One billion pixels, two remarkable images

CuriosityThe news coming out of NASA about the Mars Science Laboratory has slowed somewhat following the period of solar conjunction which formed a natural break in operations during April.

As I’ve mentioned before, there is nothing surprising in this – the news operates in cycles, and NASA is only too aware that trying to keep Curiosity as a headline item isn’t going to stick. Better than to keep the mission going at both ends of the divide – Earth and Mars – as report to the media when there is significant news to report.

And it is fair to say that mission personnel have a lot of data to analyse. Not only are there the results of the recent sample gathering from the “Cumberland” rock to comb through, there is still a wealth of data covering the rover’s first ten months on Mars which is growing daily as a part of its automatic monitoring of its environment as well as all the data gathered during the flight from Earth to Mars which has already renewed concerns about the long-term health of humans attempting a mission to Mars, as I reported last time around.

In the meantime, Curiosity’s extraordinary ability to capture images and video of the surface of Mars has come in for attention.

The primary reason for this the release of the “billion pixel image” of the “Rocknest” region of Gale Crater, where Curiosity spent some time in 2012 after departing its landing site at Bradbury Landing, and was the location where the rover’s scoop was first tested and samples of Martian soil were first analysed by the rover.

Actually comprising some 1.3 billion pixels, the image brings together over 900 images primarily captured by the rover’s Mastcam telephoto lens (some 850 in all), although some wide-angle shots from the second Mastcam lens (21) are also included, as are 25 frames captured by the mast-mounted black-and-white Navcams. Together, the images form a full-circle view of Gale Crater as seen from “Rocknest”, providing a unique insight into the environment.

Curiosity's remote sensing mast, seen fully deployed prior to launch in 2011
The top of Curiosity’s mast, highlighting the colour Mastcam lenses and the black-and-white Navcam lenses

The finished product has been made available on a NASA website in two formats, both of which allow you to study the surface of Mars, panning and zooming freely, or using a selection of pre-selected images to quick zoom in on features of interest. The two versions of the mosaic can be found as follows:

Of the two, the cylindrical view is potentially the more engrossing, offering a greater number of images for zooming-in on surface features as well as a an easier means of panning and zooming freehand.

Continue reading “One billion pixels, two remarkable images”

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Whatever happened to Second Life? – “Doing rather nicely, TYVM”

On Friday 21st June, the BBC once again asked, “Whatever happened to Second Life?“. It’s not the first time they’ve asked the question, a link on the page takes you back to 2009, when they asked the same question.

At that time, the Beeb looked at SL form a largely corporate perspective, highlighting some of the pitfalls of the platform (not all of which were of LL’s making; there is a certain amount of blame to be placed with the media for spinning the hype to such an extent that corporations were foolish enough to all leaping without looking).

In the latest piece, which takes the form of a video cast, the Beeb again largely retreads the same theme, seeing SL purely in terms of being a corporate tool. While the piece starts off somewhat positively, looking at the in-world music group, Redzone, and highlighting how they can reach a global audience at minimal cost, it quickly ramps down to kind of narrow-focus piece which tends to typify the fact that, as Draxtor Depres has commented in our Drax Files conversations, much of the media is actually too lazy to make the effort to actually report on SL, and is far more content to retread old themes.

In the BBC’s case, this takes the form of once more banging the corporate drum as to how companies poured into SL, “spent millions”, only to subsequently pull-out and raised the idea that “everyone” who used SL has “moved on” to other social media platforms (as if it is a case of one or the other).

The general observation that corporations are somewhat more cautious nowadays when investing in social media is actually a fair point to make. However, as an attempt to address the question of “whatever happened to Second Life”, it is at best lopsided, once again generating the impression that simply because “big business” failed to understand and exploit Second Life, the platform itself has passed its sell-by date.

LL's infogrpahic on SL's 10th anniversary (click to enlarge)
LL’s infographic on SL’s 10th anniversary (click to enlarge)

It’s an unfortunate angle to take, one which suggests that the BBC consider Second Life to be something barely worth the effort of addressing beyond the scope of past reports, despite this weekend marking the platform’s tenth anniversary. And it is hardly likely that the Beeb weren’t aware of this, given the press release and infographic (rright) the Lab issued earlier in the week on the subject.

