A Binemust winter in Second Life

White Binemust, December 2020

I’m rounding out my 2020 region explorations with a return trip to Biné Rodenberger’s Binemust, which Caitlyn and I last visited in September. At that time, the region was dressed as a representation of Bungenäs, a region of Sweden’s largest island, Gotland (see: Bungenäs at Binemust in Second Life).

That design is still available at ground level, but for Winter 2020/21 Biné has added a sky platform – White Binemust. As its name suggests, this is a place dressed as a winter setting that is nicely Scandinavian is style, whilst also lending itself as a snowy setting from almost any suitable mountainous region in snowy latitudes.

White Binemust, December 2020

Blending seamlessly with a snow-capped and off-region mountain range on all sides, the platform offers a richly wooded environment – a familiar element within Biné ‘s designs, both and above water level, as she has often demonstrated an imaginative use of space within her region that has included woods and copses below sea level as well as on  land -, the setting sits under a lowering sky that suggests a lot of snow is awaiting the opportunity to fall on top of that which has already settled.

The woods hide the fact that this is setting of two levels. The upper, home to the majority of the woodland, also forms the landing point for this winter setting, sitting as it does close to a junction of pathways visitors are free to follow. One of these, marked by an avenue of arched trees, leads to a snow-bound country chapel, an icy path links the chapel with a glass and steel igloo, both of which are watched over by an unexpected guardian: and oriental-style flying dragon.

Binemust, December 2020

A second path leads to a large house overlooking the lower aspect of the region (of which more anon). Of a modern, clean design, with large windows and cosily furnished, the house is suited to this snowy location, and appears to be open for visitors to explore – as do all the buildings to be found with White Binemust. The icy path running to the house ends in a circular pond, its surface frozen, revealing the smooth path may itself be a stream caught beneath the ice. A small cabin sits close by the pond; in warmer days it might form a summer house converted from a greenhouse; for now it presents a cosy den / bar.

A tiny cabin and a shed offering Christmas trees round-out the high-level section of the platform. Below them, reached via a path than descends via a line of steps, and a more open space, the woodland ending at a line of trees at the foot of the slope, having marched down it to meet a rutted track that follows the contours of the hill.

Binemust, December 2020

The selection of buildings here – focused on another clean design of a wood-framed ranch house –  has the feel of a farm caught in the depths of winter about it. Shaggy highland cattle graze in a fences field, a wagon of hay close-by should the snow overcome the grass of the field. Across the snow and ice sits and A-frame cabin, perhaps offered as a holiday home by those who own the farm. Sitting outside of it is a little snowman offering a reminder of a more unpleasant aspect of this past year.

Although sitting below the landing point, the farm and its buildings art nestled on the edge of a mountain valley, one suggestive of being formed in the ancient past by the passage of glacier that encountered a hard table of rock that forced it to split, giving rise to the plateau on which the setting is located.

White Binemust, December 2020

It is within this valley, visible from the large glass frontage of the farmhouse, that another of one of Binemust’s iconic elements can be found: the wreck of a Viking long ship. It’s a piece Biné uses as an emblem for her designs, a visualisation of her Norse / Scandinavian heritage.

While there are touches of Christmas to be found within the setting – decorated trees (one of them of a most interesting design), lights festooning tree branches and so on. However, this is far more a delightful winter setting than Christmas focused, thus it offer an ideal seasonal visit with which to see out the year (as it did for me) or as a winter setting in which to see in the new.

White Binemust, December 2020

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Bay City New Year 2020/21 prim drop in Second Life

Bay City prim drop 2020/21

Thursday, December 31st 2020 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 2020 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. 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.

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Giovanna: a welcome return to Second Life

Giovanna Cerise at Campbell Coast

For several years, Giovanna Cerise was a name synonymous with engaging, evocative 3D art installations within Second Life. Her work – which I took considerable delight in exploring and writing about – encompassed many ideas, themes and narratives, often drawn from the physical world as much as her own thoughts and imagination, with some offering unique interpretations of classic pieces.

