Sunday, October 30, 2011

Dark Aether Falls, Part 2

I traveled to City Hall in New Babbage to look at the automaton myself.

Dark Aether Falls 001

The remarkable machine was being guarded by one of Miss Falcon's devices, but it let me approach until I could read the manuscript, which appeared to have grown longer in the past few days.

I started reading, and was amazed: in contrast to previous reports of the content of the manuscript, this narrative was different. Somehow, it had changed! Whereas the original version described the complete destruction of Babbage, the new, longer version describes a fierce battle between the Babbage residents and large, tentacled creatures. Although many people lost their lives in fighting these monsters, Jimmy Branagh escaped in a ship to go back in time and stop Jason Moriarty before he could put in motion the events leading up to the narrative.

How curious!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Clocktree Park

Autumn has come to the eight Five Islands, and I decided to pay a visit to the center of activity, Clocktree Park, in Edloe. The park (and tree) are curated by local tyrant/evil land baron R. Crap Mariner, so I stole in when the robot's attention was elsewhere.

Edloe  Clocktree Park 001

It's a pretty spot, to be sure.

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That robot does have an obsession with time...well, timepieces, at any rate, as most don't actually tell the correct time.

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Below is the reading room, where the storytelling magic occurs.

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And the office, where, fueled only by a burning desire to write 100 word stories (okay, and by a fifth of Jack Daniel's), Clocktree Park's despot bangs away on his trusty typewriter.

Edloe  Clocktree Park 005

Hmm, that sounded naughty, didn't it?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"I Tip Profusely"

In one of life's little coincidences, I was still musing over Mrs. Volare's mention of tipping in her comment on a recent post when I listened to a lengthy discussion of tipping. In a recent episode of The Talk Show, tech writer John Gruber* and host Dan Benjamin discussed, among other things, tipping, including why and how much they tip for various services.

Gruber notes that he tips generously in almost every instance where tips are expected: wait staff, of course, but also hotel maids, curbside check-in at the airport, bellboys, cab drivers, and so on. He offers several reasons why he does so: first, the tips are part of the income that these workers rely on; second, the loss of a few dollars to him is less than the benefit of the few dollars to those he tips; third, those jobs are, by and large, unpleasant ones, and it's his acknowledgement that he's been fortunate in having avoided that kind of career; and, fourth, he likes to buy a little insurance against bad things happening - such baggage being misdirected - that a tip might help with. I put that one last because, with the exception of the Sky Caps, most tips are given after the service has been performed, so the tip isn't to get better service, unless you're a repeat customer with the same person. You tip your hairdresser, among other things, because she has a pair of scissors and the power to make you look horrible for the next three months. But tipping the waitress in the diner in the town you're passing through is unlikely to be for the purpose of getting better service somewhere down the road.

I agreed wholeheartedly with his analysis. I try to be generous without being outrageous. (One reads stories about celebrities leaving hugely disproportionate tips - the $100 tip on the $10 drink, say - and I always wonder what the message being conveyed is supposed to be. Sure, it's nice to have the $100, but isn't the message, "I'm so rich that a hundred dollars is nothing to me"?) However, like many people I know, I have a certain amount of apprehension when it comes to tipping. Gruber and Benjamin didn't seem to be as sure of themselves about why people hesitate to tip as they were about why people do tip, so let me take a stab at it.

Just as there are two basic reasons to tip - the generous impulse and the desire for better service - there are two basic reasons why some people are uncomfortable with tipping culture. First, I can't help think that there's an undercurrent of... not exactly resentment, but an unease about why this job earns tips but that job doesn't. The Sky Cap's job is to get my luggage from Point A to Point B. Someone else - someone I don't see and can't tip - has the job of getting it from Point B to Point C, and still others are responsible for getting the bag on the luggage carousel at the end of the flight. They all have the same job, but only one gets tipped? That seems arbitrary. I go into work in the morning and have wide discretion over what I'm doing at any moment. Surely a generous tip from my boss would induce me to spend more time reviewing a report and less time checking news headlines on the Web, but I never see a tip from him. So for some jobs, the salary is considered sufficient, but others require tips?

Don't get me wrong - waitressing, which was Mrs. V's example, is a job where everyone understands the social contract: the waitress is paid a minimal hourly wage and expects to make it up in tips. When the bill reads $50, I know it's really a $60 meal, and I budget accordingly. Other arrangements are possible - restaurants could pay a more reasonable wage and incorporate that added cost onto the bill, so the waitress might earn, say, $12 an hour and my bill would come to $60. This isn't merely hypothetical; I'm told Japan is a country where tipping is nonexistent. But the custom is well-established here, and I'll do my part.

The second reason people are uncomfortable is that tipping is part of the social contract, and people are, by and large, conformists. No one wants to be berated by a cab driver for unwittingly giving him an insultingly low tip. Travel is especially tricky, because one interacts with so many people in service jobs. God help the middle class businesswoman whose company puts her up in an upscale hotel. Do the maids get tipped more at the Waldorf than at the Holiday Inn? Does that woman handing you a towel in the rest room get a tip? When taking in a show in Vegas, do you still tip the maitre d' when he seats you? All very confusing.

Second Life - to get back to this Journal's main topic for just a moment - provides an excellent example of this second issue. Many people enjoy in-world music or performance events. When Mr. Pearse spends several hours with his Victrola and record collection at a Breakfast in Babbage event (plus however long it takes him to prepare), many people feel that tipping is the right thing to do. Similarly, the speakers at the Aether Salon clearly put substantial work into their presentations, and tips are a way of both acknowledging that work and compensating them for the work. But how much should one tip? At some level that's a personal issue, of course - how much can I afford, how much seems reasonable - but it's also a social issue. These are your friends, and no one wants to seem cheap in front of her friends. What's the right metric? A lot of Linden dollars equates to very little real world money, so is a L$500 tip insulting? "Hey, you gave me a little under two bucks. Thanks, big spender!" Or should it be relative to other prices in SL - L$500 might be a new outfit, or a pair of shoes? Those tip jars that say the amount tipped are helpful in letting everyone know what the median tip is, but that's a mixed blessing.

Gruber may tip profusely. I tip nervously.


* I love reading Gruber's blog Daring Fireball, and I love listening to him on The Talk Show (including that slacker "Yeah, whatever" tone of voice he employs 90% of the time), and I even enjoy his Twitter feed, even though he's a hopeless Yankees fan. But John - may I call you John? I think I've listened to you enough that we should be on a first name basis - for the love of God, think before you do those political posts. It's not that I disagree with the stuff you link to, it's that some of the people you link to are so disconnected from reality that it's painful to read. Stick to your strengths, of which there are many.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Review: Phoenix Rising

My latest Steampunk read was Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel, by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris.

This rousing romp of an adventure starts with a bang as Miss Eliza Braun, a field agent with the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, rescues fellow agent Mr. Wellington Books, the Ministry's Archivist, from the clutches of an organization attempting to torture information from Books. Braun makes the rescue in as destructive a manner as possible, leading the head of the Ministry to assign her to the Archives in the hope that the refined and even-tempered Books might have a civilizing effect on his wild agent.

What follows is a potboiler of a plot involving (not necessarily in this order) Mad Science, a secret society, a bullet-resistant corset, men killed and drained of their blood, a beautiful assassin, a night at the opera, urchins, mechanized men, and our heroine in a bathtub.

One review suggested that the closest analogy for this book was a Steampunk version of The Avengers, with Eliza as a Colonial Emma Peel and Wellington as a more gadget-oriented and less field-tested than John Steed. The analogy is apt.

When an author names her lead characters Books and Braun, the reader can readily see that the authorial tongue is planted firmly in cheek. However preposterous the plot, it's a fun, quick read that keeps the pages turning, the reader constantly wondering what kind of trouble our agents could find.

Phoenix Rising was clearly designed as the first in a series of novels about Agents Books and Braun, and I look forward to their further adventures.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Surreal Dreams

Through the Lens of Dreams is a new exhibit by Madcow Cosmos and Lorin Tone.

SL is best when its the land of the the subconcious made real, beauty, smut, crayon drawings, and all. Art Screamer is lead by Zachh Cale, Chestnut Rau and Amase Levasseur.

Through the Lens of Dreams 001

I briefly hesitate before jumping through the hole

From the introductory notecard:

"Through the Lens of Dreams" is an exploration of the transformative nature of dreams, where each new setting may emerge from the last and seems continuous while we're experiencing them. The only truly consistent part of a dream is the viewer, that's you. Thus as you walk through the installation you help complete the piece, good work. The piece is more a series of doodles that flow from each other than a single large composition so it seems somewhat sprawling and busy. Just relax and enjoy your own little piece of the whole.

How to enjoy this piece:

Walk, fly, hop, or shimmy as to your preference. Click things, poke them, dance naked around them, or sit on them. Feel free to photograph, make machinima, exactly copy my work by painstakingly reproducing it, or loudly decry it as an assault against good taste, you have the artist's permission!

About the Artists:

Madcow Cosmos is a complete (self described) armateur who came to SL from a cooking background in order to try his hand at some 3D digital art. He provides the visuals for the piece.

Lorin Tone is a real life noise maker and a tasty beverage. He provides the noises for the piece

Musical selections employed:

"March of the Trolls", by Edvard Grieg

"Twinkle Twinkle Little Starfish", by Lorin Tone

And music that you will create and mix yourself.

Through the Lens of Dreams 002

Although the sound was not working when I visited, the scene is very dreamlike, with rainbow bridges, giant caterpillars (evoking Alice in Wonderland), giant bees with strange expressions, puffy stars, floating houses, and more.

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Through the Lens of Dreams 004

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The brain generates dreams - clearly the fuel for this exhibit!

Wander about, poke at things, and marvel at what the human subconscious can evoke.

Hat tip again to Inara Pey.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Aether Salon - Mark II

Sunday the 16th was the third anniversary of the Aether Salon, and the first under the direction of Baron Klaus Wulfenbach.

Aether Salon 10 16 11 001

Baron Wulfenbach

The former Salon structure was destroyed in a mysterious explosion (in the Steamlands, are there any other kinds?), so the site was surrounded by fencing and scaffolding.

Aether Salon 10 16 11 009

A number of past Salon speakers came to share some memories of past events, and all brainstormed about possible topics and speakers.

Aether Salon 10 16 11 002

Miss Ceejay Writer (foreground), Miss Zaida Gearbox and Miss Junie Ginsburg.

Aether Salon 10 16 11 003

Mr. Vic Mornington

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Your humble diarist

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Master Jimmy Branagh (foreground), with, L-R, Adm. Wildstar Beaumont, Prof. Bodhisatva Paperclip, Mrs. Breezy Carver Fabre, and Lady Stargirl MacBain

Aether Salon 10 16 11 006

Mr. Blackberry Harvey, Miss Solace Fairlady, Miss Darlingmonster Ember, Prof. Paperclip

Aether Salon 10 16 11 007

L-R: Miss Kimika Ying, Miss Jed Dagger, Miss Sera Puchkina, Mr. Jasper Kiergarten, Capt. Red Llewellyn

Aether Salon 10 16 11 008

Sir JJ Drinkwater, Capt. Stereo Nacht

Baron Wulfenbach then announced that the winner of the design contest for the Salon was none other than Mr. Blackberry Harvey, who had developed a model of the site.

Aether Salon 10 16 11 010

Baron Wulfenbach unveils the model of the new Salon design

Aether Salon 10 16 11 011

The new Salon design

Mr. Harvey's design evokes the Globe theater, and contains a fold-down stage and, in a technological marvel, the entire structure rotates. Most amazing! Some discussion was held involving the proper way to light such a venue - gas lamps, Tesla coils, and even mysterious glowing rocks that caused mutations in humans were all considered. The final design decision should be quite interesting.

The next Salon will be Victuals!, with Miss Ceejay Writer, and will be held on Nov. 20.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Occupying an Endless Frat Party

I can understand the frustrations of (some of) the Occupy Wall Street protesters*: the economy is terrible, jobs are hard to find, especially for young people, and many graduates are saddled with large student loans that they see no way of repaying. They see the government propping up large banks (via TARP) and wonder why the government isn't doing more to help them.

That said, I have trouble with both the logic of the protesters and the tactics the protesters employ. Starting with the latter, it troubles me that these spaces are co-opted for the exclusive use of these people for extended periods. Public spaces should be available to everyone, and, for example, issuing a four-month permit for one organization to camp out at Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC denies the public at large from using that space. Having made their point, it's time to move on.

The protesters and their defenders in the media like to say that "This is what democracy looks like." But as Anne Applebaum says in an op-ed for the Washington Post,
[A]ctually, this isn’t what democracy looks like. This is what freedom of speech looks like. Democracy looks a lot more boring. Democracy requires institutions, elections, political parties, rules, laws, a judiciary and many unglamorous, time-consuming activities, none of which are nearly as much fun as camping out in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral or chanting slogans on the Rue Saint-Martin in Paris.

