Archive for April, 2006

Whew!

April 30th, 2006 by Reinder

I have finished work on the old Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan storyline The Death Warrant. Of course, it's more than likely that some error should raise its head, but the fact that all images are uploaded and scheduled signifies some sort of closure for me. Barring any miscalculations coming to light over the next few weeks, the story will end on June 16.
And good riddance. I'm getting a bit fed up with publishing old work. I do want to get it over with, so I will run at least one and quite possibly two short stories from 1994: the definitely-scheduled one is The New Sheriff and the possibly, maybe, planned one is called Beards. Once I've published that one, I'll consider the bottom of the barrel duly scraped; there is more in the vaults, but you won't see it.
That does of course leave one long, old story hanging. The fourth long story, Koningsdrama, will not be published online in its current form. I have begun work on rewriting it and will redraw it in its entirety, just to bring what I feel is a weak story in its original form up to scratch. It's proceeding well, but it will be hard work.
The 10 updates of Sheriff will bring us to June 30. July 1 is the sixth anniversary of the continuous online publication of Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan in English. A good time for a change. Starting July 1, I will stop publishing the comic on a fixed schedule. The new version of story no. 4, to be entitled King Groy, will be updated whenever I see fit to do so. If the result of that is that the comic appears to update 5 times a week, then that is good, but if entire weeks are missed, then that will just be the way it is.
The new version will be in colour, and it will be a step ahead of the last batch of new work I put online in January. I'm giving up regularity to ensure quality, something I've been far too reluctant to do in the past few years, and it shows in the uneven quality of the work especially after 2002. The fear that audiences would forget about me if I didn't update at least three times a week has been a strong motivator, but by now I've realised that that's not how it works. Readers do have longer memories, and for those that don't, there are notification services and RSS feeds. So in 2006, regular updates no longer look like the optimal strategy that they used to be in 2001. And I for one simply don't want to play that game anymore.

I’m a sentimental fool…

April 30th, 2006 by Reinder

...and I just loved School Reunion. Best Series 2 episode so far, by a large margin.
From the trailers, I'd expected a light-hearted monster-fighting romp with Sarah Jane and the disco Aibo. What I got was much, much better and in fact could be up there with the best episodes from Series 1. As tight, sinister and low on unnecessary jokes as Tooth and Claw, but with an ending that worked and was properly signposted this time. The Doctor was ... well... more like the Christopher Eccleston Doctor. More otherworldly and slightly disturbing even when friendly. The school setting worked really well. I was actually surprised that the Fear Factor kids only rated it a 3; if I'd been a kid the idea of teachers using school kids that way would have given me the screaming heebie-jeebies.
The inevitable cattyness between Sarah Jane and Rose was resolved quickly enough to prevent it turning into a distraction, but the longer-term issues surrounding the ultimate fate of the Doctor's companions remained in the air. I was a bit concerned before watching that Sarah Jane would be written all wrong, but she was convincing from the get-go.

Even K9 was not annoying. I'd been watching some Original Series Season 17 episodes the past week, and I ended up not being too keen on the metal dog towards the end of it, but fortunately in this one he was kept in the background of things.

The one thing that I think didn't work too well was the bat teachers. They were much scarier in their human form than as CGI monsters, however impressive their movements were. It's a minor gripe, especially in the light of how many previous Doctor Who monsters had been cheaply-made rubber suits. I still believe that because of the physical presence, a rubber monster can work better than a CGI one, but only if a lot of money and effort are actually spent on both the suits and the actors inside them. These CGI monsters came very close to being better than the very best suited-up actors, but the human forms were still scarier. Give us human baddies!

My eyes welled up at the end. There. I've said it.

[Einar] Missing the bloody point.

April 29th, 2006 by Adam Cuerden

America's Fate: The Titanic's

Deals with a real issue: America's crippling national debt, but tries to blame it on Social Security, Medicare, and the like.

...No mention of two very expensive wars and an extensive peacekeeping mission.

Why is it that Conservatives can spend as much as they want on war, but want to take away the protection of the most vulnerable, and claim, even as George W. Bush uses a beaureaucratic trick (replacing the Social Security's funds with government bonds so that he can spend the money) that Social Security needs to be stopped, as it's causing the National debt.

And yet, one of the responses:

David

Entitlements. Need we say more?

Look at your charts.

In 1965 we spent 27% on entitlements. Now it is 54%.

We will be spending 25% of our entire GDP on SS, Medicare and Medicaid. That is more than the TOTAL Federal budget.

We have to address entitlements. Nothing else really matters. We can control ALL the other spending. We can cut defense spending to zero. We can close all the parks. And we still cannot solve the problem unless we can control entitlements.

We will probably have to ration health care at some point. Let's be smart about it. Everybody dies eventually. How much is one more year worth?

...Ah, just bugger me with a broostick sideways and spare me this crap.

Projects update

April 26th, 2006 by Reinder

Here's my status on the ongoing projects:

Headsmen minicomic: Still ongoing, but delayed. Only 15 people signed up so it's not a commercially viable project. I will need to make the book anyway, for the donors who made it possible for me to write and draw Headsmen, but it's going to have a lower priority.

Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan the webcomic: Buffered until the seventeenth twentyfifth of May. Progressing at a rate of 2-6 episodes daily, depending on available time.

Chronicles of the Witch Queen: Hoping to be able to restart it in May. Probably not on May 1, though. Thinking of including the series in the transcription project.

Transcription project: Almost 1000 episodes are now transcribed, with special thanks to reader Andrew Hecker. About 200 Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan episodes to go before the work is done, plus the side-comics and maybe the Chronicles of the Witch Queen stuff.

Gang of 4: All comics for the season have been done. I'm thinking of putting this season's episodes online with a bit of a delay and of doing some web exclusives, probably adapted from rejected or abandoned scripts (the link goes to 3 episodes already online for a range of reasons). That would mean adding a proper website section for the comic as well, which it doesn't quite have yet. Also I still need to bill the publisher for the last episode.

Workshops: I finished a series in the library in Hoogkerk; there's another series in Selwerd scheduled for May. Now I'm doing active acquisition work to get more workshop gigs in the second half of the year.
I'm also thinking of doing a workshop or lecture for teenagers and adults specifically about webcomics. I've been doing webcomics non-stop for six years and I dare say I have a few experiences to share. Unlike the workshops I teach now, these would not include a practical section; it would be mostly me talking about topics such as digital tools, content management systems, good and bad working habits, mistakes I've made, mistakes I've avoided, my own successes and failures, and most importantly, targets and purposes. There'd be room for questioning and I might invite some people specifically as critical voices. I've got a venue in mind as well. I'll brainstorm on that a bit though, yet.

Work acquisition: I'll be spending a few mornings looking for magazines and publishers to send work to. I'll also be thinking about what to do with Gang of 4 and my work for Hello You! generally in the next few days. And next week, I'll start a project to kickstart my creativity a bit, because it needs it. More on that in a separate post.

A word from Scott Martens

April 25th, 2006 by Reinder

Scott Martens at AFOE has something to say on what is known here as the MP3 murder:

So, to the racist assholes of the Vlaams Belang, to every Belgian reporter and editorialist who through casual racism allowed their coverage to assume that the perpetrators were Muslims, to Brussels Journal, Michelle Malkin, the LGF crowd, to the many who blamed this killing on Islam or race, and to everyone in Belgium who thinks Islam is more incompatible with European values than Catholicism, I would like to offer up a big fuck you! If you wonder why your immigrants are socially excluded, you might start by looking at the society they're excluded from.

Endorsed, wholeheartedly. Read the rest for background.

Sunday cycling, tuesday swimming

April 25th, 2006 by Reinder

For future reference: today, April 25, was the first day in the season I swam in De Papiermolen, the outdoor pool right next to my workplace. 2006 is also the first year since moving into the studio that I have a season ticket.
I limited myself to twenty laps in the competition-length pool, not because I'm out of practice (I'm not) but because I was still feeling the effect of Sunday's cycling. Sidsel and I went to Dokkumer Nieuwe Zijlen - no, I hadn't heard of it either. It's on the northwest side of the Lauwersmeer. Our original destination was Lauwersoog, which is only 42 kilometers from Groningen, but we ended up taking a bit of a detour because we rode too far west and didn't go north quickly enough. This meant we got to see quite a few towns we hadn't been through before, as well as long stretches of empty space. The Netherlands has a reputation for being a wee bit crowded, but there are still places where no people live although avoiding tourists is a bit difficult even there. Near Dokkumer Nieuwe Zijlen, though, there's a nature preserve, two thirds of which is off-limits to people. The other third is largely marshland, with only the bike paths being accessible. It's very nice to suddenly find yourself riding through swamp covered in tall dry grass and reeds as far as the eye can see.

It's really nice to go cycling right now, anyway. You get to see tiny newborn lambs, birds nesting and everything coming to life. The birds in particular are everywhere, twittering and chattering. We stopped to look at a large group of excitable yellow-bellied finches and took pictures of, among other things, a swan in its nest. We spotted it turning over its eggs, but by the time we got our cameras out it had sat down on them again. Interesting though to see it nest out in the open. I suppose swans are badass enough to defend their nests against anything, so they don't need to hide them. (pictures to come later)
The one downside to cycling this early in the season is that it's impossible to dress for. We left in cold, clammy conditions; by the time we took our tea break at Houwerzijl it was sunny and warm; and by our coffee break in Lauwersoog at 5 PM it was cooling down noticeably again. The last hour of our journey we had light rain. In all, we spent about 7 1/2 hours, of a 9-hour journey, in the saddle, covering between 100 and 120 kilometers, most of it upwind. We rode on just about every surface known to man: asphalt, brick, concrete, gravel, sea-shell, dirt and sand. The only surface we missed out on was one made of shit, and trust me, we have ridden on dung-covered roads before in the past two years. The dominant organism along the northern coast is the sheep, remember.
I didn't write about this earlier because I was knackered at the end, and still didn't feel my best on Monday. I even skipped running on Monday evening. By 9 PM, though, my energy was returning and I started tinkering with the website. I expect to have manic levels of energy later today.

CaRP

April 25th, 2006 by Reinder

The Department of Putting Things Into Other Things has been very busy last evening: I added an RSS reader to the website backend. It picks up the link to the comic for which a transcription was last entered into Oh No Robot and puts it on the ROCR.net front page, and it also parses the RSS feed from Waffle to put on the ROCR.net front page. That's one iframe gone from there. I don't like iframes, they're unsightly. But a lot of the time they're the only way for me to pull content from elsewhere into the site.
The main reason I wanted an RSS parser was to display the last transcription though. I've been trying to give the transcription effort more visibility, so I wouldn't have to do so much of the work myself and get more benefit from it. I hope this extra link gives recently transcribed comics, most of which are from the sparsely-visited zone in the middle of the archives, some more exposure.
Getting this add-on has made me realise that I understand web development better than I give myself credit for. While I was doing the washing-up yesterday, I found myself thinking "But wait a minute! A PHP-based RSS reader would poke any feed it pointed to 500 times a day! That would be rude. It's the thing that owners of feeds complain about. So... look for one that can cache the feeds." And so on. I was speccing out the program I needed in some detail, while scrubbing out pans. Time well-spent, I should say. Of course, I couldn't write the software myself, and while I could in theory drop the project in Mithandir's lap, there are some limits to what I'd ask of him.
For the time being, I settled with CaRP which was easy to configure, let itself be embedded into WillowCMS's PHP wrapper without any problem, and allows both for caching feeds and for wittling down the output to a single link. It's not exactly what I wanted - I'd have liked a little more flexibility wrapping my own HTML code around the output, but it's 95% there.
One thing that's missing in the free version is the ability to pull out the author name from a feed item, so rocr.net-embedded-Waffle now lacks author links. Since the others don't write all that much, I don't see this as a big problem.
I can imagine many uses for this program, some of them a bit evil. We'll see in the next few weeks.

Tooth and Claw

April 23rd, 2006 by Reinder

... was quite a bit better than "New Earth". It still has a way to go, but despite being a bit low on quotable lines, it was consistently gripping and not made of swiss cheese. Good CGI effects on the werewolf as well. I liked how the Queen was portrayed; while there were many familiar elements and Rose at least tried to extract that quotable line from her, the totality of it was unlike any Victoria I've seen.
This one was tight, dark, suspenseful and focused. It was in many ways the complete opposite of a normal Russell T.Davies episode. Such pop culture references as there were were woven into the background rather than telegraphed constantly, and extraneous stuff was kept to a minimum. The only downside to that is that there weren't too many good Rose moments, but then not everyone is as much of a fan of hers as I am, and besides when I watched it, I didn't miss them.
Pity it all came apart a bit in the end, with the "solution" again being rushed into place as what one is invited to think of as a Spiritus Ex Machina. Let's hope Episode 3 is finally the "Dalek"/"Empty Child"/"Doctor Dances"-level corker we've been hoping for.

Sunday Cycling: Adventures in bird rescue

April 17th, 2006 by Reinder

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!

(more…)

New Earth

April 16th, 2006 by Reinder

A little later than most viewers, I got to watch New Earth. It was OK. I enjoyed it, but it wasn't anything special. Billie Piper shone in this one; she got to show her ability to act the villain for a change (I'm not telling how and why) and shake her booty, which I didn't mind looking at at all. I'm not sure I liked all the male characters going all camp when what happened to Rose also happened to them. Doctor Who is camp enough at the best of times, and in this context it was a bit too stereotypical.
I also didn't like the idea of an old minor villain returning, although the execution of the idea was very good. I can understand the need to bring back major enemies, but this class of villains should have stayed dead. Let's hope this one does, from now on.
"The idea wasn't great but the execution was very good" pretty much sums up most of the episodes Russel T. Davies wrote himself. Count me as one of those who would rather see him concentrate on his executive producer role rather than writing several individual episodes this series.

The torrent for the episode was up in about an hour and a half after broadcast. While downloading it, I took a look at its statistics. I think having 2000 peers so quickly is quite impressive (and it helps making the download really really fast as well). Right now, there are three other copies of the show up on the network, each of them with hundreds of seeds (the one I got now has over 2000 seeds, presumably roughly the same people who got it overnight). Of course, the number of people getting it that way is still dwarfed by the number who watched it at broadcast time, but it's still a nice enough measure of the show's popularity. I'll be keeping an eye on that throughout the series, just to see if people are staying interested.