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June 2004 Archives

June 1, 2004

Life drawing!

I hadn't been to the VOIC's monthly life drawing class for some time, but today I really felt like going. It's exhausting but fun and educational... in fact a little too much so. There's always so much to observe, try out and learn that it can get a bit overwhelming.

Today I brought some newly-bought tools: a charcoal stick, some pastel crayons and some graphite pencils. I quickly settled on a routine of drawing most poses twice: once very quickly with the charcoal, to get the overall shape and test where I might have problems; then with a combination of the other tools, paying more attention to detail and shading. It sort of worked-I still suck at drawing from life but the average quality of observation improved a bit. I don't think I got the hang of using colored crayons yet though...

charcoal sketch

The drawing above was the one where the charcoal technique worked best. The lines are almost like writing (except that I tend to drag my hand over the paper while drawing - a bad habit that charcoal immediately punishes). I cleaned the scans up a bit, but otherwise everything is as it is in the sketchbook.

Continue reading "Life drawing!" »

June 2, 2004

Oh, no, not again!

From the "interface customisation has gone too far" department:

This happens to me every few months or so:

What makes this annoying is that
a) It doesn't seem to serve any purpose for me to be able to drag Paint Shop Pro's main menu to the left and show it at a 90 degree angle
b) I never have any idea what exactly I did to cause it. Presumably I dragged my Wacom pen over the menu in a way that PSP interpreted as a command.
c) I never remember how I fixed it last time, and it always takes me half an hour of tearing my hair out to find a solution in the Help files. Then I spend some more time re-customising the interface the way it was before the incident took place. At the time I post this, it's nearly 2 AM and I can't be bothered to spend half an hour. Besides, my hair is getting too thin for this nonsense.
d) there doesn't seem to be any way to disable it. Or is there?

Argh, argh argh. What were the people at JASC thinking?

The Religious Policeman and Muslim-Refusenik

The Religious Policeman tells us what life is like in Saudi-Arabia, a country so vile it spawned, what, 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers. He is a rare voice of reason from the heartland of Wahabbi fundamentalism, and for that he risks "disappearing". Although he has little to report that is hopeful, the fact that he exists gives me hope.

Likewise Irshad Manji who also faces death threats for her outspoken opinions even though she lives in Canada. At least her death threats don't come from the government though.

June 3, 2004

Cutting down on the Fearless Leader's bandwidth bill

Ken Silverstone's PNGOUT is a great utility for compressing PNG files. It has cut down the PNGs currently in my folder of finished ROCR pages (only about 75 of them because I prune the folder regularly) from 8.5 MB total to 8 MB. These files were already optimised by Paint Shop Pro 8's PNG exporter, which does quite a good job.

I'm now uploading them to Modern Tales' server, in the hope that the change will make a noticeable difference in the loading speed of the latest archives and the amount of bandwidth eaten up by those archives. According to Modern Tales' rules, bandwidth costs come entirely out of owner Joey Manley's pockets, and I'd like the system to be as profitable as possible for him so that he doesn't have to do work on the side.

If you have any problems with the new versions of the image files, let me know.

June 5, 2004

Structured procrastination

Since I came out of scramble mode a few weeks ago, I've had a lot more time, but have accomplished a lot less. This is because structured procrastination is no longer working now that I have so few things left to do. On the other hand, I do need a vacation, so maybe the best way to deal with this is to get away from it all for a week or so, after which the workload will have piled up again.
(Via Brad DeLong, via John Perry.

June 6, 2004

All I am saying, is give nukes a chance

(Via, again, Brad DeLong.Warning: non-expert opinions below (not the quoted ones; my own.) )
Mark Kleyman makes a case that nuclear fuel should get another chance:

Nukes, if run right, are fully competitive with coal, and a hell of a lot cleaner. (Modern coal plants are much cleaner than they used to be, but that's not saying much. In addition to all that greenhousing carbon dioxide, coal makes particles, and particles are BAD. As for all the old coal plants still running -- the ones whose lives the Bush Administration just extended to infinity by changing the New Source Review standards -- fuhgettabadit.)

I'm not really qualified to judge this, but I think (and have thought for some time) that a return to nukes would reduce two problems that could bite us in the ass in the next generation or so. One is climate change, which is likely to inconvenience a few people here and there in the not-so-distant future, the other is our dependency on not just coal, but oil, much of which is owned by countries whose governments and/or populations hate us *).

But these are all short-term problems, what about the nuclear waste that will irradiate us until the end of time? Mark makes the point quite forcefully:

Nuclear waste. This is a problem only if you think that we need to plan waste disposal that will (no, I'm not making this up) survive the end of civilization and be safe for the ignorant primitive nomads who will wander the earth 10,000 years from now. Actually, the solution isn't technically very hard.
... and then he gets a bit technical. I don't want to quote the whole article here; go read it if you're interested.

I am still less optimistic than Mark about operational security (both the large-scale problem of a plant going KABOOM and the smaller contaminations that come from routine human error) and the risk of spent nuclear fuel falling in the wrong hands, but if these problems are solvable, then we should give nukes a chance.

Mark concludes his article with:

[Note: Thirty years ago, I was pretty current on this stuff. I had to take the engineering on faith, but I knew the policy problem just about as well as anyone did. (I think I was the original author of the pyramid idea, which didn't pass the giggle test but which no one, as far as I'm aware, actually refuted.) But that was thirty years ago, and it's more than possible that my memory is faulty or that the world has changed so that some important detail above is imprecisely stated or flat wrong. Corrections invited.]

I'm looking forward to seeing those corrections to Mark's article, and also to seeing any misconceptions of my own cleared up. I'll follow this debate with great interest.

*)I know oil isn't a major resource for electricity generation, but oil, coal and gas are still part of the same market. If the price of one of them goes up, so do the others. Oil dependency exacerbates the effect of our other fossil fuel dependencies. Plus, as Matt Yglesias notes "... any strategy to burn less gasoline -- electric cars, the "hydrogen economy," more mass transit, some combination of the three -- is going to require the production of more electricity."

