Of thanksgiving drives and the rumour mill

It’s been a curious week or so where Curiosity is concerned, primarily because of speculation over exactly what SAM may – or may not – have found. In my last update, I covered recent activities with MSL, including the fact that a soil sample had, after weeks of preparation, been delivered to the SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) suite of instruments. Since then, the media has been agog with rumours that something “earth-shaking” may have been discovered.

But before I get to that, a quick catch-up on activities since my last report.

On the 16th November, the rover’s 100th Sol on Mars, Curiosity finally made a move from the small sand dune it had been studying in an area dubbed Rocknest. It didn’t actually initially go very far – just 1.9 metres (6.2 feet), but it was enough for the rover to be able to deploy its robot arm in what was called a “touch and go” examination of an interesting rock, initially dubbed “Rocknest 3”, using the Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) in two 10-minute examinations of the rock in order to gain readings of data about its chemical elements. The rock had previously been the subject of examination by Curiosity when on Sol 57 (October 3rd) the ChemCam laser system and telescope were used to gather initial data.

An image of “Rocknest 3” captures by the micro-imager camera of ChemCam and showing the laser hit points created during initial analysis of the rock. In all some 15,000 laser pulses were directed at the rock, which was some 3.7 metres (12 feet) from the laser system. This image and the associated data wer subsequently downlinked to Earth using Europe’s Mars Express orbiter in order to demonstrate the ability to use that vehicle as a back-up communications relay should Mars Odyssey or the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter be unavailable.

Afterwards, the arm was stowed and Curiosity travelled a further 25 metres (83 feet) eastward to a further target called “Point Lake”, which overlooks a lower-lying area leading into the area dubbed Glenelg.

“We have done touches before, and we’ve done goes before, but this is our first ‘touch-and-go’ on the same day,” said Curiosity Mission Manager Michael Watkins of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. “It is a good sign that the rover team is getting comfortable with more complex operational planning, which will serve us well in the weeks ahead.”

Prior to departing Rocknest, Curiosity took a set of panoramic images of the area ahead of it, including “Point Lake”, where work will commence in finding a suitable target for the rover’s drill mechanism on the robot arm’s turret for the very first time.

This panorama is a mosaic of images taken by the Mast Camera (Mastcam) on the NASA Mars rover Curiosity while the rover was working at a site called “Rocknest” in October and November 2012. The centre of the scene, looking eastward, includes the “Point Lake” area, where the rover spent the Thanksgiving period capturing further images for analysis in preparation for the final leg of the journey to Glenelg.

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Rokuro 4.2.0: symmetrical sculpted and mesh shapes with ease

Rokuro is one of a number of programs created by Second Life user Yuzuru Jewell under the Kanae Projects name. It can be used to create sculpt maps outside of SL, which can be saved as .TGA files and then imported for use in-world to generate sculpted shapes

In the new release, version 4.2.0, Yuzuru has added the ability for Rokuru to additionally save generated maps as Collada file, allowing them to be uploaded into Second Life as mesh items (XML, OBJ are also supported).

Rokuro – meaning lathe – offers a simple and effective way of creating symmetrical shapes for use in Second Life, and the website provides a host of samples and templates with which to get started with the tool and which can be easily modified to suit your needs.

Rokuru - create symmetrical designs as sculpts or meshes
Rokuru – create symmetrical designs as sculpts or meshes

The UI itself comprises two parts – on the left, a “finished product” preview pane which displays a representation of your model, which can be drag-rotated in all three axes to examine the design, and an editing panel on the right, in which is displayed as a plan view of your shape, the right side of which can be edited (the left will automatically reflect all adjustments made). A range of menu-supplied options (including access to default shapes) and a range of settings provide a good degree of flexibility within the tool.

A shape created in less than a minute on Rokuru and uploaded to SL
A shape created in less than a minute on Rokuro and uploaded to SL

Rokuro is offered free of charge (although donations towards its ongoing development and the development of Yuzuru’s other products are always welcome), and is available in Window 32- and 64-bit versions, and is also available for the Mac. For those wanting to explore the capabilities of the tool in more depth, there are a range of tutorials available both in-world and on the Marketplace.

As mentioned above, Rokuro is one of a range of products made by Yuzuru to assist content creators, the entire range currently comprising:

  • Rokuro
  • Rokuro_Pro – a version of Rokuro which includes a texturing capability and a series of plug-in tools
  • Tokoroten (“extruder”) – creates extruded forms of sculpted prim
  • Tatara – an advanced sculpted prim editor which includes functionality from Rokuro and Tokroten and well as three additional modes, which can be used individually or collectively to create sculpt maps
  • Shibori (“iris” – as in camera eye) – a “shrinkwrapper” for shrinking a sculpt around a given shape
  • Nomi (“chisel”) – creates a sculpted prim or mesh with a relief surface from one picture using the picture’s brightness
  • Hanko (“seal”) – a tool which allows you to add your signature to a sculpt map

Note that some of these tools require the purchase of a serial number from Yuzuru’s in-world store, but time-limited versions are available for download through the Kanae Projects website in order to “try before buying”.

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With thanks to Yuzuru Jewell.

“The mingling of a million dreams; a reflection of our collective imagination”

Update August 5th, 2013: The Faberge region has been redeveloped and Point of Derivation no longer appears to exist.

I had planned to write a follow-on to my post on the media myth that Second Life has “failed”. However, Honour McMillan has written on the matter far more succinctly and perceptively than I, so it is far better that I point you towards her wisdom on the matter, and turn my attention elsewhere.


“I knew the trail was warming, that I was closing on my quarry. I’d seen these ruins before, from the deck of a boat; so if we were that close to the coast, I knew he was running out od places to hide…” (The Point of Derivation)

Exploring the grid is a mixture of three parts having some familiarity with a place – such as having seen it in passing while attending and event or visiting a store it holds; two parts recommendations from friends and one part pot luck – sticking your digital finger into the Destination Guide and seeing what it lands on.

Steering well clear of Grump-isms and comparisons between life and chocolates, it’s fair to say that even armed with the Destination Guide description, there are times when you zap to a region never actually quite sure as to what you’re going to find.

“… just when I thought I’d lost the trail, I came across a wooden walkway with a path beyond. Given a choice between that and the underbrush, I felt sure he’d have taken the path…” (The Point of Derivation)

The Point of Derivation is a case in point. It appears in the Adventure and Fantasy category of the Destination Guide, where the text provided for its entry describes it as, “A dark forest-themed sim in which the last remnant ruins of a long abandoned theater are becoming slowly reclaimed by nature”, together with an evocative picture. There is reference to arena combat, dancing and walking with a loved one – which is all quite a mixed bag. But what does it all add up to? A post-apocalyptic place where people engage in Thunderdome-like combat? Zombies? A haunted lover’s walk?  All of the above?

“…It was the smoke rising from the broken chimney which drew me to the place. Deserted it may have been, but the fact the fire was still burning together with the still-warm bedclothes told me someone had been here – and had left in a hurry…” (The Point of Derivation)

The reality is that The Point of Derivation is one of those wonderful regions which present a fabulously atmospheric environment which invites the imagination to go where it pleases, to make up stories, develop free-form role-play – to simply immersive oneself, either in exploring alone, or with a friend or friends. Yes, there is the opportunity for arena combat, there’s an opportunity to throw darts at a set of target on the other side of a stretch of water (if your thowing arm is up to it!); there is even a local scavenger hunt, with some eight prizes to locate and collect.

“A trail from the house lead me to an old amphitheatre. The lit sconces told me someone had also been here – and diesel motors coughing into life encouraged me to give Mr. Redemption some breathing space…”(The Point of Derivation)

But the real power in The Point of Derivation is in nature of the region itself, the wonderful combination of landscape, builds and windlight which have been combined to create an environment and ambience which call out of the imagination and beg to be captured in role-play, photographs or machinima. This is enhanced by the fact that your arrival is not marked by notecards setting out theme, time, backstory or rules; there is just you and the environment – and an open invitation to dive in.

“Forcing my way through the trees and underbrush wasn’t easy, and the sound of receding engines told me I’d been played. By the time I found the little bay, the boat and Calhogie’s precious case were over the horizon…”(The Point of Derivation)

I love regions like this, free from the structure often required in more formal role-play environments, simply because of the freedom they present. Some – like the Point of Derivation – may give your mind a little nudge purely because of the environment and settings; others – such as Scribbled Hearts or Wanderstill – may softly welcome you with a simple invitation to enjoy whatever you find.

The Point
The Point of Derivation

Rod Humble received a lot of grumbles when he started referring to Second Life as a “shared creative space” alongside the Lab’s newer products. Yet the fact is that in many respects, that’s precisely what Second Life is. An immersive environment in which we are free to create and share. And the sharing can take so many forms: through direct involvement in activities, or through the adoption or a character or role by which we interact with others, or through the sheer joy of collaborative creation, and so on.

The sharing can also be a lot more subtle – such as by simply taking time to explore someone else’s creation, taking photographs and showing them with friends or whomever. In this, and while the viewer is packed with powerful (if occasionally arcane) tools, perhaps the most powerful is the humble snapshot floater; it provides us with memories to both enjoy and to share.

However one goes about it, it is the ability to create and share and participate either directly or indirectly on one another’s creations and imaginations, which is perhaps the greatest ability Second Life gives us.

The Point of Derivation

I started this post by stating I wasn’t going to talk about the “failure” or otherwise of Second Life. Well, I lied.

The fact is that, while LL may indeed have problems in fully understanding the platform, while SL does have warts and sores, it has provided us with an immersive environment in which we can dream, create, explore, and share. It has become, and continues to be, as Steve “Cubey Terra” Cavers so eloquently stated, “The mingling of a million dreams; a reflection of our collective imagination”. As long as this continues to be the case, then it is fair to say that for each of us, Second Life has enjoyed its own unique success.

The Point of Derivation

With thanks to Steve Cavers for permission to use his words in this post.

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