Of tales from Ireland, the future, 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 events are held at the Library’s Second Life home at Bradley University, unless otherwise indicated.

Sunday, September 6th 19:00: a Trio of Irish Tales II

A Trio of Irish Tales is by far my best-selling collection, ever,” Caledonia Skytower says of her 2013 title. “Finally, the much promised second volume of stories is well on its way to completion.

“More stories, more adventure, history, romance and mythology.  Three modern tales steeped in the lore of an ancient land.  A Trio of Irish Tales II will call to your Celtic soul, even if you never thought you had one.”

Join Cale as she reads from The Fairy Tree reuniting with young Liam Killough last seen in The Shadow by the GateHe and his family have settled into life in rural County Wicklow, but Liam is at continual odds with farm manager Rose McLane. The tension has been mounting and explodes with unexpected results, leaving young Liam desperate to set things to rights again.

Monday September 7th, 19:00: Solis

solisGyro Muggins continues reading of Alfred Angelo Attanasio’s 1994 thought-provoking novel Solis.

What happens when you gamble your own future on the far future, and opt to have your head and brain frozen in the hope that one day, perhaps centuries to come, it – you can be revived?

That’s exactly what Charles Otis decided to do – only things don’t turn out so well. Found discarded but still in a cryonic state, his brain is purchased sans head and installed in a deep space ore carrier as its primary processor.

Until, that is, he is discovered and rescued by those sympathetic to his plight. And so the story takes a turn to matters of the legal status of a disembodied brain, restored for a specific purpose and of unknown origin; paid for, and – at least they would have it – owned by the corporation that purchased the brain, and which has little interest in any past identity the brain might have had.

Tuesday September 8th,19:00 Not That It Matters

AA Milne by Howard Coster, 1926
AA Milne by Howard Coster, 1926

Corwyn Allen continues to read AA Milne’s 1919 collection of humorous essays. Best known for his tales of Wnnie the Pooh, Christopher Robin and the 100 acre Wood, Milne in fact wrote widely in bother fiction and non-fiction.

Here he passes observation on wide range of topics, starting with a reflection upon his own writing, “Sometimes when the printer is waiting for an article which really should have been sent to him the day before, I sit at my desk and wonder if there is any possible subject in the whole world upon which I can possibly find anything to say.”

With considerations ranging from why a gentleman’s collar might squeak, or the fact that Isaiah most certainly didn’t carry a notebook, with assorted thoughts on goldfish and daffodils along the way, this is a book of essays wide-range in topic and content. Some of it may, nigh-on a century since the essays first appeared in this book, appear dated and as solidly dated and trapped forever in the opening decades of the 20th century. Other are perhaps as relevant today in their insights and commentary as they were when freshly written. All of them come with Milne’s familiar humour and jovial observations.

Wednesday September 9th 19:00: The Penderwicks on Gardam Street

PenderwicksCaledonia Skytower opens the pages of Jeanne Birdsall’s 2014 volume about the Penderwick family, the second in the series.

When the four Penderwick sisters learn that, encouraged by his sister-in-law and the wishes of their late mother, their father is going to start meeting other women, they fear the worst, and so enact the Save Daddy Plan. They set their Dad up with dates he won’t get on with, while he, also not overly convinced of things, goes out on pretend dates.

However, things start to change as the sisters meet and get to know Ben from next door, and his mum, Iantha. Added to the mix the adventures and challenges each of the four sisters face, and it turns out to be quite a series of events and changes for the Penderwicks – one of them very much turning out for the best.

Thursday, September 10th: The End – Visions of the Apocalypse

With Shandon Loring.

Saturday, September 12th: Star Wars Saturday at Seanchai Kitely

“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 and Shandon at Seanchai Kitely’s space world as they inform you, “these are the stories you’ve been looking for,” while opening a volume penned by the grand master Jedi himself, George Lucas.

(grid.kitely.com:8002/Spaceworld)

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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 August / September is Water for People, “When one person or one family has clean, accessible water, their lives are changed. But when entire regions and countries have water, the world is changed.”

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Bright Canopy update

Bright CanopyOn Saturday, September 5th, Bright Canopy held an in-world meeting and their island in Second Life to discuss recent events regarding the Bright Canopy service  (you can read the background here).

In particular, the aim of the meeting was for the Bright Canopy team to share what they’ve learned since moving to launch the service on August 29th, and discuss the options needed to make the service sustainable going forward.

Both Bill and Jerri Glover (Chaos Priestman and Beth (Bethsael) Robbiani in SL) were present at the meeting, which was held in text, and a transcript of the chat log is available on the Bright Canopy website. What follows here is a high-level summary.