It was through the latter – a re-interpretation of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, presented in 2015 – that I became utterly captivated in Giovanna’s work (although I had encountered and appreciated it prior to that installation) – and remained so throughout the time she was creating in Second Life. Marvellously capturing the essence of the classic story of Tristan, knight of Cornwall, loyal to King Mark(e), and Isolde, Irish Princess, Giovnna offered key scenes from the story, beautifully interwoven into settings that offered visitors insights into Wagner, opera, and a rich symbolism and commentary that reached beyond the original tale to make the installation truly unique of itself.

Giovanna Cerise, Tristan und Isolde, 2015

In Soul of Colours (presented in 2012 and again 2016),  Giovanna similarly presented an unfolding story inspired by Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute, K620), the 2-art opera by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Within her installation, Giovanna allowed visitors to undertake a journey through key scenes and events from the opera, and to appreciate the music from it in a richly layered and evolving setting.

With pieces such as Monochrome, and Line, Giovanna offered explorations of themes, often simple in idea but complex and engaging in execution; unfolding tales, if you will, with Line enfolding both Giovanna’s £d and 2D art. Both of which, for a time, could be appreciated in her own gallery Last Harbour, which again was always a joy to visit.

Giovanna Cerise at Campbell Coast

All of this I mention, because several years ago, Giovanna stepped back from active arts expression in Second Life – although her presence remained on the Marketplace. However, she is now making a return to SL, and may well be resuming her role as one of the platform’s most engaging artists.

I have entered Second Life a little recently, but now I have a desire to start over. I have to organize myself and then I think about taking a land. I have some ideas in my head that I want to do.

– Giovanna Cerise to me, discussing her re-engagement in SL

While she is considering her next steps – something she and I also discussed, but I’ll not break confidences to say more here – Giovanna has taken up a modest studio gallery where she is exhibiting some of her smaller pieces. The studio can be found at the growing arts community at Campbell Coast (about which I’ll have more to say in an upcoming article), and I commend all those with a love of art in Second Life to hop over and take a look at both Giovanna’s studio and Campbell Coast as a whole – ans to keep an eye on both as 2021 unfolds.

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Paint your skies with Stevie Davros’ EEP sets

A dramatic EEP Fixed Sky with custom cloud texture (Painted Drama Windy Afternoon from the Painted Clouds set) by Stevie Davros

Back in 2018, I wrote about Stevie Davros, and Australian photographer, who had produced as series of Windlight skies and clouds for people to use to help enhance their environment when taking pictures, or to offer a unique environment within their region (see: Clouds and windlight skies by Stevie Davros).

Since the arrival of the Lab’s Environment Enhancement Project (EEP), Stevie has been working on new skies and cloud assets specifically for use with EEP, and offered me the opportunity to try some of them out. And I have to say, that like his Windlight skies and clouds, these are impressive collections, ideal for photographers looking to enhance their images, and offering region and parcel holders a set of options for setting a Fixed Sky over their parcel / region (and which can also be used to create dynamic Day Cycles).

If you are unfamiliar with using EEP assets and settings, I recommend you refer to one of the following:

However, and for completeness, these notes include a quick overview of how to apply Stevie’s settings.

Saturn looms large: a EEP Fixed Sky setting from the Cosmic Skies set by Stevie Davros

At the time of writing this article, Stevie had a dozen EEP packs available via his Marketplace store, comprising:

  • Painted Clouds: a folder of 13 Fixed Sky assets featuring cloud texture files sampled from the brush strokes of 19th Century French impressionist painters.
  • Aussie Cirrus: a folder of 19 skies featuring cloud texture files created from photographs Stevie took of the skies over Adelaide in Australia, and then processed.
  • Gossamer Cirrus: a set of 19 skies featuring cloud textures depicting very high altitude cirrus strands, some of which are presented in a their own “fantasy” style of sky.
  • Cirrus Cloudbank: a set of 21 skies featuring strands of cirrus cloud overlaid with / extending from banks of cloud
  • Cirrus Clouds: a bumper set of 34 cloud textures, suitable for “real” and “fantasy” settings.
  • Stormy Skies: a selection of cloud texture collages created by Stevie to give dramatic sky and cloudscapes.

All of these packs, whilst focusing on cloud formations, include customised ambient lighting and may include custom Sun / Moon textures.

Painted Sky Banded Sky from the Painted Clouds set by Stevie Davros

In addition, Stevie has produced several sets of Fixed Skies offering more of a “cosmic” setting:

  • Replacement Moons: a set of six replacement Moon textures (crescent, waxing, full, gibbous dual crescent and blue).
  • Replacement Suns: a set of replacement Sun textures very suitable for sci-fi settings, including a blue giant and a binary system with a blue giant and red dwarf star.
  • Cosmic skies: a set of 10 textures offering various astronomical / sci-fi images, including solar eclipses, a comet, a (frighteningly large) meteor, galaxies, a crescent Earth (ideal for a Moon base setting) and Saturn with his rings.
  • Aurora Night Sky: a selection of night skies with cloud textures designed to give the effect of looking at the aurora (Borealis or Australis, you pick 🙂 ).

The remaining two packs are more quirky in nature the first presents something for the romantics: link heart clouds,  and the second that places an erupting volcano on the horizon (the volcano replacing the Sun texture).

A radical sunrise (Gossamer Cirrus Surf Beach Sunrise from the Gossamer Clouds set) by Stevie Davros

There are a few points worth noting with these sets:

  • When purchased, each pack is delivered as a folder to the Received Items folder / panel of  your inventory (so no unpacking required). They can all be used directly from the folder they are received in; however, you might want to copy said folder to the Settings folder in your inventory – the system folder than is intended to contain all EEP assets you create and / or purchase.
  • As Fixed Sky elements, these are all assets that have fixed ambient lighting, and fixed Sun / Moon positions in the sky, with the clouds moving dynamically in response to the wind direction and speed.
  • The assets are supplied Copy / Modify, so you can make copies of any of them and then make alterations to it using the EEP Fixed Sky editor to produce your own variants. You can also use any of them as a basis to create your own dynamic Day Cycles.
  • Alternatively, to make changes purely for photography purposes, these assets can be applied and then adjusted using the Personal Lighting panel.
Use the standard EEP options for using Stevie’s assets

The easiest way to use these assets is to apply them directly to your avatar – highlight the asset you wish to use the right-click on it and select Apply only To Myself. This can be done from inventory or from World → Environment → My Environments … Applied in this way, the setting you’ve selected is only visible within your viewer, and will not be seen by others.

Alternatively, and if you have the requisite permissions, you can apply the asset to your parcel, where anyone within it who is using an EEP-supporting viewer set to (World → Environment →) Used Shared Environment, will also witness it. Further, if you are a region holder, you can apply the asset to your region  this option is not shown in the image above, as I do not have region rights, and so Firestorm has removed the option from my context menu).

Rigel in the sky (Big Giant Sun from the Replacement Suns set) by Stevie Davros
With prices ranging from L$99 to L$399 for the cloud packs, and the “cosmic” sky packs all priced below L$100, Stevie’s EEP sets represent very good value for money for photographers, and a potentially useful means for those interested in learning how to manipulate EEP settings (although the latter can admittedly be done via EEP settings available through the Library → Environments folder as well).

Again, you  can pick up Stevie’s packs from his Marketplace Store, and my thanks to him for taking them for a test drive.

Capturing some still memories in Second Life

The Isle of Elar, December 2020; click any image for full size

Second Life blogger and photographer Rig Torok led me to Shayn Mackenzie’s Full region, The Isle of Elar, for what will be one of my last region visits for 2020.

