Monthly Archives: April 2009



Many strong and enduring relationships develop within Second Life that brighten our lives and teach us value and meaning. Inevitably however some of the individuals we love and admire here will pass away in real life, and their digital image will Suddenly disappear, leaving only an empty, inexplicable void behind.  

The sadness and pain we feel at the loss of a dear friend  may abate with time, but the core essence of  words, values and affection that we hold for them will not fade. It becomes part of who we are as individuals and it reaches out through our own thoughts and deeds to strengthen the common bond we share as a community.


linden-memorial-park013This simple truth is acknowledged each year in Second Life by a Day of Remembrance, when a series of events are held to record and celebrate the friends and loved ones that have given us so much, but are now gone.

This year the Linden Department of Public Works helped establish a more permanent, enduring monument to our SL friends and colleagues by erecting a twelve sim complex, the  Linden Memorial Park. The park opened to the public yesterday. The designers did a truly remarkable job. The park is notable for broad, open spaces of field and forest, with areas set aside for quiet reflection.

At the center of the memorial is a large pool fed by converging streams. A cascade of waterfalls rims the lake and give life to the stately calm of the Park.  A small island in the center  forms the stage for a Memorial Shrine that encloses a symbolic, enduring flame.

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Optimistic About Shelly


Mothgirl Dibou – Schiffsratten collaboration

announces Shelly Fizz Beta


plum gut shelly racing

Two months ago with some excitement I told you about a project underway at the Schiffsratten boat yards over in Tiga.


The Rats wanted to build a new one-design dinghy to teach basic sailing skills in second life.  We all know that the Tako did a yeoman’s job filling that role for some time, but in the assessment of many, the Tako’s aging algorithms, lack of product support, inflexible vendor system and bleak prospects for bug fixes or upgrades made it a far-from-optimal choice in 2009.


 Not willing to settle for second best, the Schiffsratten set out on a bold plan to build a boat that met their own requirements. From the outset, they had a grand vision to make a boat that everyone would want to sail, that would be easy for beginners, would include modern algorithms and scripting, and would serve as a good teaching boat. Most importantly, they wanted to make the boat widely available at no cost. Frankly, I thought that was a pretty tall order, but the Ship Rats were undaunted Optimists.

Calm down! It's only Beta!

Which is a great segue to my next point! If you were shooting for the moon designing a new teaching boat, what RL boat would you pick to model?


 There is really only one answer to that: an Optimist. Optimist dinghies have been around for 60 years, and if you sail in RL, chances are that you first learned on an Opti. It is by far the most popular one-design teaching boat, and it’s currently sailed worldwide with over 150,000 official hulls manufactured. The number of unofficial Optis must be many times that. The International Optimist Dinghy Association (IODA) proclaims that “The optimist is, quite simply, the dinghy in which the young people of the world learn to sail.” That might sound like hubris, but it’s not: the Optimist is the only dinghy approved by the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) exclusively for sailors under 16 years of age. Consider this: At the 2008 Olympics over 85% of the medal winning boat skippers were former Optimist sailors. The next time you see some 10 year old kid soaked with sea spray and face smeared with zinc sunblock, think: “That Optimist she’s sailing is a Tool, not a Toy.”

The Rats down in Tiga know this; of course they decided to build an Optimist. When I last mentioned this here at the end of January, I showed you pictures of the fresh-out-of-the-oven Sculptie hull they had created. I thought the choice of the Optimist was brilliant, since it made the boat instantly recognizable to nearly all sailors as well as a large part of the non-sailing public. Many sailors like myself have fond memories and affection for Optis, and would jump at the chance to use this boat to teach others how to sail.

 Shelly Fizz Beta and RJ Kikuchiyo Optimist

The picture above shows the new boat alongside an old RJ Kikuchiyo Optimist creation that contains Tako 2.x scripts.  Although I love them both, the Schiffsratten have upgraded that classic Optimist boat design and they’ve brought it into the new millennium!  Nice job!  