The meeting opened with Chaos providing some historical context of how Bright Canopy came into being, paying particular attention to how the service is structured, as this is important to grasp. In summary:

  • Bright Canopy manage the service and take the viewer and tweak it to run as a part of a cloud service
  • The Bright Canopy service is delivered to subscribers using Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) g2.2xlarge server instances (1 per user)
  • This delivery via Amazon is facilitated by Frame, a company with considerable experience in provisioning optimised Windows applications to users via the cloud.

All of this obviously involves costs – most notably with both Amazon and with Frame. In order to minimise the costs with Amazon, the most efficient means to provision Bright Canopy is using Amazon’s Spot Instance pricing mechanism. Since its introduction, this has generally pitched at around US $0.12-$0.15 per hour for g2.2xlarge server instances.

Unfortunately, at the start of August 2015, the Spot Instance pricing for the server instances started spiking, first in Ireland, then in both California and Virginia – the three Amazon POPs Bright Canopy would be using via Frame. These spikes meant that instance costs ballooned from under US $0.25 an hour to anywhere between $1.00 and $8.00 depending on the  location.

Ireland was the first of Amazon EC2 centres used by Bright Canopy to be affected by sharp rises in Spot Instance pricing at the start of August
Ireland was the first of Amazon EC2 centres used by Bright Canopy to be affected by sharp rises in Spot Instance pricing at the start of August

“Our business model was based on Amazon’s Spot Instance prices remaining below $0.25 as they had since they were introduced,” Chaos explained. “That’s just the cost of the instances. That doesn’t include Frame being paid or Bright Canopy being paid … This [spiking] broke our business model, but it looked like a temporary spike. We decided to continue with the planned launch. We believed the prices would come back down.”

To try to counter the unpredictability of the Spot Instance prices, Bright Canopy moved to Amazon’s On Demand pricing. This is far more predictable than spot Instance, but comes at a premium – US $0.80 an hour – leaving the service losing money.

“We hoped that usage would even out in such a way that we would lose money slowly enough to maintain our course until we could build out a solution that cost less on the back-end,” Chaos said of the move. “In the meantime we also hoped the Spot prices would come back down and give us some relief.”

The California Spot Instance pricing, which has only settled down again in the last few days
The California Spot Instance pricing also started showing considerable volatility at the start of August 2015

Following launch, however, user behaviour changed quite dramatically. People were spending much longer periods logged-in, both increasing costs and forcing the use of even more server instances.

“It became clear that we could not sustain the losses,” Chaos said. “Usage was just not the same as we had seen in Pre-release. We expected a difference, but we didn’t expect such a huge difference. We agreed to pull the plug and rethink things.”

More recently, the Spot Instance prices in the USA have showed signs of settling down once more. However, it is still too soon to know whether this is an indication that prices are resuming their pre-August levels, and Ireland has certainly remained volatile.

Like Ireland and California, Virginia, Bright Canopy's newest POP with Amazon, also experienced enormous volatility in pricing which has - like California - only recently showed signs of stabilising. Unfortunately, there's no guarantee this will remain the case
Like Ireland and California, Virginia, Bright Canopy’s newest POP with Amazon, also experienced enormous volatility in pricing which has – like California – only recently showed signs of stabilising. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee this will remain the case

So what does this mean for the service?

Most immediately, it means that the service will not be back up for Monday, September 7th, the date Bright Canopy had indicated as being the earliest by which it might be resumed. Instead, things remain in what Bright Canopy is calling a holding pattern until such time as a consensus has been reached on the best, most sustainable means of moving the service forward for the benefit of those needing it.

“We have worked with Frame on a proposed plan that we would be able to offer to a limited number of people at first,” Chaos said. “We have not come to an agreement yet on all of the details of that plan. If and when we do, please understand that this is just a stopgap so that the people who most need the service will have an option.”

This approach is intended to meet at least some of Frame’s costs (who up until now, as with Bright Canopy, haven’t received any income from the venture), as well continuing to meet Amazon’s charges. Bright Canopy will continue to work on the service unpaid, but will have to step back from 24/7 support and response and for the timing being to providing responses to questions and support requests within 24 hours.

The main presentation was followed by a Q&A session, which covered a number of topic areas, and I recommend those interested read the transcript in full to see both questions and answers.

Sinewave.space: a further contender for virtual spaces

The above video has been gaining attention since first appearing on You Tube at the end of August. It’s advance promotion for a new virtual worlds platform called Sinewave.space, built using the Unity 3D engine, and which may be opening its doors to initial users in December 2015.

The company behind Sinewave.space is Sine Wave Entertainment, a name which may be familiar to many Second Life users, given it is also the company behind the highly successful Sine Wave animations brand in-world.

Spearheading the work is Sine Wave’s CEO, Adam Frisby, a man who has considerable experience with virtual world platforms, having been one of the founders of the OpenSimulator project. In Second Life he is probably better known as Adam Zaius, the man behind such ventures as Azure Islands and the DeepThink virtual worlds development agency, which operated in both Second Life and OpenSim.

