Archive for January, 2007

Slow page loads in the morning on rocr.net/ resulting from Project Wonderful ads

January 30th, 2007 by Reinder

Lately, ROCR.net has been loading slowly in the mornings (if you are reading this in my time zone, which is Central European Time). I'm afraid the source of the problem is the Project Wonderful ads, especially the new leaderboard ad on the archive pages.

If it was anything else, I'd remove it from the page in a heartbeat. But those ads are the best revenue source the comic has ever had, even if I do spend more on advertising through PW than I earn through it. The downtime, which can go up to two hours, is a big problem, though, so I'm watching the matter closely. I may end up doing what some other comics do and quarantine the ads in their own pages loaded through iframes. The fixed size of those iframes would then allow the browser to get on with loading the rest of the page. The problem with that sort of stopgap measures, though, is that they have a tendency to end up being permanent, which I'm not willing to put up with just yet.

The problem mostly affects the Opera browser, which is slow to give up on javascript that fails to load.If you use Opera, switching off javascript helps, and doesn't prevent the ads from loading when Project Wonderful is down. Or you can read the comic in Firefox; I want rocr.net to work in all browsers and wouldn't dream of presenting a browser switch as a solution, but the option is open to you if you want it.

Today, I failed the Turing test 12 times in a row

January 26th, 2007 by Reinder

The CAPTCHA system at Project Wonderful Talk is so good it blocked me from signing up twelve times in a row. I don't know why this is. The blurb next to the CAPTCHA claims that it is case-sensitive, but I've only seen capital letters in there. Also, it instructs people to enter only bold text, but in some cases it's hard to tell the difference. Whatever the cause is, I'm sure I'm not the only person who's been blocked from taking part in this forum. Not that the people at Projectwonderfultalk.com will be able to tell, because if there is a contact email address anywhere on the site, it's been hidden with great efficiency. Avoid this website if you value your time.
Update: Contact information was hidden at the bottom of one of its blog posts. I would like to point out that humans look for email addresses in the same way that bots do, by scanning for strings that look like Address@host.tld. Or a "Contact" button above the fold, if you find that having to filter out spam is too high a price to pay for being reachable.

Even the most basic alternative to CAPTCHAs, a link for the visually handicapped to follow, is missing. You want to sign up or post on Projectwonderfultalk? Prayer is your only option.

CAPTCHAs are effective at blocking spam bots, but at a great cost to legitimate users. I really should point out that on the Talk About Comics forums, spam bots stopped being a problem as soon as Joey installed the PHPBB plugin for Bad Behavior on the forums. This has also blocked a number of legitimate users, but that number has been very small, and it's been more effective than the CAPTCHA system that was already in place. The CAPTCHA there is still in place for new signups, as far as I know, but for all I know, it's become unnecessary.

Action painting and ape-man antics.

January 25th, 2007 by Reinder

A reader sent me a link to this video by Planet Orange, for the title song of their latest album, Drip Drop Drippin'. Neato, although it does seem to swipe somewhat from R.E.M.'s Pop Song '89, visually.
Watch Drip Drop Drippin'.

One more, then

January 24th, 2007 by Reinder

All right, one more White House in Orbit rerun before we return to Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan. Engel-in-der-Flucht will run for 22 consecutive days, ending on February 14. After that, we'll have a few small fillers before starting on a new Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan story. Feral will stay on hiatus for a little longer, for reasons that will become clear soon enough. Creatively, work on it is going well, but it's with this new story that I've finally been able and incentivised to pick up the pace. The new story will start on February 19 and run on a very tight schedule.

In Engel-in-der-Flucht, Jane is settling down into her new life as a Seriously Secret Service agent, but a bureaucratic requirement blocks her path to a career in the service. While she's resolving that, Agent X8.5 disappears while on a mission in Orbital Germany. It's up to Jane to go on a suicide mission to retrieve him! Engel-in-der-Flucht is an exciting retro-futuristic spy story full of song, dance, grisly torture and herring paté.

Gorgeous Princess Creamy Beamy

January 22nd, 2007 by Reinder

Gorgeous Princess Creamy Beamy is a fast, hyper-energetic comedy manga about a school girl who turns out to be an alien princess. That may not sound like a glowing recommendation, and there are one or two other aspects to the comic that will make many readers run for the hills (for example: feederism, while not as sad as some other fetishes I've been confronted with over the years, is usually my cue to STOP. READING. RIGHT. NOW), but GPCB is really, really funny and full of quotable lines. This thing's ontogeny is recapitulating the fuck out of its philogeny! is my favourite, so far.

Friday’s workshops

January 22nd, 2007 by Reinder

I did another bunch of workshops on Friday. Increasingly, the teaching is the one part of my activities that I can say is going well, without any reservations or qualifying, bet-hedging comments. In fact, I'm increasingly thinking of making it my main activity.

Friday's workshops were the regular 1-hour introductory classes for kids in Groups 6-8, i.e. the 9-to-12-year olds that also make up the age range of the readership of my comic for Hello You!, Gang of Four. I'm doing about 11 of those classes this month, bought in bulk by one of Groningen's Vensterscholen.

The school I taught at on Friday is a Dalton-certified public primary school, housed in a large building that is also home to a community center. It's a very nice place; I liked the fact that the community center's bar room also served as the teachers' room. There's a meeting room where a bunch of old folks were playing bingo during the school's afternoon break. A very welcoming, inviting environment - the guy at the bar offered me free sandwiches, which definitely endeared him to me.

Wikipedia has surprisingly little to say about the Dalton Plan. Dalton International has more, some of which I should remember in case I ever teach at a Dalton school again. From teaching at this school, I can at least say that the kids there were very well-behaved, keen and motivated. I liked these classes a lot. Compared to the trouble I had with some of my classes five years ago, it's like night and day. But then, age and experience are definitely making it easier for me to get a classroom full of children to do what I ask them to.

One thing I noticed was there wasn't a lot of gender segregation within the class room. In most schools, boys and girls at that age start separating themselves out, choosing to sit in single-gender groups. Here, boys and girls sat in mixed groups. I don't know whether the schools encourage that or if it's simply a consequence of the way Dalton schools socialise the kids, but it was a glaring difference compared to the "traditional" schools I've taught at. Or maybe it's the general environment of the school and community center.

And they could draw! I saw a lot of very steady hands at this school.

Dangerous and Fluffy back, now on Webcomicsnation, plus Planet Karen.

January 20th, 2007 by Reinder

Dangerous and Fluffy, the Sheep of Doom, by Adam Cuerden, Jeroen Jager and Timmerryn "Rahball" Brand, has returned to the web after a long absense. This strange rustic comedy about a farm boy with superpowers never got the readership it deserved while it was still posted as a subscription comic on Graphic Smash; I hope it fares better on this second outing as a free comic on Webcomicsnation.

I'd like to note in passing that Planet Karen is pretty cute. Actually, saying that it's cute doesn't do it justice, but she's advertising on ROCR.net right now, and I want to avoid a conflict of interest, or even the appearance thereof, so "Cute"; is all artist and main character Karen is going to get right now. Doing it justice will have to wait.

Odds and ends…

January 16th, 2007 by Reinder

I have 22 updates of the White House in Orbit storyline Engel In Die Flucht remastered and lettered. I thought I had 21, but it turned out the stack of original art that I scanned a month or so ago wasn't complete, so when lettering the pages I found one more. I had to remaster that one from the original scan, but I don't think this will be noticeable. Engel will take WHIO into late February, but after that, Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan will be back with new material. It won't be the Feral storyline just yet, though. It will be something else entirely.

On an entirely unrelated note, something has started... Indeed, an Oh Dear may be in order.

Also, I've updated my webcomic links list on ROCR.net and removed the Snap code. It was a neat idea, but after a few weeks I began to find it annoying because it interfered with normal link behaviour.

I've little else to say right now. I'm getting up early and working hard, especially with my steadily increasing teaching load. Talk to you later!

Bluffing my way into teaching.

January 10th, 2007 by Reinder

I've always thought that the saying "those that can, do; those that can't, teach" and variants thereof were bullshit, but today I sort of proved it by, er, teaching a life drawing class, and doing it in a way that was fun and interesting for the students. Or so they say. My spies within the school will confirm or deny it by this time tomorrow.

It happened like this: yesterday, Jeroen called me to Shanghai me into taking his place as a workshop teacher at a school in the southern part of Groningen, so he could go on honeymoonpick his girlfriend up from the airport. To be quite clear on this, he didn't literally feed me drunk so he could shove a contract under my nose and have me wake up the next morning with one leg chained to a nude woman and the other to an easel, though he's perfectly welcome to do so the next time. Instead, he appealed to my rapacity and greedsense of collegiality. "But", I said, "I don't know all that much about life drawing, I only do the unguided classes at the VOIC once a blue moon when not overworked, sick or amnesiac."
"Nevermind that", he said, "The students won't know this."
And so it was that later that afternoon, I discussed the purpose and content of the workshop with Jeroen, and early today I did some web research on teaching life drawing classes, and at 13:30 I stood before a group of teenagers telling them, in a not quite focused manner, what life drawing was for and what they were going to do when the model came in (she arrived at two).
Apart from the talk at the start, which I really need to practice more if I'm going to do more teaching on the subject, the workshop went really well. The model was cooperative and good at holding her pose and the students themselves were serious and motivated. There wasn't any of that "hur hur hur we're gonna draw a naked woman" stuff that the websites I did my research in warned of. They knew they were there to draw and learn to get better.
I alternated between having them draw from observation any way they liked and giving them special exercises in which they had to draw just the outline of the model, start with an action line and build the drawing up through a stick figure stage, exaggerate the model's features, or draw the model with nothing but oval shapes. Most of the time, I used ten-minute poses, but for some of the exercises, I used five-minute poses instead. Jeroen warned me that the students might complain about having so little time to do the work in, but I didn't hear much of that; I think I had made it clear enough in advance that I was hoping for them to build up speed among other things, and in any case it was clear after the first five-minute exercise that when I asked them to draw something in five minutes, they could do it in that time. Most of them, anyway.
It was very interesting to see how some of the students progressed within one session, losing some of the hesitant, scratchy quality in favour of more assured lines. I'm sure Jeroen will be able to see, with most of the students, in what order the drawings were made. He returns to the school tomorrow, with a different model, so he'll get to see those drawings and take the class to the next level.

In all, fun. I'd do it again, and in fact, the organiser was interested in putting together a series of evening classes with me and the model. We'll see how that pans out. It would require for me to do some more serious study of life drawing myself, but that's always a good thing.

For a school, this one's a very flexible sort of organisation, so they could set this up at short notice. It was interesting to see the inner workings of another school, and hearing of the hassle of getting parental consent for their seventeen-year-old students to look at a nude model. And of course, the payment arrangement. This school only works with freelancers, which seems like an expensive way to do things, until you realise that the freelancers only get paid for actual teaching hours, with all the marking and evaluation being done by a skeleton staff. An interesting way to do things, if you can get it organised.

Another thing that was different from what I'd expected, possibly as a result of listening to former studio-mate Edmond too much in the final months he was with us, was that there was a tremendous appreciation among the students, including those who weren't in the life drawing class itself, of good drawing. Everyone was very interested in what was produced during the class. And it does seem like there's a bit of a resurgence of the craft of drawing going on, among all the other factors that have been making the art workshop market such a booming business recently.

Notwithstanding the previous post…

January 7th, 2007 by Reinder

... 365 updates this year, folks. No matter what.

Ground rules: the 365 updates won't all be Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan updates - obviously the material posted since mid-December hasn't been. It won't all be new either. White House in Orbit was all done and published on another website years ago. However, I will only post material that hasn't been posted on ROCR.net or the Chronicles of the Witch Queen site before, and all the updates will at the very least be re-scanned. All updates made from old material will have a significant amount of work done to them compared to the versions as originally published, varying from simple clean-up and correction to recolouring and wholesale dialogue rescripting. I'm looking to create definitive versions, which will be ready to go to print if any of them turns out to be popular enough to sell in print form.

365. One a day. Overall, I expect to post more completely new material in 2007 than in 2006, even if the bulk of that won't show up until the second half of the year.

I just scanned in 10 installments of Feral, by the way.