With life being what it is right now thanks to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic refusing to to leave us alone and limiting opportunities for physical world interactions and getting out and about, coupled with various personal matters that have left me feeling I could do with time in the outdoors, wandering unknown paths under boughs heavy with leaves, The Isle of Elar proved to be just the ticket.

The Isle of Elar, December 2020

Rugged and split by streams fed by waterfalls, with rocky plateaus, shingle and sandy beaches, woodland trails and open spaces, cabins and ruins, deer and rabbits – and even a dragon awaiting discovery – the region genuinely offers something for everyone to appreciate – blogger, photographer, explorer or someone looking for a little space and / or peace a quiet.

From the landing point on the north side of the region, a path cuts its way south, apparently heading directly to the southern coast of the region before peeling off to cross the two streams via wooden footbridges. It presents the most direct means to start any exploration of the region, and a horse rezzer just off of the track presents a means of transportation for those who prefer exploring without necessarily relying on the use of their own pedal extremities.

The Isle of Elar, December 2020

However, it is not the only path to take; others are awaiting discovery, winding their way to numerous places of interest, be it old chapel ruins among the trees or a farm shop with camp site or garden chair overlooking the ocean, a greenhouse overlooking the main trail, a walled garden, and steps and an elevator that wind and lead their way up the rocky highlands of the region. All of these, and more besides, await visitors.

This is a place rich a detail, obvious and subtle. Some of the more obvious I’ve noted above. The more subtle include a little faerie garden, complete with magical ring, sings of various kinds awaiting discovery, a highland bench watched over by a friendly weasel, a raft in a little cove, rabbits enjoying the peace of the old chapel and the aforementioned dragon. All of this is supported by a fitting sound scape that encourages relaxation when making use one of the many places to sit waiting to be found throughout the setting.

The Isle of Elar, December 2020

The wealth of detail available within the region makes it easy to lose oneself during a visit, the sound scape encouraging cares and concerns to slip away, or to reminisce – hence the Still Memories part of the region’s name – whilst bringing to life the promise of its About Land description:

Elar is a woodland themed region depicting natural beauty all around you, Here you can explore, be romantic, spend time with friends, or take creative photos. 
The Isle of Elar, December 2020

Whether wandering alone or with a loved one, The Isle of Elar makes for an ideal destination, and visitors who take photos are invited to share them via the region’s Flickr group.

Not a destination to miss.

The Isle of Elar, December 2020

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Space Sunday: conjunctions, radio signals and budgets

Jupiter (bottom and brighter) and Saturn as seen between the sails of the post windmill at Brill, Buckinghamshire, UK. Credit: Jim Dyson / Getty Images

Monday, December 21st, the winter solstice, saw Jupiter and Saturn reach their closest point of mutual approach to one another when viewed in our evening skies, in what is referred to as a great conjunction.

I covered the event in some detail in my previous Space Sunday report, noting that 2020 would see the two planets appear to come with 6 arc minutes of one another as they lay low over the south-western horizon in last light following sunset.

Caught via a camera with telephoto lens is Jupiter (l) with the Galilean moons also visible (from top left: Calisto, Io, Europa, and furtherest out, lower right, Ganymede). Saturn, to the right, appears as a distinct oval due to its ring system not being sufficiently resolved by the camera lens. Credit: Peter Jay / Getty Images.

Unfortunately, British weather being what it tends to be, I didn’t get to see things on the night thanks to cloud and rain.  To add insult to injury, the skies were clear just 40 km away, allowing friends to witness the event on the night, while the rain and cloud continued here most of the rest of the week, preventing me from getting a further look at the two planets as they dropped ever closer to the horizon. Ho hum.

Not of this Earth: Jupiter and Saturn with rings visible, as seen on December 21st from lunar orbit in an image captured by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA

Fortunately, however, many around the world did have clear skies and captured the event using cameras equipped with telephoto lenses or attached to telescopes. I’ve included a handful of my favourites shots here.

