The Rift and the hype

Ever since LL announced they were actively working on integrating Oculus Rift into Second Life, there has been a lot of upbeat blogging and speculation as to what it will do / mean for the platform. Reading some of the more enthusiastic posts on the subject, it’s hard not to escape the feeling that we’re apparently standing on the edge of a new age in virtual worlds interaction, and that Oculus Rift is going to bring new depth, new meaning (and new users) to Second Life.

Not all agree with the upbeat messages surrounding the headset and SL. Coinciding with the appearance of a photo showing the Lab’s CEO trying-out the headset, Mona Eberhardt and Will Burns each blogged on the Oculus Rift and some of the factors which could limit its wider use with SL. Both of them raise some valid points, and while I don’t agree with all their arguments, they do present food for thought.

Rod Humble tries out Oculus Rift in a photo released on July 18th
Rod Humble tries out Oculus Rift in a photo released on July 18th, 2013

Oculus Rift is a first-person experience, and this could immediately limit its appeal. The problem here is not so much interacting with the UI or in-world objects – the UI can be updated to handle such shortfalls; some TPVs already allow far greater access to the UI view and to in-world objects than the official viewer when using the first-person (aka Mouselook). Firestorm, for example, presents users with the toolbar buttons in Mouselook which can then be used to display and interact with various UI elements, and it also allows right-click/menu interactions with in-world objects. Ergo, it’s not exactly that hard to re-work things to make them more accessible when using something like Oculus Rift. Similarly, the  upcoming updated / new experience tools could also provide the means for better interactions with  in-world objects such as teleport portals.

Rather, the problem is that most people seem to intrinsically prefer the third-person view, with the greater freedom (e.g. camera movement, etc.) it presents for the vast majority of their in-world interactions and experiences. Coupled with the price tag for the headset (something I’ll return to in a moment), this could possibly count against the Oculus Rift in terms of general use.

Then, as Mona and Will point out, there is the problem that the headset isolates the wearer from the primary means they have of interacting with other people: the keyboard. While the conversations floater can easily be displayed (CTRL-H), it still leaves the problem of actually being able to see the keyboard in order to type accurately. This leaves those wanting to use Oculus Rift either needing to become very proficient touch-typists, or they’re going to have to settle for using voice.

SL is inherently keyboard-focused for the vast majority of users
SL is inherently keyboard-focused for the vast majority of users (image courtesy of Prad Prathivi)

Will Burns points to issues of headsets and open microphones as being a problem when it comes to voice. but I tend to disagree with him. For one thing, it’s not as if a headset / microphone combination can’t be worn with the Oculus Rift. More particularly, and from the in-world meetings held in voice I routinely attend, people actually do leave their microphones open, as the barking dogs, ringing ‘phones  and the clicks of lighters being flicked in the background tend to demonstrate. No, the problem is actually more basic than that.

It’s this: since its introduction in 2007, voice tends to have been avoided by what seems to be the vast majority of SL users. Many simply will not use it, period. So if voice is seen as the means for person/person interactions when using Oculus Rift, then it is quite likely to further marginalize take-up with the headset, no matter what the promise of Exciting New Things it might bring.

In his piece, Will also points to the limitation of the headset when trying to perform tasks such as building. Such critiques might appear to be unjustly harsh and leave people saying, “Well yes, but Oculus Rift isn’t designed to be used for everything!“. However, while such a reply is true, it actually underlines Will’s central point: that the headset is liable have niche applications in Second Life which could further limit its appeal among the wider user base.

Continue reading “The Rift and the hype”

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One kilometre and counting

CuriosityOn July 16th, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity passed the one kilometre mark (0.62 miles) on its travels around Gale Crater. The milestone came eleven months after the one-tonne rover arrived on the surface of Mars on August 5th 2012.

Since that time, Curiosity has achieved a lot; it has travelled across several terrain types, it has studied the Martian atmosphere and meteorology and probed the ground underneath it for evidence of water. It has taken samples from the surface of Mars and drilled into rocks. It has analysed samples and returned a huge amount of data to Earth, including thousands of colour, black and white and high-resolution images. It has viewed its surrounding in 3D and – most intriguing of all – it has discovered very convincing evidence that Mars was more than likely once an abode suitable for the evolution of basic life.

Coincidentally, July 17th 2013 marked the half-way point for the rover’s prime mission of one Martian year (687 day or 1.88 Earth years). As the rover’s power system has a potential operating life of fourteen years, it is more than certain that, barring any accidents or major systems failure in the interim, operations will be extended well beyond the prime mission time frame. In this, Curiosity will not be alone; half a world away, NASA’s rarely mentioned Opportunity rover is fast approaching the tenth anniversary of what was originally a 90 day mission.

Curiosity’s progress: from landing through to its position on Sol 344 (July 24th, 2013) The numbered dots along the line indicate the Sol number of each drive. North is up. The scale bar is 200m (656 ft). From Sol 343 to Sol 344  Curiosity drove a straight line distance of about 68.82m (225.79 ft)

More Atmospheric Analysis

As mentioned above, Curiosity has been studying the Martian atmosphere using the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) suite of instruments. SAM has more recently been involved in analysing rock and soil samples collected by the rover’s scoop and drilling system, so it is easy to forget that it can also “sniff” and analyse Martian air, which it did for the very first time right back at the start of the mission. Since then, SAM has continued to periodically sample the Martian atmosphere, and it has already helped in further understanding the dynamics of the atmosphere and how it may have been lost over time.

SAM is able to measure the abundances of different gases and different isotopes in the Martian atmosphere. Isotopes are variants of the same chemical element with different atomic weights due to having different numbers of neutrons. In the first set of tests carried out, SAM compared the stable isotope argon-36 with its heavier cousin, argon-38. Since then, SAM has carried out a series of comparative tests on a range of isotope drawn from the Martian atmosphere, including carbon-12 and carbon-13 and both oxygen and hydrogen isotopes.

These tests, carried out using two different instruments within SAM – the mass spectrometer and tuneable laser spectrometer – during the first 16 weeks of the mission, measured virtually identical ratios of carbon-13 to carbon-12, with the ratios again pointing to the lighter isotopes having “bled off” into space from the upper portions of Mars’ atmosphere, rather than a process of the lower atmosphere interacting with the ground.

“Getting the same result with two very different techniques increased our confidence that there’s no unknown systematic error underlying the measurements,” said Chris Webster of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “The accuracy in these new measurements improves the basis for understanding the atmosphere’s history.”

The rate at which Mars is currently losing its atmosphere cannot be measured by Curiosity or any of the vehicles currently operating in orbit around Mars.  This will be the work of the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission, which is due to be launched in November 2013.

Gullies on Mars: Water or Dry Ice?

While it is accepted that Mars’ atmosphere was once dense enough to support liquid water – Curiosity itself has found unmistakable evidence for free-flowing water to have once been present in the crater – evidence has also put forward to suggest that some features imaged on Mars and associated with possible water action may have been the result of another process entirely, as explained in this interesting NASA video.

Continue reading “One kilometre and counting”

SL projects update week 31 (1): server releases, SSA, Interest List

Update, July 31st: further to the note below relating to the BlueSteel RC deployment, it appears the bug fix did not clear QA in time for the deployment to occur. Maestro Linden has updated the deployment thread to read: “BlueSteel’s planned project hit some last minute issues, so the update has been canceled for this week.  Instead, BlueSteel will not be rolled this week (it will match the version on the ‘Second Life Server’ channel).

Server Deployments Week 31 (Week Commencing Monday July 29th)

As always, please refer to the week’s forum deployment thread for news, updates and feedback.

Second Life Server (SLS Main) Channel

On Tuesday July 30th, the SLS Main channel received the server maintenance package previously deployed to BlueSteel in week 30 and LeTigre in week 29. This project includes:

  • A further fix for the issue of pathfinding characters using CHARACTER_STAY_WITHIN_PARCEL getting stuck if they somehow exited their home parcel
  • Fixes for objects failing to detect collisions after teleporting (BUG-969) and run time permissions failing to function correctly on attachments (BUG-2931)
  • New capabilities to the materials system to better handle texture requests.

Release Candidate Channels – Wednesday July 31st

Magnum and LeTigre will remain SSA enabled and both receive the updates deployed to the Main channel.

BlueSteel should receive a new server maintenance project. However, a last-minute bug was found in the code. While this has been fixed by Kelly Linden, it has still to pass LL’s QA at the time of writing. Assuming the package passes QA and is deployed, it will include:

  • Fixes for some simulator crash modes
  • A fix for BUG-3291 (“llListen in linked objects is listening at root instead of linked object local position *after re-rezzing the linkset*.”)
  • A fix for BUG-3307 “(llApplyImpulse called from attachment does not work on avatar if script is reset or started when attached”).
The Simulator UG meeting, Tuesday July 30th.
Doyouthinkhesaurus – Baker Linden (far right), in his new avatar look, literally towers over the start of the Simulator UG meeting on Tuesday July 30th.

Server-side Appearance

As noted above and in part 2 of last week’s report, SSA will not be enabled on any additional server channels this week, but does remain enabled on LeTigre and Magnum as the Lab continue to gather statistics and monitor performance, etc. Commenting on the state-of play, Nyx Linden said, “Testing seems to be going well, but we’re being on the cautious side – making sure that the back-end can handle the load. There are a few reported bugs in JIRA, but *most* are minor and we’re working on the not-so-minor ones.”

Issues

I provided an update on some of the more serious issues the Lab has been addressing with SSA in part 2 of my week 30 report (see the link in the paragraph above). Since then I’ve been poked about additional advice the Firestorm team have put together for those experiencing issues, including SUN-98,and I’m providing the relevant information here.

Avatar textures remaining grey / SUN-98: is generally the result of wearing a corrupted clothing asset, and as such is “expected behaviour” in order to avoid cases of accidental nudity, as I explained last week. To help diagnose the problem, the Firestorm team suggest you:

  • Remove all clothing and allow the avatar to bake with just the skin layer worn. If it fails to bake properly, the skin is the corrupted asset and needs to be replaced
  • If the skin bakes correctly, start adding the clothing layers of the outfit one at a time and check each to see how it bakes
  • If an item shows-up fully or partially grey, that is the corrupted asset. Replacing it should allow everything to bake and render correctly.

The Firestorm article also includes some Firestorm-specific actions for problems, and is a work-in-progress, so you can refer to it via the link above for further advice.

Continue reading “SL projects update week 31 (1): server releases, SSA, Interest List”

The compact beauty of the Garden of Eden

Last week I posted a piece which, among other things, commented on recent issues I’ve had accessing WordPress.com to admin this blog (upload new posts, edit / update existing posts, reply to comments, etc.) and even view other people’s WordPress.com blogs. I wasn’t alone in experiencing the problem, which has lasted well over a week and a half.

According to WordPress, some of their servers had ended up on a block list at IWF as a result of a blog being put up which was in violation of their ToS (and which was quickly removed by WP). As a number of UK ISPs picked-up on the IWF notification, they blocked access to the “offending” servers, and things are now only just being untangled.

The Garden of Eden
Garden of Eden

Things still aren’t quite back to normal, but my own connectivity with my blog has greatly improved in the last 24 hours. So, this being the case, I decided to start catching up (again!) on some of my destination blogging. And where better to start than at the Garden of Eden, located on the island region of Golden Rose?

The work of digital artist Liara Okiddo, Garden of Eden is beautiful proof that you don’t necessarily need a full region to produce something which is both stunning and immersive. Occupying a 8192 sqm parcel, this is a place which really has to be seen to be appreciated.

Garden of Eden
Garden of Eden

The SLurl I’m providing will land you on a  wooden walkway to one side of the parcel, with a sail boat moored alongside. Right away there are nice touches: a roll-on-roll off flight bag sits on the quay, as if put there by someone who has either just arrived on the boat, or is getting ready to sail away. Overhead, parakeets fly idly by, and butterflies flutter busily further inland.

Where you go from here is up to you – wooden walkways both climb up the rocks which shape the parcel into a shaded tropical gorge, and lead inland. However, I do recommend you go inland first. If you do, you’ll find yourself being led past a broad, shallow pool and deeper between the rocks until eventually you’ll come to a small tiki hut, tall waterfalls as a backdrop. Here you can sit a while on your own or with a friend and simply contemplate whatever enters your mind, or you can watch the hummingbirds busy in their daily chores.

Garden of Eden
Garden of Eden

When you’re ready, wander back along the walkway and perhaps admire the butterflies and parakeets before you start your climb up to the rocks above. The wooden stairs and roped walks (Alex Baders’ very familiar pieces), will take you up and around the shallow pool and bring you to a junction. Turn left, and you’ll pass over a great stone arch with a view out over the sea, the sail boat below you, to another resting place. Turn right at the junction, and the path will take you to the exhibition space.

Here is another very unique environment, designed to put the visitor at ease. There are book cases with books scattered on the floor, a dining table with a bottle of wine, glasses and candles. Pictures are displayed on easels, and a glass roof overhead lets in plenty of light and allow one a view of the lanterns floating above it. Once again, the attention to detail is wonderful, and it’s worth camming around / exploring a little to make sure you catch all of the little touches.

Garden of Eden
Garden of Eden

To say this is a truly fabulous build really doesn’t do it justice. The use of space, the overall design and layout, the amount which has been packed into the parcel, the attention to detail – all of these aspects are brought together to present a very immersive, creative place to visit and enjoy. Anyone who is limited space-wise, and is looking to see what might be achieved with a little planning, a careful eye and a dash of imagination, whether it be to establish a store, gallery or their home, should drop by Garden of Eden. It’s sure to impress and get one’s one creative juices flowing.

For those who simply like exploring, have an eye for art and enjoy photography, this is a place definitely not to be missed. Thoroughly recommended.

Related Links

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