Nightfall madness, magic from the marsh and a galaxy far, far, away

It’s time to kick-off another week of fabulous story-telling in voice, brought to our virtual lives by the staff and volunteers at the Seanchai Library.

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

Sunday, May 17th, 18:00: The Reluctant Dragon

With Caledonia Skytower at Magicland Park.

Monday May 18th, 19:00: Nightfall

NightfallGyro Muggins opens the pages of Isaac Asimov’s 1941 short story.

Lagash (or Kalgash, in the novel-length version of the story as penned by Asimov and Robert Silverberg) is a planet orbiting a sun in a close-knit cluster of six stars, such that total darkness is almost never known, and the illumination of the six stars is such that it blots out any view of the cosmos beyond the cluster.

It is also a planet with a strange history; just over every 2,000 years, it appears that civilisation collapses in a huge conflagration. But why? Slowly, a number of scientists uncover the truth: once every 2049 another object orbiting Lagash’s primary star causes a total eclipse as see from the surface of the planet, removing much of the planet’s light, and bringing forth a very brief night.

Thus the theory is born that when these eclipses occur, civilisation goes mad, setting fire to almost everything in order to “bring back the light”, destroying itself in the process. With another eclipse approaching, the scientists set about preparing themselves and the people for the coming Nightfall. 

Only when it does come, they discover it is not the darkness which causes madness…

Tuesday May 19th, 19:00: New voices Potpourri

An evening sharing some voices not, perhaps, new to the story floor, and other who are making their debut reading at Seanchai Library tonight. Featuring: Bhelanna Blaze, Arletta Martian, Stranger Nightfire, and Trolley Trollop.

Wednesday May 20th

06:00: Forever Erma

Erma BombeckErma Bombeck achieved great popularity for her newspaper column that described suburban home life from the mid-1960s until the late 1990s. She also published 15 books, most of which became bestsellers. From 1965 to 1996, Erma Bombeck wrote over 4,000 newspaper columns, using broad and sometimes eloquent humour, chronicling the ordinary life of a mid-western suburban housewife. By the 1970s, her columns were read twice-weekly by 30 million readers of the 900 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada

Join Freda Frostbite and Trolly Trollop as the delve into Erma’s wit and wisdom of everyday life.

19:00: Christie’s Detectives

Join Caledonia Skytower as she presents short stories featuring Agatha Christe’s beloved detectives: Parker Pyne, Jane Marple and Hercule Poirot.

Thursday May 21st, 19:00: Marsh Magic

Shandon Loring opens the covers of Silver Birch, Blood Moon, the anthology of fairy tales re-written for an adult audience and this week dips into Marsh-Magic by Robin McKinley. Drawing on the story of Rumplestiltskin.

In a far-away land, a fragile peace is maintained between a kingdom and the magical folk of the marshes he story features a kingdom where peace is maintained by a bargain struck between the king and a tribe of magical people dwelling in the marshes. The bargain means that as each new king comes of age, he will be wed to a bride selected from the marsh people by his royal advisor. To the people of the marsh, the arrangement appears to be increasingly one-sided, so when one of their women is selected for the most recent king, and decides on a subtle form of revenge for all those who had come before her…

Saturday May 23rd, 12:00 Noon, Seanchai Kitely: Star Wars Saturday

So, where were you in 1977?  Do you remember the first time you saw the first film?  The first 25 times you saw the first film?  Maybe you have never seen it at all.  Join Caledonia on Seanchai Library’s Spaceworld to enjoy for the first time (or re-live the joy) of those first adventures from an edition penned by Director George Lucas himself!

With Shandon Loring at Seanchai Kitely (grid.kitely.com:8002/Inis Eirc).

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Please check with the Seanchai Library SL’s blog for updates and for additions or changes to the week’s schedule. The featured charity for April / May is Habitat for Humanity, with a vision of a world where everyone has a decent place to live – a safe and clean place to call home.

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Space Sunday: sunsets, ring-hunting, airships and to boldly brew

NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity is continuing onwards and upwards in its ascent of “Mount Sharp”, en route to a feature mission staff have dubbed “Logan Pass”. At the start of May, however, the rover made a slight detour in order to study a small valley of interest to the science team.

In planning the route up to “Logan Pass”, which sits at the head of a series of shallow valleys cut into the side of “Mount Sharp”, the rover was ordered to carry out a panoramic study of the terrain in its vicinity to help with route planning. In doing so, it imaged a small valley cut into one of the uprisings on the mound’s lower slopes, dubbed “Mount Shields”. The valley was of interest as it appeared to have been carved into the rock – possibly by liquid water action – at some point in the past and has since gradually been filled-in.

