Fred Beckhusen is the President of his company Micro Technology Services, his expertise is in computer design, programming and video systems architecture. He also supports Open Source and game development in the world of Second Life as the avatar Ferd Frederix with http://www.free-lsl-scripts.com He loves to play with and write about free and cheap tools for making 3-D objects too. Specialties: microcomputers, software, electronics, electronic management, We are very fortunate to have Fred join the opensim community over ten years ago with his partner Debbie. Together they share a special magic that graces the projects they give to us.
Fred has created and explored extensively while here in the opensim, sharing all the knowledge and content he can through his Outworldz website.https://www.outworldz.com/ he also has a MeWe community https://mewe.com/group/5bc12bdc322b35103f0965d3 where new DreamGrid ( https://outworldz.com/Outworldz_installer/) owners chat at the social site about any technical issues they might have. You will find many of us shooting the breeze on any given day cutting it up and having a good time. Fred encourages chat and communication which creates a healthy community. He has also contributed to the Ruth and Roth mesh avatar GitHub repository https://github.com/ingen-lab/Ruth, a legally created avatar for the opensim community. I recently visited his Outworldz grid to really absorb the genius which is Mr. Beckhusen. Upon arriving you are greeted by whimsical cows that chase you around and bump into you as if asking you for attention. First thing Fred explained, “I use a lot of materials and normal maps. I hope you have Advanced Lighting model on. Fred asked if I would like to see his latest project Silent Refueling.
He explained a bit, “Yes, upstairs they are refueling the ship for the last run. It’s in orbit around Saturn. There’s been an accident so its delayed launching the pods to space. The Valley ogre is the host ship. Bruce goes crazy when Earth orders the last remaining plants and animals to be blown up. This is a week or so before that. ”Fred was scurrying about explaining as I tried to pick my jaw up from the floor, completely awestricken by the details in this project. When he would ask did you see this or that, I literally could not speak, there are layers upon layers of many well thought out details. Please allow yourself plenty of time when you explore Fred’s worlds there is so much to absorb.
We then proceeded to Rapunzel’s beautiful little world Tangled Up With Rapunzel. Based on the movie by Disney’s “Tangled”. Fred explained, “The making of Tangled is a good show. Did you see the sequel? There is a short film on Tangled featuring the horse and the lizard. It’s over the top hilarious. ”Here is an intro to Fred’s Tangled Up With Rapunzel Video, Fred lovingly created all the details seen using Blender. His realistic renderings are what sets his world apart, the use of his textures and materials. See if you can find her crown, hidden about. When you do, please notice the sparkle and shine he has achieved. A while back I had asked him what he used for creating realistic textures because I was hoping to achieve more realistic metals for my jewelry. Fred explained that he utilizes Substance Painter for creating his brilliant textures.
Substance Painter has a cool physical paint brush that magically applies the material to your model, I love this program too. Even still, metals inworld cannot ever be as realistic as in the real world. We don’t have the same lighting. Fred explained that we utilize (PBR) and gold is actually black. Physically based rendering (PBR) is an approach in computer graphics that seeks to render graphics in a way that more accurately models the flow of light in the real world. Even still he manages to create beautiful gold pendulum on Rapunzel’s clock .
Keep venturing on until you find the Nic exhibit if you want your mind totally blown. I followed the magic effect- riding the NPC horse. Here you will discover a Nicolas Cage inspired project of his image plastered on every item in the room.
If you adore Nic like I do, this room will inspire. It has been described as “Hypnotic, disturbing, glorious", by SLHamlet seen here https://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2016/08/nic-cage-tangled-opensim.html Surprisingly, the castle from Tangled wasn't yanked from a game or what have you, but emerged full borne from the head of Fred: "Stared at Disney screen caps, played every Tangled game, watched the movie about ten times. Its scratch built except some chairs and small stuff."
Can you spot Ferd in this image?
V enturing on I had to visit Fred and Debbie's Gorillas in the Mist installation, you can visit Virunga Mountains, Karsimbi home of the main troupe of mountain gorillas, and herds of wild beast. Dian Fossey first discovered in the 1970's. Today the Virungas are threatened by war, oil drilling and encroachment by charcoal gatherers and water seekers. Eco-tourism is a blessing and a curse, as eco-tourism drives the economy of both Uganda and Rwanda yet also brings outsiders and pressure to commercialize these very few precious creatures. Zebras, elephants and other creatures all built using scripts from the Free Script Library at Outworldz. These animals use just two scripts from the library: The All-In-One NPC recorder and the Rider script.
Virunga has many more things to see and do, and there are more herds of wild animals. Here you will even see Dian Fossey's Home and The Lodge. A plane ride that takes you to their model of the real Virunga Lodge, near the Roz Carr house and her beautiful gardens at Mungongo, Roz Carr's Flower Plantation - next to the plains with the herds of wild zebras. You can go directly to the destination airport, too, at Virunga Airport - take a car to the Virunga Lodge and enjoy the view. And to your right, across the lake, is Ruhengeri- an African town near the mountain gorillas. Quite simply, they have given us their “Dream”, it is all here for us to explore, how cool is that to be inside Ferd’s head. These are just a few of his attractions at Outworldz grid. You too must take the time and venture out and explore this phenomenal grid. I think the community would love to learn the magic behind this incredible man, I wanted to ask our Ferd Frederix a few questions:
Thank you, Fred for taking the time to reflect and share with us your remarkable journey through the metaverse from the early days of Second Life (SL) until now.
MM- Each day I am impressed by the troubleshooting and resolutions I see at the MeWe social site, your immense knowledge astounds me. What was your major and where did you acquire so much technical knowledge?
FF -I got this great job at Mostek when I was just 19, still in electrical engineering school, where we made the first 4k Bit dynamic RAM chips, the HP-35 calculator family, and later, every Fairchild, Motorola, Intel, Zilog and Olivetti microprocessor. It was like a toy shop. I was a group leader with a team that troubleshot hundreds of extremely complex chip-testing machines and PDP-11's. I was able to build microcomputer systems as a hobby before the chips were available commercially, such as an F-8 microcomputer system that played a decent chess game in 1K of RAM. My favorite was a Z80 with a paper tape version of the earliest Star Trek game. I wrote the 16 K Basic interpreter for a test machine at work, and used Star Trek to debug it.
I mage Submitted by Fred-Fred in 1975. Age 21. His 17th scratch-built design. Fun times!
I transferred into the microprocessor design group where we made high performance VME and STD bus systems. The engineer that hired me back then is still working for me on high-end digital thermal and night vision cameras for military and space use. I started a Unix computer company in the early 80's doing hardware designs, and ported three versions of Unix to it. For the last 35 years I've been designing systems and circuits and software in a lot of different computer languages at my company, Micro Technology Services, Inc. (www.mitsi.com). I think of Mitsi as a toy shop, too, and it is a great place to work. The great thing about my job is I get to work on high-cool-factor things with some very smart people. We were the first company to make a Tempest-rated Trusted Computer for MS-DOS and then Windows. My work on high performance disk controllers led to a design win for SCSI adapters for the first 486 computers. I know Solidworks, a 3D design package, so I get to "play 3D" at work, even though I am slightly cross-eyed and have no depth perception. A lot of our work is protecting people with duress buttons and mass notification systems. We have over a half million 'Don't Panic" buttons in major corporations, hospitals, the VA system, and school systems all across the USA. One of the more unusual things are the first SMT boards for the Space Station. I also led the team on a Saudi Prince’s graduation present - a gold-plated 737 jet with $800-a-yard silk carpet and a real mess of microprocessors. Worked on the CPU for the Casablanca ceiling fans, the first microwaves and IV pumps, a burglar alarm design for Ford, the MarcStar radio receiver and transmitter for T.I. used in tens of millions of cars and keyrings. Their lawyers insisted that we never use their legal name, but agreed that T.I. was not their legal name, so I could mention it. So, I do, often! At the moment, I am building replacement backup generator controllers for a nuclear power plant. Also am designing mechanical stuff for a new Strobe light controller for school alert systems.
MM -Please reflect we are fascinated to know more. What brought you to Second Life, then on to Opensim?
FF - In 2006, my sons went off to college together and suggested I would like SL and they could use it to chat with me. They did, one time. And they never call. I met Debbie online a year later. We both became SL Mentors and spent several years in the Help Islands teaching people how to enter by clicking the stupid "Exit" sign. And how to dig shoes out of their butts, and lots of other things. They had 15,000 people joining a day back then, and we got to teleport in and out of the Help Islands to help them. We worked together for several years on a very powerful and easy to use (and free) translator. Together we gave away about 140,000 of them. We eventually got them placed in all the Orientation Islands and all the Help Islands. And convinced Blondin Linden to finally fix the stupid sign. Eventually we convinced Philip to pay to add it to the viewer. I love Opensim even more, because we are both constantly learning new things every day. DreamGrid is another way where we can help many others. I still learn something new every time I log in or help someone set up a grid.
MM -With the DreamGrid software app you have given persons the opportunity to create their very own grid. You have helped countless persons such as myself set up for the first time. Thank you. Where did you get the idea, it is brilliant.
FF- I was using Sim-on-a-Stick back in 2011 to 2012 to scratch-build a David statue without upload fees. I just found the oar again (Condensation Club) last week. This is the finished statue in 2012. It was done in AC3D.
T he Mowes package that SOAS uses had links to a web site which had been hacked, and so it was dangerously virus prone. The first DreamWorld was a replacement for Mowes to make it safer, and it also Autoplayed everything from a read-only DVD. It came with a pre-setup viewer with the Linda Kellie "Western Town" OAR and my Dream horse ready to run on it. It took a year to code, and the horse about 18 months to make, all done while SL had mesh in Beta. Amazingly, Opensim had mesh in a few days. A donation to a Horse Rescue charity would get you a DVD. I later open-sourced it. Then I figured out how to make a DreamGrid run out of a single folder. It has 2,843 commits now, so it has changed a lot in the few 3 years.
