Archive for August, 2007

In which CAPTCHAS are not so much a cure that’s worse than the disease as a disease in their own right.

August 29th, 2007 by Reinder

While I was on a Moorcock essay tip, I went to the Michael Moorcock's website to see if his short essay Epic Pooh actually did have some sort of a sequel as promised*). Multiverse.org is largely built on forum software, which is a less than ideal way to manage a website to start with, but still I was more than a bit surprised to find that I had to fill in a CAPTCHA before said software would show me search results.

You read that right. I had to prove that I wasn't a bot before I could search. What the fuck? I know from bitter experience that spambots can be a cancer on even a well-protected website and that spam can take down a server. And yes, spammers will post into any text box in any web form. But as long as you don't post search terms to anyone other than the searcher's results page, and there's no reason why you should, I don't see how bots carrying out searches are the sort of problem that can be solved by harrassing legitimate users with CAPTCHAS. Not that there is any problem for which CAPTCHAS are the solution, but this particular use of them takes the bakery.

*) Answer: Yes. "Continued" didn't look clickable but it was, and clicking it caused the next page to show. The printer-friendly version is probably more convenient to read.

Starship Stormtroopers

August 29th, 2007 by Reinder

Starship Stormtroopers, an eminently readable essay, or perhaps a transcripted speech, by Michael Moorcock from 1977, about authoritarianism in Science Fiction and Fantasy literature:

There are still a few things which bring a naive sense of shocked astonishment to me whenever I experience them -- a church service in which the rituals of Dark Age superstition are performed without any apparent sense of incongruity in the participants -- a fat Soviet bureaucrat pontificating about bourgeois decadence -- a radical singing the praises of Robert Heinlein. If I were sitting in a tube train and all the people opposite me were reading Mein Kampf with obvious enjoyment and approval it probably wouldn't disturb me much more than if they were reading Heinlein, Tolkien or Richard Adams. All this visionary fiction seems to me to have a great deal in common. Utopian fiction has been predominantly reactionary in one form or another (as well as being predominantly dull) since it began. Most of it warns the world of 'decadence' in its contemporaries and the alternatives are usually authoritarian and sweeping -- not to say simple-minded. A look at the books on sale to Cienfuegos customers shows the same old list of Lovecraft and Rand, Heinlein and Niven, beloved of so many people who would be horrified to be accused of subscribing to the Daily Telegraph or belonging to the Monday Club and yet are reading with every sign of satisfaction views by writers who would make Telegraph editorials look like the work of Bakunin and Monday Club members sound like spokesmen for the Paris Commune.

Some years ago I remember reading an article by John Pilgrim in Anarchy in which he claimed Robert Heinlein as a revolutionary leftist writer. As a result of this article I could not for years bring myself to buy another issue. I'd been confused in the past by listening to hardline Communists offering views that were somewhat at odds with their anti-authoritarian claims, but I'd never expected to hear similar things from anarchists. My experience of science fiction fans at the conventions which are held annually in a number of countries (mainly the US and England) had taught me that those who attended were reactionary (claiming to be 'apolitical' but somehow always happy to vote Tory and believe Colin Jordan to 'have a point'). I always assumed these were for one reason or another the exceptions among sf enthusiasts. Then the underground papers began to emerge and I found myself in sympathy with most of their attitudes -- but once again I saw the old arguments aired: Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov and the rest, bourgeois reactionaries to a man, Christian apologists, crypto-Stalinists, were being praised in IT, Frendz and Oz and everywhere else by people whose general political ideals I thought I shared. I started writing about what I thought was the implicit authoritarianism of these authors and as often as not found myself accused of being reactionary, elitist or at very best a spoilsport who couldn't enjoy good sf for its own sake. But here I am again at Stuart Christie's request, to present arguments which I have presented more than once before.

Read on and take notes. And get yerself some John Brunner novels. They're good. (via)

Note: misspelling of "Tolkien" in the quoted section corrected because I'll have no part in spreading it around.

New storyline, hiatus extension, site housekeeping and future plans.

August 29th, 2007 by Reinder

Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan's hiatus has been extended until September 17. Instead of new ROCR updates, the site will continue its remastered rerun of White House in Orbit stories, starting with In Space, No One Can Hear You Groan.

Starting September 18, ROCR will return resuming the Feral storyline, updating three times a week. Invasion has been moved to the Crossovers section of the archives and may be away for a long time.

There is, by now, a good buffer of "Feral" updates, some of which have already been shown on Modern Tales. Nevertheless, due to my new full-time job, I am going to have to take things very slowly as far as comic updates are concerned. Putting "Invasion", which is set after the events in "Feral" anyway, aside for a while will allow me to harness the help of DFG and Calvin Bexfield, who both did excellent work assisting me on "Invasion".

I apologise for the switching around of schedules, the long hiatuses and the switching between storylines. It just sort of happened that way, especially after I put "Feral" on hiatus for a while, only to be roped into this multi-comic crossover event. Things will, I hope, be more or less normal by the end of the year.

Employment!

August 28th, 2007 by Reinder

I have good news and bad news.

The good news is that starting on Monday, I will be working full-time at Globaltextware, a software localisation company in Groningen. What this means is that I'll be resolving my financial problems, and, even better, I will be resolving them doing intellectually stimulating work, within my degree, in a work environment that I've tested thoroughly over the past week, and with no commute whatsoever. It's the best job offer I could possibly get.

The bad news is the same news. The job is full-time, so there will be very, very little time left for cartooning. If I want to go on running on a regular basis as well, and maybe seeing some of my friends some time - you know, this thing people call having a life - I will have a few weekday evenings when I'm not too tired, plus the weekends except when I'm taking part in a running event. I'll be very lucky to produce one update a week.

I'm at peace with that, mostly, though it makes for a wrenching and scary change in my life. I've got some plans for dealing with that, though, which will allow me to keep my connection to the webcomics world, or at least those part of it that I still like, alive. Here's what I think I'll be doing.

White House in Orbit: I will extend the moratorium on posting new Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan material on my main site, rocr.net by another three weeks. During that time, I will post two more White House in Orbit stories: "In Space, No One Can Hear You Groan", and "Target: The Emperor", from 2001 and 2003, respectively. These will run daily, taking us into the end of September, which will be my trial period at the new job.

Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan: The "Invasion" storyline will be moved to the crossovers section of the archives and left unfinished for the time being. Occasional updates may show up on the Webcomicsnation mirror, but don't hold your breath. "Feral" will continue to be published on Modern Tales at a rate of one update a week - except this week and the next when there'll be two updates. When I start posting ROCR updates on the main site again, what I post will be the new "Feral" pages, which will appear on the main site at a rate of three a week until caught up with the Modern Tales publication. