Whirling around the skies of Second Life

Spijkers Aviation & Marine EC-135 over Blake Sea Half Hitch
Spijkers Aviation & Marine EC-135 over Blake Sea Half Hitch

While visiting RiTai recently, I took time out to fly a helicopter modelled on the Eurocopter EC-135. I’ve never really fussed that much with helicopters in SL (one has been sitting in my inventory forever but it is so old, a Havoc update way beck in … 2009? 2010? broke it and as I’d already stopped using it, I never really bothered with the updated version). As such, I was a little curious to see if my attitude had changed.

Well, flying the machine, even on the one region, proved to be a lot of fun; so much so that I got, well, hooked. Since then, and as time has allowed, I’ve been shuffling around SL looking at various makes and models of helicopter with a view to getting one, and repeatedly found myself drawn back to the EC-135 design as being particularly attractive. My poking around led me to Spijkers Aviation & Marine where, after much mmming and ahhing (and not a few flights in  the demo aircraft there) I picked up Tig’s civilian version of the EC-135.

Spijkers Aviation & Marine EC-135 - passing the Fastnet light
Spijkers Aviation & Marine EC-135 – passing the Fastnet light

I’ve barely put it down since.

Weighing-in with a land impact of 27, the helicopter is well made and looks good. Seating the pilot and up to five passengers, it offers plenty of opportunities for flying with friends – but that’s just the icing on the cake.

For a start, the pack itself contains not one, but three variants of the helicopter: flyable, static (unscripted), and “desktop” (which is small and beautifully formed), each of which is offered in three basic colours: red, white and blue. As the full-size versions are MOD, also included in the pack are additional texture sets allowing the purchaser to mix and match the three finishes to produce a very individual aircraft – and if that is not enough, Tigs and Amy offer to produce  custom textures upon enquiry.

As well as the various models of the helicopter and the texture options, the pack includes two sets of instructions and two HUDS – “full” or “light” depending on your preference. Neither is absolutely required for flying, and each has a number of buttons not applicable to the civilian version of the EC-135.

The texture packs made customising one of the default versions a breeze. As I have a thing for red and white (witness Lady of Calas and Lady of Calas 2),  I wanted my new toy to be ranged in the same colours, and it took me less than 3 minutes to have a two-tone EC-135 ready to fly. And flying this little helicopter is fun.

Spijkers Aviation & Marine EC-135 - original red (r) and my 3-minute "custom" finish (l)
Spijkers Aviation & Marine EC-135 – original red (r) and my 3-minute “custom” finish (l)

Page Up and Page Down act as the collective, the arrow keys function as the cyclic for forward / reverse and turning / banking. Other commands are accessed via typing (“s” to start / stop the engine, “l” for lights, “ld” for opening / closing the left door, etc.), or via the HUDs, if used, if used. Handling-wise, the EC-135 is very responsive, and once one has got the hang of using the controls, staying airborne and enjoying oneself is a breeze.

One of the reasons I opted for this model compared to others are the range of additional options. FlySafe, for example turns the aircraft and passengers phantom – handy if you’re flying over mainland only to find someone has parked their skyhome on your flight path and evasive flying might not be that easy due to other buildings, etc., also hanging in the sky.

More importantly (from my viewpoint, at least) is the fact that – like many of Tig’s aircraft – the EC-135 can be configured so that a co-pilot can take the controls (a copy of either HUD can even be given to them). Having been a passenger on flights myself more than a few times, I know how boring sitting and letting someone else pilot you around can get be. so being able to turn over control to a friend and let them experience flying the helicopter for a while, strikes me as a neat idea and helps share the flying experience.

Spijkers Aviation & Marine EC-135 - the controls are ideal for my avatar's height
Spijkers Aviation & Marine EC-135 – the controls are ideal for my avatar’s height

I also like the optional floats that come with this model. While these can only be activated / deactivated when the engine is off, they’re a handy addition for someone like me, who lives on the edge of Blake Sea and is surrounded by water 🙂 .

There a lot more I could say about this helicopter, but I’m not going to – just take it from me, if you’re looking for a helo for yourself and you’ve not tried Spijkers Aviation & Marine, then I thoroughly recommend you hop over to their in-world headquarters and give their demonstrators a go. I doubt you’ll be at all disappointed.

Spijkers Aviation & Marine EC-135 - making an inspection pass near the Second Norway airport tower
Spijkers Aviation & Marine EC-135 – making an inspection pass near the Second Norway airport tower

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The Drax Files Radio Hour: Osprey remembered and the future of VR

The second broadcast from the attic studios of The Drax Files Radio hour kicks-off with an introduction by Strawberry Singh, before launching into a wide-ranging segment which covers news from SL and beyond, further feedback on the inaugural broadcast, including more on the Oculus Rift, some discussion on SL’s status as a niche product and the more, and a tribute to Osprey Therian.

Osprey Therian

Vivian Kendall - Osprey Therian in Second Life, who passed away in RL in 2013, but her legacy lives on in SL
Vivian Kendall – Osprey Therian in Second Life, who passed away in RL in 2013, but her legacy lives on in SL

It is with the tribute to Osprey that I’m choosing to start this piece, as it is the core of this episode – and rightly so.