In fact it’s fair to say that rather than managing to answer the very question they ask in the title of the piece, the BBC seem content to raise several more questions about SL – and then leave them hanging. Which is a shame, because had they bothered to make something of an effort instead of opting the “rinse / repeat” route, they may have discovered some surprising answers.

Making something of an effort is exactly what Benny Evangelista, a tech and business writer at the San Francisco Chronicle did. No doubt spurred-on by the Lab’s press release and infographic, Evangelista interviews the Lab’s CEO, Rod Humble. In doing so, he is able to present a piece which is informative, providing some interesting insight into goings-on at the Lab and Humble’s own thinking on the future. In doing so, it goes a heck of a lot further in answering the question marks left in the BBC’s piece.

Take, for example the issue of corporations and business in SL. The BBC point to IBM and others with the attitude, “they came, they failed, they left – game over”. However, when raising much the same point with Humble, Evangelista gets a very different answer which presents a much broader and fairer perspective:

Evangelista: There was once great talk about companies coming in and setting up virtual shops, and it being a potential source of revenue for them. And then they pulled back.

Humble: And it was taken up by amateurs or people who specialized in it. So (of) the people who make money now within Second Life, there are people who sublet land, and they help maintain the land.

Humble: providing some insight and answering some of the critics
Humble: providing some insight and answering some of the critics (image courtesy of Bloomberg)

And there are people who make good money – and by good money, I mean hundreds of thousands of dollars a year – making hair, making virtual pets and animals. So it’s those people who are used to the virtual world, rather than big, established companies who are like, “OK, we’ll have a showroom within the world.” So I think (the promise of virtual commerce) was realized, it was just in a very different way.

I always hate waxing pretentious, but indulge me for a moment. I do think there’s a shift within the worldwide economy of people making money in more diverse ways. The nature of work itself is changing. In the same way that people make a good livelihood making objects in Second Life, you’re starting to see people generate significant revenue from posting their cat pictures on YouTube. Now you get an ad-sharing thing. That’s a trend that’s going to continue, and it’s certainly helped propel Second Life.

Humble also offers an alternative view to the idea that SL has perhaps failed because it is not as easy to navigate and understand as the Internet, and hence not as popular as social networking sites:

It’s different for sure. I think there is something (about) being within a 3-D space that’s entirely user-created that is more magical than looking at an image on a Web browser.

Usually it’s around that sense of place. But also there’s a sense of intimacy when you’re talking with someone in a virtual world, and at any time you can walk around, and you get to see what they’ve chosen to represent themselves, that I think is different from pushing a text message somewhere. I don’t know why it’s different, but it is.

Elsewhere in the article, Humble touches on the future and the fact that LL are still investing in Second Life and “virtual worlds”, although – and as he stated a while back in this blog – whatever they’re working on is still a few years down the road. We also know they are investing in at least one other virtual world development: Philip Rosedale’s High Fidelity (scroll down the page of the list of investors).

Continue reading “Whatever happened to Second Life? – “Doing rather nicely, TYVM””

Saying farewell to Sherwood Forest and spending time with the Cherokee

It’s time to kick-off another week of fabulous story-telling in Voice, brought to Second Life by the staff of the Seanchai Library SL.

As always, all times SLT, and unless otherwise stated, events will be held on the Seanchai Library’s home on Imagination Island.

Sunday 23rd June, 13:30: Tea Time in Sherwood Forest

Robin-hoodWe’re approaching the end of June, and with it, we reach the end of our forays into Sherwood forest courtesy of Caledonia Skytower and Corwyn Allen as they bring us  the final installment of tales from Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood.

An American illustrator and writer, Pyle published The Merry Adeventures of Robin Hood of Great Renown in Nottinghamshire (to give the book its original full title) in 1883. With it, he helped solidify the heroic / romantic image of Robin Hood witnessed in works such as Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe (1819).

The stories Pyle built for the book were drawn from various ballads, which he drew together to form a cohesive tale, rewriting the songs to suit a younger audience and further establishing the role of Robin Hood as a heroic outlaw who robs the rich to feed the poor – a role in sharp contrast to the way in which the ballads actually portrayed him (which was principally as a through-and-through villain).

So popular was Pyle’s work that it led to several more children’s books about Robin Hood over the next three decades, firmly establishing the legend as a respectable subject for children’s literature.

This week, sees the conclusion of Allan a Dale’s story,  and we meet The Curtal Friar of Fountains Abbey.

Monday 24th June, 19:00 – More from A Trio of my Father’s Tales

A Trio of My Father’s Tales is my tribute to Fathers,” Cale states on her website, “containing three stories based on several family tales we used to begged my Dad to repeat over and over again around the kitchen table: The Little Lord Fauntleroy Suit, “Flying Down to Cour D’Alene”, and “The Skunk War.”

– Judith Cullen (Caledonia Skytower)

Except from The Little Lord Fauntleroy Suit:

Kevin hated it. He really hated it. It was bad enough being seven years old. It was bad enough that his family were struggling, working class Irish immigrants. It was bad enough that he had the male trademark family ears, which where on the large side and stood out from his head. These things he might have handled with all the random deftness of his seven years. What young Kevin Cooney really could not manage was the damned suit. If his mother had not sewn it for him with her own hands, he would not have worn it at all. But in 1898 all Kevin knew was that the suit was important to his mother, and it was absolute torture to wear it. – Excerpt from The Little Lord Fauntleroy Suit.

Tuesday 25th June, 19:00: More from The City and the Stars

city-starsIn 1948 Arthur C. Clarke saw his first novel, Against the Fall of Night published in the magazine Startling Stories. Later, in 1953, it appeared as a novella in its own right, prior to becoming the basis of a much expanded work, The City and the Stars, published in 1956. Both focus on the same setting and principal character: the City of Diaspar and a young man called Alvin, but they tell individually unique tales – so much so that both remain in circulation,enjoying equal popularity.

One billion years in the future, Diaspar stands amidst the desert of Earth as the last, self-perpetuating city of humankind. Here, the Central Computer watches over people who live multiple lives over thousands of years before they return to storage, only to be “reborn” at a time selected by the Central Computer. Diaspar is utopian: poverty and need have long been eradicated and there is little strife. Life within the city is focused on creativity and art and in the deeper exploration of already well-understood fields. Enclosed, cyclical and ultimately static, Diaspar is both the culmination and twilight of human endeavour.

Join Gyro Muggins as he once again delves into the story which has been hailed as one of Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s best works.

Wednesday 26th June, 19:00: The Tao of Pooh (Part 3)

Winnie the Pooh may have been a Bear Of Very Little Brain often bothered by long words, but in him, his friends in the 100 Acre Wood and their adventures, Benjamin Hoff found the perfect means of introducing a western audience to the principles and ideals of Taoism.

Starting with a description of the Vinegar Tasters, a traditional subject in Chinese religious painting depicting three founders of China’s major religious and philosophical traditions: Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism., Hoff uses Pooh and other characters from A.A. Milne’s stories to reveal Taoism to his readers, going so far as to cite how the characters exemplify Taoist principles and concepts. For example, he explains how Pooh personifies the principles of wei wu wei, the Taoist concept of “effortless doing,” and pu, the concept of being open to but unburdened by experience.

Complete with excerpts from various prominent Taoist texts, from authors such as Laozi and Zhuangzi, the book is an engaging read which topped the New York Times best seller list for some 49 weeks. So why not join Kayden Oconnell and Caledonia Skytower as they continue a reading of this fascinating work?

Thursday 27th June, 19:00: Myths of the Cherokee

CherokeeOriginally published in at the end of the 18th 19th century, James Mooney’s  Myths of the Cherokees has been one of the definitive work on the customs and beliefs of the Cherokee people for decades.

Covering every aspect of Cherokee mythology and mythological tales, from the creation of the world through the origins of such things as game, corn, fish and frogs, to myths about quadrupeds, snakes, fish, insects and more, this is a comprehensive guide to the history and culture Eastern Cherokee.

Nor is this purely an academic study.  Mooney spent time living with the Cherokee and learning their language and culture. So much so that his work was relied upon by students of Native American culture, general readers, and many of the Cherokee people themselves.

Join Shandon Loring as he reads from the first Mooney’s definitive works on the Cherokee nation.

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Please check with the Seanchai Library SL’s blog for updates and additions to the week’s schedule. In May and June, library guests are invited to support Seanchai Library’s featured real world charity Heifer International. Have questions? IM or notecard Caledonia Skytower.

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