Friday, April 30, 2010

New Toulouse Jardin

I was looking for ideas for a brief getaway when someone suggested the French-influenced New Toulouse. Having enjoyed my earlier visit, but never having seen the two newest regions of Jardin and the Bayou, this seemed to be a terrific idea.

My first stop was Jardin, an area of stately manor homes. Interspersed among these mansions is the church below - or, rather, what appeared to be a deconsecrated church and now the (future) home to the Museum of New Orleans History.

After that, my guide took me on a tour of the fine homes.

As we passed by the home shown in the picture below, my guide whispered that this was the residence of the Prim Minister herself, Miss Gabrielle Riel. We also passed by the Edison Ballroom, which looked to be the scene of formal dances.

Despite the heat and humidity that hung like a pall over the town and caused the vegetation to run wild in many places, I could not help but be impressed by the splendor of the town.

As we ended the tour along the riverbank, my driver said to me in the local patois, "Now that you've seen how the other half lives, do you want to see where the workin' men an' women live?" I nodded. "Well, jes' git yoursel' into this boat heah an' I'll show you. We'ah goin' to the Bayou."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

My Journey to Heritage Key, Part 2 - Life on the Nile

Walking through the teleporter to the Life on the Nile exhibit takes you to Amarna and the house of Setmare the Scribe. A variety of Egyptian outfits are available - I chose the "Beketaten" -, as well as a "journal" that keeps track of the mini-games in the area. (Sadly, the journal does not keep track of accomplishments between visits, so be sure to complete a set of accomplishments before logging out.)

The first room in the house is the western loggia, and appears to be used as a music room, with a lute and a flute-like instrument available. Below, I'm playing the solo in "Stairway to Heaven" - Jimmy Page, eat your heart out!

Setmare the Scribe is in the main hall. Come near him and he will say he does not recognize you, and challenges you to answer a question. Answer incorrectly and you may find yourself damp.

Other interior rooms include the entrance hall, the harem (!), and various bedrooms. Various household members interact to a limited degree with visitors, and a number of rooms have information displays with explanations about life in this time and place. Below, I play with makeup.

Don't forget to explore the roof of the house, the outbuildings, and the exterior. Below is an explanatory sign. Click on the prim to activates the sign. One of the interesting things is that the sign will display on the client side, so that avatars can read through the different screens at their own paces. (Note the small "1" in the upper-right-hand corner, signifying that we are on the first page, and the hand by the "click for more..." at the lower-right-hand part of the page.)

Without automation, a household this size took a fair number of servants to run. One of the mini-games involves finding these areas (not all have servants, such as the one depicted below) and sitting on the appropriate object to "help out" in running the household.

While you're at it, keep on the lookout for the four pieces of a letter that will help reveal a household plot. Solve the plot and reveal it to the correct person in the house and you could save the day! (If all that sounds too much like work, I assure you that the mini-games are not taxing.)

Before you leave for more modern times, be sure to find the river raft and play the game Rock, Scythe, Papyrus. (An ancient version of a game most of us are familiar with.) Win the round and your opponent moves backward, toward the Nile. The game ends when one player falls into the crocodile-infested river. (Fortunately, the sim is not damage-enabled.) Exploring solo? No problem. As one can see from the picture below, a hippopotamus is happy to assist. "Move, porky - you lost that round."

Next: to Stonehenge!

Monday, April 26, 2010

My Journey to Heritage Key, Part 1

At the risk of appearing to jump on the bandwagon – largely because I am jumping on the bandwagon – I thought I’d spend some time exploring the work that Rezzable has been doing with Open Sim. (For those who haven’t seen these excellent pieces, Dio Kuhr writes about her experiences here and Ariane Barnes writes here.)

Dio discusses Heritage Key as a learning envrionment, and has a brief interview with Rezzable's CEO, Jon Himoff. I'm no ed-yoo-cater; I'm more of a happy-go-lucky sort, interested in entertaining myself and others, and if I happen to learn something along the way, great. As a result, my perspective is a somewhat different one.

I'll start with a big thank you to Miss Viv Trafalgar, who made sure I was able to log in without trouble and spent a very pleasant hour or more with me (well, it was pleasant for me) showing me the welcome area, the travel center, and the various Stonehenge exhibits - more on those in Part 2 of this series - and pointing out the AO that, among other things, got rid of the horrid duck walk. Miss Viv, who has done extensive work for Rezzable both in Heritage Key and elsewhere, also discussed the ongoing evolution of the software behind the Heritage Key grid. [*N.B. All errors are those of the author, as the disclaimer in academic work goes. In addition, I haven't quoted Viv, in part because, in my scatter-brained way, it didn't occur to me until it was far too late that, gee, some our conversation might be of wider interest but by then it was too late to ask whether she would like to be quoted. Instead, you get my musings.]

Heritage Key is an OpenSimulator (or OpenSim) grid, existing separately from the Second Life grid, so it requires its own registration and avatar creation. OpenSimulator an open source server software designed to host virtual worlds. OpenSim looks a great deal like Second Life - I assume much of that was reverse-engineered from the SL server side - and uses the same communications protocols for client to server communication. As a result, any of the Second Life clients should work with OpenSim.

If my experience in Heritage Key is representative of OpenSim, the platform has come a long way from my earlier experiments with it. I would have login difficulties, suffer frequent crashes, and, during the infrequent times when I could both log in and not crash immediately, the lag was so intense as to render the platform unusable. This time, I've had no trouble logging in, have crashed only once, and performance has been fairly good. It seems to be rougher around the edges than SL, but the developers are no doubt heading rapidly in the right direction.

Heritage Key has its own client, which is a simplified version of a standard SL client. Start by registering at (and that little hyphen is important; otherwise, you find yourself looking at the web page for a RL community in Kissimmee, Florida), create an avatar name - and, wonder of wonders, you're not limited to a menu of last names! - and default avatar, all of which come with some degree of a Steampunk outfit. Download and install the software (for Windows or Mac). The software launches with a click of a button on the HK site, as well as the usual way. Alternatively, one can configure a standard SL client with the "Target" line of properties to: -loginuri . In theory, at least. When I tried this, I logged in but I stayed a cloud. For the moment, I'm sticking with the HK client.

After logging in for the first time, I found myself in the Welcome area.

This is a Roman-style plaza with a central fountain and statues representing various Heritage Key exhibits (e.g., an ibis and mummy) - and possibly future ones - note the terra cotta warrior. Below, the HK Rhianon:

At one end of the plaza is this globe, with teleporters that are set for destinations that appear to be children-oriented:

At the end is an AO vendor and four brass-and-glass teleporters. No clicking to "sit" in order to teleport - just walk in! The destinations: Skills Center, King Tut's Treasure, Travel Hub, and Avatar Center.

The Skills Center is a short tutorial on basic movement, communications, and inventory management. The Avatar Center has male and female avatars, complete outfits, several hair styles, and some individual pieces of clothing. There are changing rooms as well, for the modest. Below, I model the Steampunk top hat and goggles available in the area while standing next to "my" skin and shape. The family resemblance is unmistakable.

The Travel Hub, with its big brass clock as a centerpiece, has an information desk with signs that describe the various destinations. Around the edge of the room are teleporters for the various destinations: Life on the Nile 1350 BCE; Collections Gallery, Tut's Treasure; Valley of the Kings 1920s; Stonehenge Solstice; Stonehenge Portal; and, listed as "opening soon," The British Museum.

In Part 2, I discover intrigue in ancient Egypt!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Le Havre and Honfleur

From the lovely village of Giverny, a walk south takes one to the Norman town of Le Havre, overlooking the harbor and facing the town of Honfleur. At least, these recreations spring from the creative mind of Miss Kaye Robbiani, who recently discovered, as sim owners are wont to do, that two sims were not enough.

Our tour starts at the Hotel Le Havre.

The hotel has a charming cottage across the way; the design of the cottage is for sale.

One could travel by boat across the harbor, and no doubt this would be a charming way to see the area as the sea breeze gently ruffles one's hair, but I took my trusty airship, and landed on the coast.

The high street, so to speak, has a number of small shops with wares by names familiar in the Steamlands, such as Mr. Nix Sands, Mr. Ambiant Kukulcan, Mr. Equine McMillan, Miss Terry Lightfoot, Miss Kembri Tomsen, Miss Audry Fotherington, Mr. Alastair Whybrow, and Mr. Storm Engineer.

To the west of the shops stand several cottages.

Behind the cottages, protected by a hill and several tall trees, is an art gallery, owned by Mr. Monty Streusel. One can sit outside at the cafe and look at the surroundings,...

...or tour the rooms of the gallery and admire those surroundings.

Back in the airship, I decided I had had enough walking for one day, regardless of how breathtaking the sights. It was time to head home and find a medicinal brandy.