MM -Many of us have seen your hilarious Grid Outworldz, it is so wonderful and whimsical, tell me about those silly cows please, how were those created? The sheep too please share with us about the neat animated animals you create and what the process is.
Deb is probably just cracking up :)
FF - Debbie and I were out shopping. I lost Debbie in all the shoe aisles, and realized the place had scripts and rez enabled. I put a follower script in a ridable cow and found her in no time at all. I should have patented that idea. It was also funny. The next Christmas we had a sled with 8 merry rein cows. It scattered cows all over the sim. I learned many ways to hide cows so they would jump out at her from unexpected places. A herd would swim out to her when she took a boat ride. Mooing in our castle she traced down to a cow on the roof. One was set carefully as a physical prim, up in the top of a tree that I knew she was going to move, so it rained cows. She became expert at dressing mooFerd up for various holidays. The original had a gas pedal that would increase thrust as a way to push themselves past obstacles. But I failed to code a way to let off the gas. We had upwards of 500 people a day visit us back then and someone would always ride off on a cow. It would usually come trudging back. People would always push it and ride it as far as it would go. MooFerd would come running at high speed after bashing its way through a fireplace or some other obstacle. So, I left that code bit out, as it was hilarious. It was definitively a feature and not a bug.
MM -I have always been curious to know more about your regions. How many do you have, what themes and please share a bit about them.
FF – 135 open source OARS are available now. I have about 25 more or so of our own creations that I gradually give away. A half dozen I paid-for redistribution rights, and so you get them for free. Our favorite creation is an African simulation in Dian Fossey's time named "Virunga". Debbie always loved Africa. It was our first major multi-year project. Debbie and I worked together on everything, and we both animated the animals. We both love how simple scripts can make them seem alive. I also love Alexandria Egypt which was a massive project for ridable animals. A lot of creativity comes from thinking of what year a sim is actually in. Alexandria is made for the day Cleopatra died, 30 BC, on August 12th. The same day Marc Antony, her guard who failed to stop her, and her handmaidens all died. Sadly, that is the day that democracy died, too. Egypt, the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world, and all of Africa was enslaved as the personal property of Caesar Augustus. Over the next 4 years, he had 25,000 elephants shipped to Rome to be killed in the arena.
A s another example, it was hard to figure out what to do with Cinderella's shoe. Was it on the floor of her bedroom? Or with the guards and Prince discovering it? What year was it? We finally decided that the Cinderella sim is on the anniversary of their wedding. From that one idea we knew what to do. The King and Queen are dancing in the ballroom with the mice and Fairy Godmother, who had made them into horses to pull the carriage and are now back again as mice. There is line of citizens waiting to see the famous slipper on display, and some of the guards are dancing in the kitchen to the music from the ballroom. From that and the extra room we changed to the French Disney World version, where their dragons in the caves below. It was a very nice solution to how to bring attention to a shoe.The carriage is really nice with 11 different NPC's in it. The Fairy Godmother makes it from the pumpkin. It's free to copy too. Just search for Cinderella and take a copy of the pumpkin or the carriage that appears.
MM - Many of us have read the beautiful love story of you and Debbie, it is simply magic. A fairy tale of love that intertwines virtual and the real world, this is quite rare. I have seen the mesh items she creates too. Does she help with creating your mesh animals? Please share, we would love to know more about her.
FF- We remote desktop to share screens and talk almost every day. We have literally hundreds of projects in a shared dropbox we work on together. Most of what we have done was originally inspired by her. She often asks if I can make something that is impossible, which can't be done, not in our engine, well, maybe it can, if this happens, and maybe.... hmmm. Such as the first ridable NPC animal, a tiger. I was able to make one for just her avatar in Second Life. Eventually, after a lot of work, a rideable tiger worked in Opensim. So, Virunga finally came alive with ridable elephants and other animals.We both know Blender, and she has taught me quite a few things, like how to make bed coverings for the drapes for Cleopatra's bed.
MM -Many of us utilize your Outworldz website for various items needed as we build our regions. We can find everything here from .oar files to sculpt maps. How do you keep so organized and focused on so many details, does Debbie help with the website too?
FF - No, I am the data hoarder. I use lot of languages, for web sites, it’s “Modern Perl". This means looking at data modeling first, and separating the look from the code. I use a No-SQL system named DBIX::Class to Microsoft SQL and Mysql databases. It runs web crawlers, the Dynamic DNS systems, and lots more. Adding a new OAR is as simple as saving an OAR, with a JPG photo and a text file to describe it. A sculpt would be a PNG, and the system knows to build a 3d rotated GIF automatically using Java. The entire system fits on the back of my LCD in a 4" square NUC PC.
MM - What impresses me the most is that you came onto the scene quietly and created your magic. Never calling attention to yourself or your projects, yet your membership is growing and loyal. I have seen others come along bringing attention to their projects and goals many times these people fail, I think it is because they forget the caring part that you express in everything you do. Please tell me how do you manage to address so many technical issues and attentions to details being just one man?
