Monday, November 30, 2009

Shengri La in the Science Sim

Having read in Prim Perfect about the fabulous Saltwater House in Science Sim (one of the Open Sim grids), I created an account to see for myself. (Go to for information on creating an account. The standard Second Life client will run, but the "Target" line has to be modified along the lines of: "C:\Program Files\SecondLife\SecondLife.exe" -loginuri -loginpage -loginuri .)

Apparently, the prim restrictions that builders in SL face are less, um, restrictive. Miss Shenlei Flasheart, of the SL Fashion Research Institute, has used on the order of 140,000 prims for her build, allowing her to provide a great deal of detail unavailable in SL. Each nail in the plank of the deck is an individual prim, and hundreds of prims are used in the flowers surrounding the house.

I swallowed hard and accepted that I would look and walk like an absolute noob for the purposes of this adventure. Miss Flasheart kindly provided a free male and a female avatar, clothing, and hair so that visitors would not look so utterly horrific. That's me admiring the flowers:

The Saltwater House in some of its glory. More on that below.

On the deck of the house. Though hard to see in the pictures, the detail is incredible.

Here's the bad news, and it's two-fold: first, the number of prims takes forever to rez. In fact, I never got the entire house to rez completely. It's possible - likely, even - that my Difference Engine is not up to the task, but said Engine is roughly a year old, outfitted with the best video card offered with the system. Second, the client crashed every time I was there. Sitting was problematic - two crashes came as soon as I stood. One crash occurred at some point after I had left the room, hoping that a half-hour would be sufficient for everything to rez. One crash occurred when I tried to take a picture. A final crash happened for no discernable reason.
But, as they say, Your Mileage May Vary. And, as immature as the Science Sim is, competition among virtual worlds is likely a good thing for users. Patience is advised, however.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Christmas in Oxbridge

The Christmas season is in full swing in Oxbridge. The tree is as tall as the university's spires - the picture below shows perhaps half of the full tree - and has a tiny railroad track and operating train at its base. Behind the tree, a small hut sits where one can obtain a cup of hot cocoa.

Below, the infamous chicks about which I have heard so much. I stand, watching, next to a zombie snowman. He seemed harmless enough, even allowing the predator to peck at his eyes.

The snow creatures in Caledon seem particularly prone to violence this year. (See also this entry.)

This snow chicken seems to have extracted its revenge.

I think it is time for a cup of free-range cocoa.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A New Neighbor

A new neighbor, a Mr. AutoPilotPaul Qork, has moved in to a lot in the Downs across the street from me, next to the Steampunk Resource Centre.

Mr. Qork appears to be a specialist in daguerrotypes produced by a specific type of camera, which he calls a Nikon.

Though I am happy to see the empty land once again filled (though the Guvnah has kindly planted tall trees to make those bare lots a little less barren), I must grumble just a little that yet another new neighbor has seen fit to ignore the rather loose thematic vision for the Downs and have a house that is more Charles Rennie Mackintosh than Victorian. (To be fair, Art Nouveau was indeed within the Victorian era. I am still entitled to grumble, however.)

[Edit 11/29/09 2:10 pm (SLT). The lot now has a much more soothing house upon it, as the picture below shows. I hope that the above carping was not the cause for the change, much as I think it's for the better. I am connected with reality enough to realize that a connection between the Journal entry and anything that happens in the Downs is unlikely.]

Winter Comes to South End

Winter arrives at its own pace, sometimes late and sometimes rather early. The latter seems to have occurred in Caledon's South End, where a blanket of snow lies on the ground despite the balmy temperatures throughout much of the rest of the nation.

From the platform next to the Cenotaph, the view looks quite peaceful, does it not? But looks can deceive...

Here we see St. Hilda's church decked out in holiday finery, a reminder that Christmas is not all about egg nog, presents, and having to see one's disgusting Uncle Jimmy chase skirt and vomit in inappropriate places.

These snow creatures, in the Whybrows' hard, appear to be engaged in some sort of disagreement. The chap on the left, having armed himself with a hair dryer, seems to have the upper hand. Good shooting, old chap!

Presents? For me? Hmm, apparently not. Mrs. Fotherington does have a lovely pot of reindeer stew bubbling in her front yard - just the thing for a cold winter's night. (Poor Santa, running down the checklist: "Dasher? Donder? Okay, I see you both. Blitzen. Check. Comet? Comet, where the devil did you go? Oh, thank you, Mrs. Claus, that looks like a lovely stew...")

But perhaps Santa has bigger things about which to worry: the milk and cookies seem to have done him in outside Mr. Goode's establishment. And that's a mighty unsettling chalk outline of a reindeer next to him. Oh Mrs. Fotherington, could we have a word?

I am now a tad worried about my Christmas plans this year.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Timestream, Part 8

[Click for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7.]

The next morning, after clearing the fog from my head, I thought I should talk with young Jason Billings again. I reached the holding cells to find Commodore Billings talking with his nephew.

“I was just leaving, Miss J. Talk to the boy all you need, and see if you can get any sense out of him. I’ve about had it.” Jason bristled, but said nothing.

As the guard let Tom Billings out of the cell and allowed me in, I said, “I talked with both Mr. Patterson’s daughter, Angela, and Mr. Schneider. They both seem fairly put out by your behavior, and they would not be surprised if you turned out to have killed Mr. Patterson.”

“I don’t know how many times I have to tell you – or the police, or my uncle – but I didn’t kill anyone.”

“Do you have an alibi for the time of death?”

“I wish I did. If I had known I’d need one, I would have found a large crowd and made myself so obnoxious no one could forget me, then I would have shouted out the time.”

I laughed. “I will take that as a ‘no.’ All right, then. That is unfortunate, but let us continue. Were you familiar with any of the projects Mr. Patterson was working on at the time of his death?”

“Not really. I don’t have a head for science, so even when Farley would tell me about something or the other it would make no sense to me. He only talked about items he completed and released for sale, because he was paranoid that someone would take an idea of his and rush a product to market before he could perfect it. Unlike a lot of weekend inventors, Farley made his living through his ingenuity, so he protected his ideas pretty carefully.” He paused, then looked up. “Oh, I know! If you really want to know, ask my uncle.”

“The Commodore? Why would he know?”

“I overheard the last part of a big set-to between my uncle and Farley. Farley was saying that he couldn’t just give things away, and my uncle was saying he’d be willing to pay a fortune, but he didn’t have a fortune. Farley laughed in a kind of nasty way and said this would make a fortune, and was my uncle in or out as an investor? He said he had already developed a prototype and, as the demonstration showed, he had it nearly working, so he had little need for investors now, just a small need for some cash to tide him over until the royalties started coming in. Tom said the price was still too steep for him to afford, and that was that. I walked in, Farley said hello to me, and left. In fact, that was about a week before Farley confronted me about manipulating the books on his investment account, so I guess he really needed the money and was mad because his account was almost empty.”

“Hmm. I must say, Mr. Billings, you are a difficult client with whom to work. You keep coming up with motives for you to have done what you swear you did not do.” Jason started to protest, but I held up a hand to quiet him. “Perhaps the best way to handle this is to work from the other direction. I shall see what I can do to, um, persuade the judicial system to look elsewhere.” I certainly hoped that the police and courts in this country were not incorruptible, but, from what I had seen so far, that was unlikely to be a concern.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Venetia Landing in Winterfell

Miss Traci Yiyuan sent word that she had new works in her galleries at Venetia Landing, in Winterfell Reverie, so I decided that a return visit was long overdue.

The elegant building below is the Nether Seas Maritime Center, with four floors of art, views of Winterfell, and a few private nooks suitable for ditching one's chaperone and canoodling with a sweetheart, should one have a sweetheart, of course.

Inside, one finds nautical-themed glassworks, such as the tentacled creature below, as well as portraits of individuals known in the Steamlands. The portrait on the left below is none other than Lord Primbroke, Mr. Edward Pearse, looking very Wellington in his military uniform. To his right should be a portrait of Guvnah Shang, but the picture was, alas, out for cleaning during my visit. Upstairs, one will find several maps of the area.

The Art Gallery contains pictures by Miss Yiyuan, as well as Celtic-inspired wall hangings and furniture by her partner, M. Midnyte DeCuir.

The Venetia Glassworks displays Miss Yiyuan's latest glass art, and has a bench for a well-needed rest while one contemplates the works. The current exhibit is entitled "Water," and it runs through Christmas. The brochure says: "Interpret the flow and beauty of water and the life it contains. Capture that flow in a glass-like structure. Make it glow like a heart in love."

Finally, the Castello D'Venetia has additional artwork of a more, um, personal nature. Curves. I like to think of it as curves, and curves are good.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Timestream, Part 7

[Click for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.]

My next stop was the Patterson house. I knew Farley Patterson was a widower who had not remarried, but that he shared his house with his daughter. Angela Patterson turned out to be a matronly woman in her late thirties. She answered the door in enormous denim pants with an elastic waistband, and a large white cotton undergarment in place of a blouse and corset. Strange customs indeed.

“Miss Patterson? Pardon me for intruding in your time of grief, but I come on behalf of Commodore Billings.”

Her eyes seemed to have trouble focusing, as though she had been drinking. “T-Tom Billings? He was a friend of Dad’s, over for dinner at least once a month, but that thieving nephew of his k-killed my father.” She turned and walked away from the door, deeper into the house. I took this as an invitation and followed. “What does Tom want from us?”

I explained that he had doubts as to Jason Billings’ complicity in the murder. “Just to put his mind at ease, he asked me to talk to some of Professor Patterson’s family, friends, and business associates.”

“Jason’s guilty as hell. He took our money, then he killed Dad. It’s that simple.”

“I do not dispute that Mr. Jason Billings defrauded his clients, including your father. What motivation would he have to murder Mr. Patterson as well?”

“I don’t know – just mad at Dad, I suppose.”

“Did he know what your father was working on? Could Mr. Billings – or anyone else – have wanted to steal one of his inventions?”

She shrugged. “Could be. But Dad kept everything tightly locked away. His papers are in a safe and no one knows the combination, even me. His lab has more security on it than a bank vault, and without his notes the stuff in the lab wouldn’t be worth anything anyway.”

“Did anyone except Mr. Billings bear animus against your father?”

“Bear what?”

“Hold a grudge against him.”

“Oh, why didn’t you just say so. Not that I can think of. Nope. Dad was such an easy-going guy that he didn’t take offense when Tom yelled at him the last time Tom was over here.”

“What was the dispute about?”

She waved a hand. “Oh, who knows? I didn’t really hear it, just Tom’s voice raised, saying something about wanting in on it. Dad said something calmly, and Tom calmed down, too. Nothing more happened.”

Changing directions, I asked, “With your father gone, who inherits his estate and his inventions?”

“Well, I do, of course. I’m his only family.” Her eyes narrowed. “Why? Wha- you don’t think I had something to do with this? My own father? Besides, we’re not rich. It takes a lot of dough to keep the lab going, and he sold off at least half the profits from his inventions just to raise cash. Without him around to make new things that people want to buy…well, he’s a lot more valuable alive than dead. I loved him, of course,” she added hastily.

I thanked her for her time and let myself out. No doubt there were other avenues to explore, but I was tired and hungry, so I returned to the hotel and ordered dinner from room service, including a fifth of a whisky I had never tasted, one that called itself Jack Daniel’s. Perhaps the East Avaria Company could import some of this, I thought as my eyes closed and I was out for the night.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Gathering of the Three

By nature, I tend to prefer solitude to crowds. I am often a solo adventurer. Recently, however, I discovered the power of friends willing to drop everything to help out one of their own.

The Octoberville quest had one particularly annoying spot, in which, to enter a room, one needed to unlock the large skull pictured below. I had keys aplenty, but it turned out that three separate people were needed to each use a key before the mechanism would be triggered. Pother.

I called sister Rhianon and our friend Dr. Tesla Steampunk. They took the time to acquire keys of their own, whereupon they met me in the skull room. Presto! The mechanism unlocked and opened.

Three cheers for good friends!

Mind you, not that this got me to the finish line. :(

Monday, November 23, 2009

Timestream, Part 6

[Click for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.]

“Anything to help out old Tom,” Schneider said, “even if his nephew has turned out to be a no-good rat-faced thieving sonnova bi…” He bit off the rest of the phrase. Schneider turned out to be a barrel-chested man in his late 50s, with silver hair chopped very short. Like Jason Billings, he had no facial hair; I was beginning to think this town had something against beards. Despite his age, Schneider gave the impression of being a powerfully built, as though he made his living as a weightlifter. He informed me that he had worked the docks as a young man, where his muscles grew under the weight of the cargoes he loaded and unloaded. Always a thrifty boy, he saved what he could from his wages in order to invest as opportunities arose. Because he spent his days at a trading hub, and because merchants tended to see nothing but a young longshoreman with brawn but no brain, he was able to overhear enough conversations to provide him with good investments. Slowly, he accumulated enough wealth to quit the docks and look more broadly for a good return on his money.

“I was doing just fine until my wife said I should let Tom Billings’ youngster handle my money so I could spend more time scouting out new businesses. Seems she was meeting with other women her age for lunch and such, and several of the widows were taken with young Billings. I knew Tom, and I guess I let my wife talk me into it.” He shook his head bitterly. “What a mistake.”

“How did you find out that Jason Billings had defrauded you?”

“Through Farley Patterson, as it turns out. Farley is a whiz-bang inventor, a real ideas man. Not just pie-in-the-sky stuff, either; his inventions are real commercial successes. But they tend to be pretty expensive to make, and Farley doesn’t – didn’t – have the money to front as capital for his ideas. He gets some investors like me together, we bankroll him, he keeps a share of the profits, and everybody gets rich. Matter of fact, after I started letting young Billings manage my money, I told Farley and Farley started doing the same thing. I guess Farley was a little more careful in minding his money, because he came to me one day last week saying he had proof that Billings was stealing from us. I couldn’t believe it, but Farley showed me his calculations that said Billings was stealing from him, and I figured Billings was probably stealing from me, too.”

“Was there any particular project that Mr. Patterson was working on at the time of his death? Something in which you invested?”

Schneider hesitated. “I don’t know that I can…”

“Mr. Schneider, I am the soul of discretion. Furthermore, as soon as my job here is finished, I plan on flying back to Caledon. I could not possibly profit from any information you might give me in confidence.” That was a white lie, as my livelihood in Oceania was doing just that. However, I really did intend to head home quickly, and had no intention of trying to profit.

My reassurance must have worked. “Please understand that no one else knew about this, or at least that’s what Patterson told me. You know what a timestream is, right?” I nodded. “Farley was working on a device that would automatically detect a timestream and plot its course. If it wasn’t a known stream, if it wasn’t in the device’s database already, it would compute the destination of the stream, both geographically and temporally, and send the information back to the master database. If this worked, it would revolutionize travel.”

I did not know what a “database” might be, but I understood what Schneider was saying. “This would be a valuable invention, I take it?”

“That’s an understatement, lady. Farley would be rich – and so would I, if I bought a big enough piece of the action. I hadn’t yet, but I was thinking about it. He needed money to build a prototype – the parts would have set him back millions – but was giving me a few days to think about how much of a share I wanted to buy, before he’d seek other investors. But…you’re not suggesting this invention had anything to do with his murder?”

I let a small smile play on my face. “I mean to suggest nothing at this point. However, it does seem a possibility worth bearing in mind.”

“Bullfeathers! People have been trying to crack this problem for year, and have gotten nowhere. Scientists pretty much all say it can’t be done. Farley Patterson was the only person who could have pulled this off, and he hadn’t done it yet. Killing him just ensures that it never happens.”

Nodding, I said, “That makes sense to me.” I questioned Schneider further, but it was clear he had nothing more that he knew – or would tell me.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Steamy Victorian, um, You Know

Whilst stumbling about the world - or doing random searches for Steampunk-influenced places - I found something...unusual. It's called the "Eiffel Tower of Sex" (at about 2400 meters in the Audeburgh sim...SLURL to follow when I remember).

The place is actually quite tame by SL standards, though there are a few naughty poseballs. It's designed to look a little like the Eiffel Tower, with Victorian-era cast iron in intricate designs. On the inside, it looks like a Victorian sitting room - except that the walls are covered with period erotic photographs. Oh, and a great steam engine in the center of the room.

The steam engine has controls to take one to different levels of the tower, including the control room, pictured below,...

...and the boiler room, below.

All in all, an odd experience.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

In the Downs

Professor Swindlehurst's laboratory appears to be no longer. In its stead we have the dwelling of M. Chronos Ghanduhar. M. Ghanduhar's typist appears to reside in Deutschland, as the profile is entirely auf Deutsch.

I hope it does not sound too unneighborly of me to suggest that the residence is not entirely harmonious with the rest of the buildings. I note that this has been something of a recurring theme in the Downs. Pardon me while I sigh.

Fortunately, the Professor's airship is still moored above the Downs, so the redoubtable gentleman has not left us entirely.

I also purchased a pennyfarthing from Mr. Alastair Whybrow, though I have no suitable riding clothing. Nor do I have any idea how to ride a bicycle - airship, yes; bicycle, no - or even how to mount the beast. My next dispatch may be from the infirmary.

Collegiality and Professionalism

[We will be returning to our story in progress Very Soon Now, but I needed to get this rant out. Rest assured that nothing below applies to you lovely people reading this.]

Children tend to have little sense of boundaries and appropriate behavior, which is one reason they are taught to raise their hands when desiring to speak in a group setting. Parents and teachers work had to instill such boundaries, and eventually most children learn how to take turns speaking. They learn to avoid personal attacks. (Keith Olbermann is an exception.) As adults, these skills are very useful in a variety of social and professional environments.

Not everyone is adept at these skills. This week, I had the misfortune of attending one of the least-pleasant meetings of my professional life. Perhaps three dozen professionals were assembled for the purpose of a free-form meeting to make suggestions as to how to modify an important document - the particulars are unimportant. Things turned ugly very quickly, as one faction decided that the appropriate strategy was to (1) shout over anyone with an opposing point of view, (2) ridicule those with an opposing point of view, and (3) insist without evidence that their position was the only possible correct one. At one point, when one person was trying to get out a complete sentence, a second person shouted words to the effect of "Assume I'm right about [something]. What's your response?" Before the first speaker could reply, the second said again, "What's your response? What's your response, huh?" Let us just say that there was no meeting of the minds that day.

The Aethernet has always been a tough-and-tumble sort of place, a frontier characterized by the appearance of anonymity, in which some feel comfortable enough to lob ad hominem attacks and odd, thoughtless remarks. (Twitter's 140-character limit does not help in this regard.) One person tweeted - and had retweeted - the sentence: "Anyone who does business with [name of large bank] is an idiot." (Apparently, the bank had engaged in some particularly egregious screw-up.) As it happened, I was a customer of this bank. The writer had just called me an idiot. Oh, not directly, of course, not intentionally, and with no malice, but still, that wasn't nice. I regularly read tweets along the lines of "Anyone agreeing with [some position, policy, or political school of thought] is too stupid to live." While I appreciate forthrightness and am happy that we do not live in a world where thoughts must be quarantined, one would think that there are more graceful ways of expressing one's opinion. (I have no doubt that I'm guilty of this kind of behavior on occasion, so I cast no stones. All I can say in my defense is that I try not to let it happen often.)

Group chat in Second Life, bless its dysfunctional heart, is another area where the fingers may type something that the brain later regrets. I turned off a particularly belligerent discussion in ISC chat the other night that started on the subject of LL's new policy regarding free and low-priced items on SL Exchange, morphed into a discussion having to do with comparing corporate tax rates across countries, and degenerated into a debate about high personal tax rates and nationalized health care. I clicked it off more because I didn't care to have my screen taken up with those subjects, rather than the less-than-polite language of some participants, but the language was, in fact, less than polite.

None of this is new, of course. And emotions occasionally run high. The number of such episodes in one week focused my attention on the subject. I resolved to do two things: first, take such comments less personally. Second, recognize that others have a right to their opinions and that those opinions may occasionally be right. Occasionally.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Primtings Museum

If one stays around Second Life long enough, things start to look familiar, even if it merely tickles a long-lost memory.

Such was the case when I read about the Primtings Museum in Mrs. Dio Kuhr's Journal. The Museum is a collection of three-dimensional art pieces done by SL artists that imitate or pay homage to (mostly) well-known pieces of two-dimensional paintings done by real life artists. I recalled an installation of Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks" from some time ago and, indeed, that piece had been moved to the Museum.

Above, Paul Klee's "The Twittering Machine." The name struck my fancing, as I am indeed a habitue of Twitter.

The Museum is organized by style of art. Categories thus far include: modernism, pop art, bauhaus, realism, suprematism (I'll admit I had not heard of that one), neoclassicism, surrealism, op art, dada, post-impressionism, and contemporary. Surrealism seems to work well, perhaps because of the not-quite-real nature of SL builds. For the Caledonians who might be reading, Caledon's own Miss Kacy Depres has several pieces inspired by paintings by Max Ernst.

Above, Miss Bryn Oh's "Steam Stag at Sharkey's," inspired by George Bellows' "Stag at Sharkey's."

One of the things that did not work so well was Marcel Duchamp's "Fountain" (not pictured but, as many know, a urinal). The "fountain," though three-dimensional in SL, lay flat and could have been a picture of the painting, for all it did. Others were more successful, however.

One of the things one can do with a three-dimensional piece of art is to step into it. Above, I enter M.C. Escher's "Relativity."

Above, I visit Vincent VanGogh's "Vincent's Room."

The installations can even be participatory. Above, AM Radio's version of Jacque-Louis David's "The Death of Marat," with a custom pose by Ina Centaur (who also owns the Museum). Except for the fact that I remain clothed, and I'm, ah, not dead yet, I play the role of Marat.

Above, Savador Dali's "The Persistence of Memory," again with Miss Rhianon Jameson insinuating herself into the picture. I saw this elsewhere on the grid some months back, and had meant to write about it. Now it is part of the Museum.

Above, Edward Hopper's "Nighthawks." Though hard to see, a very young me sits by herself at the counter. (This is one of my favorite paintings, and one of the highlights of a Hopper exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in Washington a few years ago.)

For the most part, the installations work because they add a dimension (both literally and figuratively) to the painting. Highly recommended.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Cornish Engine House

A nation that runs on steam needs a steam engine, it would seem. Fortunately, one exists in the Moors, and it is available for viewing.

The property conveniently lies on a railway in the section of the Moors nearest to Victoria City.

The great engine works tirelessly to supply Caledon with her power needs.

The photograph below shows the sheer size of the beast, with its voracious appetite for coal.

Fortunately, a supply of coal lies close at hand, though one assumes the rail line could be employed to bring additional coal to the engine as needed.

And look at the flora growing nearby - the entire operation creates no adverse effects on the environment! Coal: clean, efficient power for the 19th century - and beyond.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Trip to Baker Street

I had business in Victoria City that concluded early. With some time to kill before my next appointment, I decided to stroll through some of the less-busy parts of the city, places to which I did not often have reason to go.

I found myself in the scene below, and I confess I was utterly lost! I saw the great Library ahead of me, but, beyond that landmark, I recognized nothing.

I peered first at a street sign, which proclaimed me to be on Baker Street. How the neighborhood has changed! I wandered down the street until I found No. 221B, intending to call upon Mr. Holmes, whom I had not seen for a long time, to renew our acquaintence.

The landlady, Mrs. Hudson welcomed me in, but informed me that neither Mr. Holmes nor Dr. Watson were at home.

She directed me to the gentlemen's sitting room to wait for them. I did so, first looking at the deplorable state of the room - dottles of tobacco everywhere, bullet holes in the walls, and an evil-looking liquid next to a syringe - and then reading one of Dr. Watson's recent recollections of one of Holmes's cases.

After some time, the gentlemen had not yet returned, and it was time for me to be off to my next appointment. I dashed off a note to Mr. Holmes expressing my disappointment that he was not in, thanked Mrs. Hudson, and found a hansom cab nearby to set me on my journey.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Aether Salon: Furnishings!

This month's Aether Salon was held yesterday, Nov. 15, with the topic of Furnishings. As Rhianon was unavailable to attend, she asked me to do so in her place.

Hostesses Serafina Puchkina and Jed Dagger (left and right, below) welcomed the sizable and boisterous crowd and introduced the day's speaker,...

...Miss Canolli Capalini, the noted Babbage designer.

Miss Capalini began by describing the "Biedermeier stylization," which she characterized as "clean...simply made. Heavy, with very distinct lines," and created as a backlash against the more ornate styles of the previous period. According to Miss Capalini, this was an effort by the aristocracy of the time (the early to mid 19th century) to "make themselves seem more humble" as anti-aristocracy revolutions were sweeping Europe.

The table, pictured above, has a distinctive Steampunk-ish carving at the base, as several Salon participants noted. (The chair pictured below the table is one of Miss Capalini's own design.)

I sat (mostly) quietly, trying to take in the details. (Annoyingly, I crashed twice during the lecture, while I tried to take pictures. Pfui.)

I would not do justice to the talk, so I urge the interested reader to review the entire transcript, which will be available shortly at the Salon's Aetheric site.

The audience was generally informed, interested, and polite, asking Miss Capalini questions along the way. One urchin, a Master Streeter, who seemed known to the Babbagers, seemed unduly interested in elephants at the beginning of the talk, and was full of juvenile comments throughout. He was clearly in need of a good whipping, though his comments were generally taken in good spirits. [I realize this is Bob's regular schtick, so no letters telling me what an interfering interloper I am. - KJ] If I had the ear of Clockwinder Tenk, I might suggest that the urchins in Babbage are treated far too well, and need some discipline and toil to instill in them an appreciation for hard work and education!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Timestream, Part 5

[Click for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.]

After a brief rest, I donned a walking dress and a comfortable pair of boots and set out for the town jail, where I used the Commodore’s name to see his nephew. When I arrived, Jason was sitting on a cot in a small cell. A single bare bulb provided what little light there was.

“What do you want from me?” the young man asked after I introduced myself. He was in his late twenties, lean and without obvious muscle definition, smooth-shaven, and handsome in a boyish way. His hair was slicked back and held in place with some kind of pomade. I supposed that the combination of his looks and his uncle’s stature persuaded rich old ladies to entrust him with their money. Why Farley Patterson or Colt Schneider would do so was a mystery.

“Did you defraud Mr. Patterson and others?”

He looked at me. “That’s awfully direct, Miss, ah, Jameson is it? And it’s such a tricky issue. Fraud. You see, the legal standards are somewhat vague. My fiduciary responsibility goes only so far, and then…well, I’m not certain you’d understand it.”

I rolled my eyes. “I might suggest that your charms wear thin quite rapidly when you assume the opposite sex consists of stupid people. I would be delighted to hear a preview of your defense at your upcoming civil trial, but I am in something of a hurry, so I merely ask again: did you defraud your clients?”

“Oh, fine. Yes, I moved some money that was technically not mine. But I borrowed it. I was going to return it if I had had enough time.”

“Mmm. The jury will no doubt enjoy that defense. And Mr. Patterson was the one who first discovered your ‘borrowing’?”

“That’s right. He confronted me in my office one day last week, waving some pieces of paper with numbers on them, claiming he had proof I had stolen from him. I pleaded with him to give me a little time to replace the money – with interest. He said he’d think about it, but he must have gone directly to the other investors. After Patterson died, one of them must have called the police.”

“Now we’re getting somewhere. Did you kill Mr. Patterson?”

“No! I keep telling people that, and no one will believe me.”

“You must admit, you had a good motive for murder.”

“Why would I kill him?”

“To keep him from going to the police about the fraud?”

Jason Billings shook his head. “Just the opposite, really. If I killed him, even if he hadn’t told the other investors what I’d done, the police would have looked for a motive and eventually latched on to his relationship with my firm. They would have hired someone to audit the books, at which point I’d have been found out anyway. I had every incentive to keep him alive.”

“Perhaps. On the other hand, if you asked him to give you time and he refused, you may have decided to take your chances and kill him anyway, hoping that the police would find another suspect before auditing you and your firm, because waiting meant you would be ruined. Another possibility is that you killed him in a fit of anger after you discovered he had alerted the police to your crimes. Your uncle tells me the body showed evidence of significant rage on the part of the killer.”

He ran a hand through his hair, flattening it on his head still more. “I’ll tell you once more: I. Didn’t. Kill. Him.” Jason emphasized each word by banging his palm on the cot.

The surprising thing was: I believed him. Unlike my question about the fraud, which he tried to deflect with lawyerly language and his lady-killer charm, he was adamant that he did not kill Patterson. His body language and his direct response gave him some credibility with me. He was a disgusting toad of a man, but not a murderer. Tom Billings would be happy to know I concurred with his assessment of his nephew.

However, that left me with the problem of trying to find the real killer. My next stop was to see Colt Schneider, the investor, to hear what he had to say about the fraud. Again, a word from the Commodore was all it took to get him to agree to see me.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Timestream, Part 4

[Click for Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.]


Commodore Billings [Kathy said] appeared on our doorstep one morning. I had known him years ago, in Oceania, where he worked in the Ministry of War under Dalton Lindley. As it turned out, when I had to leave Oceania somewhat hurriedly, I owed the Commodore a favor. Now he was coming to collect on it.

“It’s my nephew, Jason,” he said. “The boy is in trouble. He’s a hothead, but I don’t think he’s capable of the sort of thing he’s being accused of.” I packed quickly, and dashed off a note for you. He filled me in on the story as we traveled.

“A man by the name of Farley Patterson, one of our local inventors, was murdered the other day. No, worse than murdered – it was as though someone had taken out a great deal of anger on Patterson, so badly was his body mutilated. The police looked to see who might hold a grudge against old Patterson, and Jason’s name came up quickly. You see, Jason is a lawyer, and most of his practice deals with managing the legal aspects of large trust funds. He provides legal advice on tax dodges, so these rich people can stay rich. I don’t pretend to understand it. Patterson was one of his clients.

“As things turned out, Jason had been…tinkering with his clients’ money. He’d skim some off the top, or create phony costs for the accounts that he’d pay, ’cept he’d really be paying himself. He got caught. In fact, Patterson was the one who caught him. Seems the man wasn’t as absent-minded as he let on. So Jason was in a heap of trouble no matter what. The police seem to think that Jason blamed Patterson for ruining the boy’s career and took revenge, but that doesn’t seem right to me.”

“Where do I come in?”

“It seems that the police have all but closed down their investigation because they think they have the right man in custody. Patterson’s family – well, his daughter, Angela, and one of his investors, Colt Schneider – aren’t certain about that. They put up a large sum of money as a reward for anyone who could find proof of the killer’s identity, whether it’s Jason or someone else. Problem is, every idiot in three counties has descended on our town to try to claim the reward. I recalled your…unusual methods of finding things out in Oceania, and thought you might be the boy’s best hope. Even if you were unable to find the killer or even prove him innocent, I thought you could make Jason’s problems…go away.” Was the Commodore insinuating that he believed his nephew to be guilty? I kept that thought to myself.

“Recall that I knew the underworld in Oceania quite well. I know no one in – where did you say we were going?”

“I didn’t. That’s a story by itself.” We had arrived at the airship port, where the Commodore had docked his runabout. “If you want to file a flight plan, I suggest you take down the following notes.” He gave me detailed information about precise maneuvers an airship would have to take to reach the land to which we were about to travel. Though I did not know the meaning of these instructions, I wrote them as directed, and filed them with Mr. Daniels. We departed.

Inside the cabin, outside noise was kept to a minimum despite our high velocity. I faced the Commodore. “All right, sir, let us hear the story of where we are headed.”