Friday, April 23, 2010

My Sporadic Journal Entries

The regular reader of this Journal may have noticed that its frequency has declined recently. The frenetic pace of the first year and a half or so, in which I strove to have something in the feed on a daily or near-daily basis, has become a more genteel stroll of perhaps thrice weekly publication.

The reasons for this are several: my typist's obligations, which have reduced my in-world presence and my time available to compose these entries; my sibling's own adventures, which have left her tied up and unable to contribute as much as we both would like; fewer Victorian/Steampunk areas to visit; and, perhaps most of all, a certain lassitude in both my in-world wanderings and my typist's day-to-day activities.

I do not know whether those last two items are connected. It's possible that my frame of mind in-world reflects the heightened uncertainties of grid life in the past weeks: the coming of the abominable Viewer 2.0, the confused messages our Linden overlords are sending with regard to their vision of the world, friends either leaving entirely or cutting back their presence. However, I suspect that the culprit is my typist, who seems to suffer from a certain melancholia that waxes and wanes. The current waxing seems likely to be related, at least in part, to office-related events. (I realize that those of you who are currently between positions have no sympathy for a tough day/week/month/year at the office, and I expect none.) I assume the feeling will lift eventually and, in the meanwhile, I will just wait it out. Please bear with me.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Review: Steamed: A Steampunk Romance, by Katie MacAlister

Question: How do you know when Steampunk has hit the mainstream? Answer: When it migrates to the romance novel.

In Katie MacAlister’s Steamed: A Steampunk Romance, scientist Jack Fletcher and his sister Hallie are involved in a lab accident and wake up…aboard His Imperial Majesty’s airship Tesla, in an alternate reality in which the British expanded their empire to include Italy and Prussia, the Moghul empire retook Constantinople - and steam technologies continued to hold sway. Captain Octavia Pye, a red-haired beauty in command of her first airship, is taking the Tesla to Rome, and the last thing she needs are two stowaways aboard. Octavia takes Jack for an airship pirate, principally because Jack is wearing a t-shirt that says “Airship Pirates.” Jack protests in vain that this was the name of a Steampunk band whose concert Jack had attended the night before. (Note to author: oh, come on, a Steampunk band with initials “AP”? Puh-leeze.)

After some steamy looks at one another, and a fair number of double entendres and inappropriate remarks about the lady’s corset, Jack and Octavia become friends, in the "oh, just get a room!" sense. The Tesla is attacked by the Black Hand, an organization whose purpose is to overthrow the British Emperor, and led by Octavia's ex-beau Etienne Briel. Etienne and the Black Hand are repelled by a second attack, this time from a group of Moghuls (also intent on overthrowing the Emperor), led by Prince Akbar, also one of Octavia's former flames. Embarrassment ensues when Jack, his manly dander raised, assaults Akbar and repels the Moghuls.

As the ship lands in Rome, plots within plots reveal themselves, Jack and Octavia find some alone time, and Jack's sister Hallie is arrested by the Emperor's men and is slated to be returned to England to be executed as a wedding present to the Emperor. Naturally, Jack and Octavia must find a way to rescue Hallie while avoiding the Black Hand, the Moghuls, and arrest.

Because I will later say some not-so-nice things, let me start out by saying that the book was fun to read. The plot is preposterous, the romance equally so, but MacAlister was certainly not trying to write a book meant to be taken seriously. One of the best things about the book was the sendup of the Steampunk culture. Jack can't understand why no one wears goggles, as goggles are clearly a Steampunk must-have. He is equally at sea as to why Octavia wears her corset beneath her blouse, instead of on the outside, as good Steampunks do.

I enjoyed the adventure story reasonably well, though I thought it was under-developed. The setup had potential: the young, plucky female captain on her first command; the scientist thrust from his world into a strange yet oddly familiar one; the political intrigue; the sister in need of a daring rescue. Will the captain's crew respect her authority? Will the scientist find his way home? Will the plots against the Emperor succeed, and will our hero and heroine pull off the rescue in time? Unfortunately, the novel - about 350 pages - devotes perhaps 100 of those pages to this plot. The rest of the book is devoted to the romance between Jack and Octavia, which left too little space in which to develop the plot. Improbable plot developments were commonplace; for example, Jack somehow bests Prince Akbar, which leads to the Moghuls simply abandoning their mission to hijack the Tesla's cargo. Later in the book, the Tesla's crew appears with no explanation whatsoever as to how they could have done so.