Osprey Therian (Vivian Kendall in RL), artist, long-term SL resident and both a friend and inspiration to many, passed away in December 2013, much to the sadness of all who knew her. Her legacy is not just physical through her work in SL and RL, but also emotional, because she did touch so many and in many different ways.

Through a number of interviews and discussions, Draxtor reflects on the lives – real and virtual – of someone who, while she would doubtless be embarrassed at being called such – was very much an iconic figure where Second Life is concerned, and in so many different ways.

Through the words of Marianne McCann, Jim Purbrick (formerly Babbage Linden) and Salazar Jack (Justin Esparza in RL), Drax presents an engaging, uplifting portrait of Osprey and her approach to life, virtual reality, health and more. It is a piece which touches upon many different areas of the real and virtual, all of which Osprey herself no doubt would applaud and, were she able to, add her voice to the comments and the broader discussions which could so easily arise from the subjects touched upon. As a tribute, this is a beautifully handled segment, and full kudos to Drax as both interviewer and producer, for the overall scope of the piece.

Is SL nothing without Controversy?

Controversy is hard to avoid in Second Life, and not long after the initial episode of TDFRH was broadcast, the show was tangentially caught in some controversy over the interview with Ash Qin on the subject of the NSA and eavesdropping, etc., on virtual worlds (and the Internet as a whole), which prompted a response from Ash himself. This prompted Drax to point out that the show is “not the BBC”, and the intent is not to undertake investigative journalism, but to provide general news and commentary on the metaverse as a whole. Which is a fair point.

However – and while I certainly don’t expect either Drax nor Jo to have their finger on the pulse of absolutely everything that has happened in SL, past or present, a show such as TDFRH can only be enhanced by demonstrating aware of past history, where it is relevant. This is not to say I find the critique levelled at the inclusion of the interview with Ash Qin to be valid in and of itself, but I do applaud both Drax’s and Jo’s response to the criticism and their openness and willingness to seek support from people in ensuring critical bases are covered.

Did the FBI try to get LL to "block" OTR IMs server-side?
Did the FBI try to get LL to “block” OTR IMs server-side?

As an extension of this, episode 2 makes mention of OTR and its use (most notably within the v1-style Phoenix viewer) and how, apparently, there was pressure within the Lab to have the capability for OTR-encrypted person-to-person messaging “blocked” on the server-side, with the intimation that the overall pressure for this was coming from a government agency (the FBI being specifically mentioned).

The story comes via a former Linden Lab employee and makes interesting  – indeed, curious – reading; particularly given that the OTR system itself, as members of the Phoenix (now Firestorm) team have stated, was apparently deeply flawed in terms of how well “protected” IM conversations really were / are.

Continue reading “The Drax Files Radio Hour: Osprey remembered and the future of VR”

Lab issues Fitted Mesh release candidate viewer

Update January 22nd: As per the comments below, Oz Linden has posted the correct region restart sound to STORM-1980, and the sound is now included in the boday of this report.

On Thursday January 16th, Linden Lab issued a release candidate version of the Fitted Mesh viewer. Given the changes made to the avatar skeleton, the  release sees the viewer’s release number increment by 1, so the Fitted Mesh RC is version 3.7.0.285178.

The upgrade of the project to a release candidate status had been expected to come relatively early in 2014, given that Oz Linden gave a “last call” for issues in which he indicated that a release candidate would be forthcoming “after the holidays”. Speculation that the RC was at the status of Real Soon NowTM was heightened at the Open-source Developer meeting on Wednesday January 8th, when Oz further revealed that as far as the Lab was concerned, there were no further outstanding issues.

It is currently not clear as to how long the viewer will remain as a release candidate prior to promotion to the de facto release viewer.

STORM Contributions

As well as the Fitted Mesh updates, the new release candidate includes a number of open-source contributions from Jonathan Yap and Ansariel Hiller.

Jonathan’s contributions notably include the following, but please refer to the viewer release notes to see all of them:

STORM-1975: IM windows occasionally report false typing status – an annoyance to many for some time has been the situation whereby, during an IM conversation, the recipient of an IM will see the “…. is typing” message (where “…” is the other person’s name), even though the other person isn’t actually sending a message. This update should fix this issue.

STORM-1980: Region Restart Warning Changes – described in the release notes as “World-shaking improvement to region restart warnings”, STORM-1980 is designed to improve the awareness of region restarting message and add a default region restart sound. The sound is designed to be played automatically by the viewer on receipt of a region restart message, adding an additional warning of an approaching restart (for those with their viewer’s sound on!).

STORM-1981: Changes to Tracking Beacons – alters the behaviour of three types of tracking beacon: the avatar tracking beacon, the landmark tracking beacon and the beacon shown as a result of clicking on the map. Under these changes:

  • Beacons begin at a height of 0 metres and extend up to the maximum unassisted flight ceiling (5,020 metres)
  • The beacon colour is blue from 0 metres to the base height of the object being tracked, and red from 5,020 metres down to the height of the object being tracked
  • Users can optionally set the beacon to pulse towards the target object using the CheesyBeacon debug setting (Advanced->Highlighting). The blue beacon will pulse up towards the object, the red beacon will pulse down towards the object.

Ansariel provides two contributions in this release aimed at fixing a couple of issues in the UI:

  • STORM-1979: Groups count in groups list does not display if the floater is resized
  • STORM-1984: Mousing over UI elements does not make them light up.

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