Amature astronomy night

Yesterday my new telescope showed up, after just over an hour of assembly it was ready to go. Unfortunately, darkness was still about 5 hours off.

Once we finally got the darkness, we had a clear night, and a few friends over to play. I learned a few important things:

  • The 9x scope takes some getting used to finding things. I am used to binoculars, which you can flip back and forth to the night sky very quickly. I'm still not all the comfortable pointing it yet.
  • The sighting scope needs alignment, which I found out how to do by accident. I can now cross hair something and it will be in the scope field of view.
  • Jupiter is always a hit, and easy to find because it throws so much light. With the 120x optics (I have 48x and 120x optics included) you can see the cloud bands on the planet, which is very cool.
  • Transit time at 120x is quicker than I imagined. Jupiter does it in about 45 seconds.
  • I got used to the reverse / upsidedown controls pretty quick, quicker than I'd expect.
  • I'm really glad I got the object finder. While I didn't try using it last night (as calibrating that the first time is going to take some effort), the evening definitely showed me that there is a huge adjustment to finding things with the scope. Having the assistance to find things is going to be appreciated.

I managed to snag 2 satellites in the scope at 48x, which I found with the sighting scope by accident. I think we were at about 6 satellites last night. I also found that I ended up in the same structures a few times by accident, and was starting to be able to find familiar bits of the sky.

All in all a fun evening. It looks like our next clear night will be tuesday, so will need to spend that night figuring out the object finder.

The Schickele Mix Copyright Dilema

One of the constant tensions that exist is the new media age is between preservation of culture and copyrights. Personally this doesn't get summed up any better for me than the fact that Schickele Mix is now lost to us.

Peter Schickele produced 175 episodes of a radio show that explored concepts in music in a very accessible way. I heard it by accident on our local NPR station 7 years ago, and fell in love with it. This was already during one of it's many encores, as new shows had stopped being produced the last 90s. Even though I possess no real musical talent (or perhaps because of that), the show was facinating, and taught me incredible amounts about music. I only wished it was still running somewhere.

Because the show was about music, it played full length songs. The royalty rates for those on broadcast radio were something that was payable at the time, but those rates are substantially higher for online distribution. Hence, there are no archives, and a big piece of culture, one that could get people really excited about music, is now unpublishable due to copyright.

When I was in college, I was always fascinated by the fact that all that still remained of Ancient Greek Theater were 40 some odd plays. How could culture like that get lost? In a digital age it seems incredible that it would be possible to loose important parts of our culture.

Thoughts on the Ideal OpenSim / SL browser

There has been a lot of work in the last few days in different directions for OpenSim / SL browsers.

I started playing around with Hippo Viewer, which has very nicely let me convert a bunch of my test environment to mega prims. So much nicer than large link sets. In the process I started thinking about all the ways in which people are making changes to the SL client to suit their needs. A non comprehensive list of items people seem to want to change are as follows:

  • prim policy - how big can a prim be? how many can be in a link set? What's allowed to be physical? What are the limits for attribute changes (like % hollow).
  • appearance policy - what modifications can the client make to their appearance. (for 2nd graders Rich removed the "take of clothes" option)
  • url references - where does the search box go to? where does the front page go to?

If you start looking at these you see a theme. All of these are decisions that the server really wants to make (so it gives the control to the grid opperator), but that today are hard coded into the client. So much of what exists in the Second Life viewer today is a shared construct between the server and client. An understanding.

But as we extend past the 1 use case of Second Life (or the 2 if you include Teen grid), we find that the policy created for that one use case falls pretty short when creating different use cases of the underlying technology. By default, it means that users are having to dive in and change the client if they want to do something different. Fundamentally they are gutting the Second Life (tm) use case out of the Second Life open source client code. As a side note, we've tried really hard in OpenSim to keep the use cases out of the platform so that many conflicting ones can be implemented. While not always successful, the multitude of uses that you can see on Planet OpenSim show we're doing at least fair to middling on that front.

A few features of My Ideal Viewer

So, back to a few thoughts on my ideal viewer, and what it would do. I have no allusions we're going to get there any time soon, but it doesn't hurt to write down a few thoughts:

  • Cross platform. If it doesn't work on Windows, Mac, and Linux I don't think it will have any real chance of being univeral
  • URL bar. We keep talking about this a being ubiquitous browser like experience. Imagine if Firefox didn't have a URL bar. Having ogs://osgrid.org/Wright%20Plaza/128,128,22 do the right thing is really important. I can put that link in a webpage, or IM it to someone. And all the addressing scheme needed is there.
  • Don't do auth up front. One of the issues with the viewer today is that you have to put in account information before you can ever have your first conversation with a simulator. Why? HTTP defines a way to ask for auth later. If we talk about moving between grids we need to have the ability to do that. It also raises the question of not asking for auth. Some times a read only pseudo anonymous view of the app is appropriate, but that's hard to do today.
  • Let the server define more policy. Once you are connected to the server it should be able to tell you:
    • Various relative applications urls (search, money, map, etc). The non existance of these urls means turning off the feature.
    • Limits for the environment. This include build policy (i.e. size of prims), appearance policy, and any other policies you'd like to define. These would of course be server side enforced, but letting the client know what the min / max values of dials should be would be a huge help (and let you have a single viewer work for SL, osgrid, and thousands of different 3D apps built on top of OpenSim).
  • Content plugins for the viewer. One of the things many people want to do is experiment with different types of content integrated into the environment. One of the massive wins for HTML was letting you embed anything as long as you specified a mime/type. And one of the big wins for netscape was defining an interface where you could write a plugin to handle foreign mime/types. You would need at least 2 types of content plugins. A surface content one and an object content one (i.e. 3D content in a different format). This is a good place where the SL use case runs against many others. People want to define a surface as an off site image url, but this breaks part of the SL use case in charging for content uploads.

These are by no means a comprehensive list of what I'd like to see, but it is a flavor. The power of the technology with a viewer that is that flexible would be incredible, and the number of use cases it would be applicable to would be way what can be supported today without digging in and modifying the code yourself.

Comments always appreciated, even if you think I'm just a moron for what I've said here. I'll be traveling a bit over the next few weeks, so if I don't get back to you quickly, it's not you, it's me being on the road. And, as a reminder, these views by no way represent my employer, they are mine alone. 🙂

The next stage in OpenSim community growth - OpenSim Forge

The OpenSim community is one of the most vibrant open source communities that I've had the pleasure to be a part of. We've got an active set of core committers, an active set of more casual developers constantly providing bugs and patches to the project, and an incredible active set of users that are testing nearly every checkin out there. This kind of community is really too big for one project. Many of things things the community is interested in doing around OpenSim, like alternative grid servers, or admin web interfaces for opensim, are great things, but don't really make sense in the scope of the main OpenSim source tree. Many of these early efforts set up sourceforge projects, but it was sometimes difficult to find they existed.

Welcome OpenSim Forge!

Adam
brought up the idea of setting up a gforge instance for OpenSim a few weeks ago, and things started rolling from there. Adam did all the leg work on this one, so many props to him and his team.

OpenSim Forge is a site for hosting OpenSim related open source projects. All projects must be under an OSI approved license. BSD license is encouraged, as that's the license of OpenSim, but it isn't required. The point is really to just be a one stop shopping for opensim related code, and to make it very easy for anyone that is interested in adding to this community to have a place to stick their project and get visibility.

In the 10 days since the site went live, we've got 10 public projects already registered, plus a few more in the queue. Now, I don't think the 1 new project a day pace is going to keep coming, but as can clearly been seen the OpenSim community is bigger than just the OpenSim project. Here's what we've gotten already up on OpenSim Forge:

  • 3 administration tools for OpenSim (2 web and 1 console)
  • 2 alternate grid servers (ASP.NET & Perl)
  • 1 project for patches to OpenSim (the Open Grid Protocol enablement patches)
  • 1 experimental viewer for OpenSim (not based on the SecondLife client)
  • 1 opensim based application (done via Application modules) which is astro physics simulation
  • 1 opensim test suite
  • 1 tray launcher for OpenSim

It's a very powerful thing once a community grows beyond it's initial boundaries, when it truly takes on a life of it's own. I think the quick uptake on OpenSim Forge shows we are definitely at that point. I see this as a new stage of growth in both the community and the project, and what an exciting stage that is.