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March 1, 2004

Evil plots discovered while you wait

We all know how much fun you can have with Lego. The other day I picked up a catalogue and frankly was shocked by the way they managed to remove the fun factor with neigh surgical precision. They now have a thing called Lego explore, for kids aged 2+. This is no Lego! These aren't building blocks, it's all prefab crap! They just added useless pegs to give parents the impression it's still Lego, it's become a design statement if anything...
And there are some very disturbing products they are coming up with. Take for instance this heavy truck. In the first place, what's with this Bob the builder-crap? In this day and age where nature conservation is the first thing our kids should learn, the most popular toys are of a guy who's best friend are a bulldozer and a cement mixer?! And if you look at the Lego heavy truck, take a closer look at the driver. That's one creepy mother! Unshaven, mean eyebrows, shades, evil smile! He's not there to save the squirrel from extinction, that's clear. Just look at the tires on that machine of his, not to mention the enormous exhaustpipe! Maybe the scandinavians are sick of their heating bills in winter and have created an evil plot to speed up world heating. Yeah, that's got to be it...

March 10, 2004

BRRRIINNGG

My studio-mate Marjolein has the coolest ringtone on her cellphone. It goes "Brrriiinngg". Like an old bakelite rotary-dial phone. This is what cellphones would sound like if they were made in the German Democratic Republic, and it's what they should sound like.

March 14, 2004

sunday thoughts on msn

I need more emoticons on msn. I need a smiley that sticks it's tongue out not in fun, but in a genuine childish nasty way. I need an emoticon that flips the bird. I need a smiley with a cigarette. I need a smiley that looks demeaning. I need a smiley with drooping eyelids. I need a smiley that nudges and winks.
Am I alone?

March 24, 2004

About values and mores

You need to read Dutch to appreciate the fine work of Gudolf Bamboom, former approval singer and inventor of brunch prayers. But he's got his finger on the pulse of the times, oh yeah baby.

April 4, 2004

Presents for a baby

On Friday, I'll be on my way to England to assume Godfatherly duties at the baptism of my nephew Kyle. My brother emailed me to remind me that said duties include:

1. Springing for the baby's baptismal outfit; and
2. Buying him a present.

No problem (I think the unspoken part of the deal is that Kyle will spring for my headstone when I croak so I'll come out on top) except that being a confirmed non-parent myself, I haven't got a clue what to buy for a five-month-old baby. I've just been to the toy shop, and I'm sure that a giant Tigger plushie would at least make his mother happy (and if I were little, I'd love it), but the kid's already being brainwashed with Tiggers, Tiggers everywhere, so I'd welcome alternative suggestions.

Also, I'll need something to wear at the baptism myself. Of course, the baby will be the main attraction, but I don't want to show up either looking like a bum or upstaging the rest of the family. I've inquired after the dress code...

And my brother had emailed me earlier about some items he wanted me to pick up for himself. That at least will be easy...

May 9, 2004

I'm sweet as a kitten, really. Meow.

Yesterday I was bored and frustrated and chained to my computer waiting for an important message to come in. To fill time, I did some trawling of my semi-regular blog bookmarks, and let things get to me that normally wouldn't get to me. I do think that selective blindness in political blogging is a real and widespread problem, but I could have been more civil about it, and I could have been more considerate and less snappish towards the people involved.

Besides, I can't really stand the heat myself. I do not court controversy; indeed I find it very stressful. And today is entirely the wrong day for me to deal with angry responses. I'll be traveling to Munster, Germany, to see my friend Kim who has been laid up following a car accident. Can't deal with heated debate right now.

So, sorry about the tone of my last post. Not sorry about the ideas I wanted to communicate, but I'll try to be more civil in the future.

May 11, 2004

He's looking quite spry for his 144 years!

Via Smilodon on IRC:

'Anton Checkov' reads



"Hey, what's up!"
"You'll never believe who's in Union Square right now"
"Anton Chekov!"
"Isn't that weird?"
"I don't know, I'd say he's around 65."
"Yeah, it's him, he has the beard and everything."
"Really? That's funny."
"Yeah, that's weird, well I think it was, I don't
know"
"19th Century you think?"
"I don't know, this is weird."
"Well, he's here."
"No, it's definitely him, It must have been the
1960's"
"It only sounds old because it's Russian"
"I don't know. This is weird."

May 13, 2004

Rats! With nasty diseases!

I read all the way through Spike's rat mummification report without having to call Huey O'Rourke on the big white phone. I'm proud of myself now.

Warning: read the warnings. She's not kidding about them.

May 30, 2004

It's gotten lighter in here, allright.

Inspired by my friend Kim's exhortation to "do something about the Egyptian darkness" in my apartment, and my neigbours' regular window-cleaning, I've cleaned my windows for the first time since the last century. I've also removed the net curtains (much needed for privacy; I live on the ground floor near a busy street) so I can take them to the dry cleaners' and put them somewhere conspicuous so I won't forget to actually do so.

To my shame, Kim's exhortation was made 2 years ago, and I first noticed the neighbours' window-swabbing last year. It's taken me that long to take action. I got a lot, I mean really a lot of grime off both sides of the windows and even though I haven't done a stripe-free job of it, I definitely get more light in. One more step towards making this place pleasant to live in again.

On the downside, people walking down the street can now see the appaling levels of disorganisation and messiness in my flat. I'd better do something about that. But not today, because I've been indoors for long enough.

June 7, 2004

Happy birthdays!

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

Have a good one, guys!

June 19, 2004

Campaign against joke Haiku

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

In a post from 2003, the wonderful Dsquared writes:

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

Continue reading "Campaign against joke Haiku" »

June 28, 2004

Kitties!

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

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

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

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

July 3, 2004

Barbara's beer

Today, I finally got a taste of Barbara Stok's Chocolate Beer. I'd heard conflicting reports about it, but because I didn't go to the Stripdagen in Haarlem, for which this beer was brewed, I hadn't had the opportunity to taste it yet. But Barbara recently received over a 100 bottles from the brewer, so she invited Jeroen and me to try it out.
Strangely, I share part of the credit, or blame, for this limited edition beer being on the market. Six or seven years ago, I found some bottles of an English Chocolate Ale at a liquor store in Groningen, and bought some. I mentioned this to Barbara on the phone and invited her over to give it a try. It turned out that this product, whose name I've long forgotten, was a pretty good brown ale with a strong aroma of chocolate and a solid brown ale taste. It was also pretty filling if I remember correctly. Not bad at all, but it was an expensive import and I never found any more of it anyway.
When brewer Jopen approached Barbara about marketing a theme beer for the biannual Stripdagen convention/festival, she thought of our chocolate ale experience and suggested a chocolate beer. The brewer ran with this idea and came up with a white chocolate-flavored Weissenbier - very different from the stuff we drank but promising nonetheless. It's a change from previous two editions (out of three), which were heavy beers tailor-made for hard-drinking cartoonists. This one is only 5% vol., sweet, with lemon more present in the flavour than chocolate.
The bottled version, coming in 3/4 liter containers with a champagne cork, is very different in taste and appearance from the same beer as served on tap at the festival, as a result of it still fermenting in the bottle. And boy, has this stuff fermented! There's a biochemistry Nobel to be won from researching this beer. Opening the bottle resulted in a spray of froth. Pouring it caused the first glass to be filled with nothing but foam. The next two (small) glasses from the bottle developed a large, solid head that looked a bit like baking dough rising, with an endless flow of CO2 bubbles rising from the bottom, visible through the clear liquid.

The final third of the bottle on the other hand was much more opaque and quieter, but with no visible dregs. This suggested that, even though it obviously wasn't safe to shake the bottle, the beer should have been shaken before pouring to homogenise it! The bottom of the bottle smelled and tasted much stronger too. There's a Physics Nobel waiting for the person to resolve this dilemma.

As Weissenbiers go, Barbara's Stripbier is pretty good. Maybe a bit too sweet for my taste (like the only American Weissenbier I've ever tasted, Celis from Austin, Texas), but nice, nonetheless. I liked the extra fizz in it - if soft drinks manufacturers made their products as sparkly as that, I'd drink a lot more soft drinks. And the bottle itself, of course, is a must-have for fans of Barbara's comics.

I'm going to experiment with putting some of this in pancakes. Should be fun, and maybe explosive.

Note: The site linked to above is in Dutch so international readers may miss out on the fact that the thumbnail on the right of that page links to a larger picture of the label.

July 10, 2004

Mini Me

adamandadam.jpg

Found this little fellow in a gift shop on a tour to Sterling. Sadly, he wasn't for sale.

-Adam

July 12, 2004

A farewell to chickens

Jean-Pierre the roosterWhat a handsome fellow!
This fellow may have been the model for the character of Jean-Pierre


I recently found out what had become of the chickens that used to have the habit, during the summer, of coming into my backyard at 6 AM to wake me up and steal my berries. Their owners, who live in a squat nearby, are preventing new chicks from being hatched so the flock is dying off naturally, and I'm afraid it's happening rather fast (at least I don't think the squatters kill and eat the adult chickens. There are always some people in a squat who object to that sort of thing).

Right now there are only two roosters and three hens left. I'll be sorry to see them go. I'd got rather fond of them (except at 6 AM).
On the plus side though, more berries for me, even though the growing conditions this year have been abysmal.

July 13, 2004

Objectively pro-delicious

Crooked Timber's Ted Barlow would rather cook lamb than argue with Glenn "Isntapundit" Reynolds' latest bit of bollocks. Can't say I blame him myself. MMM lamb.

He says that Michael Moore (who is responsible for writing and directing left-wing films of questionable accuracy) is the American version of the Iraqi rebel cleric al-Sadr (who is responsible for killing our soldiers and running a repressive fundamentalist regime in Fallujah). Etc., etc.

I could argue with this nonsense. But wouldn’t all of our time be better spent sharing a genuinely delicious recipe for braised lamb shanks in red wine? I think so.

The recipe is impossible to screw up and requires little attention. I usually make it for just two people, which means that I only cook two lamb shanks with the same quantities of vegetables and liquids. Since the skillet easily holds two lamb shanks, this is a one-dish meal for two people.

Lightly adapted from Cooks Illustrated.

6 lamb shanks (3/4 to 1 pound each), trimmed of excess fat
Salt
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 medium onions, sliced thick...

July 23, 2004

Putting the cap on a bad day

It looks like much of my incoming email for today was eaten by something or other. If I don't respond to a message you sent, it may be because I didn't get it.

And now I'm off to get annoyingly and belligerently drunk.

August 2, 2004

Crashing and burning, hard.

Completely contrary to my cycling post of two days ago I now feel like shit. I'd been trying like mad to work ahead to be able to go on a two-week sailing holiday, but yesterday evening I finally broke down and realised that I was driving myself around the bend to produce a page or more a day and get all my other stuff done, and that that was exactly the wrong way to approach a vacation. Plus I'd have to get straight back into scramble mode the day after my return. Fortunately I hadn't actually booked anything (yes, it would have been very last minute) so I could cancel it without worrying about the cost except in terms of embarrassment towards all the people I told I was going.

It was the right decision. I can tell because I felt overwhelming relief after calling it off. However, what with the pressure coming off so abruptly, I'm a bit demotivated and deflated. I'll probably lose a day's worth of work anyway as a result.

All is not lost, though. I have a much healthier buffer than I used to have, I've proven to myself that I can still work fast and produce decent ROCR pages (only the one I made yesterday is sub-par. Dunno if anyone else will notice but I don't like it), and I've been telling so many people that I'm interested in sailing that I'm sure opportunities to give it a try will come my way.

And I'm going to do other fun things instead. I'm gonna have fun, dammit! I'll go cycling a few more times, visit Geir in Norway (I'll book the flight this week, once I've coordinated with him. Thanks to my preparations I've found out that Basiqair operates some affordable Scandinavian services) go to parties and do my work and stuff in a relaxed fashion. Not as good as the sailing looked when I was thinking about it, but the cost in added stress will be a lot less.

I'm back!

A full report must, I fear, wait, but I was reading Henry Fielding's Tom Jones on the plane, and must quote a bit:

Allusions to this part are likewise often made in the sake of jest. And here, I believe, the wit is generally misunderstood. In reality, it lies in desiring another to kiss your arse, for having just offered to kick his; for I have observed very accurately that noone desires you to kick that which belongs to himself, nor offers to kiss this part in another.

It may likewise seem surprising that in the many thousand kind invitations of this sort, which everyone who has conversed with country gentlemen must have heard, no one, I believe, hath ever seen a single instance where the desire hath been complied with. A great instance of their want of politeness; for in town nothing can be more common than for the finest gentlemen to perform this ceremony every day to their superiors without having that favour once requested of them.

Don't be surprised if you see a reference to this passage in Dangerous and Fluffy a bit down the line...

August 6, 2004

Accomplishment!

My new cycling hobby is becoming more expensive, not just in money but also in time and energy. I have bought a new saddle, a (very expensive) new tire, (trekker-quality) inner tube and wheel ribbon for the front wheel, a saddlebag and some repair stuff. This morning I went to work to install them on my bike, and contrary to expectations, I ended up without major injuries and with the bike in better shape after the procedure than before. I even got the saddlebag mounted the right way up on the third try!
Also I only did a modest amount of swearing during the time it took. Not nearly enough to cause those rain showers late in the afternoon, oh no sirree.

August 7, 2004

I've been had!

Is there no honesty left in the world?
A friend of mine is currently on a two month trip in Peru. Being tall, blond and by Peruvian standards very wealthy, you sort of expect people to try and rip you off now and again. This indeed happens quite a lot. Usually if you pay attention you can prevent being overcharged for every and all things. Still, she was less thrilled when her bag got stolen when she fell asleep in a bus...
But this is another continent! I live in the First world, Europe, the Netherlands.
Clean healthy living, surely you can expect not to get ripped off every purchase you make? Not so! Fixing up my racing bike, no doubt inspired by Reinders' bicycle adventures, I discovered I needed a new front wheel. Off I go to one of the main bicycle stores in Groningen and buy said wheel. At home I spend about an hour trying to get the tire around the rim and wondering why it doesn't fit. In between fixing a flat for three ladies passing by. Do I accept their reward money? Of course not! That's how I was raised, and in a society such as ours, I see no reason not to be kind and help a stranger.
The people at the bicycle store think otherwise. When after an hour I still couldn't fit the tire around the rim, I began to suspect it wasn't me bungling, it may just be the wrong wheel. As it was almost closing time I went to a nearby bicycle shop (yes, there is one on every corner here). "You've been had laddie!" this man told me. You've been sold a 27" wheel. It is an odd size and you'll be buggered if you can find a tire that fits it." It also turned out I paid twice the amount the wheel was actually worth. Ofcourse then it was too late to go back to the other shop, so now I'm stuck with an incomplete bike and I can look forward to do some shouting first thing monday morning. Yay!
Bastards...

August 8, 2004

Wasps

They have nothing to do right now, so they swarm all over the place to eat sugary food, drink beer and pick fights. That's as normal a behaviour for wasps as it is for teenagers, but is it my imagination or are the little striped bastards more than usually annoying this year?

August 12, 2004

Fun from the courts

As a result of writing the trial sequence, I'm getting more interested in what actually goes on in the courtroom. So I enjoyed this report from The Volokh Conspiracy, unfortunately not well-sourced:

A small community in California passed a local ordinance prohibiting fortune telling within its city limits. A fortuneteller named Fatima Stevens brought a lawsuit seeking an injunction against enforcement of the ordinance... our Supreme Court granted a hearing.

As counsel for the fortuneteller rose for oral argument to present her case, Chief Justice Lucas said, "Counsel, you have us at a disadvantage."

The attorney was perplexed. "Why, Your Honor?"

"Well," said the Chief Justice, "hasn't your client told you how this case will ultimately turn out?"


(Volokh:)
On its face this was an irrelevant joke; but it was, intentionally or not, sending a subtle message that fortune-telling is indeed bunk, and that even the lawyer can't be taking it seriously -- something that would have dovetailed well with the city's arguments that fortune-telling is fraudulent and should be banned. Dangerous stuff for the lawyer. Here's how Mosk describes the lawyer's artful dodge:

[...] "No, Your Honor," he replied. "You must remember I did not consult my client for advice. She consulted me."

A judicial interchange worthy of Fafnir and Isolde Shieldbiter, methinks. Volokh reports that the fortune-teller won, by the way.

August 14, 2004

On Beer and Brewing

I personally only know American beer by reputation; I dimly recall that Budweiser beer was briefly in vogue among the beer snobs I hung out with in the late '80s, in the same way that American beer snobs pretend to like Heineken. I don't remember if I actually tried it. In a previous post, I mentioned a Texan beer that I found acceptable, but that's about it for my experiences with beer from the US of A.
That reputation that I know American beer by is almost uniformly bad, even among the most red-blooded, star-spangled patriotic Americans. The improbably-named Kihm Winship has a large archive of writing about beer and brewing, written over a 30-year period, that tells me why this reputation is justified and how America came to the point where the descendents of German, English, Irish and Scandinavian immigrants saturated the market with swill. That's a good thing, because it means I still won't have to drink the stuff to consider myself knowledgeable about it.
Winship's more recent beer writing (the two historical articles about the devolution of American beer are from 1975 and 1988) focuses on mostly local microbreweries in the Syracuse areas and new, different types of beer hitting the market. There is light at the end of the tunnel, it seems.

Wot No Saturday Cycling?

Sorry, Sidsel is moving house and I'm trying to catch up with my work. We may get ourselves in gear again on Tuesday. Meanwhile, enjoy this link reader Boreger sent me: Hauling cargo by bike.

Come to think of it, maybe we could have turned Sidsel's move into our Saturday cycling adventure...

Wish list!

Speaking of desirable things:
Exactly a month from now, on September 14, it'll be my birthday. I'll turn 33, so I'll probably be a bit sad. Oh, how I long for the days when my head was full of black hair and birthdays were the occasion to make up long, improbable wish lists that my mom would have to trudge halfway through town to even begin complying with!

Well I can't bring my hair back and after looking at pictures from those days I'm not sure that I want to. But I can bring back the joy of wish lists, thanks to Amazon! See my wishlist and if you're feeling kindly disposed to me for bringing you ROCR 3 times a week (or if you're a long lost friend who happens to be reading this after a google search), why not send me an item from it? It will make me less sad.

August 18, 2004

Dangerously Fluffy!


I'm not one to "ooh" and "aah" each time a see a cuddly toy. My bed is devoid of bunnies, tiggers and/or bears.
But these cre'atures are different! Down Under comic artist Timmeryn, creator of the Pantheon has in the past already shown to be able to bring life to comic characters with >papier maché. Not very cuddly and most likely annoying to sleep with...
Not so these lovable Rahballs, Fuzzyballs, Dragonballs, Wolfballs and Wee Tiny Balls! I've instantly fallen in love with these little fellows, and would like to add how refreshing it is to see toys, not made and manufactured in horrible sweatshops! Cuddles made with tlc! How rare it seems in these industrial times.
As much as I hate advertising, I do have to say: "Buy one! You know you want one! Support your artists!"

August 19, 2004

Cold Turkey

Trying to figure out which factors contributed to my lack of mental focus in the past couple of weeks, culminating in my bout of writer's block (which I now think I'm over, but who knows), I've decided to quit drinking coffee for a while. It hasn't done me much tangible good in recent years: I need two stiff cups in the morning just to function as a normal human being; the effect wears out after an hour or so leaving me feeling like my mind is a haze; and both withdrawal and drinking too much of it give me nasty headaches. It's an endless chemical balancing act.

Because I already had a headache anyway, I decided to skip coffee in the morning, and will do without it for as long as I can. So far, it's not that bad; the only effect (apart from the headache which is actually subsiding now) is a strong desire to crawl back into bed. But I might get a bit crabby in the next few days.

August 20, 2004

Some bad news, some good

Quitting coffee is no fun at all. Even though in recent years I'd cut down to four large cups a day, (from 12 in the early 90s), going from those four to zero has been hell. I spent yesterday evening in bed trying to find a position to lie down in in which my head didn't feel like every brain cell was being ripped apart.

On the other hand, I felt well enough in the morning to go for a little run. Like I mentioned early in June, a knee problem prevents me from doing serious running, but today I got a bit further than the last time. We're still talking about distances in the hundreds of meters rather than kilometers, but doing as much as that without the knee bothering me at all is progress. It must be because the cycling has made me stronger.

Work-wise, the withdrawal is making it very hard for me to do anything, but a Floor script has been mailed out, 8 pages of Courtly Manners 2 are now colored (but not lettered), and the buffer for ROCR is not empty just yet. My holiday plans aren't looking too good right now. I still intend to go to Norway, but it will probably have to wait until September.

August 24, 2004

Cold Turkey, continued

Hi! I'm Reinder Dijkhuis, and I'm a cafeinist. I'm trying to quit, but I fell off the wagon a few times during the weekend. I've been dry since Sunday evening though.

Seriously, my aim isn't to quit drinking coffee altogether, but rather to be able to do without it on most days, so I'm not that bothered by having a cup during Saturday's cycling or on social occasions. However, it does slow down the withdrawal process, so now I've got less severe withdrawal symptoms, but they last longer. I'm able to work, though, and in fact I'm producing comics at my prior rate of one a day again.

I've been reading up on caffeine withdrawal at the FAQs.org caffeine FAQ, which I really should have done before quitting. They recommend a slow cutdown, and warn that withdrawal symptoms can get quite nasty if you quit cold turkey:

Regular caffeine consumption reduces sensitivity to caffeine. When caffeine intake is reduced, the body becomes oversensitive to adenosine. In response to this oversensitiveness, blood pressure drops dramatically, causing an excess of blood in the head (though not necessarily on the brain), leading to a headache.

This headache, well known among coffee drinkers, usually lasts from
one to five days, and can be alleviated with analgesics such as
aspirin. It is also alleviated with caffeine intake (in fact several
analgesics contain caffeine dosages).

Often, people who are reducing caffeine intake report being irritable,
unable to work, nervous, restless, and feeling sleepy, as well as
having a headache. In extreme cases, nausea and vomiting has also been
reported.


Continue reading "Cold Turkey, continued" »

August 28, 2004

Groningen

Arr, well, here I am in Groningen, the Dutch town famous for having every other person who blogs here living in it. 'Tis a pleasant, quaint city, full of wide streets and very steep staircases, interesting little shops full of interesting-looking comics that I cannot read, farmer's markets, and rather a lot of sheep, from the cover of the Groningen Festival guide - I think that's what it is, anyway - to an episode of Skippy involving bearded shepherds and sheep dogs.

I think we're being followed.

August 29, 2004

Ramblings in Groningen

Arr! So, day three of my stay in Groningen, and we haven't killed each other yet, even after making Tuesday's Dangerous and Fluffy. Always a good sign for collaborations, that!

Perhaps a sample is in order, in a size suitable for an MSN messenger icon:
RussianArkinstallIcon.png

Further informtion about that when I get home, as I didn't bring the cable I need to download the pictures.

But I digress.

Friday, due to me having to stay up late, was spent mostly with a slow tour around Groningen (Which has a statue of a naked woman with a sheep, a theatre festival whose prgram has sheep on it, and several sheep pastures just outside of town.), followed by a party with the artistic types in Groningen that included me,Jeroen, and Reinder with a rendition of "Combine Harvester". Twas fun, but I fear having to wake up at 4am to catch my plane left me unable to do much more.

Saturday involved the creation of the Chapter 2 opening comic of Dangerous and Fluffy (A peek into one of Gregory's comics), a look around Jeroen and Reinder's studio, (Reinder was working on a comic for Courtly Manners that included, in the background, a painting of Fiefelsfalsfaffel lying naked with a sheep, and a painting with two suspiciously familiar women... but I mustn't say more.), a trip to the Comics Museum, in which I suddenly realised that far too many absolutely superb comics were only available in Dutch, and thus I will have to learn it. Damn. I discussed my plans for early Chapter 2 of D&F with Reinder, and he discussed the Tamlin story to follow the Rite of Serfdom with me. Following this, we went to the theatre festival (with the sheep advertising).

There was superb fire juggling, delicious poffertjes (something like a spherical pancake, with alcohol drizzled on top.), and the completely unexpected sight of the piss-cross.

plaskruisufo2.jpg

A piss cross is a way for men to urinate in public in a not-particularly private place. They stand just next to pedestrian paths, and block the view of the front three or four inches of the man from view when he stands at one of the four urinals

I didn't take the photo myself, they were in use and, frankly, the men using them were rather burly and bigger than me, and I didn't want to explain why I was photographing them urinating, so I found one online.

Following that, we went to the much-vaunted (and very, very cheap) nightclub, Vera, and indeed it was very nice, and had very good and inexpensive alcohol. Sadly, though, it was also packed with new university students, limiting the fun. Arr, weel! Next time.

After a good sleep, it was time for a bike ride with Reinder and Sidsel. I havn't ridden a bike in ten years, ever since my parents took me to a lecture on bike safety that took pains to teach all the children that if you don't wear a helmet, you could be very badly hurt or die.

They then refused to buy me a helmet. Ah, well. Happily, after a couple bike exchanges to get me the only bike in good nick, I was able to do quite well and keep up. My arse is very, very sore, though. Hopefully, that'll die down in time.

Arr! And, besides me interviewing Reinder, that gets me up to date! Until next blog!

-Adam Cuerden

September 5, 2004

Sunday Cycling: A little day trip to the zoo, with a hey, nonny, nonny

Today, Sidsel and I went to Emmen - the longest trip so far. Emmen is 56 kilometers as the crow flies, but a bit further away if you're actually using the bicycle paths. We left at 8 AM, rode the first half of our journey in the morning fog which at some point was even denser than a month ago on our trip to Schiermonnikoog, and arrived in Emmen at noon. After attacking our food supplies with ravenous appetite, we paid a visit to the Noorder Dierenpark where we stayed all afternoon. I don't remember having ever been to any other zoos, so I can't tell how it stacks up against them, but on its own, it was an afternoon well spent. The feature that the zoo prides itself on in its website and brochures is the absense of barred cages and the comparitive freedom that most of the animals enjoy in natural-looking little habitats. Often there is not much more between the visitors and the animals than a low fence and a sign warning visitors not to lean over in case the kodiak bears or crocodiles devour them. Yes, visitors are treated as responsible adults here.
It is a really pretty, well-designed place too, although some displays needed repair. In fact, the only place where I thought there was a real safety problem was in the poison frog display, where the netting over the terrarium was broken. No problem for a responsible adult, but a child might want to pick up a pretty blue froggie and get a hand full of curare.
I liked the fact that one of the first animals visitors are likely to see are the gibbons; those are lively, tree-swinging apes who talk to their mates in sing-song voices and show little aggression between themselves. At any time of the day, many other animals will be asleep (or sleepy - the otters in particular had a very infectious yawn), and quite a few others will be vicious little bastards, so it's a good thing the gibbons set the tone. Also: a Dutch naturalist once said that the only animals that do any real aping are humans, and that was confirmed by the many imitations of the gibbons' call from the audience! By contrast, the zoo's hamadryad baboons are nasty pieces of work, fighting all the time over food and rank. However, if you look more closely, you can see the same belligerent individuals share food with their mates or comfort a baby caught in a fight. How very human.
I could talk about the zoo all day, and there's more to see than you can take in in a single visit, especially on a hot day such as today. We left at 5.30 PM, attacked our remaining supplies with a ravenous appetite, and rode back at six to arrive home at 10, covered in clammy sweat because the evenings are getting damper. The last hour and a half of our trip was in darkness, which was allright in the larger villages, but a bit hairy on some narrow, poorly-lit rural paths.
By the way, I rode a used Koga Myata touring bike which when new must have retailed at a price that competes with a decent used car. My parents bought it from a friend for my birthday; I didn't ask them what they paid for it for fear it would make me feel guilty. It's a great bike too, with perfect balance and a 21-speed gearing system that made it much easier to go fast. Sidsel, on the other hand, was on her old bike, so I had to restrain myself a bit.
Now, Sidsel and I are the sad wreckage of the man and the woman we used to be, which is why this entry is a bit shorter than most cycling entries. But I suspect that that is a good thing, really.

September 6, 2004

Roo!

Lounging Kangaroo

Lounging kangaroo, shot yesterday at the zoo in Emmen. I've got a technical problem with my camera that prevents me from taking many photographs. It refuses to switch off, draining the batteries in no time. This animal, at least, sat still long enough for me to put batteries in the camera, and its pose, lounging on its elbows, was irresistible.
The fact that it spent its day lying on its elbows, in the shade, proves that kangaroos' intelligence is superior to humans'. Me, I bicycled 120 kilometers that day.

September 9, 2004

Groningen Trip Photo Blog - Part 1


It's a bit late, but I do believe it's about time I finish up the photo blog of the trip to Groningen! Naturally, I'll concentrate on what I managed to get photographs of, as I fear I forgot to take my camera to one or two places, but you can always read my original entry here.

I left quite early Friday morning, after spending some time hiding my monitor in my closet, unplugging everything, and so on. Hiding the monitor in the closet was necessary since all four of my cats like to perch atop it, and destroyed the previous monitor with a hairball...

One of the four cats

Then I was off to the airport and away!

Continue reading "Groningen Trip Photo Blog - Part 1" »

September 14, 2004

Happy birthday Reinder!

Once again he tried to keep it quiet, but he's not going to get away with it that easy! HAPPY BIRTHDAY REINDER!

September 18, 2004

Barbara's stash of WMD

I've been sitting on this knowledge for a few days now, and it's time I did the responsible thing. Remember when I wrote about Barbara's beer? I have now heard on the nearly reliable grapevine that the bottles of chocolate Witbier are liable to explode when stored at room temperature for too long.
I haven't been in touch with her about it (she probably knows about the problem) but pending reliable advice about it, it may be a good idea to keep the bottles chilled, and when you open them, open them with care, and allow the beer to settle for a while. It's a little more alive than beer ought to be.

October 1, 2004

Dumpster-diving, redux

Also via Boing Boing, Newsday reports on a new alternative lifestyle: Freeganism.

They're not homeless, and they have jobs. They call themselves freegans, and though some fill their fridges with food from garbage bins to save money, many choose not to buy food for philosophical reasons.

"Freegan" comes from the term vegan - a person who does not eat meat or animal products for health or ethical reasons. Freegans take it one step further by eating food thrown away by stores and restaurants, to avoid waste and limit their impact on the environment. They say that by not buying food, they're boycotting a capitalist consumer society that needlessly slaughters animals and harms the environment by mass-producing nonessential food, much of which ends up in landfills.

I have wondered myself on the possibility of getting food for free by living as a modern hunter/gatherer in Groningen, where many edible plants and animals can be found in the wild if you know where to look. I had not considered hunter/gatherering in the trash at stores and restaurants though...

Also, I'm not surprised that one of the people interviewed in the article is an entomologist. Not surprised at all.

(previous dumpster-related post)

I was hungry

So I added Chocolate and Zucchini to the blogroll. Mmmm, zucchini rolls.

Seriously, I've been wanting to do more cooking, and more non-routine cooking, for a while. There's a vegetable pie in the electric mini-oven right now; probably the last time I will use that oven, because as I was working on that pie, the little door started falling open and refused to stay shut. It's kept shut for the duration with duct tape, which is remarkably melt-proof.

Continue reading "I was hungry" »

October 3, 2004

Sunday Cycling: Groningen - Westerbork plus a long walk

Today's cycling brought Sidsel and me to Westerbork, in just about the only corner of my battered old map of the province of Groningen that we hadn't explored yet. A 35-kilometer trip to the southwest of the province of Drente, made longer by our unfamiliarity with the terrain. We spend a lot of time and added quite a bit of mileage hovering around and winding our way through Assen, Drente's provincial capital.

We didn't go all the way to Westerbork proper, by the way. Our destination was the Camp Westerbork Memorial Center. It was picked because it was simply a place to go, but having been there one can't help coming away without a strong impression of the horror of what went on there.

Continue reading "Sunday Cycling: Groningen - Westerbork plus a long walk" »

October 6, 2004

Bwa ha ha!

Shot by Both Sides never fails to deliver good snark:

Meanwhile, Mark Chapman has been refused parole after a "review of records". Clearly they didn't review any of John Lennon's post-1973 records, otherwise they'd have granted him an official pardon.

October 10, 2004

Fafblog on Derrida

Jacques Derrida died yesterday. We threw a Deathday Party to undermine the hegemonic life/death binary but for some reason everybody was still kinda sad.

One of many "Bwa ha ha" moments to be had from the excellent Fafblog. Let's face it, everyone who has a blog fits the profile of either Fafnir, Giblets or the Medium Lobster (I'm a Fafnir - gullible, easily impressed and with poor long-term memory).

October 14, 2004

What fun

My gas company has just socked me with a bill for € 826! Luckily I have that much in my savings account, because I put it aside to pay taxes with...
Studying the bill, it looks as if the cause of this little surprise isn't me stoking the central heating up to sauna levels, but instead the fact that they haven't billed me for monthly payments since September of 2002! It was about that time that I switched ("green") electricity providers from the same company that provides the gas company to another, who - it appears - also do their billing through the old company. Yay for utilities market liberalisation. The first few months after that, I got two identical monthly bills each month for the electricity (of which I paid only one until the double bills stopped coming) but none for the gas. It seems that pay time has come today.
So, I've got it, I clearly owe it to them, but I'll be sad to say goodbye to it. Just when I was thinking about buying a flat screen for the home PC out of those savings.
It's not leaving me with a high opinion of the gas company's efficiency or the quality of their record-keeping. Of course, it's arguably atrocious record-keeping on my part as well, but that's not exactly news to me, and besides I don't spend millions of Euros on accountants and enterprise-level databases each year.

I also note that the new monthly payment starting this month is quite a bit higher than the last one. Admittedly, getting cable from them may explain part of the difference, but still, there's a second setback hidden in that first one.

October 28, 2004

Halloween

Just as the radio reported that Halloween was already on the way out in the Netherlands, I saw some kids out trick-or-treating in inner Groningen, for the first time, ever.

None of them was dressed up as Jenna Bush's liver, though.
(hat tip to Pete Ashton for the link to 2004's Scariest Halloween costumes)

November 2, 2004

It's got maps! All over the place

What I like most about Electoral-vote.com is that I can learn American topography from it. Once this election is over I'll be able to find Connecticut on a map. This will give me legitimacy to mock Americans for their lack of geographical savvy.

November 13, 2004

Baby gift idea request -again!

Getting away from the grim stuff of the past few weeks, my nephew will turn one year old this week! I won't be going to his party because of work (he's in England with his parents) but I do want to buy him a prezzie that my parents can deliver to him. So I spent part of this morning in various toy and baby shops looking for stuff to buy.
I like toy shops. I get to look at a lot of things that I don't normally see, and it's fun to try and see the goods through the eyes of a small child. Last time I needed to buy a gift, at the time of my nephew's christening, he was 5 months old and mostly interested in purely tactile things. Now, it seems, he's expected to have moved beyond that towards sorting games and other things that pose more of a challenge to his mind. And looking at those toys, and the hammering sets that he's still slightly too young for, actually triggered some memories that may be of myself whacking wooden shapes into a board with a little mallet, or of watching my brother do the same — it's hard to tell.
I visited Asbran, an alternative toy shop best known for its impressive selection of wooden toys (last time, I bought a tactile picture book there that my nephew loved). These are great, but very expensive. For older kids - up to the age of 33 - they also have a great selection of figurines: animals, knights, Egyptian gods, dinosaurs. If I had money to spare for that sort of stuff, I'd have walked off with my hands full of them.
I also went to Prenatal, Toys'R'Us and a kids' clothing store. I'm quite happy to buy my nephew a winter jacket, but would need to check with his parents for his measurements and his needs first. At Toys'R'Us, I found something that my nephew would enjoy: a walker/pushchair with wood blocks in it. Last time I saw him, two months ago, he was constantly trying to push himself up on chairs, coffee tables, people, anything that could support him. He's a stout little fellow but his balance is not so good yet.
I've got until Wednesday to decide yet, so there's still time to lend my ear to those of you who are parents, uncles, aunts, grandparents or nosy neighbours: what would you advise for a boy who's turning one?

November 25, 2004

Thanksgiving

We don't do Thanksgiving around these here parts, but what the hell, I'll join in. I'm thankful that I'm not working for a boss, or commuting two hours a day. Even on a bad day when I temporarily hate the path I've chosen, I can always remind myself of what that was like.
I'm thankful to have people reading my comics, and reading this blog - and that those of you who came to the blog through the comics page put up with me.
I'm thankful for social democracy, whose safety nets made quitting my job possible. I'm thankful for entrepreneurs like Joey Manley, because people like him will enable me to go on with this career.
I'm thankful for the Koga Miyata, which is a joy to ride even on my short nighttime commute. I'm especially thankful for its functional lights whose cables are mounted securely into the frame, because having those helped me avoid a € 25 fine the other day (as well as keeping me safe on treacherous roads).
I'm thankful that my 63-year-old mom knows what "LOL" means, but more thankful that she doesn't overuse it.
(I'll update this if I can think of more)

November 27, 2004

"Boobgate" actress has blog, swears like trooper.

Actress Georgina Verbaan, whose breasts have dominated the less serious side of the Dutch media for the past couple of days, has a weblog, which is actually a pretty good read. Of course, scurrilous tongues will soon suggest that it's actually written by her publicist, doing his impression of the untutored but lively writer that people would imagine Georgina to be; but a woman who will go as far as to have a mammogram to prove her breasts are real won't have any problem shutting those scurrilous tongues up.
Anyway, there are only a few entries but if she continues blogging after the scandal dies down, it could become one to come back to regularly.

And before I knew it she grabbed my left breast, pushed it onto a machine and started twirling a knob so that a plate came down. Yes, down, onto my breast. I thought it couldn't go any further down and decided to ask: "This must be about as far asaaaaaaaaaoooooooow!!!?" With gritted teeth and a sweaty brow I looked down, and through the transparent plastic I saw an, uhm, EGG CAKE? My dear breasty had changed into a big puddle of flat tit! This couldn't be right - if I didn't have any lumps before then, uh...

(A young woman's first mammogram. Original quote below the fold)
Georgina can also swear like a trooper which this country needs desperately right now. I'm not going to translate that though.

Continue reading ""Boobgate" actress has blog, swears like trooper." »

December 5, 2004

Because people asked...

I am now at the painful coughing bronchitis stage of the 'flu. Normally, that means I'm getting better and all I have to do is cough up phlegm and lung tissue. My mind is a bit clearer and I've been able to venture out of the house and do stuff. However, somewhat worryingly, my throat and ears are still hurting somewhat.

If I still have a sore throat and ears while entering into the green skin, glassy eyes, limbs dropping off at inconvenient moment stage of the 'flu, I will take that as my queue to visit a doctor.

December 7, 2004

Probably the final 'flu post

I am now optimistic that today (Monday — I have no idea when my ISP will let me get online again) will have been the last day on which I will whine about a stupid little infection this year's 'flu has affected my life and work in a significant manner. I had a bit of a relapse into fever today, but that happens with these viruses. Since I corrected the broken Modern Tales update for the second time, this afternoon, my mood has altered dramatically. To be precise, I've been between angry and enraged for the rest of the day. I was fed up with being sick, pissed off at the addled state in which I did an important and easy part of my work so ineptly, screamingly furious at the crapitude of my ISP and generally livid with rage at having to sacrifice more productive time to defeating a bug that others shake off in a day and a half, and the chores that remained undone, and the rented DVD that needed returning, and the filthy beggar hitting me up in front of the library. That said, the cute library girl who took the DVD almost put a smile on my face — the male instinct of smiling at cleavage is strong indeed and would have done the trick if I hadn't been finding it so hard to operate my smiling muscles at the time (I hadn't used them much since last week's viewing of Shaun of the Dead viewing).
... aaaaanyway, as a wise man Johnny Rotten once wrote, "Anger is an energy", and from that rage did indeed come the energy required to get on my bike (with my eyes misting over at finding that my regular bike had a puncture, but clearing again as I realised that that meant I could take the Koga Miyata instead) and actually go to the studio to complete Wednesday's Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan update. And I did actually managed to put in a few hours of easy work without feeling like crap again at the end; I left only because I was getting peckish. So with a bit of luck, tomorrow I will have my head clear enough to do some serious writing instead. There's a lot to catch up with before Christmas. I don't expect a full recovery just yet, but I'll be happy with the ability to focus and think straight.
What made this 'flu extra nasty was that I had no early warning signs. Normally, the illness creeps up on me during the day, so I know that a sore throat in the late afternoon/early evening means I'd better slow down. On Sunday, November 28, I had gone cycling (I never got around to posting a report, but Sidsel and I went around Leek, Roden and Peize for a little jaunt, taking a look at the Nienoord estate and confronting ourselves with Scottish Highland cattle in a national park), then in the late afternoon and evening I did some work on my website, had dinner and went to a concert at Vera. I was feeling great! Had a few beers but not too many because there'd be a busy week ahead. At the concert, I met Ricky "Fearless Cartooneer" van Duuren and told him I'd finally got far enough ahead of my publication schedule to socialise again, and would he mind if I dropped by at his and Barbara's place to pick up some more of their fabulous exploding Witbier? I was really looking forward to the next week. And then on Monday I woke up with my throat and ears screaming at me, and a fevered, debilitated brain. Just like that. I was robbed.

December 20, 2004

I suppose this is lucky, but it might be jinxed

The saga of my bizarre and unexpected utilities bills continues...
I just got my end-of-year statement from my electricity company, and it looks like, what with me being, apparently, the beneficiary of a "Heffingskorting" (i.e. a rebate on taxes on electricity consumed), my total electricity bill is negative.

You heard that right. I got electricity all year, and I'm getting some money to go with that. And no, it's not negative after factoring the monthly payments. It's negative before the monthly payments are subtracted, and after they're subtracted, the negative number just gets bigger.

So I'm getting a sizeable amount of money "back" from the electricity company. It's making me feel a bit rosier about the whole privatisation/market liberalisation dealie that's been pushed through in the past decade, but pardon me if I don't rush out to spend this little windfall. Nuh-uh, it's going into savings to cover for potential unexpected bills from, I don't know, the atomic binding company that's keeping my protons and neutrons together for me. Or the gravity board. Something like that.

December 21, 2004

Christmas shopping = hell

I've never been too big on Christmas as a gift-giving feast. In my family, we used to get the gifts out of the way on St. Nicholas' Day, and as an adult, I realised that I'd just as soon stay away from that altogether and not get anything than spend my time shopping for gifts. The few times I've been at the sort of St. Nicholas parties where you draw lots to decide who to buy stuff for, I've been able to screw up the whole deal so thoroughly that I wasn't invited again, which suits me quite nicely even if I didn't do it on purpose. I'm just not good at imagining what other people might want or need.
This year, I'm spending Christmas in England with my parents, my brother, his girlfriend and her parents, and my nephew. The shopping, I'm afraid, is murder, and much as I try to remember what interests the other parents have, I haven't been able to think of anything that would give them any pleasure. I don't mean they're curmudgeonly — far from it. I just don't know them well enough.
As for my own parents, I know for a fact that they don't have any wants or needs except that my dad would like a new TV, which is outside of my budget range for now. And all I know from my nephew's mother is a list of things she doesn't want, which makes it easier to avoid the bigger screwups but doesn't actually get me anywhere with the job at hand.
We'll probably all be continuing our increasingly desperate efforts (my parents have no idea either, and I wouldn't be surprised if my brother and his GF were feeling the same) during our stay in England.
Update: Success! I've got something for all but one of the party, and that last gap will be filled in by me and my parents together while in England.

Message to readers and co-bloggers

In another 8 hours, I'll be dragged from my bed, given just enough time to put some clothes on, and shunted into the back of a car that will take me to Eindhoven airport, and from there into a Ryanair plane to Stanstead, UK, and finally into a train taking me to Peterborough where I'll celebrate Christmas with the extended family. I will probably have some internet access in Peterborough, but it will be more intermittant than normal.
Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan is updated until the day of my return, the 27th (late. Very late). If anything goes wrong or looks strange, contact me through the usual channels. Jeroen may also be able to fix any error from the studio, using my FTP information in WSFTP, but if not, I will be able to do it eventually.
I wouldn't mind a few posts to the blog from Einar, cmkaapjes, Rahball or Geir, so that the page doesn't look empty when I come back. If there's another wave of comment spam, use the despamming links at the bottom of the transcripts you get of each comment to a post you've made, and take it from there.
Jeroen: if the studio monitor breaks down, as I expect it will, I'll take care of things when I return. I've put aside some money for just that sort of thing. Don't forget to water the big plant, OK?
And merry Christmas, every one of you!

January 3, 2005

Scotty goes to Benidorm

A hilarious post on A Fistful of Euros in which Scott Martens recounts his experiences at a last-minute vacation in, of all places, Benidorm:


Starting with English breakfasts (eggs, bacon, sausage, sliced white bread toast, cooked tomatos and baked beans) and continuing with menus that prominently display the ever-present availability of fish and chips or bangers and mash, the cuisine of Benidorm is more English than any I have ever actually seen in England. In most of the world, serving English food is not something one brags about.

Continue reading "Scotty goes to Benidorm" »

January 11, 2005

Open source beer, free as in speech.

Vores Øl is a Danish beer whose recipe and label art are released under a Creative Commons licence ("Attribution & Share Alike").


Why beer?

Why not? We all like beer, and as an added bonus there is a legendary quote used to explain the concept of free software (now usually referred to as open source software):


"Free software" is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of "free" as in "free speech", not as in "free beer".

We think that our open source beer is a nice twist on this quote, and we think it is interesting to see if our beer grows stronger in out in the free and perhaps one day becomes the Linux of beers. Who knows?

(via Boing Boing)

February 4, 2005

But, but, but...

... I can tell how much milk there is in my tea by looking at my tea!
The sock thing is pure genius though.

February 16, 2005

Watch her climb!

From Alas, a Blog comes proof that babies are descended from monkeys. This great photo series of his youngest housemate Sidney climbing a ladder, and then a raised bed, reminded me of the same behaviour in my nephew Kyle, who likes to climb stairs, a lot. Like Sidney, he's quite happy to start again if you pick him up and carry him back to the bottom. It's the journey, not the destination, that matters to these kids.

March 2, 2005

Now this, I say this is unseasonable

These past few weeks, I've enjoyed hearing people complain about the weather. The second half of February saw occasional nighttime frost and bits of snow, which was not at all unseasonal and not that hard to deal with. We've been spoiled this past decade. Being able to sunbathe and swim outdoors in mid-to-late April, that was abnormal.
Today, however, Groningen is under a thick blanket of snow, and at least one night of arctic frost (-15C) has been forecast. Buses aren't riding, schools have closed, traffic has ground to a halt. Going to the baker's today to get bread was an expedition, not just because I had to trudge through the snow myself, but because my favorite baker was himself late at the shop and I had to go to another one.

Continue reading "Now this, I say this is unseasonable" »

Snow, then and now

Because the snowfall today reminded me of 1979, I asked my parents to send me some pictures taken then. They also sent me some recent ones that they made to show their email friends what it was like. The old pictures were in bad shape - I've done a minimal amount of contrast enhancement to make them readable.

Continue reading "Snow, then and now" »

March 20, 2005

Hardware trouble at home

My six-year-old CRT monitor has finally decided it doesn't want to switch on anymore. Right now, I'm using an even older monitor that still works, for a given definition of "work". It hurts my eyes to look at it, so I'll have to replace the monitor as soon as I can. I've been preparing for this for some time, so it's not a really major problem, and it certainly won't stop work on my comics.
Once again, though, I am turning to you to ask for advice. I've been looking into LCD monitors, but while I'd like to replace the space-hogging old monitor with something leaner, I'm not sure they're worth the price differential that still exists between LCD and even good CRT monitors. And I wonder if I won't run into a whole bunch of linux support problems (it seems SuSE 9.0 came with drivers for some flatscreens, but not many of them). So for someone who uses linux at home, doesn't care much about gaming, but does want to be able to create colour art on the machine should the mood strike him, what do you recommend? I have some money set aside for this, but not a huge amount.

I think monitors are more generic than most other pieces of computer hardware, and that an LCD monitor that isn't directly supported would probably work with a bit of tweaking, but I'm not so sure about that that I'm just going to plunk down Euro and (more importantly) spend time on the first monitor that catches my fancy. Information on the internets has been disappointingly rare (plus unfamiliar web sites are a pain to browse on the monitor I am using now).

By the way, that sound card I bought two months ago? It's still in the box. I haven't had a solid block of time to spare for it since then. I was hoping I'd be able to install it during those two weeks off, but they're already getting eaten at all ends.

Answers and recommendations to reinder@despammed.com or to the Forum.

Continue reading "Hardware trouble at home" »

April 6, 2005

The horrific phallus


Just got my art guidelines for the Anthrocon art show. Behold their rules about what must go in the "mature" gallery:

"Any depiction of excessive violence or bloodshed, such as bloody massacres, someone being eaten alive, body parts blown away, murder victims lying in a pool of blood"

"Full frontal nudity"

"Exposed genitalia"

"Visible erections, even if partially hidden by clothing"

"Any depiction of sexual acts, except as outright prohibited below"

(these being images appearing to depict child or human/non-anthro porn.)


I'm not surprised, of course. Nor does it matter to me, as fuzzballs don't fit any of these categories.

But once again it highlights the inexplicable hysteria surrounding sex. All right, it's not inexplicable, it's to make sure no child, under any circumstances, can see something curious that will lead them to ask their parents an EMBARRASSING QUESTION! God forbid a child want to know why that wolfman has a big bulge in his trousers.

But the violent things they're describing are downright scary! Which implies that the things that come after it are equally scary. That is to say, they have the potential to distress and upset viewers and therefore must be locked away. I think it's sad that a "visible erection" must be a cause for alarm instead of joy.

I also wonder at the lumping-together of these extremely violent pictures and the sex pictures. What if I went in to see the nude beasties, but was confronted by scenes of carnage? Why am I assumed to be able to deal with images of terrible mutilation just because I am keen to see a penis?

I know all the real answers, of course. It's to prevent complaints and legal action, and who has the time or resources to set up the Room of Gore and the Room of Earthly Delights separately?


But in lumping these things together as Forbiddens, it sends a terrible message about naughty bits. All the violent things mentioned are considered terrible crimes. If an erection is as Forbidden as a mutilation, good heavens, it must be a dreadful thing!

Save us! It's a penis!

The coolest fashion accesory ever!

Browsing through one of the zillion blogs I seem to be reading these days in my pursuit of a career as a professional procrastinator, I came across the coolest fashion accesory ever: The original Tom Baker/Dr. Who scarf!


With knitting instructions! Either I must find someone to knit it for me, or learn to do it myself, because this is certainly a must-have!

Through the Cartoonist: The history of Tom Baker's scarves.

600

While emptying out the contents of a cardboard box that had been cluttering up my flat for some time and that I wanted to throw out, I found a peak flow meter from an asthma medicine trial I took part in some 7 or 8 years ago. A peak flow meter is a tube you blow in, which then tells you the peak output of your lungs. It was the only thing from the box I didn't end up throwing away; instead, I washed it and then had a tootle. So I can now announce to the blogosphere that my peak flow is 600 liters per minute. That's a pretty good result: it's very close to my top result during the trial, it indicates a normal lung capacity and shows that my lung capacity hasn't shrunk since taking the trial, despite living and working in environments that are really too dusty for me and my allergies (I'm working on it!). Then again, the dust causes me to sneeze a lot, possibly maintaining that capacity.
Over the years I've occasionally considered taking part in another trial some time, whether for money or for the good of the asthma-suffering population. I always learn something about my health, and I get to keep stuff like that peak flow meter.

April 17, 2005

Sunday Cycling: A little shopping trip and tea party, with wildlife spotting thrown in

Today, Sidsel and I resumed Sunday Cycling! We were going to have only a practice trip, but as usual, our actual trajectory bore only a passing resemblance to our "planned" itinerary.

Continue reading "Sunday Cycling: A little shopping trip and tea party, with wildlife spotting thrown in" »

April 18, 2005

I got a Deviant Art site!

While I was waiting for my cold to go away, I started up a Deviant Art thingummybob! Dunno what I'll do with it just yet, I just thought I'd test it out a bit and slap my name on a website that has a big community attached to it. I'm sure there will be more art on there soon-ish!

April 27, 2005

The search for the Netherlands' dirtiest child

Are you, or do you know someone who is, the dirtiest child in the Netherlands? Can you walk out the door, freshly showered and in your best clothes, and get grime on you before you're past the garden fence? Does dirt like you? Then the parenting magazine J/M wants your story as part of their celebration of Annie M.G. Schmidt week, May 17-23. Annie M.G. Schmidt was the Netherlands' best-loved childrens' book writer, and this year's featured character is Floddertje, a little girl with a penchant for getting very very filthy indeed.

If you're not the dirtiest child in the Netherlands, you can still go to the Floddertje website to enjoy Fiep Westendorp's fantastic illustrations (see Voorpublicatie).

April 29, 2005

Yes, Virginia, there is a Kitten Collective

Resistance is futile. (Via)

May 17, 2005

Cor blimey, this ain't 'alf useful!

This list of British slang phrases is so extensive that it managed to put me right on a few things (see "Bomb", II, for example, which I thought meant the same in Britspeak as in American parlance). There are a few items where I think the writer is explaining terms that are actually in use in some parts of the US though.

May 25, 2005

Sunday Cycling: Close Encounters of the Black-Tailed Godwit Kind

Last year's Sunday Cycling reports focused on the places we went to and the strange, winding trajectories we took to get to them. I think we've exhausted that angle by now; indeed most places look very familiar to us now. This year, I will focus instead on the things we saw along the way.
We spot a lot more now. Instead of looking through the landscape for landmarks to tell us where we are, we now look into it for things that are different from last time, for birds, animals, unusual scenes. At least, that's how it seems to me; I can't speak for Sidsel.

Continue reading "Sunday Cycling: Close Encounters of the Black-Tailed Godwit Kind" »

June 10, 2005

How not to write ad copy for Google ads

Do I even need to bother to make the snarky joke here? I don't need training for this! I'm as skilled in the art of procrastination as a person could possibly be.

Which is more than I can say about the copywriting skills of whoever came up with this one. I know it's tricky to get it right in so little space, but honestly.

June 27, 2005

Off to Denmark

I'm off to Kopenhagen for a short vacation. See you around in a week or so. I may update the blog and/or the forum with vacation reports but I'm not promising anything. Not a damned thing!

Update: I am there, and I'm being taken excellent care off. The hotel is so nice I have trouble getting myself to leave!

July 4, 2005

Back from Denmark

I'm back from Denmark! I'm very tired but I want to write up a report just so I can go back and look at it later. In the absense of a decent memory, I'm gonna need a written record. In fact, the first couple of days are already becoming a bit of a blur.

Last time I was in Denmark, I kept a detailed journal in the forum. This time, I'll jot down my memories here as they pop up in my head. I did have internet access thanks to the hotel and Sven's iBook, but unlike that time, I had very little time or inclination to type up long posts. You'll have to make do with a reconstruction of events after the fact!

Continue reading "Back from Denmark" »

July 15, 2005

I needed that!

Yesterday I got to do a few things that I missed out on during the Denmark vacation. They involved another long cycling trip (but on a much-traveled route so I won't bore you with that), spotting seals in the wild, getting stung by jellyfish, getting my blood drained by hornets, getting my food stolen by large, evil-looking gulls, and being told that my swimsuit would fetch a large sum at an online auction for being vintage. Yup, I took a bike/ferry/bike ride to Schiermonnikoog again, with Sidsel and Stephen. And it was good. Could have missed out on the overcrowding in the return ferry (last ride of the day) though, and I'm sure Stephen could have missed out on finding out that his back tire, tube and indeed the whole wheel weren't up to the task of a long trip. Fortunately, that happened with only 7 kilometers to go so his improvised repairs held for long enough to get home.
An afternoon at the beach. I needed that. Now, I think I can get back to work.

July 21, 2005

Creative contest

Reinder and I were sitting in a bar with some friends tonight and noticed this peculiar coaster. A beer commercial, with two males and a female not quite comfortable sitting drinking beer. There's a weird subtext there, but we're not quite sure what. We'd like your help in figuring out what it is. (pictures behind the cut)

Continue reading "Creative contest" »

July 22, 2005

Creative contest 2

Thanks, Collin Branko, for sending in the first entries to our Waffle Creative contest! Behind the cut:

Continue reading "Creative contest 2" »

Creative contest 3

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Thanks Danny! for another wonderful entry to our Creative contest:

Update: also entries from Geir Strøm and Adam Cuerden!

Continue reading "Creative contest 3" »

July 26, 2005

Post-modern fashion accessories

He wears black turtlenecks, black trousers, black shoes and a stern, cool expression. His hair is closely-cropped but his face has five o'clock shadow. He completes the artiste look with a musical instrument.

A ukelele.

Red Wall and Uke

He gets away with it too, the bastard. He is Sven, of the Playmobil movies, our host during our trips to Denmark.

July 29, 2005

Wait wait wait

Allergies are a cause of headaches? Why, in 25 years of having headaches (and 29 years since I was first diagnosed with asthma and allergies), didn't anyone tell me? I've blamed everything over the years, from cafeine and sleep deprivation (despite the fact that sleeping tends to provoke the headaches) to my glasses. But never allergies - that was always a problem with my lungs and my sinuses. If the problem was treatable with allergy medicines, then the year's worth of life that I've lost to this problem would have been spent doing productive and fun things (compared to lying in bed moaning and trying not to throw up, a low standard, but I'll accept it) instead.
It makes me want to go out and murder some doctors for being bloody useless, it does.

August 5, 2005

Noteworthy addition to the English language

From the comments at Europhobia:

If they seriously believed 'hey, the nice al qaeda man made me a flour bomb, bet it would be funny to let that off on a bus' then they are not exactly the bushiest beard in the mosque.
Nothing to add on the substance of the post, I just like that expression and suggest we all adopt it.

August 26, 2005

Reporting live from my state of mind (includes Illustration Friday contribution)

I spent last evening drawing angry art. I started out copying some LOTR movie orcs as a kind of study for a snarly, monstrous drawing I had in mind I had in my mind, inspired by a Szukalski piece and an unfinished drawing Yonaka showed me. Then I got sidetracked and drew angry self-portraits instead. The one on the right came out pretty close to the way I've been feeling lately - full of pent-up hatred. (Note: It's been a while since my head was last shaved, so I don't actually look like this right now. But the skinhead factor makes these portraits work better.)
This one didn't work quite as well, but is still interesting enough to show here. It's more contemptuous than angry, so it doesn't quite project my mood as well as the first.

I wonder how it would affect people's responses if I used one of these as a message board avatar. People's avatars tend to be either clear fantasies or cute, benign images. Would my postings on message boards be seen as more inflammatory if they were flanked by a portrait of the artist as a man seething with hate?

The pose implied in the first self-portrait, looking over one hunched shoulder, and the bald head, reminded me of the movie Nosferatu, so here's a not-very-good drawing of me as Count Nosfereinder, Eldritch Creature of the Night. While working on these drawings, something happened to my 5B pencil. The lead had got loose in the wooden shaft, causing it to shift inside. In the end, I pulled the lead out and used it like I would a graphite pencil. Without the ability to sharpen reliably, I couldn't get a fine line out of it anymore, which affected the Nosfereinder drawing. Not to blame my tools of course; I deliberately continued with this modified pencil, trying to see what I could do with it. Unfortunately the answer is "not much" especially because a very thin 5B lead is prone to snap.

With those and other drawings (which you won't get to see because they're pretty bad), I got my anger out of my system. Just prior to waking up this morning, I had an odd dream.

Continue reading "Reporting live from my state of mind (includes Illustration Friday contribution)" »

September 14, 2005

Happy happy joy joy

Happy birthday to Waffler supreme: Reinder!

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September 18, 2005

Pirates? Let'em walk the plank, I say.

Tomorrow, as Branko and others remind me, is Talk Like a Pirate Day. How fast a year rolls around! It seemed like only yesterday that people were going "Arr, matey" and "Shiver me timbers" randomly in online conversations and submitting sexy pirate drawings to DeviantArt.
Come to think of it, it was yesterday. And the day before, and the day before that, and generally every damned day since September 19, 2004. Every day is Talk Like a Pirate Day now.
It's been done, milked, sucked dry and then bled until it was just a hollow shell of what it was even two years ago (when I first heard of it). It's not funny anymore. So I propose that we just forget about the whole thing for a year or so, and pretend that all those people going "Arr" are all Devonshire farmers. Farmers. Yes, that will work. Farmers with eyepatches and parrotsducks. No pirates here, no sirree. And that's no sea shanty we be singin' but a traditional ploughin' song. Avast, bucko, sheep ahoy! Prepare to board!
By the way, if I never see a ninja, monkey or robot anymore it'll be too soon.

P.S. But that keyboard Branko linked to? That's still pretty funny.

(Late correction: that should be Devonshire, not Lancashire. The idea was that that area was where the pirate lingo came from)

September 19, 2005

Note on my door this morning

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I know Reinder wants to skip it this year, but I found it fun to notice more and more people in these here usually pirateless parts share in the fun of Arr! Yarr! and Shiver me timbers!

September 23, 2005

I was going to raise him another pony but the commenters beat me to it

Dsquared at Crooked Timber:

No matter how ludicrous your predictions, if they are sufficiently wildly utopian, then your thinking has a greater expected value than anyone else’s (see here for the general idea). Thus, if Kurzweil reckons that we will upload our consciousness onto software and live for ever as pure energy on the internet, then I say all that and a pony too! Not just any old pony by the way, but a super technonanopony! Which eats racism and shits pure gasoline … on the internet! Oh yeh and we will constantly be having multiple orgasms … and not just the normal kind either (more details to come). You might say that it’s pretty unlikely and I’ve failed to spell out important details, but as long as there is at least some probability that I’m right, then I am more important than Ray Kurzweil to the tune nU^(-rT), where U is the utility of a magic pony, n is the probability I’m right, r is the discount rate and T is the time it will take to sort us all out with one. Keep reading CT folks, because in expected value terms, it is only going to become more important!!

September 28, 2005

The most awesome public intellectuals ever

Remember this? I went back to the post at Crooked Timber to make my final offer consisting of all of Ray Kurzweil's predictions, two ponies and the confident prediction that I'd be an even more awesome thinker in the future than I am now. What I should have tossed in the mix was the prediction that Fafnir and Giblets would win. In addition to predicting that the speed of thought will exceed the speed of speed, Fafnir offers:

In the Future, man will be able to predict the future so effortlessly he will know what he is going to predict before he predicts it. Most of his predictions will involve predicting the predictions he is about to predict. Occasionally he will attempt to predict if women will have sex with him; they will not.

which is game, set and match unless the Medium Lobster can come up with something better.

October 1, 2005

Queesting?

This review of The Meaning of Tingo by Adam Jacot de Boinod mentions one Dutch word listed in the book:

QUEESTING Dutch

Allowing a lover access to one's bed, under the covers, for a chit-chat.

I for one have never heard this word in my life. Will check a dictionary when I go home. The German words in the review sound dodgy to me as well.

Update: Looks like the word existed in Dutch but the custom it referred to is now disused. See Item no.33 on this page.

(Also: Oooh! Emblems! I did a course on emblems once, as an aspiring cartoonist with an interest in historical subjects should. Emblems, with their specific set of rules for combining text and images, were a related art form to the modern comic. Interestingly, Jean-Marc van Tol, who I also mentioned a few days ago, studied medieval literature. The most striking feature, apart from the birdies with penises, of Fokke & Sukke is the consistent use of a motto above each cartoon, which has to be taken in with the graphic and the dialogue. Coincidence, or a surreptitious influence of emblematic literature?)

October 9, 2005

From Reinder's house of half-baked ideas...

While cycling through our lovely province, Sidsel and I often point at noteworthy buildings going "That's a charming little abode! Wouldn't it be nice to have a studio in there?" The properties we select for this are invariably old gentlemen farmers' houses – castle-sized Saxon barns with sizeable living quarters for the farmer and family and posh façades to impress the labourers with. There's a semi-serious dream of ours, to have a rustically-located workplace for a group of artists, behind this running gag. Sidsel in fact has a serious opening for a suitable property that her parents are willing to back her up on if she wants to buy it. That place, described by Sidsel as a castle, is for sale at a price that you could, at best, buy a broom cupboard for in Amsterdam*); what makes it hard for her to decide about this is that it's back home in Denmark.
Cycling through De Marne today, we saw another promising place that we took a more than usually serious look at. This 19th-century bar, located opposite the church in Hornhuizen, has a lot of space and a good deal of daylight coming through the windows. It could house a studio on the second floor and the bar area could be converted to a gallery.

We've noticed on our trips that a lot of artists do this. Hornhuizen, a small village, already has several galleries. It's not hard to figure out why: the De Marne area is economically disadvantaged so the real estate goes for a much lower price than similar properties elsewhere would. In addition, the area is really, really nice. The rural landscape is wide open - flat without being featureless. Scattered around it are villages that have mostly kept their rural style, with most of the buildings being more than a century old and decaying romantically. The sea is nearby; a short bike trip from anywhere within De Marne will take you to the sea dike where you can enjoy the view of the tidal marshes and be free from the noise of cars. In the silence there, you can hear the sheep (the sea dikes' dominant species) chew and flocks of oystercatchers twitter from near the horizon. No wonder the area's a magnet for artists and for slightly eccentric businesses that wouldn't stand a chance anywhere else.
But there'd also be downsides to living and working there. After a year or so, the relative lack of nightlife and the distance from the city would stop being so appealing. Many of those eccentric businesses and galleries fail or hang on by the skins of their owners' teeth. Country life may seem nice for a few weeks, but it isn't for everyone.

So while cycling away from that interesting little alehouse, I thought it might be better for that place to keep some of its old functionality and become a hotel or a retreat for artists – a place where they could spend a few weeks getting away from it all, recharge their creative batteries and take in some new influences, while continuing to work.

I'm gonna spend some time thinking about that. It just might work.

*) You will have to bring your own broom.

October 11, 2005

Flu update

I'm not feeling too bad, but I'm quarantaining myself anyway. For a while I was a little puzzled that the disease seemed to be stuck at the "sore throat" stage, but I now seem to be moving beyond that to the stage where all the interesting stuff happens - interesting if you like mucus. Sucks, but at least it's progressing.

I've actually been able to do some of those behind-the-scenes things I mentioned from home. More on that later.

October 12, 2005

Flu update 2

If what I've got is flu at all, it's the slowest-progressing I've ever had. Day 3 and I've just about got a bit of a dry cough going. It may be a completely unrelated thing. I'd see a doctor except the waiting room would be filled with people who really do have influenza, so if I didn't have it already I'd come back with it.
For a moment, I thought it was the ibuprofen slowing down the disease's progress. Much as I like having only mild symptoms, I don't want this to drag on, so I stopped taking it. My symptoms are still unusually mild; even my head is clear enough to work at the home computer, which I did.
My attempt at quarantaining myself (as an exercise in preparedness in case of an Avian Flu pandemic) was defeated this morning by my 84-year-old neighbour who rang my doorbell and hugged me when she found I was all right. Very sweet of her – I just hope she doesn't catch her death for her troubles.
Unless my symptoms change significantly, I'm going to spend a few hours at the studio today. I'll bring disinfectant tissues just in case.

October 31, 2005

Sunday Cycling: Noordpolderzijl

It was the warmest, sunniest October 30 ever, so Sidsel and I went for one more cycling trip. (This year, I ended up not writing about most of our trips, so to recap: no, we haven't stopped going even though both of us had fewer opportunities this year than in 2004). We'd read that Jeroen had gone to Noordpolderzijl and it looked nice in his pictures so we decided to go there as well.

Interestingly, it was exactly a year ago that we'd last been to Noordpolderzijl. The contrast between 2004 and 2005 was enormous: On October 30, 2004, the winter carrot harvest was going on in the Noordpolder, and the entire area was covered in muck. I remember the air being humid as well, but as I didn't take pictures or leave a record of conditions in the blog (bad blogger! No cookie!), I may be wrong. This year, the weather had been fine for a few days and while the area's main crop for 2005 was another root vegetable, sugar beets, the harvesting process didn't seem to have left as much of a mess. We also had more luck riding the north side of the sea dike, which is the nice side with the pretty view of the tidal marshes. The sheep were out in force again though. We had one slightly hairy moment when we passed a fence to a seqment of the dike where a group of horses were grazing: they were startled into a panic by us barging into their enclosure on our bikes, and started running around. Otherwise, the trip was uneventful; the only other problem was the stiff southwesterly wind on our way back. Note for next year: bring sunglasses. The low late October sun can be a bit of a nuisance.

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!

November 21, 2005

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.

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.

December 6, 2005

Once more with the Happy Holidays theme

Good post by Publius that articulates some thoughts I was forming about politically correct holiday greetings. Read-worthy.

St. Nick in New York City

Tonight is St. Nicholas Eve.

Tonight we leave out our shoes, in hopes that St. Nicholas will leave a chocolate or other small gift. Tonight St. Nicholas rides his white horse, giving presents.

St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra, is the patron saint of New York City. (That's why, in the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, Santa Claus arrives last in the train. It's a patron's celebration.)

[...]

St. Nicholas is a saint in the Catholic and the Orthodox churches, and is honored among Protestants. When the Twin Towers fell, they fell on St. Nicholas' Orthodox church, which held some of his relics. Those relics were never found, and are now mixed with those of other New Yorkers from that attack.

[...]

We should not speak here of Black Peter, who accompanies St. Nicholas on his rounds. Black Peter beats bad children with his cane. You were wondering what candy canes were all about, eh?

But we have all been good. We have put out our shoes.

I had no idea that St. Nicholas' Eve was celebrated in its original form anywhere outside of the Dutch-speaking part of the world. You learn something new everyday. Thanks, Jim at Making Light.


Addendum: Next year, we should use Krampus in the Chronicles of the Witch Queen Christmas special.

December 7, 2005

Thieves!

As I am increasingly busy in the field of webdesign (this is Jeroen writing) I thougt to see what Macromedia Dreamweaver costs these days, it being one of the leading webdesign tools around. I've worked with an early version of it (3.0 if I recall) and I had quite liked it.
On the macromedia website Dreamweaver is said to cost $ 399. Not cheap, but as software goes, not ridiculously expensive I guess. I proceed to the online store. Please select country. Ok, sure, I live in the Netherlands.
Now, to my astonishment, the product, Dreamweaver 8.0, no longer costs 399 dollars, but 479 EURO's (ex vat).
Woah!
I convert dollars into euro's and lo and behold, 399 dollars makes for 340.27 euro's. Isn't that odd? I'm supposed to pay 139 euro's (163 USD) extra for living in the Netherlands?
They have got to be kidding! Daylight robbery I say!

January 24, 2006

Life and work update

I've been quiet on this here blog lately, haven't I? Apart from not wanting to blog for the sake of blogging anymore (eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that I've trimmed off the "blogospheric" stuff like my Ecosystem details), I've been very immersed in Headsmen which has turned out to be a very work-intensive project. Especially my late decision to colour it kept me very busy. Even with the new approach to colouring in layers, it still took at least 20 hours a week out of my schedule for two weeks, and left me feeling rather sore in the arms at the end of the day. By the way, I haven't forgotten my promise to describe my new coloring procedure.

Headsmen has been worth it, though. Although there are one or two things that I found very difficult to draw, most of the pages have turned out better than anything I've ever drawn before. I will want to fix some of the colorings before attempting to get it printed, but that will be easy with the new layer organisation.

It's turned out to be pretty popular as well: since the start of the storyline, the number of readers has been up consistently, and readers have been browsing the archives more thoroughly than ever. Of course, the new readers didn't appear by magic: I announced the new story in many places and paid for advertising on some prominent sites. Most noticeably, I advertised on DeviantArt and the webcomic Something Positive. The two ads I posted at DeviantArt were my first attempt at paid promotion outside the webcomics world. They worked reasonably well at getting many people to take a look at my website, but most of them didn't follow up much. The advertising on Something Positive, though, was wildly succesful with over 2000 people visiting and quite a few of them absolutely devouring the archives. The only downside to the ad was that it didn't run nearly as long as promised, which I should remember to talk to the sales rep about.
For those of you who are interested in these things: during the first week Headsmen was running, my visitor numbers climbed to over 700 a day on several days of the week, with pageviews reaching over 8000 on the same days - the highest numbers I'd had since August of 2001. The Som*Pos ad on Thursday, Jan. 19 pushed those numbers up to new records of 2067 visitors on Thursday and 65000 pageviews on Friday. I'm still getting over 15000 pageviews a day although the numbers of visitors has dropped back to only a little over that for the days just before the ad.
I believe that for the health of webcomics as a whole, it is important that they are promoted outside of the webcomics fanbase. However, promotion to people who already know about webcomics is much more likely to be immediately effective. A combination of the two is best, but if you're on a low budget, as all of us are, you should concentrate on bang-for-the-buck spots like Something Positive. I'll be on the lookout for similar but unrelated sites to advertise on.
So, I got a bit sore in the arms from all that work, so I've been away from the computer more outside of work. I did a lot of reading: I finished several Simon R. Green novels which on the whole I liked, and am now reading Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell which I like a lot.
To be less dependent on Instant Messaging for contact with my bandmates and friends while working in the studio, I've finally broken down and bought a cheap cell phone. As I don't want to become one of those people who yak into their cells on the street, it's usually switched off unless I'm actually at the workplace, but the fact remains that I've let myself be dragged kicking and screaming into the 1990s. Not that it's an unwieldy 1990s model; while not exactly the latest pimped-up model it's small enough for me to have already mislaid it and been unable to find it for almost a whole day.
What else? Didn't see any concerts or movies, hardly found time to do essential chores such as taking my bikes to the repair shop - they're all in a terrible state. Work, work, work, has been all that filled my days these past four weeks.
That's going to change for now, but I'll still be busy. I have finished Headsmen and uploaded its follow-up, Alchemists from 1992, which I prepared for the web earlier. In all, that gives me five weeks to prepare the story after that, The Death Warrant from 1993, and do the promised work on Alcydia over on the Chronicles of the Witch Queen website. Today, though, I'll be off to the library to read magazines and work on the next Gang of Four script, which is due soon. Er, that is, the artwork is due soon, the script was due two weeks ago. But I'll catch up.
The Death Warrant will take until June to complete so I won't be spending such long weeks in the studio after this week.

February 27, 2006

Bicycle repair question for readers in Groningen

Question for my readers in Groningen (I know there are quite a few):
Given that bicycle repair shop Herman van der Meulen in the Oosterhamrikkade have failed three times in a row to fix my brake permanently, that the guys at Vincent van Ellen in the Oude Ebbingestraat are a little too concerned with keeping their precious shop floor squeaky clean and that the skilled craftsmen at the Ferwerda complex of bicycle shops covering half the Steentilstraat would rather laugh at my lack of mechanical savvy than take my money for goods provided or services rendered, where should I go if I want to have my bicycle repaired? I'd prefer shops that are open on Monday morning or at other times when I might actually need them, but proven ability to fix things so that they stay fixed has a higher priority than that. Let me know.

March 8, 2006

Uppallageez

Ah spind sow mutch tiem o teh Inntarneit reidin mispelt writtin thta Iv'e lorst teh abbillitee ta spel, tyep r prufreid. Soree. Alsow, thee Funie Kyoot bloger iz cawled Katie Rice, ont "Nice", liek Iw roat urlier. Appolloggees an Ih've carected meye mistaek.

March 10, 2006

So next week I'll hop over to the optician and use my remaining hand to put my new glasses on.

When I dragged myself out of bed this morning, I reached for my glasses and found the frame broken in two! I do recall leaning on them when I got out of bed in the middle of the night to use the bathroom... It was immediately clear to me that any repairs would have to be a strictly temporary matter, but what can you do? I dug up a pair of rancid old glasses I still had lying around, then took the broken glasses to the optician to get them soldered back in one piece, then spent the rest of the morning getting my eyes re-tested for both glasses and contact lenses and shopping for not one, but two replacement pairs. I'm being very thorough here, but I have to be: in addition to being old and gnarly and not very fashionable and weighing a tonne, those 16-year-old glasses are misaligned and give me a headache if I wear them for too long. The glasses that just broke, on the other hand, were very good to me for the six years that they lasted, so I used the same shop I bought them from and had them fix me up with nice, good new ones.

Shopping for glasses is pretty difficult for me. I have a strong prescription (minus six and a bit on both eyes) so standard glasses go well into the size category known as "bottle bottoms" - I need the spiffy, thinly-slised, ultra-cybernetic-precision glasses if I don't want to look like an idiot and permanently scar the bridge of my nose. Even then, I still can't have large glasses whether they're in fashion or not, and the trend of the moment, frames that are mercifully small but rectangular, disagree with the shape of my face. The guy who tested my eyes was in luck; he had a very angular, square-jawed face that rectangular glasses look perfect on. I on the other hand have a face made of curves, and poorly-defined ones at that. Also, I have prominent eyebrows so anything that emphasises those makes me look like I'm permanently scowling. The best I can hope for is a small, curvy frame that isn't too conspicuous. In the end, I found two frames that I can wear, one expensive model and a cheap one that the optician will throw in for the price of just one glass. The cheap one also gets the spiffy glassware in it, so I was still out by € 600 in total, which I agreed to pay without even blinking.
I didn't balk at the sudden expense because, for one thing, I will probably last out the rest of the decade and more with those glasses. My prescription strength hasn't changed since 1991, which is very rare, and I have a good track record at making glasses last. Also, I had been sort of expecting it. A few weeks ago, I couldn't find my glasses, and had to go through a similar procedure of finding the old, gnarly pair and then using that to locate my regular one. Doing that made me realise that my regular glasses were getting a bit old, fragile and scratched, weren't too up-to-date anymore, and hey, maybe contact lens technology has developed since I last tried contacts, so maybe I wouldn't have the same problems with them again as I had in 1996?
Oh, yeah, contacts. I also bought a pack of one-day contacts for those rare days when I'm not at a computer all the time. I'll test the water again with these. Another stroke of luck with my amazing eyeballs: not only are they stable, but the eye correction they need is the same for both, so I could simply get one pack of day contacts off the shelf. I will need to re-learn putting them in though, so I've got an appointment with the contact lens specialist for that too, bringing the total to three: One on Thursday for contact lens practice, one tomorrow to pick up the repaired glasses, and one at a date to be announced to pick up the new ones.
I can afford the new glasses out of my buffer money (I no longer think of it as savings, but rather as a fund for precisely these sorts of expenses) but even taking into account that it was sort-of expected and high-priority, it's still € 600 that I would have prefered, all told, to keep in my pocket. I'll be lucky if my insurance covers even a fraction of it. So don't be surprised if I start waving my Paypal button at the Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan readership again...

March 13, 2006

Quick life and work stuff.

  • I like writing Gang of Four episodes set in the school, but I fecking hate drawing them. They always take forever to do.
  • Running regularly and swimming when I feel like putting in more exercise have not resulted in measurable weight loss, not that I have a whole lot to lose but a pound or two off would have been reasonable. However, I do have more stamina and energy and my face is getting less pudgy. For one reason, fat always goes to my face, which is why there are pictures of me taken when I weighed no more than the 70 kilogrammes I do now, but in which I look like Jabba the Hutt or even Marlon Brando in his final years.
  • I need: new trousers, repairs to the dryer, a new electric toaster oven, or microwave/toaster combo, a new fridge, a new computer desk and a TV or at the very least a TV card to watch the next Doctor Who season with.
  • I want: a desktop-model Mac. No, I don't need one as both my home PC and my iBook are in good working order. No, I don't have a business case for buying one as Photoshop works perfectly well on the studio PC. I just want one, to complete my entry into smelly wankerdom.
  • I am now definitely in the market for some form of regular (if temporary and/or part-time)employment. If Donna Barr can be a bus driver to pay for unexpected expenses, then so can I. Apart from the not having a driver's license bit.
  • "Pay for unexpected expenses" includes getting a higher credit limit on my card. All my life I've had an almost pathological fear of getting into debt. But debt is perfectly justifiable if buying now and paying later allows for a higher quality of life than I'm enjoying now. As long as it isn't at the level where you can't pay it back.
  • Now that I'm a member of a Viking-oriented club within DeviantArt, I keep seeing posts there from people with Finntroll quotes in their signatures. Because I don't follow the metal scene much, I hadn't realised that they'd become so big, although the reception they got at their concert last year should have tipped me off. If I have a bit of time, I should take a look at their lyrics and draw some troll art based on them. I've been meaning to do that for over a year but always within the context of the ROCR/Gnomian Republic universe. Now, I think just drawing it in the form of single illustrations would be fun and would interest enough people to gain me some popularity there on DA.
  • When Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan returns to showing new material, there may be big changes, bigger than I've let on so far. Or not.
  • If there isn't a special place in Hell for password retrieval system builders who insist on sending you a new password when you've forgotten your old one, so that you have to remember that new password long enough to reset it in every single browser you'll ever log in to the site with, I'll gladly help build one. People are more likely to forget passwords than remember them and people will login from more than one location. Combine these two facts and you have a situation where users will drive themselves to the point where they go "screw it, I'll just use a password I can guess, and just to be sure, I'll write it down," and once they start doing that, they won't just do it for sites that have low risks involved. I'm looking at you, DeviantArt, now tell me what my old password is.

March 18, 2006

Here's a guy with his head screwed on straight.

Pete Ashton:

Oddly, or maybe not, I've been contemplating putting myself forward for medical trials, the logic being as follows: 1) The noise made over the recent TGN1412 thing implies these things don't go wrong very often. 2) At the same time a significant number of people will be put off applying so they'll be looking for guineapigs. 3) I've been known to spend a couple of weeks feeling grotty and not getting anything done so I might as well get paid for it. 4) A couple of grand would free me up for a month or so of book writing. 5) Blog fodder! (Oh, altruism and for the good of mankind and all that too...)

Quite right. I've been thinking about it myself. The horror of the TGN1412 incident is making me fearful at an emotional level, but this is the first such incident I've ever heard of in my lifetime, and after that, the organisations doing those tests are going to be extra-super-cautious. This would be a good time to go into medical testing.

However, spending a month cooped up is just not on, so no test that involves that (as some do) will be considered.

Housecleaning

I finished up the 9th Gang of 4 page on Wednesday. Since then I've been doing some housecleaning, both mental and actual.

People who have visited my house in the past few years know that it's usually a great big mess, and readers of this blog may remember that on several other occasions, I've made attempts to get through the backlog of mail and other stuff that has piled up over the years and clear some working space. This time, though, I have a little more time for the project, and I'm making real headway. Slowly but steadily, my incoming correspondence (most of it from my bank and other institutions like that) gets sorted into junk, outdated stuff and potentially interesting, actionable items, and anything not in the latter catagory gets thrown out, as do many other documents, packaging materials, papers full of now-incomprehensible notes and even quite a few crappy doodles and sketches. The actionable items will be looked at on the basis of "will responding to this save me real money or prevent the paper piling up again?" and if the answer is no, out it goes. I'm discounting the fourth category of "official, necessary records" which for the time being I'm just sticking into folders and dumping in the desk safe. Sorting through them will be a matter for next week when I'll do my tax returns. Slowly, because unlike the past few years, I have time. Since Thursday, the surfaces of both my desk and the old, large drawing board have become visible again. The drawing board has been used as an overflow space for the past four or five years - I use a smaller one at the studio.

I've picked up both the two pairs of new glasses and the pack of contact lenses. I didn't get the contacts straight away because after so many years, the specialist wanted me to practice putting them in first. Turns out I can still do that; I suppose it's a bit like riding a bicycle.

I have paid most of my bills (one got lost in the sorting and rearranging, but I've found it again and it's now on my desk) and sent out €2000 worth of invoices to clients and to the studio-mates who I share an internet connection at work with. On top of that, I got an advance from Modern Tales (that's an advance on royalties yet to be calculated, not advance payment for work yet to be done) and sorted out some specifics for a string of cartooning workshops I'll be doing next month.
Getting that sorted out has allowed me to do some back-of-the-envelope budgetting, and it looks like I'm covered for everything I need and some of what I want. Ain't I lucky? Seriously, that's a good basis for planning for the future.

One of those plans is the publication of my first minicomic in a few years, and the first one in full colour. I'm not a big fan of making small print runs of comics, really; I've done too much of it already over the past 15 years. But... I promised a print version to the people who sponsored Headsmen, and now that I'm stuck with having to do it, I'm becoming more keen to do it as well as I possibly could. Right now, I'm thinking of putting out a full-colour A5 or even A4-sized book containing Headsmen and a colour version of Alchemists as bonus material. Adding another colour story wouldn't cost any extra as the pages would be printed on colour sheets anyway, and my test colouring has convinced me that colour does actually improve the art quite a bit.
So I've been comparing prices and doing test prints of individual pages. What I've learned so far is that the price per unit drops dramatically with nearly every extra unit bought if you're going with a local digital printer, much more than it used to do in the days of black and white photocopied interiors. Basically, every extra person I could count on to buy a copy of the book would not just help me make it easier to keep the cost down, but also help their fellow fans get their hands on a cheap copy of the book. With that in mind, I think I should set up some sort of preordering system in which people can sign up for a copy without immediately committing to pay for it, as the final price would be determined in part by the number of people signing up. I'm also thinking of formally reopening the sponsorship drive so people can contribute to both the upkeep of the ROCR website and the initial investment to get the book off the ground.

Of course, I'm still looking for alternatives. There are some promising semi-PODs around that could fill my needs. Ka-Blam looks good although the fact that it's in the US complicates things for me. Wouldn't be a big deal if it was a full POD press, but despite what it claims, it isn't, really. It's a digital small press that's primarily set up to ship batches of books to micropublishers and distributors. But the price is quite good and the fact that it's a fixed, low price per unit makes it a solution that's hard to ignore.

More on that later. I'll have some stuff to show to go into the book soon enough.

March 20, 2006

Time and space - Observations from an Uber-slob.

In my last post, I let slip that I had a bit more time than I used to. Some readers may ask "does that mean that we'll soon be seeing new Chronicles of the Witch Queen material?" Or not. It's not like that website had hundreds of eager readers when it was still updating daily. The answer, I'm afraid, is "no", anyway. I'll start the site up again when I'm sure I can do a decent job of it.
Over the past few years while working on my comics I've let a lot of things go to hell. The most important of those things is still being dealt with by the cleanup project - yes, I think of it as a project.

At the risk of boring you to death with tales of rooting through shelves and drawers and dragging out huge bags of paper... actually, I don't think that's boring at all. I find removing all the clutter and cruft that's been accumulating in my flat very liberating. Also, there are companies out there that offer advice and help to the incurably untidy, so there must be something interesting to say about it, especially from the perspective of a master-slob.

In that other post, I mentioned that I was making headway, but the shameful secret is that the things I was managing to clear up were all overflow spaces: the main desk, the disused old desk, the disused drawing board, the floor. All of these were covered in paper, and piles of it. They're now clear, mostly. Clear enough to use, anyway. But the places where paper legitimately should go, the bookshelves and archival safe, are still overloaded, one of them with about double the weight it should maximally support. So I'm looking at their contents wondering if there's anything in there that might not pass the "what if I moved house?" test. Digging through some promising areas, I found quite a bit of handwritten (i.e. illegible) work by myself such as old term papers, as well as handouts from my University days. I kept those all those years because I was never sure which of these I would want to use again in my later career; it's now clear that only the medieval and renaissance literature stuff has anything to do with what I'm doing now, so that stays and most of the rest of it goes. It's not enough to keep those shelves from groaning, but it's a start.
I'm also looking at my unsold minicomics inventory with my mind on the same question, "Would I take that along if I moved house?" I'm not sure I would. But I'm uncomfortable with the implications of that. A few years ago, Indigo Kelleigh announced that he would destroy any of his old Circle Weave minis that he didn't sell by a certain date. I was shocked by that... it's just not something I could imagine myself doing. I suppose I'm like a Terry Pratchett dwarf in that - always wanting words that are written or art that is produced to remain (Note to self: Is it wise to post this somewhere where Adam will read it?). These days, I'm not so sure. If those old, unsold books are dragging me down, perhaps I should let go of them. Before I get to that point, though, I will try to sell them at a deep discount. I've already updated my Small Press Swapmeet listings accordingly and will announce a proper Spring Sale when I am ready to start taking preorders for the Headsmen mini.

Okay, about those master-slob observations. I've got two.
One: I suspect the minds of tidy people work very differently from those of folks like me. For tidy people, seeing a piece of rubbish or a stray sheet of paper lying somewhere is a constant annoyance and an eyesore. Until they remove it, they are bothered by its presence. When, on the other hand, something is cluttering up my space, I stop seeing it after a while. It becomes part of the background. This can take on an extreme form. When I got the extra bookshelf in December, I overhauled many things in the house and started "seeing" clutter again in quite a few places, for long enough to get rid of some of it. I threw out an old laser printer that I hadn't used in a year or two because it had been malfunctioning. But it wasn't until this week that I finally threw out the large cardboard box that that printer originally came in. That box had been slightly more useful than the printer because I could keep stuff in it, but I had already emptied it of said stuff back in December. Until I started the most recent bout of cleaning, I didn't "see" the box. Somewhere between my eyes and my brain, the connection got lost and with it the notion that in front of me was a large piece of clutter I could throw out.
Two: I'm trying to prevent slipping back into my old cluttery ways by not buying a lot of stuff for the time being, and by processing any incoming mail immediately. That's harder than it seems: most of my snail mail is from my bank, my insurance company, the housing corp or the local government. All of it can be divided into the following catagories:
* Useless mass mailings. Those make up the majority.
* Useful mass mailings. That is, mailings whose purpose is clearly to advertise, but the offers contained in them are such that they may save me money, improve my insurance coverage or - best of all - reduce the overall amount of incoming mail.
* Documents I have to keep: Updated versions of my insurance policies, or bank statements, or, in one memorable case, an apology from the housing corp for a mistake they made.
* Documents I may not need to keep but which I need to take action on. "Comply with this regulation or Else" mail from the local government, or the thing that the housing corp later apologised for (a complaint about the neighbours' polluting their back yard with garbage and dog shit had been sent to me instead of them).
Both my bank and my insurance company are very bad when it comes to sending me stuff I don't want and don't need. It's not a big problem right now, but when I was in a state of constant hurry, I would often leave mail from them unopened for a long time, having got burned too often on the content-free feelgood magazines that are apparently the latest, greatest thing in corporate PR. As a result, I've occasionally missed out on real offers that were useful, or on information that I really needed to know. Human beings are not good spam filters and spam filters that mimic the learning habits of human beings don't work. The only exception to that is Google's spam filter, which takes into account the experience of many many users. Unfortunately, I don't see that translating back into the meat and rock world.
One or two more observations popped up in my head while I was working on this post, but they've slipped my mind again. I'll post them separately when they pop back up, hopefully in shorter posts than this one.

In addition to cleaning, I'm also using the time I have now to work on my tax returns and get lots of exercise. Once I'm done with those things, I'll get back to Chronicles of the Witch Queen.

Uberslob observations # 3 and 4

Addendum to Time and Space - Observations from an Uberslob:
Observation #3: The "What if I moved house?" test works. It probably works better if you're actually moving house, but it puts the value of your junk into perspective.
Observation #4: If, like me, you're a little bit geeky and prone to obsessiveness, making your house-cleaning rule-based also works, provided you stick to it. For every item you bring into the house (excepting food), make yourself throw out two items of equivalent weight or volume. Throw out stuff you haven't used for X years - I like a very large value for X because I'm also a penny-pinching cheapskate who wants to squeeze every bit of use out of his belongings, but any value will do.

My mother and my aunt are both big fans of that last rule, by the way, although they didn't get into it until after I'd become set in my piggish ways. Oink.

March 21, 2006

Banking - it's not just for serious grown-ups anymore!

Are the Postbank even trying to be taken seriously as a bank anymore? Over the past year, in addition to the Content-Free Magazines that every other financial institution insists on sending me, they've done this big promotion for the option to Personalize Your ATM Pass with a design of your choice for the low, low price of €9.75, and their latest special offer is even sillier: instead of paying a competitive interest rate on their savings accounts, they give you Rentepunten (Interest Points) which you can save up to get discounts on goods from a catalog.

Memo to the marketing folks at the Postbank: Guys, I don't use your bank for fun. I use it to keep my money in a checking account and save a little for a rainy day, that's all. I have no interest in your attempts to forge a relationship with me, as you should have realised when I didn't even bring you flowers on the 20th anniversary of me opening my first account with you. If you want to make me a happy customer, you can begin by not trying to railroad me into switching to your online banking service, by paying interest above the level of inflation on savings accounts, and... oh, here's a good suggestion: by not charging me for services you used to offer for free. I swear, when the time comes I can impress my grandnephews and grandnieces with the hardships I used to undergo in the olden days like the Yorkshiremen in that Monty Python sketch, "... but on the other hand, bankin' were free" will be the punchline to every last one of the yarns I spin at them.

But the way things are going, I'm likely to overcome my inertia and switch to a real bank any day now. Except it may be hard getting a credit card from any other bank with the income I have now. Damn.

Of course, it could be that they're all as bad, anyway. Do other Dutch banks spam your mailbox with silly offers and Content-Free magazines? Are they all in a race to the bottom to see who can cut their services and increase charges the most for services that used to be free? Are there any left in the Netherlands that offer proper interest on small-scale savings accounts?

April 17, 2006

Sunday Cycling: Adventures in bird rescue

Today, Sidsel and I went cycling for the first time this year, after postponing our inaugural journey twice. We planned go to to Lauwersoog just like on our very first cycling trip two years ago. It would, frankly, have been a thoroughly unnoteworthy trip except for two factors:
1: The wind. We'd completely underestimated the power of the wind blowing in our faces, and in my case I'd also underestimated the wind chill. When we started, we were in the inner city so the wind didn't feel as bad but as soon as we got out of Groningen, it hit us hard. And kept hitting us hard.
2: The oystercatcher. 20 kilometers out of Groningen, between Mensingeweer and Wehe den Hoorn, we spotted something strange in a tree, which turned out to be an oystercatcher with its foot snagged between two branches in what must have been a very uncomfortable and painful position. Oystercatchers don't voluntarily land in trees; they're wading birds that drill for food along the floodline or in grassland with their comically long, red bills. Presumably, it had been surprised by the wind and crashed into the tree; I could see other birds struggling to maintain their course against it.
We could, I suppose, have let nature run its course but you know, moral agency and all that. It looked like a terrible way for any creature to die. So we went to a nearby house to look up the number for the Dierenambulance, the animal rescue service, and waited for it. As it turned out, we had to wait quite a while; the area is quite a way from the headquarters of the service's Northern Groningen division, and not the easiest to find at that. I'll be feeling the chill in my bones from standing in the open field in that cold wind for some time.
When they arrived, it quickly became clear that the bird was too high up for them to reach, so they called the fire brigade. Luckily, they were stationed very close to the spot where we were, and as there weren't any big fires going on in the area, they were there pretty soon. Had we known, we'd have called them first; not that the people staffing the Dierenambulance could help it, it's just that their branches are divided up in a rather odd way, so the Northern Groningen division covers this thin, wide strip of land from Delfzijl to Lauwersoog, and the other branches in the province of Gronigen aren't allowed to operate within that area. I learned that the Northern Groningen headquarters are at one end of that area, in Delfzijl; we were nearer the other.
The firefighters came up with a small truck and a squad of six, all suited up and helmeted. So with Sidsel, me, and the mother-and-son team staffing the Dierenambulance there were ten people about to help one small bird!

Continue reading "Sunday Cycling: Adventures in bird rescue" »

May 4, 2006

Runner's high and powerpop

I've been running in a club setting for three months straight now, and I continue to be amazed at the ways it affects me. Initially, I would veg out after a training, unable to do much of anything at all. After a few weeks, I started giving myself simple chores to do, such as taking out the trash. Slowly, I started doing more stuff in the hours between training and bedtime.
Last Monday, I wasn't exhausted from the training at all. This was only partly due to my progress as a runner; there had been an event the Saturday before so the training was a bit lighter than usual. There was also a new trainer being shown the ropes. In any case, when Sidsel suggested going to Vera to see The New Pornographers, I checked out a song sample on their website, and agreed to go.
Little did I know that I was not only not exhausted — I was high! Throughout the show, I was flying. The New Pornographers, at least in concert, have a high-octane, driving rock rhythm section with a very strong classic rock feel, so it was right up my alley. The poppy tunes, with vocal leads being shared by a guy whose stage persona looked vaguely like Bryan Adams in his good days - before hogging the charts for months on end with the schmaltzy Everything I Do I Do It For You - and a (new) girl with a cute, high voice and matching stage persona, made it even better. I bought their latest CD, Twin Cinema but haven't sat down to listen to it from beginning to end; I just plunked the whole lot onto my hard drive to be played in random rotation with the rest of my collection. What I've heard indicates that they're a lot less rocky on disc — isn't that always the way? Some bands just need to put out live albums.
I still don't know how much my judgement of the concert was affected by the runner's high, but I do know that lately I've been a lot more positive about things, and better able to enjoy myself. I may feel like shit on the day after a training, and Tuesday was no exception, but the overall trend is up. Plus, people are beginning to notice that I look different.
One thing's for sure, that buzz I got on Monday beat all drugs I've tried, ever. Not that I have that much experience in that area, but getting drunk or (bleagh) stoned just doesn't compare.

May 25, 2006

Work update

I've applied for a day job. If I get it, it will mean a further slowdown of production on Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan, but a massive improvement in living standards for me. Which I need, right now.
What it won't affect is the quality of the work. I've done some of my best comics while working full-time at a day job and spending two hours a day commuting, and some appalling work when I had nothing to do but write and draw ROCR.

The Guðrún remasters are now part of the Chronicles of the Witch Queen project. That means newly-remastered pages will first be shown on that site, instead of continuing from where I left off last time I tried to remaster Guðrún (the last remastered page was this one).

Chronicles of the Witch Queen will resume real soon now. Pages are uploaded and scheduled. Two storylines will run simultaneously: one on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; one on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Expect a full announcement, or rather a barrage of announcements, a day or so before the series start.

The new/old Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan story King Groy is still being written. I haven't actually worked on it all week, but that's because I needed some time off from it so I could look at it afresh afterwards. Almost ready to continue, and if I don't get the day job, I'll start drawing it in the first week of June. I still won't commit to picking a date for the serialisation to start, though.

I'll be meeting with the editors at Hello You! on June 1. We'll discuss plans and concepts for the next season, so it would be good if I came up with some before then. Or at least decide on whether I'll be able to write another 10 episodes of Gang of 4. But I have felt that way every year since I started working for Hello You! and I've come up with the goods every time. Eventually.

The transcription effort plods along quite nicely, now at a rate of three or four a day. Over 1100 comics are now transcribed, and I've noticed that people are using the search functionality more. Most of the work is done by me, but that's OK. I'm grateful for every bit of assistance that I get.

Mithandir has added some updates to WillowCMS to cope with the ever-increasing flood of comment spam. These have reduced the problem to what it was a month ago, but I fear in the future more far-reaching measures will be needed. That's being worked on, simply because Mith needs content-based filtering on his own site, which is getting spammed by zombie networks. I've got a few spam-fighting ideas floating around in my head myself, based on my loose analysis of the spam that makes it through the existing filters, but at this point these ideas are pretty half-baked so I won't bother you with them.

May 31, 2006

Resting the muscles

Today marks the start of a week off from running. It just so happens that next weekend is the pentecostal holidays which mean that neither the club nor the Loopschool Groningen are giving any trainings, but I also need to take some time out. I feel like I have plateaued, although if I think about it rationally, I probably haven't. I'm keeping up with the best runners among the crowd that joined at the same time as I did, and I can tell from doing the strength exercises week after week that I'm getting stronger, but it doesn't feel as well as it should. Also, several muscles in my leg are sore and a bit stiff. A week off will make them very happy. So, anyone for a beer this weekend?
It is natural for this sort of plateauing to happen. I expect that by next Wednesday I'll be chomping at the bit again. Actually, I'll probably get a bit twitchy by Monday, but part of the discipline of doing any sport is making yourself stick with the plan. Time out is what I've prescribed for myself, so time out is what I'll have.

June 12, 2006

All in all, fortune smiles

Bad:
The tendon on the outside of my right ankle hurts, and has done so for two weeks. My doctor has told me to take it easy with the running until it's better, and replace my running shoes. Luckily, the pool is really quite inviting with the recent weather.

Good:
I have written a four-pager for an anthology of cartoonists from Groningen, and partly drawn it. It initially looked like I wasn't going to get it ready in time for the deadline, but it now turns out that that deadline, despite what it said in the call for submissions, wasn't entirely set in stone, so I might still get it done in time. The comic itself has a nice me-in-1998 vibe to it, which I like. I drew a lot of great short comics that year, things that I can still look at now and think "yeah, that was all right".
Writing on next season's Gang of 4 is also progressing well. I've got a loose first gag idea, and I've done the necessary ground work of refining the characters to make them more distinct from one another. It looks like this year, sparks will fly between Amber and Ruben in particular. I like that and am very interested to see where that goes. That took about an hour and a half, so at that rate I'll have a lot of the season scripted by the end of next week. I'll try to have at least several episodes and a good overview of the story arc.
I have also storyboarded the first draft of a crossover between Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan and The Bare-Pit, in a way that sets a minor ROCR character up for her own comic series, should I choose to do that. I'll send the script to Bare-Pit creator Stephen so he can check if I've written the characters right.
I have money in the bank, somehow. A week ago, I was €100 in the red and worrying about when that was going to be made up. Now, at least two of my workshop clients appear to have paid me, keeping me in the black for a few more weeks.
I have been invited for a job interview at a local software localisation firm! I'd more or less given up on that, but presumably their initial batch of candidates didn't turn out so well in interviews.

On balance:
Hear me roar.

June 16, 2006

...and it all comes crashing down

On Tuesday, the day after I posted All in all, fortune smiles, I spent the day outside at the lake, then rode my bike home to fetch a couple of Hello You!s to show to my workshop students, rode to the school, lost my sense of where I was and where I was going, spent the actual workshop sweating buckets and generally crashed and burned. Heat stroke exhaustion, I guess. Since then, I've been struggling to write the first-in-series Gang of 4 episodes, and those two things together, which may or may not be causally related to one another, have taken me off my high of the week before that. Things that didn't bother me last Monday, such as the pain in my foot and the realisation that decisions I made when I thought I was going to draw that book contribution in a hurry would come back to haunt me now that the deadline had been extended, are now pushing me into a state of depression and worry.
Objectively, I'm not worse off than I was before. I'm a little behind schedule with the Gang of 4 scripting, but I have written 3 viable scripts whose main flaw is that they aren't the first one. I have identified a flaw in the series concept that is making the writing more difficult (the ensemble cast is making it hard for me to develop characters properly) and have contacted my editors about last-minute tweaks to the series concept and title. Yes, my foot hurts but I've had worse injuries. Yes, correcting errors is a drag, but hey, I've got time? Yes, I need to hand in tax stuff or ask for another extention. I can do one or the other, surely?

Five days ago none of this would have bothered me. Now it does. I'm going on a trip tomorrow and a nagging voice is telling me that I mustn't, that I must stay put and slog until the backlog is cleared. I know that won't work. I know that time away from the studio will make me feel better and fresher come Monday. But depression has a way of perpetuating itself.

God, I miss running. That was the one thing I could always rely on to break the cycle. Maybe I should just bite the bullet on Monday and train inspite of the injury, even if it's only with the beginners.

June 21, 2006

Job interview

I'm one of three candidates for a rather well-paid translator's job in Groningen. Today, I had the job interview, my first "proper" job interview in five years, for the first non-comics job I applied for in five years. I'll have to do a trial translation for them, and on the basis of that, the company will decide who gets the job.

It's full-time and likely to be demanding, so it will have an impact on my work in webcomics, or comics in general. Now may be a good time to approach me about doing Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan guest comics - it's actually been a while.

I'm not going to name the company or go into detail about the kind of work or the sort of clients the company has. Let's talk about ties instead! I'm always a bit embarrassed by the fact that I don't know how to tie a tie without detailed instructions including diagrams. But considering that Googling for "How to tie a tie" returns many results from websites specialising in just that, it's probably not rare or something to be ashamed of at all.

I actually sort of like wearing a tie, a couple of times a decade. But I haven't quite found out how to wear one comfortably. Without the tie, my suit would actually be the most comfortable combination of clothing I own - certainly better than jeans. Unfortunately, the tie, so far, spoils the whole deal. But then it may just be my own shameful! incompetence at tieing it.

I found the job interview experience extremely tiring, even though this one wasn't exactly a third degree. It was all very pleasant, with the owner/director doing most of the talking. Nevertheless, the preparation for the interview, and the interview itself have taken it out of me. I'm knackered.

July 8, 2006

Meet Shep's stalker

Meet my stalker, Shep's guide to what to do if you're a man who gets stalked. Executive summary: Your stalker is mentally ill, and a stalker is like malaria: having got one, you may live normally for years and then have the problem flare up again.

In my capacity as an admin on Talk About Comics, I've had to deal with two flare-ups of Shep's stalker problem, including one shown in screenshots, so I remembered this page when the issue of stalking came up in IRC conversation this afternoon.

Apart from the useful advice, I like Shep's writing style in these pages. It is very similar to Dave Sim's essay-writing style, though the content is much more sane.

July 18, 2006

Heatwave number 2: Hosepipe bans, cyanobacteria, botulism and death.

The year's second heatwave is turning out to be a bit of a downer. The newspapers are full of warnings of the country's open waters falling prey to cyanobacteria, botulism and other pestilences. Plant life is visibly affected now - grass is drying out in quite a few places. Hosepipe bans are in place in many localities. And the heat is beginning to kill. In the venerable four-day walking event the Vierdaagse van Nijmegen (AKA International Four Days' Marches Nijmegen, more than 300 people became unwell as a result of the heat, five of them so unwell that they needed reanimation, and two of them died. With higher temperatures expected for tomorrow, the event, which had three days yet to go, has been canceled.
The Vierdaagse has been shortened before, but this is the first time ever that the event has been canceled in peace time.

July 23, 2006

Things I learned in the past 24 hours

1. When sports journalists write that Floyd Landis bonked in Wednesday's climbing stage, they mean the second meaning of the word. Not the first, which you have to admit would have been something to see.

2. Because the internet is not for geeks anymore*), it is no longer safe to use symbols like "!=" in a public discussion. Especially one about events in the Middle East. For the record, I do not believe that Lebanon is in any way similar to Afghanistan, and rather thought that that was such a blindingly obvious point that I was unprepared to make more than a minimal effort in putting it in writing. That's one mistake I won't soon make again, obviously.

*) Which in most contexts is very much a good thing, if only because geek triumphalism is a distasteful thing to have to witness. But having spent quite a bit of effort, back in the day, on learning the language, I now have to adjust to situations where using it gets me into trouble, which is a bit of a bummer.

July 27, 2006

Alien bug made of plush

Via Pharyngula, I read about this:
Alien Bug Lands in Backyard
PZ think he knows what it is, and so do I: It's damned freaky, that's what! It looks like a plush caterpillar brought to life. What I like most about the video is that there is very little indication of scale, so I can imagine that it eats little yappy dogs.

July 28, 2006

Heat make me stupid

Fed up with heat. Still no relief: weatherman promise thunderstorms but no show. IQ dropping, mood pissy. Heat kill more people, radio say. Lucky Jim Make Light know how deal and have tips.

July 29, 2006

Calves

My tax refund came in, so I've been doing some long-delayed spending. Most of it was on mundane stuff like towels and underpants, but some of it was on more interesting items such as Flight # 3 (which I haven't read yet but I've looked at it with googly eyes), and new running shoes.
Buying running shoes is rather less of a chore than buying regular shoes. One fun part of it, at least when buying at Runner Hardloopcentrum in Groningen (I really wouldn't know about any other store anywhere), is testing shoes on a treadmill and getting your running movements filmed. This time around, I was showing a little more pronation on my right, injured foot than in a similar test in January, but what struck me most was how my calves looked.
You know, I've always been against putting photographs of myself on my website, mainly out of a desire to avoid scaring small children, the elderly or the infirm. But I just might add a picture of my calves to my bio page some time. Those are good calves. Me likes.

August 6, 2006

On shaving one's own head

Pete Ashton mentioned last week that he had shaved his own head:

Shaved my head, which involved sitting in front of a mirror with my shirt off (not something I do very often), and discovered I have muscle tone, specifically around the upper torso and shoulders. Was somewhat taken aback by this. Combined with my working-man's-tan I believe I might possibly be "buff". Whodathunkit?

This inspired me to have a go at it myself; after all, being dependent on someone else — in my case, my mother, who has many years of experience trimming the fringe of hair at the back of my father's head — to do that sort of thing can be a drag, especially considering I use my razor daily anyway. . As it turns out, shaving my own head is perfectly doable. What Pete didn't mention though, presumably because he got distracted by his muscle tone and his tan and lost track of time, is how damned long it takes. What my mother does in five minutes with her hair trimmer took me over two hours with a full arsenal of electric-razor-with-trimmer-attachment, scissors, a handheld mirror to see the back of my head and the regular mirror in the shower, just to get to the point where I could say "Naaah, I think I'll just go over it again with a razorblade". That's not something I'll repeat again, even though I've got a rather good, shiny slaphead out of it. I've got better things to do with my time, like, er, posting in my blog or mopping the studio floor.

August 13, 2006

Call to my pagan readers

I found a referral in my usage statistics from Projectx13 a pagan website. While checking it out, I found out that the site's owner is in financial trouble due to disability, which is likely to get worse. So he's asking for donations to keep the website, and himself, afloat.
I'm not pagan, so the site isn't really for me, but it looks like a pretty good news and community resource. If you are interested in paganism, take a look at Projectx13 and if you like what you see, drop a few bucks in the paypal box.

(Yes, I know, there are so many people on the net solliciting donations. I could do a dozen posts like this one each day. But I picked this one simply because one good turn deserves another.)

August 23, 2006

I did not sign this!

Just got an email to my gmail address thanking me for signing a petition entitled "Save Salem's Sweetheart which apparently supports the return of some soap star I've never heard of to some soap opera TV program I've never heard of. The petition does in fact have my name at the signature number the email said it would be at.
For the record: I did not sign that. I don't believe in Internet positions and tend to yell at people who forward email encouraging me to sign one. I think I may have signed something in support of the EFF or something like that in the past, but as a rule I don't touch these things with a ten-foot pole. The apparent ease with which my name and email were added to this petition rather confirms my suspicion of them.
I wonder if this is some clever scheme to make me contact the website the petition is on, give up my personal details to them to have my signature removed, or otherwise put myself in virtual harm's way. Does this sort of thing happen a lot?

Update: Bo Lindbergh points out that the other names on the petition include a Lea, a Shaenon, a Dorothy, an Amber, and a Dirk. This suggests that someone's been pranking current and former Modern Tales cartoonists. Iiiiinteresting...

August 26, 2006

Consumerist dreams

Last night I dreamed of buying not one, but two Macintosh computers. A desktop and a laptop. No, really.

In the non-dreaming world, I have less income than I've had since 2002, and I haven't exactly been rich in the mean time. Something needs to be done if I'm to make that dream, or similarly materialistic ones, a reality.

I might want to do one of those "extra updates for donations" things like the one Spike is doing. I don't know if they worked that well for her, but for all the talk of Templar, Arizona being WCN's break-out success, it's actually less popular than Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan is (ROCR is at the same level The Bare-Pit has been at these past two weeks while our cross-over was running), so I should stand a chance of doing at least as well as Spike has.

September 3, 2006

Sickety-sick

Over the past few days, my body has once again been commandeered by the Revolutionary Society of Viral Entities for the Production of Lots and Lots of Snot. I stayed at home on Saturday, but am on the mend now. I managed to get a bit of work done on Sunday.
While toiling away in the studio, I was reassured to find studio-mate Jelena coming in coughing and wheezing and telling me she'd been sick for a few days. Evidently this was going around even though I hadn't noticed it. Not that I got it from her, mind - she hasn't been in the studio much lately.
The next short Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan story, a short little thing called Devil may be delayed by a day. Feral will start on schedule, though, on September 11.

September 15, 2006

Those apocalypses do fly by, don't they?

Missed another one (Hat tip: Amanda Marcotte). I especially like the way they insist that, yes, contrary to what your lying eyes may tell you, The House of Yahweh Prophecy of 9-12-2006 Has Been Fulfilled. Brimstone, anyone?

A few days ago, Mithandir suggested another apocalyptic cult from, I think, Kenya that I simply didn't find nutty enough to feature here. He then suggested I put up an icon saying "You must be this nutty to get your apocalypse posted here" with a portrait of Pat Robertson. I think I'm going to make that one, but feature Ayatollah Fred Gleufhoed from Peter de Smet's classic De Generaal comic instead.

September 21, 2006

misc.misc.

Adventures in Banking update: The housing corp's rep called and waived the requirement for a deposit. He also explained that I was already getting preferential treatment as the corp usually asks for three months' worth of deposit. That would have been difficult for me to pay out of my bank balance, and a bank guarantee would have been a more proportional way of dealing with that. I was asked for just one month's worth because of my long residency in the studio as a co-tenant. So thanks to the folks at In Groningen for accomodating me.

I've started running again. Good news for those who wanted to see me take part in the 4 Mijl van Groningen, bad news for those who wanted to have me around in the Groningen 24-hour comic event. My first club training in several months went well although both my injuries began acting up a bit towards the end. I found last time around that a bit of pain at the end of a training is acceptable, as long as it doesn't get worse the next training.

My overall health, though, is not quite what it should be. Since that last flu I've had stomach and intestinal problems leading to a dramatically reduced appetite. I used to graze all the time while at the studio, but now even when the nausea abates, the brain doesn't get any signals requesting more food. I suppose I could stand to lose a few pounds, especially if I want to return to regular running, but undereating is the worst way to accomplish that. I'm also sleepier than I should be, again.

None of that is doing my paid work any good, nor my Lazy Grind buffer, which stands at 4 comics, with a fifth three quarters finished.

Adam asks me to mark my Not-Safe-For-Work posts like The Essential Bowdlerised Marvel, but where's the fun in that? Especially considering that most of my online body of work isn't work-safe anyway. I'd like to hear your opinion on this: reinder.dijkhuis@gmail.com.

Not brain-safe: There is worse poetry than that of Paula Nancy Millstone Jennings of Wasp Court, Essex. And this has, apparently, been known for quite some time. I can see why those involved would want to keep it under wraps...

December 22, 2006

Note to self concerning kittens.

I have promised my brother and his girlfriend to feed their kittens while they are away to England for Christmas. Therefore, I must take care of kittens. I must not, I repeat not, forget to take care of the kittens. If I forget to take care of the kittens, I am an idiot. When I wake up tomorrow morning, the first thought in my head should be of kittens. So should the next, and the one after that. I should pin a note to my alarm clock saying "kittens". I should leave another note on my kitchen table, one on the tea kettle, one in the fridge, wrapped around the cheese, another one on the laptop I've been watching DVDs on these past few mornings, another one on the door of my bike shed, and one pinned to my bike.

I should also write "kittens" on my forehead, in reverse. Though there's a strong likelihood that I'll shower in the morning so unless I've got non-soluble ink or possibly tattoo ink, I might as well not bother. Ditto with writing it on my hand, and in any case I'll be wearing gloves on my way to my brother's house.

In fact, none of these things are likely to stop me from forgetting to go to my brother's house while I'm on my way to my brother's house, which is why I'm posting a note about kittens in this blog, and changing my MSN nick to "Reinder has kittens" I will do the same to my IRC nick in a minute. It's the only way I'll remember to take care of the kittens, provided I don't turn my back on the studio's computer screen.

Who will think of the kittens?

February 14, 2007

Testing

1...2...3...

This is DFG aka Drooling Fan Girl I've colored comics for reinder, and yammer with (at) him in IRC.

I've had a few story ideas here and there. And hopefully, I'll have something more interesting to share another time.

February 21, 2007

Confronting prejudice in the best way possible

March 13, 2007

Aargh, ow, ow

Yesterday, I went running again after a month's sick leave due to 'flu and bronchitis. Before that, I'd been training only sporadically, due to a series of injuries, including one case where I spilled boiling water on my foot. Burns on the foot, I can now tell you, are proportionally more painful than similar burns elsewhere, and heal very slowly.

There are currently three subgroups in my running class. I was going to join the light subgroup again, as I had during the period when I was only training sporadically, and queued up with the trainer who handles that group. There were some new faces, but that didn't mean much. People switch groups all the time. Little did I know that it was the trainer who had switched groups and was now training the medium group... but once I realised, I decided to see how well I did.

And I made it through the training all right. I could really give it some welly and keep up with the rest of the group. For a guy with such a bad attendence record, and someone who was still recovering from bronchitis, I was in pretty good shape.

Or so I thought when I came back from the training. A day later, not so much. It turns out that not only can't I hold my liquour anymore, I can't hold my lactic acid either. Ow. Also aargh, moan, groan and woe is me.

March 14, 2007

Spring

One of the benefits of living in a green neighbourhood: plenty of signs that spring is upon us...

March 30, 2007

Overtime for charity

A working week isn't enough, not when it comes to worthy causes. To emphasize this, a community of young artists called "De nieuwe garde" (the new guard) has organized a night of voluntary overtime for charity. Webdesigners, copywriters, graphic designers, illustrators and consultants will put their combined talents to work to design advertising campaigns, websites or anything else in their power to help promote a selected number of charities.
I'll be off in a minute to be a part of this and contribute my bit to this event in my hometown of Groningen. You can follow our efforts (in Groningen, Rotterdam, The Hague, Arnhem and Amsterdam) live on www.achtuuroverwerken.nl. We'll be working untill about 2.30 CET tonight.

March 31, 2007

overtime for charity - a long night

I've found a benefit of having done the 24 hour comic day challenge: a deadline at 2 in the morning isn't that bad in comparison. Especially when you're working in a team, as we were last night. And a pretty darn good team we were, if I do say so myself!
The six of us, consisting of copywriters, web designers, graphic designers, marketing consultants and project managers created an identity, a marketing strategy, a house style, wrote and designed a flyer ánd designed and built a website. The whole shebang, on a Friday night, never having worked together before and only meeting our client that evening. I was pretty impressed we pulled it of, but everyone on our team contributed beautifully. Beforehand I was a bit worried there'd be too many captains on the ship, with most people being their own boss, but that wasn't a problem at all. Even with three designers working on the house style at the same time.

The charity we were working for is a small charity dedicated to improving health care on the Kei-islands in Indonesia. There's a large community of people from these islands living in the Netherlands that are dedicated to help their family members living in less fortunate conditions. The clan aspect of their organization makes it possible for them to oversee every part of a transport of materials: they have family or clan members living all over Indonesia, making it possible to rule out corruption and to guarantee the arrival of the materials in the right place.


We decided upon a logo emphasizing the family aspect of the organization. We had the chairman of the foundation, also elder of the clan, writing the name of the foundation (Yam-tel means great-family).
We used warm reds to contrast with the jungle greens (reds also referring to the medical needs as well as being a national color). We came up with a subtitle, the family cares, that being the angle we decided on.

It'll be interesting to see how much our efforts will mean for this organization.
It was a very interesting experience, that's for sure. I've never seen so many creative people working together at the same time (about 40 in a single room), not to mention the number of macbooks (I want that macbook pro!).

I was incredibly tired after the presentations of all the teams (by this time it was 3 a.m.) and pretty much went straight home. Would've been nice to stay and compare notes, and mingle and do some networking, but sleep was just too big a temptress.

April 6, 2007

As of today...

... I've been sick with flu or flu-related complications such as bronchitis for one month out of the last three. I'm heartily fed up with it.

When the latest epidemic was first confirmed in late February (I was in the tail end of my first bout of the year at the time), some dim-witted trollup on the radio said something like " ah well, if you've got it, chin up! You'll be sick for a day or three and have immunity for a year." I wanted to call up the station and tell her that that only worked if by three days she meant three weeks and by a year she also meant three weeks. I didn't have the energy or the breath to, so I didn't.

I just might be going back to bed after posting this... No comics are due until Monday. On the other hand, I really don't like the look of the latest installment and kind of resent the idea of it staying on the front page all weekend.

April 12, 2007

Name that Princess!

The Dutch Crown Prince Willem Alexander's new daughter is to be named tomorrow. His previous daughters are called Amalia and Alexia, and many observers expect that the third daughter's name will be similar. I for one think Alcydia has a nice ring to it, but there are quite a few other names that might also work. Anhedonia, Arrythmia, Afasia, Anorexia, Ambrosia, Apathia, Anaemia... add your own in the comments (while they still work)!

April 23, 2007

Health update

For future reference: I am now finally free of the flu symptoms that have been plagueing me on and off, but mostly on, since the beginning of March. I've still got a lingering sort of a cough, but that seems to be largely the result of throat irritation caused by coughing.
I went running today with my club, and found that I had full use of my lungs and no major loss of condition. Good. I feel flabby though, because I haven't been very physically active lately. Time to step up the exercise regime.

This flu epidemic seems to have been a hard one to beat. My father told me his flu symptoms kept coming back, and I've read similar from Crossover Wars participants on their forum. They feel better for a few days and it's back to the sickbed. Pete Ashton seems to have had it particularly bad - staying housebound for so long that after he got better, he took a flyer delivery job just to get back in shape! Good thinking, that. I should get a job like that. And he came out of the ordeal a non-smoker, at least for the time being.

I can't help but wonder how much productivity this year's epidemic has destroyed, and whether that alone may not be a good reason for governments to increase their vaccination capacity and offer free vaccinations to a wider range of people. It's likely that that would pay for itself. It would also improve herd immunity protecting individuals like myself who are at an increased risk of death from the flu. Of course, I've pretty much got my own life in my hand as far as that's concerned. Did I mention that I will never, ever, forget to get my flu shots again? I think I did.

May 5, 2007

Happy Freedom day!

Today, the Dutch, like the Mexicans, celebrate their freedom - specifically we celebrate our liberation from Nazi Germany in 1945. The day before May 5 is Remembrance Day, marked by flying the flag at half-mast and having 2 minutes of silence at 8 o'clock in the evening.

2007 has so far been the sort of year that sneaks up on you, or at least it's been for me. So despite seeing the flags and hearing it mentioned in the media, I forgot to commemorate the dead. Sorry, the dead!

Actually, for people my age and younger, it's pretty hard to put any concrete face on the dead of World War II. There is some public debate on whether Remembrance Day should continue. An overwhelming majority seem to think it should, which puzzles me a bit. Once everyone who knew someone who died in WW II is him/herself dead, it's going to be an empty sort of ritual, which I don't think is what the body politic needs.

Oddly, there doesn't seem to be an overwhelming majority for keeping the May 5 celebration, which is even stranger. The results of our liberation are with us every day and the benefits of not living in a fascist state can be explained to and understood by a small child. Even now, it's a far more relevant occasion than Remembrance. But as early as the 1980s, the celebration was downgraded to a lustral feast instead of an annual one. Luckily, that has been reversed, but the debate over it comes up every once in a while. I didn't hear it this year, but that was because I haven't been paying much attention to the media lately.

Maybe it's because Liberation Day celebrations are fun, and the Netherlands have for most of the post-war years been cursed with Christian-Democrat led governments (or their predecessors - the current CDA was formed, or rather congealed, in the late 1970s) run by people who don't like fun, or at least find it somewhat unseemly to enjoy oneself in public. In the past few decades, the most visible form of Liberation Day Celebration has been the Bevrijdingsfestivals, free music festivals in city parks. In other words, loud noises, drinks, greasy food and alternative/charity-oriented stalls selling or promoting stuff.

Personally, I'm not a big festival fan. I prefer seeing bands indoors, in some smelly den, in the dark, with good beer on tap. But today, it looks like it's gonna be nice weather outside, and there are some bands I'd like to see. If you're going to the Bevrijdingsfestival in Groningen, I'll be seeing Johan on the main stage at quarter past five, Planet Orange on the Local Heroes stage at half past seven, and Cochon Bleu on the northern stage at eight (schedules are approximate and subject to change at the last minute, though festivals these days do run a tighter ship than they used to). Meet me there over a watery festival beer!

May 8, 2007

Dreams of unfinished business

Kim (who promises she will write something in the blog when she has time) was over at my house this evening, and over dinner we did our usual thing in which we discussed life, the universe and everything, but mostly my appallingly bad financial prospects. She pushed me to do some back-of-the-envelope budget calculations, which indicate that a call-center job, which I've been sort of halfheartedly pursuing lately, would not be enough to get me out of the woods unless I did it full-time for several months (meaning no new comics for a while). That's going to make my attempts even more half-hearted... more on money, jobs, and such in another post at a later date - soon, because the problem is becoming just a little bit urgent.

While discussing other lines of work, I mentioned a recurring dream I'd had, in which I am back at University to claim and document credits for classes that I'd passed exams for but which somehow hadn't end up on my final credit list. In the dream, I'm doing this so I can finally get my diploma. It's one of those dreams that look and feel realistic enough to convince me, for some time after waking up, that what I just experienced was real. It can take me up to a day to realise that, hey, I did in fact get my University diploma in 1995.

Kim mentioned that she had a similar recurring dream, usually to do with credits from her second year at the University, which was a nightmare.

I can't help but wonder if these dreams turn up as a result of some barely-registered worry that we have unfinished business at the University, or some rather more obvious low-level worry that we've let the side down during and after our University education. Kim is one of the most intelligent and able people I know, and I, ehrm, I graduated from the Praedinius Gymnasium with excellent grades. My progress through University had a flying start, but after the second or so year, I got lazy and disengaged, leading to worsening grades and a final paper that was sort of mediocre. After that, I did a number of things but mostly remained stuck in "I don't know what I want to do when I grow up, but I can't be arsed to decide now" mode until a disastrous three-year spell at a software company at least gave me a picture of what I didn't want. Kim always did well, but her final paper became a nightmare lasting a decade, marked by one setback after another. That's a story that's for her to tell, though, if she wants to.

And here I am, twelve years after I got a piece of paper saying I was really quite smart and learned, and I'm contemplating taking a low-wage job to make ends meet. Yeah, I guess something went wrong, though if you consider that I held out for six years since quitting that last job, doing creative work all that time, you could argue that something (finally) went right. I've thought about going back to school a couple of times, and the fact that Kim's now pursuing a postgraduate position at the University of Groningen is sort of tickling my interest right now. Do I have unfinished business? Should I try and go back and prove that I'm worthy of that chit after all?

May 10, 2007

Beer and morons - Two items worth reading

First: Beer! Crooked Timber's pet contrarian, Daniel Davies, writes In Praise of Budweiser in which he argues that the much-reviled American beer is a perfectly tasty product, not a ripoff of Budvar beer and by any criteria every bit as good as any British Real Ale. He discusses its history, its recipe, the merits of using rice as a brewing grain, and beer as an industrial product. Of all the evidence he mentions, taste is the one that is the most subjective and contentious, but on this issue, he backs up his argument with science:

Budweiser does not taste like piss. Normal urine has a pH of 4.6 to 8.0. Budweiser, like most lagers, has a pH of around 4.0. Therefore, Budweiser is definitely more acidic than piss. It’s also just the ticket if you happen to be drinking beer for breakfast, as the fresh taste of the rice content goes particularly well with most cereals (it is not coincidental that nobody has yet marketed Barley Krispies).

Read the rest.

Second: Morons! P.Z. Myers has something to say about March of the Morons and the familiar underlying argument that stupid people will outbreed smart ones:

The most troubling part of it all is the attempt to root the distinction in biology—it's intrinsic. "They" are lesser beings than "us" because, while their gonads work marvelously well, their brains are inherently less capacious and their children are born with less ability. It's the kind of unwarranted labeling of people that leads to decisions like "three generations of imbeciles are enough"—bigotry built on bad biology to justify suppression by class.

People, they are us.

There are no grounds to argue that there are distinct subpopulations of people with different potentials for intelligence. Genes flow fluidly — if you sneer at the underclass and think your line is superior, I suspect you won't have to go back very many generations to find your stock comes out of that same seething mob. Do you have any Irish, or Jewish, or Italian, or Native American, or Asian, or whatever (literally—it's hard to find any ethnic origin that wasn't despised at some time) in your ancestry? Go back a hundred years or so, and your great- or great-great-grandparents were regarded as apes or subhumans or mentally deficient lackeys suitable only for menial labor.

Are you staring aghast at the latest cluster of immigrants in this country, are you fretting that they're breeding like rabbits? That generation of children will be the people your kids grow up with, go to school with, date, and marry. It may take a while, but eventually, your line will merge with theirs. Presuming you propagate at all, your genes are destined to disperse into that great living pool of humanity. Get used to it.


Again, read the whole thing and might I add that if I'm ever stuck out at sea in a small lifeboat with a Young Earth Creationist Jesus-Zombie type of person and a Social Darwinist, I will conspire with the Jesus Zombie to eat the Social Darwinist first. They're just about the one group of people that get my hackles up more than outright evolution-deniers.

May 17, 2007

Attention all studio-mates: We're locked out.

Jelena and Calvin are the only ones who don't know this yet, but as Jelena at least reads this blog, I might as well go on.
As of 20:15 tonight, the building above Groningen's outdoor public pool where our studio is is empty of people, and effectively sealed. I know this because Jeroen called me at home at a little before eight to ask for advice on how to get Josje out of there. Since the public pool below the studios was still open, I suggested that she might be able to get out through the winding platform at the back, swinging herself around the edges of the big metal barricade that separates the pool grounds from the office block. I've done this, and I'm not particularly flexible, strong or brave; however, I also said she should only tried this if she was absolutely confident she could do it. I was relieved to hear a few minutes later that there were still some pool staff around and one of them had helped her out with a stepladder. Jeroen and Josje then rang all the intercoms to see if there were still people inside, as this would have been their last chance to get out.*)

We've all been waiting for this to happen. As early as last Thursday, the outside gate door couldn't be opened from the outside once it had fallen shut, so people had taken to taping over the mortice latch so the door wouldn't fall shut. Of course, tape breaks and has to be replaced, and forcing the door open isn't good for security.

On Monday I called the owners, a Groningen housing corporation, to ask them to fix this. On Tuesday, I called them again, and this time, one showed up. He soon left again, because locks weren't his area of expertise. Yesterday, a damage assessor came by to check the condition of the lock.

The repairman who came by on Tuesday did one thing that on the surface seemed cleverer and more elegant than taping over the mortice latch - he turned the lock outward while the door was open so it couldn't close. An obvious idea that I've used in the past when I absolutely needed a door kept open. However, someone left the building today and turned the lock back inward, then closed it behind him. When Josje wanted to leave a few hours later, the door wouldn't open.

So... tomorrow we'll all be raising a stink about this, because there's several dozen people working in there and none of them will be able to get in. Until then, don't be surprised if you arrive to find the door closed. If you absolutely must get in, bring gloves, and beware that you may not easily be able to get out again.

Continue reading "Attention all studio-mates: We're locked out." »

Under lock and key

I consider locks useful; I like my bike for instance, and would be walking a lot if I didn't keep it locked when not using it. When you lose power over a lock however, when you turn the key and nothing happens, locks don't just turn into paperweights, they turn against you.
We've been having trouble with the lock on the gate to our studio for about a week or so, it was being fickle, and finally seemed to stop working. The gate was opened with the lock locked, so the gate door couldn't close anymore. Not very safe for our possessions, although still protected by another door, but at least with an entrance that functioned - you could still walk in and out. A man had been over to look at it, but after looking at it he discovered he didn't know how to fix it and went away again. Yes, because that is how you do your job. Try, and if you fail, walk away.
This evening studio mate Josje called up and asked if I could come to the studio; someone had locked the gate, and the lock wouldn't budge anymore. She was locked in. Unfortunately, because of people swimming illegally in the neighboring swimming pool, security has been tightened the past year. Gates have been reinforced, and ugly spikes have been added. It helps keeping people out, but it also turns the building into a prison when the lock to the sole entrance freezes. With some directions from me outside, she tried climbing over the fence where it looked least likely she would become impaled. Finding no spot that would guarantuee any safe escape, we discovered the swimming pool was still open to the public. We found a lifeguard who, after explaining Josje was trying to break out, and not in, was kind enough to supply us with a ladder, and Josje managed to climb out into freedom. Leaving her bike inside, alas, forcing her to walk home.
Where does this leave us? Well, our possessions are very, very safe at the moment.
Anyone have use for a 2 story paperweight?

May 18, 2007

Lockout update

We can get in again. All is well, though the fixes to the lock are only temporary and more work will have to be done. Our neighbour Ane is as unhappy as we are with the owners' response to our phone calls, though I for one don't see much reason to pursue the matter further.

Calvin told me he knew another way into the premises, though it's one that relies on having long legs, especially if you want to reproduce at some point in your life. I'll ask him to show it to me anyway, just in case.

May 19, 2007

Pain

There's a descriptions in "The Provinical Lady Goes to War" by E.M. Delafield where the hospitals are trying to keep beds cleared for any soldiers or bombed civilians that need them, despite WWII still being in its long opening phase where everyone's sitting around. We're told of them insisting a man was healthy enough to be discharged until he died on them.

That was from about 1940. Today, I learned things haven't changed much.

I got a severe case of food poisoning with enough pain that I wished for death. I eventually passed out from it and the exhaustion of all the vomiting. The hospital refused to give me painkillers until I was being checked out, then insisted I walk out immediately, instead of agreeing to get a wheelchair or give them time to kick in, or they'd call security on me. Because I was able to walk a few feet before the ambulance ride that was a half hour of shaking and severe pain, and of course my pain can't have changed.

I have never felt so helpless and uncared for in my life.

(N.B. Still pretty bad, but hurrah for codeine! Making life actually bearable!)

May 22, 2007

Fundraiser

Help me make rent in June - get more updates in return

My biggest freelance client folded last month, and teaching work has been thin on the ground lately. As a result, I'm coming up short for rent and property taxes*) this month. So here's what I want to do:

I need $ 600 to cover this month's rent emergency. Time's run out for me to raise that by finding and getting a job during the last week of May, but I may be able to raise it by working for you, the Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan readers. The update frequency of the comic has dropped to 3 a week, but I can do more, if I'm not distracted by precisely the things that I am dealing with now - the need to do other things to put money in my pocket. So, for each $ 80 that you, collectively, donate in the final week of May, I will add one extra update to the schedule in June - all the way back up to seven updates a week if that much ends up being raised, but, like I said, I only need $ 600.

Last week, two people donated money - the first donations I'd had in a long time. I'll credit that to the fundraiser, so we start with $ 15 out of $ 600 in the collection box.

Invasion, by the way, will take about 20 to 30 updates to complete, so it can be finished in a month if enough people donate to bump up the schedule. After Invasion, I have three projects planned that I really want to do, and which you will like too if you like Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan so far: a story called Muscle written by Adam Cuerden; King Groy, a rewritten, redrawn version of the story in which Kel met Jodoque, which is still missing from the archived continuity, and Feral, the story that was interrupted late last year. Donate now to get previews from these stories, starting with an unfinished page from Feral.

Raised so far: $ 25 (May 22, 15:20 CET)

*)Yes, I'm paying property taxes on a property I don't own. Can't get a rebate either unless I draw either a benefit or a salary. This is actually surprising to quite a few people in the Netherlands as well, but it's how it works here.

July 5, 2007

Caffeine really is an amazing drug.

One possible reason for me not to kick the coffee habit entirely:


This coffee and asthma treatment can help a patient who is suffering from an onset of asthma symptoms and finds himself without an inhaler breathe more easily until the inhaler can be obtained. This emergency treatment has proven extremely effective due to the similarities between caffeine and a tried-and-true asthma medication known as theophylline.

The similarities between these two chemicals lead doctors to routinely advise patients who are about to undergo tests for lung function to avoid coffee and other caffeinated beverages for one to two days prior to the time of the test.

Several large coffee and asthma studies conducted in the past few years have examined the relationship between drinking coffee and the prevalence of asthma. A study of over seventy thousand Italians showed that there was a significant reduction in the appearance of asthma amongst patients who would regularly drink coffee.

The risk of asthma symptoms fell by 28% when patients drank three or more cups of coffee every day.

In 1992, the Second National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES II) examined over twenty thousand Americans. The study found that the risk of symptoms from patients with asthma going into the study fell dramatically (over 29%) when patients who regularly drank coffee were compared with patients who did not drink coffee on a regular basis.

In addition, the risk of patients suffering from wheeze fell almost 13%. A relationship was also found between the amount of coffee consumed and the effects gained by the asthma patients. Those who drank more coffee had fewer symptoms; those who drank less coffee had more symptoms.

And I was browsing through old issues of Runner's World at my club's home the other day, and it mentioned that filtered coffee also works as a cholesterol reducer. Unfortunately, I've become rather fond of cafetiere coffee since Adam's last visit...

Update: I would like to note that the site that article I quoted from was on looked more than a bit sploggy to me, and that a Google search for "Coffee asthma" turned up a number of borderline quacky sites. It would seem that caffeine's bronchodilatory effect is fairly well-known. A summary of one of the studies mentioned (though not properly cited) in the article can be found at Chestjournal.org.

July 9, 2007

People in Groningen who like cats, lend me your ear!

My brother is going to be in England for six months, and has been looking for temporary homes for his cats (he's managed to acquire seven of them in a year). Unfortunately, he's had to leave a week earlier than expected, and all seven cats are still in his house. My father will be looking after them once or twice a day for a week, but that's not something you can do for months on end. I took care of his cats over Christmas, but back then there were only four of them, and even then they triggered my allergies just a little bit, and, as I found out while visiting my brother's place yesterday, I get wheezy pretty quickly now that there are seven of them in the house.

So, if you live in or around Groningen, the Netherlands, and want a cat (or two - but no one is expecting anyone to take all seven) to keep you company for a few months, please give me a call. We have a wide range of colours, ages and temperaments on offer, ranging from nearly-grown kittens to elderly mother cats and from the extremely sociable to the very self-reliant. All but one of the cats have been neutered and all have had their shots, with papers to prove it.

My brother is also willing to let someone live in his house for free if they agree to look after the however many cats remain in there. Might be worth your while if you've got a temporary job in the city.

I'm pleased to report that our studio hasn't been flooded. About half of our neighbours, on the other hand, are not so lucky.

At a little after six, just as I was done admiring the giant hailstones that had been falling around the studio, and had gone back to my laptop to tell some of my friends about it in IRC, Kitty from the costuming studio at the beginning of the hall came in to ask me for the corporate landlords' emergency phone number. She said that she had a major leakage from the roof, causing flooding in her studio and was going downstairs to the studio below hers to check if it wasn't seeping through there. I looked up the number, came after her to give it to her, and then got on with scavenging the area for buckets, waste bins and other containers to put under the leaky spot.

The leakage was bad! It looked more like a pipe had sprung a leak than the sort of thing you usually get with rain seeping through the roof. Her entire floor was submerged and the bucket she had put under the leak was already overflowing. As it turned out, the studio below her did have some minor seepage, but it was nothing compared to what was happening to hers. Two people from that other studio also helped out with buckets, moving vulnerable objects and also bailing out the floor. Luckily, Kitty's home decor taste runs to the Brutalist, so she has a bare concrete floor that water could easily be scooped up from. Not so luckily, her studio-mate, an animation student, had a case full of paper materials for his graduation project in the path of the flood water. Most of that was salvaged, though, but it was a close call.

That studio wasn't the only one affected by leakage though. At the other end of the hall, two other studios have been flooded - we could tell because water was running off into the hallway from them. Unfortunately, the users of those studios weren't in, and were unwilling or unable to come over to check the damage, so the extent of the damage there isn't known. I have reason to believe that in at least one of them, it could be considerable, because I paid a visit to the office below that one, and it looked like a pipe had sprung there as well.

As someone who wasn't personally affected by the flooding, I found bailing out, tossing buckets of water out of a third-floor window (and possibly onto the heads of poolgoers below), and mopping up the hallway afterwards rather fun. At some point I had to wipe a goofy grin off my face as Kitty, who saw her life's work and that of her studio-mate in danger, looked me straight in the eye. Yeah, I know. It wouldn't be fun if it was my stuff going to hell. But it was a break in the monotony, and an opportunity to meet the people on the floor below me, who I rarely exchange more than a few words with.

Kitty's workplace has a drain duct leading right through it, and that was where the leak was, which explains why it gushed down so badly. I don't know about the places at the back of the hall.

I do know that one reason we (the five of us using no. 3-21) escaped from this was that we'd spotted a leak one or two years ago during a similar, though less severe, storm. That did mild damage to a few comic books, which is a low price to pay for being forewarned and prepared. Lucky us... but we're still going to look into insuring our studio against this sort of thing.

... After the storm, those of us who were still hanging around in the building were treated to a fantastic double rainbow. Also, walking down the tree-lined path by the cemetary on my way out, I spotted the biggest rainworm I'd ever seen, crossing the road at great speed and with more determination than I'd ever think a creature with no face or limbs could possibly be able to express. What this summer lacks in hours of sunlight, it makes up for in freakiness.

Update: Not to be outdone, Geir emails a link to an Aftenposten article with pictures of the flooding in Kongsberg, Norway, where he works. Damn those Scandinavians and their one-upmanship!

July 16, 2007

Studio flood update

Since last week's rain flood in our building, Kitty has learned that she will have her entire concrete floor replaced. It's still impossible for her and her studio-mate to work in her studio, because the water evaporating from the soaked floor causes paper in the room to curl up. Bummer.

The corridors here are still filled with furniture, appliances and artworks from the affected offices and studios. We could be looking at that for a couple more weeks at the least, unless the owners of the stuff decide to put it in storage off-site. There is talk in the corridors and workfloors of filing damage claims against the housing corporation. I think they have a good case; it's their responsibility to maintain the roof and drains. I do find it odd that one drain was routed through the inside of the building like that.

Anyway... new concrete on the floor is going to cost a bundle. And I'm not sure how it will affect our studio at 3-21. It's quite possible that construction work on the floor will affect our ability to use the studio. I'll keep an eye out for messages from the housing corp.

July 18, 2007

Update on the caffeine reduction thing

Two and a half weeks in, I'm settling in to... well, still caffeine addiction but a lower level of it. I sleep better, and longer, at least if I let myself go to bed on time. I wake up earlier, and most importantly, spend less time hitting the snooze button and going back to sleep after the alarm goes off. When I get my morning coffee, it tastes better — partly because I'm more sensitive to it, but also because now, when I wake up, I'm actually rested enough to make coffee without misjudging the dose, breaking my cup or spilling boiling water on my feet. Win.

I'm moving closer to a regular, nine-to-five working day. That should be handy when I get a full-time job. Also, early-evening appointments (life drawing, running, seeing friends) are now easier to fit into my schedule. I do get sleepy earlier in the evening, but that is by design. I've even stepped up my exercise program to ensure that I'm good and tired by half past ten in the evening. This also helps keep the metabolism going after the coffee wears out. I run twice a week with the club and am now making an effort to swim every day, half an hour at a time. Half an hour isn't long, but it's an amount of time and energy I can afford to spend every day. I'll probably build it up a little in the next few weeks.

I'm also slowly breaking the habit of procrastination. I spend less time distracted by blogs, webcomics and forums, though I need to cut much more deeply into that habit before I'll consider myself optimally productive. It's difficult, because most of the work I do is on the internet and is deeply intertwined with my online reading habits, but it will be worth it just to be able to combine whatever job I get with continued webcomic production. Of course, if everyone did that, there'd be no one left to read my work.

Back to the coffee: I tried cutting down from three cups before noon to two, but I don't think that's a step I'm ready to take, or indeed one that I need to. Coffee's not all bad, after all, as I mentioned earlier.

July 25, 2007

Quick life updates

- The two best-match vacancies I wanted to apply for evaporated on closer inspection. One had expired in June, one was run through an intermediary who was under strict instruction not to pass on resumes from people who didn't have a University diploma in English/Dutch Translation. I might still send an open application to the first firm though.

- Lifestyle-wise, I'm still moving towards more of a normal worker's schedule. I'm working on my habitual procrastination. I found out that not having music on over breakfast gives me more of a desire to get out of the house - today, I managed to cut half an hour's worth of dawdling that way. Dawdling in the morning is my biggest time sink - all the other distractions during the day are minor compared to that.

- I'm also looking more closely at my own assumptions on how I go through the day. I've always thought of myself as "not a morning person" but this only really holds true for my writing and drawing. Anything else, from dentist appointments to swimming to photoshop work on my art can and should be scheduled early in the day. I think. Maybe. Possibly.

- I did a bit of teaching work today. Fun. Well-payed too, and the contact who got me this gig may be able to get me more.

- I still haven't read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and I really should get started on it as the spoiler policies in the various Livejournal communities are more laxly enforced by the day. Even the HMS_STFU community on Journalfen, which is run with an iron fist and sarcasm, had a partial spoiler above the cut in one post.

- After today's training, I think I may be able to run a half-marathon in not-embarrassing time and without arriving at the finish limping and puking. I'll see how my bad knee feels tomorrow and then, if it's not killing me, start looking for a suitable event in September or October to train towards.

August 3, 2007

Walk score for... some city or other, hopefully Groningen

This is technologically impressive, but still pretty damned inaccurate. And as with many Google Maps-based services, you need to wrangle it to get the right permalink for the results, especially if you didn't type in all the information you need in your very first search. (Generally, Web 2.0 and permalinks often don't mix well).

If you know Groningen, count the errors.

Via Lance Mannion

August 11, 2007

Stuff.

Paul Graham on stuff:

I have too much stuff. Most people in America do.[...]
Stuff is an extremely illiquid asset. Unless you have some plan for selling that valuable thing you got so cheaply, what difference does it make what it's "worth?" The only way you're ever going to extract any value from it is to use it. And if you don't have any immediate use for it, you probably never will.

Companies that sell stuff have spent huge sums training us to think stuff is still valuable. But it would be closer to the truth to treat stuff as worthless.

In fact, worse than worthless, because once you've accumulated a certain amount of stuff, it starts to own you rather than the other way around. I know of one couple who couldn't retire to the town they preferred because they couldn't afford a place there big enough for all their stuff. Their house isn't theirs; it's their stuff's.

And unless you're extremely organized, a house full of stuff can be very depressing. A cluttered room saps one's spirits. One reason, obviously, is that there's less room for people in a room full of stuff. But there's more going on than that. I think humans constantly scan their environment to build a mental model of what's around them. And the harder a scene is to parse, the less energy you have left for conscious thoughts. A cluttered room is literally exhausting.

Amen, hallelujah, testify and beeeeeaar witness. I'm poorer than dirt right now, and I often feel like I'm drowning in stuff. Most of it is in disrepair and even the stuff that isn't is pretty damned worthless so selling it isn't a viable option. And the clutter often does seem to own me. So, if you'll excuse me, I'll be throwing out some stuff. (Via the sidebar on Making Light)

September 2, 2007

I guess I'll be taking the steamer then, it's less hassle.

I've had several invitations over the past few years to come visit people in the US. Which is great, but... not if I have to endure crap like this:

I walked from the arrival gate towards baggage claim, and when I was about halfway there, all of a sudden about a dozen or more TSA personnel and private security staff appeared, shouting STOP WHERE YOU ARE. FREEZE. DO NOT MOVE. Not just at me, but all of the travelers who happened to be wandering through the hallway at that moment.

Some of the TSA guards then backed up against walls in the hallway, and sort of barked at anyone who tried to move a few feet away from their "spot," like towards chairs to sit down or whatever.

One TSA guard jogged ahead, back towards the arrival gates (United, this was Terminal 7). At first I assumed maybe it was some weird security drill? A few of us asked what was going on, and got terse answers, like, "Security review." WTF? 5 minutes passed. 10, 15, 20. The two teen Japanese tourists about ten feet behind me looked utterly dazed -- welcome to America, guys. I was really jetlagged and cranky, wanted to move a few feet and sit down, but the TSA lady nearest me kind of snapped at me to stop and stay frozen where I was when the order went out.

After 30 minutes, the TSA people said, okay, you may leave now. And everyone unfroze, and went and got their bags. No explanation. I guess I should have pressed for an explanation, or demanded to know why we were being held without our consent and without a provided reason, but I was really tired and just wanted to get the hell out of there and go home. Perhaps I was wrong to have just walked away.

Has anyone else out there experienced this kind of thing in a US airport? Was this some sort of weird TSA fire drill, or was there an actual security incident with a perceived imminent threat?

The guards were all just sort of standing around scratching their heads, looking bored, I definitely didn't have the sense there was any urgency. But they held us there, standing, frozen, for 30 minutes.

I may or may not have blogged about this before; can't really remember. I vaguely recall a tale of an English journalist being held for a day and treated like a terrorist for no good reason whatsoever. In any case, I have no intention to put up with being treated like this if I can avoid it at all. (via)

September 11, 2007

I am not dead

Just very busy.

September 15, 2007

Instant Messaging problems

People trying to reach me on MSN should be advised that my connection is wonky right now, and likely to stay so if, as I suspect, the cause has something to do with the forced upgrade Microsoft has announced for MSN messengers. Every time Microsoft alters its MSN protocols, it can take alternative clients such as Gaim/Adium and especially Kopete, which I use at home, weeks to catch up.

On a related note, I've changed the "contact" link on my home page to link to this spiffy new contact page with all my details instead of having it link directly to my email. This has become necessary because what with the full-time day job, I've got even worse at replying swiftly than I was before, and I needed to be able to warn correspondents of this in advance. Note that email is still my preferred method of communication by a large margin.

October 12, 2007

I hadn't seen some of those before

Still working a lot, exercising a lot and trying to get comics done. Battling computer problems in two places at the same time (again), though in the case of the studio PC, I've asked Calvin to do the battling in my place. Still not a lot of energy left to write in this here blog, though I could think of a few things to write about.

Quickly then: Have some cartoons attacking creationism, some of which I hadn't seen before. (Via)

The Stupidfilter. Mith says this won't work as you can't apply Bayesian probability to non-stochastic variables, and anyway, it doesn't even work all that well for spam because spammers defeat filters like this using precisely the sort of thing that this filter is going to check for (i.e. egregious violations of grammar, spelling and punctuation rules). (Via)

This is a load of bloggocks. You're not going to save journalism by buying an iPod or letting the comments on YouTube turn your brain to pea soup. Fuck off. (Via)

When I have a bit more time, I'd like to do a longish post about the state of exercise writing - er, that is, writing about exercise. It seems to be that there are a number of common tropes and linguistic markers (including the I Hit A Plateau And This Proves That Conventional Thinking About Exercise Is Wrong Trope, the The Fact That I had Painful Illnesses At An Early Age Proves That Conventional Thinking About Exercise Is Wrong Trope and the Caveman Ancestor Trope With Added Biology) that readers could use to easily identify quackitude (see The Case Against Cardio which contains all three tropes mentioned). But I'd need to study on it, and long-time readers know what happens to those ideas I have for posts to write in the indeterminate future, so don't wait up for that post. In the mean time, I'm tossing this out just to get the notion into public view. Maybe someone else will pick up this ball and run with it. (Via)


January 23, 2008

I ATEN'T DEAD!

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Oh, no, I ain't. I'm just not drawing much. Or writing much. I did manage to get these two CameoComics done though. They're a little easier to fit in than those elaborate full-colour ROCR pages.

February 16, 2008

On bookshelves, book lice and book hoarding

From the "Dude, I wish I had your problems" files:

Martin Wisse: On bookshelves: It's that perennial middle class literary question: should your bookshelves accurately reflect what you read, or should it have the books read by the kind of person you would like to, as Ezra suggests:

Bookshelves are not for displaying books you've read -- those books go in your office, or near your bed, or on your Facebook profile. Rather, the books on your shelves are there to convey the type of person you would like to be. I am the type of person who would read long biographies of Lyndon Johnson, despite not being the type of person who has read any long biographies of Lyndon Johnson. I am the type of person who is very interested in a history of the Reformation, but am not, as it happens, the type of person with the time to read 900 pages on the subject.

I can sort of understand this, in that there are always books you want to have read but are less keen on to be actually reading, but buying books with no real intention of ever reading them? That's wankerish, only one step removed from something like George Bush's reading list, where you know the person and see the books they supposedly read and think "naaah". These tricks never work, because when people pull them they always get the same sort of Generically Erudite Library , with the Joyces and the Nabakovs and the 900 page Charo biographies and all that, but without the real sort of esoteric interests a proper bibliophile develops.

Me, I think the whole question just reeks of privilege. For the past decade or so, I've simply crammed books where I could cram them, meaning that the decision of which books go to the bedroom is an ad-hoc one based on whether they will fit in the space between the books that are already there. This has lead to a de facto sorting by size, because the desk drawers will only allow space for smallish books, but that's about the only form of organisation my bookshelves have.

Going back to Ezra's original post and the admittedly very misguided post that Ezra responded to, the most intelligent and bravest comment has to be that of one Jason Todd, who stands up among a crowd of smart, bookloving people and proclaims,

I hate books.

Hey, now, don't look like that. He says more:

They're big stupid space-wasters. They are usually ugly and are very heavy when you have to move.

But people insist on hoarding them. Books should only be kept around if there's a reasonably good chance you're going to read them again, or if you'll need them for reference. But most books aren't like that. You read them once and then never again. But you still keep it on your bookshelf for some reason. It's like keeping old magazines.

"But," people say, "I never know which books I'm going to want to read again."

You're not going to re-read 95% of them. If for some reason you unexpectedly decide to re-read a book ten years later, it's not like some giant tragedy that you got rid of it. Just go to Borders and shell out the $15 or whatever.

Damn right. I've been a bookworm all my life, but having gone through the house cleaning process over the past few weeks (and finally having had some success with it in that my apartment is now within a normal range of messiness as opposed to being in Stage 1 Squalour), I have found once again that books are in fact among the most harmful things that a person can hoard, because
1). They collect dust, book lice, book worms (the insect) and moulds;
2) They are impossible to clean unless you sort them by size and stick them in closed cases (and even then, they will collect dust, book lice and moulds);
3) It is socially acceptable to hoard them, and it is in fact frowned upon to treat them as what they are: more stuff.

Like all stuff, books that just sit on your shelves not getting read, are worth less than nothing, and you're better off getting rid of them. The only value a book has is from its content, and you've already read and absorbed that. So with that in mind, let's come up with some better rules than the ones Matt Selman started this conversation with:

RULE ONE: Don't display your books - it won't impress anyone
Put your books in closed cases where they won't give you allergies. If you want to impress a guest with your learning, bring up books in conversation and pull them out on request. Otherwise don't bother.
RULE TWO: The time to buy a book is when you want to sit down and read it right now.
Do not buy any books you don't have any concrete and urgent desire to read. Do not buy books to read later. They won't run out of the bookstore, and if they do, they'll be reprinted. Exception: School textbooks which may only be seasonally available.
RULE THREE: Book borrowing should be encouraged, without any deadline for the book's return.
If one of your friends has borrowed a book and you want it back, ask the person who borrowed it. Secondary borrowing (i.e. the borrowing of books from someone who's borrowed it) is still a no-no unless you and your borrower have a great tracking system, but if the thought of not getting your book back bothers you, get some perspective. I know you have fond memories of reading it, but it's still a stack of paper stuck together with glue, and the odds are it's becoming a bit smelly. It's packaging. Get it out of your house. Exception: truely rare or valuable books. These make up a tiny fraction of your collection. And they probably stink of mould.
RULE FOUR: Purge.
Every few years, you should look at your books and determine which of them should go. Take the ones you know you're not going to re-read and sell them, give them away, or even, if they're the kind of books whose content has become worthless, throw them out. This year, I got rid of nearly all my programming/web design/software books from the 1990s. They're obsolete and I arguably shouldn't have wasted my time and money on them in the first place. If they were from the 1950s, they might have had some value to computer historians, but I know the shelves of De Slegte are overflowing with worthless computer books, so I wasn't even going to bother taking them there.

Treating your books (the hardware) unsentimentally won't turn you into a Filistine. It will result in a leaner, more valuable book collection that you won't have to schlep around when you move house, it will allow other people cheap and easy access to the content you enjoyed before them, and it will be second only to ventilating around the clock in improving the air quality in your home. And if you make a mistake, get rid of a book you get the urge to re-read, it will be available through used bookstores, online or even as a reprint.

May 12, 2008

Note to everyone who has my cell phone number

Like a moron, I put my trousers in the washer with my cell phone still in them (it was pretty much the only time in history I had my cell phone in a trouser pocket to start with). Needless to say, you can't call me on it right now. Strangely, the Internet says it might well blink back to life, but it's gonna take a day or two.

I'll live.

May 24, 2008

Off to America

Today (May 24 if you're reading this on the ROCR.net front page), I'm going to Amsterdam to stay with a friend, so I won't have to get up at some God-awful hour to go to Amsterdam Airport on Sunday morning. From there, I'll be off to Nashville, Tennessee, where I'll be spending the next three weeks with Aggie. New comics may be delayed.

June 23, 2008

Uhm.... yeah

Apologies for the radio silence here. I've been back for a week now, and I still haven't posted. While waiting for my plane at Philadelphia airport, I tried to write a post about my stay in the US, but it came out all rambling and I never finished it. Then I had to plunge right back into my day job, while still suffering from jetlag. That sure was fun.

Instead of trying again to write that post and having it be a little less than fresh, I'll just be lazy and point you to Aggie's newspost about it. It's short, well-organised, comes with a silly photo, and she mentions that I look hot, which you wouldn't believe if I told you so myself, so referring to her post is a win-win solution for me.

About Life

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