Category Archives: News

Oculus VR Principal Scientist to address OpenSimulator Conference

2014 banner

On Tuesday July 22nd, Chris Collins, writing on behalf of the 2nd OpenSimulator Community Conference, announced that one of the keynote speakers at the event will be Dr. Steve LaValle.

Dr. LaValle, a professor of Computer Science at the University of Illinois, is the principal scientist for Oculus VR, and he will be addressing attempts to bring the Oculus Rift headset to the mass consumer market.

Dr. Steven LaValle (image: )

Dr. Steven LaValle (image: University of Illinois)

Since Palmer Luckey’s 2012 prototype demonstrated that smartphone-based advances in display and sensing technology can enable a lightweight, high field-of-view VR experience that is affordable by the masses, widespread interest has grown across many industries, research labs, and potential end users of the VR technology. Dr. LaValle’s talk will highlight ongoing technical challenges, including game development, user interfaces, perceptual psychology, and accurate head tracking.

He is certainly well-placed to be able to do so, having been working with Oculus VR since a few days after its successful Kickstarter campaign and has led its R&D efforts up to its $2 billion acquisition by Facebook in March 2014.

Commenting on Dr. LaValle’s appearance at the conference, Cris Collins, who is serving at the conference chair, said, “With all the excitement surrounding the Oculus Rift and other virtual reality technologies, we want the virtual reality community to know that OpenSimulator is a great platform for building the open metaverse.

“OpenSimulator has hundreds of thousands of registered users and a land mass twice the size of Second Life. It’s the only open source platform with an Oculus Rift ready viewer that already has hundreds of interconnected worlds operating in an emerging metaverse and thousands of worlds run privately by corporations, schools, government agencies, nonprofits, and individuals.”

About the OpenSimulator Conference

The OpenSimulator Community Conference is an annual conference that focuses on the developer and user community creating the OpenSimulator software.  Organized as a joint production by the Overte Foundation and AvaCon, Inc., the conference features two days of presentations, workshops, keynote sessions, and social events across diverse sectors of the OpenSimulator user base.

The 2014 OpenSimulator Conference will take place on the OpenSimulator Conference Centre grid on November 8th and 9th, 2014, with registrations opening on September 15th, 2014, and interested parties can sign up to receive an email reminder to register.

The conference will include four themed tracks and a Learning Lab for hands on hackerspaces, speedbuilds, and more:

About the Organisers

The Overte Foundation is a non-profit organization that manages contribution agreements for the OpenSimulator project.  In the future, it will also act to promote and support both OpenSimulator and the wider open-source 3D virtual environment ecosystem.

AvaCon, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the growth, enhancement, and development of the metaverse, virtual worlds, augmented reality, and 3D immersive and virtual spaces. We hold conventions and meetings to promote educational and scientific inquiry into these spaces, and to support organized fan activities, including performances, lectures, art, music, machinima, and much more. Our primary goal is to connect and support the diverse communities and practitioners involved in co-creating and using virtual worlds, and to educate the public and our constituents about the emerging ecosystem of technologies broadly known as the metaverse.

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Second Life helps cane growers learn about sustainable farming practices and more

There is no doubting that Second Life is an excellent platform for teaching and learning. That’s been demonstrated time and again, with many and varied educational and distance learning programmes being run through the platform, and with many schools, colleges, universities and other organisations making use of Second Life for a wealth of education and learning activities over the years.

One of the more intriguing means of using the platform educational purposes has been recently highlighted in an Australian Broadcasting Corporation website and video report, Queensland’s Cane Farmers Learn About Climate Change Via Virtual Reality World, which outlines a project initiated in 2012 by the University of Southern Queensland (USQ), Australia, and which is now being extended.

Sweet Success is a programme developed by the Australian Digital Futures Institute (ADFI) and the International Centre of Applied Climate Sciences (ICACS) at USQ. It uses machinima created in Second Life to encourage Queensland’s sugarcane farmers to consider sustainable farming practices (including their own environmental impact on the land), and to stimulate discussion about how to incorporate an understanding of climate risk into their decision-making.

Sweet Success sought to better inform sugar cane farmers on climate and environmental impact using digital techniques, including machinima filmed in Second Life

Sweet Success sought to better inform sugar cane farmers on climate and environmental impact using digital techniques, including machinima filmed in Second Life

The videos are set in an environment typical of that found in Queensland’s cane growing region, and feature a number of individuals typical of the character and disposition of Queensland cane farmers. Lasting some 3-5 minutes, the films serve as both a focal point for discussion and as  a means to introduce the farmers to the climate information, interactive models, etc., which might be used to better inform their farming decisions.

The initial programme involved around 20 sugar cane farmers who were able to watch the films, study the material and discuss the issues and ideas raised. While there was some initial scepticism, the farmers admitted the videos were a positive means of passing on information on things they may not have thought about.

Dr. Helen Farley, one of the researchers involved in Sweet Success, and her SL alter-ego

Dr. Helen Farley, one of the researchers involved in Sweet Success, and her SL alter-ego

Dr. Kate Farley, one of the Digital Futures faculty members involved in the project, and herself a long-term advocate for the use of virtual worlds for learning and teaching in higher education, describes the decision to use Second Life as being primarily a matter of finance and convenience: Second Life allowed the films to be put together at a far lower cost and much quicker than would have been the case with live action location shooting.

Matt Kealley, senior manager of environment and natural resources for the Canegrowers industry group sees the approach as potentially offering the means to deliver a lot of information on farming, climate, weather and so on to his members. He also believes that once the novelty of being presented with a film shot in a virtual environment had worn off, his members found the information presented to be “compelling” in content and value.

In fact, such has been the success of the pilot programme, the project has now been expanded to include some 400 Queensland sugarcane growers.

Dr. Kate Reardon-Smith of the ACSC

Dr. Kate Reardon-Smith of the ACSC

While the cost-effective nature of using Second Life as a film medium might have been the primary consideration in using it for the Sweet Success films, Dr. Farley, together with fellow researcher, Dr. Kate Reardon-Smith, believes that the approach has other benefits as well.

Leading a series of presentations on the work, both Dr. Farley and Dr. Reardon-Smith point to the use of Second Life as being ideal for addressing matters of climate risk assessment, sustainable farming methods and so on for a wide variety of farming locations and systems, simply through the use culturally appropriate clothing, language and design. In addition, the digital nature of the finished product makes it easy to package with the supporting material for dissemination anywhere in the world.

Nor is Sweet Success the only activity undertaken by USQ to use Second Life as a means of educating farmers. In 2010, ICACS, under its old title of the Australian Centre for Sustainable Catchments (ACSC), joined with the Asia-Pacific Network to use Second Life avatars as a means to present real world climate-based scenarios to farmers in the Andhra Pradesh region of India. The aim of the project was to challenge farmers about on-farm decisions that involve seasonal climate risk. As a distance learning project, it was delivered to Internet kiosks within the region where farmers could then discuss and debate the issues raised.

The ACSC-APN project in the Andhra Paresh region of India also used Second Life as a means to

The ACSC-APN project in the Andhra Pradesh region of India also used Second Life as a means to engage farmers on the subject of seasonal climate risk and farming decisions

All told, both of these projects present a unique and fascinating extension of the use of Second Life as an educational medium and for distance learning.

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All images via the University of Southern Queensland

Lab updates on forthcoming improvements to SL

On Thursday July 17th, the Lab issued a blog post outlining further improvements being made to the Second Life platform.

Following a short introduction, the post reiterates the arrival of Experience Keys, and the new demonstration game for this capability – The Cornfield. For those interested, I have a review of the game available, and an overview of both Experience Keys and the Experience Keys project viewer, which can be downloaded from the Lab’s Alternate Viewers wiki page.

The Cornfield, the Experience Keys demonstrator game, gets a further mention in the blog post (note the game play area iuses a much darker and more atmospheric windlight)

The Cornfield, the Experience Keys demonstrator game, gets a further mention in the blog post (note the game play area uses a much darker and more atmospheric windlight)

The post then goes on to highlight three aspects of the platform which are currently being enhanced (note this is not an exhaustive list of all work that is being carried out – it’s just three of the projects thought to be of particular interest to SL users):

Improving Group Chat Performance

Today, group chat messages can sometimes take a long time to be delivered, and in some cases delivery fails entirely. This is an issue that impacts lots of Second Life users, and it’s something we’re actively working to improve. Anyone should be able to reliably hold a conversation using group chat in Second Life without delivery delays or other problems.

We’re carefully monitoring the effects of the changes we make to improve group chat performance, and so far, the results of efforts like upgrading the servers that host chat have been positive. We anticipate that the work to improve group chat performance will continue for some time as we identify the underlying causes of the issues, experiment with different fixes, and analyze results, and as we move forward, we’ll use this blog to share our progress.

Implementing the Chrome Embedded Framework

We’re working to upgrade the component of the Viewer that’s responsible for rendering web content, including the Viewer splash screen (displayed before login), the content of a number of floaters, and inworld media-on-a-prim. This is important because it will fix a number of bugs (especially related to streaming media) that currently affect many Second Life users, and it will also make available many modern web features that aren’t possible with the Viewer today.

We’re making good progress on this initiative already, and expect to have an experimental Project Viewer ready for testing soon.

More Texture and Mesh Loading Improvements

Building upon the performance enhancements we made with Project Shining, we are continuing to make improvements to how the Viewer retrieves texture and mesh data from our servers.

The next round of improvements will reduce the number of connections the Viewer needs to get this data (making it easier on your router and network), while also using each connection to retrieve more data more quickly (for the technically inclined, this means that among other things we will add support for HTTP pipelining).

These improvements will mean that as you explore Second Life, objects will appear more quickly and reliably, especially for users who have longer latency connections (higher “ping times”), such as those who live outside the US.

We have begun doing small-scale testing with a selected group of users, and the early results have been great from a performance point of view. Unfortunately, we’ve also encountered a bug that we need to tackle before we can move on to releasing a project Viewer. We’re eager to move ahead as quickly as we can, and will use this blog to announce that project Viewer as soon as it’s available.

Above: Whirly Fizzle produced a video showing the comparative texture loading between the (then) current SL release viewer (June 27th, 2014) and the HTTP updates experimental viewer

As always, I’ll be doing my best to report on the work outlined above through my weekly SL project updates as and when there is news to impart.

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Lab updates section 2.3 of their Terms of Service – will it calm doubts?

Update, July 20th: My personal opinion on this update.

Update: For a legal view on this update, you might want to chack Vaki’s (also known as Agenda Faromet) blog post on these changes.

On Wednesday July 16th, Linden Lab updated section 2.3 of their Terms of Service and issued a blog post on the matter, indicating the update is an attempt to clarify the Lab’s intent with regards to user content in Second Life.

The changes to Section 2.3 come in the 5th paragraph, commencing “Except as otherwise described”. For ease of reference, I’ve reproduced the paragraph as it read in August 2013 and how it now reads in July 2014, with the updated text highlighted.

August 2013:

Except as otherwise described in any Additional Terms (such as a contest’s official rules) which will govern the submission of your User Content, you hereby grant to Linden Lab, and you agree to grant to Linden Lab, the non-exclusive, unrestricted, unconditional, unlimited, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, and cost-free right and license to use, copy, record, distribute, reproduce, disclose, sell, re-sell, sublicense (through multiple levels), modify, display, publicly perform, transmit, publish, broadcast, translate, make derivative works of, and otherwise exploit in any manner whatsoever, all or any portion of your User Content (and derivative works thereof), for any purpose whatsoever in all formats, on or through any media, software, formula, or medium now known or hereafter developed, and with any technology or devices now known or hereafter developed, and to advertise, market, and promote the same. You agree that the license includes the right to copy, analyze and use any of your Content as Linden Lab may deem necessary or desirable for purposes of debugging, testing, or providing support or development services in connection with the Service and future improvements to the Service. The license granted in this Section 2.3 is referred to as the “Service Content License.”

July 2014*

Except as otherwise described in any Additional Terms (such as a contest’s official rules) which will govern the submission of your User Content, you hereby grant to Linden Lab, and you agree to grant to Linden Lab, the non-exclusive, unrestricted, unconditional, unlimited, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual, and cost-free right and license to use, copy, record, distribute, reproduce, disclose, modify, display, publicly perform, transmit, publish, broadcast, translate, make derivative works of, and sell, re-sell or sublicense (through multiple levels)(with respect to Second Life, Inworld or otherwise on the Service as permitted by you through your interactions with the Service), and otherwise exploit in any manner whatsoever, all or any portion of your User Content (and derivative works thereof), for any purpose whatsoever in all formats, on or through any media, software, formula, or medium now known or hereafter developed, and with any technology or devices now known or hereafter developed, and to advertise, market, and promote the same. You agree that the license includes the right to copy, analyze and use any of your Content as Linden Lab may deem necessary or desirable for purposes of debugging, testing, or providing support or development services in connection with the Service and future improvements to the Service. The license granted in this Section 2.3 is referred to as the “Service Content License.” 

(* Note that when initially issued the clause “sell, re-sell, sublicense (through multiple levels)” was accidentally repeated in the July 2014 version of the paragraph, a point I alerted the Lab to on reading the updated ToS, and which they subsequently fixed. The paragraph quoted above is the corrected one, with the repetition removed. So if you had to accept the ToS twice, that’s the reason.)

While this may be an attempt to clarify the meaning and intent of the ToS, I cannot help but question it’s overall effectiveness – although I do so with the clear statement that I am not a lawyer, so this is simply unqualified opinion.

Yes, the revised wording does apparently set out limitations, but the context in which this is achieved seems to be confusing.

Agenda Faromet explained during the Legal Panel discussion on the matter in October 2013 as to why terms such as “sell / resell” aren’t perhaps the issue in a legal context (see her comments here), but the lack of limitations on any assigned right are. Yet, within the revised ToS, the way in which the limitations are presented parenthetically might be taken to mean they only apply to the matter of “sell, resell or sublicense (through multiple levels)”.

Moreover, the limits as stated, would appear to stand in contradiction with a further clause in the ToS which was introduced with the August 2013 changes, and remain unaltered with this update. To wit: that LL can “otherwise exploit in any manner whatsoever, all or any portion of your User Content (and derivative works thereof), for any purpose whatsoever”. Hence, to the untutored eye, it is actually hard to discern what the Lab is in fact saying with this update, or what they are actually addressing.

Whether this apparent contradiction, if it is a contradiction, affects how the update might be legally interpreted, I leave for minds wiser and better qualified than mine. But given the wording “for any purpose whatsoever” with regards to how SL content might be used did give rise to considerable angst when it first appeared in the August 2013 ToS, I do wonder if its continued presence will remain a cause for concern among content creators.

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