Archive for January, 2006

Holy grail of web design found, or so they tell me

January 31st, 2006 by Reinder

Reader Danny (AKA Awake98 on the forums) points me to an A List Apart article on the holy grail of web design

Three columns. One fixed-width sidebar for your navigation, another for, say, your Google Ads or your Flickr photos—and, as in a fancy truffle, a liquid center for the real substance. Its wide applicability in this golden age of blogging, along with its considerable difficulty, is what has earned the layout the title of Holy Grail.

with, as the writer doesn't even feel the need to spell out, lean, standards-compliant layout.
I have too much on my plate right now to fiddle with my website design, but when I do have time to fiddle, I'll want to experiment with this.

Running clinic

January 31st, 2006 by Reinder

Long term readers of the blog will know that I like to run but have a problem with my knee preventing me from running for any lenght of time. Between my last post on the subject and yesterday evening, I went running less than half a dozen times and never for longer than 15 minutes in one go. I knew that if I built it up I would be able to expand that, but running for such short periods turned out to be frustrating - the muscles and lungs have only just warmed up and I have to quit again to prevent buggering up the knee.
On New Years'Eve, though, I noticed that I could dance (not well, but energetically) for hours on end without it affecting the knee. So obviously the energy and muscle are still there and with the right kind of movement I should be able to train without damage and build this up to much longer training sessions reasonably quickly.
It just so happened that the newsletter from my old running club arrived a few days later with a yellow note attached inviting me to a runninc clinic they were organising. So I signed up, bought some clothes for winter running on Thursday, tested them with another short run that same night, and yesterday evening, I took the first class.
And lo and behold! With a coach telling me how to structure a training session, when to hold back and when to go fast, it turns out I can complete an hour-long training without the knee objecting, and it also turns out that I'm actually pretty fit still. I can run pretty fast, and I'm not even all that sore the next day (not to give the impression that I'm completely free from the after-effects, but I had expected much worse). Actually, the only real complaints (apart from a slight soreness in that knee to remind me that I'm not completely out of the woods yet) come from the muscles in my stomach and sides, which clearly need building up and whipping into shape. As if I didn't know that from looking at my skeleton-with-a-potbelly shape in the mirror.
So now I'm feeling very motivated to bite the bullet and just do those 10-minute runs every other day during the week, in the hope that in two or three weeks I can last longer even when I'm running on my own.

How To Be Invisible

January 25th, 2006 by Reinder

Tristero at Digby's place has some tips on guarding your online privacy on an OSX computer. Could be useful, I wouldn't know, although I do rather believe I should know.

Transcription difficulties.

January 24th, 2006 by Reinder

I am transcribing Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan episodes from early 2004 for the Oh No Robot comics transcription database. It turns out that these particular comics with their interlocking panel layouts and multiple conversation threads are very difficult to transcribe properly. Conventional divisions between panels in ONR are rendered simply by two carriage returns in the transcription. But on many of the comics from late 2004 to early 2004, these divisions broke down or were ignored by the dialogue. Here's a transcription for the comic page for February 2, 2004:

[[Ottar's flashback. Ottar and Abúi are running along a tree branch. Abúi is holding a book in her arms - the Wythllewe Boke.]]

[[Arthur's flashback. Arthur is talking to the older raven.]]
Arthur: We need more numbers!

Elder Raven: More numbers?
Arthur: Yeah. If we had a number meaning "Many-and-one", we could count to Many-and-one. Maybe even beyond!

[[Jake's flashback. Jake is drinking ale with Tamlin.]]
Tamlin: Whoa there buddy! You're going fast tonight.
Jake: It's that tree, Tamlin. It gives me the willies.

[[Arthur's flashback. The Elder Raven's dialogue is half-hidden. The ravens are positioned on a tree branch so it looks like they're on the same branch as Ottar and Abúi in their flashback, and Arthur appears to be looking down at Norla in her flashback.]]
Elder raven: Fledg There's no/left for/teach you, save this: never let on that you're smart/than a mon-
[[Ottar's flashback. Ottar and Abúi are reading the book.]]
[[Norla's flasback. Norla is reading a book. P'Séaigg is talking to her.]]
P'Séaigg: Are you ever going to tear yourself away from those books?
[[The flashbacks are interrupted by Atra's cackling loudly in the present time.]]
Atra: Haaa-ha ha ha!

And that's not nearly the most complex layout in the sequence.

On the one hand, I could use some help. But I can see why readers aren't exactly lining up to help with the transcription and I can't blame them. There are many opportunities to go wrong with these. The placement of the final word balloon in the flashback is particularly awkward although it does read correctly - or rather, it doesn't matter much if it isn't read fully until after the interruption is taken in; the visual interpretation of the sequence works. In the transcription, a judgment call has to be made to place it unambiguously before the interruption.

I have asked the ONR people for more ways to indicate panel and word balloon flow. I'm not sure if they'll be able to invent any that will work with some of the things I've done in that particular sequence of comics. Which in a way is gratifying.

Life and work update

January 24th, 2006 by Reinder

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.

French military victories

January 20th, 2006 by Reinder

Your history lesson for today: A thousand years' worth of French military history. Since right-wing hate-mongerers still keep trotting out the "Cheese-eating surrender monkeys" lie from time to time, and many others are gullible enough to buy it, having this article to refer to will come in handy.

Let's take the toughest case first: the German invasion, 1940, when the French Army supposedly disgraced itself against the Wehrmacht. This is the only real evidence you'll find to call the French cowards, and the more you know about it, the less it proves. Yeah, the French were scared of Hitler. Who wasn't? Chamberlain, the British prime minister, all but licked the Fuhrer's goosesteppers, basically let him have all of Central Europe, because Britain was terrified of war with Germany. Hell, Stalin signed a sweetheart deal with Hitler out of sheer terror, and Stalin wasn't a man who scared easy.

The French were scared, all right. But they had reason to be. For starters, they'd barely begun to recover from their last little scrap with the Germans: a little squabble you might've heard of, called WW I.

WW I was the worst war in history to be a soldier in. WW II was worse if you were a civilian, but the trenches of WW I were five years of Hell like General Sherman never dreamed of. At the end of it a big chunk of northern France looked like the surface of the moon, only bloodier, nothing but craters and rats and entrails.

Verdun. Just that name was enough to make Frenchmen and Germans, the few who survived it, wake up yelling for years afterward. The French lost 1.5 million men out of a total population of 40 million fighting the Germans from 1914-1918. A lot of those guys died charging German machine-gun nests with bayonets. I'd really like to see one of you office smartasses joke about "surrender monkeys" with a French soldier, 1914 vintage. You'd piss your dockers.

Shit, we strut around like we're so tough and we can't even handle a few uppity Iraqi villages. These guys faced the Germans head on for five years, and we call them cowards? And at the end, it was the Germans, not the French, who said "calf rope."

When the sequel war came, the French relied on their frontier fortifications and used their tanks (which were better than the Germans', one on one) defensively. The Germans had a newer, better offensive strategy. So they won. And the French surrendered. Which was damn sensible of them.

This was the WEHRMACHT. In two years, they conquered all of Western Europe and lost only 30,000 troops in the process. That's less than the casualties of Gettysburg. You get the picture? Nobody, no army on earth, could've held off the Germans under the conditions that the French faced them.

(Found as a result of a Google search suggested in an A Fistful of Euros comment)

Strips in Stereo

January 18th, 2006 by Reinder

Poepoe is showing previews of Strips in Stereo a forthcoming project in which Dutch hit songs are adapted into comics. The first one by Barbara Stok, based on the Doe Maar hit "Is Dit Alles" is making me very very interested in the result:

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Going slightly hard of hearing for a couple of hours this weekend

January 14th, 2006 by Reinder

Just like every year, I forgot to buy tickets for the multi-day, city-wide festival Eurosonic or its sister festival Noorderslag. This year, however, I did find the time to pick up some of these twin festivals' table scraps by going to the instore performances at the record store Plato, featuring many of the same artists. I like instores. The sound may not be ideal, the stages may be cramped and the auditorium too small to fit the crowds easily, but you get to sample artists' live abilities for free in short, focused performances. Also, you get to see them browse the CD racks. Not to mention that the audiences are relatively sober and almost clean.
On Thursday I saw Cuban-born pop singer Liset Alea, whose song "Dame la Cuenta" was a surprise favorite of mine on Plato's autumn sampler disk, and local freak-rockers Planet Orange. Unfortunately, she was a bit ill so she started late and cut her acoustic set down to three songs. I'm not sure if her music works that well in an acoustic setting. On the record, I liked the electronic beats in combination with her writing. The set was pleasant enough though. Planet Orange's Beefheartesque rock with Fender organ, trumpets and noisemakers was a lot more exciting. I'd seen them before, 5 years ago, and until recently I was under the impression that they'd split up. Not so, fortunately. It was strange to see how keyboardist Harm Wierd had changed; the first time I saw him, with Friction (Freakrock Foundation) in the mid-1990s, he had long hair, a beard and a very authentic hippie dress style. By the time Planet Orange became a going concern, the long hair had already gone, but now he looks like a professor in some obscure subject that doesn't require its practitioners to ever leave the library, like pre-Columbian Finno-Ugric philology or something like that. It's not just the tie, the dusty brown jacket or the mushroom haircut, but the combination of the tie, the jacket and the haircut that creates the impression. Still plays the organ like a madman though. Singer Dickie Visser still looks like a giant ape, even though I could tell as he walked past me in the store that he isn't all that tall. It's his burly build, wild hair and lumbering movements that make him look that way. He's quite a wonderful performer, with his gruff voice and rudimentary trombone skills. I bought their new record, Drip Drop Dripping, on the strength of the band's show.

On Saturday, I wanted to see Audiotransparent, a local band whose music I'd heard on Plato's PA system before. They've been getting some good reviews and I've seen references to them pop up on the livejournals of people outside the Netherlands, so I was really curious about them. But when I walked into Plato at the scheduled time of 2 o'clock, it was immediately clear that the band getting ready to perform weren't them. Audiotransparent are a self-identified shoegazer group, and I don't associate that style of music with lumberjack shirts, five-o-clock shadow, traditional instruments and beer bottles on stage. It turned out that Audiotransparent had also caught a bug and had to bow out of the instore performance; I don't know if they did any of their other scheduled gigs this weekend. What I got to see instead of them was very good though. El Pino and the Volunteers played raw alt.country/Americana and did a bang-up job at it. I prefered their faster, upbeat pieces to their slower singer-songwritery stuff. Fun to see that style of music tackled by such young guys too. I bought their mini-CD as well.
I decided not to wait for the next band, GEM, but pay for the CDs I'd been piling up in my hands and visit some other stores for some regular shopping. More on the CDs I've bought later. I returned to Plato after 4, in time for a band called T99 to start their show. I wasn't too taken with this trio, for some reason; their music didn't connect to me much until their final number, which was an energetic surf instrumental. If they'd done their whole set with that kind of material, I'd have loved them.
Next on the setlist were LPG, a local band who have got quite a lot of media attention because a recording by them is to be used worldwide in a Nokia commercial, even though they didn't have a record contract when they made that deal. I've got mixed feelings about them and think the media buzz happened too early for them. They've got some exciting musical ideas but at this mini-gig, they performed them rather hesitantly. A couple of dozen more gigs would have put them in a better position to present themselves to the world.
The first song of their set was fronted by a guest, home-recording songwriter Spinvis singing the title song of his new album Dagen van Gras, Dagen van Stro. He was easily the most charismatic person on stage at that moment, but his own performance half an hour later, an "outstore" mini-gig on the street in front of the store, with video projection, didn't work that well for me. I'm not going to stand out in the cold while some guy on a stepladder reads lyrics from paper to a taped backing track, and so I was on my way back home 5 minutes in.
A mixed bag it was then. I'll certainly be keeping an eye on El Pino's fresh-faced if rather unkempt young lads, will be enjoying Spinvis' music on the radio and on record, and hope to catch Audiotransparent some other time.

Liebaart

January 11th, 2006 by Reinder

Unbelievably useful although too many pages are still labeled "Under Construction": Website of De Liebaart, a Flemish foundation for historical reconstruction, with plenty of information and reference pictures on historical dress including peasant dress. The photo section is a bit disorganised but does a good job at showing what outfits and tents looked like in 14th-Century Flanders. The site is bilingual.

Bloggers the new punk movement?

January 10th, 2006 by Reinder

My arse. Political bloggers are the new hippies. They think they're going to change everything, stick it to the man, put the world right. In twenty years, they'll be playing golf and boasting about all the dope they smoked even though they'll know by then that it was all oregano anyway.

*spits*