Continue reading "All I am saying, is give nukes a chance" »

Party animals


I got the Dutch ballot lists for the European elections in the mail a few days ago. In the List Vote system, I can vote for any of several hundred candidates whose votes will primarily be assigned to the party list. If a candidate gets more than an X number of votes, he or she may get a seat in preference to the candidtates higher up the list. Political parties put their most important personalities at the top, giving them the best chance at gaining a seat in Parliament, but they like putting interesting or famous characters at the bottom of the list to gain attention and show these characters' endorsement of the party.

The list on the left takes this idea to extremes! The Partij voor de Dieren, "Party for the Animals", is a party whose platform is entirely based on animal rights, animal welfare and support for organic farming. "Kooks", I hear you say? If they are, then the Netherlands has quite a few kooks. The party narrowly missed getting a seat (out of 150) in the Dutch parliament. "Pig-hugging PETA members?" I hear you say...

Well, let's look at the bottom of the list. Who are these people?

At number 1, we find the party leader, Marianne Thieme. She's 30-ish and is the same person who nearly got a seat in the Dutch parliament last year. Other than that, I don't know that much about her. Let's go further down the list...

At 13, we find Paul Cliteur, formerly of the right-wing VVD. A jurist, columnist and philosopher known for his critique of Islam and multiculturalism. Not known as a woolly thinker, generally.
At 14, we find writer and painter Gerti Bierenbroodspot. I'm unfamiliar with her work.
At 15, we find another writer: Mensje van Keulen.
At 16: Belinda Meuldijk, a songwriter (the party's own page lists Maarten 't Hart, another writer, who unfortunately had to be scrapped from the list because he couldn't show a passport in time).
Seeing a pattern here?
At 17: Martin Gaus, owner of several dog training schools, writer of several books about dogs, and a presenter of animal programs on Dutch television. When Jeroen saw the list, he said "It's tempting to vote for Martin Gaus, just so I can say I did".
At 18: Jan Wolkers, one of the Netherlands best-loved writers, known internationally for Turks Fruit (Turkish Delight).
And at 19: Rudy Kousbroek, writer and essayist.

Now, one of my favorite statesmen, Vaclav Havel, is a writer, and he has done a great job as one of communist Czechoslovakia's foremost dissidents and the Czech Republic's first President. But this list looks like the party is aiming exclusively at support from the nation's literati. Are they the only ones who support animal rights, or just the only ones who will base their vote on that one issue to the exclusion of everything else?

(Note: while I was, uh, ruminating on this posting, I found out that this weblog had been added to the blogroll of A Fistful of Euros, in its "Living in Europe" section. I hope those of you coming here from there enjoyed this little Euro-political oddity!)

Mental note re: cycling, freckles and cameras.

Next time I go bicycling with Sidsel, I should take a camera and document the changes to her appearance during the day. I do actually carry a digital camera with me at all times nowadays, but I still haven't got into the habit of taking it out and taking pictures. Too bad, because yesterday, when we went cycling on a fairly sunny day, it was fascinating to look at my Sidsel's face. She doesn't just tan, she sprouts freckles all over her face, and in the space of a few hours her hair went from dark blond to red. Except for the tips, which had been bleached a few months ago - these faded to nearly white as if the bleach had been reactivated. It'll be interesting to see how she changes when the sun is blazing at full strength; it was partially clouded most of the time.

Our trip was supposed to take us to Oudeschip in the Northwest of Groningen (where we would check if Pick Fokkens of the comic store Modern Papier was home, and hit him up for coffee if he was), but we ran out of time and went back after taking a break at Uithuizermeeden. I think we did about 50 kilometers.

A few weeks ago we went to the port town of Lauwersoog and back, which was a round trip of about 100 kilometers. I'd say that area was a lot nicer, but this shorter and not entirely succesful trip was still time well spent. I need a new saddle on the second bike though.

Gil-Les! Gil-Les!

Gillesdegeus.tk is a fansite for the Dutch comic Gilles de Geus. Gilles is a humorous historical comic that makes recent Asterix books look like the pale imitations of a once-great comic that they are. Set during the 80 Years' War, it's funny, well-drawn, tightly-written and impeccably researched.It deserves huge success outside the Netherlands as well as inside. However, only one volume has been translated into English so far (as Bryant the Brigand). So even if this unofficial website isn't the best-designed site in the world, it provides a valuable public service by showing the rest of the world a glimpse of what they've been missing these past 20-odd years.

The site also has a page showcasing other comics from the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain, but as a result of the URL redirection used, I can't link to that one directly.

June 7, 2004

Writing the trial

I am now finally at the point in The Rite of Serfdom where Kel and Kangra go on trial. Unfortunately, this is also the point where my haphazard worldbuilding is biting me in the ass. Beyond creating the character of Kel and Kangra's lawyer, Isolde, I had not really expended a lot of thought on how the Gnomian Republic's court system would work. Would they have trial by jury, by ordeal, by a single judge or a panel of judges? Would the judges be tied to a district or canton, or would they be traveling assizors? Informally-chosen common law adjudicators drawn from the local community? How would a session in court be run? Would there be a strict separation of the defendants, witnesses and the public or would they all wait in the same benches before being called up? Would they take oaths at all, and if they did, would they swear on a holy book, a relic or some symbol of the nation? How would the recent unification of the country affect the legal system?

These questions are now unbelievably urgent. Considering that the country's detention center, the Dyrtforrabyggern is so unlike any prison in the human world that it is hardly recognisable as such, I couldn't follow that up by simply copying what I know of the Dutch, English or American legal system.

I will have to compensate for this laxity by writing the sequence very carefully and thoroughly in advance, cross-checking it with what I already know of the Gnomian Republic. The ideas are flowing, but I'm not going to draw it until I'm sure I've got it right. Not only that but the sequence should be interesting as a story chapter (i.e. not anticlimactic), and (if there is any higher being up there, please, putative higher being) brief.

