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ggreig: (Western gentleman)

On Friday we were encouraged to come to work appropriately dressed for a Cowboy vs. Aliens Nerf battle.

Me as a cowboy with a belt-fed Nerf machine gun

ggreig: (Western gentleman)

Interesting music video. Musically hard to characterise; to me it sounds like a blend of computer game, 70s TV theme, sound effects, electronica, and dubstep (you can see how the album it's from is categorised by genre on Wikipedia). The video's steampunk western and both music and video tell a short story - a bit gorily in the visuals, but very watchable.

ggreig: (Western gentleman)

Within the last couple of years, laser-cut MDF seems to have taken off as a material for building wargaming/roleplaying scenery with. Last year at Claymore, I picked up a small selection of carts and the fanciest looking of Battle Flag’s range of Western buildings. It so happens this is the bordello.

I didn’t think I could improve on the colour scheme in the publicity artwork, so I went for it wholesale; a bright red (toned down a bit by the MDF surface it was applied to), a golden yellow around windows and doors, and white for the balustrade.

Bordello ExteriorThe boardwalk

Where I did think I could improve a wee bit was on the interior, which can be exposed by lifting off the roof and the floor of the upper storey. The exterior has planks etched into it and ornamental carvings, but apart from a couple of planked floors the interior is very plain. I didn’t think large areas of flat, brushed colour were going to look too great and I’ve never really got into spraying or airbrushing for this sort of thing (a lot of hassle setting it up, messing about with mixing and thinning paint if you’re airbrushing, and cleaning up afterwards).

It occurred to me that it would probably be possible to find a bit of Victorian wallpaper on the Internet, hopefully in a form I could use. Right enough, there appears to be a number of possible sources. The site I wound up using was Jennifer’s Printables (a collection of free printable materials for doll’s houses) that has a page dedicated to Victorian wallpapers, but if the materials there aren’t to your taste there are alternatives.

I selected a relatively plain wallpaper for downstairs and other public areas, and a variety of richer papers for upstairs. There aren’t actually any internal partitions (nor stairs!) included for the interior, but they are marked out on the floor that lifts out, so I though I might as well try to give each an individual character.

I could have just printed them out onto decent paper and stuck them on, but that would have involved being sure they were cut exactly to shape for awkward bits like windows and doors, and my experience with gluing paper is mixed; Copydex is pretty good, but it doesn’t take much going wrong with paper in order to end up with a bit of a nasty mess.

So I thought I’d try something new, and bought some inkjet water-slide decal paper from Crafty Computer Paper.

Printing the wallpaper was a scoosh. I lined up the paper samples to the measurements I wanted using PagePlus, and rescaled them a bit so that the patterns looked OK; then when a few test prints satisfied me that I’d got it about right I printed my wallpapers onto a couple of A4 sheets of the decal paper.

That puts a layer of ink on top of the water-slide substrate, but if you just stuck that into water most ink would not come through the experience well. A layer of varnish sprayed on top will seal the ink between the two layers. I played safe and bought the brand that Crafty Computer Paper recommend for the job. Once the varnish had dried, it was time to apply the transfers. Click through for a closer look:


There are two transfers on each wall of the house, one for upstairs and one for downstairs, each cut to size and applied over several layers of almond-coloured paint. The obvious gap between the storeys is well-hidden in practice once the floor is in place, but with the benefit of hindsight, I might have cut them a little more oversized – or even as a single transfer per wall – in order to eliminate the worries about that. I was nervous about how robust and easily managed such large transfers would be, but they held up very well and were fairly manageable. Positioning one edge and gradually sliding the backing paper out seemed to do the trick. It may also have helped that I pre-brushed the surfaces with Micro Set, and also applied more once the transfer was in place.

It was my original intention to use a sharp knife to cut out the excess transfer material over the windows and do, er, something else for glass, but at this stage I discovered that the pattern I’d chosen for the downstairs wallpaper also looked pretty good as patterned glass. So I left it. You can see it in this picture (again, click through for a closer look, the effect’s a bit subtle for blog-sized photos):

Transparent wallpaper passes as glass

You can also see one of the nice things about laser-cut MDF is that It’s pretty convincing as wood. There’s a slight texture to it that just works at this sort of scale that you wouldn’t get from anything else.

I stuck with my intention of cutting out the upper storey windows (stripy wallpaper isn’t so convincing as a pane of glass), but instead of using a thin bit of clear plastic in its place, as I’d originally thought, I used offcuts of the transfer paper to make clear windows that matched the patterned ones downstairs. The result is a bit blurrier to look through than the plastic would have been, but if anything I think that adds to the effect. Yay, serendipity!

The upper floorHappy with my results, I began assembling the walls permanently, and it was round about then that I discovered that, in all the best traditions of wallpapering slapstick, I’d papered over a door. There’s a passage across the middle of the top floor, leading to the door that opens onto the balcony, and with no markings on the interior wall apart form the two lights above the door I’d managed to ignore it. With the walls already assembled, it was a bit awkward to mark it in retrospectively, but I managed a passable result.

I may do a bit more to try to tidy the rough edges of that up, and maybe apply some weathering outside, but fundamentally the building’s done for now. Obviously there’s more could be done to build up a detailed interior, but that’s for another time (if ever).

Both floors wallpaperedBack door

Rear of the house

ggreig: (Default)

Ever since Windows 7 came out, I’ve fancied putting together a Windows theme, and a couple of recent blog articles finally prodded me into action.

The obvious choice was the more exotic locations that I’ve got photos of, so I set out to create a California theme and went back and reviewed all my photos looking for scenes that could be turned into a package of decent wallpapers. After a bit of selection, cropping and culling, I came up with 24 that I put together.

It took the best part of three evenings to work through everything, but I was quite happy with the result. I don’t feel the need to do another one straight away, but it would be nice to have one that’s closer to home, so look out for a possible Scotland or even St. Andrews theme in the future.

Download in whichever format’s more useful to you:

Moon at Sunset, Joshua TreeColour coordinated carSunrise on Ventura Boulevard, Woodland HillsJumbo Rocks Campground, Joshua TreeFallen HackberriesLocomotive cab, California State Railroad Museum, SacramentoSnowy Plover, Monterey Bay AquariumPrickly PearCalifornia Sister Butterfly (Adelpha Californica)Wah Hop Store, ColomaFloss Silk Tree, Costa MesaAnemones, Monterey Bay AquariumRock Fish in the Kelp Forest, Monterey Bay AquariumAmerican Mastodon, La Brea Tar PitsMall Sign, SolvangMining Cart, ColomaChipmunkPacific WavesPalm trunk, TustinWorkin' on the Railroad, California State Railroad Museum, SacramentoOutdoor pool, Hearst CastleCalifornia Ground SquirrelRedwood Glade, Humboldt Redwoods State ParkWedding Rock, Patrick's Point
ggreig: (Default)

By special request, my next American post is about the Gold Rush. Sorry they're quite so infrequent; I'm pretty busy at the moment, even in my "spare" time, so it's difficult to make the time to do a topic justice. I'm going to try writing on the phone while commuting in order to try and catch up a bit!

The Assay Office, ColomaAmericans often seem a bit sensitive about their "lack" of history, compared to European countries, but I reckon they do themselves a disservice. True, when you think of national/state identities, California is younger than the Union of the Parliaments, never mind the Union of the Crowns, or England or Scotland. But for most people it's not the number of significant dates that a country has accumulated that matters, it's whether events capture the imagination and whether people think they can empathise with the people of the time. For the historians in the audience, that may be a sore point, as the general public may be empathising on the basis of fiction, but nonetheless real people, whether historians or not, like to feel a relationship with the past.

American history's relative youth can be an advantage, then, as we're less remote from the people and times concerned. (And of course the entirety of the Americas have a fascinating history that predates Columbus, much of it still to be uncovered. A very little more of that another time, though I wish I could say more than a very little!)

A mining trolleyWhile I was in California, we visited not just one but two places where modern California could be said to have begun. The more recent one, and the one visited first, was Sutter's Mill.

To me, in my ignorance, I'm afraid Sutter's Mill was the blog of Herb Sutter, notable figure in the world of C++. I didn't know where the name had originally come from, but now I do. Sutter's Mill in Coloma is where the Gold Rush started that made California the populous state it is today.

Coloma wasn't a big important place at the time, and it isn't now. But for a brief period in between, it teemed with prospectors eager to make a fortune with that lucky strike.

It sounds awful.

Logging was the major business in the area, and the first trace of gold was found in 1848 by James Marshall, while working on the tailrace of a water-driven sawmill owned by John Sutter. Sutter and Marshall tried to keep it quiet, but failed.

The tailrace of Sutter's Mill, where the Californian Gold Rush began.It's a slightly odd place to walk around; a village with quite widely spaced houses, most of which date from a little after the discovery. The main visual attraction is "Sutter's Mill" itself, which is actually a recent reconstruction based a contemporary photo and Sutter's own drawings. What's not immediately obvious is that the reconstruction is not on the original spot; the path of the river hasn't changed much and the new mill is set back from the water a bit. The original site is a few tens of yards away, fairly unheralded although it is marked. A steep bank leads down into a stagnant ditch beside the river, and there you are. That's where (one version of) California was born.

Although the original mill is no more, its timbers have been recovered, and are stored in a shed where you can see them through glass; a big stack of wood.

The population of Coloma - and California as a whole - boomed as a result of the discovery. Many died getting there, and many more died once they arrived. One in five of the Argonauts - as the 49ers referred to themselves - is thought to have died within six months of arrival, and Coloma itself, where people worked claims of a few square feet and lived in fox-holes, had a mortality rate of four times its inflated population over a few short years.

A miner "sees the elephant" (the experience of taking part in the Gold Rush)A few prospectors became fabulously wealthy, but the great majority had a miserable life, and for many it was also short.

The people who made fortunes out of the gold rush were the merchants, selling to a market who were captives of location and their own aspirations. A loaf of bread worth 4 cents in New York would sell for 75 in California, with eggs $1 to $3 a piece, $1 to $5 for an apple, and $100 for a pair of boots; all on typical earnings of $8 per day. That was 8 times what a miner might earn on the East coast, but it's easy to see why it wasn't typically the prospectors who struck it rich.

There's relatively little evidence now of Coloma's boom. Whole streets have left no more than a line of foundations, rather like older lost settlements in Europe. What's left is a small village, but an interesting one; with a number of surviving buildings well presented within their historical context. They're small and wooden, and while they're not the fanciest buildings that sprung up after 1849, such as the hotels, it's sobering to think that they're much better than the tents and shanties that most enjoyed.

Neither James Marshall, the carpenter who found gold while building the mill race, nor John Sutter the mill owner became rich. Sutter's business ventures failed because his staff preferred to prospect for gold, and his claim to ownership of the land fell between the cracks during California's transition from being part of Mexico to becoming an American state, which was taking place at the same time. (In his own words.)

Sutter's Mill (reconstructed)

My previous visit to a gold mine, at Joshua Tree:
"I have seen the elephant:"

ggreig: (Simpsons)

I’ve just finished reading The Life of Hon. William F. Cody / Known As / Buffalo Bill / The Famous Hunter, Scout and Guide / An Autobiography, and very enjoyable it was too.

I’m not a great fan of the Western, and nearly didn’t pick this up off the second-hand bookstall, but second thoughts as to its suitability as source material made me have another look. I’m glad I did.

This edition of the autobiography covers less than half his life, as it was first published when he was 33, and perhaps his greatest fame still lay ahead; but it was already a pretty full life compared to some of the folk writing their autobiographies today, and probably contains the episodes of greatest interest.

It’s a great tale well told, though a bit thought-provoking to a modern reader too. Life is cheap, and some aspects of society deeply unpleasant. Bill’s father is knifed then hounded murderously by his neighbours for the views he expresses when asked; he’s considered treacherously liberal for being anti-slavery, even although he’s for an exclusively white state. The persecution continues until his  death from illness a few years later. Bill himself kills his first Indian* at age 11, and makes no bones of scalping Native Americans when they’re killed, or “lifting their hair”. Killings over card games do take place.

The edition I read has a modern (1978) foreword that considers how credible the tale is and whether it was really written by Bill himself or ghost-written. The general conclusion seems to be that it really is Buffalo Bill’s own writing, and that while it may not be a completely reliable account, this early edition is more true than not. (Later editions include embroidered material that may have been added by the publishers.) Some events recounted in the early edition that were once considered doubtful have been subsequently confirmed by independent documentary evidence, and Bill doesn’t always portray himself in the best light: admitting to pocketing a fine when a Justice of the Peace, for example; being unreliable in drink; or shooting his mule when within sight of his destination, at least partly in revenge because it had run away from him.

In role-playing terms, Buffalo Bill is clearly a player character. Reading of his early exploits tracking or evading Indians reminded me of the hobgoblins and the “golden horde” in New Jerusalem, the first role playing game I took part in. In less “heroic” form, there’s an incident in a battle where Bill spots an Indian riding a horse that he admires; so he sneaks forward to pick the owner off and is later given the horse by the soldier who caught it. Oh dear, I thought. I can see a player character doing exactly that.

It’s odd to think though, that the sort of behaviour that would prompt a bit of head-shaking and teeth-sucking in a game, and possible longer term consequences, depending on the GM, is not apparently considered very reprehensible or shameful in real life less than 150 years ago. To be fair, it was a hostile situation and the Native American would no doubt have been a target anyway; but the naked cupidity is a little shocking.

One thing that seems a little shocking now but probably shouldn’t is the number of buffalo slain; although 36 buffalo in a short ride may seem like a lot, it’s not so excessive when you’re shooting to feed an army. There is a reason that the buffalo is now scarce, but it’s not all Buffalo Bill’s fault; and as far as Native Americans are concerned, he seems to have been more inclined to treat them as fellow human beings than many of his contemporaries.

It was also a surprise to discover that Rome was not built in a day. It took a month; and then it took three days to fall when Bill and his partner refused to cut the railway company agent into the town they had founded. He set up a competing town a mile away, and spread the word that that was where the railway would pass by. The town that springs up overnight when oil is struck in Tintin in America is an exaggeration; but not so much as you might think!

Historical culture-shock aside, this is a good read and I’d unreservedly recommend it if you come across it as I did, for £2.50. I’d even recommend paying a bit more than that if you want the comfort of a paper copy. The author has an effective and engaging writing style – he tells a good yarn – and he doesn’t take himself too seriously; I didn’t think of “Bison William” myself!

On Project Gutenberg you can find the edition I read (sadly without illustrations), or a later, "revised" edition with some illustrations. You can also find a print copy like mine on Amazon, with many illustrations.

* No intent to offend any Native Americans who may happen to read this by my use of the period term.

June 2017

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