Happy New Year!


May 2015 bring you all you hope for, and be a year of peace and prosperity for us all.

My thanks again to everyone for your support throughout the year.

My word, what a year!

Pinoy Hideout, Lions Hill; Inara Pey, May 2014, on FlickrPinoy Hideout, Lions Hill, November 2014 (Flickr) – blog post

So 2014 draws to a close. I’ve already given a detailed review of the year as I saw it and reported on it through these pages; but before the year closes, I wanted to offer something a little more personal.

This year has been incredible for me. In terms of raw figures (for whatever they’re worth), I’ve published 950+ posts, passed through 3,000 published in total, seen the blog pass through one million page views and, at least according to WordPress, these pages (intentionally or otherwise) have been viewed from 194 countries (hello, Iran and North Korea. Oh wait, you’re not listening 🙂 ).

Jacob's Pond, End of Time February 2014The Pines at Jacobs Pond End of Time, February 2014 (Flickr) – blog post

But more particularly, the year has offered me the opportunity to visit over 100 regions and blog on them (some more than once), and to experience 136 art exhibitions, installations and performances that I’ve actually manage to document (57 sponsored by the LEA and 79 non-LEA events) – my apologies to those I missed / didn’t manage to get written-up.

Where art is concerned, I’ve been particularly privileged to be asked to join the UWA jury for Transcending Borders  – thank you, Jayjay and FreeWee, and to have also witnessed Paradise Lost: he Story of Adam and Eve’s Original Sin, which I still believe to be an outstanding masterpiece of performance art in a virtual world, and the jewel in the crown of my enjoyment of a fabulous year for art in SL. I’ve also met many more talented people in SL.

H2O - Walt Ireton (Jay Evers)
Walt Ireton was one of several artists I was fortunate enough to meet in-world and become friends with during 2014. His real-life photography exhibited in SL in shows such as H2O is amazing – blog post

As regular readers know, I’ve attempted to stay up-to-speed on technical developments, but have also found time to move house, expand my sailing and flying activities, and continue tracking Curiosity’s progress on Mars, as well as look at other “spacey” things.

I’ve also tried to improve my photographic technique and also started to get my head around image editing with GIMP (PhotoShop still has me hiding under the desk). I’ve even managed to get into “proper” machinima, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and have received a lot of support and advice in my efforts – thank you to everyone concerned.

2014 saw my interest in, and enjoyment of, flying and sailing increase
2014 saw my interest in, and enjoyment of, flying and sailing increase

I really don’t want to go on at great length here; suffice it to say, the year has had its moments at times, but for the most part has been a huge amount of fun, discovery and learning. It has also been immensely rewarding simply because I see so many people returning to these pages again and again, reading, offering “likes” and feedback, providing suggestions and pointing out things of interest or providing hints and support.

So what I really want to say is, thank you to all of you for all your support through the year; and thank you for all the Tweets, re-tweets, Plurks, re-plurks, location suggestions via social media or via e-mail, comments via e-mail and in-world IMs. It may sound trite, but the reality is, without your support and feedback, this blog would simply be a collection of dry electronic pages, and I’d be without any stars to steer by.

Thank you, everyone, and I’ll see you in 2015!

Fastnet Rock, Blake Sea Crows Nest; Inara Pey, December 2014, on Flickr

2014: A look back – part 3: September – December

Pinoy Hideout, Lions Hill; Inara Pey, May 2014, on FlickrPinoy Hideout, Lions Hill (Flickr) – blog post

It’s once again that annual time of reflection. The winter is with us, the old year is slowing dying, the new year awaits, and it is time to look back across the highs and lows of the virtual year as seen through the pages of this blog.

This year has been even busier for me than previous years, so I hope you’ll forgive that as I look back over the year as I’ve managed to report it through this blog, I’ve broken it down into three parts, this being the second, and you can catch-up with part one or part two if you so wish. Not everything that happened through the year may be here; there are some aspects of  SL in which I’m not active, and so may have missed some headlines. Nevertheless, I hope this review sparks a few memories and provides some interesting holiday reading. As with the first part, rather than just offer a month-by month account, I’ve tried to group things together by topic to hopefully give more of a narrative flow.

The Lab

The Lab is relatively quiet in September. The Skill Gaming Policy takes effect from September 1st without too much fanfare, and at the end of the month the Lab issue a statement that it will be enforced as from November 1st, 2014. When that date is reached, CapEx is forced to suspend operations, due to their Skill Gaming application not having been approved by the Lab, a situation still unresolved at the end of the year.

Joe Miller
Joe Miller (image: Sportvision.com)

September does bring with it the very sad news of Joe Miller’s passing; while I wasn’t acquainted with him, having known him only by reputation, I offer a short piece on Mr. Miller and his contributions to the platform.

Towards the end of September, I finally notice that the Lab’s corporate leadership page has been updated, while in October, In October, Ebbe Altberg joins Saffia and Rik for a Designing Worlds special show to talk LL, SL and the “next generation” platform. For those who prefer to read I offer a transcript.

In the interview, Ebbe drops a hint that the product review which saw Creatorverse, dio and Versu vanish from the Lab’s portfolio in February hadn’t entirely finished. At the time I suspected that Desura might be parting company with the Lab, but as it turned out, it was Patterns, the Lab’s sandbox game, that took the bullet, with the Lab willing to hear from parties interested in carrying it forward. However, November does see the Lab shed itself of Desura as well.

November also sees Ebbe in New York, where he appears as a panellist in a discussion on the future of VR beyond gaming, held at the Engadget Expand NY 2014 event. He’s also interviewed by  Dean Takahashi from Games Beat, and talk about SL and the future.

December brings musings on Lab Merchandise, courtesy of a Drax Files Radio Hour special on the Lab.

Second Life

The Lab’s updated viewer splash / log-in screen reaches RC status. Landon Linden returns to the official SL blog to provide a fascinating insight into how Lab’s Ops team responds to issues within their services, the communications tools they use – and why the tools are so effective. As I comment at the time, it’s a remarkable piece, well worth reading.

Also in September, the Lab provides a small piece of news on the CDN project, alongside the launch of the new Benchmark viewer and the viewer log-in screen updates. The CDN deployment to the main grid commences in October, initially using the special purpose Snack channel. which is drawn from regions usually on the Main (SLS) channel. The CDN provider is Highwinds.

By October 29th, CDN support is grid wide, and the HTTP pipelining viewer is formally released. As a result of both of these projects, the majority of people are seeing benefits in terms of texture and mesh fetching and (in the case of the pipeline viewer, inventory fetching. However, some across the grid continue to report issues arising from the updates which require further investigation, prompting to the Lab to seek direct feedback. At the start of November, the Lab publish data showing how the CDN has been good for them as well. Later in the month they report on progress being made to deal with the issues affected users are experiencing.

The CDN deployment dramatically decreases the load places on the Lab's simulator host servers (image: Linden Lab)
The CDN deployment dramatically decreases the load places on the Lab’s simulator host servers (image: Linden Lab)

Monty Linden provides a further update on his HTTP work, which also touches on the CDN while focusing on his pipelining work, and the improvements that has allowed him to make to inventory fetching as well. In November he is interviewed on the Drax Files Radio Hour, and offers further insight into the work.

October brings word that new viewer-managed Marketplace (VMM) functionality is coming to the viewer. Due to be deployed in 2015, the VMM is aimed towards finally eliminating the need for Magic Boxes and to replace the Merchant Outbox , while providing a means for merchants to sell their goods direct from their inventory (no Marketplace uploads) and to carry out some aspects of Marketplace listing management from within the viewer. In November, I provide an overview of beta testing and the project viewer. Keeping on the Marketplace theme, DX Exchange open their Marketplace to users in November, and I have a bit of a play.

After finally receiving their Oculus DK2 headsets, the Lab is able to release an updated version of their Oculus Rift project viewer. A notice about the POODLE vulnerability is also forthcoming, with an updated viewer coming hard on its heels.

Given October marks Halloween, the Lab launches a further demonstration of the upcoming Experience Keys / Tools in the middle of the month, featuring a haunted house. October also sees the dreaded required tax information issue rear its head again.

In November, users get the chance to meet Lab staff in-world at the Mole’s new home region, while nigh-on a week of daily restarts prompts a blog post on what the problem was. The new benchmark viewer reaches release status on November 10th, but results in some users no longer being about to log-in to SL using the official viewer. A fix appears at the start of December, and quick roles to the de facto release status.

Coming in 2012: a new means to control how the viewer renders other avatars which place a high rendering load on your computer
Coming in 2012: a new means to control how the viewer renders other avatars which place a high rendering load on your computer

Work also starts on a new means by which users can control the degree of rendering impact other avatars can have on their viewer’s performance.

Just as they were generating problems at the start of the year, AMD driver issues continue to cause woes at the end of the year, although Yoho Waco offers assistance to affected users. An oopsie with inventory leave some people upset in December, and the Lab offers a partial explanation, and a December 29th GSP update to the effect they believed matters to be fully resolved. On a brighter not, the Experience Keys / Tools viewer reaches RC status.

OnLive and Firestorm announce the availability of Firestorm on the SL Go client for PC and Mac, and hold a special Q&A on the release.

December sees a disturbing twist in misuse of the DMCA process, as Belleza are hit by a take-down notice which later turns out to be not only entirely false, but apparently completely fraudulent in origin. Drax investigates the DMCA process, and I ponder the DMCA issue in general.

As Christmas arrives, the Lab looks ahead to 2015 with a special competition, while a couple of promotional videos (which are rather good) appear on You Tube, one on content creation and the other on getting started with SL. I’m a tiny bit critical of the latter, but actually may have jumped the gun – I’m informed by Xiola Linden that the videos are intended as a part of an e-mail campaign, which will offer the context for the Welcome video I felt was missing.

Art and Events

September kicks-off with the remarkable Stand Up 2 Cancer in-world music event, co-ordinated by Still Braveheart, featuring 23 music venues and 150 performers. It going on to raise a staggering L$1.5 million in just four days. The same weekend sees Making Strides Against Breast Cancer 2014 opens, building towards the MSABC walk in October. Later in the month, the Michael J Fox Foundation has two special events hosted in SL by Team Fox SL and Creations for Parkinsons.

October sees Virtual Ability host their annual IDRAC conference, with a well-rounded list of speakers. Later in the month, BURN2 2014 opens its gates. While in December, I sneak a peek at the Xmas Expo and Breedables Fair.

In the art world, the UWA announces a beautiful printed book about The Freedom Project is now available, and as I have a copy myself, I can say it is simply beautiful. 2014’s Project Sci-Fi also launches. In October, JayJay Zifanwee (Jay Jay Jegathesan), one of the driving forces behind the UWA’s work in SL, participates in the university’s 3-Minute Thesis competition, providing a moving insight into the power of virtual worlds.

Transcending Borders draws to a close in December, with the announces of the 3D Art and Machinima winners, including Tutsy Navrathna’s brilliant first place machinima winner, Metahpore, and Sharni Azalee’s Never Say Never – Love Transcends Borders,

Paradise Lost, the production which has truly pushed the boundaries of performing arts in SL, approaches the end of its season of performances. The LEA plays host to a superb retrospective on Bryn Oh’s art, which starts in September. Put together by the artist herself, it provides a deeper insight into her work and thought processes, which I find intriguing.

Never Say Never - Love Trasncends Borders, by Sharni Azalee, the Transcending Borders 3D Art Challenge Grand Prize winner
Never Say Never – Love Trasncends Borders, by Sharni Azalee, the Transcending Borders 3D Art Challenge Grand Prize winner

And, of course, December brings us the ever wonderful Calas Galadhon Christmas region, one of many winter and Christmas themed regions for residents to enjoy over the festive season.

Other Worlds

In September, Registrations open for the OpenSimulator Community Conference, which takes place in November. High Fidelity offer people a peek into their Alpha testing, and looking at the work of AI Austin, CrtlAltDavid and others. In November they also bring news on their new documentation resource. Speaking at Gigaom the same month, Philip Rosedale voices the view that we still don’t get virtual worlds. Back at the office, it seems that a virtual game of rock, paper, scissors is all the rage. In December, a short series of introductory videos is released.

Stonehenge in Blue Mars during the 2014 summer solstice. One of a number of simulations still available on the platform
Stonehenge in Blue Mars during the 2014 summer solstice. One of a number of simulations still available on the platform

November sees me jump back into Blue Mars (yes, it’s still there!) to see what has been going on since its passing to Ball State University.

VR and AR

October sees Magic Leap apparently burst onto the scene, with the announcement that Google and several other big names have poured $542 million into the company, and this on top of around $50 million of investment earlier in the year. No-one is quite sure what the company is up to, and whether it is purely AR or perhaps a mix of AR and VR, but the promo videos are impressive.

In November, it is announced that the Magic Leap technology will be at the heart of a new immersive film bring written by Professor Brian Cox, and which will premiere in the UK in 2015. Then in December, Neal Stephenson reveals he has joined Magic Leap.

Also in October, and having been relatively quiet for a while, the other AR system that had been making news, and which offers a VR capability as a well, castAR, moves to Silicon Valley from Seattle, as their initial developer kits start shipping.

November sees Brendan Iribe again repeat that the consumer version of Oculus Rift is still “many months” away from launch. During the interview, held at the Web Summit event in Dublin, Ireland, Iribe drops hints that Oculus may be looking at a more packaged VR solution, referencing as he does gesture devices, camera systems and haptic devices. Then December brings word that Oculus is buying Nimble Sense.

However, while Oculus may be still sitting over the horizon in terms of a consumer model, VR enthusiast with an up-to-date version of the Galaxy Note 4 had an early Christmas offer, with the opportunity to order the Gear VR.

Related Links

I’ll have a more personal look back over the year to see out 2014.

A farewell to Santorini

Santorini, Armenelos Calas Galadhon, December 2014
Santorini, Armenelos, Calas Galadhon, December 2014

The New Year tends to be a time of change and renewal, perhaps as much in the virtual as in the physical. Last year, the Calas Galadhon park lands underwent something of a remodelling in order to better meet the changing pressures of finance and time. The move came as Ty Tenk and Truck Meredith, who give so much of their time to the running of the park, closed the regions for a month to give themselves a little breathing space after the build-up to Christmas through Halloween, and the creation of their fabulous themed regions for both.

Ty recently contacted me to let me know that the park will again be closing at the start of 2015 so he and Truck can enjoy another well-earned break. As with last year, the closure will also be bringing changes to the park regions; and while the final plans haven’t been entirely worked out, it does mean that the Santorini build on Armenelos will be removed.

Santorini, Armenelos Calas Galadhon, December 2014
Santorini, Armenelos, Calas Galadhon, December 2014

“For a number of reasons we feel this is the best move for us,” Ty said in announcing the decision. “While ‘the village on top of the hill’ has been popular in years past we both feel confident we can come up with something new to make up for it – a new and updated Misty Mountains for one!”

Some might be tempted to point out that thanks to the arrival of mesh and materials et al, that Santorini is starting to look a little long in the tooth and that the move to replace it is overdue. To them I’d say that things happen in their own time, and while it may well be basic prims and simple textures, Santorini will be missed. It has been a jewel sitting off the coast of Calas Galadhon since the beginning, and many  – including myself – have found immense enjoyment in wandering the stepped streets, winding our way around the whitewashed houses and peeping through windows at their cosy interiors, or sitting down on a terrace to enjoy a little music and wine. I actually know several people for whom the village was their first introduction to the Calas park lands.

Santorini, Armenelos Calas Galadhon, December 2014
Santorini, Armenelos, Calas Galadhon, December 2014

For those who would like to capture a last memory or two of the village, there is still time; the last ferry will not be departing Santorini until early in the morning on Thursday, January 1st, 2015. So a visit on New Year’s Eve could be just the ticket if you want to see the old year old and greet the new one in a favourite corner of SL.

And as to what comes after? Well, Ty and Truck plan to keep OZ, the nightclub high overhead, running, and find room for the Dolphin café, currently sitting alongside Santorini (and where there is still time to enjoy a sirtaki dance with friends!). Whether the final plans see and expanded and revamped Misty Mountains or something else, the one thing you can be sure of is that 2015 will present plenty of new reasons for visiting Calas Galadhon, which, after the month’s break, will re-open in February 2015.

