On Thursday, February 11th, Linden Lab announced the release of a new selection of last names for Premium members as a part of the Name Changes capability.
As I noted at the time, the 15 new names added to the list (which also saw the removal of a number of the less popular names from it) included some suitable for the Valentine’s period, and comprised a mix of names suggested by users during the 2019 Last Names competition that was held prior to the launch of Name Changes, and names selected by Linden Lab.
This makes for a quite varied selection of names for those wishing to change their avatar’s last name – but the Lab is always looking for new names that might be suitable.
To this end, the Last Names Suggestions form has been created, allowing anyone who has a suggestion for a potential Second life Last Name to submit it to the Lab for consideration.
When doing so, there are a couple of caveats to note:
The Lab does have an extensive list of names already, so submitted and selected names may not immediately appear in any updates to the list of available Last Names.
At this point in time, the Lab is not re-using any “legacy” Last Names (those users were able to select prior to 2010) – so be sure to check the list of legacy names before submitting your ideas.
About Name Changes
Name Changes is a Premium-only benefit that allows Premium subscribers to change their first name, their last name or both their first and last name on the payment of fee (US $39.99 + VAT / sales tax, where applicable at the time of writing). Through it, users can opt to use any first name of their own choice, while last names are selected from a pre-defined list.
If you are unfamiliar with the capability, you can read more via the following links:
On Tuesday, February 16th, 2021, and in a surprise to Second Life users, Linden Lab’s Vice President of Engineering, Oz Linden (aka Scott Lawrence in the physical world) announced his forthcoming departure from the Lab.
Oz joined Linden Lab in 2010, taking on the role of Director of Open Development. At that time, the viewer was in something of a state of flux; the “new” Viewer 2 had not long been launched, the development of which had largely excluded the user community and, particularly, developers who had long been associated with viewer development through the submission of code contributions.
As a result of this and other factors, users and developers alike were at the time feeling alienated and disenfranchised – facts that Oz immediately recognised and sought to address.
In the first instance this was done by replacing the open-source viewer Snowglobe project with a new Snowstorm project, intended to bring as much of the viewer development out into the open as possible – an approach Oz continued to push for throughout his time at the Lab, thus bringing order and surety out of a time that might be best described as having been “chaotic”.
The most obvious areas in which this was demonstrated was his adoption of weekly Open Source Meetings, initially held on Mondays before moving to their current Wednesday slot. These meetings continued alongside other technical in-world meetings such as the Server and Scripter meeting(now the weekly Simulator User Group), which took place even during the drought of other office hours meetings. He also implement the fortnightly Third Party Viewer Development meetings, allow Third Party Viewer developers to discuss all matters relating to the viewer directly with him and members of the Lab’s viewer engineering team.
In 2013, Oz oversaw the complete overhaul of the Lab’s internal viewer develop process, officially called the Viewer Integration and Release Process, which greatly simplified viewer update and viewer feature development. This project also brought me into my first direct contact with Oz when I offered a summary of the new process. It marked the start of a long and informative acquaintance that I’ve continued to appreciate over the years.
As well as direct contributions to the viewer, Oz also helped open the door to user-led projects aimed at providing broader capabilities for the viewer. While constraints on what could / could not be accepted would always have to be enforced, this approach nevertheless resulted in the adoption of materials in Second Life, and helped to encourage project-based contributions to the viewer that have included capabilities such as the hover height slider, and graphics and camera presets. This approach also included major lab-led projects such as Project Bento also encompass direct user involvement pretty much from their outset.
While it has always been the Lab’s policy to try to recruit personnel from the ranks of users as and when there is a suitable “fit”, in his time at the Lab, Oz has become perhaps one of the most enthusiastic proponents of this approach, frequently seeking – and often succeeding – to recruit qualified users into technical positions under his management.
As the Lab opted to start work on Project Sansar, Oz decided to pro-actively campaign to take on the work in continuing to develop Second Life, drawing to him those within the Lab who also wished to stay engaged in working on the platform. It is not unfair to say this resulted in one of the most intense periods of Second Life development we have seen, interrupted only be the need to focus on the work of transitioning all of Second Life and its services to run on AWS.
In 2019, Oz – together with Grumpity and Patch Linden – officially joined the Lab’s management team, taking on the role of Vice President of Engineering and putting an official seal on what Grumpity refers to as the Troika: the three of them being largely responsible for determining much of the product and feature direction for Second Life.
In announcing his departure, which sees his last day with the Lab being Friday, February 26th, 2021, Oz states that it has been something he’s been considering for a while:
Some time ago, I reached the point that I could afford to think about retiring but decided to stay to finish moving SL to its new cloud platform. I can’t imagine a better last act in my working life than ensuring that Second Life has this better platform for its future growth. Now that project is done (well, except for a few loose ends), and it’s time for me to move on to the next phase of my life.
He also emphasises – hopefully to prevent the rumour mill turning its wheels – that his decision to leave the Lab is not in any way connected to the company recently being acquired by new investors:
I want to emphasise in the strongest possible terms: my decision has nothing at all to do with the change in ownership of the Lab; the timing really is a coincidence. If anything, I regret that I have overlapped with them for only a few weeks; in that time (and in the time leading up to the change) I have come to respect and appreciate the skills and energy they bring to the company.
