onto the ground, creating the gravel pile. The outcrop characteristics are consistent with a sedimentary conglomerate, or a rock that was formed by the deposition of water

On Sol 39, Curiosity imaged a more remarkable outcrop, dubbed Hottah after Hottah Lake in Canada’s Northwest Territories. The exposed bedrock in the images, again captured with the 100mm Mastcam, is made up of smaller fragments cemented together to again form sedimentary conglomerate.

The location of the stream bed lies between the north rim of Gale Crater and the base of “Mount Sharp”, the mound towards the centre of the crater which Curiosity will explore later in the mission. Imaging of the region from orbit shows an alluvial fan of material washed down from the rim, streaked by many apparent channels, sitting uphill of the new finds, further evidence that water was once free-flowing in the region, probably over a reasonably long period of time in Mars’ ancient past. The images of the outcrops themselves show what are referred to as “classic conglomerates”, rocks that are made up of gravels and sand which have been cemented together. The sizes and shapes of stones offer clues to the speed and distance of the ancient stream’s flow.

“From the size of gravels it carried, we can interpret the water was moving about 3 feet [1 metre] per second, with a depth somewhere between ankle and hip deep,” William Deitrich, an MSL science co-investigator said, reviewing the images.

The Hottah outcropping of bedrock – evidence of an ancient stream bed imaged by Curiosity

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