Santorini, Armenelos Calas Galadhon, December 2014
Santorini, Armenelos, Calas Galadhon, December 2014

Related Links

The Drax Files 25: adding to the substance of our existence

The Drax Files World Makers closes-out 2014 by reaching its 25 instalment, which arrived on Tuesday, December 30th. Since the original debut show in March 2013, the series has covered a huge amount of ground and given a tremendous insight into the impact a virtual platform like Second Life can have on people’s lives.

Over the months we’ve been allowed to see inside the lives and work of content creators, animators, artists, fashion designers, educators, film-makers, musicians, actors and more, and have been able to see not only the incredible creative freedoms the platform offers, or the unique opportunities for learning and giving it presents, but also how it can become fully intertwined into our physical worlds, allowing us to form friendships and relationships that otherwise simply would not have happened, and deepening our experiences in life and our understanding of the world around us in ways unimagined prior to setting through the magic portal of the viewer.

Oblee at work in his studio
Oblee at work in his studio

Segment #25 of the show is very much a reflection of all of this. In it, we get to share time with Obeloinkment Wrigglesworth – Oblee for short, a musician who has found that success in Second Life does carry over into the physical world, although this is not his primary motivation for being in-world; it is simply a by-product of discovering the huge freedom and reach the platform has given his music – and his self-confidence in the process.

“I don’t see a conflict between the virtual and the natural world,” Oblee says of the time he spends in Second Life. “So little of our entertainment is a two-way street. So many people say, ‘oh I don’t have time for that,’ and then they’ll sit and they’ll watch TV for hours. Here we have a world that is built by its users and it’s filled with music, and it’s filled with visual art and its filled with all these wonderful things.

“It’s not an alternative to life. It’s adding to the substance of your existence.”

This is more than amply demonstrated in his own experiences and story. As both an individual musician and a session performer with other SL musicians, Oblee has been able to perform before international audiences through his gigs, the convenience of the virtual allowing him to share time with people on the opposite side of the world to him, and develop friendships and contacts as a result, be they with other musicians or the audiences he performs before. “You can do a world tour in one day,” he notes in reference to the platform’s reach.

That reach has allowed him to develop his confidence to the point where he’s recently released his first physical world album. This not only features songs written for his in-world gigs, but has also been entirely paid for through the tips he’s earned in-world through his performances. It has also achieved international sales on the iTunes store – thanks again to his Second Life supporters.

It is this idea of adding to the substance of our existence that, for me really resonates through this segment  of The Drax Files. It’s a beautiful term to describe our relationship with the platform, and one so clearly demonstrated in Oblee’s life, as noted. As such, I’ll leave the final words on this piece to him.

“Without Second Life, I don’t think I’d be doing the things musically that I’d doing today … If you have an idea in virtual reality, what’s to stop you from taking it to real reality?”

Continue reading “The Drax Files 25: adding to the substance of our existence”

Bay City New Year prim drop

December 31st, 2014 will once again see a great Second Life tradition take place with the Bay City “prim drop” set to mark the start of a new year.

Festivities will be kicking-off a 23:30 SLT on Wednesday, December 31st, at the Bay City Fairgrounds in North Channel. Marianne McCann will be providing the music and fireworks, and food and drink will be provided.

The theme for the event is a wintertime soirée, and black tie attire is recommended, and all SL residents are invited to attend.

This will also be the final opportunity for 2014 to donate to Child’s Play Charity,  a US 501c3 non profit organization offers on-line communities such as Second Life an opportunity to help seriously ill children around the globe during their hospital stays with the purchase of games and gaming equipment. As of December 24th, 2014, Bay City had raised an amazing L$355,273 for Child’s Play through their annual silent auction and tree lighting concert, a Christmas tree sale, and other events. Hopefully, the Prim Drop will see this figure increase still further!

About Bay City and the Bay City Alliance

Bay City is a mainland community, developed by Linden Lab® and home to the Bay City Alliance. The Bay City Alliance was founded in 2008 to promote the Bay City regions of Second Life and provide a venue for Bay City Residents and other interested parties to socialize and network. It is now the largest group for Residents of Bay City.