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November 2005 Archives

November 1, 2005

The stupidity, she hurts my head!

On the radio, a reaction from a bystander after the public liquidation of mob lawyer Mr. Hingst in Amsterdam yesterday:

There were children all over the street! It's Halloween! The people who did this must have been foreigners who don't know about Halloween!

Because, you know, the Netherlands has a tradition of celebrating Halloween in exactly the same manner as the Americans, going back centuries. And drive-by shooters really should be more considerate anyway. Gunning down their own kind in the streets is one thing, but think of the children!

About those blocked-off strips?

The problem with the archive pages being blocked happened again today. Sorry about that. I can guarantee that it will happen again in the future unless the underlying problem is fixed. Technical explanation follows:
The access rights in the databease have a number of settings. Each new episode is set up to get the access rights from the chapters unless I set the episode to have different rights associated with them. I could make the problem go away by manually changing the access rights to each future episode to "public". However, that would leave the underlying problem with the rights system unsolved. It would mean that I'd have to go on setting the rights manually for ever. I don't like that, and Mithandir who programmed the Content Management system won't like it either. To allow Mithandir to see the problem, I have to leave up some future installments that (according to my tests) will show the problem. When I'm not around to change the settings manually just in time for the next page to go live, the archived version of the page will be blocked.
The weekend is the best time for us both to work on the problem. Since this week's pages weren't fixed over the weekend, I've set them all to "public" manually and we'll wait for the next weekend to see if we can track it down by then.

Countdown to Aerial 2: Lionheart

Would it really have been so bad if Kate had done the obvious thing and become a piano-driven singer-songwriter, churning out an album a year focusing on just the songs? Lionheart has gone down in history as one of Kate's lesser albums, a quickie intended to cash in on the success of The Kick Inside, released the same year. I disagree with history's verdict. It's true, I'll admit, that Kate's second record doesn't surprise the way her debut does, but on its own merits, it's a very strong album. There's no sense at all that the songs were mere leftovers from the previous batch - more likely they were deliberately kept in reserve.
The recording, arrangements and production seem more cohesive and focused than on The Kick Inside, and the finished product may well have benefited from a faster recording process. If you have good songwriting and no immediate ambition to try something completely new, you might as well cut down on the frills and get on with it.
Lionheart is one of the most worn-out records in my vinyl collection. I've mentioned this on the blog before; I've since managed to clean it up a bit and my copy's now quite listenable again.
The songs themselves? Sex, arsenic murder, secret homosexuality, the confusion of a child faced with the machinations of the adults around him, some more sex, piano, voice, some good banshee shrieks... business as usual. Slightly less twee in feel in the gentler numbers, more balanced in the harder ones. "Fullhouse", "Wow", "Hammer Horror" and "Don't Push Your Foot On The Heartbrake" alone make the record well worth buying. One like this a year from 1978 to 2005? I'd have bought every one of them. Highly Recommended, and no, I won't be saying that of every Kate album.

November 2, 2005

From Reinder's House of Unrealistic Wishes

Just once, I'd like Paint Shop Pro to shut down the normal way, as a result of me hitting Alt-F4, instead of either crashing in the course of normal operations or crashing on exit. At least in the crashes-on-exit, my work is saved even if my MRU listings and most recent tool options are not.

Might as well wish for a pony though. Paint Shop Pro versions 7 and 8 had showstopper bugs that were almost terrible enough to turn me off the software, and Paint Shop Pro has now become a Corel product so it's unlikely that versions 9 and 10 will give me any joy.

If I could afford Photoshop CS 2, I'd batch-convert my thousands of *.pspimage files to Photoshop documents and rid myself of this poorly-coded, mis-designed excuse for a graphics program once and for all. I'd spend several months grumbling about how PS CS 2 handles vector shapes, but I'd get used to it eventually, and it would work.

Countdown to Aerial 3: Never For Ever

I had my review of Never For Ever all written up in my head. I'd given the record another spin at the studio during the afternoon and it confirmed what I was going to write. Then I made the mistake of taking the CD home and playing it on the stereo at high volume. Ehrm.
Okay.
I was going to write that Never For Ever was a transitional album, with Kate's new production approach, learned through working with Peter Gabriel in 1980, hastily grafted on to material that couldn't really carry it off. Certainly some of the songs were old by the time the album was recorded: The opening track, "Babooshka", is widely bootlegged as a demo from before the release of The Kick Inside, and "Violin" was played on Kate's only tour in early 1979. Some of the songs might have been newer but still have the stylistic features of earlier Kate Bush compositions; they are, at heart, piano-backed, melody-based songs rather than the rhythmic, textured pieces of The Dreaming and Hounds of Love.
I was also going to write that the album didn't hang together very well, that despite its short length, it has several songs that outstay their welcome and that the thing as a whole drags on a bit. I was going to mention that the three indisputably great songs on the album, "Babooshka", "Army Dreamers" and the spine-chilling "Breathing", are all on the The Whole Story collection anyway, and that that compilation is a pretty good starting point for newcomers to Her Kateness. Finally, I had concluded, in my head, that many of the songs are clever and well-done rather than engaging and that the record as a whole lacks the emotional intensity and urgency of her best work.
I suppose all of those things are still true. But it is also true that when a record doesn't quite hit home, it's often because you're not playing it loud enough. Never For Ever has quite a few rocking moments (she sounds like Nina Hagen in "Violin" and "The Wedding List") and uses dynamics and crescendo a lot in the arrangements, so playing it at high volume definitely improves it. It still isn't my favorite Kate Bush album, but it's a cracking good listen nonetheless.

November 3, 2005

Countdown to Aerial 4: The Dreaming

The difficult question when it comes to writing about The Dreaming isn't so much "Can I write about this record without gushing?" as "Should I?". Having thought about it a bit, I can't see why not. The Dreaming is not merely the best Kate Bush record; it's THE BEST RECORD EVER MADE BY ANYONE IN THE HISTORY OF POPULAR MUSIC!!! It's perfect from beginning to end: strange, innovative, melodic, exciting, packed with raw emotion, violence and clever storytelling. It also has Kate braying like a donkey.

But that doesn't happen until the end. "Sat In Your Lap" opens the record with a pounding cymbal-less drum pattern, Stevie Wonder-inspired piano, ska-like afterbeats and Kate's characteristic banshee voice; but it's immediately and startlingly different from anything on the previous album. The Dreaming's melody lines are shorter than on earlier albums, taking a back seat to the tapestry of sound and rhythm. Having said that, "There Goes a Tenner" and "Pull Out The Pin" still showcase Kate's piano playing. In the former, it's part of another ska rhythm, somewhat slowed down; in the latter, it is woven into the menace created by Danny Thompson's double bass and Brian Bath's eerie, effect-heavy guitars.

The next two songs are the fast waltz "Suspended in Gaffa" and "Leave it Open" with its slowed-down and muted heavy metal stomp. Jimmy Bain (then of Dio) plays bass on that track as well as "Sat in Your Lap" and the album closer "Get Out Of My House". In "Leave it Open", Kate's voice is distorted by a flanging effect which makes her use of her lower register extra scary.
The second half of the album begins with the title track, notoriously backed by Rolf Harris on didgeridu. It seems to be some sort of British tradition to make fun of Rolf Harris and claim that his didgeridu playing was the reason the record wasn't commercially succesful, but it's not a tradition I want anything to do with. The didgeridu sounds like every other didgeridu outside of a Gjallarhorn record and the album made the UK top 10 and spawned two hit singles, one of which was that title track. So there. It's a good track; not the album's best but sitting innocuously in the middle. Through a short bridging section, it leads into the much better "Night of the Swallow" a dramatic track with Irish folk instrumentation courtesy of Bill Whelan. Vocally, "Night of the Swallow" is a tour de force in which Kate allows her voice to break just enough to convey the character's anguish and frustration.

"All The Love", by contrast, has a sad, elegiac mood, ending with choirboy singing and answering machine messages bidding farewell in response to the lead vocals. It's the closest on the album to old-style Kate Bush.

"Houdini" alternates between moody menace in the verses, sexy sweetness in the first parts of the choruses and panic and horror in the second parts of the choruses. It's quite a ride, but not as much of a ride as "Get Out Of My House", the highlight of an already perfect album. It's a violent, layered track with pounding drums, echoing guitars and throbbing heavy metal bass. The vocals alone contain three separate musical threads: the repetitive shrieks of "Get out of my house!", the repeated, high-pitched taunts of "With my key I – With My Keeper I" and the litany of things found in the house. The second half of the song evolves into a duet followed by animal sounds and drum talk. Play it loud; if you're already playing the album loud, play this track louder.

Many of the lyrics feature a character, the Fictional!Kate, in a moment of intense concentration and/or crisis. The protagonist of "Pull Out The Pin" is a Vietnamese guerilla about to make a kill. The bank robber protagonist of "Tenner" is about to pull of a heist. Their stories are compressed into the moment where "it" happens.

Then there's the references to chains and bonds, keys, locks, and crime. The character in "Gaffa" is struggling through invisible bonds (as if restrained by gaffa tape) towards an unattainable goal. The Fictional!Kate of "Leave it Open" responds to "a trigger come cocking" by shutting herself off from the world, but heals and learns to leave herself open and let the weirdness in. In addition to the bank robbing tale of "Tenner", there's the drug smuggler narrative of "Night Of The Swallow"; in that song, Kate takes on the role of the smuggler's wife trying to prevent the smuggler from going on one more trip. The penultimate song "Houdini" features the line that was the tagline for the original vinyl edition: With a kiss, I pass the key - the key being the one Houdini will use to free himself from his chains. "Houdini" actually weaves two stories: the one of Houdini's death in the fishtank, and the one of his widow holding a séance - ostensibly to contact Houdini in the afterlife but really to expose the medium for the fraud she believes him to be. The medium, however, uses the secret passphrase her late husband gave her.
The final song returns to the themes of violation and seclusion, and mentions keys again. In "Get Out of the House" Fictional!Kate protects herself, her house, her life, herself against an unseen intruder. Withdrawing into herself, she sees a part of herself as a concierge barring and bolting the doors that would otherwise have provided an opening for the intruder. When that fails, she engages the intruder in a "Two Magicians" routine, in which they take turns transforming themselves into something stronger than the opponent's last shape. Fictional!Kate ends up as a mule, braying and ugly, but victorious.
Much has been written in the papers lately about Kate Bush's intense wish for privacy, and especially for safety from the prying eyes of the press. "Leave it Open" and "Get Out of My House" show that this desire to be left alone has long been present in Bush's mind and in her recorded music. "Gaffa" and "All The Love" show why she values privacy – because the intrusions of public life distract a person from her own goals and from the pursuit of intimacy with those who are close to her.
Or maybe not. Is it worth the trouble to sum up the meaning of The Dreaming in a few words of analysis and criticism? The only thing that could sum up this album is the album. If The Dreaming was a world, it would need a map the size of that world to represent it fully. It is that rich, with more emotion, meaning and passion crammed into its 43 minutes than many artists can hope to portray in a lifetime.

It's fun to try though; The Dreaming excites me not just emotionally but also intellectually, and I can't help but try to create a clearer picture of just what makes all the pieces fit together so well. But maybe I should just have gushed.

The Dreaming is essential, with polished brass knobs on and extra swearing. Did I mention that you should play it loud? And that often when "Get Out Of My House" comes on I can't resist the urge to dance (when no one is watching)?

November 4, 2005

Update delay yesterday

Ooops, silly me. Yesterday's comic was set to update on the wrong day so apparently you got no new comic yesterday and two today. Don't forget to read Yesterday's comic to catch up with today's.

Curse of the Were-Rabbit

Curse of the Were-Rabbit was hilarious, every bit as good as I expected it to be. Go watch it. What I like about the Wallace and Gromit series in general is that it isn't just funny but very well staged, lit and shot, and this new episode made for the big screen was no exception.
The movie was clearly a subtitler's nightmare. Many puns went untranslated or had very tenuous translations. Luckily the audience picked up on them anyway.
Sidsel was slightly bothered by the showing of a short animated cartoon before the movie: a computer-generated story about penguins getting into trouble during Christmas. I liked both the short itself and the fact that they were showing it before the main feature; I'd love to see that tradition permanently restored, in fact.

Another one finished.

The Eye of the Underworld wraps up today on Webcomicsnation. For a series I drew eight years ago, it's pretty good, actually. Go read it from the beginning if you didn't follow it during its one-month run.

Eye was just beginning to reach the lower rungs of the Webcomicsnation All-Time Top 100 in the past week. Again, quite good for something that has been available online for years although with something like 2 billion people online it will be a while before everyone has seen it. Compared to The Double's performance (peaked at #30 when there was less competition, now at #56), it's even more of an achievement, because The Double was new to more of my and Geir's regular readership and was twice as long, meaning twice as many pages to count towards its ranking in the top hundred. Nevertheless, it's worth noting that as with all online ranking systems, there's a power distribution going on: Position #96 has less than half the pageviews of Position #56, and the Number One comic (currently the political satire comic Neil Lisst) has something like 20 times the pageviews as Number 56 (However, if Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan were a Webcomicsnation comic, it would trounce the Number One day after day).

The next long story will have even more competition, and will be even shorter, but we will nevertheless try and get Christmas at Blocksberg into that Top 100 as well. However, that won't begin to run until December. Next week, we'll have a quick two-pager, Thousandstab, followed by some sketches, previews, odds and ends, posted irregularly. There is one other two-pager in my archives that I will try to prepare and post, but I haven't been able to find it. If and when I do, it will show up on the Chronicles of the Witch Queen website.
Update: I have found good source images for Staff Cutbacks and it will appear on the website next Wednesday and Thursday.

Countdown to Aerial 5: Hounds of Love

[Note: as of today, this is no longer, strictly speaking, a countdown. When I started the series, I hadn't taken note of Aerial's German/Dutch release date, which was today. I have the album, have heard it, and will undoubtedly be influenced by these facts while reviewing the final three pre-Aerial Kate Bush records. But I'll stick with the series title and the schedule so that readers in the United States and ditto Kingdom can pretend I'm still gearing up for the momentous events of Monday, October 8.]

Having made the perfect album in 1982, Kate takes three years to produce one that, in places, is even better. However, there are some faults in Hounds of Love that relegate it to the status of only the second-best album ever made by anyone in the history of popular music, without all-caps, multiple exclamation marks or curly brass knobs (although I'll be more than happy to throw in some swearing). The production is a bit too clinical for my tastes although those big gated '80s drums that so many recent reviewers of Kate's work complain about suit the record just fine. A bigger problem is that the album has too many singles. Specifically, too many similar singles. The album opens with its biggest hit single, "Running Up That Hill", a sensual, sexy track built on a commando beat and synth vamps over a synth pedal tone. There are verses and choruses, but the overal feel is very free-form. For a while in the 1990s, I used to dislike this one, but I now think it's great again. The second track, the title track, is every bit as good, but is another beat-driven number with a loose verse-chorus structure on top of it. In fact, I have a twelve-inch single version of it in which Kate sings a completely unrelated melody over the same beats, fitting equally well - that's how much freedom the structure gives her. The third track, "The Big Sky" is another rhythm-based number with free-flowing song over it, and by this time, it's getting to be a bit much. It's the weakest of the three and while perfectly listenable and a hit single in its own right (it's got a great bass part by Killing Joke bassist Youth), it might have been better kept for a B-side or CD bonus track. You'll understand that I'm only grumbling about it because the rest of the record is so good; in any case, it picks up momentum quickly enough with the fourth track, "Mother Stands For Comfort". That is actually one where the clinical production enhances the work: the coldness of the drum machines makes for an exciting contrast with the soft vocals and especially German jazz bassist Eberhard Weber's moving fretless bass accompaniment. I love the bass, I always make a point of listening closely to what it does in any song, but nowhere else that I know of has the instrument carried so much emotion. "Cloudbusting", a rhythmic, free-flowing track with repetitive backing from two drummers and a string sextet, closes side A of the album, the singles-oriented part that is properly entitled "Hounds of Love"

Side B has its own title, "The Ninth Wave" and is much more conceptual. It does the impossible by topping the undescribable goodness that is The Dreaming for 20 minutes. The seven songs are held together by a thin storyline about a woman's near-drowning, near-death experience and rescue from the water, but that story is merely a peg for her to hang a series of mood pieces on. It starts dreamily with "And Dream of Sheep" conveying the protagonist's slow fading in and out of awareness through Satie-like piano vamps and crystal clear singing. The second song, "Under Ice" intends to scare the bejeesus out of the listener. Having succeeded at that, Kate turns the fear factor up a notch with the hallucinatory, claustrophobic "Waking The Witch", a collage of electronic noises, sound effects, grunts and shrieks similar to the dialogue sequences in "Get Out Of My House" on The Dreaming. If that sounds disorganised, it isn't - everything makes musical sense. That death metal grunt, by the way, is Kate's own voice slowed down.
Panic gives way to acceptance as the nearly-drowned protagonist moves out of her body to watch her loved ones at home. "Watching You Without Me" is a serene, simple song with little in the way of frills. It sounds vaguely Chinese, especially with the strange backing vocals towards the end.
The most upbeat moment of "The Ninth Wave" is "Jig of Life", a hybrid Celtic/Hungarian dance piece with changing time signatures. It has the Irish folk musicians from The Dreaming again and works really well to lift the spirits. Lyrically, it does just that: the protagonist is lifted from her slide towards death by the vision of herself as an old lady telling her that

This moment in time
It doesn't belong to you
It belongs to me
And to your little boy and to your little girl...
Where on your palm is my little line
When you're written in mine as an old memory
which for some reason always makes me choke up.
Speaking of choking up, "Hello Earth" hits that spot more than once in its six minutes of playing time. Compositionally, it's one of Kate's most daring and most succesful ever, which is saying a lot. The opening notes manage to be simultaneously quiet and urgent (partly due to Kate's vocal delivery, which is assured and clear as a bell), and what follows is a slow-building storm of a song, with the drums kicking in at a Pink Floyd tempo before disappearing into the first of two choral sections. It builds up again with the main melody, this time backed by the Irish folk guys, a response melody sung by Kate as overdubbed backing vocals, and then the second, longer, choral section, shifting the mood to one of loss and longing.

"The Morning Fog" is almost an afterthought. It fits; it promises hope and renewal. But alone among the tracks on this wonderful album, it would have difficulty standing up on its own. It has some nice bass and guitar work though and works well as a coda allowing the listener to recover from the rollercoaster ride that is "The Ninth Wave".

Hounds of Love, then, is really two great albums compressed into 40-odd minutes' playing time. It's essential. The 1997 remaster has a few bonus tracks that are okay; a bit of a grab bag to be honest. Simply Vinyl in the UK released a high-quality vinyl edition a few years ago, but it no longer appears to be on their catalogue. It is that vinyl version I used as a reference for this review.

Link of interest: Choral arranger Michael Berkeley on the creation of the choral sections of "Hello Earth"

November 5, 2005

Countdown to Aerial 6: The Sensual World

Four years after Hounds of Love, Kate comes up with a record that isn't nearly as good. The Sensual World doesn't try to be Hounds of Love part 2, which is a good thing, but the record lacks a strong direction of its own. The biggest problem with the record is a lack of what made the previous ones so appealing to me: compressed, urgent songwriting. For the first time, Kate allows the songs to drag on, or worse, dither before getting to the point. The track "Heads We're Dancing" is the best example of that: the rhythm track is innovative, there's a tension to the arrangement and the singing, but it feels padded, too long to carry the limited melodic and lyrical ideas. "Between a Man and a Woman" also suffers from this problem. In others like "Love and Anger", I hear the first signs of a certain awkwardness creeping into the melodies, a sense that what Kate is singing sits uneasily on top of a rhythm track.
There's plenty that's good on the record though. The title track is lush and erotic - Kate is probably the only arranger who can make uillean pipes sound sexy. "The Fog" has a lot of the urgency and complexity of the best material on Hounds of Love, "Never Be Mine" and "This Woman's Work" are sensitive, introspective and above all melodic pieces that should appeal to musical traditionalists; and best of all, "Rocket's Tail" is a monster composition, starting with a wailing chorus from the Trio Bulgarka, which counterpoints Kate's main vocal throughout the song, even after they're joined by Dave Gilmour's soaring guitar work and a backing band sounding more like Pink Floyd than Pink Floyd themselves did at the time. An exciting, cathartic song that showed Kate still had it.

Given the choice between The Sensual World and any of the previous five albums, I wouldn't pick The Sensual World to play. But the stronger tracks are doing fine in my MP3 collection.

November 6, 2005

Debt to Keenspot? Er, what?

I've been following this Keenspot forum thread because of its strong potential for TEH WEBCOMICS DRAMAAAH. So far, that hasn't happened, but Tiffany Ross reveals something interesting about Keenspot's terms that I should very much like to know more about (from the second page of the thread):

Without ads, keeping the site there does nothing for Keenspot and nothing for me but possibly starts building debt (I don't want to imagine what pull over 2mill pageviews a month is financially, especially not with anything to balance it out if most of them aren't displaying anything) and I already owe Keenspot enough money. (I imagine I'll find out when the quarter shows.)

What? I had heard things about Keenspot's terms before. I knew that Keenspot deducted hosting costs for any comic from that comic's share of ad revenue, but my understanding was always that cartoonists would not end up paying for Keenspot hosting them. Was I wrong?
If Keenspot cartoonists end up with a big invoice at the end of each quarter, then they are better off elsewhere, either self-hosting, forming a new network or paying $10 a month for a Webcomicsnation site. Those are not good terms for a publishing operation.

Update (November 8, 2005): It now appears that Keenspot foots its own server bills and that artists can't run up debts to them.

Yes, Virginia, there *are* grown-up Republicans

Why oh why couldn't John McCain become President in 2000? If it had to be a Republican, I mean.

McCain vows to add torture ban to all major Senate legislation

WASHINGTON - Girding for a potential fight with the Bush administration, supporters of a ban on torturing prisoners of war by U.S. interrogators threatened Friday to include the prohibition in nearly every bill the Senate considers until it becomes law.

The no-torture wording, which proponents say is supported by majorities in both houses of Congress, was included last month in the Senate's version of a defense spending bill. The measure's final form is being negotiated with the House, and the White House is pushing for either a rewording or deletion of the torture ban.

On Friday, at the urging of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz, the Senate by a voice vote added the ban to a related defense bill as a backup.

Speaking from the Senate floor, McCain said, "If necessary - and I sincerely hope it is not - I and the co-sponsors of this amendment will seek to add it to every piece of important legislation voted on in the Senate until the will of a substantial bipartisan majority in both houses of Congress prevails. Let no one doubt our determination."

The ban would establish the Army Field Manual as the guiding authority in interrogations and prohibit "cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment" of prisoners.

The Bush administration has sought to exempt the CIA from the ban.

McCain's stature in the fight is enhanced because he was tortured while he was a prisoner during the Vietnam War. When the Senate voted to include the ban in the defense spending bill last month, it was approved 90-9.

They took 7 years of his life and most of the use of his arms, but they couldn't take his cojones away. There's one guy left in the Republican party who knows right from wrong and understands that America's leadership should include moral leadership. How many Bush administration officials have to be impeached before McCain can become the top man?

(long quote because that nag screen that the AZcentral site shoved in my face irritated me and would probably irritate others)

Countdown to Aerial 7: The Red Shoes

There's a strong critical consensus that Kate's seventh studio album is her weakest. The consensus is not wrong, but I'm not sure the reasons for the record's failure are well understood.
The Red Shoes is not at all a bad album. If it had been awful, it would have been better. If Kate had gone out on a limb and failed heroically, creating a memorably rubbish album, she would at least have gone out on a limb with memorable results. Instead, the only innovation we get is a few tracks on which she attempts to make danceable, funk- and Latin-inspired music, and sort-of succeeds.
The album has few actual faults. A few tracks, most notably "Eat The Music", could have done with a serious trimming and her collaboration with Prince, "Why Should I Love You" falls rather flat through no obvious fault of either artist, but on the whole, The Red Shoes is listenable. It gets the odd spin at the studio, from people other than me, even. It just... doesn't grab, doesn't irritate, doesn't connect.
Again, there is the ponderousness creeping in. Many fans single out "Moments of Pleasure" as an exceptionally strong, emotionally convincing composition; I find it awkward and over-wrought although the piano and orchestration work are nice.
Highlights for me on the album are "Lily" with its urgent beat and vocals and Kaballa-derived lyrics (yup, Kate practised Kaballa before Kaballa was cool) and "Big Stripy Lie" in which Kate plays deliberately crude guitar and bass parts over a rudimentary beat. The mood is lifted in a few places within songs: by the Star Trek pastiche in "Constellations of the Heart", Gary Brooker's organ work on "You're The One" and Kate singing "I don't want your bullshit" on "Song of Solomon" which has the Trio Bulgarka backing her again. But for the most part, The Red Shoes just goes right through me.
Postscript: It benefits from playing it louder. Still not her best.

November 7, 2005

Oh, no Robot transcriptions

I may need something like this: Oh no Robot

If you've got a webcomic, you probably know how it can be difficult for both you and your readers to find a particular comic. What was the one where your characters were all, "WHAT"?
It would be great to have a way to search these comics.

That's where we come in! By adding a small bit of code to your comics pages, you make it possible for yourself and your readers to transcribe each comic, quickly and accurately building your own personalized comic search engine! There is no catch.

As a comic reader, you can help out your favourite comic with a transcription or two - it takes very little time, and the result is totally worth it.
As a comic creator, you can let your readers help you out in the task of transcription, getting the job done quickly. You can approve and edit each transcription before it appears on your site - nothing shows up that you don't approve.

...

How it works:
Step 1: You, as a comic owner, add a few lines of copy-and-paste Javascript code to your comics display pages. This will make a customizable 'click here to transcribe this comic' image appear on the pages of comics that require transcriptions.
Step 2: You and your readers transcribe comics at your leisure.
Step 3: Every time there is a new transcription submitted, you can check it for content, spelling and grammar, and make alterations if you want. Nothing goes online that you don't approve! As each new transcription is approved, your search engine becomes more and more complete.
...

There's a few comics that already have their own search engine but would also like to be included in our search results. This is not only possible, it's pretty easy! You can import your comic's existing transcription information onto our site through a simple API, and keeping this information up to date is just as easy. Drop us a line, and we'll hook you up!

I need more findable text on my comics pages - I would probably publish the transcripts on the archive pages somewhere unobtrusive. But I dread the very thought of doing the data entry. So I'll have to look into this.

Thousandstab

Thousandstab
Thousandstab has started over on the Chronicles of the Witch Queen website. It's only two pages so it'll only run for two days, but I still thought I'd mention it. We won't be going through the whole promotional rigamarole for this week's two short stories, though.
Art by Daniel Østvold; script by Geir Strøm; dialogue editing, lettering and web editing by Reinder Dijkhuis.

Countdown to Aerial 8: Aerial

So the album is out, and European fans in particular have been all over it as a Technorati Search will reveal. But is it any good? Is it really, as some fans have gushed, Kate's best since Hounds of Love?

I've listened to it a few time and my preliminary judgement is that Aerial just about manages to be her best since The Red Shoes. I can't stress enough that this is preliminary: I've lived with her other albums for over a decade, in some cases two, and there are many tracks on them that took me a long time to learn to appreciate. But after half a dozen listens, it seems to me that the album suffers from the same problems that its 1993 predecessor did: a lack of urgency, focus and strong melodies.

What I'm hearing on both records is some very pretty, well-recorded music, influenced by jazz, electronica, reggae and latin in equal measures. The singing is often jazzy as well, especially in tracks like "Pi" from the first disk and "Sunset" from the second.

Ah, yes. It's a double CD. I think that was her first mistake. Rather than compressing all her ideas into concise, poignant songs, Kate has allowed each individual composition to stretch to the point where most of them wear out their welcome. A version of Aerial cropped to 50 or so minutes still wouldn't be my favourite Kate Bush album, but it would be a much stronger one.

The reason such a hypothetical cropped version still wouldn't be my favorite is more due to Kate's direction than anything else. It is in this area that my opinion of the album is most likely to change over time. Kate has chosen to write and sing mostly quiet, meditative material about the beauty, contentment and romance of everyday life, and right now, that's not what I want out of a Kate Bush album - or indeed any album. But who knows what I might want in a few years' time?

Even keeping that in mind, though, Aerial could have made its case more convincingly. The best art in any medium draws the observer into the creation, compelling the observer to "get it". There are few such moments on either of the two disks. "Sunset" with its steady pace, simple melody and lyrics sung so as to emphasise the dead stops at the ends of each line, comes closest. After a few tense silences, the joyous Latin section at the end provides release. For all its seeming simplicity, the song is a tour de force.
For the most part, though, the album sticks to the background, prettily washing over this one listener just like much of the previous record did. There is, on the whole, more to pique the interest in the first disk, the collection of Kate songs, than in the second, conceptual one, but in both, there simply isn't enough.
I find myself at the end of either record wondering what I just listened to.

In another few years, though, who knows?

November 8, 2005

I'd been meaning to post a rant like this

...but Bustertheclown on the Comicgenesis forums beat me to it:

The [manga] being imported these days, for the most part, isn't classic stuff. It doesn't even have the makings of classic stuff. A huge percentage of it is trite pop fluff. That's understandable, since publishers like TokyoPOP are in the game to make a healthy profit, which they are. The part I don't like is that now the trite pop fluff is the stuff that's influencing people. ... I see a trend of clueless youth shunning the old hat title of cartoonist for the perceived glitz and glamor that is manga-ka.

Believe me, the tactics are there. "Read it backwards! Pretend you're Japanese!" Sorry folks. When I'm reading English, I want to read it from left to right. It gives me a headache otherwise. If I read it in Japanese, I'll read it Japanese style. "Big eyes are more expressive!" Yeah. Bullshit. Big eyes, small eyes, no eyes; if you don't know the rules of caricatured expression, all your characters are just going to look like mannequins. "The page layout is so much more open and fluid!" Fluid, to me, means having a readable narrative sequence, i.e. looking at a given page or strip, and understanding what the hell is going on. I'm sorry, but when it comes to forming a sequential narrative, I'd pick American cartoonists over Japanese manga-ka any day of the week.

The stuff in quotations are all arguments I've heard being fed from publishers and purveyors to readers for the past few years (and, of course, my responses to those arguments). When you dispute them, the standard retort is "you just don't understand Japanese culture!" Well, I understand it well enough to know that I'm not Japanese!... I don't understand why, in manga, when a young man sees a girl scantily clad, he either starts crying or gets a gushing nosebleed, because an American comics, when a young man sees a scantily clad girl, he usually starts wrestling with her.

These are cultural differences which have been developed over generations! As a man who's interested in the cultures of the world, enough to try to learn many different languages, and enough to surround himself in the last six months with dozens of new friends form all over the world, I'm very concerned that the cultural sampling that's taking place in the instance of cartoons is not terribly healthy. In bringing in so much manga and anime in so many venues so quickly, and almost ignoring other forms of cartooning, a truly American artform is being diminished at it's core.

I don't agree with Bustertheclown in every particular, because I see comics as an international art form, but the wasted potential in American and European pseudo-manga irritates me as well. There's so much that Japanese comics can add to a cartoonist's expressive vocabulary, but instead, western imitators latch on to the lamest aspects: the stupid clichés involving big nosebleeds, sweat drops, blood types in character profiles, giant hair and giant eyes. It's dull and turns the less knowledgeable reader off the great work that has come out of Japan because they are trained to expect nothing but that rubbish.

Return of the son of oops

I had made a brain fart in my lettering of the punchline to Thousandstab, reducing it to nonsense. It's corrected now. In the future, I will send the lettered files off to Geir and Daniel for proofreading...
Sorry, again, for my recurring scatterbrainedness and incompetence.

Two quick music links

Everything Sounds Like Coldplay Now by Mitch Benn and the Distractions. Dig the song, dig the URL even more. (Via one of the miscreants at Tapelounge)

Kate vs. Tori with photographic comparisons between the two. The winner gets to fight a bear.

November 9, 2005

A bunch of quick current affairs links

I had no understanding of the French riots until today. What was going on and especially why, I had no idea. Just about all blogospheric writing on the matter that I've seen, if it offered any analysis at all, was of the "the riots prove my politics are right" variety and pretty useless even as that. But today, Daniel Davies posted this comment to a post by himself at Crooked Timber:

I love the French and I think that smashing things up and setting fire to them is an excellent way to pursue your grievances against the French state. If these young chaps stick to it for long enough, maybe they will be as pampered and looked after as French farmers.

Game, set and match, folks. The riots are now Explained. Daniel's post on his own blog has a good quote as well:
These young men have got a political grievance, and they're expressing it by setting fire to things and smashing them up. What could be more stereotypically, characteristically French than that? Presumably they're setting fire to cars because they don't have any sheep and the nearest McDonalds is miles away. "French society is threatened by anarchy and lawlessness". I mean really. Everyone would do well to remember that this is France we're talking about, not Sweden or perhaps Canada.

In forthcoming weeks, I shall be applying similar analytical techniques to topics like "root and branch corruption is threatening the essence of Italian democracy" and "Muslim immigrants cannot fit into British society because they are insular, bigoted and sexually repressed".

Meanwhile, Andrew Rilstone dissects a "Political correctness gone mad" story from the Daily Express:

"NOW CHRIST IS BANNED"

[...]

Four words.

NOW

"In addition." "On top of everything else" "We knew things were bad, but this is really the last straw." The word drags us into the conspiracy.... we all know, it's so obvious it goes without saying, that many things have been banned recently, we can't think of any actual examples, but we're sure they have, and now this!

CHRIST

The person? The religion? Or just the word? I think there is a little wordplay going on here. We have just had the annual "local council abolishes Christmas" stormover. [...]We are supposed to infer: "Yesterday, they banned Christmas, and now, Christ is banned."

IS

The journalistic present. We are not reporting an event which has happened. We are informing you of a state which now exists. You have woken up in a bad new world where a new thing has been prohibited.

BANNED

A key tabloid word. It's meaning is ambiguous – it doesn't been prohibited by law, necessarily, or censored, or abolished – but it implies that Someone is telling us what to do, and we don't like it.

NOW. CHRIST. IS. BANNED.

Who is the evil authority figure doing the banning? The Curator of Cheddar Gorge geological museum. What has he done? Removed the letters "B.C" from the dates on some of his exhibits.

So in fact CHRIST IS NOT BANNED AT ALL
[...]
THE FIRST LETTER OF THE WORD "CHRIST" IS REMOVED FROM THE LABELS IN ONE MUSEUM.

That's it. That's the whole story. Main headline, front page, inside page and leading article in a tabloid on sale in every shop in the land, predicated on "Small Museum Re-Labels Its Exhibits."

Read the whole thing; it's a good analysis of the "political correctness gone mad meme". I'll add that I'm not looking forward to Christmas this year. On top of the normal suckitude of Christmas, I expect another crop of transparently made-up stories in which shopkeepers are prevented from wishing customers a merry Christmas with some bullshit "what's this country coming to?" moral tacked on to the end. I'm looking at you, Lileks.

Staff Cutbacks and memories of Impuls

Staff Cutbacks starts today on the Chronicles of the Witch Queen website. It almost didn't make it there. It wasn't until last Friday that I found usable source images for it, in the master copy of the zine it was originally published in.
Staff Cutbacks originally ran in the 21st issue of Impuls, a tiny magazine that I was editor of from 1994 to 1998. Issue 21 was the "Devil" special issue so it contained a devil story by Geir and Daniel, and The Wife in the Hole, Geir's adaptation of a Saami folktale with art by me. It was also to be the final issue of Impuls, at least until contributor Filip Remkes resurrected it a year or so later.
By 1998 I had become terribly disillusioned with zine editing. It's something you have to do for only a few years, because eventually your sense of perspective will kick in and you realise that you're not accomplishing much with putting out a publication with a print run of about a hundred. Even a modestly succesful webcomic can easily reach ten times as many people, without all the legwork involved in schlepping paper to smelly comics conventions. And giving the contributors an unpaid print run of a hundred copies isn't really much better than not publishing them at all. So I quit.
Interestingly, looking at the material in Impuls 21 again seven years later, I find that many of the contributors are still working in comics or illustration, and are doing so on at least a semi-professional basis. Mark "RayMan" Horemans, Robby van der Meulen, Tommy A, Roy Spraakman, Robbert Damen, Maaike Hartjes (who was already quite succesful at that time, but I'm still proud to include her among the lineup of that final issue), Steven De Rie and myself - we're everywhere now. And Daniel's still doing his mix of sculpture, painting, multimedia, music and comics; I wouldn't count him as a professional cartoonist, but when he puts his hands to it he's quite good at it, which is why I'm still trying to help him break through.

November 10, 2005

Sony Rootkit clearinghouse

You may have heard of the scandal over Sony Music's crippling of several of its CDs with rootkit software (essentially, a powerful Trojan Horse that will get installed on your Windows PC if you autorun the CD). The Electronic Frontier Foundation has an article up with an explanation of why the technology is damaging to your PC, a list of CDs known to be infected and a quick tutorial on how to recognise possibly-infected CDs. There's a second article discussing the 3000-word End User License Agreement (I love the word "Agreement" in this context. You "agree" by unwrapping the CD, and thanks to the good people in the computing industry, we no longer even notice how Orwellian that is) that comes with those CDs, and how it compares with the rights CD buyers have traditionally had.

The US edition of the latest Kate Bush album does not have the rootkit, but based on how Sony treats its customers I would advise American fans to import the album from Europe or Canada. EMI, who still release Kate's work in those territories, are no saints in this regard either, but I believe they've already learned the hard way that this sort of thing is Just Not On.

(Via Jon Mandle at Crooked Timber)

Update: Listeners in the Netherlands take note. According to an article in Webwereld, Sony still wants to roll out the rootkit technology on CDs released in the Netherlands. You may want to start boycotting them now, just to be sure.

November 11, 2005

Odds and Ends at COTWQ

After three months of continuous updates, we're taking a break from regular comicry over at Chronicles of the Witch Queen. We'll be updating, though, with sketches, previews, Odds and Ends. Because no Webcomicsnation website is complete without a behind-the-scenes feature.

November 12, 2005

Website work in progress

It's becoming a bit hard to keep track of things, so this entry is mostly for my own benefit: I'm working on four additions to the website in WillowCMS:
1. A new Cast section. This would be the fourth version of the Cast section. All images on the index come from the database entries for the individual pages, so the index will build itself.
2. A Guest Comics section. The old guest fourtnights and any other guest material that already exists will be kept rigorously separate from the main archive. Future guest comics will run as new chapters in the main archive hierarchy but will be moved to the guest comics section when the normal run resumes. Not that I'm planning to have a new guest event in the near future; they're a bit high-maintenance for my tastes. They demand new bling on a regular basis otherwise they get all catty and threaten to withhold sex.
3. An Archive Listing page. This is the most urgent, because there's already a big ol' button on each page pointing to "Archive" that doesn't work.
4. Full-chapter pages for fast browsing. Example

For all four additions, the status is that they're unfinished and that they need me to improve my understanding of WillowCMS (or at least get good documentation to copy/paste from), completely revamp the HTML code, have Mithandir fix the latest bugs in WillowCMS and/or do a lot of fixing in the database before they're ready for prime time. I only mention them now to show that WillowCMS can indeed do them, and to help me remember to work on them.

Continue reading "Website work in progress" »

November 16, 2005

COTWQ Odds and Ends

So today we've got the original version of the first page of "Alcydia" up on the Chronicles of the Witch Queen website, and it turns out that nobody is more surprised than Geir, who emails:

Oy! You've actually got the missing first page of "Alcydia"!

Daniel redrew that one because he'd lost the original. I still think the first version is best, actually.

I think the new version is pretty good, but you'll have to wait until January to see it. I do wonder if Page 22 was redrawn for the same reason though... the original to that was really good. See it in a day or two.

Reinder Dijkhuis comics list

After two years, I've updated the Full list of my available online comics work. The problem, though, is that it probably isn't complete. After 8 years (not counting the first online run of ROCR which had vanished by the time I started on my bart.nl homepage again), I've lost track of which comics have been posted where. If you know of a Reinder Dijkhuis webcomic not listed here, don't hesitate to email me. You'd be surprised by my ability to forget stuff like that.
I've removed some comics from the list that have disappeared, like the autobiographical story "Herman" which will return shortly as the first non-ROCR comic to be uploaded into WillowCMS.

I have also added a new author's bio. I hate writing those things but you got to have them. I'll even get a publicity photograph there some time, to scare people away from reading that page. Yeah, that'll work.

November 17, 2005

Blogrolled: That Girl Needs Therapy

For a guy who writes about music a lot, I don't have many music links on my blogroll. This is more of a historical accident than anything else; when I started blogging, I looked around for other blogs about music, and it turned out that many of the interesting ones were done by people who were desperately unhappy, clinging to music for the emotional support needed to make their lives worth living, but unable to lift themselves out of misery. I am convinced that music has that power to sustain people and even to turn lives around, but you couldnt' tell from the ones that I had taken an interest in that it was more than a refuge to them. They made for such painful reading that I had to stop following them to avoid getting sucked in. I assumed that that was what music blogging was like - just like political blogging encourages people to become shriller and more partisan over time, music blogging, I thought, kept its bloggers treading water emotionally.

That Girl Needs Therapy doesn't give off that vibe at all. I stumbled upon it repeatedly through Technorati and the last time I did it had a nice comment about my blog in a post, plus author Tatgoddess posts many interesting mp3s for her readers to sample. I will be checking out Nouvelle Vague on the basis of their cover of PIL's "This is Not a Love Song" (the original of which I initially hated until I acquired a taste for John Lydon's singing) , for example. TGNTL is now on my blogroll.

Speaking of John Lydon, he's got a nice interview in the Dutch magazine Oor, December issue, in which he mentions that he doesn't hate Pink Floyd actually, talks about how childhood meningitis affected him and comes across as a moderate, easy-going sort of guy. Who'd have thunk it?

November 18, 2005

Nothing is sacred

Fear.

November 20, 2005

Maigret et son Mort

I've had a Dutch edition of Maigret et son Mort by Georges Simenon in the house for almost two years, on loan from Jeroen (the lesson here is: do not lend me books), but hadn't got around to reading it until this weekend. Now that I've read it, I'd like to read some more Maigret. This one lived up to the series' reputation as literate, literary detective novels.

What I liked: the fact that throughout the first half of the novel, the characters took every opportunity to have a drink. Even a five-minute interruption in a stakeout and pursuit was used by the pursuer to knock back a nice cool one. The descriptions of the police work in which Maigret's individual brilliance solved part of the puzzle but the rest of it had to be filled in by relying on reports from other departments and off-the-record chats with minor underworld characters. This made it feel a lot more like real police work than the stylised version we get in detective novels where one person solves crimes alone.

I also liked the switch from fairly light-hearted to grim after the second killing. At that point, the boozing and puzzle-solving is superceded by mass raids and escalating accounts of the depravity of the criminals involved. There's a dark view of human nature contained in the novel - one in which tidy notions that a crime has to have a motive are given short shrift.

But let's not get too Gallic in my praise of the book. It's still a cop novel, not an existentialist magnum opus. It's a few hours spent in the company of the Inspector, his wife and his mates down the station. I'll have some more of that - but lending me the books is probably still a bad idea.

November 21, 2005

Caning a diabetic dog

A repeat performance from Andrew Rilstone in which he demolishes another "PC Brigade" story, taking off with the headline

"Yes, it's hard to believe, but now Santa AND Christmas lights have been banned."
. Upon closer examination, the actual story turns out to be
Local council doesn't ban the word Christmas from light switching on festivities at all.
AND
Town moves Santa five minutes round the corner
.
Again, read it. And next time you come across a story like the one he dissects, or a second-hand report of same, engage maximum skepticism. You may want to blogroll Andrew's blog as well - he doesn't post much but when he does it's always great stuff.

Update: See this story at Media Watch Watch. It gets a bit confusing because that website was set up to counter an organisation called Media Watch and in this post links approvingly to Australian Mediawatch but once you've got the sourcing figured out, it's another good example of a non-story being turned into a story by means of Making Shit Up. It's about a report that British banks were "banning" piggy banks for fear they might offend Muslims. The reality: banks haven't been big on porcelain porcines for some time.

There may be explosions. Sugary, carbonated explosions.

Last Friday, I bought a can of cheap Red Bull knockoff. I put it in the studio freezer, intending to chill it for an hour or so, and promptly forgot about it. Ten minutes ago, I took it out again. It was frozen solid. I managed to pull the ring pull tab open a bit, and put it in the sink to thaw out a bit. It is now sitting in the sink, humming ominously. Will it explode in a cloud of sugary, carbonated stickyness? Or will the slight release of the tiny opening I made be enough to keep the pressure down?

I've had some experiences with accidentally frozen beer, enough to tell you that freeze-distilling it in the bottle doesn't work. The beer had lost all its taste. But things might go very differently with an aluminum can full of high-pressure carbonated water. I may have accidentally invented a deadly weapon! With extra froth! It will be my contribution to Mad Science for 2005.

Another day, another permission error

Sigh... once again, there was a problem with the permissions for an archived ROCR page. I'd have sworn it was all right earlier this morning, but that must have been before the update rolled over as I was up pretty early by my own standards.

It is now fixed - the underlying problem has been fixed for a week, but there are still some updates left that have the incorrect permissions. Mithandir offered to run a script to reset those, but I declined, fearing that that would have unintended consequences elsewhere. Maybe that was a bad decision. Instead, I just correct those stragglers whenever I find them or someone tells me about them. And that is a real problem. Excuse me while I whine, beg, whimper, wheedle, get down on bended knees and otherwise act in an indignified manner below the cut:

Continue reading "Another day, another permission error" »

Work in progress

Pencils for a new ROCR comic

On a more positive note, here's something I've been working on: the first page of the sponsored Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan comic. We're not even near the fundraising target for November, but that's probably my own fault as I haven't been keeping you up to date on the project.

The 20-installment comic is 90% written and storyboarded. The way it looks now is that I will draw the whole thing in December, leaving no time to colour it before its scheduled run in January, 2006. However, judging from this snapshot of the penciled art for the first installment, taken last Wednesday, it looks like it will look pretty good in black and white. This half-page (it will be half a vertical page in print, anyway) is already mostly inked and it looks like I'll be able to draw one of those each day. If I can keep up that level of quality, I'll be very pleased.

Remember, your donations buy me time to work on the project, and there is something in it for you as well! Go to the fundraiser page for details.

November 23, 2005

[COTWQ] Daniel's sculpture

Starting today at Chronicles of the Witch Queen, we'll be showing some of Daniel's sculptures based on the comics. These were exhibited in Oslo in the mid-to-late 1990s, mostly as part as installations.
In his day job as a fine artist, Daniel is, I guess, a modern surrealist or magic realist. He works in a variety of media: painting, music and sculpture. His paintings tend to be large and use pale, translucent colours. His sculpture, on the other hand, is made at a small scale using paper pulp. Daniel's arthritis caused him to lose strength in his hands, so he can't work with tough, heavy materials. Paper pulp, while not durable, is lightweight and easy to move, so it's served him well in his temporary installations at galleries. Daniel reuses the individual pieces in different installations; especially his renditions of the Baron von Fieffelfalsfaffel (to be shown on the site later in the week) have shown up in different places over the years. Characters from the comics used in the sculpture groups also show up again in the paintings, on record covers and in animations.

When I visited Oslo in 1996, I saw both Daniel's work room and one small exhibit in a gallery there. The small scale, simple colors and materials make the installations look like worlds built with toys, like you used to do as a kid. Childhood nostalgia is a big theme in Daniel's work.

A quick reminder and explanation for new readers:
Chronicles of the Witch Queen is a collection of comics by Geir Strøm, Daniel Østvold and me, set in the same universe. They're humorous fantasy comics about the Undercity ruled by Queen Elspeth, the Witch Queen. Currently finished stories are:
The Double by Geir and Daniel. Servants Prudi and Tapper become embroiled in a Countess's plot to become Witch Queen instead of the Witch Queen.
The Eye of the Underworld by Geir and me. Queen Elspeth sends the alchemist Ioannes von Kildenbusch out to retrieve a magic jewel from the palace of Caliph Iznobezzer.
Thousandstab by Geir and Daniel. A short tale of enchanted household objects.
Staff Cutbacks by Geir and Daniel. Countess Alcydia can't get good staff, or get rid of the staff she doesn't need.
Courtly Manners by me. Duchess Guðrún introduces two debutants at Queen Elspeth's semi-annual ball. Paying subscribers only, for the time being.
Courtly Manners 2: The Unicorn Race by Geir and me. Against all expectations, Kel and Krakatoa are reinvited to Queen Elspeth's little do. Little do they know they're being used as part of a dastardly plot against the Queen. Paying subscribers only, for the time being.

The current series of Odds and Ends is an extended filler before our Christmas story starts running in December. It contains sketches, alternate pages and artworks derived from the Chronicles of the Witch Queen comics.

November 26, 2005

[COTWQ] Extra update

Daniel sent me so much stuff to run on the website, and the sculpture pics are so popular, that I've decided to post some extra updates this weekend. So today and tomorrow, there'll be new Odds and ends.

November 28, 2005

More on the sponsored comic

The ADSL at the studio has been down all weekend. This has its downsides: if it goes on I'll have trouble watching my websites and getting materials out to the world on time, and I can't quickly look up something I need a visual reference for. But it did mean I could spend two afternoons working undistracted. I'm actually half hoping it will take the building's Internet people a little longer to get things back online. Every day that I can spend working on my latest project before the busy busy month of December is a win.
What I'm working on is the Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan story Headsmen, which should fit neatly inbetween The Green Knight's Belt and the as yet-un-web-published 1992 story Alchemists. I want to run that in January, 2006.
It's not guaranteed that I will, though. Headsmen is the story referred to on the Fund Drive page. After a promising start, the fund drive has unfortunately fizzled and is falling well short of its goal for November.
What will I do if the targets aren't met for two months running? The targets represent the amount by which I've been coming up short financially this year (not counting some large purchases I've made which came out of savings). To prevent coming up short next year, I'm considering getting a part-time job that will still allow me time to work on my paid cartooning contracts, but will leave less time for Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan. Each update of the story that I'm working on now takes me a day to do from tearing a new sheet of paper out of the block to getting the finished update online, and that time needs to come in solid blocks if I'm to get anything done. I can't work in "stolen moments" as I've heard it called lately. So even a part time job will cut deeply into my ability to keep a regular update schedule.
If the donation campaign fails, I will probably finish the Headsmen story, but I will do so in my own sweet time, interrupting the update schedule even though I have other archival stories ready to go. The work on the website itself is still unfinished and just adding more material while expecting to insert another story into another gap later will only serve to make the archives more confusing than they already are. So I'll update things in the correct order, the one that will allow me to gradually fill the existing gaps without creating new ones, or not at all.