Worse is the misdirected anger. Several weeks ago, part of the DC anti-war mob tried to rush the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum, and were fortunately rebuffed by the guards. It's boneheaded behavior like that that leads to having guards at museums, searching everyone's belongings and creating lines to get into buildings. Next time you wait to get into a museum, thank a protester. Last weekend, two dozen people were arrested in a Citi branch in New York, loudly demanding things from bank tellers. Bank tellers? These are hardly the fat-cat bankers with huge bonuses; these are working-class people just trying to earn a living.**

Then there's the logic of the protests. Never mind the people making rediculous demands: free tuition, a guaranteed wage of $20/hour, prosecuting bankers for losing money. Let's look at the demands of the people with some remaining connection to reality. Angry at TARP? It sure looked sleazy, propping up banks that made billions of highly-leveraged bad bets on the housing bubble.*** I'm not bright enough or informed enough to know whether it's true, as both the Bush and Obama White House and Treasury told us, that TARP was necessary to keep the entire financial system from melting down. Bank failures would surely have led to liquidity problems for the "little people" (perhaps the FDIC would eventually make good on its insurance guarantees, but how long would you like to be out of your entire bank balance?) and runs on other banks. Rich people have other options for banking and investments; you and I depend on the banking system. But let's say that TARP was a bad idea. It's done, the banks have largely repaid the government, and life has moved on. I understand the anger at large salaries and bonuses being paid to executives of banks that took taxpayer loans, and wish that shareholders would be more assertive in limiting executive pay, but it strikes me that regulating pay - especially in one sector of the economy but not others - isn't a good solution.^ The anger at "greed" seems entirely misplaced. Are we not all greedy? Desire is part of the human condition. In a capitalist society, markets impose discipline on greed, howevery imperfectly. Would it be better for government bureaucrats and politicians make those decisions? Neither China nor Russia, to pick two examples, have created a workers' paradise through more centralized decisions about resource allocation.

Student loan debt is huge, and I feel sorry for people who bought into the concept that returns on education were large and that the returns to an expensive education were enough larger than the returns to a moderately-priced education to make the extra debt worthwhile. The protesters would do well to consider why education costs so much, and why those costs have vastly outpaced inflation in the past few decades. I'll point to three reasons: the availability of government-backed student loans, which encouraged debt and let universities increase tuition without an immediate effect on enrollment rates; an academic tradition that rewards research over teaching, so that many academics have a light teaching load, increasing university costs as well as leading to large introductory classes and increasing reliance on graduate assistants; and horrible bloat in university administration, including deans of this and that, catering to self-indulgent students and their helicoptor parents. The protesters should be agitating for education reform. Occupying a park near New York's financial district doesn't seem to be the best way to go about this. How about occupying the Department of Education?

That leads us to the big problem, the lack of jobs and what to do about it. It's a mistake to think that the government creates jobs. I know this is a tough argument to sell; after all, aren't there a lot of jobs in government? Most government jobs, however, don't create anything; rather, they draw resources from elsewhere in the economy, through taxation, or draw resources from future generations, through borrowing.^^ What government can do is provide the environment necessary for the private sector to create jobs. This is an important role, and I don't mean to minimize it. Strong property rights, a stable currency, low inflation, predictable corporate and capital gains tax rates - all of these things help maintain an environment in which individuals and firms can make long-term decisions, including starting new businesses and expansion plans that involve hiring new workers. Government can deter hiring, too - for example, by imposing onerous regulations that create costs for firms. None of this is magic. The magic comes in knowing how to create a balance between a business-friendly evironment and other interests that we have (clean air, worker safety protections, societal safety net programs, and so forth). The protesters are asking the government to do more, while fundamentally misunderstanding what the government is capable of.

Maybe all of this is too much to expect of a large-ish gathering of mostly young people. Demonstrations run on slogans, not a careful understanding of facts. Protests are driven by emotion, not dispassionate analysis. However, without a sensible unifying principle, rather than the inchoate set of demands that have evolved, what are the rest of us supposed to do about it? Should I be against "greed" in the abstract? What sort of action item is that? Contrast this with the evoution of the Tea Party activists, who have a simple, yet actionable principle - less government, lower taxes - and easy ways to implement that principle - vote for people who won't support new government programs and higher taxes. Add to this the perception that the protesters are not serious people, asking not for a way to achieve goals (e.g., jobs) but instead insisting that the government - meaning the rest of us, the "53 percent" - provide handouts.^^^

All in all, while I can sympathize with their plight, I can't sympathize with either their means or their ends.


* Newspaper articles and video show that, in addition to the genuinely aggreived, these protests have attracted anarchists, well-to-do kids looking to have fun, union-hired extras, and people with a motley assortment of other greivances. Some are part of the professional protesting class, the people you see at the G-20 meetings, decrying "globalization" and smashing windows. Some, especially those in DC, are part of the anti-war Left, co-opting the Wall Streeters to complain about...well, I'm not sure what.

** I have similar feelings toward the union-hired mobs who bang on drums and chant mindless slogans in front of buildings using non-union labor. The building owner is somewhere else, and the people affected by the noise pollution are the hard-working individuals in and around the affected locations.

*** I continue to recommend Michael Lewis's book The Big Short for a wonderful discussion of the housing bubble leading to the financial crisis. This wasn't something that could only have been predicted with hindsight; the number of people who understood how bad those collateralized mortgage obligations were *but bought them anyway* astounds me.

^ Do you *really* want even less-competent people running financial institutions?

^^ Don't get me wrong: many of those jobs are important in keeping the rest of the economy running well. Defense keeps the population safe from foreign dangers. Law enforcement maintains domestic civil order. A variety of regulations help balance interests. However, these are transactions costs. We're better off with fewer of these costs, all else equal, not more.

^^^ College students who are skipping classes in order to camp out in a park reinforces this perception. Instead of getting the education that they - or, more likely, some combination of their parents and taxpayers - are paying for, they're complaining about the cost of the education they're not getting.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Into the Inferno

Inferno is a new exhibit under the aegis of the Linden Endowment for the Arts, created by Rebeca Bashly. The exhibit depicts various areas of Hell, as described by the poet Dante, in his Divine Comedy.

Inferno 001

The Wikipedia entry on the poem sets the stage:

The poem begins on the day before Good Friday in the year 1300. The narrator, Dante himself, is thirty-five years old, and thus "halfway along our life's path" ...The poet finds himself lost in a dark wood in front of a mountain, assailed by three beasts...he cannot evade, and unable to find the "straight way"... to salvation. ...Dante is at last rescued by the Roman poet Virgil, who claims to have been sent by Beatrice, and the two of them begin their journey to the underworld. Each sin's punishment in Inferno is a contrapasso, a symbolic instance of poetic justice; for example, fortune-tellers have to walk forwards with their heads on backwards, unable to see what is ahead, because they tried, through forbidden means, to look ahead to the future in life. Such a contrapasso"functions not merely as a form of divine revenge, but rather as the fulfilment of a destiny freely chosen by each soul during his or her life."

Dante passes through the gate of Hell, which bears an inscription, the ninth (and final) line of which is the famous phrase "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate", or "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here"

Before entering Hell completely, Dante and his guide see the Uncommitted, souls of people who in life did nothing, neither for good nor evil.... Mixed with them are outcasts who took no side in the Rebellion of Angels. These souls are neither in Hell nor out of it, but reside on the shores of the Acheron, their punishment to eternally pursue a banner (i.e. self interest) while pursued by wasps and hornets that continually sting them while maggots and other such insects drink their blood and tears. This symbolizes the sting of theirconscience and the repugnance of sin. This can also be seen as a reflection of the spiritual stagnation they lived in. As with the Purgatorio and Paradiso, the Inferno has a structure of 9+1=10, with this "vestibule" different in nature from the nine circles of Hell, and separated from them by the Acheron.

After passing through the "vestibule," Dante and Virgil reach the ferry that will take them across the river Acheron and to Hell proper. The ferry is piloted by Charon, who does not want to let Dante enter, for he is a living being. ...

Virgil then guides Dante through the nine circles of Hell. The circles are concentric, representing a gradual increase in wickedness, and culminating at the centre of the earth, where Satan is held in bondage. Each circle's sinners are punished in a fashion fitting their crimes: each sinner is afflicted for all of eternity by the chief sin he committed. People who sinned but prayed for forgiveness before their deaths are found not in Hell but in Purgatory, where they labour to be free of their sins. Those in Hell are people who tried to justify their sins and are unrepentant.

Allegorically, the Inferno represents the Christian soul seeing sin for what it really is, and the three beasts represent three types of sin: the self-indulgent, the violent, and the malicious. These three types of sin also provide the three main divisions of Dante's Hell: Upper Hell (the first 5 Circles) for the self-indulgent sins; Circles 6 and 7 for the violent sins; and Circles 8 and 9 for the malicious sins.

Inferno 002


The visitor follows Virgil through the sections of Hell: the Dark Wood, Limbo, Hurricane (Lust), Gluttony, Progidals (Greed), and the River Styx (Anger).

The lower parts of Hell are contained within the walls of the city of Dis, which is itself surrounded by the Stygian marsh. Punished within Dis are active (rather than passive) sins. The walls of Dis are guarded by fallen angels.

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The River Styx

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The Seventh Circle: Violence

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In the Bolgias

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The Ninth Circle/ Frozen River of Cocytus, showing Satan

Inside the city of Dis is where the real fun takes place. The sixth circle contains the heretics, trapped in flaming tombs. The seventh circle contains the violent, divided into three rings: the outer ring has those who are violent toward people and property, and they are immersed in a river of blood and fire; the middle ring has the suicides (those who committed violence against themselves), transformed into thorny bushes and trees; the inner ring contains the blasphemers (those who were violent against God) and the violent against nature (usurers and sodomites), residing in a desert of flaming sand with flaming flakes falling from the sky. The eighth circle contains those who committed fraud, and is divided into ten bolgias, separating various types of fraud, from the first - panderers and seducers, who are forced to march in lines while being whipped by demons - to the tenth - falsifiers (alchemists, counterfeiters, perjurers, and impersonators), who are afflicted with various diseases. The ninth circle contains the treacherous, those who engaged in various types of betrayal: betrayal of family ties, community ties, guests, and liege lords. These traitors are frozen in a lake of ice (Cocytus), each encased to a depth related to the seriousness of his sin. The circle is ringed by various giants, while at the center of Hell, "condemned for committing the ultimate sin (personal treachery against God), is Satan.

For a more user-friendly take on Dante's vision of Hell, see Inferno, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's 1976 novel.

Hat tip to Inara Pey, whose entry on the exhibit is infinitely more detailed.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Minor Mishap

Walking along Aether Isle the other day I noticed that Miss Glorf Bulmer seemed to have had an experiment go awry.

Aether Isle  A Minor Accident 001

Quite the mess! I hope no minions were hurt - they are so hard to train.

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The sign in front of the establishment is less than entirely reassuring. It reads:

Do not be alarmed. There has been a minor incident, within the health & safety guidelines for this Establishment.

There is no cause for concern.

However, as a visitor, you may wish to take simple precautions regarding debris, NBC hazards and tentacle monster attack if you:

  • Are under 18
  • Are over 80
  • Have a compromised immune system
  • Do not want a compromised immune system
  • Are over 18
  • Are under 80
  • Are pregnant
  • Are thinking of becoming pregnant
  • Are related in any way to anyone who has ever been pregnant

Enjoy your visit. The Management.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Dark Aether Falls, Part 1

Once again, something mysterious is occurring in New Babbage. News trickles slowly from New Babbage to Caledon, but I received multiple accounts describing what seem to be a connected set of occurrences.

As I related last year, a Mr. Jason Moriarty was responsible for the mayhem befalling Babbage. When Moriarty's laboratory was destroyed, some thought Moriarty died, though others, having no evidence of a body, were more skeptical. It turns out the latter had a right to be skeptical.

Last week, Mr. Orpheus Angkarn had an unexpected encounter with Moriarty - though the exchange was never short of polite, there seemed to be an underlying menace to Moriarty's words.

Then young Myrtil Igaly described what she called a vision of the future, and young Master Nat related similar events. (See also the account in Miss Felisa Fargazer's journal.) Briefly, Clockwinder Tenk received a cylinder with an encoded communication that directed New Babbage citizens to meet at the City Hall on Saturday evening. Thus assembled, the crowd saw a swirling vortex from which an airship appeared. An old, apparently ill man emerged from the airship, demanding to talk to Mr. Tenk. The old man handed Tenk a box and said not to believe "him," whoever that might be, before returning to the ship, which to all accounts exploded on takeoff. The box contained some sort of automaton which, once assembled, wrote the ending of a book that told of a future Babbage in its final days - in flames, utterly destroyed. The manuscript (as well as the recollections of the urchins who met the old man) seemed to imply that the "old man" was none other than young Jimmy Branagh.

With the automaton safely in the Hall of Records inside City Hall, Brother Riddle sat guard during the night. Near dawn, the automaton reactivated and wrote another page in the book, saying that Jason Moriarty was responsible for the destruction of Babbage, and that the ship they saw was built by Mr. Vic Mornington, and indeed it was Jimmy piloting it.

After these alarming events, the urchins met Moriarity himself in the Hall of Records, where Moriarty urged the children not to meddle in his business.

Mr. Angkarn, a Time Lord, came to the conclusion that there were now two versions of New Babbage history - and that one was slowly rewriting the other out of existence! He returned to New Babbage in our time, only to find that he was temporally trapped fellow Time Lord Mr. Mornington also discovered.

Adding to the mystery, Mr. Percival Gedge, the undertaker, made a startling discovery of a machine in his cemetery, the purpose of which is still unknown.

And then it appears that citizens of New Babbage are coming down with a respiratory malady... is it connected to the other events? And has it already infected Steelhead?

I had to set off to New Babbage myself to investigate further.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Burn2, part 2

A few more intriguing builds from Burn2.

Wormholes, by Katz Jupiter. Not sure what this one's about, as the notecard offered never arrived. Something about maturing from one stage of life to the next?

Burning Man Silver Seed 001

The Joker's Wild, by Herbie Haven. A commentary on our dependence on oil?

Burning Man Silver Seed 002

Too Many Signs by Leroy Horten. I enjoy the literal fire sale.

Burning Man  Silver Seed 001

I made it through about half the builds in two days, but then the lag got the best of me. I think lag illness is similar to the bends - it requires a great deal of rest, with no strenuous activities, in order to recover.

The huge lag that always accompanies popular events really puts a damper on those events. It's one thing to have a concert or lecture, where everyone sits for the duration, or even a dance, where everyone uses the dance ball, which doesn't seem to tax the system as much. Having 20+ people all moving independently is no fun at all.

I'll also concede that the whole Burning Man phenomenon is a mystery to me. I don't get these camp sites and builds.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Wandering Through Burn2

Some of the builds at Burn2 that captured my interest:

Passage to Learning, by DeAnn Dufaux:

Starting with a picture book, then a simple reader, the build shows the progression of learning to read. And I can't resist builds of books.

The Insolence of Nature, by Garvie Garzo:

No idea what this one is about, but it looked interesting.

Mystical Tree, by Kell Baberco (apologies if I got the name wrong, but my handwriting was particularly bad on that one);

Another head-scratcher, but it did look vaguely tree-like and, well, vaguely mystical.

Grail Quest, by Trill Zapatero:

My favorite of the bunch in the Black Rock sim, Grail Quest urges the visitor to click on things.

I sense that greed isn't rewarded.

Perhaps this is more of a "to thine own self be true" kind of place.

This build typifies what I think of as the vaguely hippie vibe of Burning Man, but it's also fun - something that's often sadly lacking.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Wandering Through Caledon

After paying one last visit to Fuschia's Frocks in Wellsian (as Miss Begonia announced the store would be closing shortly), I decided to wander about, as it was a nice evening and I had been such a homebody lately.

I ambled through Wellsian, the little corner of Stormhold that connects Wellsian to Regency, through Regency, through Eyre, and into Tanglewood.

Tanglewood Forest 001

I'm a shy person by nature, but it disturbed even me that I encountered only one other person, a lonely shopkeeper.

It seemed a good night to spend under the stars, contemplating the enormity of the universe and how few people are in it some days.

Tanglewood Forest 002

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Civil War Discussion Group, part 2

Last Wednesday was the second evening of the Civil War discussion, "Voices from the Civil War," focusing on first-hand accounts of the war.

Material for the discussion came from Life and History of the Rev. Elijah P. Marrs, First Pastor of Beargrass Baptist Church, and Author. As before, Dame Kghia Gherardi and Sir JJ Drinkwater led the discussion.

Civil War Voices 001

Mr. Marrs was a slave in Kentucky who ultimately became a minister. However, in 1864, as the Civil War was in its fourth year, he and 27 fellow slaves decided to join the Union army, making their way to a recruiting office in Louisville. Although he bridled at taking orders from white men in the army - seeing it as little different than taking such orders at home - he understood that this was part of a process that would ultimately gain him freedom.

Our group included a number of newcomers, including the gentleman to my right, a Mr. Stranger Nightfire, who seemed to be no stranger to the conflict, judging by his uniform.

Civil War Voices 002

We had a spirited discussion of Mr. Marrs, his account of his time at war (he never seemed to encounter a true battle, but he was on the fringes of the war at a time when the South was near defeat), the reasons he joined the Union army, and his motivations for writing down his memoirs.

Civil War Voices 003

I enjoy these sorts of events (and this one happens to be at the right time of day for me, a rarity!), which remind me of my misspent university days. I do feel quite ignorant of the subject, however, and therefore a bit shy about chiming in. (And yet a transcript would doubtless show me to be a blabbermouth, which just shows that my companions were even more shy!)

I have the next meeting in my calendar for October 26 at 4 p.m. SLT, and I have my homework in hand.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

New York and Dictators' Week

I enjoy New York City. I suspect that if I lived there, I wouldn't enjoy it nearly as much. I don't care for noise, or grime, or crowds, all of which New York has in abundance. It's also not a city in which to be broke, as the displays of wealth are too commonplace to avoid. Still, in small doses, it can be a magical place.

It was less magical this time around for two reasons. Most importantly, I was in the midst of a brief but virulent cold. (Oh, don't look at me like that. I'm pretty sure I wasn't contagious by then. If there's a pandemic in New York over the next week or so, my bad. In public I'll still blame the guy across the aisle on the airplane who coughed his lungs out.) This meant more sleeping and less tromping about than I had hoped.

The other reason was that it was Dictators' Week at the U.N. I had seen the week before that President Obama made a speech, and the crazy Palestinian guy said he wanted a Palestinian state but didn't want to take all those Palestinian refugees around the world, which seemed like a bad deal to me, and the crazy Iranian guy complained about the Jews again, which always seems a dangerous game in Midtown Manhattan. But it never occurred to me that all those Third-World dictators (not Mr. Obama, the other guys) would be wiling to stay out of their countries for a week or more at a time. Don't they worry about a coup when they're dancing the night away at Studio 51?

Also, my knowledge of Manhattan is a little sketchy, despite my many trips there. So while I was vaguely aware that the U.N. building was around somewhere...

UN Building

...and that the hotel was in some proximity...

Barclays seemed unlikely that the two were as close to one another as a closer inspection of the map indicated they were:

UN to Barclays png

This meant that the hotel had a large police presence, plus dozens of colorfully-garbed men milling about in the lobby at any one time. Plus frequent police sirens as one dictator or another wanted to move from Point A to Point B and thought that petty inconveniences such as sitting in traffic were what he staged a coup to avoid. Attempting to move from the side entrance of the Waldorf to the Bull & Bear bar was a farce that involved, at one point, a crowded elevator ride to the 13th floor and back down to the lobby.

Ah well, not all was lost. Among other treats was a return visit to the J.P. Morgan Library, a beautiful spot inside a wonderful building. (I can't say much for the modern appendage to the neoclassical building, however.)

Morgan Library

And there was a side trip to see where the new World Trade Center tower was rising:

Freedom Tower New

(A computer-generated image, to be sure. But even the unfinished tower reminded me of a big middle finger to terrorists.)

And no trip to New York would be complete without a visit to the shrine of pen addicts, Fountain Pen Hospital:

Fountain Pen Hospital

Sure, it's a nondescript building on a seedy-looking street in the shadow of City Hall, but inside is a top-notch selection of writing instruments: fountain pens, roller balls, ballpoints, and pencils, as well as refills, inks, and books and magazines on pens and pen collecting. They have everything from limited editions costing thousands of dollars to more economically-priced pens, as well as a selection of vintage pens. I must be strong...okay, just one pen.

Finally, though it's touristy, I can't resist the literary credentials of the Blue Bar at the Algonquin Hotel, famed home of Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table:

Blue Bar

The drink was for medicinal purposes only.

(All pictures ripped off the web and are someone else's. Sorry.)