Monday, January 02, 2006

Clockwork and balloons and an actual building

So what have I been making and doing?

A clockwork blunderbuss: I decided that it was time to prove at least some retrotech credentials given that I claim them, and I have long had a gun that shoots any object loaded into it (for physics testing - a terrific euphemism for "blowing stuff up") so after a meeting with the Victorian Retrotech Society I made one out of good old-fashioned wood, polished brass and iron.

clockwork blunderbuss

Yes, I know, it's a very nice hat. See the little key at the top of the magazine mechanism? No, look closer. It's not a sight, it's a key.

clockwork blunderbuss closeup

Every time one fires the gun, that key turns an eighth of the way anti-clockwise with a tick, until the magazine is emptied - at which point, through the miracle of self-winding, it winds itself all the way back up again. I have, you see, developed a mechanism for postponing the input of all of the energy required until an undefined point in the future - at that time there will have to be some sort of high powered steam plant involved, but I'll be long gone.

Nobody will ever notice this key turning, of course, unless they suddenly become confused at the fact that they can't fire and look down to try to find where the "tick tick tick" noise is coming from. But it's the little touches, you know. There is also a flurry of sparks when one fires a "bullet". (My favourite is the anarchist bomb, which bounces around until the fuse expires and then explodes in a shower of shrapnel.)

A mechanism for the production of touring vehicles: It seems that many groups in Second Life are now interested in hosting tours, for fun and/or profit. I spent a very long time trying to use such functions as llMoveToTarget to construct objects that one could sit on and which would propel one towards a destination.

I ran afoul of a concept known as "energy", which is not the same as the energy that we all know and love from physics classes, but instead is a concept dreamt up by Linden Labs with the intention of confounding scripters and making their projects throw up inexplicable errors. Simply put, objects use up "energy" when moving themselves and other objects around, and only get energy back at a rate inversely proportional to their mass. No, this doesn't make sense, I'm quite aware of that. Yes, tiny objects end up being more efficient propulsion than larger ones.

In the end I simply modified my autopilot balloon script (see previous) to read destinations sequentially from a notecard instead of requiring a pilot, as "vehicles" (i.e. any object designated thusly by the scripter) are not subject to energy restrictions, though require somewhat more fiddly techniques to move around. And now I have a script which, when dropped onto an object along with a notecard specifying waypoints in global format, will cause said object and anything linked to it to fly in a reasonably realistic manner between all the points in order. Lines which are not global co-ordinates are either special commands (change height, pause etc) or are commentary to be read out to the passengers.

I've tested this fairly thoroughly and it works. All that's needed are vehicles to attach it to and courses to follow. The Socialist Party of Second Life and the Victorian Retrotech Society are both interested in this particular piece of difference engine trickery, and I am happy to oblige them both, though the last thing one would wish to see would be advertising blimps using the same technology, so I'm afraid that direct access to the script will be restricted to certain trustworthy groups and individuals only for the moment. I am quite happy to discuss the principles behind it, though, should anyone be interested.

And finally...

A showroom, of sorts: My home area has long been a rather desolate place, but now contains a small building filled with a selection of my creations, either for purchase for a nominal fee (nothing over L$50) or simply for free copy. Everything is modifiable by the purchase. I'm not running a business here. That would be trade. It is simply an area for intellectually curious gentlefolk to explore the details of my humble creations.


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