FF - Lists. Lots of lists. I renamed my Alexa to "Computer" so I can yell To-Do's at her at work and from every room at home. And so she can argue with Data when Star Trek Voyager is on. She likes that. She was in earshot during "While You Were Sleeping" just last week. At one key point, Sandra Bullock says "Peter has one testicle". Alexa heard "Computer add one testicle", so I have that on my list now. I told this to Debbie, and now I have two testicles to get.
MM - How many DreamGrid owners are there now?
FF - 6,156 unique grid names have been booted up and used, though it's overly precise to say so. It is difficult to say anything accurately as almost everything changes, such as IP addresses. So, these numbers can only be compared to older numbers, over time. Known DreamGrid installs = 6156Known other Grids = 696==========================Total = 6852
MM -What are your current and future goals with DreamGrid.
FF - I have a long list of things I would like to do. The most interesting long-term item is to make it run regions on teleport demand, which takes up only as much RAM as you have people in
different sims. It works somewhat now, but only for me. Opensim is like an operating system by itself, with over a million lines of code in it.
MM - What world do you find yourself in most Second life or Opensim?
FF - Opensim, by a lot. I only go to SL to figure out how my birds flew so well there. They don't work as well in Opensim, and I want to fix that.
MM - You have a love for creating .oar files to share freely. I have the Hobbiton Collection which I adore. Please tell us how your .oars are brought to life after realizing the vision? Do you have a set team of persons that help you create them?
FF - Debbie, Joe Builder of Lost World and I collaborate on many things. I purchased redistribution rights to the original Hobbiton as it was very pretty. Then threw out the houses due to copyright issues and made entirely new ones in Blender. We collect sets of pictures for all to see to get the right layouts. I also had access to an employee’s awesome and complete collection of Hobbit books and DVD's. Joe spent weeks tweaking the waterfalls and adjusting hobbit houses. The road is a good example of a simple but invisible change. It was rebuilt in mesh with part of it phantom and part solid with high physics. This lets you ride the horse or the wagon smoothly, and Gandalf can ride his pony cart down it without banging into the rocks that line the paths. Hobbiton was also ideal for a Satyr Farm, so Debbie looked everywhere for open source models for the NPC farmers. David Monday of the GCG grid updated and contributed to the farm. Debbie spent at least a hundred hours, maybe more, making adjustments to the farm. She grew the peaches and made the ingredients for each pie that is sitting on the table.The next major project is almost done. It is based on a 1974 movie, "Silent Running". What day is it? Just before the movie was filmed on board the Valley Forge, a real aircraft carrier.
MM - With so much questionable content in opensim on every single grid, what are your thoughts as far as what happens now that it is all here? Do you ever see Linden Lab taking action about the content leaving Second Life illegally?
FF - I highly recommend that all grid owners, even those overseas, sign up at the U.S. DMCA office and pay the $6.00 annual fee to file a Registered Agent. This is a necessary first step for legal protection against stolen content. You also need a public DMCA policy as shown in the sample TOS in DreamGrid. This will protect your grid from any content uploaded by others, provided that you follow the simple rules. It does not let you steal anything. It only works for innocent grid operators to protect them from others.
MM - What is your own dream for Opensim? What would you like to see evolve for the software and then also the community?
FF- I love the community spirit of Opensimulator within the DreamGrid owners. I would love to see that grow. I think it’s because you finally have control of your virtual life. People gather together at Mewe to talk through their difficulties, to share a morning coffee and make jokes. And they love to chat about it, as Sunbeam Magic did, and now you. Thank you for doing that here!
Fred, it has been quite the honor that you would accept the interview and share with us a little bit about you. I know many share in my sentiment when I say, thank you Fred we adore you.
I recently had the opportunity to interview an astronomer, and it was an enlightening experience. As someone who has always been fascinated by the mysteries of the universe, I was eager to learn more about the work of an astronomer and their insights into the cosmos. Dr. Rhys Taylor has spent years studying the stars, galaxies, and other celestial bodies, and his passion for his work was evident in every word he spoke. Throughout the interview, I gained a deeper understanding of the methods astronomers use to explore the universe, the discoveries they've made, and the questions that still remain unanswered. It was a truly fascinating conversation that left me with a newfound appreciation for the awe-inspiring beauty and complexity of the cosmos.
Please follow Rhys here:
please explain if you could about this project and other projects that you helped Fred with.
RT There’s not very much I can say about this. It was a few hours to test/debug a script for creating
a database of Opensim events (I think), but it was a few years ago already and, for reasons that will
become clear in the next question, I don’t really know a lot about how it worked.
RT It hasn’t because I’ve never used it. :)
MM Perhaps you should an Opensim Observatory would be very cool. What inspired you to become an astronomer, and how did you first get interested in the field?
RT Mostly Star Trek and pretty pictures of nebulae. I don’t think there was ever time when I wasn’t
at least somewhat interested in it, but by high school I’d settled on astronomy and geology as my two
main interests. When it came to choosing a degree program, astronomy really did win out in no small
part because I thought Star Trek was cool !
More specifically, my interest in galaxies didn’t really get going properly until the last year of undergrad
studies. Until then I was probably more interested in planets. But in my final project we used simulations
to study whether galaxies could form without dark matter. This was really interesting to me as
started to make me realize that galaxies were good subjects for me : they’re complex enough that
there’s a myriad of different approaches you can use to solve problems, but not so complex that they
need the horrendous maths that some other fields require. And observational astronomy has the
particular advantage that there’s all kinds of fun things you can do to visualize the data in different
MM What is the most exciting discovery you've made using your Arecibo telescope platform in
Please explain what a Steam Workshop is.
RT Steam Workshop is the community hub for Steam users to upload content, typically mods for
games. The Steam VR Workshop has a similar functionality for VR users, and also enables them to
upload Environments created in the tools provided directly by Steam. In this case the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico,
shown as it appeared in c.2013.
The most exciting discovery, what a question ! Well the ones I have spent the most time investigating
are eight hydrogen clouds in the Virgo galaxy cluster. These little gas clouds look like they’re rotating but
have no visible stars. One suggestion is that they might be “ dark galaxies ” : clouds of dark matter
containing gas which hasn’t yet formed any stars. The hard part is distinguishing them from gas which
has been removed from other galaxies.
The most dramatic discovery I’ve been involved with is the gas cloud we refer to as “ Keenan’s Ring ”
after the discoverer. This is close on the sky to the Triangulum Galaxy (M33) , one of the nearest and
most well-studied galaxies in the universe. Keenan’s Ring is huge : about the same size as M33 itself on
the sky, and several times larger than the full Moon. Yet since it’s only visible through a radio telescope,
it wasn’t known about until 2016. And I think that really shows just how much more there is to learn,
when something that large can escape detection for so long in such a well-studied part of the sky.
MM How does the Arecibo Observatory differ from other observatories around the world?
RT Arecibo’s sheer size gave it absolutely unrivalled sensitivity. Observations that would take hours
with other telescopes could be done in a few minutes at Arecibo. It also had a unique combination of
features : it wasn’t just used for astronomy, but also for studying Earth’s atmosphere, and as the world’s
most powerful radar facility, it was capable of imaging nearby asteroids and even the moon’s of Saturn.
While no two giant telescopes are alike, nothing else had this versatility.
MM Can you describe the research you're currently working on, and what you hope to learn from
RT So, Arecibo collapsed in 2020, but we’ll be using the data for years to come. Right now I’m mainly
involved with two projects from the data. One is a data set of the Leo Group , which is home to this giant
ring of hydrogen that’s unlike almost anything else we know about. Recently we found that the same
region has six little clouds of hydrogen similar to those in Virgo, and we’re trying to see if the same
process that formed the Ring could have formed the clouds.
The second is supervising a Master’s student to look at more data of the Virgo cluster. Our original
survey only covered about 10% of the cluster, so we’ve extended this to approximately double the
coverage at the same sensitivity level. This should hopefully find more dark clouds, but even if it doesn’t,
it should help us constrain their possible formation mechanism. The better the statistics we have on the
clouds (e.g. where they’re found, their masses, their velocity dispersion), the more we have to compare
with different models of how they formed and what they are.
MM How do you collaborate with other astronomers and institutions to further your research?
RT I work at the Astronomical Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague . This is a small
group of researchers and most of us collaborate with each other to at least some extent in group
meetings, journal clubs and seminars and so on. We each have our own projects to work on but usually
discuss them together. We also have connections with the local Charles University. Separately, we all
have our own contacts, for example I have collaborators from Arecibo and Cardiff who I’ll reach out to
when I need a more specialist discussion.
MM What advancements in technology have made your work as an astronomer easier or more
RT For me personally the data I mainly use hasn’t changed since I started. However, the huge
uptake in Python users has made a lot of the analysis a great deal faster. When I started I was still using
Fortran (urrgh !), later I learned IDL, but then in the last ten years or do Python has exploded. Nowadays
most of the basic analysis and plotting techniques I need can be quite easily obtained online, so there’s
more time spent looking at data and less time writing dodgy code that gets forgotten about five minutes
That said, upcoming facilities are likely to change things significantly. I’m involved with the ALMA observatory
which is transforming our understanding of the molecular gas content inside and outside of
galaxies. Though it won’t do the same breadth of research as Arecibo, for studying atomic hydrogen the
Chinese FAST telescope is looking increasingly like a powerful successor to Arecibo. And various other
radio telescopes coming online this decade should allow us to detect gas at much greater distances than
understanding of the universe and our place in it?
RT There are too many for a complete list. One that stands out to me is that it was used to
measure the rotation speed of Mercury back in 1965. Today this figure is in every astronomy textbook
out there, it’s absolutely basic knowledge that we take for granted. Another was the discovery of the
first exoplanets in 1990, which are still among the smallest known exoplanets. Finally, the discovery of
the first binary pulsar in 1974 was an important test of general relativity, and our best indication of the
existence of gravitational waves until they were directly detected in 2015 with the LIGO interferometer .
MM How do you approach the challenge of analyzing vast amounts of data collected by the
Arecibo telescope ?
RT Slowly ! :) The data sets I use are three dimensional maps of various parts of the sky. The ALFA
instrument we use is essentially equivalent to a camera with just 7 pixels, so we make maps by scanning
it across the sky to very slowly build up a larger image. Some of these data sets could take years to reach
Where ALFA is less like a camera and more like an ordinary radio receiver is that as well as 7 pixels, it
also recorded data from about 4000 “channels”. Just like the channel on a normal radio set, each of
these corresponds to a small frequency interval. So the final data product that we end up with is not just
one map of the sky, but 4,096 different maps all of the same area and each at a slightly different
frequency. This is important because the exact frequency the gas is emitting at can tell us about how
fast it’s rotating as well as its distance.
Visualizing these 3D data cubes is a major side-project of mine. I’ve spent a good deal of time writing
Python scripts for Blender to show the data in all its glory. Most astronomy software only shows you one
channel at a time, but by showing them as a true 3D volume, it can be a lot easier and faster to
understand. In particular, I spent a lot of time during the pandemic lockdowns recoding this into a more
modern format. The advantage is that this has made it a lot easier to quickly differentiate between
interesting sources in the data and the noise. Instead of taking months to trawl through a big data set
and catalogue all the possible galaxies there, we can now do it in a few days.
MM How do you use data collected by the Arecibo Observatory to make new discoveries?
RT Again slowly ! Finding the possible galaxies is just the start. Once we’ve got their positions, we
check with other data sets (usually optical images) to see if anything is present. We search existing
catalogues to see if this has been detected before or not, and if it has, if our new measurements differ in
any way. Sometimes you can get lucky and find a source which is new and clearly interesting in some
way in its own right, e.g. a previously undetected gas cloud without any optical counterpart. But the bulk
of the process is comparative, seeing how our sample compares with others. Once you combine the
radio data with information from optical studies, you can get literally dozens of parameters about your
source, giving a plethora of things to explore in the data. It helps when you already know something
specific about your target region, so that anything unexpected stands out all the sooner. But it still takes
a lot of work to tease out interesting information hidden in the data.
MM What do you think is the most important unanswered question in astronomy, and how do you
hope to contribute to finding the answer?
RT Because galaxies are rotating much more quickly than we expect, we think the bulk of their
mass is dominated by this unseen component we label “dark matter”. We’ve known about this since the
1970s (arguably earlier), and no other explanation seems to work. Countless papers have been written
on the topic but we still have no clue as to what its real nature might be. Is it some new type of hitherto
unsuspected particle ? Some weird combination of known particles ? Some flaw in our theory of gravity?
Or some other feature of the universe we don’t understand at all ? We just don’t know, despite
decades of research.
Closely related to this is the “missing satellite” problem, which refers to the number of many small
satellite galaxies we should expect to find around larger parent galaxies. Theoretical models, which are
dominated by dark matter, say “lots”, but observations say “not many”. When I first started my PhD I
was naïve enough to think that would be totally a problem I could figure out ! Since then I’ve realised
the scope of the problem is huge. But maybe some of the optically dark clouds we’ve found with Arecibo
can at least contribute, by showing us how different systems rotate in different conditions, to tell us if
we can have dark matter galaxies without stars.
MM What is your favorite astronomical object to study, and why?
RT Definitely the Virgo Cluster , if I can count a whole cluster of galaxies as an object. It’s where I
first started my observations. It’s the nearest rich cluster of galaxies to use and everywhere you look in
Virgo there’s something interesting going on.
MM How does the Arecibo Observatory contribute to the field of astrobiology and the search for
RT Several different ways. Most famous are the attempts to direct detect or even contact aliens ! In
1974 the telescope transmitted the famous “ Arecibo Message ” in the direction of the globular cluster
M13. In more recent years it was home to the SERENDIP project, which used data collected during
normal science observations to also search for potential alien transmissions. This was a clever way to
allow both SETI and science projects to happily co-exist alongside each other.
Both of these projects are, however, fantastically unlikely to succeed : any aliens capable of receiving
and understanding the Arecibo Message would likely be so advanced as to have already detected us,
while the chances that any alien civilisation is broadcasting on radio frequencies with enough intensity
for us to detect them is also remote at best. A more promising but less glamorous route was to study
astrochemistry, with Arecibo capable of detecting the signatures of organic molecules even in other
galaxies. This doesn’t indicate life directly, but it can at least tell us something about how common the
conditions are that allow chemistry similar to our own.
MM How do you balance the scientific and technological aspects of your work with the human
elements, such as communication and collaboration?
RT There isn’t really a need for balance here. Everyone in the field is to a large extent in the same
boat, so our communication and collaboration inherently requires similar scientific and technical
knowledge. If the work requires a technical approach (for example to quantify something) then that’s
what you do. If it needs something else, say a different sort of interpretation, then you have a
That said, it’s easy for meetings to dominate day-to-day activities, and we probably have as many
problems balancing this as in any other job. Do I need for everyone to just shut up and let me get on
with things right now, or would it be better to have a brainstorming session ? There’s no easy answer.
MM What role does citizen science play in your work, and how do you involve the public in your
RT Not enough, probably. The projects I work on are with very small teams indeed and everyone
has to manage their own projects as well. To be blunt, nobody has the resources to spare for developing
a citizen science aspect. Instead, we try and keep the public at least informed about our research with
open days, public talks, participation in science events, social media channels etc.
MM How do you stay up-to-date with the latest advancements and discoveries in astronomy, and
how do you incorporate this information into your work?
RT In part through talking with colleagues and watching the news, but mainly through arXiv. This is a
pre-print server where the latest papers are posted daily. Pretty much any paper worth reading (and an
awful lot which aren’t) appears here. For myself, I find that blogging my own short summary of anything
that catches my attention is a good way to fix a paper in memory so that I can reference it in my own
paper later, if need be.
MM What advice do you have for aspiring astronomers, and how can they get involved in the field?
RT That’s a big question ! I guess the most important part is obvious : study physics. The great thing
about observational astronomy is that it’s probably the least maths-heavy part of physics, but you do
need to speak the language, and if you want to go in for the more theoretical side of things this is even
more important. You need at least a basic understanding of statistics – most astronomy is based around
whole populations of objects. We can’t usually watch our subjects change much over time so we have to
infer what might be going on by looking at as many objects as possible. And also, be aware that the
forefront of research is a messier but far more interesting place than the popular science articles often
make out !
I would also give a note of caution. I love my day job, but the career path isn’t always the easiest. It’s
typical to do two, three, four postdocs all in different locations before finding permanent employment.
Some people thrive on this as an opportunity to travel the world. Others, myself included, prefer to
know where they’re going to be and not have to constantly scramble together job applications every 18
months. From that perspective my advice is definitely don’t be put off from going for that university
course, that PhD, because the physics background will stand you in good stead for many different
careers. Just be aware that making a permanent career out of this can be tough.
MM What challenges do you face as an astronomer, and how do you overcome them?
RT In terms of science, the challenge is the fun part. There’s this popular image of science as
hypothesis testing, which I’ve learned is far from the whole story. A lot of astronomy is more purely
explorational. Sure, you can formulate a hypothesis before you look at your data, and maybe sometimes
it will even help you answer your original question. But nine times out of ten, in my experience, it won’t.
Oh, it’ll absolutely tell you something very interesting, but it won’t have anything much to do with what
you were expecting.
A certain bloody-mindedness is also helpful. Applying for grants or telescope time can be a gruelling
process and the competition is high, so be prepared for several rejections before success. It’s a good
idea to look at other people’s successful proposals but also remember that even the best science is
occasionally rejected through sheer bad luck.
MM How do you think astronomy will change in the next decade, and what new discoveries do you
hope to make?
RT If you’d asked me the same question a few years ago I’d have said, “not that much, only more of
the same to be honest”. But over the next decade, from the point of view of my own research (mainly
the effects of gas on galaxy evolution) I think the changes are going to be pretty significant. New
telescopes are going to allow us to detect gas in the much earlier universe, so we’re finally going to be
able to see how the gas content of galaxies has changed over billions of years of the history of the
universe. That’s something people have been anticipating for decades. At the same time, this greater
sensitivity will let us map the gas in much more detail in nearby galaxies, helping us to understand the
connection with star formation more clearly.
The discovery I really hope someone will make is something completely unexpected. Something that
nobody predicted that really challenges our most fundamental models of how the universe works. That
would be really exciting.
MM What role do you see private observatories like the Arecibo Observatory playing in the future
of astronomy research?
RT Arecibo’s unfortunate demise means its role is largely at an end, except for the enormous data
archive built up over several decades which will keep us all busy indefinitely. But it was a public
facility, not a private one. Personally I would like to see public institutions like this funded more
reliably. Everyone’s grateful for the funding the Breakthrough project provides to the Green Bank Observatory , but it shouldn’t be necessary. Astronomy shouldn’t be funded on the whim of private
interests primarily concerned with discovering aliens. Governments need to recognize the
importance of this pure research because only governments are well-placed to fund this for its own
sake, rather than the remote chance of detecting intelligent aliens. All that said, anything extra that
the private sector can contribute (like the Faulkes Telescope Project ) is definitely welcome.
"These little gas clouds look like they’re rotating but have no visible stars." Dr. Rhys Taylor
I am not sure what your first reaction was to seeing the works of Cherry Manga.
For me, seeing an artist push the norms, to go beyond the limits and push it a little to create the element of “strange” thought provoking art captivated me.
Cherry’s art reminds me of Nanomi Cowdroy who creates pen and ink art works that combine her Japanese and European heritage with a modern sensibility. Nanomi is an illustrator but she captures the same “strangeness” which stimulates all those damaged neurons in my brain. Nanami Cowdroy
I find Cherry Manga’s work fascinating and wanted to ask her a few questions, to highlight her work. Art that lies in the deep recesses of your mind. And when viewed, it seems to all make perfect sense.
MM - Is opensim or virtual reality a source of inspiration, a place for expression, and if both, what are you seeing or feeling that makes you want to express yourself?
CM - Drawing, painting, sculpting clay, were hobbies I used to practice a lot before THE tool arrived in my life. With my first computer, an entire new world appeared, it became immediately the media I felt in love with, I started with the default programs such as Paint and movie maker to experiment new ways to create.
Then, in 2007, I logged in Second Life and wow.....immersion in art, build in 3D, it was a blast, I knew it was the beginning of a long story.
The most inspiring was to learn to use new tools, they gave me opportunities to express ideas I wouldn't be able to visualize without the technique itself, and then creating a little world where one can immerse was a totally new feeling to apprehend art. Opensim was a very important step, I met tech guys, they pushed me to learn further, we had incredible collaborations, it's a perfect place to grow, artistically and also humanely.
Being immersed in art provides strong feelings one can compare to meditation, when I use the oculus headset and I paint in TiltBrush, seeing the drawing reacting to the music I listen, it's like being in a place that only exists in the mind, a dream, a travel, that offers me joy and peace.
MM - How do you select what to share, and what not to share?
CM - If I could, I would just share everything, creations, but also knowledge, I don't, because of the lack of time, and also (and I hate it) to pay fees on SL for example, I have to sell some.
MM - What music do you listen to express your art when you create?
CM - It's wide...When not very focused on the sounds itself, I like to listen to webradios, such as
SomaFM's Fluid, or my own playlists...But some projects were driven by the music for example,
La Collection and Childhood were created with Cocorosie's albums, Strange Garden with Sainkho Namtchylak and Heilung... and of course the collaborations with musicians such as MorlitaM for different projects, Christine Webster for the Fest'Avis and most recently with JadeYu Fhang who made the musical background of State of Mind.
MM - When mesh arrived how did that enhance your creations? Do you prefer working with Mesh vs prims?
CM - Mesh was like any new tool, a joy to discover and explore. I don't make a big difference between prims and mesh, they are both a great way to create, they don't have the same specifications and of course, mesh is useful for organic, round lines, that are
sharper with prims. I'm just waiting for the « mind tool », you think of a shape, it appears !:)
MM - Do you create the clothing seen on the characters? I love the skirts you have created. My favorite is the Swan avatar. Please explain how you create the beautiful skirts.
The legs too, like the swan or bird avatar, how were those created?
CM - Before knowing how to make sculpt and mesh, I used a lot of full perm prefab to include in the creations, the skirt and the Swan's legs were made with this kind of sculpty, the bird was one of the first self-made mesh. Now I do all myself, using opensource resources, such as MB-Lab.
MM - Please tell us about the different events where we have seen your art, what has been your favorite exhibit?
CM - It's impossible to prioritize, each had its emotion, they all are part of a space-time.
Fest'Avi was the biggest adventure, several years of existence, an intense collaboration, it was the most challenging project.
MM - When you visualize the idea, how then do you proceed to create the character?
CM - I think of the emotion I want to tell about, searching the good shapes, textures, effects, and I try to be as close as possible, being quite bad with Blender, I find my way avoiding heavy technique by hijacking the tools. Sometimes it's really fast to reach the goal, sometimes it takes many tries and uploads inworld:)
MM - What have been your favorite reactions to your art?
CM - The ones that don't flatter the ego, but push me to move on, and trust myself to continue.
MM - What has been your favorite character to create?
CM - Probably Line of Light avatar, I still wear it, the moving line has something hypnotizing, I use it very often in current works.
MM - Please describe a RL event that inspired you.
CM - Every event is part of the story, life is the inspiration in its whole, every joy, pain, everything.
MM - What themes do you pursue?
CM - Human kind, the human condition and Nature are the base of my work. It's mostly my own stories I am building, sometimes it's hard to find out for the viewer, hidden in surreal or abstract, but sometimes it's very obvious and raw. Creating is an outlet, an antidote to neurosis.
MM - If you could have any super power what would that be and why?
CM - Teleportation ! You all know why :)
MM - Please describe what you would love to see in the art world and why?
CM - The furthest from real constraints. We have the chance to experiment the 3rd dimension, I'd like to see more works freed from gravity, less 2D buildings, the more it's strange, better it is. Some creators are shy to show their depth, and they tend to show only their inner light, but it's the perfect place to push limitations and explore our own complexity.
MM - Favorite or most inspirational place?
CM - There are many, but if I have to choose, any installation by Claudia222 Jewell.
MM - Who is your favorite artist?
CM - I don't have one, the interest in one artist or another varies over time, the works resonate at the right time. The artistic current that never ceases to move me is surrealism .
Please visit the works of Cherry Manga located at Franco Grid https://opensimworld.com/hop/78650
All photographs in this article were submitted by Cherry Manga.