Updates for the week ending: Sunday, May 31st, 2015
This summary is published every Monday, and is a list of SL viewer / client releases (official and TPV) made during the previous week. When reading it, please note:
It is based on my Current Viewer Releases Page, a list of all Second Life viewers and clients that are in popular use (and of which I am aware), and which are recognised as adhering to the TPV Policy. This page includes comprehensive links to download pages, blog notes, release notes, etc., as well as links to any / all reviews of specific viewers / clients made within this blog
By its nature, this summary presented here will always be in arrears, please refer to the Current Viewer Release Page for more up-to-date information.
Official LL Viewers
Current Release version: 188.8.131.521305, May 28 (formerly the Avatar Layer Limits RC viewer allows users to wear up to 60 wearable layers (jackets, shirts, tattoo, alpha, etc.) in any combination ) download page, release notes
Black Dragon 184.108.40.206 was released on Saturday, May 30th 2015, followed by a rapid-fire bug fix update with the release of 220.127.116.11 on Monday, June 1st.
Both updates focus on the Build tools floater and its associated tabs, which Niran has completely overhauled and realigned in an attempt to make it a lot less cluttered-looking and easier to read, as well as adding a degree of consistency of presentation between the tabs in the floater and the types of tool options (spinners and sliders) seen in the Build floater when compared to other tool floaters in the viewer.
My personal opinion on the changes is that is that he’s largely succeeded. There is a linear tidiness to the tabs in his revised Build floater that works naturally for those used to scanning left-to-right, and top down. everything is pretty much orderly placed, and the flow through the various tabs is logical and easy to follow.
Buttons with the Black Dragon floater are more obvious / clearer – radio buttons, for example are better defined when selected, what might be slightly confusing buttons (such as the spanner for changing the group attributes) are now clearly labelled, and buttons for pop-out options like the Grid Options are also more in keeping with the style used elsewhere in the viewer.
Some of the changes are a lot more noticeable in this regard than others – as with the General and Features tabs – both of which are compared to their official viewer equivalents in the images above – and the Texture tab. The changes to the Content and Object tabs are more subtle in nature – but given they were relatively straightforward to understand, then this is in keeping with making balanced changes.
In terms of the Texture tab, Niran has also revised the map selection indicator from a radio button to a check box – again adding consistency to the use of check boxes in the floater – and has also added an individual lock option to each of the three map types.
The check boxes actually do make it easier to see which of the three maps (diffuse, normal or specular) has been selected, while the three individual locks now allow greater flexibility in how changes to repeats, offsets and rotations are applied.
For example, if you want to have them applied across all three maps, regardless of which one you have selected, just click on the icons to lock them – any change make to the offsets, etc., on one map will automatically be applied to all three, regardless of which one you are working on. If you want to change the offsets to each map independently of the others, simply unlock them (the default) – any changes made the offset, etc., spinners will only apply to the selected map. And you can also obviously have one set of rotations applied to two out of the three maps and level the third to be independently set.
The Textures tab also now makes use of sliders as well as spinners for applying Glow, Transparency (Alpha %), Glossiness and Environment to faces / objects, making it easy to apply quick changes before fine-tuning them with the spinners. It was actually two of these sliders that prompted the 18.104.22.168 release. While testing the 22.214.171.124 release for this review, I noted the Glow and Alpha % sliders were not working as expected. A quick IM to Niran, and he dived in and fixed the issue. The updates to these two sliders mark the only changes between 126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52.
Snapshot Floater Preview Update
The other significant update in the 184.108.40.206/7 release lies with the Unified Snapshot floater. In the 220.127.116.11 updates (which I reviewed here), Niran introduced a separate, resizeable preview panel as an alternative to the preview pane built-in to the floater. He’s now further revised the snapshot floater so that the built-in preview pane displays a high-resolution preview image, as with the alternative preview panel.
The new preview panel offers a much improved image, and further enhances an option a lot of people would like to see adopted by other viewers in some way.
Overall, the core Build tools updates in these releases – to me – do much to enhance the Build floater. As noted, some of the changes are a little more subtle than others, but overall they all work to present a far tidier set of tabs within the floater, and offer a more-or-less consistent set of control options in terms of the use of spinners, sliders, etc. One might have a small niggle with the colour swatch panels for the diffuse and specular maps perhaps not being obvious, but it’s really hard to see how else they could be presented without losing the order and layout Niran has achieved within the Texture tab.