“Back in Caledon, you think the year is 18__ and for you it is. As it is everywhere in the Steamlands. But the timestream doesn’t always run so smoothly between places. It may run a little faster some places, a little slower in others. That makes it tough to move between them, navigating the bumpy places in the timestream. In fact, it’s downright impossible to fly directly from one place to another if they’re not in the same stream. You have to know the precise wrinkles that allow you to move a century in this direction, a dozen years in that one, maneuvering to make sure that place and time line up the way you want it to.”

I looked at him carefully, but he showed no signs of telling a joke. Incredible as his story was, I had to admit it made some sense, as it explained the presence of so many with magical powers, not to mention the furries, in the Steamlands. (As you know, we are all far too polite to inquire of them their origins.)

“The various ways that time slips and slides means there can be multiple lands that are similar, but far away in time, or multiple lands that are close in time, but dissimilar.”

“If I understand you correctly, there could be a version of Caledon in which the fey do not exist, or in which the Wulfenbachs never encountered us?”

He nodded. “Precisely. Our destination today, Octoberville, is at the confluence of several timestreams, which has allowed outsiders of all sorts to come and mingle. Point in fact, that’s how I got there from Oceania after the government fell. I just sort of happened into it. It’s allowed us to understand the timestream faster than other places, although we’ve had to learn each stream one at a time, painstakingly mapping out where we started and where we ended. A way to map and manipulate the timestream would be worth a fortune, but our best scientists agree it can’t be controlled.” He left me to digest this information as he engaged the aircraft in several precise operations, after which the complexion of the sky had changed. I did not doubt that, had we been able to open the cabin door, the air would have smelled differently than in Caledon.

We landed, and the Commodore escorted me to a hotel. He had used his connections to secure me a room despite the unusual number of visitors to town. However, he warned me that things were done differently here, and that unescorted men would also be using the same hotel, even the same floor. I noted wryly that I had seen unescorted men before.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Brother Lead and Sister Steel

In another use of SL as an immersive learning platform, Oxford University has developed an interactive sim focused on the first World War. Western Front, 1917 is a collaboration between the First World War Poetry Digital Archive and the Learning Technologies Group at Oxford, and focuses on British poets' views of the war, along with audio of recollections from soldiers (taped in the 1950s, if I understood correctly) about their experiences in the war, from training (insufficient) to medical care (horrific) to life in the trenches (egads) to the effects of mustard gas (just what you'd think).

Mrs. Kuhr has a very nice discussion of what worked and what did not, from the perspective of someone who actually knows what she's talking about. My notes are much more from the perspective of someone who is vaguely aware that, to have a Second World War, one logically needed a First. (All right, I'm not quite that ignorant, but nearly so.)

One can also read about the exhibit here.

The billboard at the landing area notes: "The aim of the initiative is to place the poetry of the Great War in context, allowing the visitors to the sim to visualise archival materials in an environment that generates deeper understandings and to take advantage of the social and interactive aspects that the environment offers."

To a large degree, I think it succeeds. One starts at a "training camp" (Miz Dio notes that this is really supposed to be the British army base at Etaples, which turns out to be a town in northern France that was the home of the British Expeditionary Force, rather than a large chain of office supply stores) and learns of conditions at the camp and how soldiers were trained in warfare, including how to dig trenches and deal with gas attacks.

After leaving the camp, one travels to the battlefield in a mysterious conveyance that moves the observer through the clouds, first above and then below airplanes patrolling the skies, and finally to the ground. As the sign above shows, one is not yet at the front (but England is most assuredly in the other direction).

The Casualty Clearing Station, pictured above, was where medical attention, such as it was, could be given. Soldiers were patched up as best as possible and sent back to the front.

One moves among the trenches, unable to see out, as artillery explodes nearby. At one point, the effects of a mustard gas attack are shown. Barbed wire fences separate the trenches into a "no man's land" where travel is hazardous to one's health, being exposed to small arms and artillery fire from both sides. (I kept my head down.)

As I noted above, I'm no expert in the subject. To this novice, I thought the experience was interesting because it conveyed a visual sense of the conditions under which the soldiers on both sides operated. As Miz Dio put it, the experience "can never really recreate the true feeling of [trench warfare]. The smell of death and shit, the mud and the dirt, the threat of actually getting killed..." But it convinced me not to wind up as a soldier in a trench.

I think it's great that groups are starting to consider how to use virtual worlds to convey information that would be difficult to convey in other ways. To use a more prosaic example, seeing a picture of a dress from the 1870s with an enormous bustle is one thing, but it's quite another to see an avatar walking in one. I hope other educational groups use SL in similarly inventive ways; it strikes me that this is a great deal more plausible than SL as a tool for real-world business meetings, as I occasionally read is the goal of the Lab.

(N.B., the title of this journal entry is from a poem by Seigfried Sassoon.)