At the same time, I didn't think the book worked well as a romance. I have a confession here: I haven't read a romance novel in several decades. I'm told they've changed. I have it on authority that it is no longer the case that the lead characters cannot consummate their relationship until the last page. No doubt other changes have occurred. Still, the constant panting after one another, and the barrage of sexually charged remarks,even in the heat of battle, and even in front of the crew, seemed perplexing. The central trope of the romance novel always seemed to be that the mismatched characters were thrust into one another's unwanted presence on multiple occasions, but that, over the course of the novel, each realized that the other was more than just a pretty face - and this change in perspective was accomplished through episodes in which person A saw person B demonstrate bravery/compassion/charity, or whatever characteristics seemed to be missing at the beginning of the story. Here, Octavia and Jack have an immediate physical attraction to one another, and later profess their love for one another (I don't think I'm giving anything away by making that remark), yet neither character changes. Jack is a possessive womanizer - I'll give MacAlister points for making the male lead a bona fide nerd yet simultaneously studly - while Octavia is...well, it's hard to say.

One reader of Steamed referred to the book as "bathroom p**n." That assessment may be a little harsh, but the book shares with that genre the objectification of women. Octavia is a hot babe who can fill out a corset, but not a fully-developed character. Similarly, Jack is a smooth-talking sex hound who is ready for action at a moment's notice, and little more. (His sister, Hallie, is little more than a plot device, as we see very little of her.)

To be fair, the book is clearly designed to be humorous, and there were a number of laugh-out-loud passages. Perhaps I'm just not familiar with the subgenre of the comic romance, where improbable events that occur merely to move along the plot are commonplace, and hot action is more important than permitting the reader to identify with the main characters. However, I can't help but wish there were less romance and more Steampunk.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Mr. Ambiant Kukulkan described the new sim of Crematoria as a Steampunk-themed shopping area, and indeed it is. Not a role-playing sim, Crematoria nonetheless has some Steampunk elements both within shops (such as Mr. Kukulkan's Mad Science Emporium) and scattered among the open areas.

Many of the shops have been rented, though some are still available. It's an eclectic collection of goods in an interesting setting.

Monday, April 19, 2010

On the Hunt in Steam Sky City

If it's spring in Caledon, it must be time for another fiendishly difficult sim-wide hunt in Steam Sky City. I was the sole representative of Clan Jameson this year, as sister was out of town for much of the weekend.

I made a small donation to the RFL kiosk mid-city and received the Completely Useless Hints. (Though, despite Mrs. Volare's best efforts, I did find that a few of them provided some guidance. I'm sure this won't happen next year.)

This year's hunt object was a tiny clank, and many of the prizes were the parts to assemble one's very own tiny clank. Of course, that would require finding all the parts. Sadly, of the 26 objects, I managed to find nine, which I consider very respectable for a few hours' work. Please do not disillusion me.

I also took the opportunity to photograph some of the rebuilt city. To all visitors: watch your step, as several spots are still under construction, and a misstep could cause you to plummet to the water below. It's quite cold, I can assure you.

One of the new areas was Miss Magdalena Kamenev's Worlds' End, a cafe and salon. It's a cozy nook where Mr. Caligari's pub used to be, in the aft section.

The problem with hunts in Steam Sky City is that one occasionally runs into shady characters such as this one:

Beyond statues with glowing green eyes, one might just find zombies guarding one of those prizes. I arrived armed to shoot my way in, grab the prize, and shoot my way out. It's possible I killed a few more zombies than strictly necessary, but it lowers my blood pressure, so I considered it therapeutic.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


On the one hand, I feel guilty that I didn't get around to this before the exhibit disappeared. On the other hand, I didn't really care for it, so my level of guilt is somewhat below taking the last biscuit during tea.

Described as an "installation on thin ice," Melt seemed more like a shopping trip disguised as political correctness. The sim was designed to look like an Arctic sea. Most of the action was underwater.

The polar bear and ice cubes were cute, but that led into the cave...

...which was basically an underwater shopping mall.

Ah well, one of life's little disappointments.

Above the surface, more polar bears.

And here's an idea simultaneously both clever and annoying: ice that cracks when stepped upon. After several steps, with the cracks widening each time, the ice floe falls apart and one lands in the water.

If this installation was intended to draw attention to melting polar ice caps, or the plight of the polar bear, or climate change generally, it had far too much crass commercialism to be effective. Or maybe I just don't get Art.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bookbinding Exhibit

The latest exhibit at the Whitehorn Library in Victoria City is on the art of bookbinding. Curated by Miss Incunable Sorbet, the exhibit shows some of the 18th and 19th century highlights of the craft, as well as its more modern applications.