Gotcha! A view from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) on April 8th, 2015 (Sol 949 for the rover), reveals Curiosity passing through the valley dubbed “Artist’s Drive” on the lower slope of “Mount Sharp”. The image was captured using MRO’s High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera, and the rover, complete with right-pointing shadow, can be seen in the inscribed rectangle. The view in this image covers an area 500 metres (550 yards) across (click for full size)

This kind of geological feature is called an “incised valley fill”, and it is of interest because the material filling the valley cut is different to the material comprising the bedrock of the mound itself, being mostly sand. Thus the science team wanted to understand more about the possible mechanisms that might have deposited it there. Was it carried by wind or water or a mixture of both? Is there a variation in age between the rock of the mound and the material deposited in the incision? Answering these questions help in better understanding many of the environmental (geological and climatic) changes which have occurred on Mars.

Planning for the rover’s progress up the side of “Mount Sharp” is a complex process, involving multiple teams and consultations, particularly as a balance had to be achieved between reaching potential science targets and avoiding undue wear on the rover’s components and systems. To explain how the rover’s route is planned,NASA JPL recently issues a Curiosity Update video discussing the process.

Following its diversion to examine the incised valley, Curiosity resumed its upward path towards “Logan Pass”. As noted in the video, this is also of particular interest to the science team as it marks the intersection of two geological layers – the “Murray Formation”, which forms the transitional region between the slope of “Mount Sharp” proper and the floor of the Gale Crater basin, and the “washboard” region above it. It’s likely that the rover will spend some time in the “Logan Pass” are, before resuming its climb towards a further site of scientific interest, dubbed “Hematite Ridge”.

Sunset on another world: on April 15th, 2015 (Sol 956 for the rover), Curiosity captured a series of images of a setting sun as to stopped to survey the route towards “Logan Pass”. The images were captured after a dust storm had left a significant amount of particulate matter suspended in the atmosphere. Thus, the individual pictures making up this animated image allow the science team to understand the vertical distribution of dust in the Martian atmosphere and how it might influence regional climatic conditions. The blue tinting to the sky evident around the sun is due to the suspended dust particles being just the right size to allow blue wavelengths to penetrate the atmosphere with a slightly greater efficiency than other wavelengths (click for full size)

 New Horizons turns  Moon Hunter

New Horizons is the name of NASA’s mission to perform a high-speed flyby of the dwarf planetary system of Pluto and Charon. The craft, which achieved the fastest launch of any space vehicle to date, with an initial velocity 16.26 km/s when it lifted off the pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on January 19th, 2006, is currently approaching Pluto and Charon at a relative velocity of 13.8 km/s.

Currently, the mission is closing on the period the mission team have dubbed the “seven weeks of suspense” – a reference to Curiosity’s “seven minutes of terror” during the entry, descent an landing phase of that mission – as New Horizons makes its closest flyby of Pluto and Charon, coming to within 10,000 kilometres of the former on July 14th, 2015 and 27,000 kilometres of the latter.

The nuclear-powered (RTG) New Horizons - one of the fastest man-made craft ever made to date, now closing on the Pluto-Charon system
The nuclear-powered (RTG) New Horizons – one of the fastest man-made craft ever made to date, now closing on the Pluto-Charon system

On May 15th, 2015, New Horizons’ ability to image Pluto and Charon exceeded those of the Hubble Space Telescope. While the images are still blurry – but will massively improve – they are enough to start to show surface features on Pluto, including what might be a polar ice cap.

May also saw New Horizons enter a new phase of its mission: the discovery of further moons within the system. While Charon has traditionally been regarded as Pluto’s moon since its discovery in 1978, the relative size of Charon compared to Pluto, and the fact that the barycenter of the Pluto–Charon system lies outside Pluto, technically makes them a binary dwarf planet system, with a number of tiny moons orbiting them both – and there is a chance there may be more such little moons waiting to be discovered.

Continue reading “Space Sunday: sunsets, ring-hunting, airships and to boldly brew”

A skewed perspective on Second Life

There are probably very few of us active within the blogsphere, either as writers or readers, who are not aware of the brouhaha which boiled-up over the course of the last week in response to Hamlet Au’s take on a recent article published in Atlas Obscura.

The latter offers a broadly positive look at Second Life, and drew praise from many SL users, including myself. However, Mr. Au’s take on the matter was to largely dismiss the Atlas Obscura piece as a “distorted” piece of journalism because it didn’t delve into the more pornographic aspects of Second Life sufficiently enough to be to his liking. Understandably, his view drew a considerable amount of flak by those actively engaged with the platform.

Wagner James
Wagner James “Hamlet” Au: a stereotypical view of the SL outsider

As a consequence of this, Mr. Au was invited to participate in an interview on show #68 of The Drax Files Radio Hour, to discuss his point of view. What’s interesting about his original article and the subsequent Radio Hour podcast is the way in which Mr. Au appears content to perpetuate a number of misconceptions about Second Life.

The first of these misconceptions is that the Adult rating equates to a region having “pornographic” content.

However, as Honour McMillan correctly states, “If you do have Adult content, it does not automatically mean it’s pornographic. Sex exists in Second Life. Fact. Having a popular Adult sim does not make it pornographic. That is also a fact.”

The second fallacy evident in Mr. Au’s argument comes at the 14:27 mark in the Drax Files Interview, in his suggestion that anyone can be unwittingly re-directed to an Adult environment and encounter avatars engaged in sex – and thus, the world needs to be told this is the case.

Yet by default, the viewer is set to display / allow access only to material that is rated General or Moderate in nature. Therefore, the only way for anyone to access an Adult rated region under any circumstance whatsoever, would be because they took the conscious decision to set their viewer to access Adult material. And let’s be honest here; while all Adult rated regions may not be pornographic in nature, the label on the setting itself makes it fairly obvious as to the type of content one might encounter as a result of enabling it.

Therefore, it’s fair to say that Mr. Au’s presentation that anyone can somehow inadvertently finish-up in an Adult rated area and catch people in flagrante delicto, as a matter of pure happenstance and through no direct action of their own, borders on the nonsensical, and he does himself a disservice in presenting the matter in this way.

Contrary to believe in some quarters, one can only inadvertently wind-up at an Adult hub (or other Adult location in SL) if one has consciously decided to enable their viewer to access Adult content - the default is General and Moderate only
Contrary to belief in some quarters, one can only inadvertently wind-up at an Adult hub (or other Adult location in SL) if one has consciously decided to enable their viewer to access Adult content – the default is General and Moderate only

A further fallacy voiced is the idea that because the “main assumption” among people at large is that Second Life is all about “weird sex”, then articles providing insight into Second Life must include an exploration of that “weird sex”.

However, while many who have heard about SL do perhaps think of it as a place for “weird sex”, the huge volume and diversity of content, pursuits, interests, activities and events available in Second Life would suggest that it is in fact a misconception.

Misconceptions aren’t dealt with through reinforcement – which is essentially what Mr. Au is advocating.

Misconceptions are dealt with by presenting reasoned counterpoints which encourage those holding them to re-evaluate their position / attitude. This is precisely what the Atlas Obscura article does, intentionally or otherwise; while acknowledging there are sexual activities and content in SL, it seeks to offer a broader view of Second Life that doesn’t play to, or reinforce, the stereotypical view. This isn’t in any way being “dishonest” or “misleading” as Mr. Au states – and again, he does himself a disservice by suggesting it is.

Tyche Shepherds Grid survey summary for May 10th, 2015, from which the figures in this piece are taken
Tyche Shepherd’s Grid survey summary for May 10th, 2015, from which the figures below are taken

And just how prevalent is all this “weird sex” anyway? On May 10th, 2015, there were 7,031 Mainland regions in SL, of which 346 were rated Adult. Given these are all located on the Adult continent of Zindra, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the larger portion of them is devoted to sexual content to one degree or another. Even so, that still amounts to less than 5% of the total Mainland content; hardly a preponderance. When the grid as a whole is considered, the figures are 25,460 region, of which 4986 are rated adult – that’s just 19.6%  – or to put it in Mr. Au’s parlance: “less than one-fifth”.

And (again) leave us not forget Honour McMillan’s sage words: “If you do have Adult content, it does not automatically mean it’s pornographic. Sex exists in Second Life. Fact. Having a popular Adult sim does not make it pornographic. That is also a fact.” Therefore, the actual number of pornographic regions accessible to those who have chosen to view adult content is liable to be somewhat lower than that “one-fifth”.

So where, really, does all this leave us?

The bottom line is actually pretty straightforward:  yes, there is a fair degree of sexual content and activity in Second Life. Just as there is on the Internet as a whole and in the physical world. However, the degree to which anyone coming into Second Life might be exposed to it is really hard to judge; unlike a wander through the streets of San Francisco (a parallel Mr. Au draws), where it is possible to accidentally and unwittingly stumble upon the seedier side of life, the degree to which one chooses to be exposed to the more sexual side of Second Life can be  controlled, greatly reducing the risk of any accidental or unwanted exposure to it.

This being the case, the suggestion that an article such as Eric Grundhauser’s piece in Atlas Obscura is either “distorted” in its presentation of Second Life or somehow “misleading” simply because it doesn’t delve into the sexual side of SL or play to the stereotype that SL is “all about the sex”, is itself a skewed perspective on Second Life.

With due respect to Hamlet Au, the approach he advocates is not good journalistic practice – but it could easily be interpreted as encouraging continued salacious titillation.

Related Reading

I’ve added the two links above, as they also had an impact on my thinking during the gestation of this article.