Monday, January 30, 2012

Travelogue: Oxbridge

Ah, Oxbridge! Home of the oldest university in the Steamlands, its famed spires providing the inspiration for universities in a faraway country called "England."

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Nestled within its walls is a branch of the Caledon Library:

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The university has a self-guided tour for new residents, divided into several "colleges." (Naturally, I gravitate toward the College of Money and Commerce. Low breeding, I know.)

Tutors and deans are also available to answer questions. They are very patient…except with griefers and other low-lifes with bad manners.

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A cheery "Welcome to Caledon" sign greets visitors.

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Inside, the three luminaries of the land: Guvnah Shang, Vicereine Kamilah Hauptmann, and, between them, Her Majesty, Queen Victoria. Truth to tell, I think the Queen may have forgotten about us.

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Traveling through Oxbridge always reminds me of my misbegotten youth when I… well, perhaps that's a tale for another day.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Civil War Discussion Group, Part 4 - An Army Moves on Its Stomach

After taking a month off for the holidays (whatever combination of Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice, or just Holiday (as in the dreaded "Holiday Party") one chose to observe, the Civil War Discussion Group had its January meeting on the 25th to converse about a subject near and dear to my heart: food.

Specifically, the day's text was from Hardtack and Coffee: Or, The Unwritten Story of Army Life, by John D. Billings. Billings was a Union army officer, and his book appears to cover a wide variety of topics under the umbrella of army life. Our focus was from the chapter entitled "Army Rations," and included such topics as: the quantity and type of rations, the awfulness of hardtack, the importance of coffee to army life, and the difficulty in finding an adequate way of transporting the coffee, sugar, and meat rations in a way that did not combine all the above in a disgusting mess.

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The discussion, led by Sir JJ and Dame Kghia, as always, touched on subjects such as worms in the hardtack, the difficulties in supplying the rations to the troops, and the entrepreneurs who sold decent food to the soldiers who could afford it.

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Sir JJ Drinkwater

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Dame Kghia Gherardi

The three of us were the evening's only participants, which is too bad, as we had a rousing time. Perhaps others were still digesting the figgy pudding.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

New Kadath Lighthouse Art Gallery

In a charming old island lighthouse resides the New Kadath Lighthouse Art Gallery, with a small number of delightful Steampunk pictures by Madame Juliana Lethdetter.

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The lighthouse itself was designed by Miss Dragonia Decuir. The gallery opened this past October, if my scribbled notes are still correct. Madame Lethdetter describes herself as

...a graduate of the prestigious Académie d'Esprit, having studied photography for 6 years under the tutelage of the late Maître Gilbert Dion. She is the acting professor of Liberal Arts & Cross-Disciplinary Studies at Sainte Jeanne du Nouveau Paris Women's Conservatory (Conservatoire des Femmes de Sainte Jeanne du Nouveau Paris), as well as co-proprietress of New Kadath's Tiphareth Designs art and texture studio.

She has been known to archive examples of her compositions at the following aetheric frequency--

The photography displayed within the New Kadath Lighthouse Gallery represents Ms. Lethdetter's personal collection, and is not for sale at this time; however, she welcomes inquiries regarding portraiture, commission work and/or showings. Interested parties may forward such inquiries to her via notecard.

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Below, a sample of the photographs on display:

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Speaking of New Territory

Where the Duchy of Strathspey, home of Duke Aberdon Enigma and Duchess Fauve Aeon, once stood is now the Duchy of Caledon Arkham, soon to be home to Duchesses Sha'uri Cheshire and Solar Angel. (Duchess Sha'uri may be known to older Caledonians by the name Lianndraa Gothly.)

Although the land is fairly barren at the moment, something tells me this will be a most interesting part of the State.

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Something wicked this way comes

Monday, January 23, 2012

Seismic Activity in Wellsian!

On what had been a lazy Sunday afternoon - I was organizing my spice rack by size, having decided on a previous lazy afternoon that alphabetically was the way to go - the wireless came to life. On the emergency frequency, Guvnah Shang's voice alerted us that there had been an earthquake of moderate magnitude in Wellsian. As a result, there were now several lava flows and several large cavorite pieces had been released from the ground.

I raced to the scene, along with several other Caledonians, to see if I could be of assistance. Fortunately, Wellsian had been evacuated before the lava flow became serious. With no one to rescue, I set about taking several pictures.

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Approaching Wellsian from Stormhold, the cavorite is clearly visible, with some pieces already beginning to float away

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Fire broke out as well

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Newly-formed lava flows

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The yard of the Bashful Peacock…I had thought Mr. Woodget would have to postpone his next Tea Dance, but, naturally, disasters in Caledon merely encourage dancing.

I am told that similar activity may be about to take place in Rocabrannagh. The situation clearly bears close monitoring.

(For those who had not heard, the Guv announced that Wellsian would become a homestead sim, rented entirely by Mr. Woodget, and that Rocabrannagh would be shut down. At the same time, one or more full sims could become duchies, so stay tuned for more on how the contours of Caledon might change.)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Ava Heart

I try to keep the Relay for Life posts to a minimum, especially out of season, but I found Ava Heart to be quite charming (and I enjoyed the punning name!). Miss Burke Nenoir has created a series of hearts for RFL. Donate to the heart(s) of your choosing, or simply donate at the RFL kiosk near the doorway.

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"It's what's inside that counts…" So true.

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Heartbeats are very important. I know my own is particularly important to me.

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One can sit and enjoy a complimentary Cosmopolitan - it seems to be a refreshing beverage made with cranberry and lime juices, and I'm certain there is no alcohol at all in one - at a table made from what appears to be a giant Cosmopolitan. Oh yes, and that RFL thing again.

I heard about Ava Heart through the incomparable Crap Mariner. If he's not careful, people will start thinking he's an old softie.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Well-Ordered Garden

The undertaker arrived at Mrs. Barrington's house a little after nine a.m. The milkman, alarmed at the number of bottles that had accumulated on her front porch, called the police. The police knocked and entered the house, finding its owner in bed, dead several days, with an assortment of pills and a bottle of laudanum on the bedside table. Eventually the undertaker arrived on the ferry from Glengarry and did his work.

I watched the comings and goings from a window in my library. Mrs. Barrington lived next door to me and, while we were not close, we conversed as neighbors do. She often worked in her well-ordered garden, taking pleasure in growing vegetables for her table and flowers to display throughout her house. Her husband had passed away a year or so ago, and I had noticed that she was spending less time puttering in the garden, and that the paint on the house was starting to flake away just a bit. Still, tending to an old house was not easy, particularly by a solitary elderly woman - she had a live-in maid, but the rest of her help was sporadic. I was barely home myself, so I knew well how quickly a house could deteriorate when left untended.

I thought back to my last conversation with the lady. It was early autumn, and the weather was turning colder. She was in her garden and I was on my way to send a telegram.

"Good morning, Mrs. B."

"Good morning, dear."

"Lovely spell of weather we've been having. You must be enjoying spending so much time outdoors."

"Yes, indeed, though I confess I've done more sitting than working ever since Howard passed on."

"How are you getting on by yourself?"

"Some days are better than others, but I'm managing."

"Is there anything I can do for you? I'm on my way into Oxbridge Village and would be happy to pick up anything you might need."

"That's very kind of you, dear, but I'm fine. Enjoy your walk."

"I will. Good day, Mrs. B."

"Good day, Miss Jameson."

That conversation again echoed through my mind a few days later as I struggled into a somber dress and set out for the funeral. The ceremony was short and tinged with regret; by then the coroner's verdict of suicide had become widely known. I sat by myself in the church, perched on the back pew as I listened to the minister speak a few words about a woman he had known for decades. Remarks about her dedication to her husband, her children, the community. A personal anecdote about a flower arrangement Gloria had once done for the church. Both her sons and her daughter spoke briefly about their mother, all warm remembrances, though the memories largely came from childhood rather than more recent interactions.

At the graveside I found myself next to Bartholomew Griffin, who ran a small grocer's shop near my house.

"Very sad, Miss Jameson."

"Quite, Mr. Griffin. So utterly unexpected."

"No, who would have thought such a thing could happen? She always seemed a rock, even after her youngest left for Steelhead. I once asked her if she missed her children, thinking what ma doesn't, but she smiled at me and said she and Howard had done all they could and it was time for the wee ones to live their own lives. I nodded - wisdom, innit?"

"It would seem to be."

Our talk left me uneasy, but I put it aside. With some surprise, it occurred to me that one person I did not see at the funeral was Arlene Smith. This surprised me because Arlene was Gloria Barrington's closest friend from childhood, when they were Arlene Devries and Gloria Arment. I wondered about that, and my conniving mind went to work to see what I could learn about her absence. I went home and rummaged in a closet before finding a small vase. I then purchased a spray of flowers of the types that Mrs. B liked to grow and placed them in the vase before wrapping the entire package. Catching the 2:15 C.A.T. airship to Victoria City, I arrived at the Smith house in late afternoon.

"Mrs. Smith? You probably don't remember me. I'm Rhianon Jameson...we met at Mrs. Barrington's house some time ago."

"Of course, Miss Jameson, I remember. Poor Gloria."

"I apologize for arriving unannounced, but I just came from Mrs. Barrington's funeral and recalled that she had once given me a favorite vase of hers, one that she said always reminded her of you. I know how close you two have been, and I thought she would have wanted you to have it. Here, I added some flowers from her garden."

Arlene Smith looked embarrassed, but took the package. "Yes, poor Gloria," she repeated. "I should have gone to her funeral. I feel awful for not doing so, but I just couldn't bear to be there. Facing her children,... We were once so close, but..." She hesitated. "Things change, of course. People change. We say things we regret..."

I started to reply, but she seemed to have forgotten I was there. Suddenly, she forced a smile and said, "Perhaps I could have been a better friend. Thank you for the vase. I appreciate having something to remember her by." Now it was my turn to feel guilty about my little deception, but I merely murmured something polite and said my farewell.

How well we think we know someone when, in fact, a friend could be a stranger. I saw Gloria Barringer in her well-ordered garden and exchanged pleasantries, but knew nothing of how she lived her life. She lost everyone dear to her - children, husband, and best friend - keeping up a brave facade while crumbling inside. I felt terrible, and angry at myself.

On my way home, I stopped at my local pub. My favorite bartender, Sam, was on duty. "Hi, Sam, how are you today?"

He made my absinthe cocktail absent-mindedly, replying, "Fine, miss."

I put a gloved hand on his arm and he stopped what he was doing, startled. "No, Sam, how are you?"

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Travelogue: Duchy of Greystoke

East of Cymru is the Duchy of Greystoke, managed by His Grace, Chance Takashi.

The area is comprised largely of water, with a relatively narrow strip of land connecting it to Cymru to the west and Oxbridge Village to the north. As the Duke notes, the area "is currently under construction. Please feel free to explore, but we cannot be responsible for any harm that may befall you." (Of course, the sign has been there ever since I arrived in Caledon.)

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The ironwork bridge provides a rail connection between Oxbridge Village and Caer Firnas.

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An aerial vehicle of unique design lies earthbound in the duchy.

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The small covered area affords a wonderful view of the spires of Oxbridge.

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Monday, January 16, 2012

Aether Salon - Heraldry

This month's Aether Salon brought His Grace, Edward Pearse, the Duke of Argylle, to discus the subject of Heraldry.

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During some technical difficulties, Miss Ceejay Writer entertained the audience with an impromptu dance routine.

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Eventually things sorted themselves out, and the duke was on his way. He observed: "The use of symbols to identify kings goes back as far as ancient Egypt."

"England's Henry II is believed to have used a pair of gold lions as his personal arms, although the colours are unknown. His fHis son Richard, added a third lion and this symbol of three lions has continued to be the Royal Arms of England to this day."

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I had to leave somewhat early, but one can view the full transcript at the Aether Salon's aetheric Journal.

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From L to R: Mr. Addison Greymyst, Miss Rhianon Jameson, Master Satu Moreau, Miss Solace Fairlady, Mr. Linus Lacombe, Miss Darlingmonster Ember

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From L to R: Miss Sera Puchkina, Master Tepic Harlequin, Miss Ceejay Writer, Admiral Wildstar Beaumont, Miss Bookworm Hienrichs, Master Jimmy Branagh, Mr. Osric Worbridge, Mr. Vic Mornington, Miss Searra Weatherwax

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Duchy of Caledon Cymru

It's a new year and time for a resolution. I try to keep mind appropriately modest: don't increase my laudanum intake by more than 10%, don't find new vices, and stay out of jail (except in a good cause).

I also thought I should revisit the far corners of Caledon. None of this "50 sims in 50 days" nonsense, however. A leisurely stroll, rather, interrupted by travels elsewhere and other blatherings as I feel compelled to relate.

It seemed natural to start at the southwest corner of Caledon, in the Duchy of Cymru. As I wander through our fair land, I find much that changes… and yet some things remain constant. One of those is Cymru, the home of Mr. Viderian Vollmar, a horse of a different…well, just different. (I have yet to see the mysterious Mr. Vollmar save once a year, during the Relay for Life, when he seemingly effortlessly bounds around the track, amassing lap after lap for the great glory of Caledon and the Guvnah.)

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The duchy is dominated by the immense castle. Heavily fortified and situated on the highest point in the area, the castle towers over the remainder of the duchy.

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Its iron gate is many times the height of a human being.

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Still, the Caledon flag flies proudly over the entrance arch. May it wave forever!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sleeping Beauty, Part 4

(Starts here. Part 3 is here.)

Time passed, and the news that the princess had awakened became known, and this was a cause of great wonder throughout the kingdom, especially for those who still had memory of the tale of the Sleeping Beauty. Soon, too, it became clear that Alexis was carrying Luthor's child. Alexis kept to herself her feelings of revulsion for what had happened to her and made arrangements to marry Luthor. This resulted in great rejoicing throughout the kingdom, for who would not think that any prince would want to marry a princess who was also the most beautiful woman in the kingdom? And who would not think that any princess would be honored to marry the son of the most powerful man in the land? When the news broke that the princess was carrying an heir, all the subjects of the kingdom wept. Who could imagine a more perfect ending?

The day came when Alexis would leave the castle of her parents and move across the mountains, to the palace of the current King. Her servants clicked and whirred as they packed her clothing and her personal items in several trunks and transported them to waiting carriages. Luthor smiled at his wife and said, "Soon you will again have human servants, who will tend to you in your accustomed ways. No longer will you have to make do with these mechanical devices - though they are true wonders, they are cold and unfeeling, not proper servants for a princess of the realm."
She looked at him in horror. "Leave my faithful servants? Oh no, my prince. They understand my needs and I have become quite used to them. I know it sounds silly, but they are now part of my family, and would no sooner leave them behind than I would leave behind my jewelry!"

Annoyance flitted across Luthor's face but he held his tongue. This was unexpected, but not worth arguing over. His bride gave him her dazzling smile and instructed the clanks to ready themselves for travel.

When in due time the princess gave birth to a son, the kingdom rejoiced. The princess made herself a new home in the palace and made up for lost time as best she could. She was pleasant, if not warm, to Luthor, and she had her clockwork servants as companions so she never became lonely. To pass the time, she cared for her infant son and maintained several hobbies, including hunting in the royal forest, which she did very well, and knitting, which she did quite poorly, though she enjoyed both activities. Several years passed uneventfully. The king grew old and eventually died, leaving the kingdom to his son. He made his princess a queen.

One autumn morning the queen entered her husband’s chambers. He looked up, startled, as this was not the queen’s regular habit. “My husband, this day is so fine that I cannot in good conscience allow you to spend it inside, tending to affairs of state. They will be here tomorrow, and the day after that, and all the days after that. We should spend today out of doors.”

“What did you have in mind?” Luthor asked.

“You have promised to take me hunting with you one day. Why not today? The stags will be running, and we could have a meal with us, so as to spend as much time as possible at the hunt.”

Luthor considered, then smiled. “A splendid idea.” He made arrangements with his secretary to attend to some minor affairs, and instructed his two most faithful hunting partners to accompany him. Alexis bade two of her most advanced servants to do the same, and soon the odd group - the two royals and the two friends of the king, all on horseback, and two humanoid clanks who walked along side - were making their way into the old royal forest. As the queen promised, they spent the day at the hunt, breaking for a leisurely lunch before resuming.

The day was indeed splendid. Trees were beginning to turn colors under the autumn sky. Small animals scurried under the cover of tree roots and plants as they made their preparations for the coming winter. Clouds wafted across the azure sky, cooling the hunting party as they made their way into a clearing before darting into the woods once again.

As daylight started to fade, Alexis touched her husband’s arm and pointed to a spot in the distance. “I think I saw the stag turn and run through those trees. If you head left and I head right, we will force him into the open, where you will have a good shot.”

The king had been thinking of bidding the group to head home for the night, but he nodded and did as his wife suggested. In turn, she moved into the woods to the right, to the spot she had picked out several years earlier when she learned her way around the royal forest. She brought her old rifle to her shoulder and waited patiently. As she knew would happen, Luthor moved into a clearing that was visible from her position. She raised the rifle and fired once. The bullet flew true and hit his left eye, shattering the socket, continuing through his skull, and came to rest in a tree beyond him.

At the sound of the shot, the queen and her servants converged on the spot where the king now lay dead, with the king’s two companions close behind, still holding their rifles. The latter two surveyed the scene and exchanged glances. “Your Highness,” one said, hesitantly, “how did it come to pass that His Majesty was in the way of your shot? As a gentleman experienced in hunting, he would have known not to walk into your line of fire.”

Alexis smiled prettily. “Just so,” she replied. “Perhaps my late husband was less the gentleman than we all supposed.”

The men attempted to raise their rifles into firing position. Before they could do so, each was restrained by two metal hands, immobilizing the men instantly.

The hunters struggled in the grasp of the clanks, but to no avail. "Take your filthy mecha hands off me," growled one while his companion said to Alexia, "My lady, I ask you to order your servants to release us, as we have done you no wrong."

The clank butler said, "I cannot do so, sir. I was designed to serve your queen in all circumstances, and I will continue doing so until I am deactivated. Although you gentlemen have not made any outward expression of disloyalty to your queen, your tone indicates a deep suspicion of her explanation of her husband's death. It seems likely that you will continue to air those suspicions were you to return to the castle, and it seems possible that some will give credence to your beliefs. My programming allows me but one course of action." The butler said this in his resonant but dispassionate tone; regret was not part of his programming. At his command, the butler and his fellow clank snapped the necks of their captives and deposited the bodies deep in the forest. When they returned, they carefully placed the king's body across one of the horses for the journey back to the castle.

"My lady Alexis," the butler said, "may I suggest that we explain to those who inquire about the nature of the king's death that they tried to kill you both, and succeeded only with your husband before you retrieved your weapon and they fled into the woods, presumably to leave the kingdom? This would reduce the likelihood of awkward questions." Alexis nodded her agreement to the plan, regretting the dishonesty more than the fatal shot.


The late king was not well-liked, so few were inclined to probe deeply the cause of his death. His young son was declared king, with the queen serving as regent until his majority.

Thus began a new and kinder reign, born, it is true, from an act of violence, but carried on in a manner of which Alexis hoped her parents would have approved. Fairies were rare in this part of the kingdom, so Alexis lived out her life without further interference from the magical realm. Eventually, she taught her son of the art of shooting, the importance of loyal clanks, and the need for patience when seeking vengeance.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tales of New Babbage

My mailbox held a nice belated Christmas present: my very own copy of Tales of New Babbage, the collection of stories written by citizens of that fine nation-state.

Tales of New Babbage

From the back cover:

On one level, of course, New Babbage is a series of magnetic impulses imprinted on a set of disks in a nameless data center, running Linden Labs' Second Life protocol. But that's just the physics of it. To say that New Babbage is "just" a computer-generated environment would be like saying that Paris is "just" stone and plaster.

The City of New Babbage is a consensual hallucination of a Victorian-era steampunk city in a time that never was. It's filled with airships, clockwork devices, submersibles, evil geniuses, street urchins, and the collective activities and imaginations of hundreds of people from all over the world. And they make it as real as Leeds or Pittsburgh or Warsaw.

These are their stories.

Well, I can't speak of this Leeds or Warsaw or (most improbably) a city named Pittsburgh, but I can certainly attest that New Babbage is as real as I am.

Stories by people such as Ceejay Writer, Magdalena Kamenev, Jedburgh Dagger, Darien Mason, and Jimmy Branaugh will surely make the book essential reading. Best of all, the subtitle is "Volume One," promising more stories from the smoggy city.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

New Year's Traditions, Growing Older, and Other Observations

I had about an hour to explore in-world tonight, but three crashes later and I decided the Linden Gods were giving me advice about how to spend my time. Some days are like that. What can you do? Work on something else… like typing this.

After Christmas, when more crap comes into the house, I invariably get into the mindset that stuff needs to exit. I don't want to become one of those people profiled on "Hoarders," with towering piles of junk blocking exits to the house, rescue personnel holding their noses at the stink as they attempt to extract my bloated body from the mess.* Consequently, I've been making piles of things to go in the trash, go to the recycling people, and to go to one of the charitable organizations that periodically comes by to pick up stuff. The problem with this type of cleaning is that it's quite tedious to go through piles of paper, piles of books, piles of clothing, piles of linens, piles of whatever and make decisions…far easier to throw it into a corner and deal with it later, which is how the piles arose in the first place.

I've been shedding New Year's traditions one by one, it seems. Once upon a time, I stayed up past midnight, a bottle of champagne in one hand (well, a glass in hand, bottle in fridge) and Dick Clark on TV. That went by the wayside some years ago when I realized (a) I couldn't really stay up that late any more and (b) there wasn't much point in it anyway. Another tradition was to get up late on New Year's Day (hoping the hangover wasn't too bad) and watch the Rose Bowl parade and college football games. Having New Year's Day fall on a Sunday this year scotched that plan, too, courtesy of the Sports Scheduling Gods. So I went shopping instead, picking up, among other things, a new coat and pair of gloves. The day wasn't a total loss.

Also on the bright side: no annoying midnight fireworks from the local children. (Plus one adult, apparently. The neighbors have complained about a guy in a different neighborhood who sets off fireworks whenever he feels like it and spooks the dogs around here. I'm hoping the police had a stern talking-to with him.) Seems like a silly habit, and in the past no two people could coordinate on the time, so "midnight" stretched over about a half hour.

I've been dealing with an annoying muscular problem of indeterminate cause and even more indeterminate cure. Periodically, the muscles in my right shoulder and neck tense up, causing really irritating spasms in my neck, just under my jaw. I've been doing stretches to strengthen the area and increase flexibility, I've been spending less time sitting - particularly at the computer - and less time typing. Of course, for someone whose job and leisure activities largely revolve around computers of one sort or another, the cure is almost (almost, I said) worse than the disease. I'm hoping rest helps.

Now that the holiday season is over, it's back to work five whole days a week. Life is tough, eh?


* I haven't actually seen "Hoarders," but this seems like the type of show that's on these days.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Sleeping Beauty, Part 3

(Starts here. Continues from here.)

A hundred years passed. The kingdom fell into the hands of a family from beyond the mountains, who ruled with somewhat less benevolence and wisdom than did the old king. At first the populace looked on the bygone regime with fond nostalgia, but, as time passed, memories of that era faded. The new regime was all they knew, save for half-remembered tales told by grandparents and great-grandparents, themselves repeating stories of their ancestors.

It was during this time that the only son of the current king found himself in a deep forest. Prince Luthor, as he was known, was with a small hunting party, having traveled with his father across the mountains to visit this part of his kingdom. Despite having come into his majority several years before, Luthor was uninterested in affairs of state and very interested in demonstrating his prowess with his hunting rifle, so his father, with a mental eye roll, dismissed his son from the day’s activities.

The hunting party had followed a large stag, which had bounced between trees with such dexterity that the prince could not take aim. Still, the creature was easy enough to track when the forest was fairly open, and the hunters moved as quickly and quietly as they could. Now the forest had become thick with old trees and withered shrubbery. The stag’s path was clear, the broken branches and trampled bushes signaling the creature’s every move. Luthor followed, his men close behind him. Suddenly, the forest ended and the men found themselves facing an ancient castle. How could such a castle exist behind such a dense forest? the prince wondered to himself. No one could get in or out of such a place.

One of his men spoke: “Your Highness, I met a lady last night - “ This was met with guffaws from his fellow hunters, but the man soldiered on. “- who told me a fantastic tale that I scarce credited. These rural people, as you have remarked, lack the sophistication of the court and are inclined to let their imaginations run wild, with tales of fairies and ogres. Nonetheless, what this lady told me was a story she heard from her grandmother, who herself heard the tale told by her grandmother.”

“Yes?” Luthor said, impatiently.

“She related a tale of a castle in the clearing of a forest, one that had been abandoned for several generations, save for one occupant: a beautiful young princess who, having been cursed, would sleep there for a hundred years, until awakened by a king’s son, to whom she was promised.”

If there was one activity the prince enjoyed more than hunting it was spending time with ladies, especially attractive ones. In addition, the young prince suffered from an affliction that, while common to all humanity, seemed particularly virulent among those enjoying great power: the belief that they were the center of events. He was a king’s son; the prophecy referred to a king’s son; ergo, he was the person to whom the prophecy referred. Luthor urged the hunting party forward, until they came to the great doors of the castle. The doors were closed and sealed, with no apparent entrance. One by one, the members of the hunting party tried the doors, each to no avail. Then Luthor strode to the great doors, which opened at his touch. So startled at this was he that he took a step backward - at which point the doors started to close once more.

“No!” he said, and moved toward the doors again. Once again, the doors opened for him. Luthor stepped inside, into the gloom of the foyer. His men started to follow him, but the doors slammed shut, keeping them on the outside. He swallowed hard, because he was not, at heart, a brave man, but, keeping the prophecy in mind, he gamely continued deeper into the castle.

He found a lantern with a dim flame and, taking the lantern in hand, found that a twist of the dial increased the flame to full brightness. He looked about him. The interior was still in magnificent condition despite the years during which it contained but one human occupant. The wall tapestries were still intact; the marble busts of earlier kings were polished and dust-free; the oil paintings on the walls still shining as though wet. The long dining table was set with a place setting at every chair, from fine china, gold-rimmed, to eating utensils, each embedded with gleaming jewels, to crystal goblets, whose facets caught the light from the lantern and projected images in every direction. Confused, he continued up the main stairway and, in short order, into the bedchamber of the princess.

She lay upon her bed just as she had been placed a century before, her beauty undiminished by time. Luthor looked at her and judged her to be but fifteen or sixteen years old, and the loveliest creature he had ever lain eyes upon. He knew he had but to touch his lips to hers and she would wake.

Luthor hesitated. She was young - perhaps too young for him? She would no doubt be grateful toward whoever ended her long slumber, but he had his doubts as to her willingness to showing that gratitude in the way he would prefer. He was alone in the castle with the girl of his dreams, his men safely outside. Luthor lay down the lantern, removed his hunting rifle and leather bag from his shoulders and placed them on the ground, then hastily undressed. He pulled back the bed covers and, taking care not to brush his lips against those of the sleeping princess, proceeded to climb into the bed.

Only when he was finished with her and once again fully dressed did Luthor provide the necessary kiss. Princess Alexis awoke in an instant. She saw the handsome face of Luthor looking at her, though she did not know who he was. Indeed, her last memory was of being in the unused part of the castle, in the secret room, at the work bench, starting to touch the mainspring. What had happened? she wondered. She knew she had been violated, but who would dare such a thing and incur her father's wrath? In any event, where were her servants?

Luthor was about to speak when he heard a mechanical sound from behind him and, with a guilty start, he jumped to his feet. A tall mechanical man glided into the bed chamber. "My lady, you are awake!" exclaimed the mechanial man. Luthor was terrified and scrambled for his firearm, but the Alexis appeared calm and said evenly, "Would someone please explain what has happened to me?"

At the sound of her voice, several other mechanical servants entered the room with a whirr and began to perform all the functions of her human servants. "I believe I can relate some of the events since last we spoke." Her eyes widened as the machine explained that a hundred years had passed in what to her seemed but an instant. He described the old fairy's curse (of which the king and queen had sheltered their daughter, so as not to worry her), the king's efforts to keep the curse from coming to pass, and how it was all for naught. He explained how the royal court had abandoned the castle and how the young fairy used her magic to keep the castle from prying eyes. The king had programmed all his mechanical devices, save those necessary to build and repair their own kind, to serve the princess both during her long sleep and after she woke, as she would have no human servants. The speaker, bowing deeply, said that, as he was the most advanced device, he had been given the honor of the role of butler, coordinating the efforts of the other clockwork servants. He and his staff carried out their duties for the past hundred years, until sentries identified the hunting party of Prince Luthor and his men. Knowing that the kiss of a prince was necessary to break the spell, the mechanical devices hid in order to not frighten the young man, appearing only when they heard the sound of the princess's voice.

"I was not frightened by your kind," said the prince, though his voice was a half-octave above his usual tone. "So it was you who prevented my men from entering?" The servant bowed again.

"Thank you for awakening me, my prince. Forgive me, but I have much to ponder, and I desire to be alone with my thoughts."

Luthor kissed her hand, collected his rifle and hunting bag, and left the castle, rejoining his men. Alexis threw back the covers and rose to her feet, a little unsteadily. She looked at the array of clockwork servants standing before her and said to no one in particular, "Would someone prepare my bath?" With a whirr, one of the smaller devices sped to the bath room and started the water. She stared at the butler. "It seems no one programmed you to know that not all princes are gentlemen."

The butler replied, "Have we done wrong, my princess? If so, we did not know, and we humbly beg your forgiveness. Should you allow us to continue serving you, we will ensure that no such harm ever comes to you again." Alexis nodded, though her eyes now showed a weariness that was much older than the rest of her.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Steampunk Home

From Wired, a piece about a New Englander named Bruce Rosenbaum, who has Steampunked his house. I particularly like the old pump organ being used as his desk (with the three brass-framed monitors atop the desk). No doubt when working at home he tells his boss that he's pulling out all the stops.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Linden Realms: Rock Monsters, Fireballs, and Crystals - Oh My!

Not being one to want to miss out on a good adventure, I decided to try my hand at the new Linden Realms game.

For reasons unexplained, but likely an effort in crowd control, a player needs to start at one of the portal sims: LR Portal Park 1, LR Portal Park 2, LR Portal Park 3, or LR Portal Park 4. The first is generally crowded, while the others have at most a handful of avatars. Each has the same setup: the landing spot is in the center, surrounded by portals. Pick one and walk through it and you are transported to the "gathering circle" - the starting point of the game.

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At the portal

When I arrived at the portal the first time, using my usual Phoenix Viewer, I spent some time waiting for what I thought were sculpts to completely rez. Eventually it dawned on me that these were mesh objects that I wasn't - and would never - see correctly under Phoenix, so I switched to a mesh-enabled viewer.

Once at the starting point, the game automatically attaches a HUD (which then detaches when you leave the sim; alternatively, if you detach the HUD while still in the game, you are transported to your Home location). The HUD tracks your inventory of crystals and reminds you of your current quest.

Something else to keep in mind: although all the portals lead to the same game, they lead to different starting locations. In essence, there are a number of different but identical sets of sims containing the game. This is important because, on occasion, some glitch occurs: the HUD won't attach, or the HUD won't recognize that you've completed a quest. In that case, going back to a portal and trying another route into the game - to a different set of sims - often solves the problem.

The game is one of exploration and quests, reminding me of older adventure games. There's a brief backstory: Tyrah asks you to help her (?) with some tasks in order for her to leave the island. Tyrah's workshop is just off the gathering circle. Other locations are scattered about the island, with helpful signs pointing to them. The first few tasks involve finding locations on the island. Quite simple, until you discover the rock monsters roaming the place. If a monster catches you, you're "killed" - sent to a nearby "resurrection circle," whereupon you can continue your quest from that point. It's possible to outrun the monsters, though. Other things can kill you as well, from falling rocks inside a cave to flaming boulders to toxic water. This is no island for the faint of heart!

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A captive rock monster - don't be fooled by its cute expression!

Certain parts of the island are rich in crystals. Most are red, orange, and yellow, with green and blue as the rarer varieties. Passing over a crystal takes it into your HUD's inventory, which is convenient because you can still grab a crystal while running from a rock monster. Tyrah will ask you to gather certain numbers of crystals, then return to the workshop for more instructions.

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A map of the island, with areas of high crystal concentration marked

I found remarkably little lag, particularly given the number of people wandering about. Sim crossings were painless, often un-noticeable. The quests are fairly simple, though some strategizing over how to avoid problems comes in handy. There is the occasional glitch - the HUD not attaching seemed to be the most common one - but no show-stopping bugs I encountered.

The setup seems open-ended, so that the Lindens can add more quests as time goes on. I completed more than two dozen in perhaps two hours of playing time, so this is not a huge time commitment.

I'm not sure who the target audience for Linden Realms might be. I saw a fair number of new players - well, those with the surname "Resident," which is not necessarily all that new - but I also saw many people with more than a year of experience. Newcomers won't learn a lot of skills beyond being able to handle avatar movements, while old-timers might not be impressed by the straightforward goals of the game.

Still, it's a fun time. I like the idea of introducing some unpredictability into Second Life.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Steelhead St Helens in Winter

Steelhead is lovely at any time of the year, but the St Helens region is especially so in winter, with a fresh coating of snow on the ground and a sunny, crisp day. I took the opportunity of just such a day to stroll about the area, snapping pictures along the way.

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A stone church with its simple graveyard stands in contrast to the snow

St Helens is described thusly: "The rustic frontier community is in a valley surrounded by Mt St Helens, Mt Hood, and Garlic Ridge. Picturesque Spirit Lake rests at the bottom of the volcano surrounded by trees and wilderness. American Frontier, rustic scenery with Steampunk Influence."

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The working mill uses water from the strong current to power its operations

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What would a frontier town be without a general store?

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Though most of the area is rustic, at least one fine house stands ready for Christmas

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The Dragon's Rest saloon

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The owner of this house must hope against strong breezes

Of course, the entire area is under the shadow of its two large mountains, giving the feel of being far removed from the rest of Steelhead.


Merry Christmas to all, and may the new year be happy and prosperous for everyone in the Steamlands!