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June 2007 Archives

June 2, 2007

Dragon wallpaper.

Dragon Wallpaper
The final wallpaper in the series is the very first I did, way back in 2002. Contrary to what I said earlier, this one, instead of the Sabbath wallpaper, may have been the first one I coloured using Paint Shop Pro in the studio. I can't really remember, to be honest.

In any case, it's not really the best one out there; I'm mostly including it for completeness sake, and because a lot of people like dragons.

I may do some new wallpapers as donor incentives. People have been telling me they work rather well, actually.

June 3, 2007

The family of blood (Doctor Who spoilers)

...it was good. I don't think it quite lived up to the promise of the first half, though. While there was plenty of great characterisation and acting, and superb dialogue, the resolution and all that followed it didn't work for me. The resolution was rushed and seemed like an anticlimax. The dénouement showing the Doctor as avenger was ... defensible in terms of his established character, but when the rest of the characterisation is so spot on, merely defensible just seems weak. And the patriotic button-pushery in the epilogue definitely really did seem out of place and out of character for the Doctor, who doesn't really make a habit of going back to check what becomes of the characters after an adventure. What's next, the Doctor going to Jo Grant's place for a cuppa tea? It sort of worked, as button-pushery always does, but I resented that it did. It added the syrupy aftertaste of altogether too much American TV drama to a series that, usually, is better than that precisely because it doesn't do that sort of thing. Might as well have had the Doctor transformed and redeemed by LUUUURVE, which I'm glad to report he wasn't.

Still, those bad moments were very few - probably adding up to less than the time it took me to type them up. In all, Human Nature and The Family of Blood gave us 85 minutes of outstanding, award-worthy TV drama and five minutes of slightly dodgy stuff at the end. Not bad at all. Best of Series Three so far.

Afterthought: I'd like to read the novel some time. But even apart from the novel, the idea of the Doctor living a human life has been done before, e.g. in the "Winter" section of the Big Finish audio Circular Time, which is the best bit of that collection of short stories.

Fundraiser wrapup and schedule change

The fundraiser brought in $ 465.
Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan update schedule to change to Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday
Thumbnail for the page for June 4, 2007
It's June now, and while I'm not quite out of the woods financially yet, the sky hasn't fallen either, so I'm going to call it a day as far as emergency fundraising is concerned. The readers of ROCR raised $ 465 in donations, and the sale of an original page by me and Calvin brought in another $ 75. Thanks to everyone who donated!
The reason I'm not counting the art sale towards the donation total is that there are costs involved which I haven't quite got the full picture yet, and obviously I have to share the profits with Calvin Bexfield, whose background art made that page so stunning. So I'm not sure how much will be left at the end of the day.
The donations ended up paying my taxes, but not my rent. No worries, though, I'll be able to make the payment some time this month through overdrafts and money coming in from clients.

The fundraiser also paid for five extra updates in June. To accommodate those into a workable schedule, I'm changing the update schedule to Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday - the same update schedule as Candi, which does quite well with that. Having a break in the middle of the week should allow me to pace the production of new pages so the work doesn't get too rushed, with DFG doing the colouring in the first half of every week, and Mravac in the second half, subject to availability in both cases. I'll have one Wednesday update in the final week of the month, though.

The fundraiser will remain open for a little while, though I'll stop pushing it like I've done. There's still the opportunity for any reader to bring the total up to $480 and wreck my scheduling plans by making me have to add in another extra update!

June 4, 2007

All my original art is for sale, even if not explicitly listed.

Page for Friday, June 1, as scanned
Reader and occasional contributor Geir asked me to keep the original art for the Hitlerific ROCR update for June 1, 2007 in reserve for him so he could buy it after his next salary came in, so I guess that's another sale.

I hadn't really expected to sell that one, because I wasn't personally happy with how it turned out. Then again, I rarely am. That should teach me not to second-guess the market. I am now convinced that there is a market, at least. Also, the cost of mailing them out in cardboard tubes is a lot less than I thought it would be.

So I now think that rather than listing a handful of pages at the Webcomicsnation Swapmeet, I should offer all existing pages for sale, and let people know about it. The first part is easy; all original art still in my possession is for sale. There.

The second part is going to be harder. Ideally, every archived update should have a link to a page offering the original art for that update for sale, entered into the database with the update, and with a price, an automatically generated Paypal button (or more, to allow for multiple shipping and sales tax options) and some basic info about its availability (in case an item is already sold, or in too poor condition to sell, or doesn't exist as a single piece of original art at all). Even if that level of automation is achievable by, for example, integrating WillowCMS with OS Commerce, I'm not looking forward to the data entry work (though good default values for the archived work would help). But it would give readers an easy way to chose their favourite page, and given that there are more than a thousand ROCR originals out there, it could be well worth it.

Still, that's going to take time and research, so much as I'd like to have automated listings available soon, they won't be. In the mean time, if you're interested in buying an original page, any page, drop me a line.

Sweet endorphin rush

Man, if anyone had told me fifteen years ago that even a mild runner's high was better than being drunk, I'd have come out of University a superhuman athlete, asthma or not. Recently I've been using short solo runs (I mean really short - 15 minutes will do the trick) as an anti-depressant and it's really making a difference to how I feel through the rest of the day after running and the day after.

Right now, I do have some performance problems. A month ago, I went on a cycling trip that did some damage to the calf muscles in both legs. It wasn't even a long cycling trip, but the conditions were pretty bad, with strong wind and some demanding uphill stretches putting too much strain on those muscles. The next time I went running, after skipping one group training, my legs didn't cooperate at all, and they're unreliable even now. Tonight's training wasn't too bad - my legs were sore but at least they worked, and I'm almost back to the level I was at before last year's foot problem.

Yes, you could say I break easily.

I am making more of an effort to pace myself, though. One thing that's turned out to be useful is that list I made a while ago of things that I do and don't like about running. When I posted it, I didn't mention two things that I added in the "dislike" column a week or so later: warming up and stretching. Hate them. Necessary evil, but evil nonetheless.

What I do with that list is use it to make sure I don't avoid those things or skimp on them. I need to warm up even though I just want to get some mileage behind me; I need to stretch afterwards. I need to do dynamic exercise and strength training, and I need to get used to running in hot weather.

Last weak, trainer Marzena mentioned that it's quite possible to be sweating from the outside temperature and not have warmed-up muscles, so I'm also paying more attention to that. I'm going to train in long trousers until it really becomes unbearable, just to make sure the legs are properly warm. I'll sweat more, but once I'm adjusted to it, it'll make more of a difference on those really hot summer days when I do switch to shorts.

I got a starting number for the 4 Mijl van Groningen. It's one of the very highest, meaning I won't be allowed to start until just before sunset, probably. My aim this year will be to keep myself from seriously hurting myself throughout the summer and run the distance in less than 30 minutes. I may take part in some other events in the run-up, but the 4 Mijl will be the year-to-year comparison event for me.

June 8, 2007


Enter the Vortex

I've got a guest comic on Jelena Saiso's Weekly this week. Jelena and I are on the same wavelength about a lot of things, so writing this one was a breeze. I did cheat a little with the drawings, though - that Vortex was the easiest background I've made in a looooong time.

Her majesty is interrupted at her daily routine
Meanwhile, Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan has steadily drifted into a story sequence outlined for me by Geir Strøm of White House in Orbit and more importantly Chronicles of the Witch Queen. We're finally seeing the Witch Queen herself, she who Alcydia wants to be Witch Queen instead of, and her advisors, guards, and the subterranean castle she inhabits. The story is taking on a bit of a Courtly Manners-esque feel from this point onwards, which I guess finally justifies its inclusion on the Chronicles of the Witch Queen site.
Geir has only outlined about a dozen pages, but those should take us somewhere close to the end of the invasion.

June 10, 2007



June 12, 2007

Comments on Waffle now moderated thanks to spammers and Movable Type's general uselessness at spam prevention

After an overnight spam attack in which hundreds of spams got posted to the blog, including many that would have been blocked if the regular expression filter actually worked, I have set the comment options in Movable Type to moderated. I was going to switch off commenting entirely, until I realised that moderation would work for the small number of real comments I get here.

There may be delays in getting your comment posted. I haven't switched on email notification for new comments because I'm not that masochistic. The ratio of real comments to spam is very low, and the last thing I want is to have hundreds of spam comments in my incoming email as well as my Movable Type backend.

This message only affects comments on the weblog, not on the webcomic, which has a superior commenting and comment filtering system written by one guy in his spare time.

I could go on forever on how bad Movable Type's spam prevention is. Where to begin? How about with cleanup? I could cook dinner in the time it takes to rebuild a hundred entries - and then let it get cold checking whether the entries have actually rebuilt. At least one batch of twenty rebuilds timed out during today's cleanup, which means that the spam posts on those may or may not have gone from the archived entries.

Why twenty? Why not do a hundred at a time? Partly because of the timeout problem, but today I'd actually have been willing to do the cleanup in batches of seventy-five or a hundred, just to get it over with. All the spams that got posted were gibberish (which I can't filter because there's no regular pattern in it) with links in BBCode (which I can filter using a regex, but as I said, the regex filter doesn't work). But another problem with MT's commenting system is some very poorly-written AJAX(-ish) programming in the backend, which causes common interface elements to behave differently from how they should. You can see that in the category selecter - unlike with regular dropdowns, you can't actually scroll to the category you need unless you keep the mouse button pushed down all the time. If you don't keep the mouse button pushed down, the dropdown will reset itself to its initial position. The same happens within the AJAX(-ish) widget that governs the display options in the commenting backend, so when, brainwashed as I am by more than a decade of using standard dropdown boxes, I thought I'd selected to display 75 rows of comments in my backend, I'd actually chosen to display twenty. So I ended up cleaning them out twenty at a time. Another example of terrible backend scripting is the checkboxes with each individual entry's backend that you can use to close the entry for comments or trackbacks. You have to click them very decisively and firmly, looking straight at them and mumbling incantations along the lines of "obey, motherfucker". And. Don't. Blink. Otherwise, they will revert to the state they were in before you clicked them. I've observed this in both Opera and Safari, by the way. It's unbelievable that something like this was allowed to pass the quality control. If you don't give the act of clicking a check box your full and undivided attention, you'll move your mouse to "Save Changes" and click that thinking you've closed the entry whereas in fact you've left it wide open. It's Movable Type's Christmas gift to spammers.

What else? Oh yeah. The Spamlookup Plugin's word and regular expression filter works only about half of the time. I don't know what causes it to fail, but fail it does. Also lose and suck.

But all this bitching about the superficial design and implementation flaws only serves to conceal Movable Type's fundamental design and implementation flaws. These aren't unique to Movable Type - I could easily write a similarly long and ranty screed about how bad, say, PHPBB is in this regard.

Movable Type and many other content management/commenting/forum posting/yadda yadda yadda systems have this fundamental design problem: There is no single interface for dealing with spam, and far too many of the tools are included as plugins. Bundled plugins, as far as SpamLookup is concerned, but still plugins.

Systems that publish user-contributed material to the web should be written from the ground up to detect and prevent spam The SpamLookup code, as well as additional code like Akismet and Bad Behaviour that users now have to hunt down and install, should be there as part of the core functionality with every installed version of the system, so that the user running the install doesn't have to think about it and spam can be dealt with as quickly and quietly as possible. Spam prevention is as important as the content creation itself, for the simple reason that spam will eventually be posted in such numbers that it will bury and defeat the content creation (see A quick reminder of why there are no comments on this blog from 2005) and, in forums, bury and defeat all other aspects of the forum (see any PHPBB forum that hasn't got a team of rabid, fascist moderators purging the member lists, blocking posts by non-members, blocking fake account creation, blocking whole IP ranges from posting messages or creating accounts, blocking, blocking, blocking).

Over time, the utility of a content creation system that lets spam in drops to zero. For that reason, it's worth it to compromise other aspects of the system, such as ease of use, to prevent spam from getting a foothold. In Movable Type (and PHPBB, and, and, and), we get poor usability anyway, especially in dealing with spam. To close old posts, we need to go to one place, or rather, several places: the posts themselves (there are, of course, plugins for that, but see the previous paragraph). To clean up spam, we need to go to another - the comments backend. To filter our messages, we need to go to yet another - the SpamLookup plugin, and if we have three different kinds of changes to make, we need to open three different boxes to make them. Then there's the general settings in which we decide how to handle comments globally, and we need to go somewhere else again.

Simplifying this isn't a trivial task, in fact now that I think of it, it's rather daunting. However, adding "Delete and close" and/or "Delete and Blacklist" buttons or checkboxes in the comments backend would shave off quite a bit of time from the daily despamming chores. And those would be easier to add if blacklists weren't governed by plugins to start with.

See also: Six Apart Picked Apart.

June 17, 2007

Utopia (spoiler-ish)

If you're reading this on Livejournal, stop now! I'll try to add spoiler cuts, but I can't guarantee that they'll work

I wouldn't have minded if Derek Jacobi had stayed on. He's an outstanding actor who can do much with very little.

Beyond that, I don't know. The direction in Utopia was strong but the script was very uneven. It started out pretty poor, with the threat of the Futurekind being particularly feeble. The actions of the one Futurekind character who'd managed to get into the Base That Was Under Siege were so obviously there as scaffolding for the plot that I couldn't believe in them at all. But all those things were just background for the goings-on with the Doctor, Martha, Jack and Professor Yana (groan) ... and his fob watch.

The idea of a bad guy living out a whole life as a man dedicated to public service was a good one - a nice parallel with Human Nature/Family of Blood from which it was obviously a continuation. But I think that would have worked better as a Doctor-lite story focusing on that one man. Generally, I don't think the theme wasn't handled nearly as well as it was in Paul Cornell's story.

For an episode with so much other stuff going on, though, the character development and plot arc of Professor Yana worked very well. We got the reminder that Timelords can regenerate early on, and then we got the slow feeding of hints about Yana's nature: that his academic title is an honorific because he has no formal qualifications (what with Universities being long gone, after all); that he craves admiration; that he has been plagued by something that he considers a brain malfunction all his life, causing him to hear the sound of drums in his head; that he lies about his progress to the people he works for, "to give them hope". Yana is trying very hard to be a good man, and mostly succeeding, but all this time his dark side is there.

It was surprising to see the "to be continued" caption at the end. From the timing of the episode, it would seem to be the start of a three-parter, making it the longest single plot in the new series yet. Audacious. But pointless if it isn't the absolute best that the creative team can give, and while Utopia delivered the goods in the end, it wasn't the absolute best.

The structure of the third season as a whole is shaping up well, with the whole thing being a carefully constructed time loop, or big ball of timey-wimey stuff. I like that. I've always been fond of time loop stories. I also liked that story elements from the previous episodes recur - not just the fob watch disguise but also the loss of the TARDIS.

So he is back. I still can't help thinking that Derek Jacobi would have filled the adversary role much better. Though on second thought, John Simms's energetic performance works quite well.

It's fun to note that a number of contradictory rumours all turned out to be true: that Jacobi would play a good guy who is trying to help the last survivors of the human race; that he would play the Master; that John Simms would play the Master. All true, and as we've seen before in Series 1, all working better than the rumours themselves would suggest.

In all, a shaky start to the episode, and too much extraneous business, but ending quite well.

June 19, 2007

Small press festival, June 23

I'll be at the Small Press convention at Vera Groningen on Saturday, June 23, with Jeroen and Jelena and possibly some others. I probably won't have any new product to sell unless I manage to free up two days on Thursday and Friday to finally put together and print up the Headsmen collection. Unless I make all of next week's Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan comics cut-n-pasted talking heads comics, this is unlikely. But you never know.

In any case, I'll be there to chat with people, meet up, sign the Groningen bij Nacht book, help Jeroen and Jelena with their business, and generally have a good time. Don't expect me to buy your comics though if you've got a table there yourself, as I'm still in penny-pinching mode. If you give me one of your comics, I promise to review it though.

June 24, 2007

The Sound of Drums

This was good. No it wasn't. Yes it was. No, it was a bit crap.

The above exchange is not what is currently going on on the Outpost: Gallifrey forums or on Behind the Sofa. Any resemblence is a coincidence, honestly. What the above exchange is is what was going through my head while I was watching it, and afterwards.

The reason is, of course, that Russel T. Davies scripts are not exactly linear or ordered; they are, rather, a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, samey-wamey... stuff. Instead of the thousands of Daleks of the Season One ender, we get billyuns of stabby-slicy, zappy-wappy ...ball things. There's the Aliens-in-the-British-Government concept, with the surprise eradication of a group of people who might otherwise have been able to stop the alien. There's gratuitous cameo-age (nothing wrong with that, per sé, but the repetition is getting on my nerve). There's the convenient plot devices - the invisibility device that works until plot demands that it doesn't. Even the blatant channeling of Douglas Adams's spirit is getting old, and I'm the kind of person for whom that stuff just doesn't get old. I am referring of course to the entirety of Gridlock, the BBWWTWS theory which is a clear restatement of Adams's Whole Sort of General Mish-mash theory, and now the use of what clearly amounts to a Somebody Else's Problem field.

What The Sound of Drums left me with was the impression that it was all, well, a big mish-mash. Ideas and characterisation and explosions and music and cameos and sound and fury, signifying nothing. What a mess. And unlike last episode, this one wasn't directed by Graeme Harper, and it showed.

I like John Simm as the Master, but I appear to be the only person in the world who does. I enjoy his manic unpredictability. But even with that in mind, I can't quite get why he wants the destruction of the Earth. I can sort of guess at the ends he's planning to achieve (and indeed Doctor Who Confidential contained a whopper of a spoiler for the final episode), but not how this end requires him to wipe out the world. It could still be explained in the next episode......

... but there's too much exposition in this storyline already! Even the accompanying shots of some Timelords in their preposterous headgear couldn't make all the narrated backstory interesting or compelling. For the first time since Series 2, an episode of Doctor Who seemed to just drag on and on. Even the cliffhanger was dull.

All right, so I clearly think it was a bit crap. No it wasn't! John Simm was great, Tennant was great, apart from the final minutes when he was in his prosthetic makeup, and Agyeman and Barrowman played well against one another, as Tennant did against Simm. There was some effective music in there, and while there was plenty to gripe about, there was little that stuck out in a negative sense while I was actually watching it - apart maybe from the cookie-cutter US President with an unconvincing accent.

It's just that... add everything together and it just doesn't work. It's dull, stale stuff. Unlike Blink and Human Nature/Family of Blood which had me on the edge of my seat and occasionally jumping out, this just washed over me.

I don't have high expectations of the series finale now. Let's just get it over with and then I can bury myself in Big Finish audio dramas again.

June 25, 2007

"Injury" updating every four hours on ROCR.net today and tomorrow

Today and tomorrow, the ROCR.net front page will update six times a day with a short autobiographical story, "Injury", from 1997. The story starts here. Once it's completed, "Injury" will be moved to the Pin Drop section of the site.

I've been meaning to rerun this short story, about depression, rain and the hand injury I inflicted on myself ten years ago, for some time, but hadn't got around to it. A snag in the production of new Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan comics forced me to reschedule them, leaving a gap in which I could post a short story. Because I like to have each comic on the front page for at least a little while, I'm posting one page every four hours, sort of like one would do if one's doing a 24-hour comic, only slower.

June 27, 2007

And comments on the blog are off again

I've switched off comments again. Sorry, but with the recent reduced posting frequency and the resulting reduced number of real comments (from what was already a low number), even the time spent sifting through the 400 daily Junk comments in the hope of finding just one real comment isn't worth it.

You may still see comment forms on old entries, because trying to rebuild the blog to reflect the new comments settings is also an exercise in frustration and a waste of time.

As before, this only reflects the blog, not the webcomic, because one guy working in his spare time can write a better comment filtering service than the entire staff of A Six Apart put together.

About June 2007

This page contains all entries posted to Waffle in June 2007. They are listed from oldest to newest.

May 2007 is the previous archive.

July 2007 is the next archive.

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

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