I would of course prefer to just work on ROCR. This last weekend was a good one, with just me, iTunes and a well-developed script. But after 5 1/2 years putting the series online including 2 1/2 years at Modern Tales, there comes a time when that becomes hard to do. I don't create this comic for the money but there has to be money coming in if I'm to be able to go on creating it. So if you want that daily ROCR fix to continue, please donate! The fund drive page has some more info about goodies for larger donors.

I'd show you another page-in-progress to help convince you further that I'm working on a level of quality that's worth paying for, but, er, the pages are on the studio PC. No internetty.











November 29, 2005

Susanna Clarke seminar

The group blog Crooked Timber is holding a seminar on Susanna Clarke and her novel Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (which I have given to two people so far without having read it myself - looking forward to it though). They've done one on China Mieville before.
Here's the Introduction to the seminar. Susanna Clarke is taking part herself.
They've got off to a flying start. I don't have time to read everything that's already posted, but will get back to it once I've read the novel. In the meantime, I thought some of you might like to know.

I'm sitting on a longer post about literary criticism on the internet, but focused more on the low end of the field: the livejournalers writing essays about Harry Potter for fun. I think the fact that people are writing literary criticism for fun, even if it's not exactly at the academic level (not being at the academic level has its advantages, by the way: the material posted to HP_Essays will be accessible and immediately useful to aspiring writers) will change the field a few years down the line, probably for the better. But that's something for a later posting.

This seminar, on the other hand, is by academics and will almost certainly be the sort of stuff that academics like to write about, if made slightly more accessible to the general public because it goes on a blog. Good. Yesterday, ROCR reader Martin Diehl emailed me with a question about lit crit that I was going to mull over a bit; it'll be helpful to be able to point somewhere and say "This is what they actually do" and also to be able to remind myself of just that. It's been 10 years since I got my degree, so some of my impressions of what people studying literature actually do have become a bit hazy and are probably out of date anyway.

Passwords, again

Passwords are still the bane of my life *).
The last time I wrote about this, people recommended I used password management software. I downloaded one of the recommended apps, entered those passwords I could still remember, set a master password and promptly forgot it. Usually, I could remember the master password on the third or fourth try, so I got some use out of it, but nevertheless I can write off the "keep them in a local app" strategy as a failure. The password manager wasn't much use when I needed to type a password on one of my other machines, and because of my problem remembering the master password, it was as much of a hassle as guessing my passwords in the first place. Also, a few weeks ago when we reinstalled the studio PC I forgot to back up the program's files and lost all the passwords anyway. I don't even remember what the app is called.
The only thing that helps is good password retrieval functionality in online apps. I'd like to take this opportunity to boo and hiss at Skype which will not do anything for me other than send me a new, random, password. This stone-age solution would be usable if the software itself actually did what it promised and remembered its own passwords. In my bitter and recent experience since last weekend's internet outage at the studio, it does not, so in the past two days I've requested two new random passwords. The second time I remembered to forward the password to my gmail address so it won't vanish into thin air again.
iTunes, which I need to login to on two different machines to authorise the second machine to play the DRM'ed music I bought from them (I find the DRM just about acceptible at the prices they charge but may change my mind if it turns out that I can't easily un-authorise the old, erased Windows installation) does better; unfortunately their system is still defeated by users whose stupidity is as resourceful as mine, and when it is, it fights back using some stupidity of its own. To retrieve my password I have to enter my email address, my date of birth and the answer to a secret question I fed it when I signed up. Can you guess what happened when I did that? I got two out of three right.
Secret questions work when they're something dumb like your mother's maiden name or other things that you can easily remember and third parties can easily find out. Mine was too inventive (but secure). All right, that's my own fault. The correct answer is some variant of a word with one syllable missing or maybe some numbers tacked on, or some odd use of capitals. I don't know. What does irritate me is that having guessed wrong twice, I have to go back and enter my email address, and date of birth again! What's the point of that? Assuming that I'm not me, I have clearly got my hands on a correct combination of email address and DOB. iTunes confirmed to me that those data were correct by letting me go on to the secret question. So if I'm a fraud, I'm not going to enter a different combination. If I'm me, on the other hand, I'm going to get angry about having to jump through that hoop again. So "Yay!" to iTunes for getting the basics right, but "Boo!" to them for not thinking through all contingencies.
Addendum: There is an alternative. You can have them send an email with instructions to reset your password. Do I need to explain why I don't want this? I guess I'll just write it down and stick it to my monitor like everyone else, this time.

Anyway. Wanna be richer than Bill Gates and maybe snap up a Nobel Prize or two? Invent something better than passwords and you'll deserve that and more.
*) Except of course for several hundred other things that are the bane of my life. My life has many a bane. Woe is me.

You bring me so much joy, and then you bring me - more joy

I had forgotten how much joy I used to get out of drawing that silly series I started nearly 15 years ago. These past days I've been on a roll. Work on the Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan story "Headsmen" is progressing slowly, but smoothly. I'm enjoying it immensely.
Kel and Barnardus
The new story brings back an old villain from the early days of the series: Barnardus Pothelmus, the annoyingly succesful bandit who used to make off with Tamlin's gang's loot on a regular basis. He's going to have a lot of screen time together with Kel, so I drew this as a rough guide to their relative heights.

Barnardus revealed
Barnardus' first appearance in the story, with members of his gang. All of them have been slightly redesigned to make them a little more striking and to fit my current drawing style. The lady with the fan on a stick now has a name: Rose Potter, after the lead character in a particularly awful Harry Potter fanfic Adam demolished in Livejournal recently. The guy in the animal hides and the barbarian swordswoman don't have names yet, but I'm working on them. I am seriously considering writing more stories involving the rivalry between Barnardus' and Tamlin's gangs.

Second update, with backgrounds and black areas penciled in
This one shows why the work is going slowly. In addition to working on larger sheets of paper (An A3 sheet for half a page, just like in the old days), I am working more systematically, so I put in backgrounds on pages that are already partly inked and even test-spot black areas in pencil. This is a lot of work, but very satisfying when it's done.

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November 30, 2005

...and then there was misery

CURSE my brother for showing up at our band rehearsal with a bad cold last Friday! CURSE him with HELLFIRE and DAMNATION!

I'm going back to bed now.

Find the 100 bands

If you have somea lot of time to waste, guess the 100 bands or solo performers referenced in this poster. Anyone know a larger version for everyone to look at?
Via Tatgoddess.

About November 2005

This page contains all entries posted to Waffle in November 2005. They are listed from oldest to newest.

October 2005 is the previous archive.

December 2005 is the next archive.

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