I've already decided against jury trial, for strictly narrative reasons - I want to keep the number of new characters in this chapter to a minimum (please, putative higher being. I will be good). If that turns out implausible in the context of the rest of the sequence, I'll just have to make it plausible. I will have a panel of judges, one Gnomian, one Elvish, one Faerie. That makes sense in the light of the need for fair representation that would otherwise be filled by a jury (at least in theory). I'm still undecided on the procedural matters and whether there should be opening pleas (recapping what the characters are accused of, perhaps? Is that necessary) although I lean towards having all the characters involved sitting on the same benches while waiting to be questioned. In a modern court, witnesses would be separated so they wouldn't influence one another but that may not have been the case in earlier times.

In any case, I may run a bit late as a result of writing and re-writing this sequence. I'll cross that bridge when I bump into it.

Happy birthdays!

Two Friends of ROCR are having their birthdays on Tuesday. Occasional ROCR colorist DFG turns 39, and Adam, co-blogger and writer of Dangerous and Fluffy, turns 25!

Have a good one, guys!

June 8, 2004

I wish there were comments...

Since I last argued against a post on the Probeersel blog criticising the selection of works for the Webcomics exhibit at the Stripmuseum, author René has revisited the topic twice, the first time backtracking a bit (while expressing joy at getting noticed), the second time - after finally seeing the exhibit - commending the selection. Thanks René! I'm afraid I don't follow the work at Probeersel.com as much as I should, so it took me a while to notice.

Continue reading "I wish there were comments..." »

June 9, 2004

Writing the Trial, part 2

I am now getting to the meat of the trial scene, and it's turning into something like an American courtroom drama. Interesting. I've always liked courtroom and procedural dramas, so I'm gonna continue this line of writing and see where it might be going. However, I'm not so sure if courtroom drama works well if there isn't a jury in place.
Juries in courtroom dramas probably serve as proxies for the audience. They are the people the advocates of both sides in the conflict argue at, try to manipulate, ingratiate themselves with, and convince. Instead of talking to judges who are intimately familiar with the law, precedent and the criminal mind, courtroom drama lawyers address people who are regular schmucks (the issue of juries being composed, at least in part, of people who couldn't get out of jury duty is glossed over) just like you, the viewer. Even if the jurors aren't shown, the fact that they are there, and being spoken to, affects the drama.

It's probably no wonder that the Netherlands, which doesn't have jury trials, hasn't generated a lot of classic courtroom drama. The Judge Dee series may count; I haven't read it so I wouldn't know. But that one is set in an exotic locale, and in the distant past, and surely draws a lot of its appeal from that.

On the other hand, the movie Witness for the Prosecution, though set in a country that has jury trials, leaves the jury out of the picture entirely, and is still great and dramatic.

Continue reading "Writing the Trial, part 2" »

Writing the Trial, part 3

You've probably seen this in quite a few courtroom dramas:

The prosecution starts calling witnesses for cross-examination. The defense attorney sits through their testimonies with a smug expression on his/her/its (*)face, paying just enough attention to say "No questions, your honor" when it's his/her/its turn to grill the witnesses, or ask a few trivial, token questions. Only with the later crop of witnesses does the defense get involved.

I've always thought that this was a tension-building device. "What's that old fox up to?" the audience is expected to think. A seemingly self-destructive tactic early in the game, to set the stage on which the defense gets to display his brilliance later. But now that I'm writing something like that myself, I'm beginning to thing that it may have more to do with the deep structure of this kind of drama.
You can't have a defense without first having an attack. That's obvious. But what the attack is made of isn't always that interesting. The prosecution's case is initially based on obvious, immediate facts. Something has been stolen, someone has been murdered. There are clues pointing to this or that person. Possibly, the facts and the clues are known to the audience, because they've seen the crime happen, or they've seen the original investigation. In short, this part is booooring.
The defense's case-building is round 2. Here, new, less obvious facts are brought into the mix, and the existing facts are spun and re-interpreted. If the prosecution asks some probing questions, we get to see the new facts and the spin re-spun and re-re-interpreted, and that's where things get complicated and interesting.
But round one? Bah. Better get it over with as quickly as possible.

I may be way over-generalising with this, but I'm pretty sure it worked like that in the last courtroom drama I saw (the aforementioned Witness for the Prosecution as well as some others that I saw over the years, and I'm very sure indeed that this is what's making the prosecution's cross-examination so much harder for me to write than the defense's.

(*) I'm pretty sure there is some SF/courtroom fiction in which the defense attorney is an it. If not, it's time someone wrote it.

June 10, 2004

I want my, I want my, I want my MRLP

In the UK, the Monster Raving Loony Party used to be a good lightning rod for the disaffected. They could vote for a party that consisted of harmless nutters who were in it for laughs (or maybe that should read "critics wishing to expose the inherent sillyness of the political process"), safe in the knowledge that if they had any sensible policy, it would be by accident (but it would become law in 20 years time).
Since the death of its charismatic and fearless leader, Screaming Lord Sutch ("His views on whether there should be more than one Monopolies Commission also gave many pause."), the party has never been the same.

Without a leader who has Sutch's charisma, vision and sheer barking madness, the MRLP is spent. So who should replace him? Post in the comments.

And be nice. Don't say "Tony Blair".

Whinging UKIP idiot makes reinder go librarian-poo!!!

Listening to news and current affairs radio is a bad habit that I should lose. A few minutes ago I heard a report by the station's UK correspondent sampling opinions from voters for the UK Independence Party. Asked why they voted UKIP, one voter had the gall to reply "I don't want to be in a totalitarian regime"!
Excuse me? Excuse me? Have you been arbitrarily arrested lately? Denied Habeas Corpus? Tortured, perhaps? Disenfranchised? Barred from travel, denied access to outside news sources?
A month ago, 10 countries that, less than two decades ago, had totalitarian regimes were finally allowed to be part of the EU, a prize that the democratic governments of these countries fought hard to qualify for. Several other countries including Turkey are still grasping for that brass ring, and one stumbling block for Turkey is its human rights record, which it is trying to improve just so it has better chance of joining. If any of these countries thought they were joining a totalitarian regime, would they bother?

There is a lot wrong with the EU. Improvements can certainly be made to the democratic representation and accountability. Some of the money that goes to the EU is very badly spent - the world would become a better place quickly if its agricultural subsidies were scrapped, for example. But anyone who seriously claims it's a totalitarian regime has is something very badly wrong with them.

And if totalitarianism offends you at all, UKIP is about the last party you should vote for. Here's what Johann Hari had to say about the UKIP:

Searchlight even alleges that UKIP's current national chairman and one of its leading candidates, Mike Nattrass, has been a member of the extreme right, pro-Apartheid, pro-Rhodesia New Britain Party.

UKIP boasts that it now requires all candidates to declare they are not racists. Yet they don't seem to try very hard to make sure these anti-racist declarations are accurate: Private Eye recently provided a summary of the public racism of UKIP's new star recruit, Robert Kilroy-Silk. "Pakistanis want to generate hate ... but then what else can we expect from Pakistan?" he asks. Iraqis are "not worth the life of one British soldier, not one. All they seem to do is moan, incessantly, about their lack of amenities". He raves against "pushy blacks" and "talentless Asians", and suggests that asylum- seekers should be "herded together" by the paras and "dumped on a secure slow boat to ... wherever".

Yup, liberal democracy is in great hands with these people.

Continue reading "Whinging UKIP idiot makes reinder go librarian-poo!!!" »

Writing the Trial, part 4

Getting there now. I've got the order in which witnesses appear, I've got a good sense of the space in which things will take place, I've got tactics for the prosecution to follow with each witness, and I've sent copies of the draft scripts to trusted writers for criticism. Tomorrow I'll start sketching out the first few pages, and drawing the first page of the trial. There are some gaps but they occur late in the sequence. I expect I'll be able to fill these in while also working on the first couple of pages.

I'm still developing it at a visual level. I just took half an hour to design a fitting Statue of Justice. I toyed with the idea of using the Lady Justice at the US Department of Justice in her un-burqa'ed glory, but abandoned that when I realised that, judging from the pictures I could find online, it's just not a great sculpture.

I did some very quick research into the origins of the iconography of Lady Justice (nothing deeper than just clicking on a few web links I had in front of me anyway), and then decided it might be more fun if I created my own iconography, unrelated to the Ancient Greek and Egyptian symbols that make up the image of justice in Euro-American culture. The Gnomian Lady Justice is a humanoid female brandishing a sieve and... one other attribute, and is accompanied by a cormorant. She is emphatically not blindfolded.

I won't show a jury, but the lawyers will argue and object as if there was one, because it's just too much fun that way. I'll just have to highlight the fallibility of the panel of judges instead.

June 11, 2004

Drawing the Trial

cormorant I'm having fun with this. Lady Justice and her bird will be in bronze. The bronze looked the most convincing on the bird's wings, for some reason.

Someone should tell Ian Gillan

Bananas sold in the EU are not, in fact, banned from being excessively curved. There's also no standard length for condoms.

Despite this misunderstanding, Bananas is still a pretty good Deep Purple album. I just hope Ian G didn't vote UKIP.

June 14, 2004

Cluster headaches and pessimism

A nasty cluster headache ganged up on me today and I got little work done. This may or may not affect Friday's update; there is still time to catch up. Still, it's unwelcome at a time when I'm doing some really difficult writing.

Just as I was about to write about this, a reader asked me why there was an Iframe with this blog on it in an old ROCR archive page at Modern Tales. The answer is simple: because the current Modern Tales system does not allow artists to add a blog (or anything else) to the template for any page, the only way to add a blog is to peg it manually to an episode, at or near update time. If you forget to remove it from the old episode, you get it in the middle of an archive. It's removed now.

Uhm, it's been in that archive location for about three months. I've said this before: I make mistakes. That is annoying but I can live with it. I'll even admit that I sometimes react crabbily when they're pointed out. That depends partly on my mood and partly on the nature of the correction. "You substituted 'different' for 'difficult' in your latest blog entry" is more likely to be accepted with gratitude than "typo in your blog". But even an unspecific heads-up is better than none at all, and if a large Iframe with text is interposed in a continuous archive for no apparent reason, and just sits there for three months like a big elephant in a small room without anyone saying "Hey, what's this? Why is it there?", then it gets unbelievably demotivating when it finally is pointed out. Right now, in my cluster-headache-induced mental haze, I'm wondering who even reads those archives and why I even bother to go on.

I don't ask much from my readers. I don't call on them to buy merchandise or donate anymore, not since I joined Modern Tales. I don't ask readers to shill for the comic on their websites, and I've even given up on expecting feedback on the forum.

But just every once in a while I need some sign that people care. It doesn't hurt my feelings when people point out a typo in the comic or take me to task for some other screwup on the website or in the archives - what hurts my feelings is that they don't ever do. Even when I unexpectedly stopped updating for weeks because I couldn't get into my ftp accounts, it took weeks for people to start asking me if I was still alive. I'm creating in a vacuum and I don't like it a bit.

I'll move the contact link on the front page up a bit so it's more visible. But I think I moved it down in the fairly recent past precisely because no one used it anyway.

ShinyDisk watch: The Beastie Boys

Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing reports that the new Beastie Boys record has copy protection, and responds to it in the same way that everyone else does when confronted with this technology:

... If the Beasties wanna treat me like a crook, I don't want to be their customer.

Note that the only thing that this DRM is doing here is pissing off the honest fans who want open CDs; the DRM on the CD didn't stop my source from making me a set of MP3s. In other words, if you plan on listening to the new disc on your iPod or laptop, you're better off downloading a copy made by a cracker and posted on Kazaa -- if you buy it in a shop, you're going to have to go through the lawbreaking rigamarole of breaking the DRM yourself.

In an update, Cory passes along a comment:

Update: Ian sez, "Hi, I'm not sure who posted re: Beastie Boys copy protection, but I just spoke with Mike D and their management and they wanted me to pass along that a) This is all territories except the US and UK -- US and UK discs do not have this protection on them; b) All EMI CDs are treated this way, theirs isn't receiving special treatment; c) They would have preferred not to have the copy protection, but weren't allowed to differ from EMI policy."

I'm pretty sure that c) is bunk. The copy protection has been the norm for EMI since the second half of 2003, but I recently bought the European edition of the remastered version of Pink Floyd's The Final Cut with a copyright date of 2004, and it's unprotected. Apparently, the guys from Pink Floyd, even now that Roger Waters is no longer talking to the others, still have enough clout to prevent Copy Control technology that, in addition to the concerns Cory raises, also harms playability and degrade the sound. Over at Virgin records, Peter Gabriel also succesfully resisted the use of Copy Control on his remaster series, so it can be done.

Beastie Boys fans on the European continent are well advised to get the UK edition from a mail order supplier (so that if it turns out to be a ShinyDisk after all, they can return it as defective).

(Just by way of a reminder: the UK-based Campaign for Digital Rights have all the info on what Copy Control technologies actually do, and it's from a reference in one of their articles (can't remember which though) that I got the idea of calling CCT "CD"s ShinyDisks.)

Changes to the blog

I've added the sidebar from the front page (this one, if you read the weblog through the inlined pages on the ROCR site) to the archive and category pages. Reasons:
1. I want to ease navigation from archived pages to the rest of the blog;
2. I like reading the blog better if the text is in a narrower column, and I expect that most of you feel the same.

The downside is that the archives are heavier now and will take a bit longer to load. When ROCR was still fully hosted at a free keespace site, I liked to keep the archive pages leaner than the front page, but in a weblog, people are much more likely to come in through other pages, and I'd like to give newcomers a full-featured webpage to explore. I'll probably slim the sidebar on the archive pages down a bit in a few days though.

June 15, 2004

Feeling better

My three-paracetamol headache is over, I'm well-rested, fully functional and enthusiastic about my work. Let's rock'n'roll.

Ignore the whinyness in that earlier post.

June 16, 2004

Heavenly creatures: Cerebus and Bone

Salon (day-pass, or, better yet, subscription required) has a combined write-up of Cerebus and Bone, two long-running comics which both ended this year. It's not very in-depth but for those of you who have sort of heard of these series and wonder what the fuss was about, it's a good summary.

"Bone" and "Cerebus" share superficial similarities. They're both drawn in black-and-white and self-published by their creators. In both, quirky, anthropomorphic beings shed light on mankind's foibles and virtues. Both books extend their lives outside the comic shops through hefty, trade-paperback reprint volumes available at bookstore super chains. The 16th and last "Cerebus" collection, "The Last Day," chronicles the aardvark's final hours and publishes this month, while Smith will sandwich all 1,300 pages of "Bone" between two covers in a volume due to publish in July.

But beneath the surface, "Bone" and "Cerebus" prove to be so different, they're almost like photographic negatives of each other. "Bone" celebrates optimism and narrative simplicity, while "Cerebus" embraces cynicism and experimentation worthy of a mad scientist. Sim and Smith started as comrades in arms, yet their relationship soured into one of the industry's strangest feuds. "Bone" and "Cerebus" mark opposite ends of the comic-book spectrum in tone and complexity. Their heroes aren't technically human, but you can place virtually all modern graphic novels somewhere between them.

There's more. Read it. Don't fear the Day Pass.

Writing the Trial, part, uh, 5, I think: Don't do what I did.

Contrary to what I wrote earlier, I'm not quite done mapping out the events that will take place at the Trial. The problem is this:
When I started work on The Rite of Serfdom, I estimated that I could tell the whole story, including the improvised bits I like to do, in 60 to 100 episodes. Within that framework, the trial would be merely the aftermath of the big important things that happened earlier in the story - to wit, the double quest. The way it actually turned out,though, is that the story is now edging towards the 250-mark, the two climaxes of the double quest came out at a 60-episode distance from one another, and there's already been quite a long ebb since the second of those climaxes. So the rhythm dictates that the Trial becomes a climactic event in its own right. And that means that it should become more dangerous than the two preceding high points, which, as the astute ROCR reader will remember, were when Jodoque got his head chopped off and when Ottar was killed in a magical battle (he got better). That's ... hard to follow.
I've been talking this over with Geir, who has bailed me out before, and we're working towards a solution.

(spoilers below the fold - scroll past the image to read on)

Continue reading "Writing the Trial, part, uh, 5, I think: Don't do what I did." »


sample panel

I got the Scare-O-Deleria book in the mail from Scary Go Round the other day. It's nothing that's gonna change the world, but it's a fun, lightweight little story in black and white featuring John Allison's trademark humour and the wonderful scrawl of his hand-drawn art, which is very different from his computer art, but at least as nice to look at. I'd subscribe to this if it was a series, and so should you!

Which reminds me... I have nothing new to report on the series of minis that I proposed on the Reinder Dijkhuis forum back in February. I suppose I still want to do this, but I'm just so pessimistic about having enough of a reader base to make them a success even by the very modest standards of minicomicking. Even the Eye of The Underworld mini-comic only got a handful of buyers! Perhaps I should have pushed it more, but unless that is pretty much guaranteed to make sales jump up by several orders of magnitude, it's discouragingly un-lucrative. A guy like John Allison with many thousands of readers who are known to enjoy buying his products, on the other hand, can use minis to keep people interested, even if they're not directly profitable.

Gosh, my reviews of other people's comics all end up being about me, don't they? John's one of my favorite webcartoonists. I wish he'd stuck around on Modern Tales, but if he had, he probably wouldn't have graced us with so much stuff in hardcopy (his T-shirts are also something to behold, and wear).

June 17, 2004

Mental note: Pen nibs

I should replace my pen nibs more often. When I did so today, the difference in comfort level and control over the line width was noticeable. Problem is, I have about a quarter left of the 144 nibs that Sven van der Hart purchased from the manufacturer several years ago, and I fear running out and not finding a source for replacement. A year ago I googled for the brand and type, and didn't find any leads worth pursuing.

The pens are HIRO Leonardt 111 EF, and although it's theoretically possible to get them from local art stores, my experiences with them can best be summed up as 'pot luck'.

Obligatory comic link, but man does that scan look terrible. One to remaster sooner, rather than later.

