From Warwick to Fourmile

I’ve been a member of English Heritage for a very long time, and have used my membership to visit some fantastic historical sites around the country – particularly Yorkshire and Northumberland (wherein sit my favourite castles such as Norham, Warkworth, Ford, and (of course) Alnwick.

While it is not operated by English Heritage, I’ve also had many a visit to Warwick Castle in the Midlands, where my English Heritage membership has eased the pain of the entrance fee (which amounts to over £100 for a family of four) as well (although I tend to prefer its great rival, Kenilworth, just down the road, and which is an English Heritage site).

Anyway, I mention this because I recently paid a visit to Fourmile Castle in Second Life. The work of Ee Maculate (a name I just love, and which is now sitting as my second favourite SL avatar name after (the now departed) Slightly Offcourse), Fourmile Castle was apparently inspired by a visit to Warwick Castle by Dr. David Wood, the man behind Ee Maculate. Not that Fourmile is intended to be a direct representation of Warwick Castle (although there are some common points between the two). Rather, the visit to Warwick served to inspire Dr. Wood to start ian in-world project for 11-16 year-olds to show how castles tended to grow over time and become not only a strategic centre, but also a commercial one as well, sometimes growing to encompass an entire small town or large village within its walls.

Fourmile Castle

In this, Ee Macluate has succeeded very well. Starting from a single Mainland region, Fourmile Castle now covers a goodly acreage of both the neighbouring Maceday and Cavenaugh regions, with the castle walls encompassing houses and places of business, with more – in keeping with how things often were – beyond the walls. With Cavenaugh bordering the Sea of Fables (itself a place I recently forayed into by boat), the castle even boasts its own modest harbour.

Fourmile Castle

When you arrive at the castle, you do so at one of the main entranceways. Take heed of the signage when you do – there are no info notecards, but the signs provide a wealth of information – such as the castle being both open to the public and a residential area, with many of the houses in and around it available for private rent. The sign also advises you to be on the lookout for tiny Anywhere Doors, which can help teleport you more easily from one point of interest to another in the same location.

Fourmile

Where you go after arrival is up to you – there are footpaths to follow both inside the walls and outside, and there is much to see whether you keep to them or not. As with many a real castle, Fourmile appears to have grown organically over time, with new walls appearing, new walkways, houses, places of business….alleyways, stairs and so on being added over time to create quite a warren of places to tour on foot. Like Warwick, the castle boasts elements from a range of historical periods; the chapel features the tomb of a Cavalier alongside that of a Norman knight. Also like Warwick, Fourmile has its own watermill and sits on the bank of a river which forms a natural defensive point.

Fourmile

Most of the rental houses lie either just outside the castle grounds or within the outer curtain wall, but outside of the castle proper. Many are already rented, so visitors are asked to respect the privacy of those living in Fourmile. Unrented homes are signed as such, and the castle store includes information on rent. All homes are within their own parcels and parcel privacy can be enabled for tenants.

The castle itself is reached either over drawbridge or through double portcullis entranceways (which had me looking up for signs of murder holes as I passed through). Here you’ll find towers, a chapel, a throne room, dungeons, stables, stairs, secret rooms, tunnels – there really is a lot to discover. For the particularly hardy, there is a 3D maze (with the recommendation you tackle it in Mouselook), and there is also the castle store, as mentioned above.

Fourmile

All of the rental properties appear to offer reasonable space, with the houses outside the castle walls being models by Maxwell Graf, which give the castle surrounds a unique feel.

Also outside the walls are a couple of henges, complete with fires burning in their centres as well; whether for warmth or ritual is hard to tell! Whatever their purpose, they are not out-of-keeping with the castle as a whole, and add further points of interest to any visit.

Fourmile

If there is anything at all to be regretted about a visit to the castle, it is in the fact that it really does bring home one’s regret that Mainland regions don’t have the kind of covenants (or some form of estate control) to limit the placement of stonking great (and perennially ugly) skyboxes within spitting distance of the ground. It’s almost impossible to get a snapshot which encapsulates the size of the build without also ending up with someone else’s eyesore in the frame. Even a couple of the images here have been somewhat judiciously “edited” by means of tight control over draw distance…

Fourmile

This aside, the only minor problem I had during my visit was that some of the Anywhere Doors were non-responsive. Whether this was due to lag (a rolling restart was in operation across the grid at the time of my visit) or other reasons, I’ve no idea. Either way, it did little to spoil my enjoyment and appreciation for the castle and Ee’s work in bringing it together.

Fourmile is very much worth a visit and a wander – and can be reached by teleport, road, air or water (the latter thanks to the Fourmile harbour in Cavenaugh, and arrival by air made possible by a neighbouring airstrip!).

Fourmile Castle

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Aloha Rocknest!

The initial results from Curiosity’s first examination of soil samples (or more correctly, regolith samples), analysed by the Chemistry and Minerology instrument (CheMin) have been returned to Earth for evaluation.

CheMin took samples of the surface material gathered by the rover’s scoop and pre-processed (filtered for compositional size) using CHIMRA, which forms a part of the turret-mounted suite of instruments and systems on the rover’s robot arm, and subjected them to X-ray diffraction, which is regarded as the “gold standard” for understanding the mineral composition of soil and rock samples on Earth. CheMin marks the very first time such an analytical capability has been possible on the surface of another planet in the solar system.

The identification of minerals in rocks and soil is crucial for the mission’s goal to assess past environmental conditions. Each mineral records the conditions under which it formed. The chemical composition of a rock provides only ambiguous mineralogical information, as in the textbook example of the minerals diamond and graphite, which have the same chemical composition, but strikingly different structures and properties.

A graphic showing the first analysis of a Martian soil sample by Curiosity’s CheMin instrument. The sample was scooped on Sol 69 (October 15th 2012) and delivered to CheMin on Sol 71. By directing an X-ray beam at a sample and recording how X-rays are scattered by the sample at an atomic level, CheMin can definitively identify and quantify minerals on Mars for the first time. Each mineral has a unique pattern of rings, or “fingerprint,” revealing its presence. The colours in the graphic represent the intensity of the X-rays, with red being the most intense

Because of the ambiguity in chemical analysis, which has to date revealed remarkably uniform results from regions which are geographically very diverse over the surface of the planet, understanding the actual minerology of Martian soil has always been a mixture of scientific study laced with educated inferences, so CheMin is a major game-changer.

“We had many previous inferences and discussions about the mineralogy of Martian soil,” said David Blake of NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, the Principal Investigator (PI) for CheMin. “Our quantitative results provide refined, and in some cases, new identifications of the minerals in this first X-ray diffraction analysis on Mars.”

Prior to MSL’s arrival on Mars, it had been long theorised that much of the surface material may well be of volcanic origin, particularly given the ample evidence of the planet having had an extremely active volcanic past.

Continue reading “Aloha Rocknest!”

SL projects news week 44/2: server, group services, mesh and more

Quick Links

Server Updates

Deployments this week are being delayed some 24 hours, which means the main channel deployment will not take place until Wednesday 31st October, and the RX channels on Thursday November 1st. This has led to concerns that the main channel deployment / restarts may impact any Halloween events taking place across the grid on Wednesday 31st. Simon Linden promised to raise the concerns at an internal LL meeting taking place later on the 30th October, however, at the time of writing, the Grid Status page reports that the deployment will go ahead, starting at 05:00 SLT on the 31st.

In the meantime, the deployments for the week remain largely as previously indicated:

  • The main channel should receive the code currently on BlueSteel and Magnum. As mentioned above, the code has no externally visible changes but has some system level adjustments – release notes
  • LeTigre will receive a further update for the code currently running on it, which will include a number of bug fixes and pathfinding updates – release notes
  • On Friday 26th October, Simon Linden indicated to me that Magnum should be receiving the code planned for week 43 (the llSensor() problem has been fixed) which will include Baker Linden’s Group Services code currently on Snack, however, as of the Simulator User Group meeting on the 30th October, the final release notes for Magnum had yet to be published, so the update may still be in a state of flux
  • BlueSteel should get the same code as is on LeTigre.

Interest List

Andrew Linden has fixed a bug wherein some child prims in linkset fail to rez and he has carried out further work on performance issue he reported last time. This turned out to be an issue with the code which caused the simulator to send a full update of everything within view to the viewer each time an avatar within visual range moved. Understandably, on  crowded regions, this led to performance issues.

The code is in the process of being revised to ensure it only calls for “terse” updates to be sent to the viewer, which will help ensure more relevant information is sent to viewers when updating, which should reduce the performance hits.

Group Services

Baker Linden, speaking at the Simulator User Group on Tuesday 29th October, said that the server-side code for this project, which should improve the load times and editing abilities for very large group lists, seems to be working “moderately well” since the deployment to the Snack RC channel last week. However, some bugs have been found, Commenting on these, Baker explained that, “The group name, description, and other things don’t load right now on the Snack RCs.” However, the bugs have been investigated and fixes found, which should be merged into the code ahead of the planned deployments on Thursday November 1st. The fixes have also been tested on Aditi, where they’ve been found to induce a slight lag on group loading.

For the time being, testing this now code continues to require a dedicated SL project viewer (available for Windows, Mac and Linux), until such time as issues with the SL beta viewer code can be fixed and merges with viewer project code resumed / made available to TPV for integration.

Avatar Baking

Work is still progressing, Nyx Linden confirmed, talking at the content Creation User Group on Monday 28th October. How far down the road the work is, is unclear. The server-side of things will apparently be using the code being developed for the viewer, and it is this which is the focus of attention for the present, as has been the case for some time.In talking to TPV developers on the subject the last time the matter came up, Oz Linden confirmed LL’s plan is still to give TPVs “at least” 2 months (eight weeks) notice prior to anything being rolled out for testing, in order to give TPVs sufficient time to incorporate the code into project viewers of their own and assist with the overall testing.

SL Issues

Mesh Alpha Issue

Theresa Tennyson demonstrates the skinned mesh / alpha issue

Also during the Content Creation meeting, a problem with alpha textures as applied to worn skinned meshes was brought up. Theresa Tennyson demonstrated the issue during the meeting, which somewhat resembles the old invisiprim  / alpha issue.

Siana Gearz suggested two possible causes for the issue, “[The] first is that rigged mesh transparent surfaces appear to be drawn before prim transparent surfaces. [The] second issue is that the shader apparently writes depth for whole fragment, not just for relatively in transparent pixels.”

Nyx Linden requested a JIRA item be raised for the issue, again highlighting the problem with the recent JIRA changes, in that outside of those with access privileges to the new system, no-one could actually confirm if a JIRA had already been raised.

ETA 31st October: Seems a public JIRA on the matter is available – see MartinRJ’s comments which follow this article. Many thanks, Martin!

With thanks to Theresa Tennyson for the Simulator UG meeting transcript

Bringing back the “Felix” in me

In discussing premium membership recently, I commented on the fact that a lot has changed for me within SL, particularly in the last year. That got me thinking about the things I used to enjoy during my early years, and which I’ve not actually taken time out to experience for a year or more. As a result of this, and my recent times spent flipping around in Steve “Cubey” Caver’s most amazing Stingray (which I’m finding to be almost as much fun as my beloved Neuspa!), I delved into my inventory and pulled out something which had not see the light of day in, well, probably a couple of years.

My skydiving kit.

Back in 2007/2008, I loved to spend time skydiving. I was a member of a couple of in-world clubs and routine jumped either from a launch system or out of an aeroplane for formation jumps. When I had a decent spread of land (i.e. a region), I installed a jump system for myself and friends to share (THAT is still sitting in inventory as well!) but as time passed, things changed. One of the clubs folded, friends lost interest, and eventually I stopped going.

Look, no hands!

There are many places in SL where skydiving is possible, and most give away free basic parachutes. I have a TerraSport III Pro, together with altimeter and stunt kit, which allows me a little extra fun on the way down. Most skydiving centres include a target area, so if you’re competitive, trying to get closest to the bullseye can become engrossing.

Chute open.Who Sez only Bond can have the Union Flag on his canopy?

Landing requires some skill; there is not only the wind to contend with, but you also need to be able to mark your time and flair decently. This not only slowly your final few metres of decent, allowing you a gently landing on both feet, it can also (when used strategically), be used to drop you precisely in on target.

Given I hadn’t been jumping in a good while, I was uncertain as to whether I could recall everything. in the end on my first jump, using the Jump / landing zone at Mills, proved better than I’d anticipated. After a 4,000 metre launch aboard the skydive lift, I was away and after a single forward roll, into free fall. Admittedly, I didn’t try any real stunts on my first time back in the harness, but I was pleased with the result on landing…

Grabbed from chat, following my first jump of 2012, and the first in (I think) a good couple of years)

After this, I did settle back and have some fun…

A midair back somersault 🙂

I also took time out when jumping to acquaint myself with the TerraSport SkySurf board, which offer the chance to “surf” around the sky and have additional fun (particularly when jumping from altitude – although it can leave you searching for the landing zone if you stray too far – and beware of region boundaries if jumping on a private island sim with no neighbours!

Skysurfing

I may yet give a tandem parachute jump a go in real life; but when it comes to skydiving and all the antics therein, I’ll leave that squarely in the Second Life; It’s a lot more fun here, especially for the lungs (less outright screaming….), and even when you do SPLAT! there is a degree of humour shown…

It’s fair to say I’ve missed skydiving in SL more than I’d realised. I don’t have the land at home to set-up my own space for it any more, but as I said, there are plenty of places to enjoy the fun right across the grid, so I’m not exactly stuck for choice. All I need to do now is find a new jump partner…

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“It’s ectoplasmically evident, my dear Dodgson.”

Update 31st October: The week’s offerings from Seanchai Library (SL) have been added to! At 19:00 SLT on the 31st October, Caledonia Skytower will presetna reading from Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and perhaps even an original tale based upon one of the five Irish Haunts within the Library’s grounds. See the Seanchai Library (SL) blog for more!

I’m a day behind myself, news-and-events-wise due to reasons I’ll not go into here. Instead, let me get straight into an overdue update on SL storytelling from the Seanchai Library SL. This week rounds-out the haunted month with a few more ghostly tales and haunting happenings.

Tuesday 30th October, 19:00

Bear Silvershade brings to life The Whistling Room by English author William Hope Hodgson, who wrote in a number of overlapping genres, including science-fiction, fantastic fiction and horror. Perhaps most widely known for the novel-length  The House on the Borderland and The Night Land, Hodgson also wrote numerous short stories, often revolving around a recurring central character. The Whistling Room is one of the latter, and the supernatural detective, Thomas Carnacki.

In all, Carnacki originally appeared in print in six tales by Hodgson, all published between 1910 and 1912, with The Whistling Room being the third in the series. Following their initial publication, all six stories were brought together to form the anthology Carnacki The Ghost-Finder, to which three further stories were added in 1948, one of which had never previously been published, and two had been published posthumously following Hodgson’s death in 1918 at the Battle of Ypres.

Carnacki himself is inspired by two other fictional characters, the Great Detective himself, Sherlock Holmes, and the supernaturally inclined scientists, Dr. Hesselius, created by fantasy writer Sheridan Le Fanu.