Beauty is only skin deep however, and it takes more than a cute hull and a tight vang to catch a sailor’s eye and keep their attention. The boat I showed you back in January was pretty, but it wasn’t scripted. In fact, it didn’t even have a name.

When I wrote about it, I proposed “Tigger” as a good name for the boat. The Rats politely listened to my suggestion and my pseudo-reasoning, and then, to their credit, promptly crossed “Tigger” off their list. The name they came up with is “Shelly.” I’m not sure if they mean Percy Bysshe Shelly, but it’s a nice name nonetheless.

Hull in hand, they took their idea to Mothgirl Dibou. Moth was at that point embroiled in a huge pile of Fizz 3 issues, trying to harmoniously package a host of cutting-edge advances in her new boat. Even for someone with all of Moth’s energy, that was no easy process; as we all know, it took the better part of eight months to get Fizz 3 the way she wanted it.

So… in walk the Schiffratten, asking Moth to do another boat in her spare time, an Optimist-style teaching boat… and for free. Actually, I thought Moth would have been within her rights to just shoot them there on the spot. Instead, she loved the idea and jumped on board the project with one provision: the boat’s name. It’s now the Shelly Fizz!


In pretty much record time, yesterday the Shelly Fizz beta hit the water. There was an immediate huge amount of interest. I was about to start a race when Moth announced the release, and instead of the usual 10 boats, we sailed with only two or three– everyone else was darting around in a Shelly! No surprise, as soon as we finished the race, so was I.

Based on just a few hours a sailing, I think this boat is an absolute delight. It’s very easy to sail, with a wind vane on the bow and no HUD. It has a centerboard and a single main, true to the Opti heritage.  As you might imagine, despite the ease of use it handles and feels a lot like a Fizz. As a teaching boat I think it is brilliantly positioned. Fizz 3 is a wonderful, cutting-edge boat, but particularly for new sailors I’m concerned it’s close to “bleeding edge.” It’s easy to envision new students getting discouraged by the steep learning curve Fizz 3 demands, even in “Fun mode.” Three or four capsizes in a row and new students will start thinking the term “Fun mode” was intentional sailing sarcasm.

Julia bangs into Jane

 The Shelly Fizz changes all that! If the released version looks anything like this beta, The Shelly will be a great way to learn basic sailing skills while building confidence with a simplified version of the Fizz platform. Sailors can then advance to the Fizz 3 when they feel ready for the real challenge.

  I have to reiterate that this is just the first beta, so it is totally unfair to complain about any bugs or issues. Actually, so far I’ve found very few.  However, it’s worth commenting that the Shelly does share a problem with several other boats that use sculpted hulls and spars: the collision shell is different from the visible boat. It looks like this is primarily a problem with the boom. The boom has a center of rotation at the mast; that means the visible boom is joined to a second, invisible part of the boom on the exact, opposite side of the mast. If you look at the picture above right, you’ll see that Julia Cere’s boat bumps into mine while still a couple meters away. That’s because the sculptie ‘anti-boom’ sticks out over the front of the boat. however, if you let the sheet out so the boom hangs over the side of the boat (see below), the boat can come all the way up to the dock before bumping. Be cautious, however: any boat within a couple meters on the starboard side will get hit.

  Phantom boom is parallel to dock.

 Moth is well aware of this issue, and she’s evaluating it.  Although there are ways to work around the problem, she thinks the boat actually handles best the way it is and that the sculptie collision mesh issue should not be a problem in a teaching boat used for practice and fun sailing.

I think we’d all agree with that too, except for one thing.  Many sailors seem to have a genetic defect that distorts their perception of the world. Show them something that floats, and an idea pops into their head: “I bet I could race that.”  Within five minutes they’ve taped an ID number to the hull and dropped the boat on a raceline… any raceline.

The Shelly Fizz is no different! I’m pretty sure yesterday this boat set an all-time record. Within a couple hours of the announcement of the first Beta Release, Jeremia Spotter had enthusiastically convened a large fleet of Shellys that were bouncing on the waves in Plum Gut. it was a remarkable sight seeing the skippers  crank up the little boats and put them through their paces racing. These are indeed wonderful Little boats and I think it’s going to be very very hard to tell everyone to put their toys away, the Shelly is only for teaching…

Yesterday, within two or three minutes of me sending a notice that Schiffsratten were sailing Shellys in Plum Gut, Epicurus Emmons reported the sim was full (and this is a first-release Beta, remember…). I can’t wait to see what will happen when the boat actually launches… 

Oh! In case I forgot:

Moth? Ship Rats?


 plum gut sell out crowd


NYC Hosts Dil Spitz Marine Photography

Where The Buoys Are

Most of planet Earth is covered by water, and a good deal of commercial and personal traffic takes place over the navigable waterways world-wide. For thousands of years sailors have used nautical charts of these waterways for safe and orderly travel between distant waypoints. The charts show the countour of the ocean floor and depth sounding for the area covered, as well as the locations of maintained navigation channels, shipping lanes, and known hazards.


A standardized set of visual markers is an essential part of that system, and both lighthouses and fixed navigational buoys are not only the ‘traffic signs’ of the seas, they are also part of national and global cultural heritage. The Alexandia Lighthouse, for a simple example, is invariably listed in schoolbooks as a Great Wonder of the Ancient World alongside the Egyptian pyramids.

In the United States, the US Coast Guard is responsible for maintaining the U.S. Aids to Navigation System (ATON) of official navigational markers that define coastal waterways. The Coast Guard has major educational initiatives to teach new sailors how to interpret the visual patterns of nav buoys and  to update the Old Salt skippers about any changes in the marker grid system.

Navigation instruction

 There are many public and private resources online where boaters can learn about national and international navigation markers and how they can best use it. Here’s a quck flash animation in case you’re interested but have an attention deficit. 

To my knowledge, at the present time there is no such system of navigation buoys in Second Life. I recall discussing it over two years ago with RJ Kikuchiyo in his SL Coast Guard official role.  We both wondered if it was feasible to use standardized navigational markers in SL waterways and generate charts that would be familiar to sailors in RL or SL. It was an interesting idea, but frankly two years ago It was pretty unusual to sail or race in regions that had more than a handful of sims, so a navigational chart system seemed pretty unnecessary.

Well, in two years a lot has changed. Many sailors are now doing extended cruises to regions and even whole continents they’ve never seen before, trying to chart new passages and share the information. Here’s a chart of Anu Daviau’s recent great exploration  of mainland waterways that began at Schiffsratten Yacht Club in United Sailing Sims, went up the East and north Coast of Nautilus, then across the northern intercontinental waterway that links Nautilus to Corsica. She then looped around Corsica and Gaeta, returning along the West coast of Nautilus ultil she finally ran out of water. In total she covered 573 sims. Chaos Mandelbrot and IAttempted a similar adventure that I discussed here.

Anu Daviau's 573 sim exploration

It looks like that’s just the tip of the iceberg;  Cristalle Karami is putting together a map hud for long-distance cruising and EastTuesday Borel discussed publishing his maps and others in an SL book format. And don’t let me forget the Mowry Bay Cruising Club that’s grown very rapidly over the past couple They set sail every Tuesday evening, navigating to new and exotic destinations.

 A common thread among many of these sailors is the need for navigational aids that parallel what vessels use in the real world. All sailors would benefit from a system of fixed navigational markers on popular waterways in SL that matches the RL system. If I were youreading this, I’d besaying to myself “That sounds nice, Jane, but there must be a thousand problems. There are buoys everyplace and an incredible number of Sims, who is going to do this… No way, José.”

Well, maybe you’re right. But remember, we’re only talking about navigational buoys, which might add up to 0-2 markers in each high-traffic water sim. we also already have RL international standards and extensive educational tools.

Is RL not good enough? You want standards and education in Second Life? (I was hoping you’d ask that!)  The Second Life Coast Guard has complete sets of wonderful, accurately detailed navigational buoys that they offer free to any and all interested parties. Sanstrom Laxness’ SLCG group knows what they’re doing and they have the real life experience and credibility to back it up.  Education about Coast Guard issues and water safety is one of their primary goals, and I’m quite certain all the yacht clubs would join with SLCG  to provide the necessary education, advice, and potential maintenance for any nav buoy system.

SL Coast Guard Nav Buoys

“What happens if this is successful?” you might think; “You could end up with dozens… hundreds… of buoys to monitor in order to keep the charts accurate. Things change pretty quickly around here.”

Well, as I mentioned, although navigational buoys are critically important aids to ships at sea,  there are relatively few of them, and the whole intention is to keep their position fixed. They are the reliable reference, the true waypoint for all the fragile craft tossed by offshore wind and wave. It would be relatively easy to insert a script in SL nav buoys that every few days sent an email reminder of the buoy’s location. A couple prim SLCG-approved, free buoy that meets international standards, and a single very infrequent script message. That’s all it takes.

The buoy would then talk to a simple map grid, flashing a few pixels to herald its presence at a tiny spot in a busy sim-sealane far away. With even a momentary glance at such a map, any SL sailor would relax, smile and rest assured. They’d know where they were and have a beacon to guide them. They’d be as firmly planted in this Second Life as any other.

A scripted buoy in SL that announces its location is certainly not a new idea. Last year Mothgirl Dibou and Cynthia Centaur lead an online ad-hoc discussion thread at concerning consensus protocols for sailboats. A summary of the ideas discussed in the open thread are included on the SL Sailing Wiki. It includes a protocol for communication between buoys and boats in a sailboat race:

Communication between boat and buoys
Each mark should broadcast its position to all boats in the neighbourhood using llShout on channel -8001 every 3 seconds. This way, boats that are competing in a race can use this information together with their own position and the positions of the other boats to implement ROW indication within the 2 shiplengths zone.

The message format is:

message type, (value = “Buoy”)
x coordinate (global x coordinate),
y coordinate (global y coordinate),
buoy name

This ad-hoc protocol is used in Yuu Nakamichi’s tetrahedral buoys in Blake Sea.  Certain race rules decisions depend on whether a boat is within two boat lengths of the mark, and this script protocol could facilitate that determination.
 While it may be good for racing,  however, this kind of scripted buoy is not appropriate as a navigation marker. That’s no surprise; they weren’t designed for navigation, they were designed for racing.  The  navigational buoys  should be more simple to construct.

Is such a navigation buoy a big deal, however ? 

Well, I think to a sailor it is. I’m bringing it up because navigational aids are part of our history, art, culture and experience. It’s how we plied the oceans and made sense of the world around us.

Maybe its how some of us make personal sense too. Years ago when I was an “Opti kid” I’d go on overnight cruises with family and friends. In the middle of the night, those choppy waves and shifting gusts can prove pretty scary, particularly if you’re a kid with a type-A personality, spending much of the transit questioning your parents’ navigational expertise. 

I’d sit there unblinking, gaze solemnly fixed on the blackness ahead, trying to convince myself the horizon was indeed still out there. in reality,I was waiting until I could see a distant light, a fixed beacon I had memorized. It made no difference what any of the instruments showed. Numbers can lie. Show me the real thing. When that light appeared way off in the distance, a pinpoint in a sea and sky of black, I knew I had my bearings, and I cajoled the adults to give me the helm.

I had my lit beacon; I knew where I was, and where I was going. I could use that beacon and bring everyone home. 

I think many sailors feel the same way In second life. A simple pattern of navigation buoys Would substantially enhance the reality of the SL sailing emulation for cruising sailboats. it would also provide a simple focus for collaboration between different groups and different regions, drawing on the skills and expertise of sailors, Coast Guard, and teachers.

I think the time has come for a nav buoy system in SL, but I would very much appreciate people’s views on the issue so we can come up with detailed recommendations for a system that meets eveyone’s needs.