Art by Second Life: kayly iali

It is not my intention to write about anyone who displays their art in Second Life. Not that such would be a good thing, but given the amount of art that is created(and use the word art  for covering a wide range of artistry) such would be a full time task. It would be fun to be able to do that and get paid for it, but at the moment I do not receive any monetary incentive  for what I write and who knows.. there might be reasons for it.
Anyway let’s get back to what I do like the write about.. Which is simply driven by selfish interests. I have a interest in combining pictures with text to give voice to my stories so anything that sort of helps me with that interests me more. Although.. there sometimes things that are just beautiful.
Now it happens to be that I was looking at some art(istry)  displayed at a gallery and one set of art captured my eye, which is that of  Kayly Iali (A second life name).  She makes her art and displays it in  Second Life, using SL as a way to promote her art.
I took the audacity to copy her profile description:
I am a RL artist and exhibit in SL galleries. I work in oils, watercolor and pastels…using calligraphic strokes to bring about imagery[]
If you are interested in any of my rl paintings, please feel free to IM me. Or check out my website at marleneleeart.com. I’m also on facebook. Thanks.

To be honest I probably would not have shown her art because I am more aimed at showing art that has a kind of story in it, but I liked her studios that her art was displayed in. I know a very arbitrary reason to base your decisions upon. Probably you would say.. you need to show art that is great to be promoted, but is that not a personal taste? And if something is personal, would not any personal reason be enough?
In fact.. you should yourself see if you like her art.  I think that if you want to go and have a look.. then it would be her portraits that you should at least have a look at. Somehow captures human faces is quite a skill..  More can be found here: marleneleeart.com.

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Second Life & OS Grid: All hail to the torus

All hail to the torus

Well,

That title requires some explanation. Especially for people who are not familiar with Second Life or the OS Grid. Second Life is, as you might have heard, a virtual world. OS Grid is another one. Both OS Grid and Second Life are based on outwardly similar technology. There are more virtual worlds that are based on this same technology. Here you can find more info about it http://opensimulator.org/wiki/Main_Page. (A note aside: do not try to find these worlds with the catchphrase virtual worlds.. you will get lost in the woods as you stumble over all kinds of game sites, sex places and what not. While I do not want to say anything for or against these, it is more fitting to refer to the worlds that are similar: the key word that let’s you enter the proper multiverse seems to be: open sim).
One aspect of this sameness is that primary objects can be manipulated in a similar fashion. In fact you can copy over the settings of one world to the other. A primary object, if you have not heard of it, is a basic object that comes in a basic shape that can be altered so to make it look different. Basic shapes are for instance: the cube, the sphere and the torus. The latter which is the subject of this post(or actually.. should that not be.. the object?).
Now all this technobabble aside this post is actually just to show that you can create fun things with the basic shapes available in virtual worlds. You do not need to be a highly skilled person to do that. You just make an object appear, add a touch of fantasy and start changing them parameters. Like, that prim is not going to bite you.
(A side note: i sometimes wonder if it is not much easier to lord it over them prims instead of trying to dominate other people.. which is something some people seem to like to do. Your control of them is total. Prims don’t have a mind of their own and you can do to them things you would want to have done to yourself and get away with it!)
Now I wanted to show some exampled of how the torus can be altered to create interesting new forms that can be used to create great new effects.

Oh, show it already!

poetry-in-motion copy

The vehicle in this picture I made for a Burn 2 two event some years ago. It is almost completely made using torii. The vehicle was called Poetry in motion and that is what it did. It read out loud random poems and showed the text overhead as text on a picture. Oh and yes.. the one who actually built it was Taubie.. who you see on the picture above. She is  my other main avatar. Actually emotionally she would be THE main avatar.

Now some days ago I was finding some new shape to use and I found a nice one, which I so like that I showed it to Veleda Lorakeet. It is nice to be like a little kid sometimes. She like the shape to, copied it and gave it her won twist. And then she told Laughie who in turn changed it into something else.
Now this is the fun thing about inspiration.

Let me show

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Starting shape: two manipulated tori, one turned 180 degrees. Each tori is cut down in half.
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Tori above shape twisted b Veleda.
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Two changed tori shapes with shine added to give it a metal look.
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Many tori in depth with slightly changing each setting
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Laughie used the same tori shape, but now used 100 % of the shape and added three prims to create a face.

This is the face that Laughie made using the same shape but now using 100 percent of it. Adding three prims and turning it around creates a kind of face. I thought it looked like a bear or dog. Laughie thought it looked like a pig. It is interesting that our mind sort of turns these shapes into a face. It would make for a logo or a personal marker.

 

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And when you play around some more and add some windlight effects you can do all of these.

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Well. These are things you can do with just a few twists. But what is probably the most fun aspect is that people get inspired by other people. Which is the fun side of this all.

 

Hope you enjoyed it..

Book review: Julian

JulianJulian by Gore Vidal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Although it is not impossible for an imperfect person to write a perfect work, few people, perfect or imperfect, will do so and therefore it is not hard to be a critic of someone’s work. Not hard at all.
Thus I found myself writing one critical review after the other.
Granted, mostly about movies and games, which I spent much more time with and upon then with reading. This felt like a kind of downwards spiral of negativity. There is too much wrong if everything has to be right. And nothing but perfection can stop criticism. Perhaps not even that.
I wanted to stop sliding movement into the darkness and so I decided to write a positive review. Something to lighten the mood so to speak.
I selected a book from memory which I really liked and thus I selected Julian by Gore Vidal.
But why?

I am not a good reader by any means. I am too impatient to appreciate the elaborate well written paragraphs that give other people such literary thrills. I tried a few other books written by Gore Vidal, Lincoln for instance, but it did not grip me and draw me in the same way Julian did. But I liked his enjoyable and human critical article about Ayn Rand and her objectivism.
So why did I like Julian?
Perhaps it was because Julian reminded me of a friend and thus he became a person whom I got empathy with because I knew him in a way. Julian strikes me mostly as the kind of person that gives his whole life to this one passion: philosophy.
That friend I have is like that, only his love is music. To be more specific: modern classical music.
Philosophy is what Julian adores most and it is this burning passion that basically drives him throughout the book. This might sound boring, but it is not given the fact that Julian is also a close relative to the sole autocratic ruler of the Roman Empire, the Emperor Constantius II, a man controlling an fast tottering empire beset by serious social and financial problems and threats from both within and without. In fact Julian is the nephew of both those emperors and he is even closer to the throne than this might suggest, because Constantius II has massacred most of his family after he gained the throne and has no sons and daughters. This makes Julian both a danger and a salvation. A danger for he could be used to dethrone the emperor and a salvation because an emperor without a successor in increasingly in danger when he grows older.
It is not boring either because precisely at that point in time Christianity gained the favor of the emperors, first the tacit support of Constantine I (the Great) and then the more committed one of his successor Constantius.
Julian finds himself dragged into the middle of all of this, while he rather wants to spend his days as a philosopher in Athens, a city that has at that point in time lost much of it’s former splendor.
Julian comes to his love via the church. A great irony in hindsight. First he is being taught the tenets of the Christian faith by priests and bishops, but then they also introduce him to those other more worldly teachings of philosophers.
Now Julians finds himself in turmoil, for the teachings of the one do not fit well with the other. Julian is losing his religion and replacing it with an another. In fact with many others. He is returning to polytheism.
And while he is struggling with this, fate intervenes. Or rather, the emperor. Constantius II – kinslayer – lacking sons and anyone else to trust, turns towards his few remaining relatives for aid. First Julian’s brother Gallus, who is instated as a prince of the realms. But Gallus soon reveals himself to be a homicidal maniac and has to be disposed by the emperor in a sinister plot that makes you wonder about the power of an emperor that needs to use backstabbing methods to dispose of an unruly subordinate. For a moment Julian’s life hangs in the balance as he stands a great change to be one of the hapless victims of his brothers demise, but he survives his brothers death by the timely (and gentle)intervention of the Empress.
And then, secondly, in almost ironical turn of fate, Julian himself is appointed prince.
He is then sent off to head an army that has to deal with the marauding barbarians that took the opportunity of the empire’s momentary weakness to cross the Rhine and pillage Gaul. In an astonishing campaign Julian amazes friend and foe alike by restoring order and routing the invaders against all odds. He restores peace swiftly. He is competent..too much so.
And now Julian too becomes a threat..for his success is too great and threatens the emperor. At least that is what the enemies of Julian at court say.
I leave the rest for you to read but I want to mention Julian’s development in his religious ideas, because that is what he is most famous for. For Julian is the Julian the Apostate.
Julian, as emperor, eventually turns against Christianity and in doing so he treads the path of the despot. At first he thinks that not supporting Christianity is enough to make people turn away from Christianity and return to the old ways. But he soon comes to the insight that merely not supporting Christianity is not enough. So he starts to actively and openly support the old religions. But eventually he realizes that even that is not enough and..
But we will never quite know how far he would have gone, yet when you read about Antioch you know where he was going.
What fate lies in store for Julian can be found in the book. It is greatly written..Gore Vidal gives us vivid idea of this Julian and his world. Gore is a great juggler. He gives us just enough but never too much. He draws a picture and is precise where he needs to be and broad and general when that is all that is required. He does so by having the story told by two old philosophers who write letters to each other. This allows Vidal to skip steps and have them explain things so we can understand what is going on.

However I feel there should be a bit of a caution attached to his book. In hindsight I find the depiction of Julian is somewhat detached. You never get quite feel of this man. We have no idea about his sexuality for instance. We know he is married, but it is all described in a detached way. Some people seem to take it that he was gay, but from the book this is hard to tell. In fact it might be much more believable that he was just absorbed by his passion for philosophy and his desire to turn back the clock religiously speaking. I know people who seem to have completely substituted their sexual desires in that way. I once thought my friend, mentioned above, was like that, but even he has a partner, a intelligent girlfriend who somehow matches him. Take heart in that, if you feel like you are an outsider.
Women play almost no part in this book except for when it seems absolutely necessary, like when Empress Eusebia intervenes on Julian’s behalf with Constantius.
This is man’s world mostly, not of a ladies man mind you, but one of the mind where men discuss and talk and are friends with men and his world is chiefly occupied with religion. friendships and relationship with other men(but not in any sexual way) and politics. You will find no romantic developments.
Perhaps in that way it is not perfect book. But for me it is perfect enough.

(I edited it a day later, because I was writing this and it was already 2 am, but i saw the flaws.. it still has many flaws.. I wished I could write like Gore Vidal can.. oh well).

Note: amazingly Gore Vidal never ever mentions the name of Ammianus Marcellinus.. which is really strange as not doubt Ammianus was the one who must have supplied him with all the relevant information. Ammianus was a close friend to Julian, an officer and a historian of the roman empire who is the prime source of the live of Julian. Yet I cannot recall him to appear in the book or being mentioned even in an aside. But mabye I remember it wrong.

View all my reviews

Henry and Kristl saw the Warriors (1979) march

“So why are you smiling?”  Henry.. looked at the faintest of smiled that made Kristl’s lips curl.

“Because I find it somewhat funny that someone lectures the general public and then get’s it wrong himself. Double funny, when all he needs to do is check what he is saying against general accessible information.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, here is someone who tells how he notices that of all the reviewers at IMDB who had written a review of  The Warriors at that time,  just one other mentioned the Anabasis reference.”

“Anabasis? Uhmmmm… like that part they start the movie of with?”

“Yes.  The march of a Greek mercenary army through enemy territory. And then he mentions that it was a reference to the Spartan Xenophon, who led 10.000 Spartan mercenaries, hired by the Persian emperor Cyrus,  out of Asia Minor after a defeat.”

“Okay..”

“Which is funny as Xenophon was an Athenian and not a Spartan, albeit he was very pro Sparta and eventually settled there and fought for Sparta against Athens. So maybe this was meant in a general way. But that there were 10.000 Spartan mercenaries in service of Cyrus is wrong. They were Greek mercenaries and there might have been a body of Spartan soldiers amongst them, but there were no 10.000 Spartan mercenaries. And they were not hired by Cyrus, the persian Emperor but by the pretender Cyrus the younger. And the Greeks were not defeated, but actually won the battle, but had to flee because Cyrus was killed in that battle.”

“Okay… which brings us back to The Warriors… I hope.”

“Hmmpf.”

“So did you like the movie?”

“It was okay. Perhaps somewhat dated. The gangs are just a bit  too neat and clean for my feeling.”

“Well, other then that it was cool right? I mean the fighting is a bit bland, but at least we some nice fights and action. Which is cool.”

“The Motown music was a nice touch. “

“I like the girl, she got them in a fix, but demanding they hand over one of their jackets. Which they do not, of course.”

“Yeah, but a bit strange that they take her along all the way. A bit strange.. but at least it allowed for some development with the main guy. “

“Solid movie?”

“Maybe. There are some things that I wondered about, like how did the Riffs know where on the beach  the Warriors (and what was that other gang?) were. And the ease with which people accepted that the Warriors were to blame for the murder.. and the ease it was refuted again. Also a bit strange there were so few Warriors at the end, when they say that the Orphans with like thirty people are a small group and thus implying the Warriors have to be larger, because the latter were deemed important enough to be invited to the meeting and the Orphans not. Yet at the end confrontation you would expect that there would be a large group of Warriors available as they were back on their home turf, but there were none around.”

“Hmm yeah.”

“Also a bit odd they never bothered to phone any of their home boys. I mean they could have phoned them to be picked up by car.”

“And after all that.. you still liked it.”

“Well, yes, because it intrigued me somehow.. and I liked the music and the way they merged it with these cartoon overflows.”

“So all eye candy.” Henry said.

“Yep.” And Kristl smiled.

“I am glad even you can appreciate that.” And Henry smiled too.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0080120/

Exploring gender and sexuality in a virtual world: composing your avatar.

waiting-for-prey copy
Waiting for prey..

 

I was reading this post made by Marilyn Roxie.

I somehow felt compelled to add some of my experiences to this post and this is the post I am trying to do it. This is not an attempt for me to be smarter then Marilyn, but as long time citizen of SL and also as someone who wanted to explore precisely my gender and sexuality I thought it might be a nice way to add to her post my vision. Not because I deem it to be better, but mostly be cause I feel a certain way. I had originally wanted to be short and to the point, but because I felt I need to cover more I expanded

The post by Marilyn Roxie is about exploring gender and sexuality in a virtual world. She specifically talks about second life, which is a great place to go and precisely do such a thing.  It is not only people who are gender queer who can experiment, but it offers this possibility to many who describe themselves as transgender, femboy, sissyboy,s shemale or  gay (and any other descriptions I did not name).  During my almost five years in Second Life I met a lot of people who found Second Life a safe way or even the only way to explore gender, sexuality and even identity.. The latter being one of my interest( see my movie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=II4tv1nRFAo)

The challenge with Second Life is that you need to find a community to belong to because if you do not .. you’ll be a loner.. and if you are fine with that there is no problem.. but if you want to a community to belong to you will have to search hard.

The first time spend in  Second Life is often decisive. I think that a lot of people spend maybe a few weeks or months and then leave. Then there is a smaller group of long time avatars.. Some as old Second Life itself. My idea is that almost all these older people have a specific goal to be here.This could be because they want to make art, make items, run roleplay game or want to live a way they cannot in real life.   Other are probably here more for socializing or ‘hanging out’ or because they are ‘bored’. The latter reasons seems for me the least enduring because SL is a limited place for that and because there are so many other places that offer the same thing and probably better.

Regardless of anything I think that unless you have a kind of drive  for something specific then I think that SL is not an easy world to find a place to belong simply, because it is not easy to find that place. I spend my time  at Empathic Eccentricia, which is a kind of builders art place run by Veleda Lorakeet, to make things. EE has now moved to OS grid, although I maintain a kind of Second Life presence.  It took me two years to actually find such a home. I think I am not alone in this and that most eventually find one or, give up on SL.

Where not to go…

How hard it is to find a place can be shown by the below picture of the search box.

Type in freebies and below is the result I got. As you see the second and third hit are not special freebie places, the second is an porn place and the third is an escort place. I have visited both places and indeed they do have a meager set of freebies, but they are obvious there to draw people to their places by offering a small sample of common cheap freebies.  What this shows is that based on the search you will probably not find what you want to find.

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A more refined search gave me strange results. I ticked out moderate and adult and this was the result.

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See the G in the right hand top corner? But the wet kitty is a moderate place(see the big M near location.). Apparently the search is a bit shaky. I find the wet kitty a strange place to show up at all.  But the wet kitty might define itself as M but…

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Maybe I am  old fashioned but are naked events not adult?

You might say.. well do not moan.. these events are only held as special events and otherwise… But even that is not true.. the guests are naked at various times regardless of what events are held.
Not that I bothered by it. I am perfectly happy they have clubs  where people can be like what they want to be. My concern is more that  if you do not stick to some rules, someone  might stick the rules to you. If you say you are moderate but hold adult events.. then there is a danger another place might do the same.. and eventually Linden has to crack down and close down sites simply because someone might sue them for not upholding their own rules.  So if you want to organize adult events.. turn the place in an adult place just so you can keep on doing it?

What I do find a pity is that I was unable to find any freebies at that place. It clearly says they have freebies, but the landing zone is a shopping area and there is no mention of where to get freebies. This is their teleporter..

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Now i start out with freebies because a newcomer that has no money or has not much to spend or does not want to will want to find free items.  The natural reaction is to type freebies in a search bar. The result you see above. Adult places want to draw people, even by offering freebies… but the places that are freebie places are not that great either.

This is one concern about popular freebie places:

waiting-for-prey copy
Waiting for prey

All these freebies places are haunts for those who prey on others. The most obvious and annoying are those who play a vampire game. Some of those in these distorted pictures. have very beautiful avatars, but that outward beauty hides a nasty inside as they still are there to take advantage of others for their own self gratification. They are preying on others.. and they know it and they accept and even revel in it.   But there are also less obvious vampires. Those who take advantage of others because the other feels alone, uncertain or is impressed by the other.

Interestingly enough I noticed that they leave me alone. Not sure why, but it suspect it has to do with the fact that I am obviously not a newcomer, but then again it might also be because I do not stay that long.

So where to go?

The only way I can help out is by pointing you to the freebie places or ways I think that offer a far better selection.  See for examples below!.

Fabulously Free in SL(http://fabfree.wordpress.com/)

The first place I mention is not even a place in SL.. it is a website. This website shows you on an almost daily basis which freebies are there to get, where and how they look. It is a great way to find the stuff you want to have instead of hoping you find something you like in SL.
List for under 30 days old offers:
http://fabfree.wordpress.com/fabfree-30-days-list/

The marketplace (https://marketplace.secondlife.com/)

Go over to the marketplace of sl.. it is a website. Log in with your avatar.. pick a category and (apparel for example) and select as price: 0 to 0. You get a load of freebries, gifts and, alas also demo’s. You just order them and they are delivered to you in sl. Often you can get more freebies or gifts by going to the shops location.

Hunts

Hunts are organized  so shops and places can promote their goods. The places give your something for free so you go to their place. Their hope is you will buy something and other just like to give away things for free.. Hunts can be found via websites:
http://huntsl.com/tag/second-life-hunts/
http://slhunts.wordpress.com/
http://huntingsl.com/

Teleport Hub(http://www.teleporthub.com/)

A general site for freebies, gifts and hunts.


Normal shops in sl
A few of the bigger shops give away items.  Examples of these shops are the following. Usually it requires to become part of their group. Which is often free to join.

Clothes
Gizza — high fashion-haute culture kind of place has gifts in front of the store.
Vero Modero – high fashion. Lots of gifts inside the store.
Sassy – sexy clothes both on lucky chairs and for grabs. (Sassy has a whole sim which also host other places including 1 Hundred. This shop has a lot of links to freebie groups, hunts)
ADN Designs (has freebies and a lot of lucky chairs in which you can get an item when the first letter of your avatars name shows up and you sit down. Has also a few other shops on the sim currently that offer more lucky chair items)
BlakOpal – Steampunk and victorian clothes. A few freebies.. Not much but nice to start out with.

Hair, Eyes
Amacci – Hair, Eyes, jewelry.
Lala Moon –  Hair

Skins
Good free skins are not easy to get, but for female skin this is relative easy compared to male skins. The market place is one source, fab free another. And of course hunts. Good free male skins are extremely hard to get.  The best way is to pick one up at a freebie place and then wait for a hunt or a website like fab free to give you an idea where to get a better one.
A good place for quality freebie skins is Mother Goose’s. The skins you have to get via  a board of letters and when the letter of you name appears you can click on it and take it. However she has like 50 of these boards and they swap every few minutes so it is easy to get a decent skin in a short while.
Now Mother Goose’s is hard to find. In fact you can not find it in a search.. the only way to find it is to look up the owner Milok Hermit and find in her picks where Mother Goose’s currently is located(shops travel around in sl)(currently it is here: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Turpentine/225/141/21). She has her own blog.. only it is korean(i think) http://tamako4.blog.me/

Examples follow below.

Freebie places
The free dove. As small place offers usually better freebies. Many of the freebies give you links to places where you can get more.
This is the only freebie place I know where the staff will actively remove pests like vampires. Also nakedness is forbidden so you won’t be confronted by dudes showing their enlarged manhood to the public. You can also join various hunts and groups that are posted on their boards.

The Oxbridge university of Caledon(see below)

Newcommer help places.

Any newcomer that like help with find their way in sl is advised to go to a new resident place.
Basically there are three:
-NCI.. NCI has various locations around SL.

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– White Tiger(see in the picture above)
– Caledon Oxbridge university. Which also is a way to enter one of the oldest and most civil of communities in Second Life. Caledon is a steampunk place.

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Some examples

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Mother Goose’s
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Mother Goose’s
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Avatar made using skin, hair, clothes and ao from Tuty’s.Eyes are from Amacci. Only the shape is mine.
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Avatar made using skin found via Fab Free. Shape is from the inventory. Clothes and hair from the Free Dove.
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Avatar made using a gift skin and clothes found at Vero Modero and Gizza. Eyes are from a general freebie set.

Two Nekos do Urupe 8: Brussels

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Chocolate and lace

Sooooooo we are probably reaching the end of this Nekos do Urupe series as I ran out of European Cities to depict. There are some places that have the name of a city, but do not on any way represent the city or parts of it. However.. we might show them to, just because some people love their city even though it does not look like that city.

(Krisp says there is a place called Dublin that we went to but did not quite cover so we might go and look that place up).

Anyway, lets have  a look at Brussels that has been declared to be the unofficial capital of Urupe because it is the formal seat of the European Union. I must say we have a rather vague feel about Brussels. So what we did is find what we could find on youtube. And we ran into this guy.. Rick Steves. We took the liberty to offer a few  links to some his movies(see beluw).

We liked this one cause she looks cool, even though we did not have a clue what she was saying cause she speaks French and we do not understand French. But you know, it is a great way to learn some, cause that is the language they speak in Brussels. You see, Brussels is the capital of Belgium too and Belgium has a French speaking population, called Walloons and a Dutch speaking population, called Flemish. And there is even a small group that speak German. Brussels is on the border between the two parts, but most of it’s citizens speak French.

We recall once visiting Brussels and ordering some chocolate with a Leonidas store because chocolate is a thing that Belgium is famous for. And Leonidas is a famous Belgian chocolate store. So we were Dutch and did not speak a word of French, but we indicated what we wanted with pointing and that has helped in many countries of which we did not speak the language. But the Walloons and Flemish do not like each other very much, so speaking Dutch – which is similar to Flemish – no doubt acts on them Walloons like a red cloth does on an enraged bull.. So they pretended no to understand us. But well, my dad, who was there, just shrugged his shoulders and said in Dutch, “well then we buy something in the other store.” And he put his wallet back in his pocket. And for some reason they understood that and got us the things we wanted.. See…money talks!

At the top of this post you see us, to the left was a store that sold chocolate and to the right is another product that seems to connected to Belgium or Brussels, which is lace.  So Krisp is trying to make some and I am trying to get eat something.
Next to lace and chocolate Mussels seems to be a dish that is associated with Brussels, which is interesting as Mussels come from the sea and Brussels is smack-bang in the middle of Belgium, nowhere near the sea.

atomium-b
Atomium

This is the Atomium, built for the  Expo’58 and, I am reading this from the wiki, represents the iron atom very large. It seems that it has not been used much in movies and such, which might be cause by the fact that someone has claimed intellectual property rights on it  till 2075 and any depictions of it, although not for private individuals depicting it for private non commercial reasons(which would cause a revolution, we think.). One wonders how the world would be like, when everyone was copyrighting their house, their car, their whatever. Oh, how about my cows? Or my windmill? A barren world will unfold. The upshot is no doubt that nobody wants to show it. Hence you get to see the Eiffel-tower,Trafalgar square and what not.. but not the Atomium.

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Royal Greenhouses of Laeken

Last picture^^ is a picture of a the  inside of the Royal Greenhouses of Laeken. It was not a big representation of the real thing, but with the proper light it actually looks a bit magic. The real life Greenhouses can only be visited during April and May. The Second Life version is never closed.

Rick Steves

Book review: Night Watch

Night Watch (Watch, #1)Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have stopped reading Night Watch around page two hundred and will return the books to the library. The writing started to annoy me so much that it was no use continuing.

Background
Night watch is not a surprising read. I say that because some people seem to say that the idea is novel. The world painted in this book is similar to Vampire the Masquerade and even more to it’s successor, the World of Darkness. Both of these world settings and their spin of books pre-date this book by half a decade.
The idea is that woven in with the ‘normal world’ there is a hidden world of non normal humans or supernatural beings that form a community consisting of diverse forces that sometimes oppose but sometimes help each other. In this world there are the forces of light and the forces of dark..but we already are introduced very early in the book to the idea that there might be independent and rogue forces. The established forces might oppose each other, but for the sake of ‘balance’ they have come to some kind of truce and agree to make sure that us normal beings are not aware of them: them being the usual staple of vampires, demons, witches, shapechangers and wizards.. nothing that I have not seen or read about before.
So the background and settings are not unusual and what transpires is hardly novel.

The main character
I have a problem with the detached writing. After fifty pages into the book I hardly knew anything about the main character, Anton, besides some superficial details. The writer feeds us a few background details and we are continuously told that he is more like this or that, but it is not shown. Anton’s personality is so flat that when first part of the book was finished I did not care one way or another for him. Indeed I cared more for the other beings like, Olga, his companion, the boy Jegor, the vampire and the woman who was inflicted with a dark dangerous spell.
They seemed to have more personality and depth than Anton.

The writing
The writing is actually a big stumbling block. The writer skips one way and another. He goes from one scene to the next, from one setting to the other and so on. He also like to use the favorite bad trick of not telling the reader about something and then suddenly pull out the rabbit: bet you did not know that one.
His skipping and hopping about makes the story unfocused and rushed while at the same time nothing seems to really happen. We drive a lot to and fro, but the story does not really develop during this driving. The writing is on par. He introduces one character after the other, briefly describes them and skips to the next.

Inconsistent story telling
The writer introduces ideas but does not follow through or explain. For instance at one point someone drives the main character to a scene in his private car.. acting like a kind of taxi. Anton remarks that the guy is rich and even offers Anton a job as a system administrator when he finds out he is a programmer(??), but there is no explanation why someone like that would drive around through the night working on the side as a cabdriver.
So much is unexplained. For instance where does Anton get his money from? And how does he stay awake since he has a additional job as ‘watchman’ next to his other job?

Cliffhangers
There are however some positive developments. One is that we see Anton develop. We get to know more about his companion Olga, a woman forced into the body of an owl. We discover the duality of light and dark. We see how Jegor reacts when he sees how both sides are using him. And the vampire that is almost killed survives..So she might come back and exact revenge(I hope she does.)
So I am giving it a try and see what the next chapter will show and report back. Otherwise I lend another book.

Update

No explanations
I stopped somewhere in part two. The beginning of part two is ominous bad : his name was maxim. And then we get several lines explaining that the name was not unusual but not usual either. Not that this piece of information is relevant to the plot.
This illustrates how unbalanced the writing is. At some moments we get long drawn out lines and next the writer rushes over things without at least given an idea of how something essential works. For one: at some point the hero of the story is sitting in a restaurant with someone else and he spots a dark magic user. How does he know? Does he know the magic user? Can he sense dark magic and discern if from good magic? Which is strange as before it is said somewhere that darkness and light seem more to be motives and methods than basically different in essence. But no explanation or even a hint at how this all works.
Another example is when he investigates the past of some of his colleagues he finds out that his direct superior was around at the time when the treaty between dark and light was made hundreds of years ago. He then goes to say that it was strange that his superior was of such a low rank considering anyone else who was there (and still alive) was now a high ranking watchman. How does he know that? Do you know if all the high ranking managers of a big company have something in common like being at a place at the same time in a distant past? Did his investigation into the alibi of a low ranking watchman give him access to the information about high ranking ones? But if so, why did he only get that information and not about his lower placed superior? For he says he knew about all the high ranking members but not about his superior. I could invent some reason he knows, but the writer does not bother to explain.
On the other the writer has a hard time to differ between himself and his ‘hero’. His hero knows things he can not know unless explained and when it is essential to the plot it requires explaining.

Obsessions
Another annoying thing is that the writer is obsessed with young women, alcohol and ranking. Almost all the women in the story are ‘young women’. The vampire, Olga, Swetlana, the two useless (narrator’s words, not mine) women who act as programmers(???). There is one exception: a woman called Polina who is described as looking older..which might as well mean that she looks to be in her late twenties or early thirties, but the writer does not explain. He in fact does not even tell us what ‘younger women’ means. It might well be they are all in their late teens or in their late twenties or maybe even in their late thirties..It all depends on what viewpoint you take. But again nothing gets explained.
Alcohol is very present.If not thinking about or drinking it, they are talking about it and if not talking about it they are using it as a weapon against vampires. Yup.. alcohol has replaced holy water in this russian novel. How ironic.
And then ranking.. Oh my god.. everyone is ranked.. his superior is a low ranking director, there are high ranking people above him and strata of lower ranking beneath him, Anton is of this rank, his fellows of that rank, and those people over there are of that rank. And poor Anton thinks he will never get beyond rank four(on what scale) but he happens to have done rank two magic as a rank three magic user (or is he rank one) which seems to be pretty impressive but I am lost. The whole world is layered in ranks of which the writer.. eh lead is specifically aware of. We have no clue how he knows all that. Has he some kind of book? Do they have, like in roleplay games, have levels that hover over their heads like a tag? Oh hey, that is a level 21 sorcerer and that is a Level 8 priest. He is so focused on ranking that his ego gets a real boost that when his superior tells him that he had done something that was believed to be beyond his power.
But nothing was so painful to read when told about the useless(the lead’s words..not mine) two young women programmers who desperately wanted to be part of the watch but had no power or skill at all.
I foamed at the mouth. My experience is that if people have a drive you can have them do something useful and if you confess someone who has a drive to be useless.. you should look in a mirror.

Characters(again)
The biggest problem is that after two hundred pages he never seems to bother us with anything that might make a person into a person. We still know next to nothing about Anton. He must have a social life, he can not live in a void. What about his parents? What about any other family, friends, colleagues, people he knows from school. His neighbors? What about his favorite soccer club(if any?)
Still there is no explanation about how he combines his daytime job with his watch time exploits. It does not have to be rubbed in, but at some point a brief mentioning of him having a lack of sleep might give an idea. But the writer does not bother with that.
And then it gets worse. At some point it becomes clear he is obsessed with a girl he hardly knows and never seems to get to know better. This girl is Olga, the woman from the first part of the book who was punished to live in the body of an owl and could redeem herself by helping Anton. In part two she has redeemed herself partly, we are told(but how she did that we are not told. Or was she redeemed as part of what happened in part one? But she hardly did anything but tagging along with Anton?), so she is now human and not an owl and yet again we get no more information, where something more might at least gives us an idea of the person she is (She is the potential love interest!)
And then Anton’s obsession becomes repulsive. Illustrative is this part: he has to stand close to Olga as part of a magic spell and he goes something like: it is strange to be close to a woman who has felt the touch of another man. Uh.. what? (Ironic: they swap bodies, not that Anton spots the irony: how strange it must feel to be in the body of a woman that has been touched by another man!)
The whole time we see Anton painting Olga in a sexual context. We never seem him joke or have a nice conversation. He never sees her as another person. We see him ponder what has been going on when Olga and his boss retreat into a room with two glasses and a flask of wine. Well, she was probably getting touched by him. Oh my god.. this centuries old woman is not a virgin! Cut down some trees, make a bridge and get over it. He is obsessed with her having sex but we never see a moment that might at least explain that there is some kind of affection developing between them.. you know that moment when you and your love laugh at the same thing and you recognize you both do?
Now you might say: this is great storytelling.. and in other cases it might be if Anton was meant to be a distorted personality but I suspect that this is meant as part of a love story that will slowly unfold. It is meant to be romantic not pathetic.

Unbalanced writing(again)
Now all of that would probably be tolerable. I have been entertained by bad stories before(Ready Player One springs to mind) but the pacing is still off balance. Long parts of Anton going from a to b, while nothing in particular happens and we get monologues on various subjects, then very brief moments of sudden action that usually result in some kind of anti-climax. The lack of exposition where it is needed and too much of it where it is irrelevant.
For instance: Anton is an analyst, so we are told, but it is never described. Instead we are told that he analyses something and then are given a conclusion. Hop scotch. There is no in between process and I suspect the writer has no knowledge of the subject or the whole thing does not really interest him. Why then make Anton an analyst?
Anton is also a small time administrator. We are told how he installs software he does not care about on people’s desktops. Specialist administrators and programmers do not install software on end user desktops for the simple reason that they are too expensive to do such work. It sometimes happens that a well paid administrator programmer cares for something very much and thus does work he or she is not supposed to do. But we are told he does not care for it, so he does not belong to that category. Or perhaps Anton works for a organization that has highly trained and capable staff doing simple jobs they do not care about? We do not get an explanation.. again.

The final scene
The final nail to the coffin was the restaurant scene. So Anton is now in the body of Olga and accompanied by Swetlana, who has to be with him so he has an alibi at all times. This because they think the dark ones want to frame Anton for the string of strange murders. So in this restaurant is dark magic user(he is mentioned above). This magic user then goes off to the toilet gets killed and Anton is just in time to be alone with the corpus delicti and without Swetlana to give him an alibi. How utterly convenient. Not only so because in a previous instance we are told that the Others are very rare. Very few people become Others. So what a coincidence that the murderer, Anton and the victim are on the same spot but without Swetlana and without Anton bumping into the murderer? While I grant any writer the right not to explain a thing, i think that at least they ought to make a story plausible. But given the track record of the writer there will be no doubt in my mind that this will not be explained.

Summary
Night Watch is probably meant to appeal to a certain audience that wants to cast themselves in the boots of the main lead Anton. Hence there is a lack of personality and background. The less we know him, the more we can be like him.
The story lacks plausibility. Things happen because they have to and the writer does not seem to care much for rhyme or reason and thus, if need be, a deus et-machina is used to resolve the issue.
I grant that the background interests me and there are ideas in this story that might have been interesting but without any developed personalities and a well developed story I am left to wonder what the appeal of this book is. For me it has non.

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Two nekos do Urupe 7:Amsterdam

Amsterdam-1 copy

Now Amsterdam.. that is that city I was born.. and we(= my avatars) went into Second Life when we found it existed. And exist it does.. I mean not in a small way, but actually there is a rather big place in Second Life that looks in a certain way as Real Life Amsterdam does. Although without the myriads of tourists plodding around and without, for some reason, the bars and the coffee shops pandering soft drugs. Yeah.. that is Amsterdam for you, yet it is not. There are coffee-shops there but it is not like every inhabitant is intoxicated.
I recall my friends and me had this moment in which we smoked pot and stuff like that. It started one day with someone bringing us a cake made with grass and a year or so later it stopped. Just like that.
Smoking lingered long after that. I mean one of those friends, he smoked until his late thirties, until one of his lungs collapsed and his doctor said: if keep this going…
If you were to say that one drugs lead to another.. it would be hard to proof. For nobody of the eight people involved ever touched any kind of drugs after that one year. It was this wild moment and it was over a year later. In fact.. studying at the university and doing soft drugs is not a good mix. I suspect most of us were to serious for that.

Now the picture above shows the dam. That would be the central square of Amsterdam in a way. I guess most inhabitants my beg to differ. I mean the Leidseplein is more of a center for people who want to go out and have a drink. And the museumplein would be more of a culture place. And yet the munt, not really a square, would be more of a place to watch a movies. The dam however holds the most dominating landmarks that illustrate the dutch mindset: a church, a big shopping mall, monument for world war II, a palace which isn’t actually a palace but rather a symbolic palace and also the gathering place for the ruling elite untill it became a democracy. And not far off: the stock exchange. For the three pillars of the dutch are: commerce, religion and a vague authority.

amsterdam-2 copy

This is a picture that more or less show the damrak that is a broad street running from the central station(way  to the rear of the picture) towards the dam.(behind us in the picture). The building with the flag on it (the dutch flag: red-white-blue) is the former stock exchange. I am not sure what it is for used for now. You can have coffee in front of it as it has a kind of bar. It also seems to have some kind of stock exchange function, but what it is I do not know.
In the front of the picture are the typical trams.. the one you see is somewhat old, as nowadays they have a yellow basic look and somewhat more modern.

Screenshot - 10_5_2013 , 12_36_33 AM Screenshot - 10_5_2013 , 12_34_47 AM Screenshot - 10_5_2013 , 12_31_40 AM
Ok I am sorry but I like the versions of the above place. Those show the typical dutch canals, called grachten. I think it’s a nice example of how a gracht might look like in Amsterdam. However the grachten seldom ended in a way like this in the way you see here. Usually they either continue on into another gracht. A building that is located at the end of a gracht I have seldom seen.

So that is Amsterdam and I finish with one picture less than at my blogger place.

Next up will be Brussels and it gotz the Atomium, lace and sweet and some real neko pictures. 😛