It’s time to highlight another week of storytelling in Voice by the staff and volunteers at the Seanchai Library. As always, all times SLT, and events are held at the Library’s home in Nowhereville, unless otherwise indicated. Note that the schedule below may be subject to change during the week, please refer to the Seanchai Library website for the latest information through the week.
Monday, January 4th, 19:00: The Dark Bright Water
Gyro Muggins reads Patricia Wrightson’s second novel charting the life of Wirrun of the Inlanders.
First encountered in The Ice Is Coming, when Wirrun set out on a quest to overcome the rise of the ancient enemy of Australia, the ice-bearded Ninya, the young janitor now has a reputation as a Hero among the Inlanders (Wrightson’s fantasy view of the Australian Aboriginals). It’s not a title he appreciates; he would much rather just get back to his janitorial work.
But the spirits of the land are restless: Yunggamurra, a river spirit is lost, so uses her siren-like powers of song to draw to herself those who might might take her home. Her singing come to Wirrun’s ears, and those of an elderly aboriginal emissary, and he realises he must journey to the very heartlands of Australia to better understand what he is feeling.
This he does, with the old emissary and his friend Ularra. Once there, he discovers that a storm is indeed rising within the domain of the spirits, and he is uniquely placed to both find Yunggamurra and prevent the coming storm. And so his new adventure begins.
Tuesday, January 5th
12:00 Noon: Russell Eponym, Live in the Glen
Music, poetry, and stories in a popular weekly session at Ceiluradh Glen.
19:00: Written in History: Letters that Changed the World
WRITTEN IN HISTORY celebrates the great letters of world history, creative culture and personal life. Acclaimed historian Simon Sebag Montefiore selects over one hundred letters from ancient times to the twenty-first century: some are noble and inspiring, some despicable and unsettling; some are exquisite works of literature, others brutal, coarse and frankly outrageous; many are erotic, others heartbreaking.
The writers vary from Elizabeth I, Rameses the Great and Leonard Cohen to Emmeline Pankhurst, Mandela, Stalin, Michelangelo, Suleiman the Magnificent and unknown people in extraordinary circumstances – from love letters to calls for liberation, declarations of war to reflections on death. In the colourful, accessible style of a master storyteller, Montefiore shows why these letters are essential reading: how they enlighten our past, enrich the way we live now – and illuminate tomorrow.
Join Caledonia Skytower as she reads selections from this remarkable book.
Wednesday, January 6th 19:00: In Walt We Trust
More from Craig Johnson’s Sherriff Longmire Series with Kayden Oconnell.
Thursday, January 7th, 19:00 Monsters and Myths
The Pig’s Ploughman – Part 1, Shandon Loring presents another mythic adventure from the works of Bernard Evslin. Also in Kitely! Find teleport from the main Seanchai World grid.kitely.com:8002:SEANCHAI.
The last few months of 2020 saw Tyche Shepherd release some brief summaries related to Second Life that – as always – make for interesting reading for those interested in the general state of the platform.
In the first, a tweet Tyche issued in October, we were offered insight into general use of the platform in terms of sign-up and concurrency. It came as a the last in a brief series of tweets from Tyche on the subject that started after the Lab indicated that with the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, they were seeing an increase in general usage of the platform, particularly among returning users.
Following-on from Tweets in June -, Tyche confirmed that overall, median concurrency on the platform saw clear growth in March through mid-May (when the first ’bout of lockdowns hit a fair portion of the world due to the pandemic, before gradually falling through until mid-August, when a further “bump” occurred that lasted through until October (when Tyche made her Tweet). She also showed that overall, median concurrency remained well above that seen in 2019.
That concurrency is up can be taken as a good sign; it means that more people are engaging in the platform at any given period, allowing greater opportunities for interactions – which can be particularly important for incoming new users looking for things to do and people to meet. However, it is with regards to the latter that Tyche’s observations have been more mixed.
On the one hand, the second graphic included in her tweet appears to in part confirm commentary from the Lab itself: that 2020 has seen an upswing in the number of users returning to the platform, whilst also suggesting that – again, understandably, given the pandemic – that existing users were spending longer in-world in 2020 that had been the case in recent years. All of which is also to the good (particularly if returning users find reasons to maintain their engagement in the platform once more).
