The end of the year is once more approaching, which is often a time of reflection as we look back over the old before pausing to await the arrival of the new. It’s become something of a tradition in these pages for me to look back over the articles and coverage of the year’s events I’ve managed to write-up, and offer a chance to revisit the ups and downs and the good and the bad the last twelve months have brought us.
To keep things digestible, I’ve broken this year’s review into two parts. This one covers July through December. January through June can be found here, and a look at SL’s technical developments through the years is available here.
The month opened with Jayjay Zifanwe contacting me to give me the (then) exclusive news that UWA’s regions would be remaining in Second Life for a further two years, albeit it on a reduced scale, rather than closing as anticipated. A celebratory Art of the Artists machinina challenge followed the announcement. The lab launched their “Bento equipped” starter avatars, and issued updates to the Terms of Service, while some purchase notifications were also updated. Nicky Perian announced he would be retiring from Kokua development in October 2017 to enjoy a well-earned rest, in the hope that someone else would take up the reins.
The end of July saw the Creator Beta launch, with the platform opening to anyone wishing to join. The run-up through the month was marking with an increase in Preview invitations, plus profile videos featuring Ria, Blueberry and London-based Unit 9, all of which I reviewed and added some thoughts around vis Sansar’s reach and marketing. With the Public Beta openI did a quick getting started guide.
VR and AR
Space and Astronomy
July 2017 marked 20 years of continuously studying Mars from both the surface of the planet and from orbit, and also marked the anniversary of the first lunar landing. Remarkable images of Betelgeuse were revealed, and further traction was gained for NASA’s Deep Space Gateway while Elon Musk walked back some expectations around the first flight of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.
Wouldn’t you just know it – I revised the island home again!
Travel and Arts
It’s a quiet month for me, reporting-wise, the focus being on my weekly series of SL user group meeting reports, although Bay City does announce the 2017 Hot City Nights event, which takes place towards the end of the month.
With the Public Beta open, I offer some initial hints’n’tips and suggestions of places to visit, following by a more detailed look at the Runtime Desktop Mode. I also look at what the media is saying, and offer my own thoughts on the opening. Three visits to Sansar experiences launch my Exploring Sansar series, while also taking a look at some of the Creator Challenge winners before starting my series of reports on Sansar Product Meetings. Keeping with the spirit of competitions, the Lab co-sponsors an avatar design competition, and Bjorn and Widely Linden discuss the new platform (with audio), while there’s a further official Creator Profile video.
VR and AR
AltspaceVR announces a reprieve from closure may be in the wind, and there’s a look at VR and AR in the wake of Sansar’s public Creator Beta while High Fidelity reveals currency and IP protection plans.
Space and Astronomy
There’s another anniversary to be celebrated – this one marking 40 years of the Voyager mission. Curiosity celebrates five years of Mars surface operations, and exoplanets once more step into the spotlight, while the 2017 total solar eclipse is tracked across America.
Travel and Arts
Back in August I wrote about a proposal from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) to fly a robotic helicopter to Saturn’s moon Titan.
Called “Dragonfly”, the mission would use a nuclear-powered dual-quadcopter, an evolution of drone technology, carrying a suite of science instruments to study the moon. Capable of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) operations, the vehicle would be able to carry out a wide range of research encompassing Titan’s atmosphere, surface, sub-surface and methane lakes to see what kind of chemistry is taking place within them.
The proposal was one of several put forward for consideration by NASA as a part of the agency’s New Horizons programme for planetary exploration in the 2020s. In late December 2017, NASA announced it was one of two finalist proposals which will now receive funding through until the 2018 for proof-of-concept work.
Titan has diverse, carbon-rich chemistry on a surface dominated by water ice, as well as an interior ocean. It is one of a number of “ocean worlds” in our solar system that hold the ingredients for life, and the rich organic material that covers the moon is undergoing chemical processes that might be similar to those on early Earth. Dragonfly would take advantage of Titan’s dense, flight-enabling atmosphere to visit multiple sites by landing on safe terrain, and then carefully navigate to more challenging landscapes.
At 450 kg, Dragonfly is no lightweight, and a fair amount of the mass would be taken up by its nuclear power unit. However, the vehicle will carry a science package comprising some, or all, of the following:
- A mass spectrometer for analysing the composition of Titan’s atmosphere and surface material.
- A gamma ray spectrometer of analysing the shallow sub-surface.
- A seismometer for measuring deep subsurface activity.
- A meteorology station for measuring atmospheric conditions such as wind, pressure and temperature.
- An imaging system for characterising the geologic and physical nature of Titan’s surface and identifying landing sites.
Commenting on the NASA decision to provide further funding for the project, APL Director Ralph Semmel said:
This brings us one step closer to launching a bold and very exciting space exploration mission to Titan. We are grateful for the opportunity to further develop our New Frontiers proposals and excited about the impact these NASA missions will have for the world.
The second proposal to receive funding through until the end of 2018 is the Comet Astrobiology Exploration Sample Return (CAESAR) mission proposed by Cornell University, Ithaca, New York and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre.