The notecard given upon arrival reads:
In the 18th Century, Mr. Laurence Sterne experimented with typography in his famous book, "Tristram Shandy". Towards the end of that century, William and Catherine Blake developed illuminated printing. In the 19th century, cover designs on books went from a simple title stamped in gold to multicolor graphic illustrations designed by well known artists. These examples expand our ideas of what a book is supposed to look like. In this exhibit we will endeavor to trace the evolution of artistic bookbinding, and speculate on how it may evolve in the future. Works include Louis Mileman's tabloid circle book, Incunable Sorbet's animated Penny Dreadfuls, and Trilby Minotaur's "Book Oasis."

Bookbinding is the process of physically assembling the book. The exhibit focuses on unusual illustrates uses of the book production process, such as Laurence Sterne's The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. The book, which John Barth has called the first postmodern novel, published between 1759 and 1767, is ostensibly Shandy's own recollection of his life, but is far more a comic series of digressions about society and its mores. Sterne incorporated not merely prose but also visual aspects to his writing, as illustrated below:

Another example involves William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience, published in 1794, and illustrated by the author.

Songs of Innocence mainly consists of poems describing the innocence and joy of the natural world, advocating free love and a closer relationship with God, and most famously including Blake's poem The Lamb. Its poems have a generally light, upbeat and pastoral feel and are typically written from the perspective of children or written about them.

Directly contrasting this, Songs of Experience instead deals with the loss of innocence after exposure to the material world and all of its mortal sin during adult life, including works such as The Tyger. Poems here are darker, concentrating on more political and serious themes. Throughout both books, many poems fall into pairs, so that a similar situation or theme can be seen in both Innocence and Experience.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Blake illustrated his poems using a technique called "relief etching."

The process is also referred to as illuminated printing, and final products as illuminated books or prints. Illuminated printing involved writing the text of the poems on copper plates with pens and brushes, using an acid-resistant medium. Illustrations could appear alongside words in the manner of earlier illuminated manuscripts. He then etched the plates in acid in order to dissolve away the untreated copper and leave the design standing in relief (hence the name).

(Source: Wikipedia)

Modern examples of unusual bookbinding include those by Richard Minsky, such as his presentation of Robert Louis Stevenson's essay The Philosophy of Umbrellas, printed on a Tyvek umbrella.

Finally, the exhibit provides some examples of "virtual bookbinding" in Second Life, with works produced by Miss Trilby Minotaur and Miss Sorbet herself. In the adventure books shown below, the balloon gently floats up and down and the tentacles on the left wiggle. These are not editions for the faint of heart!

The exhibit runs through September 2010.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Our Lady of Hope Returns to Caer Firnas

Just as last year, Our Lady of Hope Teaching Hospital made an appearance in Caer Firnas (though it seemed oddly shorter than I recalled). In addition, Mrs. Volare (Lady Caer Firnas), serving as co-chair of Caledon's RFL team, has placed the RFL vendors outside the hospital. A "two-fer," as they say: learn about cancer, donate to fund cancer research.

Through the entrance, on the right, is the library, with information about different types of cancer and links to the Aetherwebs for more information.

On the left side was the operating theater, and some sort of magic. Touching the pads around the operating table would send one into a reverie of sorts in which one would imagine one's self actually within a cancerous organ. Below, I visit a cancerous breast:

Back in the operating theater, I moved carefully around the jugs of ether and antiseptics...

...and around the scalpels.

Thank you, Mrs. Volare!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Miss Garnet Turns Five

Miss Garnet Psaltery turned five years old and, to celebrate, did the eminently sensible thing: she threw herself a party. (Well, two sensible things: she opened a bottle of wine, too.)

High above Eyre, friends new and old came to celebrate with her.

Miss Diva Regina and Mr. Monty Streusel:

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach dances with the lady of the hour, looking beautiful and not a day over four:

Mr. Alastair Whybrow and Miss Wenderslippers Charisma:

Miss Random Wezzog, Miss Darlingmonster Ember, and Mr. Jayleden Miles, running his bare feet through the grass:

Miss Amethyst Bohemian and Mr. Zaltman Romanas, behind Mr. Whybrow:

Miss Panacea Luminos:

Herr Baron dances with Frau Annechen Lowey:

Mr. Denny Kozlov dances with Miss Psaltery:

Miss Tehanu Marenwolf and her beau, Mr. Lucien Brentano:

Miss Marenwolf, Mr. Brentano, Mr. Kozlov, Miss Psaltery: