Sunday, November 30, 2008

Happy Rezday, Kathy Jameson!

A very happy rezday to my sister, Kathy, who came into this world one year ago today.

When we were young girls, Kathy, as the older one, always looked out for me. We lost our mother when I was but an infant, and our father when I was ten. We stayed with our aunt and uncle from that point, both leaving at the earliest opportunity. Without Kathy, my stay there would have been more unpleasant.

Turning to happier thoughts, I made the journey to Caledon a little before Kathy, but my pleasure in finding new friends in this fair land was increased when my oldest friend joined me. Although I give her no end of grief in this Journal - I keep expecting her to start her own Journal, just to have equal opportunity to tease me - she knows my true feelings.

Many happy returns, Sister!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Old Fort St. Edmunds

After a delicious dinner to give thanks for all my blessings (a tradition from the Colonies, and a lovely tradition it is), consisting of roasted duckling, acorn squash, and cornbread, I was in dire need of a stroll to work off a few of the extra calories consumed.

Walking down the path in front of my cottage, I soon came to the ruins of Old Fort St. Edmunds:

As the plaque on the fort reads, "It once was the duty of this small fort to defend against raiders and pirates that may threaten the great Independent State of Caledon until it was replaced by the more formidable Caledon Downs Clock Tower. Now the ruins serve as a park for all."

I sat on the bench, enjoying the quietude after a busy day. I was reminded of the sacrifices of the early settlers of Caledon, who, though small in numbers, protected the land from those who would take by force what they could not conquer through persuasion. I added those brave souls to my list to whom to give thanks.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Swans

As I am away from my personal Difference Engine today, and yet not without access to a Difference Engine connected to the Aethernet, I pondered a topic about which I could write.

It occurred to me that uncertainty plays a large role in everyone's life, yet individuals seem powerless to come to grips with how to evaluate uncertainty. Even corporations that employ very smart people whose job it is to think about how to evaluate risks often have blind spots on the subject. Insurance companies regularly insured large swathes of hurricane-prone cities. The firms understood inidividual risks well, and used the fact that those risks tended to be independent of one another - the odds my house burns down does not depend on whether your house, two blocks away, burns down - to calculate the premium needed to make those risks profitable. Yet the firms failed to understand that certain kinds of risk are highly correlated: if the levees holding back Lake Ponchartrain in New Orleans fail, all the houses below sea level in the path of the water are at risk. Similarly, when the insurance company AIG insured mortgages across many banks, the firm, so the story goes, priced that insurance to reflect the odds that some mortgages would not be repaid and, under some circumstances, enough mortgages would not be repaid that some banks would fail. Yet AIG failed to understand that certain risks in the mortage market were correlated with one another - in particular, the risk that all the banks had large holdings of mortgages whose likelihood of repayment depended cruicially on housing prices continuing to increase. When the bubble burst, all those mortgages were at risk all at once.


Which brings me to an interesting, if ultimately flawed, book, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (2007). In an entertaining and largely non-technical manner, Taleb notes that our ability to calculate and assess risk depends on having already observed data on that type of risk. For example, insurers have had years of experience with houses burning down, or being burglarized, or pipes bursting, or even widespread wind damage, and thus could price those types of risk appropriately. But insurers had no experience with levees failing, causing a city to flood, so they failed to price that risk appropriately. Taleb notes that those risks are inherently unknown and impossible to predict, yet, in aggregate, almost certain to occur. That is, some important but low-probability event is likely to occur to disrupt the status quo ante.

In the end, Taleb's advice is to prepare for the inevitable "black swans" - highly improbable events that cause dramatic changes - by minimizing exposure to bad events and maximizing exposure to good ones. The problem with that is (at least) twofold: first, if one had any idea of what could happen, those events would not be completely unpredictable, so deciding what constitutes a reasonable limitation of exposure to bad events is itself unknowable. Second, the implication of that way of thinking seems to suggest playing lotteries, or betting big on a single number on the roulette wheel, or ignoring your firm's trading guidelines and risking the company on a single stock market play. Some small number of people will become very wealthy this way; far more will find themselves in the modern equivalent of pauper's prison. The same thing applies on the down side: we have no way of assessing how often aircraft are destroyed in flight by spontaneous combustion of passengers, but minimizing that risk by refusing to fly seems like excessive caution.

The black swan of the title refers to the story that, prior to European discovery of Australia, Europeans "were convinced that all swans were white, an unassailable belief as it seemed completely confirmed by empirical evidence." Finding a black swan disrupted that firm conviction: "One single observation can invalidate a general statement derived from millenia of confirmatory sightings of millions of white swans. All you need is one single (and, I am told, quite ugly) black bird."

Indeed. But the lesson, it seems to me, is to be aware that one's model of how the universe works is in constant need of updating as new information flows in. Being too cocksure is, at best, a way to become a laughing stock, and, at worst, can get one killed. Beyond that, however, the lesson of the black swan is unclear.

In this reality of ours, black swans do exist - or, at least, one did exist, as evidenced by the photograph below:

What one is to make of this is far from clear. Nonetheless, the existence of a single black swan can open one's eyes to endless possibilities, such as the existence of floating inverted pyramids on top of which stand a seemingly infinite number of noobies in "away" mode.
Completely unpredictable, and, yet, there you are.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

'Tis the Season

Those mad scientists in Steelhead have conjured up their version of Frosty the Snowman...I think.

I chose not to come too near, as the Geiger counter in the Hangover One was registering off the scale. Hey, maybe it was just a coincidence.

New Release Candidate is a Memory Hog

I've been using the new (1.22.1) release candidate for a few days now, and it's an amazing memory hog, at least on Vista. After about an hour and a half this morning, Vista reported memory use for SecondLife.exe of close to 700 mb. A similar test this afternoon yielded about 500 mb. My system was starting to slow way down.

I have also experienced a higher-than-normal rate of crashes with the new RC, as have others.

One hopes that those kinks get ironed out before we're compelled to use the new viewer.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Things to be Thankful For

Kathy read the last entry in this Journal and barked a response to me: "Quit sniveling, Rhianon! No one wants to hear about your typist's day at the office, or your mood swings. This is supposed to be about happenings in and around Caledon, and gossip, wacky stories, and pretty pictures, and...well, whatever it is supposed to be about, your mood isn't it. And I think you committed some sort of copyright violation in the process. Besides, it's nearly Thanksgiving. Why don't you list some things you're thankful for?"

There's nothing like one's kin to give one a swift kick in the derriere in order to set one back on the correct path. Indeed, my dear sister is correct. I hereby declare this Journal to be whine-free (at least for the rest of the week), and offer you, Dear Reader, the following list of things for which I give thanks:
  1. A new podcast of Voices in the Machine, as soon as I can return to my personal Difference Engine, which has iTunes loaded
  2. Not having to travel over the holiday, when the roads are filled with angry drivers, enraged by the delays and suicidal over having to spend the next four days in the bosoms of their extended families
  3. Issue #3 of The Primgraph, which is displayed before me even as I type this, with a lovely article on Steelhead, among other goodies
  4. People who love me, even on days when they do not like me
  5. Podcasts of The Clockwork Cabaret
  6. Airships to pilot (or, if you're Miss Munro, in which to send your typist aloft)
  7. Modern appliances, including, but not limited to, washing machines, microwave ovens, and dual-core Engines with powerful graphics cards
  8. Having a Guv as cool as our Guv (or, as he put it, "I may be an evil land baron, but I'm your evil land baron")
  9. Having wonderful virtual neighbors
  10. New bands to enjoy, including Abney Park, In Tenebris, Unextraordinary Gentlemen, and Vernian Process

It took a few minutes, but I managed to get to my goal of ten items! I can almost hear the sarcastic sisterly "Yay!"

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mood Music

Ladies and gentlemen, some days this person's typist finds work to be long and utterly unrewarding. The train ride home brings solice and solitude, in the form of a pair of nice earbuds and a stream of music pumped directly into her head. Sometimes she finds synchronicity...what comes through the earbuds matches her mood completely. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you:

Humpty Dumpty

Say you were split, you were split in fragments
And none of the pieces would talk to you
Wouldn't you want to be who you had been
Well baby I want that too

So better take the keys and drive forever
Staying won't put these futures back together
All the perfect drugs and superheros
Wouldn't be enough to bring me up to zero

Baby, you're great, you've been more than patient
Saying it's not a catastrophe
But I'm not the girl you once put your faith in
Just someone who looks like me

So better take the keys and drive forever
Staying won't put these futures back together
All the perfect drugs and superheros
Wouldn't be enough to bring me up to zero

So get out while you can
Get out while you can
Baby I'm pouring quick sand
And sinking is all I have planned
So better just go

Oh, better take the keys and drive forever
Staying won't put these futures back together
All the perfect drugs and superheros
Wouldn't be enough to bring me up to zero

All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put baby together again
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put baby together again

(words and music by Aimee Mann, from the Lost in Space album, 2002)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Weird Science

Found in Port Babbage. Something tells me the scientists have been playing again, and, as usual, the results are not pretty.