This mission seeks to return a sample from 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, a comet that was successfully explored by the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft, to determine its origin and history. This project is being led by Steve Squyres of Cornell University, who was the principal investigator for NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover missions featuring Opportunity and Spirit.
If approved by NASA, CAESAR would launch in 2024/25, collect at least 100 g (3.5 oz) of regolith from the comet, separating the volatiles from the solid substances. The spacecraft would then head back to Earth and drop off the sample in a capsule, which would re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and parachute down to the surface in 2038. 67P/C-G was selected because it has been extensively imaged and mapped by the Rosetta mission, thus enabling engineers to design a vehicle better able to meet the conditions around the comet as it swings around the Sun.
New Frontiers is a series of planetary science missions with a cap of approximately US $850 million apiece. They include the Juno mission to Jupiter, the Osiris-REx asteroid sample-return missions, and the New Horizons mission to Pluto, also built and operated by APL. Under the terms of NASA funding, both of the 2017 finalists will receive US $4 million each in 2018, and a final decision on which will be funded through to completion will be made in 2019.
WFIRST: Hubble’s New Cousin
While attention is on the next space telescope due for launch – the ambitious James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which will be departing Earth in 2019 – NASA and the international community is already turning its attention to the telescope that will come after JWST, with a launch due in the mid-2020s.
Billed as a cousin to the Hubble Space Telescope, and something of a descendent of that observatory, the Wide Field Infra-Red Survey Telescope (WFIRST) will use a very similar telescope system as Hubble, with a 2.4m diameter primary mirror, but with a shorter focal length. This, coupled with no fewer than 18 sensors built into the telescope’s camera (Hubble only has a single sensor), means that WFIRST will be able to image the sky with the same sensitivity as Hubble with its 300-mexapixel camera – but over an area 100 times larger than Hubble can image. To put this in perspective: where Hubble can produce a poster for your living room wall, an image from WFIRST can decorate the entire side of your house.
This wide field of view will allow WFIRST to generate never-before-seen big pictures of the universe, allowing astronomers explore some of the greatest mysteries of the cosmos, including why the expansion of the universe seems to be accelerating. One possible explanation for this speed-up is dark energy, an unexplained pressure that currently makes up 68% of the total content of the cosmos and may have been changing over the history of the universe. Another possibility is that this apparent cosmic acceleration points to the breakdown of Einstein’s general theory of relativity across large swaths of the universe. WFIRST will have the power to test both of these ideas.
Sunday, December 31st 2017 will once again see Bay City celebrate the turning of the year with their annual Prim Drop festivities.
The event will open at 23:30 SLT at the Bay City Fairgrounds in North Channel. The theme for the event is a wintertime soirée; black tie attire is recommended, and all SL residents are invited to attend. Marianne McCann will be providing the music and fireworks, and food and drink will be provided.
This will also be the final opportunity in 2015 to donate to Child’s Play Charity, a US 501c3 non-profit organisation which helps seriously ill children around the globe during their hospital stays with the purchase of games and gaming equipment.
In 2016, Bay City raised L$163,892 (approx: US $630) for Child’s Play, and in 2017 has already raised more than L$165,000 – and the Prim Drop will be a last chance to make this a truly record-breaking year in Bay City’s support of the charity. So even if you can’t make it to the event itself, do please consider taking a couple of minutes out of your SL day and stopping by the Bay City Fairgrounds and making a donation via one of the collection bins there.
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.
- Bay City Fairgrounds (North Channel, rated: General)
Whimberly – click on any image for full size
Whimberly marked one of the first places we visited in Second Life at the start of 2017, when I remarked that the great beauty of the region lay within its simple elegance. In August, a return visit was made, after region holder Staubi (Engelsstaub) had given Whimberly a make-over, presenting a new look along the same elegant simplicity of presentation. So, when friend Miro Collas tipped me that a further make-over had been made to the region, it seemed a third visit would make a fitting end-of-year report on the region, balancing may January write-up.
This latest iteration of the region offers something of an echo of both the designs from mid-year and the start of 2017. As with August 2017, the landing point sits towards the north-east of the island, up on a rocky shoulder of a hill. Once again, this is home to a small summer-house – but in difference to August’s design, this one has been converted into a 50’s style diner inside, complete with jukebox, vinyl covered bench sitting and plenty of chrome. Also echoing the August design, a stone fountain sits outside of the diner, a parasolled seating area to one side, looking southwards across the water to a small island where a windmill stands, sails gently turning.
A dirt track runs down the hill to the lower reaches of the island, which have something of a feel for the January design of the region. A wide-open, grassy scene dominates the central landscape beneath the cloud-laden sky, the track splitting before the tide of grass, one arm leading to another summer-house, this one sitting within ornate walls, but offering a strong reminder of a similar place found within the January 2017 build, complete with the deck looking out over northern waters.
To the south, the track curve past a second wooden deck, where little motor boats can be rezzed and used to reach the windmill island, before following the water’s edge westwards before forking again, offering route to a choice of local houses.
The first of these has a distinctly Mediterranean look to it. With the old pick-up truck parked outside the front, the well and the cart wheels stacked against a wall, it might easily be taken for a farm-house. A look inside and a walk to the back of the house, with its terraced pool, reveal it to be anything but. An old stone jetty, broken and partially flooded – one of two to be found alongside the shoreline – sits close by, a place where an artist has been practising their skill with brush and paint.
The second house is much larger, and occupies the south-west spur of the island. Sitting among what might be oak trees and watched by a weeping willow, this has the feel of a family home – three pairs of Wellington boot in the hall, a meal for three set on a table, and so on. A car sits outside the garage, guarding the front door.
The little motor boats available to puttering around on the water are, I have to say, quite nippy; also, getting out of them takes a little care as well – any double-click teleporting will carry you back to the landing point. However, the windmill offers a haven for Greedy, Greedy and On a Roll fans, while a picnic blanket is spread under the wind-bent back of an old tree close to the windmill’s doors.
Whimberly always has been a region of serene, natural beauty, and this iteration is no exception; the melding of ideas from earlier designs is sublime, and the entire look and feel of the region so perfectly executed with a wonderfully light touch. It’s the perfect setting for an end-of-year visit, and a reminder that while we are in the midst of winter in the northern hemisphere, spring is really not that far away. In other words, an ideal place to visit and escape the winter blues.
- Whimberly (Whimberly, rated: Adult)
Long term Second Life resident Gabrielle Riel, founder and General Director of Radio Riel and owner of the St. John estate of seven regions, has announced she is to semi-retire from Second Life.
As a broadcaster and DJ, Gabrielle is well-known to many in Second Life, and her Radio Riel station is one of the most popular in Second Life, and one of the longest running, having celebrated its 10th anniversary of broadcasting in June 2017. Offering music covering a wide range of genres, Radio Riel is popular in the historic, fantasy and steampunk communities and well-known for their support of Relay for Life of Second Life and Fantasy Faire.
In 2013, Gabrielle founded the St. John residential estate of seven regions, which has proven popular with those renting there, building up a strong sense of community. Unfortunately, it is the part of her Second Life that is most directly affected by her decision.
“I want to make it clear I am not TOTALLY leaving SL!” Gabrielle told me. “Radio Riel will continue and I will still be coming in-world to play my gigs; I have four or five a month.
“I’ve always said ‘real life first, always’. It’s been my constant advice to everyone; now it’s time for me to take that advice. I’ve been in Second Life for over eleven years now, and over ten of them have been on a professional basis: playing my gigs, managing the estate. It’s time for me to semi-retire, and that means I’ve decided to close St John.”
In order to try to minimise disruption for residents on the estate, Gabrielle intends to handle the closure in stages in order to give people time to arrange moving out without too much panic. To achieve this, she has set out a schedule of closures, and has asked that St John residents vacate their parcels as their tier expires, or no later than 12:00 noon, SLT on the following dates:
- Friday, January 5th, 2018: Bayou St. John.
- Sunday, January 14th, 2018: St. John Woods.
- Tuesday, January 16th, 2018: Lake St. John.
- Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018: St. John Parish, St John Maurepas, St John Uptown.
- Tuesday, January 30th, 2018: St. John Islands.
She also notes that for those who have paid tier beyond these dates, refunds of any outstanding balance will be arranged and made, and she’ll contact those due a refund directly.
Given St John has always been a personal commitment from Gabrielle – a place of pure passion and love, as she puts it, from herself to those who have made the estate their home; she’s therefore – and understandably – unwilling to sell the estate on to someone else to manage, because and with the best will in the world, changes will inevitably come about.
That said, some of the regions will be offered for sale via the For Sale By Owner group in Second Life. However, anyone from the St John estate interested in purchasing one or more of the regions in order to continue part of the community, is invited to contact Gabrielle directly concerning possible sale, and she indicates she’d be willing help with landscaping, etc. The main caveats she has with any sale are that the regions will be sold clean – none of the current builds or landscaping will be included, and the buyer will also need to cover the cost ownership transfer and rename the regions they purchase.
“I agonised over this decision through many sleepless nights, but there are things happening in my real life that make this necessary for me,” Gabrielle explains, in discussing the decision. “I am closing the full estate because real life demands my full focus now; I’m not going to manage any sims, even a few … The reality is that I have barely logged-in to Second Life since July, and I’ve had to come to accept that is just the way things are … I have detested being an absentee landowner; I’ve hated not being able to update builds or landscaping or handle land administration.”
“I’ve tried to address everything about this decision within the audio,” she told me. “This really is a personal decision that I hope everyone will understand. But I do appreciate some of the residents of St John may have further questions. If they do, they can contact me via e-mail [gabrielle.riel-at-gmail.com].”
You can listen to Gabrielle’s comments in full below.
With thanks to John Brianna for the pointer.