However, on the other, the graphic reveals a niggling concern: whilst sign-up have remained relatively stable for a number of years, with occasional peaks and crevasses, 2020 saw a distinct decline in sign-ups from the end of March through until early October, despite an initial spike in sign-ups in the March-April period, again potentially fuelled by the pandemic. In particular, the drop-off not only saw sign-ups fall below the average set in the first two months of 2020, but also fall and remain below average sign-ups seen throughout 2019.
As such, Tyche’s figures tend to suggest that, while the Lab is determined to grow SL’s user base through the attraction of new users – a programme it has, to varying degrees, indicated it has been focused on since around mid-2019 – there is still a lot to be done in this area, if the hoped-for growth is to be realised. However, this is somewhat tempered by the fact that given the rise in median concurrency is in part fueled by returning users, it demonstrates that the Lab is correct in focusing a portion of its marketing efforts towards former users who have drifted away for one reason or another.
Land use – or more correctly, grid size – is another metric Tyche tracks, providing as she does regular reports on the overall size of the main grid and the comings and goings of both private and “Linden owned” regions. While the relative size of the grid, if looked at in and of itself only, can be a false or misleading indicator of the overall state of SL, tracking the number of private regions does help in building a picture of LL’s core revenue flow – region tier.
On January 3rd, 2021, Tyche tweeted her year-end analysis on private region numbers, revealing that 2020 saw an overall net growth of some 919 private regions (Full and Homestead) through the year, representing a 5.7% increase.
The majority of this growth came in two bursts: mid-April through to the end of May (with one significant period of shrinkage during the week to Sunday, May 10th, 2020), and then November-December 2020, immediately following the period of unavailability of new regions through the mid-months of the year resulting from the work transitioning SL to AWS services.
While the increase in the size of the grid is not exceptional when compared to increases seen prior to 2011/2012, it is still positive, indicating that there is a general willingness among users to invest in land, helping the Lab’s bottom line. The uptick in 2020 has meant that when the general reduction of Linden-held regions through the year is taken into account, the total number of regions in the grid grew by 3.3%.
Given the difficulties of 2020, Tyche’s figures tend to show Second Life held its own through what has been what might be termed a less-than-optimal year. With the Lab looking to further ramp-up advertising in 2021 (and perhaps further tweaking of the on-boarding process), it’ll be interesting to see how the overall level of users / size of the grid fares through the year.
Despite the pandemic, 2020 proved to be a busy year for space activities, with a range of significant launches of both government-led / overseen missions and private sector launches. However, as busy and as challenging as it was, 2020 potential pales somewhat in comparison to what we should / will hopefully see in 2021. So, as with last year, I thought I’d kick-off Space Sunday in 2021 with a look ahead to some of the year’s space missions.
2021 will see three new arrivals orbiting and landing on Mars.
The first to arrive will be the United Arab Emirates’ Hope spacecraft. Launched on July 20th, 2020 from Tanegashima Space Centre in Japan atop a H-IIA rocket, the mission comprises an orbiter vehicle designed to study the Martian atmosphere and climate.
Built entirely in the UAE, the mission marks the first attempt to operate an interplanetary mission by any West Asian, Arab or Muslim-majority country. It carries a range of science systems provided by the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) and the University of Colorado Boulder with support from Arizona State University (ASU), and the University of California, Berkeley. Hope is due to arrive in an initial orbit around Mars on February 9th, 2021.
China’s Tianwan-1 (“Questions to Heaven”) mission will be the next to arrive in Mars orbit. The precise date has yet to be confirmed, but orbital insertion should happen between the 11th and 24th February, 2021. It is an incredibly ambitious mission, comprising a total of 13 science instruments and experiments, split between two distinct mission elements.
The first of these is the orbiter vehicle, which will commence operations almost immediately. It is tasked with producing Martian surface maps, characterising the Martian atmosphere – notably its ionosphere, measuring the Martian magnetic field, examining the composition of the Martian subsurface via radar, and imaging the surface of Mars in high-resolution. As a part of the latter work, the orbiter will carry out extensive surveys of the proposed landing zones for the second part of the mission: a lander / rover.