I chose not to pick one up. They look like steel wool pads with eyes, but it was possible they would not take kindly to being used to remove stains from my frying pan.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Grand Tour, Day Two (continued)

I returned to Caledon just in time for the Ladies Who Prefer Ladies Dance at the Bashful Peacock.

As the invitation never said to what ladies were preferred, one supposes it was left fairly wide open. *grin*

A wonderful time was had by all, thanks to our hostess, Miss Muse Carmona, and our DJ, Miss Magdalena Kamenev.

Sir JJ Drinkwater arrived, quite fashionable as usual, but there was something different about him. Could those be...breasts? (The wings were just to distract us.)

Here I am, enjoying a dance with Miss Reghan Straaf. I do so enjoy a woman in top hat and tails (of all sorts).

The Grand Tour, Day Two

The Grand Tour continued today, starting again at the unholy hour of 5am SLT, in Al Andalus. Again, beauty sleep was more important for Kathy (again substituting for me), so no pictures.

Then the tour moved to the Isles of Fatima, and an ice skating event:

Miss Falcon appears to be all Toured out.

But no rest for the wicked, so on to the 9am stop in Eynehallow, where Miss Robbiani hosted more ice skating!

Your Hostess:

Other Important Business having kept Kathy away from the 11am Tea and Dance at the Forrester, hosted by the Caledon Early Birds, the next stop was Wunderbar:

Heading into the home stretch now: the 1pm ball in Antiquity:

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Grand Tour, Day One

Miss Fogwoman Gray outdid herself, organizing balls on multiple continents, held sequentially over two days. I was out of town, so Kathy did the photographic honors.

The first event was a toga party at Colonia Nova at the unholy hour (for Kathy, at least) of 4am SLT. Below are two pictures of the celebration at New Toulouse, which started at 6am.

Kathy missed the Wyre Ball in Orcadia (8am), but was back in time to take several pictures of the White Queen Ball in Victoriana (10am):

Next stop: Neufriestadt (noon).

At 2pm, Winterfell held a medieval and Renaissance-themed Winter Dance. Kathy made it to the dance, but photographic evidence is lacking because she kept crashing.

The Caledonian Duchy of Carntaigh held a Tulips in the Snow Ball at 4pm. This was to be Carntaigh's last event - a victim of the Openspace controversy - and Her Grace outdid herself. First, participants mingled and chose dance partners.

Mr. O'Toole honored Kathy by asking her to dance. (So stop grumbling about having to don formal clothes, sister!) Mr. O'Toole clearly spent time learning his way around a dance floor, and, as a gentleman, refrained from commenting on the number of times his feet were stepped upon.

Sir JJ Drinkwater, resplendent in his Caledon tartan kilt.

Mr. Neiro also asked Kathy to dance, so they took a spin around the snow-filled courtyard to the sounds of classical music.

Mr. Scaggs stands amonst the tulips.

Although the day continues with balls in New Babbage, Steeltopia, and the Duchy of Argylle, Kathy rested her tired feet for the night.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Mont Saint-Michael - one and two

Mont Saint-Michel is an ancient fortress and abbey in Normandy. The imposing structure is connected to the mainland by a causeway, and lies roughly a mile off the coast.

Miss Bamika Easterman suggested that this sim was worth a visit, and indeed it is a fine replica of the original fortress.

The sheer size makes it difficult to capture in a photograph - or in person.

I liked the texture of the causeway below and to the left of the abbey.

Of course, it replicates the modern fortress, as indicated by the car park. Ah well.

But I was actually a little confused when I arrived, as my memory told me I had already visited the sim many months ago. After a little searching, I realized my mistake: there are two versions of the fortress, and this one is the one I had been to previously. It was created by YadNi Monde, of Paris 1900 and YadNi's Junkyard fame.

Both are worth a visit.