Adam Frisby is perhaps more recognisable to many in SL as Adam Zaius
Adam Frisby is perhaps more recognisable to many in SL as Adam Zaius

Nor are Sine Wave Entertainment new to the virtual worlds market. They’ve built and operated a number of virtual world spaces themselves, and they’ve produced virtual world spaces on behalf of clients, with all of their products created using the Unity 3D engine.

Perhaps the largest of their own environments is Wet.fm, a music-focused virtual environment claiming some 400,000 “live audience members”, 120 artists and some 600 music events held to date.

Chief among client-oriented spaces the company have developed is Flybar, a “multiplayer social game and on-line cinema for [the] globally distributed Spanish language soap opera Cuéntame cómo pasó“, and  which claims 1.2 million unique visitors since  2012, together with the Gojiyo virtual world / platform The latter was originally developed for India’s Godrej Industries and boasts 1.7 million registered users. It also appears to have what might be called associated games or spin-offs, such as Jiyopets.

Sine Wave are responsible for the India-based virtual world, GoJiyo, for Godrei Industries, and which boasted 1.7 million registered users

Reading the available information about sinewave.space, it’s interesting to note the similarities in approach between it and Project Sansar. For example, both platforms are intended to be white label environments in which creators can build their own branded spaces, and then promote  / market them directly to their potential audience, complete with sign-up portal, etc., without that audience necessarily being aware that the space they are entering is part of a platform providing many such spaces / experiences.

Further, both companies indicate the spaces within each platform could potentially be of unlimited size (Sine Wave indicate bandwidth, and Linden Lab the physics simulator, as being the only practical limitations to “land size”);  both platforms will offer a mix of “in-built” tools as well as support for a broad range of 3rd party tools for content creation – although Sine Wave would appear to be significantly further down the road in this. Sine Wave and Linden Lab also appear to be steering a similar course in terms of offering central user account management, virtual goods marketing, etc., which can be used across multiple environments running on their platforms.

Among their tool chain - which includes an advanced animation / gesture system - is the "humanoid resizer", intended to allow mesh clothing sized for "poular avatar skeletons" to be automatically resized to fit the primary Sinewave.space avatar skeleton
Sine Wave are offering a content creation tool chain which includes an advanced animation / gesture system and, as illustrated above, a “humanoid resizer” tool, designed to allow mesh clothing sized for “popular avatar skeletons” to be automatically resized to fit the primary Sinewave.space avatar skeleton

Which should not be taken to mean I think the two are in any way connected – I don’t. Rather, I find it interesting that two companies, each with their own approach to building and running immersive 3D spaces, have arrived at a similar conceptual approach as to how to build a platform aimed at being flexible enough in design and implementation to appeal to a wide cross-section of potential use-cases, without necessarily tying creators / clients / partners – or indeed, users – to a single branded environment.

Obviously, there are differences as well. For example, Sine Wave have indicated that among the worlds running on Sinewave.space will be a number of their own spaces – such as the aforementioned wet.fm, which is due for a re-launch under the sinewave.space banner in the near future – with the Sine Wave portfolio listing a number (all?) of such spaces which might be candidates for inclusion.

Sine Wave also produce Convvirt, a business-oriented space built on Unity 3D. Whether it is to form a part of the overall sinewave.space "federation" of virtual worlds is unclear, but it is listed as a part of the also listed under the Sinewave.space portfolio, so one assumes so
Sine Wave also produce Convvirt, a business-oriented space built on Unity 3D. Whether it is to form a part of the overall Sinewave.space “federation” of virtual worlds is unclear, but it is listed as a part of the also listed under the Sine Wave portfolio bearing the Sinewave.space brand, so one assumes so

Sine Wave also have the advantage of building on an engine – Unity 3D – with which they have many years of experience of both operating and using to build virtual spaces, rather than starting entirely from scratch. Lessons learned from past efforts can be put directly to use. They are also well-versed in the tools an capabilities contained within the engine without having to go through an internal learning curve as a part of the development process, and they have experience in combining the tools within the engine with their own tools – motion capture, animation, etc. – to present creators with an integrated tool chain.

As it is, and as noted earlier, Sine Wave are seeking content creators – region designers, clothing designers, animators and gesture designers, vehicle builders, and more – and in doing so, they’re offering those signing-up a 70/30 (in the creator’s favour) revenue split on all content sold within the platform’s worlds when they are opened to users. Those interested should follow the above link to find out more.

It’ll be interesting to see how sinewave.space develops over the coming months, both independently as with Project Sansar as a possible frame of reference (and even vice-versa), and I hope to be able to provide updates on progress through these pages.

Note; this article was largely drafted prior to show #84 of the Drax Files Radio Hour podcast, in which Drax talks to Adam Frisby about Sinewave.space. You can hear the conversation starting at the 34:30 mark, with an introduction by Drax.