Monday, February 28, 2011

Happy 5th Anniversary, Caledon!

Wishing Guvnah Shang and Caledon a very happy fifth anniversary!

View of the Promenade in Rothesay

Who can resist a carousel ride?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

New Exhibit in Caledon Cay

The McLachlan Noonan Garden Museum in lovely Caledon Cay has a new exhibit, opened in mid-February. The first floor of the museum contains a small number of photographs by Mr. Nerk Noonan taken in North American national parks.
Landscapes, flora, and fauna are all on display, including a tired-looking pig, seen below.

The remainder of the museum contains pieces from previous exhibits, so be sure to revisit old favorites.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Aether Salon - Romance!(!)

This month's Aether Salon was on the subject of Romance, quite appropriate for February, though perhaps a week after the Ground Zero of romantic expressions, Valentine's Day.*

The speaker was the intrepid Lady Skye, Eva Bellambi, who brought out her romantic streak for a discussion of courting, manners, dancing, the language of fans, romance, marriage, and, ahem, other aspects of inter-gender relationships.

Introducing the Salon and its speaker were Miss Sera Puchkina (left) and Miss Jed Dagger (right).

A sampling of Lady Eva's talk:

* Proper ladies were not to be too liberal in the display of their charms.

* A young lady was expected to shine in the art of conversation, but not too brightly.

These two items perhaps shone some light into why so many ladies in the Steamlands were spinsters.

* A gentleman should be seen and not smelled - apparently a reference to perfume, not a lack of bathing, though young Master Tepic may have appropriately believed the remark to refer to his unwashed state.

* Romantic love is now seen as a requirement for marriage, yet marriage was still a business deal in many aspects; one must "marry well," and a young woman was expected todo so at or above her station.

Courtship rituals were highly developed and closely monitored, lest the young lovers act in a manner unbecoming a lady and a gentleman. The couple could take walks only with a chaperone present.

Later research on the bedroom habits of married women** suggested that Victorian ladies did enjoy the more, ah, physical aspects of marriage. One lady referred to her "voluptuous spasms," a phrase that caused much blushing, gasping, and "oh my"-ing of the more delicate members of the audience.

* Or so Hallmark would have us believe.

** Hardly a representative sample, but still...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Grand Tour, The Seraph Club, and Best-Laid Plans

This past weekend saw the latest version of the Grand Tour, that grueling two-day trek across the grid, showing solidarity within the Steamlands and similar areas through a common feeling of exhaustion. Bless those who have the stamina to make it to all the stops, and doubly bless those who have the strength (and the slight craziness) to organize such a thing. A round of applause, please, for Miss Breezy Carver and Miss Rose Springvale for assuming the co-chair roles this year.

My typist has neither the time nor the energy to make all the stops, but I try to make it a point to come to some of the events to be sociable. High winds at the typist's estate led to the inevitable power outage, which kept me away from the Tour until the evening. I had particularly wanted to attend the Sparking Gears Ball in Steam Sky City (who could resist "romance among the robots"?), but, alas, it was not to be.

I did make a brief appearance at the Seraph City Club, where Mr. Edward Pearse was playing the latest hits of the 1920s (and music of a similar feel, whatever the date of composition). I sat an listened.

Others were in a mood to dance.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Post-It Note Task List

Advice from Practically Efficient, one of my favorite blogs about using technology to enhance productivity:
There are just some days when even the most well-stocked project management battleship can’t outmaneuver the little attention-attacking gunboats that sneak up to it. During those times, you have to get off your titan system momentarily and fight more hand-to-hand, more primitively.

The good news is that you’ve probably already got a weapon close at hand whose biggest asset is that it simply can’t get too heavy to lift.

Take out a little yellow sticky note and write down no more than three things that you want to finish before the end of the day. I don’t care what time of day it is.

Make that little, square, yellow piece of real estate your day and tune out everything else. Forget everything else. Even that heartbeat.

Excellent advice. As much as I like to - nay, need to - keep my life organized with a task manager,* there are just some days when I'm drowning under a sea of things I know won't get done, making it nearly impossible for me to focus on the few things that must get done.**

No Post-It note for me, however. I don't want the adhesive staying with me after the work day is over.

* Currently Remember the Milk, despite the goofy name, thanks to RTM's ability to keep my lists on the Aetherwebs, my Android phone, and my iPad (albeit in an ugly, blow-up-the-iPhone-version-2x interface - folks, I need that native iPad version yesterday, thank you very much). I would love to use OmniFocus, despite the fact that I find it possibly too complex for what I need, but it has no Android version, and that's possibly the most important one in my system - if I can't add a task or remind myself of a task on the go, the whole thing is no good.

** Yes, I know, if I managed to break down large projects into individual tasks, the way the GTD system tells me to do it, then I could prioritize those tasks and not have the task tsunami arrive on shore. I've come to accept that I'm not that organized.

Friday, February 18, 2011

In the Company of Ladies: The Pearl Club

Our friend, Dr. Tesla Steampunk, has sent us this dispatch about an unusual club:

I am, of course, a confirmed bachelor. My little eccentricities and temperament are such that the quiet life of matrimonial bliss is not for me, nor would I be an unalloyed blessing for a lady.

Nonetheless, even a bachelor enjoys the company of gracious ladies, and I have found that the ladies of the Pearl Club are gracious indeed.

One always receives a warm welcome. The grounds are most charming, from the dance floor,...
...inside the glass and stone conservatory,... the main house itself.

On warm spring and summer days, one may relax with a lady of culture in the garden gazebo, playing a few hands of whist, or perhaps merely enjoying scintillating conversation with a beautiful woman.

Other amenities are available, from the sitting room... rooms where activities other than sitting predominate.

Of course, the Pearl is a gentleman's club, so guests are expected to be gentlemen at all times, whether one is in the company of a lady or merely sitting in quiet contemplation in the garden.

Now, I must get back to the laboratory.

[Note from the Editrix: My goodness! When Dr. Steampunk said he had a small addition to our catalogue of Victorian sites, I never imagined...that is to say, he's so old goodness. Obviously words fail me. - KJ] [Addendum: While the Pearl Club is indeed a gentleman's club, with all that it entails, no eccentric scientists known to me actually enjoyed the company of ladies in the employ of the club. - KJ]

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

New Neighbors

Miss Audrey Fotherington sold her property up the hill from mine in Caledon Downs to a couple named Estro. Judging by the flag out front, Mr. and Mrs. Estro have typists who are Russian. They have the lovely house below - one of the largest houses I have seen.
The view from the back yard:

I wish the couple a long and happy stay in the Downs!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bryn Oh at the Tornado Gallery

The Tornado Gallery is currently exhibiting a selection of works by Miss Bryn Oh. (Hat tip to Mr. Crap Mariner.)

The exhibit pairs early sketches and artwork for her Second Life shows, along with some of the Second Life artifacts and links to related machinima.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Fine Art of Procrastination

I find the most absurd ways of procrastinating. There's the obvious: playing 20 consecutive hands of Solitaire, or watching TV. There's the "I'm getting organized. No, really" category: fiddling with my to-do lists in Remember the Milk, sorting out that drawer used for tossing miscellaneous papers over the past six months, inventorying printer inks. Finally, there's the "Don't bother me with work, I'm learning stuff" excuses: RSS feeds on technology, podcasts on *ahem* being productive or organizing one's life, reading books about the zen of organization. Part of my mind tells me that if I had the right journal, a better pen, the perfect task software, or an improved organizational plan I could get great things done.

But the rational part of my mind knows that the only thing getting in the way of my productivity is me. Putting a blog entry together requires typing one sentence, then the next, then the next. Creating a research paper involves actually doing the research, then writing things down. It's not rocket science. (I've always wondered what rocket scientists say when they want to indicate that something isn't mysteriously hard.) Creativity is hard, though, and we all have our avoidance mechanisms. The rational part knows what the lazy, procrastinating part is doing, but it sometimes powerless to stop it.