Towards the top of this post, I pointed to these releases marking the beginning of the end of Niran’s active development of the Black Dragon viewer He’s aiming to slow things down from release 2.4.5). Since releasing the 18.104.22.168 update he has explained some of his reasons for this.
The important point to note here are the word “active” – hence my emphasis above. He’s not given up on everything within the viewer; he’s allowing himself space to refocus on other things than need attention (like that irritating thing we call “real life”) and to refresh himself. He’ll still be poking and tweaking things in the viewer in the future; it just won’t be his primary focus. And after the amount of time and effort he has poured into his viewers, frankly, he should be respected for his decision, and offered kudos for all he has offered the community.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to look forward to seeing what future updates to Black Dragon bring.
In December 2014, I wrote about the Curiosity science team reporting they had detected odd “spikes” in methane levels in the Martian atmosphere as a result of analyses undertaken by the SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) mini laboratory within the Mars rover.
Methane had first been definitively detected on Mars by the 2008 Phoenix Lander, although its presence had long been suspected and indicated. However, Curiosity’s discovery of two sudden sharp increases in the normal levels of traceable methane to some 7 part per billion – a ten time increase of the expected levels – suggested it had perhaps happened across some localised methane-producing source, possibly of organic nature (notes that “organic” in this case doesn’t actually mean “living things”).
However, the results have recently had some doubt cast upon them, and from within NASA itself. Kevin Zahnle, a scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Centre in California has been studying the data and suggested that the methane spikes could have come from a very localised source – a leaf of Earthly air previously trapped somewhere in the rover’s insides.
Depsite rigorous decontamination processes prior to launch, is is possible for air and gas pockets to get trapped inside a robot vehicle. This is actually what happened at the start of Curiosity’s sojourn on Mars: during its initial analysis of the atmosphere around it, the rover also detected abnormally high levels of methane, only for it to be tracked back to tiny amount of air carried aboard the rover leaking into the spectrometer carrying out the methane measurements. Zahnle suggests that a similar leak cannot yet be ruled-out as the cause of the 2013 and 2014 spikes.
Members of the Curiosity science team argue that as a result of the initial leak, they have taken every caution to prevent being misled again, and are confident that only the most exceptional of circumstances could result in SAM’s findings being the result of methane “trapped” somewhere inside the rover only get released well over a year after its arrival on Mars. However, they also admit that the potential for such a situation cannot be entirely ruled-out.
One of the arguments for the spikes being the result of contamination from within the rover is that similar readings haven’t since been recorded. A counter argument to this is that the levels SAM recorded could be the result of a yet-to-be-understood seasonal phenomena. To this end, the rover is going to be sniffing the air around it very carefully during late 2015 / early 2016 to see if it can detect any similar spikes.
Insight (in) to Mars
NASA’s next mission to Mars is scheduled to launch a March 2016. In keeping with the agency’s (roughly) alternating approach to surface mission to the planet, which switch between landers craft and rovers, the InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) mission is a lander mission.
As the full version of its name suggests, InSight is intended to probe the deep interior of Mars. In doing so, it is hoped the mission will not only add to our understanding of Mars, but also our understanding of the processes that shaped the rocky planets of the inner solar system (including Earth) more than four billion years ago.
Following its launch, InSight will cruise to Mars in a flight of roughly 6 months, landing on the surface in September of that year. After a check-out and calibration period, the science mission will commence in October 2016, with the overall surface mission expected to last 700 Sols (roughly 720 Earth days).
The reason Mars is being used in this way, rather than scientists simply studying the Earth to better understand the processes involved in shaping the rocky worlds of the solar system is that Mars are far less geologically active than Earth, it retains a more complete record of its history in its own basic planetary building blocks: its core, mantle and crust than does Earth.
The Lander for the mission is based on the successful design of the 2008 Phoenix mission, and will include technology and instruments that will be deployed onto the surface of Mars, including the HP3 “mole” which will burrow its way deep below the surface (see the artist’s impression under the headline to this piece) in an attempt to more accurately measure the amount of heat flowing outwards from the planet’s core.