Space Sunday: Stephen Hawking

Stephen Hawking, circa 1970

He was the galaxy’s most unlikely celebrity; a man almost every human with a passing interest in space, news or current affairs had likely heard of, even if they didn’t understand his work. For 55 years he “beat the odds”, so to speak, in living with a terminal illness, a rare form of early onset of motor neurone disease (also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig‘s disease).

Most of all, he forever altered or perception of the cosmos around us. He was able to take the obscure, fringe-like science of cosmology and make it possible the most compelling of space sciences through his insights into gravity, space and time which easily match those of Einstein.

I’m of course speaking about Professor Stephen Hawking, CH CBE FRS FRSA, who passed away on March 14th, 2018 (coincidentally anniversary of the birth of Albert Einstein).

Born on January 8th 1942 (coincidentally, the anniversary of the death of Galileo Galilei) in Oxford, England, Stephen Hawking had a modest  – oft described as “frugal” – upbringing. School for the young Stephen was not initially filled with academic prowess – he would later blame the “progressive methods” used at his first school in London, for his failure to learn to read while he attended it.

Things improved after a move to St. Albans, Hertfordshire, where he took his eleven plus examination a year early while attending the independent  St Albans School. His parents hoped he would be able to attend the well-regarded Westminster School, London from the age of 13. However, illness prevented him from taking the entrance examination which would have earned him a scholarship to the school, and without it, his parents could not afford the fees.

Instead, Hawking remained at St Albans, spending his time among a close group of friends, gaining an interest in making model aeroplanes, boats, and also fireworks. Most notably at this time, Hawking entered the influence of Dikran Tahta, his mathematics teacher.

Tahta encouraged Hawking’s interest in mathematics and physics, and urged him to pursue one or the other at University. Hawking’s father, however, wanted his son to follow his footsteps and attend his old Alma Mater, University College, Oxford to study medicine. Unwilling to disappoint his father in his choice of college, but heeding Tahta’s urgings, Hawking enrolled at the college, selecting physics as his subject, mathematics not being a part of the college’s curriculum at the time. He would later declare that Tahta was one of greatest influences on his life, alongside Dennis Sciama and Roger Penrose.

Three major influences on Hawking life: mathematics teacher Dikran Tahta (l), cosmologist Dennis William Sciama (c) and Professor Sir Roger Penrose (r), with whom Hawking collaborated on several of his early papers

Hawking started his university education in 1959 at the age of 17. For his first year-and-a-half he was “bored”, and found his studies “ridiculously easy”. His physics tutor, Robert Berman, would later comment, “It was only necessary for him to know that something could be done, and he could do it without looking to see how other people did it.”

During his second year, Hawking became more outgoing – and as a result, more interested in non-academic pursuits. In particular, he joined the college boat club as a coxswain, quickly becoming popular and fiercely competitive, gaining a reputation as a “daredevil”, often picking risky courses for his crew – sometimes leading to the boat being damaged in his thirst for victory.

The result of this was that his studies suffered, and he admitted that by the time his final examinations came around, he was woefully ill-prepared to take them. As a result, he opted only to answer the theoretical physics questions on his paper, knowing he had insufficient knowledge to answer the factual questions. He gambled doing so would  be enough to get him the first-class honours degree he needed if he were to attend Cambridge University for  his post-graduate studies in cosmology.

Hawking (r) coxing an eight at the University College Boat Club at the University College, Oxford, circa 1960

The gamble almost paid off: his results put him on the borderline between first- and second-class honours, requiring he complete an oral exam. As it turned out, his examiners realised they were facing someone far brighter than they on hearing him, and the first-class honours was duly awarded.

Hawking began his graduate work at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, in October 1962 and once again found things difficult. He had hoped to study under Sir Fred Hoyle, but instead found Dennis William Sciama, one of the founders of modern cosmology, was his supervisor. It was at this time that Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurone disease, and given just two years to live.

Understandably, this caused him to almost give up on his studies – only his relationship with his sisters friend, Jane Wilde, whom he met not long before his diagnosis, held interest. The two  became engaged in October 1964 and married in July 1965, Hawking commenting that Jane “gave him something to live for”. However, Sciama was not done with Hawking; throughout this period, he gradually persuaded Hawking to resume his studies.