I tend to think that part of the solution is to develop good habits. (Naturally, there are blogs, podcasts, and God-knows what else to help develop good habits. Resist, lazy part of the mind!) Set aside certain times when I'm likely to be (a) productive and (b) uninterrupted, and use that time to put together sentences. Not every day will lend itself to keeping to the schedule - life is nothing if not unpredictable, and work colleagues tend to drop in just at the time I've gotten started on a project, as though they know how to wreak the most havoc on my day, but getting a better routine isn't an impossible job.

I've been hearing this advice for some time now, from Mur Lafferty's I Should be Writing podcast to Merlin Mann's advice, most recently on his podcast with Dan Benjamin, Back to Work. (Mann and Benjamin are aware of the irony of having a time-sucking podcast about being productive, but that's what lunch breaks are for.) It just takes a while for the advice to sink in. I'm sure there's some scientific explanation based on survival characteristics and evolution: primitive man needed to conserve energy for hunting and gathering, so those with the lazy gene survived better than the gung-ho Neanderthals. True or not, it's just an excuse now.

I think I've earned myself working a Sudoku...

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Home Defense

I decided to install Dr. Garth Goode's new Fantastic Force Field for home protection - keeping out the scamps, Mainlanders, and such.*
It installs quickly and creates an impenetrable barrier to those seeking to enter.**

Unfortunately, the field is active on either side, creating a similarly impenetrable barrier against those wishing to leave the premises.

Fortunately, I have an ample stock of absinthe and crackers in the larder. I'm sure someone will wander by one of these days and turn off the field.

*Not really. I don't care who wanders in when I'm not there. Bring a friend and a six-pack! Just clean up after yourselves.

**Well, impenetrable, except for the opening on either side, allowing one to simply walk around it.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Caledon Caer Firnas and an Aside About Viewer 2

Today's visit was to the Steampunk Duchy of Caer Firnas, home to Mr. and Mrs. Vivito Volare, the duke and duchess.

Caer Firnas now uses a new viewer feature, the ability of an estate owner to set the Windlight settings on the client in order to create a particular look or mood. The smoggy look chosen suits the Steampunk theme of the duchy.

On the bridge from Greystroke to Caer Firnas, looking toward Oxbridge Village:

The train station:

Statuary befitting the Chinese Year of the Bunneh:

Near the graveyard, I saw an enormous set of mechanical feet. What manner of beast could this go to? I wondered.
Looking up - and up and up - gave me the answer:

In the graveyard, if one manages to escape the zombies, one can pay respects to the departed, including the late M Linden, as I do below:

I despise the new 2.x viewer with a passion, yet Linden Lab continues to add useful features to it. I appreciate the work of developers of third party viewers, such as Phoenix, who add those features to a 1.x-style interface. We can now use the "control Windlight settings" feature and make use of multiple attachment points in Phoenix. Of more dubious value is the ability to see Display Names.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Visiting Penzance

I decided that I had not been aloft in some time, so I called for one of my DME airships to be taken out of the hangar and readied for flight. After some aimless air time, I found myself headed to the north of Caledon and decided that it had been quite a while since I had last seen Penzance.

I landed at the Connolly RCAF Aerodrome and walked into town.

New stores had sprung up since my last visit. Below, the Kaleidoscopic Eyes Gallery.

The Gaiety Theatre was still present, however.

Below, shopping on Grosvenor Avenue.*

More shopping on Pirate King Road.

Residences mix with shopping on Ruddigore Road.

After a long afternoon of walking, a cup of tea and a book seem like just the thing!

Even better-sounding was a good night's sleep in my own bed, so it was back to the airstrip for me and a flight home.

* Interruption from the typist: those who have taken Metro's Red Line in the Washington, D.C. area to the Grosvenor station have a wide variety of choices of pronunciation of the station name from which to choose. My two favorites are "Gross-ven-or" and "Grove-en-or." Of course, this comes from the same transit system in which about half the drivers are happy to announce "the last and final station on the line."