The event was also captured on film by Jason De Freitas, who captured the space between Jupiter and Saturn being neatly “cut” by the passage of the International Space Station.

ET Probably Isn’t Radioing Us

A radio signal detected in a part of the sky that neatly aligns with our closest stellar neighbour,  Proxima Centauri, is unlikely to be of extra-terrestrial origin.

The radio burst was detected in  April-May 2019 by the Parkes Radio Telescope in  Australia, one of two radio telescopes used by the Breakthrough Listen project, which since 2015 has been listening to the one million closest stars to our own in an attempt to pick up artificial radio signals that might indicate extraterrestrial intelligence.

The primary 64-metre radio telescope dish of the Parke observatory, New South Wales. Credit: John Sarkissian

At the time the signal was detected, the telescope was engaged in radio observations of Proxima Cantauri, some 4.2 light years away, and a star known to have two planets orbiting it, one of which – Proxima b – is a rocky world about 1.7 times the size of Earth that sits within the star’s  habitable zone.

Parkes wasn’t listening for radio signals at the time they were picked up, but was engaged in radio observations of flare activity from the star. However, when detected, the signal was immediately intriguing due to its relatively narrow frequency – 982.002Mhz – which ruled out it being caused by known natural phenomena. In order to verify it, the Breakthrough Listen team received permission to “nod” the telescope dish.

This is a common technique used to verify radio signals that involves deliberately swinging the receiving dish away from a signal for a period of time, and then back towards it in order to see if it can be re-acquired (indicating it is not an artefact of the telescope itself), and to measure whether the signal has moved relative to the dish (which would indicate the source is likely in Earth’s orbit). In this case, the signal was reacquired, with measurements suggesting it could be emanating from Proxima b.

When news of the signal, and the on-going analysis to try to determine it’s likely point of origin / cause, was anonymously leaked recently, it was picked up by a number of media outlets and caused something of a stir. However, before ET Hunters get too excited, there are a number of additional facts to consider.

Firstly, it is devoid of any modulation – and so is likely devoid of any meaningful data, were it indeed to by an extra-terrestrial, which makes sending it a little pointless. Secondly, it was entirely transient; following the period of initial detection in April / May 2019, it was “lost”, and has never been re-acquired. Were it a deliberate signal, it would not be unreasonable to expect it to remain fairly constant in terms of detection, either by Parkes or (preferably) other centres around the world.

But the biggest counts against it being ET “‘phoning home” (or at least us), lies with the fact that the signal came from the general direction of Proxima Centauri. As our nearest, and oft-observed stellar neighbour, the star has been under observation for decades, and nary a once have we received anything amounting to an peep out of it that might suggest aliens are playing with radio systems there.

More particularly, however, is the fact that Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf star. As I’ve noted numerous times in these pages, these  M-class stars are prone to exceptionally violent solar flare. Given the close proximity of Proxima b to its star, these flares would likely, at a minimum, be bathed in hard radiation, and at worse, completely rip away the planet’s atmosphere within a period of around 100-200 million years. Therefore, it is highly unlikely the planet really is the point of origin for the signal.

An artist’s impression of Proxima b with Proxima Centauri low on the horizon. The double star above and to the right of it is Alpha Centauri A and B. Credit: ESO

instead, the most likely explanations for the signal are that it might either be something like the carrier wave from a long-forgotten piece of orbital debris of human manufacture or – mostly likely – actually originated on Earth, with conditions in the upper atmosphere serving to “bounce” it into the Parkes Telescope sphere of detection.

The Breakthrough Listen team and their partners certainly lean towards the latter as an explanation, although as noted,  they are still analysing the data gathered on the signal.

This is not a natural phenomenon—I haven’t seen the data, but if it passed BL’s tests then it’s too narrowband to be natural. It’s definitely caused by technology. But it’s almost certainly our own technology.

– Jason Wright, Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State University

Continue reading “Space Sunday: conjunctions, radio signals and budgets”