In memoriam: Robin Sojourner

Robin (Sojourner) Wood November 24th, 1953 – April 19th, 2021
It is with a heavy heart that we must report that Robin (Sojourner) Wood passed away after an extended struggle with cancer (phyllodes tumours). She will be remembered for a long history of artwork and instruction.

With these words, Marianne McCann broke the news that one of Second Life’s long-time residents, Robin Sojourner – Robin Wood in the physical world – had passed away.

Robin was, without a doubt, one of the kindest, warmest and most giving hearts in all of Second Life; she never failed to have time for anyone who needed it. Whether it was simple conversation, the need for support, advice on creativity, assistance with solving a problem, or anything else, Robin would never fail to assist. A talented creator both inside and outside of the platform, she always had encouragement and advice for those wishing to express themselves creatively in-world by offering easy-to-follow tutorials via her website and You Tube, as well as providing both practical advice and a range of products and free resources via  Livingtree island, her Second life home.

Then an now: Robin’s original 1LI prim chair and her recent mesh 1 LI creation: a stool draped with one of her quilt designs.  Credit: Bernard Drax

A former teacher, Robin always enjoyed being creative, so much so that during her career she became a noted painter / illustrator, whilst her diverse interests led her into the field of writing, publishing numerous books on a range of subjects,  including stories and fiction, as well as producing essays and thoughts through her blog and website.

Robin came to Second Life in 2004 during a search for a means of artistic and creative expression after fibromyalgia severely impacted her ability to paint and draw. Within the platform, she found the ideal solution.

Not only did Second Life offer an intriguing set of capabilities for creative expression, it also allowed her to work with her arms properly supported by her desk and chair. One aspect of fibromyalgia is that it can result in severe pain, notably in muscles and joints such at the shoulders, elbows and arms, particularly if they have to be raised for lengthy periods without any support, as is the case with painting. In addition, it allowed her to bring all her years of learning various 2D and 3D graphics applications together as a means to enhance her creativity.

One of the aspects of Second Life Robin always appreciated is the fact that it is a “melting pot” environment that allows anyone to (re)discover their innate creative abilities when the physical world so often encourages us to “self-edit” them away from an early age, in the false assumption that “creativity” is somehow exclusive. This was something she noted with considerable thought in a 2013 World Makers video about her, stating in part:

One of the things that has always excited me about Second Life is that people who have no idea that they are creative come into Second Life and find out that they can create things. We are all taught somewhat early that creativity is “reserved” for the creative types and they are “special” and there are only a few of them – and it’s just not true. All of us can be creative.

– Robin (Sojourner) Wood, via World Makers (2013)

Robin’s store on Livingtree Island – a wealth of creativity and support for residents and creators alike

As a part of this outlook, Robin was always quick to embrace the significant changes we’ve seen within the platform over the years. She was one of the first to adopt mesh into her creative output and to offer tutorials and videos on making quality mesh items. Similarly, she quickly folded materials and other emerging capabilities into her work as and where appropriate.

This outlook also put Robin in a position where she could – with a wry sense of humour – offer truths about the general negative ballyhoo and foot-stomping that so often comes immediately after any change made to the platform.

[With] every single thing that has ever happened in Second Life people have yelled, “It’s the end of Second Life as we know it!” And in fact it is – because it keeps getting better!

– Robin (Sojourner) Wood, via World Makers (2013)

Robinton, Masterharper of Pern (oil, 1980) gained worldwide recognition for its depiction of one of Anne McCaffrey’s most-loved characters from her Dragonriders series. So much so that McCaffrey purchased the original from Robin to hang in her home.

Not only did Robin believe there is potential in all of us to be creative, she demonstrated it in very practical means, notably to her students.

As an accomplished painter and illustrator, her work has graced the covers and pages of numerous books and publications, and is utterly captivating in its style and depth. But rather than just show her works as an established artist, Robin never avoided showing her early efforts whilst learning her crafts, noting that if students and children could see how her work progressed from humble origins to incredibly rich and established pieces she went on to produce, then they might think, “if she can do this, why shouldn’t I?”

Robin’s belief that Second Life is a melting pot also extended to pushing back against the general false dichotomy often found within and without the platform that engaging in it is a matter of “either / or”. From outside of Second Life this can be expressed in views that really, you should be doing something “better” with your time; from within the platform, it can frequently be found in the idea of keeping “SL and RL entirely separate”.

Yet, as Robin demonstrated throughout her time as a Second Life resident, while we might not always see our avatars as being part of us, they are nevertheless a natural conduit of all of our ability to express ourselves and engage with others; our thoughts and outlook inform our avatars, and they in turn inform those around us – just as with our physical world interactions.

Similarly, our engagement with Second life can be as much a part of our physical lives as going out to socialise with friends in a park or through video calls, or going into the garden and spending a couple of hours tending to the flowers there – and be just as personally fulfilling.

Robin and her partner Michael with one of the quilts Robin would design via computer and then create in both Second Life and the physical world, illustrating the reality that the platform can be as positive a part of someone’s life as something like gardening. Credit: Bernard Drax

In addition to her creativity, Robin’s interests were wide-ranging, incorporating Wicca, tarot – she authored two books on the latter and also designed The Robin Wood Tarot, a set of tarot cards published by Llewellyn Worldwide in 1991 -, community and societal issues including LGBTQ rights, women’s rights and politics. She also wrote numerous books, including The People of Pern, co-authored with Anne McCaffrey herself – although I admit my personal favourite being The Theory of Cat Gravity.

Not even a diagnosis of phyllodes tumours (a form of breast cancer which can be particularly aggressive, requiring a full range of treatments – excision followed by radiation therapy / chemo therapy / further revision surgery) initially prevented Robin from creating and supporting others.  In particular, she wrote a series of blog posts on her condition in the hope of encouraging those also suffering from phyllodes / breast cancer / cancer  to seek treatment in it various forms, and what to expect from it.

Sadly, given the aggressive nature of phyllodes it can have a high rate of recurrence, and this is what happened with Robin, who suffered a relapse in mid-2020, and succumbed to the cancer on Monday, April 19th 2021.

To honour and remember her, there will be a memorial gathering for all who knew or encountered Robin to attend. This will be on Sunday, April 25th, 2021, commencing at 18:00 SLT.  Those attending will be encouraged to share their memories and stories about her.

With thanks to Marianne McCann

For those unable to make the memorial, Livingtree Island will remain open for a time under the care of Marianne McCann and Pygar Bu, and an invitation is extended to visit and to follow the luminaria path that has been set out in personal reflection.

To Robin’s partner Michael, their family and all who knew Robin as a relative or friend, I offer my deepest condolences. As Marianne notes, Robin will be long remembered for all of her time in Second Life, and will be deeply missed.

As  a mark of Robin’s life and philosophy, I’ll close by including her 2013 interview filmed as a part of the Drax Files World Makers series.

With thanks to Marianne McCann.

Related Links

Linden Lab: L$ buy fee change + 2FA/TPV and Map tile updates – UPDATED

via Linden Lab

There have been a series of announcements from the the Lab – formal and informal – that I’m catching up on.

Linden Dollar “Buy” Fee Change

The biggest – and the one formal announcement – is the notice that Linden Dollar “buy” fees are changing as from Thursday, April 22nd, 2021.

Currently, a flat fee of US $.149 is applied to all Linden Dollar purchases. From April 22nd this will be changing. As of that date:

  • A new 7.5% buy fee will be applied, based on the total value of the transaction purchase amount, up to a maximum of US $9.99 per purchase transaction.
  • The US $1.49 will become the minimum fee charged per purchase transaction.

Examples:

  • You purchase US $15 of Linden Dollars – 7.5% of 15 is  $1.10 and less than US $1.49 – so the fee charged is US $1.49.
  • You purchase US $30 of Linden Dollars – 7.5% of 30 is $2.25 and greater than US $1.49, so the fee charged is US $2.25.
  • You purchase US $150 of Linden Dollars – 7.5 of 150 is US $11.25 and greater than US $9.99, so the fee charged is US $9.99.

Note that this new fee structure only applies to the purchase of Linden Dollars. Fees applied on the sale of L$ when cashing-out remain unchanged.

The reason for this changes has been given as helping to off-set costs involved in assorted service improvements. However, rather than repeat the entire official blog post here, please follow the link to read it in full, and should you be so minded, the lively forum discussion on the change can be found here.

Two-Factor Authentication and TPVs

Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) is a  project the Lab is in the process of developing in order to improve access security across Second Life systems and services (and which gets a mention from Reed Linden in the above forum thread on increased Linden Dollar “buy” fees).

The future introduction of 2FA – and please note, there is currently no time frame for when this will happen – has prompted some to voice fears that it could “put an end” to third-party viewers.

However such fears / concerns are not justified.

Speaking at the Third-Party Viewer Development meeting on Friday, April 16th, both Vir Linden and Grumpity Linden, the Lab’s Vice President of Product commented on the matter:

  • Vir Linden:
We don’t know all the details about how 2FA is going to work, but we’re certainly not going to be disabling third-party viewers. That would be a large change.
  • Grumpity Linden:
That would be crazy and stupid. And while we may make mistakes here and there, on the whole they’re not crazy or stupid…
In general I would like to think that we have shown over many recent years that we’re committed to working closely with the TPV community to make sure that our changes are actually beneficial and incorporated and roll out in a predictable manner, and I intend for this to continue. 

World Map Update

Also at the TPV Developer meeting, Grumpity supplied an update on the world Map tile generation situation:

I’m also going to do a thing that is an absolute taboo and I totally shouldn’t be doing; but we’re in the process of putting out updates to Map generation. So fingers crossed, [things will] get back to normal. It has turned out to be a much bigger effort than anyone had wanted it to be … we wouldn’t have chosen for this to be so hard.

For those wishing to hear the comments via the video recording of the meeting, they can be found at 6:05 through 8:01 in the video, with Grumpity’s Map tile generation comments coming first.