Friday, February 4, 2011

Amanda Palmer and the Self-Censoring Filter

One important skill in any line of work is the ability to known when to self-censor. No one has wonderful ideas every time out. Sometimes the ideas are okay but the execution is off. It happens. Everyone has bad days.

But I'm coming to the conclusion that Amanda Palmer lacks that all-important filter. This isn't a complete surprise to anyone who has seen her Twitter stream and blog, both of which seem to revel in going one step too far and providing more information than any fan really needs. Still, it's one thing to be open and (over-)sharing in between releases and quite another to send random ideas off to the ether as an album. Unfortunately, that seems to be the trend.

The three albums Palmer did with Brian Viglione as the Dresden Dolls were all terrific, combining Palmer's on-the-edge piano with Viglione's amazing drumming and Palmer's well-considered (if often raunchy) lyrics made the records mainstays in my rotation. Palmer followed that up with Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, produced by Ben Folds, and one of the best albums I've heard in the last decade. From the opening emotional and musical wallop of "Astronaut," to the frenetic "Runs in the Family," to the cry of independence in "Ampersand," the album showcases sharp lyrics with some of Palmer's best piano work. Although not every song on the record is a musical home run, highlights abound, including the downtempo "Blake Says" and "Have to Drive," the slashing "Guitar Hero," and the anthemic closer, "Another Year." How would she follow up her masterpiece?

After a long pause, the answer turned out to be the quirky Evelyn Evelyn, a concept record with Jason Webley that told the story of the conjoined twins of the title, a half hour melodrama of accidents, murder, child abuse, prostitution, the cruelty and the kindness of strangers, and the redeeming power of music. Not every track worked, and about half the record consisted of the twins' narration of their life story, but the project was nothing if not ambitious, and the record closed with a beautiful cover version of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" (on the ukelele, of all things). If Who Killed Amanda Palmer? was a 10, Evelyn Evelyn was perhaps a 6, with additional points for ambition. Fair enough, not every project can be a huge success.

But then... Palmer seems to have latched on to the ukelele as a portable, easy-to-learn instrument that she could take to impromptu "ninja gigs" and fake her way through cover songs and try out new material on her most loyal fans without the baggage that setting up a keyboard requires. Of course, there's a reason that the ukelele is not the instrument of choice for teenaged boys. We understand why the video game isn't called "Ukelele Hero." The instrument is best confined to Hawaii and luaus for tourists. So, naturally, Palmer's next project? An album of Radiohead covers - on the ukelele. I groaned when I heard about it. The reality of the record is that it's not horrible, but that's not really the standard to which an artist wants to aspire. It was cheap (a minimum of 69 cents, which covered Radiohead's royalties, with additional donations going to Palmer), but the trend wasn't good.

That brings us to her third release in under a year, cheekily called Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under (the songs are nearly all Antipodean-themed), timed to coincide with her tour of Australia and New Zealand. After an over-the-top introduction, we have a live version of "Makin' Whoopie." Seems like a curious beginning. "Australia" is a catchy love song to the country, except that it's mainly about Palmer herself, including her PMS. Next comes a novelty song about her dislike of vegemite. "Map of Tasmania" is the centerpiece of the album, and it is truly an awful song. The music is a Caribbean-flavored dance beat. Palmer starts off with a sampled and repeated "Oh my God" before breaking into a faux-Jamaican accent to sing about...public hair. Oh my God indeed. "New Zealand" was, as Palmer explains to the crowd, hastily written to give the Kiwis their own song. She leads the audience in a verse of "The Vegemite Song." In fact, the best songs on the album are covers, including a lovely version of Nick Cave's "The Ship Song."

Palmer seems indefatigable, so I can't accuse her of laziness. Yet thrown-together albums, Jar-Jar BInks imitations, laughing her way through songs tossed together backstage strikes me as either laziness or indifference toward her music. I hold out hope that she is carefully penning new songs with clever lyrics, catchy melodies, and solid arrangements. Time will tell, but recent history doesn't fill me with hope.