Hawking met Jane Wilde, his first wife, shortly before he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. They married in 1965, and together had three children – Lucy, Robert and Tim. They divorced in 1995.

Continue reading “Space Sunday: Stephen Hawking”

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Seanchai Library marks 10 years in Second Life

Seanchai Library

On March 20, 2008 Shandon Loring presented the very first story in voice at the West of Ireland Library and Cultural Centre, which would become Seanchai Library.

Now, a decade later, Seanchai Library is still presenting literature, stories, and poems live in voice every week. To mark this anniversary, over a 10-day period from March 15th, Seanchai Library is hosting Volume 10, a celebration of stories brought to life in virtual worlds, featuring a light-hearted quest, music events and, of course, stories.

Here’s the line-up of events through the week of Sunday March 18th to Sunday, March 25th. All times, SLT and events are held at the Library’s home at Holly Kai Park, unless otherwise indicated.

Throughout the Week: A Decade of Seanchai Library

Take a stroll through a retrospective wander from the Library’s beginnings in the West of Ireland, through its years with the Community Virtual Library, the expansion to the Kitely Grid, to the present time.  Images, artefacts, media links all come together to share the story of telling stories.

Sunday, March 18th, from 12:30: Prelude to A Bagpipe Challenge

With Caledonia Skytower at  Ceiliúradh Glen.

Followed at 13:00-14:00 by Beyond Loud – music with Elrik Merlin, Gabrielle Riel, and Ktahdn Vesivino broadcast on Radio Riel Main Stream.

Monday, March 19th, 19:00: Sci-Fi by Command

A Science Fiction Encore selected by the Seanchai Library Community, with Gyro Muggins.

Tuesday, March 20th, 19:00: Stories-Go-Round

A buffet of short stories and poems shared by the Seanchai Staff.

Wednesday, March 21st, 18:30: Dracula!

An encore presentation of a classic from Seanchai’s past.  Arrive at the Library building early to teleport to the special setting for the event.

Thursday, March 22nd, 19:00: The Architect of Newgrange – Part 2

With Shandon Loring – arrive at the Library on Holly Kai early to teleport to the special setting for the event.

Saturday, March 24th, 13:00: War of the Worlds

An encore presentation of another Seanchai Library favourite at Holly Kai Pavilion.

Seanchai Library: War of the Worlds a celebration of Welles’ dramatisation of Wells’ novel

Sunday, March 25th, 13:00 The Storyteller’s Sandbox

Hosted by Dubhna Rhiadra with Seanchai Library Friends in Ceiliúradh Glen. 

2018 SL UG updates #11/2: TPVD meeting with Ebbe Altberg

Realm Of Light; Inara Pey, February 2018, on Flickr Realm Of Lightblog post

Update: the 43-bit viewer KDU issues has been updated based on feedback from Ansariel Hiller.

The following notes are taken from the TPV Developer meeting held on Friday, March 16th 2018. A video of the TPVD meeting is embedded below, my thanks as always to North for recording and providing it. Time stamps in the text below will open the video in a new tab at the relevant point of discussion.

This meeting was somewhat extended  – lasting 1 hour 30 minutes – as a result of the presence of Ebbe Altberg, Linden Lab’s CEO, who commented on some of the item of discussion that came up at his session at VWBPE 2018 (see my notes and transcript here), as well as more broadly discussing Second Life and Sansar.

SL Viewers

[0:17-2:20] There have been no further updates to the current release, RC and project viewers in week #11, leaving the pipeline as follows:

  • Current Release version 5.1.2.512803, dated February 23, promoted March 1 – formerly the Nalewka Maintenance RC – No change
  • Release channel cohorts :
  • Project viewers:
  • Linux Spur viewer, version 5.0.9.329906, dated November 17, 2017 and promoted to release status 29 November – offered pending a Linux version of the Alex Ivy viewer code.
  • Obsolete platform viewer, version 3.7.28.300847, May 8, 2015 – provided for users on Windows XP and OS X versions below 10.7.

General Notes

  • The Media Update RC viewer is unlikely to be promoted to release status in the immediate future, as it has some Windows 7 update issues which need to be resolved.
  • The Love Me Render viewer is making good progress, although it also has the Windows 7 problem.
    • [7:30-8:30] This viewer also has a KDU issue which can cause the 32-bit version of the viewer to crash when uploading textures larger than 512×512. One workaround for this until fix is obtained – depending on how long that takes – is for an older version of KDU to be used for 32-bit viewer versions.
  • Despite the issues with it (see my update here), the 360-snapshot project viewer is not getting a lot of attention.
  • Animesh project viewer is getting close to a possible RC release and the Animesh project close to a move to the main grid.
  • The Bakes on Mesh viewer has cleared LL’s QA, so a Bakes on Mesh project viewer for use on Aditi should be appearing soon.

New Viewer Caps

[3:51-7:04] The lab is introducing two new viewer caps they’d like TPVs to adopt quickly:

  • One will be used when the viewer first logs-in to read all of the deferred IMs received while the user was off-line, which are being moved from UDP delivery to HTTP in an attempt to overcome issues of off-line IMs failing to show.
  • The second is to read the correct set of abuse report categories from the server, so only valid categories are displayed within the viewer, allowing users to more correctly file ARs, rather than using invalid categories held viewer-side.

 

General Discussion with Ebbe

Highlights only – refer to the video for the full discussion.

Economic Model

[9:20-14:35]

  • The Lab is looking to try to pivot the SL economic model away from a heavy reliance on land fees, and then in time hopefully reduce the cost of land.
  • This will see a shift from land to revenue generation through fees in other areas.
  • The Lab cannot simply drop land fees and raise fees elsewhere, the two have to be balanced, so while the Lab is hoping to “aggressively” tackle pivoting revenue generation, they will also be cautious in making changes.
    • The hope of reducing land fees can be seen in the reduction in Mainland fees.
    • [10:50 via Oz and Linden] The Mainland price reduction has already seen a significant uptick in interest for abandoned Mainland, with support being “overwhelmed” with requests.
  • There is currently nothing planned for Private region fees, simply because the Lab has to be cautious around revenue.
    • It might be a case of (a) fee increase(s) elsewhere first, followed after a time by consideration of what can be done with Private region fees.
    • It is however, something the Lab would like to do.
    • The steps must be measured not only to safeguard LL’s revenue stream, but also so as not to upset the SL economy.
    • For this reason, the Lab will take a little time to measure the Mainland restructuring before they make other changes, so that they can more accurately measure cause and effect between different types of change.
  • These ideas were also discussed that the VWBPE session with Ebbe – see my transcript notes (with audio from that session) for more.

Sansar

[15:39-18:36] A general overview of Sansar – which is still is  Creator Beta – including the drive this year to gain an audience for Sansar, plus improvements to the VR aspect of the platform. Most of this is covered in my weekly Sansar updates. For Ebbe in particular, the Sansar team is at a point where he feels comfortable pivoting attention away from that platform and back to Second Life, including spending more time in-world.

Sansar and SL

[18:38-22:09]

  • A re-iteration that Sansar was never intended to be a replacement for Second Life.
  • Both products now have completely separate teams working on them
    • At VWBPE 2018, Ebbe indicated that the core SL team – engineering, development, operations, support – is “close to” 100 in number.
  • There is an area of overlap between the two products, but there are also very clear differentiators.
  • Proof that Sansar isn’t a replacement for Sl is the level and speed with which LL has continued to invest in SL (overhauling the viewer and simulator build mechanisms, bringing more performance and stability to the platform) and to add new capabilities (Bento, Animesh, Bakes on Mesh, EEP, rendering enhancements, etc.).

Moving SL to the Cloud

[22:09-32:00]

  • Progress is being made.
  • Experimental regions have been run in the cloud, and they worked.
    • There are a lot of functional limitations that must be addressed before regions users can access can be run in the cloud.
    • The regions did achieve a reasonably high concurrency level (precise number not given).
  • Much of what SL does natively – dynamically spinning-up a new set  of inventory management servers or a new set of log-in services, etc. – is similar in nature to a lot of what cloud service providers do, so a lot of the back-end work involved in moving to the cloud is taking what the Lab have, and adapting it to run within the infrastructure of the cloud.
  • It is a massive engineering undertaking that will take time.
  • Once completed, it is hoped operating SL in the cloud will allow LL to offer benefits to users, which might potentially include:
    • Reduced costs for regions that are spun-down and stored to disk when no-one is using them, should this be explored for Second Life
    • Ability for simulators and services to be more geographically based (e.g. simulators used largely by an audience in South America could be hosted in facilities in South America)
    • Ability to potentially have a broader cross-section of land product based on server types, with a broader range of performance / pricing.
  • It is hoped that, for the most part, users won’t be aware of services being switched from the Lab’s dedicated infrastructure to running within a cloud infrastructure
    • Some non-user facing services are already running in the cloud.
    • The work will be done progressively, and not a “flipping of the switch” for “everything”.
    • There is not end-date for the work. The Lab is approaching it as aggressively as possible, but there are a lot of technical hurdles to be cleared along the way, some of which will only become apparent as attempt are made to shift things and put them into production via the cloud.
    • To deal with potential issues / hurdles, it is possible that further ahead, there is a simulator RC channel “in the cloud”, while others are still running on the Lab’s own infrastructure.
  • Also see Ebbe’s comments from VWBPE 2018.

Upcoming New User Experience

[1:01:23-1:07:11] The Product Team is doing a lot of work with the new user flow, and are getting close to where they can start experimenting with ideas.

Part of this work involves a themed learning island reached via a new user clicking a themed ad which takes them to a themed landing page on the SL website, where they can sign-up, obtain an avatar in keeping with the theme, and are delivered to a learning island that also follows the theme.

This approach will be tested alongside the current on-boarding routes.

Interesting tidbits:

  • The lab spent over a year building a “fairly sophisticated” tracking system to gather data on new users and see how they are doing, i order to try to learn more about on-boarding / retention.
  • The Lab’s data / testing suggests new user retention is no better in welcome areas with greeters, than for those without greeters.
  • A test the Lab carried out using a (non-public) browser-based means of accessing Second Life from sign-up (no need to download the viewer) also did not achieve better retention than the “traditional” sign-up and download route.

Other Items

  • [32:10-34:07] Mirrors in SL: the inevitable discussion – and no, mirrors aren’t in Sansar!
  • [34:08-37:08] SL and VR: re-cap of why the VR viewer was dropped from Second Life – unable to maintain the comfort-level VR frame rates (90 fps). Also segues into a discussion of the Sansar / SL Edit mode differences (also see Ebbe’s comments from VWBPE 2018).
    • [37:10-37:40] Sansar benefits to SL: Oz confirms that some of the rendering work with the atmospheric shaders to improve SL’s appearance is leveraging lessons learned with Sansar.
  • [38:35-43:50] Texture caching: the project to improve the viewer’s texture caching is still very active, and once completed, the Lab plain to look at other aspects of how the viewer caches data.
  • [44:17-47:09] Linux Viewer: no real change from my last update.
    • TPV have the same problem as LL re: Linux developers.
    • LL would like to see more from the Linux community get involved.
    • Suggestion is for Linux users to try running the Windows viewer under Wine.
  • [47:10-49:25] OpenGL and GPU/CPU divide: discussion on updating SL’s OpenGL version, which is already under consideration at the Lab. Broadens into a discussion of modifying SL’s rendering capabilities to make more use of more GPU shader capabilities for calculation (rather than being reliant on the CPU), and the risks (to users) this entails (as many SL users don’t use more modern hardware with GPUs capable of taking the load).
  • [51:58-59:58] Community Gateways: Discussion on the Community Gateway programme and attracting users. Includes mention of partners, Place Pages, etc. Ideas raised seen as something that could be put to the SL Marketing team under Brett Linden.
  • [1:12:52-1:14:14] Feature Requests: when filing a Feature Request JIRA, it is better to keep the request focused on a single idea which can be easily digested. Multiple ideas should be submitted via separate JIRAs so that meaning don’t become confused / the JIRA becomes to complicated to understand, etc. Multiple JIRAs around related ideas can also be related via identifier.