Monday, December 21, 2015

Today in Space History

Normally, I leave reporting on Real Life space events to my friend Inara Pey, but tonight I just had to write to tell you all about the incredible thing I just saw on live webcast.

Space Exploration Technologies, commonly referred to as SpaceX, is a newcomer to the field of rocket science.  But in just a few short years, they have gone from launching their first, small Falcon 1 rocket into orbit to becoming one of the major players in the field of space launch.  Their Falcon 9 medium launch vehicle competes with the much more expensive Atlas V, and SpaceX is one of two companies to have contracts with NASA to deliver cargo to the International Space Station using the Falcon 9 and their Dragon cargo capsule.  Soon, a man-rated version of the Dragon will carry crew members to and from the space station.

Following a launch failure this summer, SpaceX returned to flight in a big way tonight.  A Falcon 9 launched the Orbcomm 2 communications satellite.  The launch was successful.  "Ho hum," I hear you say, "what's the big deal?"

The big deal is that, once the second stage had separated and was on its way into orbit, the first stage of the Falcon 9 booster re-started its engines.  It turned itself around and FLEW BACK to Cape Canaveral.  We saw a brilliant sun falling quickly to earth as the rocket slowed, under control of its computers.  Four landing legs deployed and the huge cylinder settled to earth in a cloud of smoke and flame.  Then the flames died...and there was the booster, sitting on its landing pad...and the engineers in Mission Control erupted in a frenzy of cheering.

This is much more than just a stunt.  One of the things holding back our exploration of space is the enormous cost of getting there.  And one of the big reasons it's so expensive is that we THROW AWAY the rocket.  It's as if you built a Boeing 747, flew it once from New York to London, and then scrapped it.  Elon Musk, the visionary entrepreneur behind PayPal, Tesla Motors, and SpaceX, has just changed that equation.  The cost of getting to space has just dropped by about 90%.

Congratulations to Elon and the SpaceX team.  You've just made history.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

FLASH! Advent

Advent is, according to the church calendar, the four weeks prior to Christmas.  One of the ways many devout Christian families observe the Advent season is with an Advent Calendar, a day-by-day list of prayers, bible passages, and activities.

In Second Life, many popular stores and locations also have "Advent Calendars".  These vary in appearance and operation, but the basic idea is that they make a new gift available every day during the Advent season.  Many of these require you to visit the location every day, because the gift is only available on its designated day.  Others provide a new gift each day, but the previous gifts also remain available for latecomers.

Two of my favorite Advent Calendars are:


Caledon Oxbridge University (go to the koi pond, turn left, then right.  Look for the gazebo between the buildings.)

FLASH! New Avatar Skeleton Features - Project Bento

Many of us have complained over the years about the dearth of facial expressions for human avatars in Second Life.  The avatar skeleton has no facial bones, and facial expressions have been limited to the dozen or so stock "facial morphs," most of which look pretty creepy.

And those of us with non-human avatars have had to crush our bodies up small and hide them inside body attachments, which were often animated with a very complex and often clunky special HUD.

But Linden Lab has just announced the trial release of "Project Bento" which aims to solve both problems by adding a number of "bones" to the avatar skeleton.  The new features are now available for experimentation and comment.

Note that (unfortunately) LL has not changed any of the existing skeleton structure.  Much as I would like to see more realistic movement of, say, the shoulders, I am forced to agree that this was a good decision on their part.  Changing existing bones would break all kinds of content...pretty much any existing animations, and clothing and attachments that depend on those bones for their movement or deformation.

Read all about Project Bento here: