Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Are you a gnome or an elf? (Some Amplebeak FAQ's.)

If I had a Linden Dollar for every time I've been asked that question I would now be wealthy enough to buy out Ansche Chung. My typist offered his sympathies and offered to help in any way he could. I mulled it over and suggested that a short list of the most frequently asked questions and their answers would be most helpful. He graciously agreed to write this article for me.

Are you a Gnome or an Elf?

Amplebeak is both. The term Gnome was coined by the late medieval natural philosopher Paracelsus who applied the term to Earth elementals. The term may have been of earlier classical origin, possibly from the Greek words gnosis (knowledge) or genomos (earth dweller). Paracelsus saw them as the ruling class of elementals, with the greatest store of knowledge and wisdom. They were characterized as small in stature, generally helpful, intensely curious and therefore fond of learning and teaching. Over time as the term "Gnome" became more widely used the concept of what a gnome was became diluted by local folk influences, which will be addressed in other FAQ's.

Amplebeak's people are a rare and little known subgroup of the Elves of Arda, more commonly known as Middle Earth, the history of which has been told by the famed chronicler J.R.R. Tolkien. They separated from the main population of the elves prior to the arrival of the Valar. They went Eastward where they saw the stars rise into the sky and after many centuries of travel, adventure, and hardship they came to settle in a mountainous territory that they share with a group of Durin's people (Commonly called Naugrim or Dwarves).

Like their western kindred they do not age and die, though they may be killed by malice or misadventure. A young gnome's formal education lasts for about 100 years after which they undertake a learning quest. Most such quests are within the territory of their people, but some few are specially trained and sent far afield to learn of the greater world and its peoples. This quest often lasts for several millennia, particularly for those tasked with study abroad.

There have never been more than a handful of questing gnomes outside of their home territory at any given time, thus they are largely unknown in the greater world. They also often travel disguised as Naugrim, as they are of similar stature. They are also of stockier build, darker skinned, and more rugged in countenance than their elven kin. Thus they are often called the "Dwarflike Ones" by Western elves, those few that know of them at any rate. Their own name for themselves translates as "The People" in English. Not an uncommon convention in tribal societies.

The adoption of Paracelsus' term "Gnome" came about shortly ofter the sage's passing when the young gnomes then on quest in Europe (Amplebeak being one of that number) came across his writings. Being amused by his description they adopted it as the name they identified themselves with to men.

How old are you?

Elves do not reckon time with the passing of years, but rather by historical epochs. The first date he remembers from the Gregorian calendar was in the Eigth Century AD, so he has been in the world of men that long. His attempts to reconcile the Gregorian with Elven calendars have been fruitless so far. To the best of his reckoning Amplebeak's age is somewhere between 1,200 and 1,500 years.

Gnomes have beards and pointy hats. You don't. How can you call yourself a gnome?

The common stereotype of gnomes in modern pop culture has been shaped by the influence of many folk traditions and fables other than Paracelsus' original definition. The most common of which are the Molded clay garden figurines that originated in Germany in the middle of the 19th century, which usually have beards, pot bellies, and bright red hats. These are not elements of gnomes as originally described, nor are they common to all cultures.

Amplebeak has been known to wear hats from time to time, his favorites being a lime green top hat given to him on his travels and Sir Edward Pearse's Steampunk Crash Helmet. He has also been known to cavort merrily while wearing a ten gallon hat after drinking too much mead. (Amp finds the notion of a Ten Gallon Hat on a Half Pint Gnome wildly amusing.)

Caledon is a Victorian community. Why don't you wear Victorian fashions?

As stated above Amplebeak has been in the world of Man a bit over 1,000 years. Gnomish clothing hasn't changed significantly in design since before the race of Man existed. Thus most gnomes pay little attention to human fashion. Also Amplebeak didn't really consider human civilization advanced enough to approach humans openly* until around the Renaissance. Thus most of his ideas about human clothing was formed by his interaction with people of that time and his basic wardrobe remains basically that of an Medieval worker mixed with an Elizabethan Adventurer/Explorer. Since Gnomish styles change slowly, if at all, he was not aware until recently how outlandish he looked to his Victorian neighbors. Therefore he has made the effort recently to acquire Victorian garb. He is quite proud of his new wardrobe, so much so that I haven't the heart to tell him he looks like a colourblind gadfly who takes fashion advice from a mad parrot. As long as he's happy I'm happy for him.