For my part, I cannot claim to know Oz as well as I would like to – but I’ve always found find his enthusiasm for Second Life never to be anything less than totally honest and infectious, and his high regard for users utterly genuine and sincere.
As such – and while his actual departure from the Lab is still more than a week away, – I’d like to take this opportunity to offer him a personal and public “thank you” for all the times he’s provided me with insight and / or encouraged me to get involved in various projects, all of it has been greatly appreciated. I am, and will be, genuinely saddened to see him leave the Lab; we are all losing something in his departure, and the void left will not be easy for the management team to fill.
Skrunda-2 is a Full region design that has – and quite rightly -been receiving a lot of attention since it opened. Held and designed by Titus Palmira with the assistance of Sofie Janic and Megan Prumier, the build is a representation of what was once a top secret Soviet facility that throughout the cold War era was never acknowledged to exist, but which today is now a most unusual tourist attraction.
The original Skrunda is a small and fairly unremarkable town in western Latvia, with a population of some 3,000 people, and granted “city” status in 1996. However, five kilometres to the north lies Skrunda-1, and it is this enigmatic place that is the focus of the design by Titus, Sofie and Megan.
In brief, Skrunda-1 was established in 1963 as a radar surveillance and early warning centre intended to track incoming ICBMs using two Soviet Dnepr (NATO code-name “Hen House” on account of the two enclosed arms of the array resembling two lines of chicken coops). As a military garrison, the base was essentially a self-sustaining town, a home to an estimated 5,000 personnel and their families when at its peak, and with all the facilities and amenities one might expect of such a town: its own power and water supplies, 10 large apartment blocks to house families, a school, gymnasium, theatre, swimming pool, and of course all the facilities required to support the base itself – workshops, administration offices, an officer’s club and so on.
During the late 1980 / early 1990s, attempts were made to update the base with three installations of Russia’s latest phased array radar early warning systems. However, the collapse of the Soviet Union means this work was never finished, although the Russian Federation continued to use the base and the Dnepr radar until 1998, when they withdrew after negotiations to continue to lease the base to the start of the 2000s, fell through.
In leaving, the Russians took with them all sensitive material and equipment, but left the 60 buildings of the town as something for the Latvian government to deal with – and they pretty much left the sturcutres to rot where they stood. It is in this decaying, deserted stated that Skrunda-2 in Second Life presents the town – and does so very impressively.
Titus notes that the build was “inspired” by Skrunda-1, suggesting that it uses the original as a foundation before striking off on its own. however, while there is some artistic licence (Skrunda-2 appears somewhat coastal, whilst the original is more inland), the overall attention to detail and care taken in design means the Skrunda-2 is actually very reflective of the overall look and feel of its namesake.
Take, for example, the landing point at the town’s main gates. It is marked by two aged block houses and iron gates with a road barrier beyond. They perfectly echo the original entrance to the Skrunda-1 base as can be seen in numerous Internet photos of the ageing town.
And while the hulking, featureless forms of the apartment blocks here may only number four rather than 10, they more than reflect the great white blocks of Skrunda-1 as they sit in lines facing one another across overgrown lawns and broken roads. Meanwhile, beyond the apartments sits a low-slung bunker that, while it lacks the out-flung “chicken coops” of the radar arrays, is an easy stand-in for their central block house command centre.
After twelve years of neglect, the Latvian authorities decided to auction Skrunda-1 as a development site in 2010. It did not go well: bids started at just US $290,000 for the entire site, rising to U$ 3.1 million – only for the winning bidder and the runner-up to then pull out of any deal. A second auction was hastily arranged, with the town selling for just US $333,000 – but it remained abandoned for a further five more years.
In 2015, the Skrunda municipality purchased the site for just over US 14,500, ceding half of it to the Latvian army for training purposes and with the idea of redeveloping the other half. However, during this time the town started to attract tourists, drawn by its Soviet-era mystique (perhaps the rumours that it once being a centre for mind control experiments gave its allure an extra edge. While plans are apparently in-hand for the demolition and replacement of some of the buildings, the local government has acknowledged this interest – by charging admission to the town at US $5.00 per head.
Skrunda-2 perhaps represents the original not too long after its abandonment: old vehicles are still to be found in parking bays close to the apartment blocks, rubbish bags are still piled in some places, and so on, all of which adds to the location’s atmosphere. indeed, there is something to capture the eye literally at every turn, making the setting a photographic delight. And there are also little gems and secrets awaiting discovery – such as the inner workings of a bunker to one side of the town, or the Soviet-era posters and paintings, and the post-Soviet era graffiti and wall paintings that give Skrunda-2 its own unique sense of place.
But for me, the most fascinating little gem awaiting discovery is the one that might be so easily missed. It sits within one of the apartment blocks: a set of rooms still occupied – perhaps the home of the last inhabitant of the town, who departed towards the end of 1999. It’s a quite wonderful setting, that conjures mental images of someone perhaps elderly and clinging to a way of life that has now passed.
Feeling a lot larger than a single region, Skrunda-2 is a tour-de-force in design and presentation; a place that really does carry within it a sense of history, offering insight into a past era that encourages one to go diving into the Internet to seek out more information on this strange town. At the same time, it offers the visitor and the photographer alike a grand amount to take in and appreciate.
Kudos again to Titus, Sofie and Megan for a superb design.