These will deploy some time around April 23rd. The rover’s mission is to examine the Martian sub-surface to a depth of around 100 metres using ground-penetrating radar and study of Martian weather systems. In particular, both elements of Tianwen-1 will aim to find evidence of current or past life on Mars.
The third mission that will arrive at the Red Planet will be the NASA Mars 2020 mission, comprising the rover Perseverance and the robot helicopter Ingenuity. Unlike the other two missions, Mars 2020 won’t spend any time in orbit: instead, it will proceed directly to atmospheric entry and delivering its payload to the surface on February 18th, 2021.
The primary goal of Perseverance will be to seek signs of habitable conditions on Mars in the ancient past, and will also search for evidence — or biosignatures — of past microbial life and water. As with Curiosity, the rover is powered by a nuclear “battery”, capable of keeping the rover operating for some 14 years. Based on the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) Curiosity rover, it will be delivered to the surface of Mars in the same manner – using a “skycrane” system.
Ingenuity, the helicopter will arrive on Mars attached to the underside of the rover. Some time in the first few months after arrival, the rover will deposit it on the surface, and it will then complete around 5 flights over a 30-day period. Fully automated, and lasting up to 3 minutes apiece, these flights will each carry Ingenuity up to 10 metres altitude and a distance of up to 600 metres. The primary aim of the mission is to test the ability of an automated aerial vehicle to support ground operations on Mars, in this case, helping to map the best driving route for the rover as it explores Jezero Crater.
While America’s Project Artemis is unlikely to achieve its original goal of returning humans to the surface of the Moon by 2024, the coming years should see a number of significant lunar missions take place in the run-up to an eventual human return to our natural satellite.
In April, NASA will launch CAPSTONE, the Cis-lunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Experiment via a commercial electron rocket. A cubesat mission, CAPSTONE is intended to test and verify the calculated orbital stability planned for the Lunar Gateway space station.
In July a privately-funded mission in support of Artemis will deliver 14 NASA- funded science missions and 14 private-sector missions to the surface of the Moon, including a trio of rovers – one from the USA, one from Japan, and a novel mini walking robot from the UK called Asagumo. Originally a contender for the lunar X-Prize, the Peregrine mission has been expanded by NASA to test technologies that may be used in support of Artemis. It will be the first operational flight of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket.
On October 11th (or thereabouts) the Intuitive Machines 1 (IM-1) mission will similarly deliver a NASA science payload to the surface of the Moon on the company’s NOVA-C lander.
Launched via a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, the mission will target a relatively flat area near Vallis Schröteri in the Oceanus Procellarum (Ocean of Storms), where it will operate the package of 5 science systems on behalf of NASA. Overall, NOVA-C is designed to be a highly flexible lander system standing up to 3 metres tall and capable of delivering a wide range of small payloads to the Moon.
The end of the year should also see the first launch of NASA’s massive Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, intended to be the core workhorse for the Artemis programme, as well as offering a potential heavy launch vehicle NASA’s deep space aspirations.
The Artemis-1 mission, currently slated for November 2021, will be the first launch of a the Block 1 variant of the launcher. It will send an uncrewed Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) to the Moon in a 26-day mission that will include 6 days in which the Orion capsule and its service vehicle will be in a retrograde orbit around the Moon, followed by a return to Earth and splashdown. If successful, the mission will pave the wave for a crewed mission around the Moon in 2023.
October will see Russia make a return to with the launch of the Luna 25 (formerly Luna-Glob) lander combination on October 1st, 2021. Directly to land in the Boguslavsky Crater near the lunar south pole, the mission will characterise the nature of the crater floor, including the presences of any sub-surface water ice, and will attempt to obtain samples for on-board analysis. The mission was renamed “Luna 25” to mark it as a direct continuance of the old Soviet Luna missions, the last of which – Luna 24 – took place in 1976.
India also intends to expand on its lunar presence in 2021 with the launch of its Chandrayaan 3 mission. A proof-of-concept mission, it is designed to deliver a lander and rover directly to the surface of the Moon (no orbiter vehicle will be used), and is a follow-on to India’s Chandrayaan 2, which successfully placed an orbiter of that name about the Moon (which is still operating), but saw a failure with its Vikram lander and Pragyan rover, lost when a software error resulted in them crashing into the Moon, rather than landing on it.