Saturday, June 28, 2014

Game Changers

This blog is almost entirely about Second Life (and occasionally, other virtual worlds.)  But I just had a thought that I wanted to share with you all about Game Changers.

Game Changers (with the capitals, please!) are innovations.  They could be things like social institutions, or novel investment schemes, but since I happen to be trained as a scientist and engineer, I tend to think of them as actual inventions.  A Game Changer is something that is so revolutionary that it completely revises the world and the way we look at it.  The automobile and the airplane were Game Changers.  The personal computer and the internet were Game Changers.

Here are three Game Changers that we need very badly, and they all have to do with energy.
  1. Cheap, clean power.  No, not wind, solar, or nuclear power.  I mean something really cheap, and really clean.  There are rumors of this sort of Game Changer here and there on the internet.  Most of them are probably hoaxes, or at least wishful thinking on the part of their proponents.  However, I recently ran across a report of an Italian fellow who claims to have made cold fusion work in a generator about the size of a picnic cooler.  Independent investigators confirmed that the device seems to be making a heck of a lot more heat than can be attributed to any chemical reaction, but the inventor hasn't come forth with any of the details of how it works.  So, it could be a hoax as well...but we NEED something like this so much!  Even if this report is a hoax, there are others working on the problem.  Electrostatic confinement for fusion looks very promising, if they can just scare up some funding.
  2. High power density storage.  Batteries suck.  They are heavy, expensive, contain harmful chemicals, and don't store nearly enough power.  The person who invents the battery that stores as much energy as your car's gas tank, in the same weight and volume, will go down in history.  And there is a report that some scientists have (maybe!) come up with a way to do it, by producing "spongy" electrodes that have enormous surface area for their physical size.  If the lab experiment can be scaled up to an industrial process, we could see cell phone batteries the size of postage stamps that charge in ten seconds and last for days.  We could see REAL electric cars, at prices like today's gas buggies.
  3. Low loss power transmission.  We need a low cost room temperature superconductor.  I haven't seen any recent reports in this area, but the problem is being worked on.  I hope there's a breakthrough soon.
And one more, not in the energy area:  Really high strength materials.  There are great strides being made every day in this field, particularly with "carbon nanotubes."  As we learn more about this stuff, we could find our cars becoming so light you could pick up a car body.  Or someone building a "space elevator," and making it possible to get into orbit without all those expensive and risky rockets.  No, no, I am dead serious.  Game Changer, remember?

And one last one, this time in industrial processes:  3D printing.  Right now, you can get a "maker cell" that will let you "print" plastic jewelry and knick-knacks in your own home.  There are industrial 3D printers that can "print" rocket engine parts, or medical prosthetics.  Even actual replacement internal organs, or skin.  There is a big machine that can extrude concrete to "print" an entire house right on the building site.  They are even "printing" food!  The latest term for this sort of thing is "additive manufacturing."  Instead of cutting parts out of a chunk of material, the parts are built up in many layers with an extrusion or spraying type of machine that's controlled by a computer and a digital template.

All right, let's tie this discussion back to virtual worlds, at least a little bit.  Virtual worlds are, at least potentially, a Game Changer too.  Second Life and its competitors have changed the way in which we interact with others, as well as the way we perceive others.  As the fidelity of the virtual world experience increases, we'll see even greater impacts on our lives.

Game Changers are, by definition, unexpected.  And they have unexpected consequences, both good and bad.  The airplane ushered in an age of cheap, rapid travel to anywhere in the world...and warfare in a whole new dimension.

Keep your eyes open for new developments.  The future is almost sure to be more wild and crazy than we can imagine, thanks to Game Changers.

FUD and Second Life II

Are you familiar with today's Internet acronym?  "FUD" stands for "Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt," but it's much more than that.  It's the term for the web's version of mass hysteria.  You know, the phenomenon where people in a crowd can panic and become a fear-crazed mob, even though its individual members are reasonable, rational people.

It happens on the internet too.  In fact, it can happen even easier because of a number of factors.  First, the "data rate" of communication on the web is much lower than in a face to face communication.  You see only words, not the facial expressions and emotions that go along with them.  And this makes it easy to mistake the meaning of the message, or to impose some new meaning that the originator didn't intend.  Second, there is the speed with which rumors can spread.  The web, and social media like YouTube, FaceBook, and Twitter allow rumors and opinions masquerading as facts to spread practically at the speed of thought.

Which brings us to this week's latest news.  You've probably already heard something about it, because there are lots of bloggers who write about this stuff before I finally get around to it.  Linden Lab announced that they are working on a successor to Second Life, a new and improved virtual world.

Oh, you hadn't heard?  Cruise over to Inara Pey's blog and this post, and it will give you the straight word from LL, plus links to lots of other discussions.)  But you SHOULD have heard.  Pete Linden sent out a broadcast email to everyone announcing the project.

Basically, the facts are these:  LL is, indeed, working on a new platform that they hope will be an even better virtual world than SL.  It's still a long way off, and there are still a lot of questions that even LL doesn't know the answers to.  Second Life is not going away any time soon.  It won't be going away even when the "new" world goes live, at least as long as it's profitable for LL to keep it going.  Second Life As We Know It should be around for years to come.

And the new project sounds exciting.  I'd love to go to a virtual world with better creation tools, more realism, deeper immersion, better physics.  Hey, maybe even weather!  Simulated plants and animals with a life cycle and an ecology!  Buoyancy in water!  (No, I don't know if LL's new creation will have any of this stuff.  I'm just tossing off ideas that I think would be cool.)

But now comes the inevitable FUD.  It was not long before people were screaming in panic on the Second Life forums.  "OMG, I won't be able to use my favorite viewer!  I'll have to leave SL!"  "I hear everyone is going to have to pay to use it!"  "Crap, we'll have to use our Real Life names and have avatars that look just like us in RL!"

I think this is a good time to sit back, take a deep breath, and CALM THE FUCK DOWN, people!  Gosh, it felt good to say that.  The real truth is, we DON'T know very much about this new project.  Heck, even LL doesn't know the answers to a lot of the questions.  I, for one, am excited by the possibilities.  And I'm willing to wait patiently to See What Happens before I panic.  It's WAY too soon to panic.  So stop panicking, already, OK?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Happy Birthday to Us!

This week marks Second Life's 11th Birthday celebrations!  It's all called SL11B for short, and a Google search will turn up more things to see and do than you can possibly fit into a week.

For those interested in pinpoint accuracy, the actual Birthday was yesterday, June 23.  But the events go on all week, on the Birthday sims and at many other places all over the Grid.  The Second Life Destinations Guide has a special category for SL11B events, be sure to check it out!

I took a very quick spin through just a few of the exhibits and builds, and here are some pictures to whet your appetite.

There are flags at many locations.  These were near the arrival point, along with the colorful birthday cake in the background.

Welcome to the Party!
For many years now, the Cake Stage build has been a highlight of the Birthday.  At the end of the week, the Cake Stage blows up!  It's a different build every year.  This year, it's not much like a fact, it reminds me of the Evil Citadel of the Master Control Program in "Tron."
The Cake Stage (Outside)

Cake Stage Interior
The Live Stage is interesting...the performers stand on a pair of enormous hands!
You're in Good Hands!

The DJ Stage looks like the inside of a starship docking bay, or maybe a futuristic industrial facility.

There are a great many fantastical builds, but some are very fine models of Real Life landmarks, like the Seattle Space Needle.

There was a nice exhibit touting the Star Wars Roleplay group.  They have several Star Wars themed areas you can visit in Second Life and play a part in the Star Wars universe.

I've always liked surfing in SL, but I had no idea there was an organization for it!  Visit this exhibit and you can actually surf inside a big transparent sphere!  Free surfing clothes for both men and women, too.
Surf's Up!
There's also an area where you can pick up lots of free gifts and souvenirs...both from Resident creators and from Linden Lab.
"Wonderous (sic) Gifts"

 See the SL11B website for lots more information and the latest updates!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

FLASH! SL Birthday Regions Open. Let the Party Begin!!

The regions for Second Life's 11th Birthday celebration officially open today (Sunday, June 22) at 1200 SL time.  The Flag Raising ceremony will be at 1230, and can be viewed from any of 12 locations.  If you can't get into one, try another.

There will be lots and lots of performances and events and things to do and see this year, but it's only for a week, so don't miss it!  Find news of SL11B on the official LL blogs, in the Destinations guide, in Events listings, and on the SL 11B website.

There's a photo contest, and LL is offering a prize of $L10,000 for the best photo depicting the theme of "Celebrating Your Second Life".  You must have a Facebook account in order to enter.  See here for details:

Here are the Flag Raising locations:

The Eastern Flags

The North Western Flags

The South Western Flags

Sunday, June 15, 2014

FLASH! LL Updates Mesh Starter Avatars

Just a quick note to let you all know that LL has changed the Human style Mesh starter avatars so that they are modifiable.

More details on this LL blog post:

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Shop Till You Drop...and Do Good!

Hi, faithful readers!  It's your somewhat less faithful Second Life correspondent, back again.  I've just returned from what may just be Second Life's biggest shopping mall...the ten regions of Fashion For Life.

FFL also has a website with more information:  Fashion For Life Website

FFL is a major annual event that supports another big annual Second Life event, Relay for Life.  There are events and donation kiosks all over SL every spring.  It's the largest charity drive in Second Life. 
And Fashion For Life is, arguably, the largest part of that charity drive.  Ten whole regions, featuring a great many of Second Life's top designers.  Not just clothes, but hair, nails, shoes, accessories...why, I even picked up a suit of futuristic combat armor!

Every single vendor in those ten sims gives at least a portion of its sales to RFL.  That's a lot of money collected for a good cause, a few painless pennies at a time.

FFL is worth visiting even if you are not a shopaholic.  Each sim has a different theme, and all of them are very well done.  I visited a beach boardwalk, a spaceport, and a Route 66 desert town that reminded me so strongly of Arizona that I got hot and thirsty.

For those who like games, many of the merchants at FFL have Gacha machines, as well as regular product vendors.  A Gacha machine is like a one-armed bandit, a slot machine.  You pay it some money, and it gives you a random product from among its contents.  The bonus is, you generally pay a lot less for a Gacha prize than you would if you bought it in a regular vendor.  The price you pay for this discount is, you don't know exactly what you will get!  (The machine will show a picture of the possible prizes, so you will have SOME idea of the possible outcomes.)

But there is a bigger game at FFL, too.  At the arrival point is a "Redemption Center" showing maybe twenty or thirty prizes.  To get one of them, you are going to have to go on a hunt.  First, pick up and wear a "Passport HUD."  Then, as you wander the FFL sims, look for special Gacha areas that have a RFL Souvenir kiosk.  There is only one of these on each of the ten FFL sims.  You pay this kiosk $L50 for its souvenir, and then wear or rez it.  When you do, your Passport HUD collects a stamp.
When you have all ten stamps on your passport, return to the Redemption Center and claim your prize of choice.

For a speed shopper like myself, FFL does have a couple of annoyances.  Flight is not allowed, and teleports are limited to the sim arrival points.  This forces one to walk, or at most run, through the area.  But this does have the effect of making you stop to look at things, both the many items for sale and the beautiful builds themselves.  Slow down and stroll!

My time was limited, and I wish I'd had longer to explore.  Even in the short time I was there, I spent more money than I'd planned to...but I consoled myself that a lot of it was going to a very good cause!

Fashion For Life will be open through June 20...another two weeks.  So don't wait too long to visit!
Arriving at FFL Redemption Center

Just a few of the many participating designers
Some Gacha games

An official souvenir vendor and a stamp on my passport

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Cars 'N Stuff

Full Disclosure right up front.  Today's post is about a friend of mine, ADudeNamed Anthony.  Anthony, or "Ant" as he's known to his friends, is an amazing builder.  I first met him when he was very new to Second Life and just learning the ropes.

Well, he learned fast, and he has far surpassed me.  These days, Ant works in Mesh using Blender.  He builds many things, but lately he has been specializing in vehicles.  Classic cars, to be exact...very authentic looking reproductions of everything from a bread truck to a Ferrari.
Fresh Digital Bread!

The Classic Bug...Comes in Herbie Colors Too!

Shiny Sports Cars!

Retro, Anyone?

Ant's cars are notable for a number of things.  The first is the low prim count.  These vehicles are highly detailed and realistic, and they all fit into the 32 prim land impact that's the maximum for a Second Life physical vehicle.  Other vehicle makers cheat on this by making vehicles in two part that is invisible, the vehicle itself, and a second, high prim part that the driver wears as an attachment.  Ant's cars avoid this clumsy workaround, and they STILL look great.

The second good thing is their driveability.  These cars are easy to drive, as well as having realistic handling.

And the third thing is features, features, features!  When you sit in one of Ant's cars, you don't just teleport into the driver's seat.  Your avatar does an animation, opens the car door, and sits down.  When you gun the engine, your passenger's facial expression shows fear.  When you put the car into reverse, your avatar turns, drapes her arm over the seat back, and looks to the rear.

Engine sounds.  Exhaust smoke.  Tire smoke when you burn out.  Working windshield wipers, working radio, working lights...including a "light beams on the road ahead" effect.  Working turn signals and backup lights.  The hood opens and displays a running engine.  I have never seen a vehicle, even very expensive ones, with features like these!

Every vehicle has a color menu too, and can be instantly "painted" in a number of color schemes.

And the prices are reasonable!  $L750 - $L1250.

But the very coolest of his creations isn't for sale.  Ant has made a "demolition derby" car.  Come to one of the Bay City race nights when these are featured and you can play a grownup version of Bumper Cars that's sure to leave you in stitches...of laughter.  The cars suffer an increasing amount of damage, depending on how hard, how often, and where they are hit.  As the damage accumulates, smoke starts to fill the cockpit.  Finally, when your car gives up the ghost, it explodes, leaving you standing amid a heap of pieces.  Or maybe you will emerge victorious and take a victory lap, passing the steaming hulks of your conquests.

Ant does custom work, if your project interests him.  He recently created a perfect replica of a 1970 Opel GT for my partner Cindi, complete with a picture of Penelope Pitstop on the hood.  Thanks, Ant!

Find his creations at 2ZM Motors!