* Most of Amplebeak's fellow questing gnomes still don't consider humans civilized enough to approach openly. Their loss.

Why don't gnomes like people?

Other than their opinions on human civilization, world wars, nuclear weapons, and melted chewing gum on sidewalks? Actually gnomes are cautious of all peoples other than themselves and the Dwarves they share their homeland with. Not actually xenophobic, but for historical reasons they are very careful dealing with the other races of Earth.

You see, the first speaking race they encountered in their journey through the Eastern lands of Middle Earth were the forefathers of the Orcs. At that early stage in history (Torward the end of what Tolkein called the First Age) the Orcs still showed much of their elven origins and the Gnomes took them to be another elvish group who had come Eastward and welcomed them. They found out to their sorrow how wrong they were. Fully two thirds of their population was killed, a loss they have never recovered from. Indeed their numbers still dwindle and they know their race is slowly coming to an end. Their birthrate isn't high enough to replace the population lost then, let alone replace those who die or are lost over the course of time.

Amplebeak for his part is very fond of humans and even chooses to live among them. He does however prefer small gatherings to large numbers of humans although he is becoming more comfortable with the formal social gatherings so popular in Caledon. He does travel from time to time to various elven realms for a respite.

A Victorian Elf/Gnome?

Fantasy beings from myth, legend, and folklore were very popular in the Victorian period. Elves particularly so, and as mentioned above the classic garden Gnome is a product of that period.

What work do you do?

Amplebeak is a gardener. A natural occupation for a gnome.

Why a gnome?

He was meant to be a penguin, modeled on Opus of Bloom County fame. I didn't really understand how AV's worked at the time and found making a penguin to be beyond my building abilities. So instead I played with the appearance adjustments to find out how they worked and what could be done. After many amusing permutations of my AV I finally ended up with a little chap who looked like a cross between Rumpelstiltskin and Pinocchio.

The word "Gnome" popped to mind, and not knowing anything about gnomes I popped off to the Internet to do a bit of cultural research. I found an excellent article on Wikipedia and several other sites that I used to develop my character. One of the most interesting bits I came across were anecdotes to the effect that Tolkein had originally planned to call the High Elven Noldor "Gnomes", based on Paracelsus original description. I sat down and thought it over, then wrote up an outline of what gnomes would be (to me that is) and incorporated much of the knowledge of gnomes I had gained into it.

It has been more than a year and a half since then and even though I could easily change my AV to a penguin I've become rather fond of the little fellow and wouldn't change him for the world. Well, not much.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Abner Doble's last project


I came across this whilst researching the previous article. Apparently Robert Paxton McCulloch of chainsaw fame was a fan of steam powered automobiles and decided to design a postwar luxury marque using an engine designed by Abner Doble.

Unfortunately development costs of the steam engine were prohibitive and a more conventional gas engine from Porsche was mounted in the prototype.

The project was eventually abandoned as unprofitable.

Pity. 'Twas a nice looking motorcar.

Heavier than Air Steam Powered Flight?

During a somewhat recent discussion inworld on the subject of aircraft
history and design the possibility of steam powered (and thus Steampunk)
aeroplanes was raised. The conversation concluded with the commonly
held belief that while steam power was viable for lighter than air craft
the power to weight ratio and complexity of operation of steam power
plants precluded their use in powering fixed wing aircraft.

This is a commonly held view, yet as is often the case with commonly
held views it is wrong. In 1933 two brothers named Besler built and flew
a conventional production model Travel Air 2000 biplane fitted out with
a 150 HP steam aeroengine. The Gentlemen (and possibly ladies) of the
press were invited and they duly recorded the following film of the event.

Contemporary reports made much of the silence of the engines operation
with many reporting they could clearly hear and understand the pilot
shouting to them as he flew overhead.

The engine is a modification of the designs manufactured by the Doble
Brothers for their automobiles. For those unfamiliar with this
particular Marque (very few people have heard of the Doble) the Doble
Brothers, led by their eldest brother Abner Doble formed several
companies to produce automobiles using their condensing steam engines, a
first for steam cars. Their cars were also noted for their efficiency
(both fuel and feed water), their lack of visible exhaust, their
reliabilty and build quality (the engines were designed and built to run
a million miles before needing rebuilding), and ease of use due to the high
level of automation in the power system.

The key to the Doble power plant was a singularly effective pressure fed
steam generator that was electrically ignited and could generate enough
steam to start off in around 30 seconds (Albeit at less than full
speed). The brother's goal was to produce a steam system as easy to use
and maintain as an internal combustion engine. They also willingly took
on outside consulting projects to promote the superiority of steam
power. Thus their role in development of the Besler engine.

Alas to the best I have been able to determine this was the only such
aeroplane built and flown. The War Department of the United States did
take an interest in the concept of Steam Planes during WW II and a 3
cylinder rotary engine was produced, but there are no records of it ever
having been mounted in a plane and test flown. Only one survives to this
day and is on display in Atlanta Georgia. I could not find any pictures
of that engine but apparently it is popular among steam enthusiasts who
build operating scale models. Below is a clip of one such model being
demonstrated. I assume with a properly designed steam generator this
unit could be used to power a RC model plane but I have found no
aethereal record of such being done.

The Nazi war machine also took an interest in the potential of steam
planes, particularly for long range heavy bombers. But all the articles I
have read indicate that none of their research in this area got past the
conceptual stages.

If anyone knows of any further information about this subject please let
me know. I'll gladly share it in this forum.

Your humble servant, A. Tinlegs, Gnome.

Monday, May 12, 2008

I tried, but I couldn't resist.

Carrah Rossini's Steampunk Dreamship

One fine recent evening I got a call from my friend Eren Padar, Dwagon
Emeritus of Elf Clan and fellow tinkerer. He wished to show me a new
Steampunk themed vessel he had recently acquired. So I popped over to
the sandbox at ElvenMyst to take a look. I was mightily impressed by
what I saw.

The Vessel is the Steampunk Dreamship, one of three such airships made by Carrah Rossini. There is also a submarine in the collection which Iunderstand is capable of flight as well.

The fit, finish, and level of detail is evident in the pictures. This
same level of meticulous craftsmanship was readily apparent in the build
of Ms. Rossini's shop and at the sky platform above where the demo
models of her craft may be viewed.

The quality of the build and level of detail carries over into the interior.

The craft also comes with an astonishing array of extra features such as
an operable big screen television and radio with a remote feature that
allows the radio to be used in flight over shared lands.

What isn't readily apparent from the pictures and description of
features is how remarkably well it functions as an aircraft, something I
was very concerned about given its 91 prims.

I voiced my concerns to Mr. Padar who promptly offered myself and Mr.
Hod Runningbear a flight about ElvenMyst. Hod and I took our seats as
Eren took the controls and we were treated to one of the most drama free
and comfortable rides we had yet experienced in SL.

After we landed Eren gave me the honour of taking the controls for a
spin about ElvenMyst. I was even more amazed at the craft's flight as
pilot. The only issue encountered was a slight delay at SIM border
crossings, which is a common experience in vehicles this large. The only
nitpick I could find is that the default viewing perspective in flight
is too close to the AV's head for my taste, and isn't adjustable. I
found that using mouse view when in flight gave the best field of view
for me.

After my "test drive" in Eren's ship I immediately ran out and purchased
my own copy. Save for the inability to rez the vessel on my own land
(Must do some spring cleaning) my experience flying the beastie about
Caledon's skies has reinforced my first impression. I've noted that in
flight the Dreamship seems to be an attachment, as I have not
encountered the dreaded "Full Plot" failure whilst crossing the
inhabited regions of Caledon. It also seems to become a phantom as it
can pass through solid structures with ease. I have yet to test the
radio and TV in flight.

All in all an exceptional product by an exceptional builder. I am quite
satisfied and will happily do business with Ms. Rossini again in the
future. Those interested in acquiring one of their own may visit her
shop in Dreamfall. If interested drop me a line in world and I will
gladly forward you a copy of the landmark.

I have named mine "Voyageur", after the French trappers who explored
much of North America in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Steampnuk CD Player.

I'm supposed to be using this time to research steam aeroengines, but I'm easily distracted

A Real Live Tiny Steam Tank!!!

A bit small for practical use, but fun to watch!