State of the website, September 28, 2021

The state of the website as of last night is that the webcomic part of it, the section that contains Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan and some other comics, is down. You can still find most of my comics on ComicFury, including new Danish translations of several of them.

I’ve had to take this step after getting an excess resource consumption message from my hosting provider, Hostpapa (formerly Lunarpages). Normally, this is the signal for me that it’s time to do some maintenance, so I updated my robots.txt to disallow the crawlers that were misbehaving, deleted a whole number of outdated scripts files they were misbehaving on (all of the Movable Type installation from way back when is now gone, including the content), and updated PHP to version 8.0. The latter of which broke Willowcms again, if only mildly. It still works, but it generates a very large number of error messages, which is one thing that may cause future excess resource consumption messages.

So this put the need to replace Willowcms on the agenda again, because it’s a one-person project and that person has enough on her plate right now. When I discussed this with Aggie, she became very interested, so I told her what I had looked into the last time I did reactive maintenance, and what my plans for the website would be if I had time/energy to implement them (I don’t – I barely have time for the things I want to do and do not want another time-sucking project in my life. However, I cannot imagine not self-hosting the bulk of my work, because you can never trust a platform not to sell you out).

So, I recapped what I did the last time this became anywhere near top-of-mind, which wasn’t as long ago as I thought it was: July of 2019. Then, the plan was to rebuild the webcomics archives with a static page generator like Jekyll or Hugo. I had even been in contact with a cartoonist/developer who had worked on a set of webcomic templates for Jekyll and who was willing to take input and feedback from me (thanks again, Yncke!) and experimented with building a site using files from Spun Off.

I also explained what frustrated me away from working on this migration at the time, which basically boiled down to feeling that I was replacing complexity in site management (PHP + SQL + Willowcms itself) with complexity in tooling: it’s one thing that I had to install the programming language Ruby to be able to run scripts that were written in Ruby, but while looking into how to work with it, I ran into a set of cultural expectations that made the process of web page creation in 2021 seem unnecessarily complex. It seemed to be not so much technically required as culturally expected that web developers stored both their code and their content in repositories such as Gitlab or Github, and that they built their HTML and CSS using frameworks like SaSS or Bulma (Bulma in particular does things that as an old school website author, I find abominable, such as using the HTML <i> tag as an empty placeholder to trigger CSS instructions that create buttons. WHY OH GOD WHY?). None of these are strictly necessary but each new reference to one of these non-mandatory requirements that were based on How People Do Things Now created a time-consuming distraction from the task at hand, and once I was distracted from the task at hand, it was easier for me to shift my focus to something that interested me more, like actually drawing comics. So that project fell by the wayside as I drifted away from it, until last night, when it was unexpectedly placed into harsh focus by my hosting provider.

Aggie, it turned out, was really interested in helping out with this as she had just placed herself in computer geek mode in an attempt to revive her broken desktop box. She heard me out and offered to investigate solutions. The first thing she looked at was the cpanel of my hosting provider, to see what alternatives to static site generators they might offer. See, this is the kind of lateral thinking I need in my life. I had never looked into Softalicious to see what it might offer out of the box. It turns out there are several flat-file CMS options available that might help me out, such as Flatpress and HTMLY that might be more straightforward to use than a static site generators, and offer some dynamic features if I want them. So I passed the project on to her. My initial take on flat-file CMSes versus static site generators is that for a new project, I would definitely prefer a flat-file CMS but for migrating 1300 pages of an old webcomic that I rarely update anymore, an SSG might still be the better option. More on this.
I also noticed that Nextcloud was right there within Softalicious, so I will be looking into installing that and moving away from Dropbox at long last. There’s a good chance that I will be spending more time working within my web hosting environment in the future, so I might as well make it worth my while, even if this means paying a little more for my hosting due to intensive use.

Items of interest for September 24, 2021

I went back to the office for two days. Here are my observations:
1. The company moved and the new office is everything I could wish for. No more open plan, but instead rooms that seat four people. Separate meeting areas in each room. Good Covid safety protocols and room to implement them in. Free face masks for anyone that needs them. A larger kitchen. Great location.
2. Bicycle commuting after 18 months at home is… ooft. The 32-km round trip knocks me off my feet.

I specifically booked the second day so I could take part in the company running group training after work, but after Day 1, it was clear that I was either going to bike or run, but not both. Since the opportunity to run depended on me biking there but not vice versa, I opted to bike.
The one downside to the new location is that we’re on the fourth floor. In 2019, I would have taken the stairs but right now, I cannot make myself do that after bicycling for an hour.
Yes, I’ve also gotten slower. Then again, because I have to take the laptop back unless I’m absolutely sure I’ll be working at the office the next day, I’m carrying more of a load than I used to.

In other things…
Using a 30 year old laptop in 2021: The Psion MC400CXF. As you might know, I believe we need more like this: more ways to keep using old tech so we don’t need to produce and purchase so much new.
(Also from the same blog: A Love Affair With Compact Cassette.)

Some more items of interest (Sep. 20, 2021)

Going back to this linklogging in a quick and dirty way for a bit. Mostly for things that would take more of my time to look at than I have now, so I want to store the links to look at them later. I am going to do less tagging and categorizing so that maintaining this is less work.
People’s Computer Company from the early 1970s, a computer newsletter that understood back then where things were going and wanted to stop it (or so it seems from the description I was given. There’s a whole archive there to dig through).

Quoted as saying (somewhere in there, anyway):
Computers are mostly
used against people instead of for people
used to control people instead of to free them
time to change all that –
we need a …
PEOPLE’S COMPUTER COMPANY

Via Andrew Roach, another thing I don’t have time for right now: Freak Power, a movie about Hunter. S. Thompson’s bid to be elected as Sheriff in Aspen, Colorado in 1970.

A few items of interest

‘Hyperrealism Sculpture’ exhibit in Brussels invites naked visitors – Pre-pandemic, I went to see this exhibit in Rotterdam and enjoyed it very much. The Kunsthal organises one or two nude tours a year and I’d like to do another one, but what with the anti-covid measures and the pandemic itself, we’ve not been back.

It inspired this image a year or so later:

Drawing of the cast of Greyfriar's Isle in a gallery
The cast of Greyfriar’s Isle in a gallery

The secure messaging app Signal has its problems. Article lists two alternatives, Matrix and Element, which runs on Matrix. I have no time to look more deeply into this now but would like to do so later.

A selection of Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan comics is now being published in Danish.

Prompts for Botober 2021 have been generated and published, and once again, they’re delightful.

30 Days Of Characters

I did 30 Days of Characters this year, and here’s the gallery of all the character drawings I made:

This took a lot of my time in April, but I think it was worth it. At the end of the month, I was faster and more decisive with my art, while making better use of the tools built into Procreate. I’ve built up more routine getting started on art early in the morning, and to top it all off! I have 30 characters I may be able to use in my comics! I decided early on to mostly focus on characters that I expected to have a use for, or even ones that I already knew would appear in one of my comics. I’ll do this again next year.

In May, I want to focus on the comics themselves again, and also get some traditional art done. It’s been a while.

Never trust a platform not to sell you out

I nuked my Facebook Pages for this?

This morning, I posted something to my Substack newsletter for the first time in over a year. Below, the post is reproduced in full:

It’s been almost exactly a year since I last posted here. I’ve had it on my to-do list for all that time to send people an update. In that year, I launched a new comic, introduced Danish translations of that new comic and another one, grew my Patreon a bit and finally went ahead with destroying the Facebook Pages so that I’d never have to put my communications with my readers in the hands of an evil platform again.

Yeaah… about that.

Over the last couple of weeks, Jude Ellison Doyle has been writing about how Substack built its platform on the backs of trans people and feminists, only to turn around and offer big money to writers who are best described as professional transphobes. I will not even name the names of said transphobes here because they all have a well-deserved reputation for sending their flying monkeys after people who name them and I don’t have time for that right now. However, the names are easy to find online through Jude’s writing and the accusation checks out.

As an aside, not only do I believe Jude in this specific case, but I’ve learned a lot and improved my own online life a lot by paying attention to who is being shitty to him, and disengaging from those people. I’ve broken off some long-lasting online friendships over that and never regretted it once. I know Jude didn’t sign up to be a lightning rod, but I thank him for his service anyway.

Never trust a platform not to sell you out. It is probably for the best that only about a tenth of the people who followed my old Facebook Pages joined this Substack mailing list. My next communication through Substack, when it arrives, will be an announcement of where I’m moving to. I expect only about one in ten of my Substack subscribers will follow me to the new place, whatever it is, so I might as well take my sweet time with it. I didn’t say anything for a whole year and it was fine.

Part of my platform-proofing efforts has always been to crosspost, preferably to sites that I own, such as this blog. It’s fine for some content to be ephemeral, but this is probably of more lasting value as a snapshot of where I am in March 2021.

Further reading: Annalee Newitz at The Hypothesis (currently still on Substack, but I expect that will change), argues that Substack is pretty much a publishing scam and all of us who posted our ‘content’ without pay from them are the suckers, who paid for big advances for a select and rather unsavory group of marquee writers. Annalee does name names, so their comments are predictably made unreadable by flying monkeys.

Some art for Tess Durban: The Natural World

Oh, hi. It’s been a half-year. No need to go over all that. I wanted to show some new stuff I’ve been working on. A sequel to the first Tess Durban story (it was called Cultish Manners but now that it’s a series, the series is called Tess Durban and the first story has been renamed The Cult of XünÿX) that I’m writing in December and will be trying to draw from beginning to end in October-December. Here’s some prep art:

Some of these were done in ink and watercolors as part of the Year of Traditional Art. I did actually do a lot more work on that than I’ve shown on the blog. However, I have now put it to rest so I can work on this project in the fourth quarter of the year.
Other works are digital, mostly done in Procreate. It took me a long time to get comfortable with Procreate because I was very used to working in Autodesk Sketchbook. But once I really committed to it, I started to love it. However, the comic probably won’t be made in Procreate but in Affinity Photo, because that app has a desktop and a mobile version. This means that when my iPad battery conks out, I can simply continue on the desktop.

I’m having a ball writing this comic! It’s going to be very different in mood and tone than The Cult of XünÿX and so today I’ve been thinking about the series’ visual identity a bit, in the form of logos, body fonts and promo images. That’s still very difficult and frustrating for me because I’m simply not a graphic designer. Graphic design is only my passion in the sense that I passionately hate doing it.

The character of Jenny Everywhere is available for use by anyone, with only one condition: This paragraph must be included in any publication involving Jenny Everywhere, that others might use this property as they wish. All rights reversed.

A year of traditional art: Intro

I enjoyed working in traditional media so much during Inktober and NaNoManGo 2019, and work on Cultish Manners really picked up speed when I committed to working primarily on paper. But I soon got dissatisfied: my inks were often riddled with mistakes, stains and blemishes, erasers covered my inks in grey film, and when I was done, the inked paged didn’t show up as black on white, but rather as washed out grey-on-grey, because that’s what they were. I also had to resize and rework nearly every image in digital after I was done, and what I ended up with was digital pages for which the traditional art, laborious as it was, was mere raw material. The process was inefficient and emotionally disappointing. So I decided to spend 2020 learning more about the things that make traditional art traditional: inks, paper, paints, erasers, and so on.

Art supply loot: paper and paints
Art supply loot, February 4, 2020

I originally thought the project would involve a lot of coloring with alcohol-based markers, because I’ve acquired a lot of them over the past two years. First I started buying them then my wife kept giving them to me. It was Colleen Doran‘s string of Patreon posts and Twitter threads that got me interested in using pan watercolors. What clinched it was not so much the prospect of better fade-proofing (I am under no illusion that 99% of my art won’t be entirely gone within five years from the day I pass away) or more economical long-term use (I think she overstates the case here, because the cost of Copic markers is lower where I live, and they can be inexpensively refilled), but the fact that pan watercolors travel easily: travel-sized kits are more compact than collections of markers, and because the pans are dry, you can take them on an airplane without the risk of safety officials making you throw them out. Because I was going to spend up to a month traveling to and through Spain in a converted delivery van, after which I would travel home by myself and my wife would stay on the road in southern Europe for several more weeks, that sounded like a plan. Last winter, we did the travel thing as well, and I took markers that I barely used. They took up a lot of space, and a small kit seemed like a good alternative.
So I bought a set of 24 Talens van Gogh watercolor pans (link goes to bol.com and is not sponsored, though I did order it from them. If you’re in the US, buying this brand at this site may not be your best option) and took out some postcard-sized watercolor paper I’d bought earlier. It took me a while but I did take it out and started working with it. It was great fun and the initial results were encouraging. The colors were much more vibrant out of the box than I expected, and the choice of colors resembled my standard palette for digital work enough that I didn’t have to do a lot of mixing. I also loved that the colors were transparent over brush pens or India ink. A good choice to get started with. However, when the time came to travel home, it turned out that I couldn’t quite fit the set inside the single, 10-kilogram bag that made up my free luggage allowance, and so, reluctantly, the kit stayed behind with my wife on the Iberian peninsula. As I write this, it’ll be a few weeks before the kit and I are reunited.
I decided to buy a different, smaller kit with fewer colors. It’s a year of traditional art, and I might as well take the opportunity to learn to mix colors accurately. After some back-and-forth with myself, I ordered this Winsor & Newton Cotman 12-pan travel kit (again, Bol.com, previous warning applies), wich is the size of my iPhone 6, roughly. To tide me over until it arrived, I dug out some old watercolors from my wife’s stash; she had a mix of different, mostly school-quality brands in a box in her studio room.

The inside of the Derwent Inktense kit
The inside of the Derwent Inktense kit, with 12 colors, a sponge and a fountain brush

It turns out that I had an opportunity to visit a local art supply store the same day the travel kit arrived, and in hindsight I might as well have bought it off the shelf there. No worries, they’ve been getting plenty of my business and will be getting more of it this year. While i was there, I spotted a Derwent Inktense set of dry watercolor inks (Bol.com again, yadda yadda) and decided that I wanted to think about it for a few days. After thinking about it for a few days, I went back and bought one of those as well. I’d seen other artists do interesting things with colored inks, and I had a fairly random collection of colored inks in liquid form lying around, so I decided it might be a good time to try this kit as well, in case working with inks was a better fit for the sort of thing I was trying to do. By that time, I had settled into a routine of making coloring pages for myself: simple line art drawings in pen and ink that I could color whichever way I wanted without feeling I’d ruined an important piece if I messed them up. Most of these are now on my DeviantArt; I will post those, and a few others I haven’t yet shared with anyone here, as part of this series of posts. What I can say now is that I have used all of my kits, I have experienced interesting technical difficulties, have been making swatches and doing tests to compare products directly, and I’m ready to talk about them at great length for people who want to follow the learning process with me.

This introductory post about my year of traditional art is free for the general public. Future posts, including embarrassingly bad artwork from me and information about my experiences with different art materials from different brands, will appear only on my Patreon and be Patrons-only. For the low, low price of $ 1 a month, you can learn from my mistakes, and laugh at them. It’s much better than me posting my nudes for money. Trust me, you don’t want to see my nudes.

New Year’s Resolutions

Copied from a post on the ComicFury forums, here are my New Years’ Resolutions for 2020. I started off with my art resolutions, but the general resolutions are closely connected to those.

OK, it’s the time of year for this and allows me to procrastinate actually working on a comic (which it’s also the time of year for – procrastination, I mean)
In 2020, I will:

  • Finish at least one project out of several to make room for new ones. The best candidate is Abúi’s Travels because that has the flimsiest premise and is also closest to completion already. Maybe 8 to 10 pages? But I’ve been saying that for years.
  • Focus on traditional art again, specifically on the things that make traditional art traditional: working with real materials, ink, paper, paints, dyes and traditional techniques. I will study and try out new materials and add some new skills to my toolkit, maybe calligraphy so I can hand-letter again to a higher standard than the last time I did this. Remedying all the other flaws in my work will take a back seat to this, though I will work on perspective and backgrounds some. I have a strong emotional need to be less dependent on technology, because Big Tech sucks, and FLOSS is only marginally better.
  • Produce at least a page a week throughout the year.
  • Get to the end of the first Cultish Manners storyline and into the next one.
  • Update my self-hosted website so it contains all of Abúi’s Travels and Cultish Manners
  • Update my Substack newsletter exactly once a week.

A few words about the how

I have a set of non-art resolutions and it turns out that keeping to them is a necessary condition for meeting the goals of the art resolutions. In order of importance:

  • I need to sleep more. A LOT more. I will set myself a goal of sleeping 8 hours a day on workdays and 9 on weekends. For much of the past year, I’ve relied on artificial means to stay awake and it’s wearing me down. Right now, I can feel this very strongly. To do this, I will have to insist on stricter sleep hygiene including occasionally moving to our guest room if necessary – if the dogs are too noisy or my spouse is reading or watching movies in bed.
  • To help make the previous resolution possible (sigh, it’s dependencies upon dependencies) I will need to be even more active than I am now. Many days, I’m just not physically tired enough to sleep even when my mind is exhausted. I have just raised my step count target in Fitbit from 12,000 to 14,000, and am planning to make up the difference in more and longer walks with the dogs, which will also help them be quieter at night. Keeping my weight down also helps me with other health issues (apnea and gastric reflux) that prevent me from sleeping.
  • Starting in April, I will work fewer hours in my day job. The only reason I’m not doing this earlier is that the company will need to hire a part-timer to fill the missing hours, but when that’s sorted, I’m going to 32 hours. Most of the time I gain is already booked for more sleep and more physical activity, but my ability to use the remaining hours will hopefully improve.

Finally, I have some New Years’ resolutions that don’t have the ultimate purpose of allowing me to produce more art and get more stuf done.

  • Social media: I will KonMari all my social media stuff, commercial and federated alike, by blocking accounts that don’t spark joy. That is, the old criteria by which I block an account if it annoys or offends me directly or the person is acting like a shithead towards others are no longer strict enough. Instead, if there’s no good reason not to block an account, blocked it will be. This will result in me blocking several hundred accounts a day on Twitter alone, but I can live with that.
  • Also social media: one thing on social media that does spark joy for me is seeing more nudity on it, so I will follow accounts that offer that. Not necessarily lewd accounts, but not necessarily only not-lewd accounts either. Whatever increases my own happiness.

In the forum post, I only make brief mention of how I want to change my technology approach. I want to reduce my dependence on Big Tech without pivoting 100% to Free, Libre and Open Source technology, because I no longer believe that a strict FLOSS approach is worth striving for. A lot of FLOSS is in the de-facto control of Big Tech (FAGAM + Twitter + Netflix) or affected by some of the same toxic thinking that has helped Big Tech create our present Dystopian hellscape. Here’s what I want to do:

  • Make optimal use of the technology I already own, so I don’t have to give tech companies more of my money.
  • Learn more about the deep tools that I can assume to be present in any system that I use. I may never be a coder, but learning to use common technology, like Make, that is present in every system I use, will still benefit me (see the recent and possibly not permanent blog entry by Matthew Graybosch on using Makefiles to create static websites from templates; a solution that is both complex and simple – you need to learn a few things to do it, but when you do, you can pretty much always do it)
  • Use a combination of small tech and FLOSS that works for me to accomplish most goals. Right now, I increasingly use Emacs org.mode, a stack of FLOSS solutions, for editing text, and proprietary Affinity products for editing images and page layouts. This works for me and minimizes harm.
  • Increase my self-hosting by adding static websites and by making fuller use of the webspace I control, e.g. by implementing my own cloud hosting solution. That’s not going to happen within the first few weeks of the years, but as a longer-term goal, I can make that work.

Linklog for December 29, 2019: mostly about Big Tech being bad

My New Years’ Resolutions for 2020 are driven by a desire to become less dependent on Big Tech (Facebook, Amazon, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter) even in cases where it’s not possible for me to sever the relationship completely. So it’s convenient to find that most of the links that I’ve collected over the past two months or whatever since I last posted a linklog are about Big Tech being bad. First, some art, though.

I drew some cover art for a new storyline by The Cosmic Beholder: The Mighty Bares. Requires a login to view. Eventually it will be posted in more publically accessible places.

Apple Card issuer investigated after claim of sexist credit checks – The Guardian. Noteworthy that the name of the issuer is Goldman Sachs, a familiar bad actor from the global financial crisis.

Regarding Mac Support Indy game developer Josh ‘Cheeseness’ Bush has had enough of Apple’s user-hostile behavior and will not support Macs that run macOSX Catalina or newer. He will continue to support older Macs for as long as his production system works, and is considering supporting old PowerPC Macs instead.
Related: How to get hold of old macOS and Mac OS X Versions – MacWorld.

Facebook and Google’s pervasive surveillance poses an unprecedented danger to human rights – Amnesty International.

Aaaand Google retaliates against protesting workers.

Theologian Benjamin Corey looks at Biblical predictions of the Antichrist in great detail, and concludes that they uncannily match with Donald Trump’s presidency. This is a bit off a parlour game, but it does get a bit frightening as line after line points at the Tangerine Tantrum. It also shows some of the thinking that went into attempts at delegitimizing President Obama, specifically the reasons why Obama had to be painted as foreign. That wasn’t just to make him look illegitimate, though that was part of it: making Obama look illegitimate was not the end game. Rather, the end game was to make evangelicals think he was the Antichrist.

Time to get Personal by Laura Kalbag argues for bringing back personal websites. Preaching to the choir here, I know. But she showcases some lovely personal website designs in the process, most by women, without mentioning that most if not all are by women. Also, site.js looks like it might be worth looking into.

The Old Internet Died And We Watched And Did Nothing – KatieNotopoulos on Buzzfeed. Nothing much new to people reading Obsession du Jour or following my Mastodon accounts, but a good summary of the capture of the Internet by FAGAM in the 2010s and the destruction of cultural capital that this has caused. Also I like the tagline, “It’s 2020 — do you know where your content is?”

A Makefile Is Fine, Too – Matthew Graybosch on using a very traditional, ubiquitous tool to automate some of the tedious parts of creating websites. Also: A portable Makefile for continuous delivery with Hugo and Github pages – Victoria Dev. A confession: I don’t always read these tech articles with my full attention, but I do take note of them in case I ever decide to use them.