June 18, 2004

Hrm, interesting

A good article by Frans Groenendijk (who posted in the comments here a week or so ago! Hi Frans!) about the success of Paul van Buitenen's Europe Transparent party in the European Elections. He calls it "the best thing that happened in Dutch politics in many many years" and he's right. Would that the British had had a candidate of van Buitenen's caliber to vote for, to channel their quite legitimate distrust of the EU-as-it-is-now into something constructive instead of having to vote for a bunch of dweebs whom Paul Schroeder described to me as "one evolutionary rung removed from the BNP" - and I'm not sure if he meant that UKIP were one rung above the BNP.

If I have one criticism of van Buitenen, it's that I think his portrayal of himself as an anti-politician looks disingenuous to me. I refuse to believe, for instance, that he didn't have a suit to wear on TV during the election night, and that he would have naively chosen to wear a hideous neon-green tie over his green lumberjack shirt, thinking that that would do. I think that was a deliberate act of political portrayal. But that's a minor grumble when I think of what he may be able to accomplish, and what his (and one of his comrades, writer Els de Groen)getting elected in the first place signifies. Let's wait and see.

(Update: I was right: van Buitenen does have a suit.)

Trade unions and emerging democracy in Iraq

[Note: I have a long-ish piece about webcomics in the works. While assembling my thoughts on that, I'm doing some linking to political stuff that I happen to find interesting]
[Note no. 2: if I was female and Johann Hari wasn't gay, I'd very much want to have his baby]
Johann Hari talks of the need to avoid despairing for the future of democracy in Iraq, and discusses some encouraging signs, focusing specifically on the heroic role that trade unions are playing in the process:

Here is a small illustration: two months ago Moqtada Sadr, the de facto leader of the Shia uprising, was leading his Army of Mehdi towards Nasiriyah . They stumbled across an aluminium plant and ordered the staff to evacuate, but the workers would not leave. Their trade union, the Federation of Workers' Councils and Unions in Iraq, issued a statement saying their workers "refuse to evacuate their workplaces and turn them into battlefields".

The union rejected "the two poles of terrorism in Iraq" - the armed militias and the occupying forces - and insisted on a transition to a democratic Iraq. Here we have ordinary Iraqis refusing to allow yet another war to disrupt their lives, and they are greeted with total silence from progressive Brits.

(note: In Europe, trade unions typically are reduced to bickering about whether wages should go up 1 or 2 percentage points. In the US, as I understand it, they are discounted entirely, presumably because no one remembers what life was like a hundred years ago. This example shows what unions can be.)

Continue reading "Trade unions and emerging democracy in Iraq" »

Newspaper editors are pantywaists, film at 11

(via The comics Journal forums, where the poster's choice of a subject line completely mischaracterises the content of the article)

Long article about the state of newspaper strips, the pernicious influence of the cowardice of newpaper editors, and how webcomics may come to realise Bill Watterson's artistic vision.

Continue reading "Newspaper editors are pantywaists, film at 11" »

Yello 'flu alert!

I seem to be coming down with a cold or 'flu. So far, I've only got the sore throat but it could get worse, and I've been stocking up on the 'flu survival materials (orange juice, licorice and soup) just in case.

I'm staying at home tonight. Monday's update is not in danger, but I'm not getting ahead and may need to skip Wednesday's to work on other, better-paid stuff. Also that longer article I promised about recent developments in webcomics may be delayed.

June 19, 2004

Campaign against joke Haiku

Continuing in "Heh, interesting", quick-link-and-blockquote mode until I'm feeling my cantankerous, nuance-free self again...

In a post from 2003, the wonderful Dsquared writes:

In English, the answer to the question "can you compose a haiku?" is basically the answer to the question "can you count?"....

And yet there are still people in the world who believe themselves to be showing off their intelligence and even, ye Gods, sensitivity, by attempting to "compose" haiku extempore. I've seen it happen in real life as well as on the internet (obviously)and in Simpsons episodes about precocious kids. It's horrendous. The fact is that, unless you have decided to adopt some restriction of English metre or rhyme, the haiku is free verse, end of story. The intellectual effort needed to fit the seventeen syllables is equivalent to solving crossword puzzles in one dimension. It's much less intellectually challenging a form than the limerick, for example; damn few people can write a good one of those.

How the hell did the haiku get so popular? I can only blame English teachers. Nobody, apart from a few freaks, Orientalists and other statistical anomalies, would have bothered with trying to import this form into English otherwise. Obviously, as with so many abstruse and foreign forms, Ezra Pound has to cop some of the blame for introducing the English speaking world to the bloody thing in the first place, but I find it rather difficult to believe that a single one of these 456 people has ever heard of him...


If you're thinking of writing a haiku, don't do it.

His commenters then take the opportunity to torment him more, and one of them points him to an actual campaign against joke haiku:

Continue reading "Campaign against joke Haiku" »

Another mental note

I really need to get a new font for ROCR when the current storyline is over. The Stripschrift font looks nice but I have to do so much manual correction that it's almost as time-consuming as lettering by hand.

I'm taking suggestions. No Blambot fonts, please, unless they come with a full collection of umlauts.

June 20, 2004

There is not now, and has never been, a webcomics community

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my lack of interest in the Cartoonist's Choice Awards:

It may have something to do with the way it creates bad blood in the "Webcomics Community" (as if there is such a thing) each year. There's always a lot of criticism and when I take part I always end up weighing in. Bleah.

I didn't make this clear at the time, but when I said "criticism" I meant "bad-tempered bitching about the way the events are run, the people running it, and, eventually, their mothers." I don't have time for that, but I always end up wasting mental energy on it. So this year, I've maintained a polite disinterest in the awards.

Of course, webcomics creators being what they are (and I make no claim to being any better, honestly), bitchfests spring up where they can, and so it was only a matter of time before I'd read this (from Joey Manley's blog: )

A bit of a pissing match has broken out lately over the role of webcomics criticism, specifically since the launch of The Webcomics Examiner. I see three factions in this war. There are likely more.
I've read the whole thing and followed some of the links. As usual, it's not so much the blog/journal/forum postings themselves as the endless strings of comments that follow them that make me roll my eyes. The question that comes to mind is: With all the Webcomics tutorials available online, isn't there a "How to hold your breath and count to ten" tutorial?

And again, I make no claim whatsoever to being better than that. There's a reason I need to stay out of this sort of thing.

They're gonna have to make it easier than this

I thought it was time to take the advice printed on recent EMI CDs, to go to musicfromemi.com and see where I could get me some legal MP3 (or other - I'm not picky) downloads in exchange for modest payment to compensate the artists. Because compensating the artists is a good thing.

If you go to MusicfromEMI, you get to pick a country from a map from which to download stuff. When you pick the Netherlands, you get a luxurious 4 options, all of which (eventually) take you to the same actual download site, which then tells you to stuff your shiny, new and secure edition of Opera and use something up-to-date like 3-years-old, leaky Internet Explorer 6 (actually, 5 or higher) instead. Because I like having control over the studio computer and don't even have IE on the home machine, that Won't Do.

I was, however, prepared to look further and download iTunes and use its music store. While installing, that, I was disappointed to see that it blocked other software from access to a user's iPod, but since nobody in the studio has an iPod, that was trivial. However, trying to acess the store and begin buying some titles (I had some specific ones in mind that I was looking for that are extortionately priced if you try to buy them on CD), I was confronted with this message:

Itunes screenshot (partial)

Because, you know, this is the Netherlands. We all live in mudbrick huts here. We only co-patented the CD format and were only like the second fastest nation to adopt it in the 1980s, and more willing than any to pay through the nose for music. It's good policy to ignore a backward country like this one.

The only reason I had for installing iTunes in the first place was to be able to shop, so off the machine it goes.

Seriously, I want to be able to get with the times, do the buy-and-download thing and fill my computer with new music in an ethical and responsible manner. But somebody is going to have to provide me with the means to do so. And said means had better not suck.

June 21, 2004

Best 100 British?

The always excellent Naked Maja counters the Observer's list of 100 best British records with a list of his own.
The point of reading these lists, of course, is to go through them and test how good your taste is by checking off records that you actually own. By the Maja's standards, I'm doing appallingly badly, with only 4 records from his list in my collection. The Observer's list flatters my taste a little more, allowing me 7 matches, but on the other hand, that list has not just two Radiohead albums but two Oasis albums on it, which ought to tell you something about how seriously we should take that one.

So go on, go through these lists, and tell me how good your taste is. And if you'd care to guess which of those albums on either list appear in my collection, be my guest.

Yes, I'm a nerd about music. Shoot me.

Health update

Literally in the last hour, my sinuses started to clear up, my ears popped open, and the fog in my head started to lift somewhat. I'm still not feeling my best, but all I have to do now is wait for the bronchitis to come and go, and then I'll be right as rain.

I'll finish Wednesday's page tonight.

June 22, 2004


Scary Go Round
Zombie Shelley is back!

Now that you mention it, they'd been pretty quiet lately

Norman Geras reports that one of my favorite political blogs, Harry's Place, has vanished from the earth along with its host, Bloghouse, which must house a lot of blogs, because it has blog and house in the name. Eep!

This is a bit like the disappearance of Dave Winer's weblogging service a few weeks ago, only in this case the host's flesh-and-blood owner has also disappeared.

Norm says Harry

doesn't know if they have any chance of recovering the material but it looks very much as though they may have lost everything.

I'd help, but all I have is the RSS summaries of the past few weeks. No full posts on disk, alas.

(via Socialism in an Age of Waiting who are also sort of MIA, but that's only because they've decided to concentrate on the waiting and leave the socialism for a rainy day. And they heard the news from The Virtual Stoa. Yes we're learning to be thorough about our sourcing practices here at Waffle.)

Update: Of course, Archive.org has quite a bit of material.

PNG compression comparison chart

Handy reference comparing the PNG compression capabilities of three graphics apps (bottom of page). Also an overview of commonly used tools for PNG compression.

There's still an amazing amount of FUD doing the rounds about PNG, which is unfortunate. I think the main issue now is that many artists get burned by PNG because they don't get the filesize savings they've been promised compared to GIF. The savings are there, it's just that there are so many "correct" ways to write a PNG that you can get a range of file sizes from far too large to ultra-lean. I once again recommend PNGout as a simple tool to reduce PNG file-sizes at the very last stage of image creation.

See also this short article comparing various tools.

June 23, 2004

ShinyDisk Watch: more about the Beastie Boys album

This rumor has been going around about the new Beastie Boys album that I blogged about earlier. The Register writes:

According to a recent thread at BugTraq, an executable file is automatically and silently installed on the user's machine when the CD is loaded. The file is said to be a driver that prevents users from ripping the CD (and perhaps others), and attacks both Windows boxen and Macs.

The infected CD is being distributed worldwide except in the USA and UK, which prevents us from giving a firsthand report. However, according to hearsay, we gather that the Windows version exploits the 'autorun' option, and that the Mac version affects the auto play option.

Continue reading "ShinyDisk Watch: more about the Beastie Boys album" »

Harry's Place is back!


Johann on Assault on Civil Liberties, UK

A well-researched, well-argued piece by Johann Hari about the totalitarian policies of Home Secretary David Blunkett, and Britain's failure to learn from the miscarriages of justice that came to light in the 1990s:

Twelve Muslim men are being held indefinitely in Belmarsh Prison. They are boxed into small cells for 22 hours a day. Their offence? They don't know, and nor do you. Under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2000, even their lawyers have no right to be told why they are being detained. After two years, there are no plans to charge them with any crime.

This is not punishment, it is judicial kidnapping. The canon of Western law - built upon habeas corpus - was designed to prevent precisely this arbitrary exercise of power. Blunkett sneers that only residents of NW3 would worry about such trivia.

The Home Secretary seems to have genuinely missed the point of civil liberties. By ensuring that the police and politicians are not just rounding up the usual suspects, proper judicial process actually makes everyone safer. When the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six were jailed, it wasn't only their lives that were ruined; real terrorists were left free to carry on murdering - and there are graveyards full of innocent people who can vouch for it. Blunkett's plan for constricting civil liberties is based on a trade-off - liberty for security - that does not work in reality.

(emphasis mine)

More from my personal Johann Hari Echo Chamber in a later post.

June 24, 2004

So that's why their uniforms were so cool

Another one from Johann Hari. I'm not too sure about this one, but I have to say it takes real balls for a young, left-leaning gay journalist to write in a gay magazine that

It’s time to admit something. Fascism isn’t something that happens out there, a nasty habit acquired by the straight boys. It’s a gay thing, baby, and it’s time for non-fascist gay people to wake up and face the marching music.

Hari stacks the deck somewhat in favor of this daring thesis. Surveying European fascist leaders in the past thirty years, he includes in his count of fascists right-wing populists such as the late Pim Fortuyn and Joerg Haider. I don't care much for their anti-immigration platforms but considering them fascists is a bit over the top. Not that I'd be able to argue it, because the term "fascist" is treated as if everyone agrees what it means anyway. Strangely, Hari does not mention Filip Dewinter, Belgium's very succesful far-right leader (who does look a bit swish to me, but let's not go there), and refers to France's Jean-Marie LePen only as an "exception". That's a big exception!

Hari is on safer ground, though, when he discusses the British National Party, and seems to have done his research well when he looks at gay fascists in history. You know, the guys with the cool uniforms:

And this Gaystapo has an icon to revere, an alternative Fuhrer to worship: the lost gay fascist leader Ernst Rohm. Along with Adolf Hitler, Rohm was the founding father of Nazism. Born to conservative Bavarian civil servants in 1887, Ernst Rohm’s life began – in his view – in the “heroic” trenches of the First World War. Like so many of the generation who formed the Nazi Party, he was nurtured by and obsessed with the homoerotic myth of the trenches – heroic, beautiful boys prepared to die for their brothers and their country.


Rohm’s blatant, out homosexuality seems bizarre now, given the gay genocide that was to follow. He talked openly about his fondness for gay bars and Turkish baths, and was known for his virility. He believed that gay people were superior to straights, and saw homosexuality as a key principle of his proposed Brave New Fascist Order. ...[The SA] promoted an aggressive, hypermasculine form of homosexuality, condemning “hysterical women of both sexes”, in reference to feminine gay men.

This belief in the superiority of homosexuality had a strong German tradition that grew up at the turn of the twentieth century around Adolf Brand, publisher of the country’s first gay magazine. You could call it ‘Queer as Volk’: they preached that gay men were the foundation of all nation-states and represented an elite, warrior caste that should rule.

Hari then goes on to look at the historical links between Rohm and the modern Neo-Nazi movement, and the psychology of hypermasculinity underlying it. Fascinating. Read the whole thing. I hope he posts it on Harry's Place soon so we can enjoy a vigorous discussion of this.
Update: He has. And one of the first comments denounces it as a real stinker and makes similar points about Fortuyn to the one I made. Pass the popcorn!

Quick health and work update

I'm still not fully recovered from the 'flu although I have more energy now than I've had in the past week. Also, I've got some deadlines coming for my magazine work. So I may not be too active on the blog. There'll probably be more quote-and-link entries, but don't expect any original content from me. Not even that long article on webcomics I promised.

In addition, I'm trying to learn to work with a vector graphics program. I don't have time for this but if I'm gonna let that stop me I'll never get started. That's also eating into blog time. Hopefully, it will allow me to work faster in the future - or do better work than the doodling that ROCR descends into far too often.

Color-blindness filter!

Via Comixpedia:

The Wickline Color Blindness Filter allows you to test how your web page or image looks to a color blind person. Useful, but also entertaining, as these sample ROCR pages will show:
(large images below the fold)

Continue reading "Color-blindness filter!" »

June 27, 2004

I'm busy!

Working on Wednesday's update; trying desperately to get ideas for the next Floor installment into my head and onto my sketchbook; practicing the guitar; trying to master Expression 3.whatever; turning other people's JPG comics into PNGs just to see if they get smaller; cleaning the kitchen; getting rid of the final traces of that bronchitis. Oh, and I really need to see a museum director about the state of his computers. So blogging will continue to be light for a few more days. When I say continue, I mean I mean it this time.

June 28, 2004


If I had a cat, I'd be doing this myself: posting pictures of my cat just to fill in some time. But instead I'll make do with cat pictures from The Religious Policeman who treats his readers to an overdose of adorable cuteness to tide them over during his vacation, but also manages to pack in a lot of information about the place cats and dogs occupy in Saudi life, and gets a chilling point across with one of his captions:

By the way, I cannot be traced from these cats. They are long gone.

By the way: while I agree with the point made about camels and think it applies to camel drawings as well, this should not be seen as an excuse for writers to work camels into comic scripts. So be warned, Geir Strøm.

Work went well today. I may soon have time to jump on the "commenting on Michael Moore" bandwagon. Yes, I know it's on the opposite end of the cuteness spectrum from baby kittens, but brash ping-ponging between aesthetic experiences is a big part of what ROCR is about.


Yoshitoshi art: Does the cuckoo also announce its name from above the clouds?
(Did I say I meant it about the light, sporadic blogging? I didn't mean it about meaning it about the light, sporadic blogging)

Via Making Light:

Site about 19th-century Japanese print artist Yoshitoshi with many images. Jeroen has the book the print at left is reprinted in, One Hundred Views [or Aspects-RD] of the Moon, and it's turned us both into big Yoshitoshi fans. I have occasionally swiped stuff from the book, especially in the White House in Orbit story Target: The Emperor, so that means it must be good. I only steal from the best.

June 30, 2004


July 1 marks the 4th anniversary of Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan as an online comic. In previous years I've celebrated by putting up special festive artwork, but this year I, uh, forgot. Sorry. Still, it's nice to reach this advanced age! Most webcomics don't last nearly as long.

(And by the way, belated congratulations to Carson Fire of Elf Life and Jamie Robertson of Clan of the Cats who both reached their comics' fifth anniversaries recently. I really should have mentioned it here, because both artists have inspired me to give this online cartooning a serious try.)

About June 2004

This page contains all entries posted to Waffle in June 2004. They are listed from oldest to newest.

May 2004 is the previous archive.

July 2004 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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