As with all the Carnacki tales, The Whistling Room is narrated by a friend of Carnacki – one Dodgson who is, like three other close friends, is often invited to Carnacki’s batchelor home to share dinner and hear of the detective’s latest case. As such, and unlike Holmes’ Watson, while Dodgson narrates, he generally plays a minimal role in Carnacki’s own tale.

On this occasion, Carnecki tells of a case wherein he is asked it investigate a room in a mansion which emits a loud,eerie whistling. After carrying out a very thorough search of the room and finding nothing, he is not altogether convinced of the supernatural nature of the sound. Not convinced, that is, until he takes a ladder to the side of the house, climbs it, and peers into the room from the outside…

An illustration from The Whistling Room, as it appeared in 1910 in The Idler magazine

Wednesday 31st October, 19:00

A Night in the Lonesome October

A Night in the Lonesome October reaches its long-awaited climax. Originally intended to be a tale in four parts, Seanchai Library has extended its adaptation of Roger Zelazy’s satirical novel so that reaches its thrilling climax on night in which all things come to a head in the novel itself.

Featuring the voice artistry of Shandon Loring, Gyro Muggins, Caledonia Skytower and special guests, the story once again focuses on the deadly Game and its mix of archetypal characters from Victorian Era gothic fiction, all with occult knowledge, seeking either to throw open the very doors of reality itself and allow the Great Old Ones into this world and bring about the destruction or enslavement of the human race – or to hold to doors closed in the face of calamity and protect life and civilisation here on Earth.

Through the eyes of the participant’s familiars, led by Jack the Ripper’s faithful dog Snuff, we’ve seen alliances formed and betrayals played out as the game moves inexorably towards its climax. And now the night itself is here. Who will prevail? Is the world to be saved for at least another few decades before the Players once more to resume their deadly Game, or is all to be forever lost?

Thursday November 1st, 19:00

Dark, daring, utterly haunting tales of lost lovers, predatory demons, and vengeful ghosts from the pen of John Connolly, as told by Shandon Loring.

All stories in voice and take place at Seanchai Libray on Imagination Island, unless otherwise noted.

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SL project news week 44/1: viewer updates

A quick start-of-week update on the status of releases with the offical SL viewer. News on specific projects (Mesh, deformer, interest lists, etc.) to follow in the week.

Beta and Development Viewers

The beta viewer situation remains in review, with the latest release – 3.4.1.266251, released on the 24th October – still available for download. Crash rates remain the major issue to unblocking matters and getting things moving again.

In the meantime, an updated development viewer (3.4.1.266120) was released on the 25th October, but otherwise things remain largely unchanged, and as stated above, project related viewer releases remain blocked. Expect further updates to be reported later in the week.

FMOD

The aim remains for LL to use FMODex within viewer builds following FMOD’s decision to discontinue making core FMOD libraries available for builds see JIRA OPEN-150). However, the issue is not currently a priority within LL due to other matters (such as resolving beta viewer crashes and unblocking the release pipe).

OpenAL has again be suggested as an alternative to FMODex; however, commenting on this, Oz Linden again repeated that, “I don’t think it very likely that we’re going to use OpenAL.” In the meantime FMODex is in use within the Singularity viewer, and that code has recently been ported into Firestorm, where it is currently being worked on.

CHUI

The Communications Hub User Interface project viewer launched last week. As I reported at the time, this is an attempt by LL to re-centralise communications within the viewer, and has both good and bad points to it.

The fully expanded Conversations floater in the CHUI project viewer

As might be expected with an initial pass of a project viewer, CHUI has generated extensive feedback from testers as to issues and problems both large and small. These very much reflect the fact that CHUI is still in its nascent stages, and that further work will be going into it to both iron-out bugs and improve performance / capabilities. A survey on the project viewer is due to be made available this week, whether this goes ahead based on the level of feedback currently being generated through the JIRA (which has been reasonably high from those testing the new functionality almost feature by feature), remains to be seen.