UPDATE 17th April

Alexa and April linden both confirmed the deployment of the new map tile generation software has been successful and is now working better than ever.

Lab provides update on Group Chat

via Linden Lab

As many people are aware, Group Chat has had some problems of late, particularly with group chats failing, messages being dropped, etc.

One of the major causes of this has been known to be the manner in which the Group Chat member list updates – people in a group coming on-line, those going off-line and making the necessary updates to the group members list, then sending those updates to all the members of a group.

As you can imagine, all of this can take up a lot of time – in fact at a TPV Developer meeting before his departure, Oz Linden indicated that the service can spend more time managing these updates than in actually handling group chat messages. At the time, he indicated that Linden Lab was considering various ways in which the number of updates could be reduced to ease the load.

On Monday, April 5th, 2021, Maestro Linden provided an update via the Technology → Second Life Server forum on what has now been done to the Group member list updates  – and what the viewer will display as a result. In it, he describes the changes thus:

What changed, exactly?
Second Life has historically listed all the people on-line in a group or ad-hoc chat session.  In an effort to improve overall chat performance, we have limited when these updates are sent.
The Second Life group chat servers has been modified so that large group (over 10 on-line at once) will work so that only moderators get the full list of everyone on-line. Non-moderators now only see on-line moderators listed in the group chat participants list, for large groups.   Groups with 10 or fewer users on-line should not be affected by this change.
How does this change appear in the viewer?
The list of visible group chat participants shown in the Conversations panel, when the drop-down menu is expanded.  Before this change, the participants list would show all on-line members who were currently subscribed to the group’s chat session.  With this change, updates to list is limited for large groups, as described above, unless the “Moderate Group Chat” ability is enabled for the agent.
Will this change affect who can send or receive a group chat message?
No, regular chat messages are unaffected by this change – any group member with the “Join Group Chat” ability will be able to participate in group chat just as before.

– Maestro Linden in Group Chat member list updates, April 5th

While this change means general members of a group many not always be able to seen the full member’s list for the group, the change has been made in the belief that it is more important to be able to send and receive messages in a chat session rather than view the full group list.

How well the change works in practice remains to be seen; there have been response on the thread that indicate some are seeing no significant changes to their group chat sessions – although it’s not clear from the forum post quite when the change to the service was made, and whether or not it is something that will take time to propagate out sufficient for all all users to see benefits.

As well as indicating that additional back-end updates to monitoring tools have been made to allow Lab staff to better monitor SL systems and services, Maestro commented on whether or not this change will be “permanent”:

I would expect this change to remain in place in medium term – there are currently no plans to revert it. That said, I would not declare the change as “permanent” – group chat will continue to evolve as Linden Lab evaluates its performance and tweaks the design.

– Maestro Linden in Group Chat member list updates, April 5th.

For further information, please refer to the forum post, as linked to above.

Don’t forget: Friday Feb 26th – Lab Gab AWS update and a farewell

via Linden Lab

Just a quick reminder to folks who may not have caught the official announcement at the start of the week.

The latest edition of the Lab’s chat show series hosted by Strawberry Linden, Lab Gab, streams at 11:00 am on Friday, November 26th. And it’s a special show.

As most are aware, the work to transition Second Life to operating via Amazon Web Services (AWS) was completed at the end of December 2020, and the Lab has completely moved out of its former co-location facility in Arizona.

Since then work has been continuing to make tweaks and updates to both help get some services that didn’t make the transition as smoothly as hoped (perhaps most notably to most people, Map tile updates) once again running as they should, with work also progressing on fine-tuning things, with the Lab looking to better optimise their services to take full advantage of the the hardware and infrastructure provided AWS.

Given all this, the show will feature Grumpity and Oz Linden, respectively the Lab’s Vice President of Product and Vice President of Engineering, will be providing a update on how things are going.

Oz and Grumpity Linden, with Strawberry Linden between them, will be appearing on Lab Gab on Friday, February 26th, at 11:00am SLT. Image courtesy of linden Lab

In addition, Friday, February 26th marks the end of an era. As he recently announced, Oz  Linden is retiring from the Lab as from today, as so the show marks once of his last public appearances as a member of the Lab’s management team – and indeed as a Linden.

In his time at the Lab – which amounts to something over 10 years -, he has achieved and overseen a lot, and has been responsible both directly and indirectly for making Second Life a much more capable platform, and in building a solid and fruitful relationship with both third-party viewer developers and the open-source community in Second Life; he also makes no secret of the fact that he has enjoyed his time at the Lab immensely.

To mark the fact that this is potentially the last time the users will get to hear from Oz, the show will also look back over his time at  the Lab – so be sure not to miss it and hear from him on a personal level.

You can catch it through the Lab’s streaming outlets on YouTube, Facebook, or Periscope, and I’ll more than likely have a summary of the show out within 24 hours of it airing.

Lab invites users to suggest new SL last Names

via Linden Lab

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:

 

Oz Linden announces his forthcoming departure from Linden Lab

Oz Linden, circa 2014

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.

Oz in his human form. Credit: Linden Lab

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.