Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Vignette: Afternoon Visitor

The lady sat on her terrace garden patio and sipped a cup of tea. Afternoon blend, steeped for precisely three minutes, with a touch of milk, a habit learned from a visit to England many years ago. She wore a wrap dress with a bright print on it and a pair of sandals. On occasion, a bra strap would peek out from behind a dress strap and the lady would push it back absentmindedly. Large-lens sunglasses, of the sort that were currently popular, were perched on her head.

She owned the three-story townhouse on a quiet street near Washington, DC's Dupont Circle neighborhood. Nearby streets bustled with activity during the work day and the bars throbbed with activity in the evening, but few people bothered to use her street, despite the convenient alley cut-through two houses from hers. The house was quite narrow, but the selling feature was the patio on the third level. The terrace lay atop the rear half of the second floor, and she had placed planters along the edges to grow a variety of plants. In the center was a round table and four all-weather chairs. On hot days she could move the table and chairs closer to the patio doors, where an awning would protect her from the sun. The only disadvantage to the patio was that she had to remove any snow quickly, before it accumulated more weight than the roof could hold.

She toyed with her wedding ring and watched the foot traffic along the sidewalk the next block over. Lunch was finished for most of the working population, and the number of people on the sidewalk had dwindled to a fraction of that a half-hour earlier. Most people walked quickly, with purpose. She noticed the exceptions. A homeless man shuffled slowly, pushing a small cart laden with his possessions. A woman stood in the doorway of the hairdresser's shop, smoking a cigarette. A third person, a man with a thick head of gray hair and a charcoal business suit, ambled to an alleyway and turned up the alley before disappearing from the lady's sight.

After a few moments she heard the front door bang closed, followed by footsteps on the stairs. The patio doors opened, revealing the gray-haired man in his suit, the tie loosened and his top shirt button opened. "Hello, Madeline," he said, bending over to kiss her. "Sorry I'm late. I was just about to leave the office when my wife called. It took me fifteen minutes to get her off the line."

The lady smiled. "At least you're here now."

Sunday, August 26, 2012

In the Shambles, Part 2 of 2

The nanny looked nervously at the growing darkness and gave a tug on William's other hand to hasten his progress. William looked back and gave a shy wave at the boy, who now clutched the marble in his grimy hands. One more street, she thought, and we'll be clear of this cursed neighborhood.

As she turned the corner and started down the narrow street that would take the pair to a much nicer section of town - one where the police were willing to patrol at night - the nanny felt a rough hand on her arm. She gave a small shriek. Two disheveled men, both unshaven, emerged from an alley. The taller one, who had been the one to put his hand on the nanny's arm, said, "What have we 'ere? A lady and a little man come to pay us a visit."

The nanny tried to brush him aside but the man tightened his grip on her arm. William stood next to his nanny, looking bewildered at the interplay among the adults. "Let us go!" she said. "You have no business with us."

"No business?" the man said to his shorter companion. "Did you hear the lady, Smitty? We got no business w' her."

"So she thinks," Smitty said. A knife appeared in his hand. He used the tip to check for dirt beneath his fingernails. Pieces of dirt rained from each finger in turn. The nanny stared in fascinated horror at the progression of the knife.

"Please, sirs, we have nothing you could want," the nanny said, pleading with her voice and eyes.

Smitty's taller companion laughed, a nasty, humorless sound. "Now that's where yer wrong, missy. Yer wee man looks like he could fetch a few bob from his mum and da...especially if we send one or two fingers back home to let 'em know we're serious." Smitty pantomimed amputating a finger, his knife swishing through the air. "And you, missy, yer a bit of a tired old chicken, but mebbe you have a bit o' life in you. Me and Smitty could have a bit o' fun with you, couldn't we, Smitty?"

The shorter man took that as his cue and stepped forward, the knife slashing through the gathering night like a specter. William tugged on his minder's hand. "Nanny, I want to go home now. Please?" Smitty snickered and said under his breath, "Not bloody likely." Smitty advanced on the nanny while his companion held her fast.

"Hey, what's all this?" boomed a deep voice. A mountainous man turned the corner and emerged into view. His mammoth arms and barrel chest marked him as a man who spent his days at hard physical work. "Smitty! What're you doing with the lady and the lad?"

"None o' your concern, Big Brian," Smitty's companion said.

"I think it is my concern, Beans." He turned to the nanny. "You'd best get along home, miss."

The nanny could hardly believe her good luck. She stammered her thanks and pulled William along with her, flying down the street and out of the Shambles.

Big Brian turned his attention from the two thugs to a small, dirty boy quietly observing the scene. The boy toyed with a marble. "Time for supper, my boy," said Big Brian and the two turned for home.

Friday, August 24, 2012

In the Shambles, Part 1 of 2

William clutched his nanny's hand tightly as she propelled the pair of them across the area known as the Shambles. She would have preferred to avoid that section of town entirely, but circumstances compelled her to make an exception. She hoped she wouldn't regret the decision.

Unbeknown to William, the nanny had received notice that her elderly mother had taken a bad fall and, while the old lady was resting at home, she needed her daughter's assistance for several hours. William's parents were not at home. The nanny, caught between the needs of her mother and those of her young charge, decided to take William for a walk across town, to the rooms where the nanny lived with her mother. Now they were racing home in order to arrive before William's mother, who would not be sympathetic to the nanny's plight, particularly if it came out that the walk took young William through the Shambles.

Every town of a certain size contained a magnet for vice. Gambling, prostitution, smuggling, and trade in unsavory substances needed to take place somewhere, and, as a generalization, town officials tended to turn a blind eye toward these businesses if confined to a sufficiently small, sufficiently poor part of town.

The Shambles wasn't dangerous in the way that, say, a village of cannibals was dangerous. People didn't seek out trouble, minding their business as much as possible. The locals soon learned that kind of attitude was simply healthier than more extroverted alternatives. Rather, the Shambles was dangerous the way a vat of lye on a shop floor might be dangerous: neither meant to hurt you, but, through carelessness, people tended to find themselves in harm's way. A wrong look, or seeing something that should have remained unseen, could be a problem. And people on the margin - people with little to lose - tended to be short-tempered under the best of circumstances. All in all, keeping clear of the Shambles was always a good strategy.

The nanny's pressing need to retun her change home caused her to take a risk she would have ordinarily avoided. She moved as quickly as she could - or, rather, as quickly as the boy's short, plump legs could drive him forward - aware of the lengthening shadows and unfriendly eyes that followed the pair's movements as they passed doorways and alleys.

Ahead, the nanny could see a boy about William's age playing in the street. He had found a stout stick and was using it to bashs insects. The boy wore faded trousers spotted with mud and a simple shirt that had been white at one time. His feet were bare despite the early evening chill.

The child noticed William and the nanny. He looked at William intently, studying the other child's sailor suit, razor-sharp creases pressed into the short pants. He looked at William's ringlets, a market contrast with his own greasy, haphazardly-cut hair. As the nanny and William passed by, the boy, with contempt in his eyes, lifted one lip and gave William a full-on sneer. William, in his innocence, merely smiled and dug in his pocket. He reached his free hand out to the other boy, offering him an agate playing marble that had kept William amused much of the day. The other boy hesitated, convinced that this was a trick. Eventually he decided this was a gift, and snatched it quickly before the offer could be withdrawn. "Thanks," he said in a quiet mumble.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


This is a true tale of how different people react in very different ways to adversity. As I took a walk before lunch the other day, I saw two people, a man and woman, in their early 20s, sitting on the sidewalk in front of the Bank of America branch at 18th and K Streets. They were dressed in short cargo pants and T-shirts, one with a baseball cap and the other with a backpack, and neither appeared terribly concerned with personal hygiene. My guess is that they were part of the rag-tag group of Occupy Something protesters who have targeted this particular Bank of America branch. Because they were sitting on the sidewalk in the middle of a work day, I can only conclude that (a) they werenít working and (b) their solution to (a) was to find some fellow travelers and blame a corporation.

A few days before, I had interviewed a young man for an entry-level position at work. This man, in his mid-20s, had dropped out of high school at one point, joined the Marines, served his term, went to college, and graduated in the spring. He has been looking for work ever since, and said that he sent out over 200 job applications to public and private sector employers. As a stopgap measure, he was working at a temporary construction job in his home town.

When much of the media, along with liberal politicians and some ordinary citizens who should have known better, lionized the Occupy movement, they were implicitly saying that they preferred the first type of person - the man or woman who didnít bother to seek out jobs, who instead complained about the unfairness of it all - to the second type of person. One can only wonder why.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Travelogue: Glengarry

My neighbor to the west is Glengarry, a largely residential area with a substantial mountain ridge in the center. On the north side lies the CAT station, several private estates, and this lovely bridge:

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One of the north side estates belongs to Miss Dagmar Kohine:

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Nearer the Steam Sky City border is Dr. Animal Haiku's Tree of Life Medical Clinic:

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Nearby is Mr. Peter Hyde's large, walled estate:

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Following the pathway east is Jazz Beau's:

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Next to it is Brigadoon Chapel (presumably moved?):

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Miss Vickie Wunderland's Glengarry Tavern is on the eastern border of Glengarry, next to the Downs:

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Behind the tavern lies a peaceful ruin:

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Mt. Glengarry has several scenic overlooks:

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Dumbing of America

Here's a label on a plastic storage box:

Suffocation Risk

Now I ask you: what kind of an idiot would let a two year old play in a plastic storage box?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

My Head Hurts...

I usually ignore link bait - and lists of 10 whatevers tend to be link bait - but this one was truly stupid, and came from an unusual source. Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal, we have: "10 things Apple won't tell you."

We start with "1. Our customers are worn out." This turns out to mean that they don't like having new products released regularly. This from the company that release one new phone a year, which is immediately sold out and in short supply for two months afterward. And in this leadoff position, we have the insight that "Software upgrades also gently nudge people to buy new hardware." Sure. And hardware failures not-so-gently kick people to buy new hardware. Apple provides an incentive to spend more money on better stuff, while creating long-lived products so the frugal can keep on working.

"2. Be careful of that app." This is an anecdote about how some child in Rockville, Maryland spent $1,400 buying something called Smurfberries through an in-app purchase. Yup, giving your kid the equivalent of a credit card and not paying attention can be expensive. Please don't be stupid.

"3. We're getting in the way." This is a complaint that people check their electronic gadgets too often when in company. It's rude, yes, but hardly unique to Apple.

"4. You may spend more with our devices." Apple people spend more on cell phone bills and more on e-commerce sites than non-Apple people. Not sure why this is a big deal, but my reaction is: no one is forcing you to spend.

"5. We need another game-changing gadget." Seems more like an issue for shareholders. And I'm of the view that competition is good for consumers.

"6. The iPhone is overpriced - even compared to the iPad." This is typical of what I hear at work on a regular basis: price should be some (relatively small) markup over cost. You know how that happens? Someone else builds a product that's as good a value, forcing down margins.

"7. Don't be fooled by our soft sell." This is a complaint that Apple Store staff are polite and engage customers, finding out what the customer wants before trying to sell anything. The Journal is really complaining about good customer service?

"8. Our features are falling behind." AKA "We want bigger screens." Well, maybe, maybe not. I look at some of those huge Android phones and laugh, but different people have different preferences. We don't judge. Much.

"9. We'll hook you for life." Complaining about the Apple ecosystem. I dunno. At work, I type on a machine running Windows XP, locked into both a Microsoft operating system and Microsoft Office, except for those times I have to open a document in WordPerfect, sent by people so locked into that obsolete piece of sh…software that they can't make the transition to Word. And one of the examples of lock-in, I kid you not, is someone's concern that he'll lose his song ratings if he moves his music to a Kindle Fire.

"10. Our fans don't care if we screw up." Listen to any episode of Hypercritical, with John Siracusa. The name of the podcast isn't chosen at random, and the target of Siracusa's biting observations is often Apple. The example under this number is that a group that wants Apple to improve working conditions in China "said they won't be discarding their Apple products." Yeah, because other manufacturers have the same problems, and, by the way, what idiot would dispose of an expensive product (as opposed to not buying another one).

Really, what a pathetic effort (except that the link bait worked).

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Travelogue: Steam Sky City, Part 2

Just as other landowners have left Aether and Dreadnought Isles, the sky city has seen its share of ownership changes as well. Externally, at least, the old girl looks much the same.

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The engines still toil away...

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…keeping the big propellers turning:

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The control room is as impressive as ever (despite the annoying plywood cube floating about):

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The bridge is an  equally-impressive sight:

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Some of the old residents are still aboard, including ZenMondo's Code Poetry & Steamworks, Hax Autonomous Experiments, the Worlds' End Cafe  & Salon and its accompanying gallery, Crimson Pirate's Looter's Emporium, Writer Steam Works/E. Laval/Kheph's Creations, Blue Moon Teahouse and Tea Garden, Miss Bulmer's cafe, Unzipped, Saltair Arts, and others I know I'm forgetting.

At the same time, some new faces are aboard: Piffle (an art gallery), Starspirit Design, Chrono Clothiers, Steam Pink (another art gallery), Art by Starbrook Designs Ltd. (mad scientists like their art, too - the city is chock-full of galleries!), The Eclectic Co., and Sorroman's Solutions. My apologies if I left anyone out!

Let's hope that these good folk will help keep the lights on and the propellers turning in the city. Especially as I'm in the likely landing zone.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Travelogue: Steam Sky City, Part 1

In my haste to move north through Caledon, I realized I had skipped over my own home of Steam Sky City, as well as its neighbor, Glengarry. Oops. Correcting this oversight, I returned to Aether Isle. Below, the CAT station, facing Chez Jameson:

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Some of Miss Glorf Bulmer's holdings:

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Alas, it appears that Mr. Denver Hax has abandoned several of his properties. Mr. Hax was one of my many interesting neighbors. Miss Samm Florian's Labyrinth and Shop is still doing well, however:

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Also on Aether Isle: the Edison Yacht Club (owned by Miss Sera), Miss Bulmer's Resource Centre, and Miss Magda Haiku's spot, the cleverly-named Magda's Lea.

Across the water is Mr. Hax's Temple of Eris Discordia:

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Dreadnought Isle has taken a hit, losing, among other things, the long-standing pumping station. Alas. In its place is Mr. Fire Broono's lighthouse, dubbed the Light at Oxbridge:

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The lighthouse warns travelers from Oxbridge that the sky city is ahead…and is our next destination.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Revisiting the Steampunk Museum

Some time ago, I had visited Miss Knowledge Tomorrow's Steampunk Museum in its old location. I realized recently that I had not revisited the museum in its new location.

The entire sim is a collection celebrating Steampunk contraptions, from airships...

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…to the Steamlands...

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…to steam railways...

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…to Steampunk-inspired structures (hey, that raised-railcar house looks familiar!).

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A floating house hovers above the scene.

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Exhibits continue even below the waves.

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Inside the main building, both above and below ground, are smaller objects as well as a substantial number of pictures on the walls.

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The Steampunk Museum is a great collection of gear, and well worth a wander about. The number of objects has expanded greatly since last I saw it, and the setting is much nicer as well.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Returning

Sponsored by Zachh Cale and the Linden Endowment for the Arts, The Returning is a lovely and mysterious piece by Marcus Inkpen.

Set in a lush jungle, one stumbles across the mundane, such as the telephone box below (though is a telephone box mundane these days? It's been a while since I've seen one), in an unexpected setting.

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As one follows one of the paths, a large Asian-style structure appears - a temple, perhaps? The obelisks stand sentry before the temple. I enjoyed the ripples in the reflecting pool water.

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The imposing temple:

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Inside, ancient volumes encased in glass are displayed throughout.

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In the center is a Focault Pendulum, making its endless revolutions.

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The upright player piano appears weather-beaten among the trees. Behind it, hard to see at this size, is a U.S. mailbox.

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The nearby folly contains an orrery.

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On the wall are pictures, empty frames, antique clock faces… a sense of loss?

The Returning 008

I confess I have no idea what to make of the exhibit, but it is gorgeous.

HT: Inara Pey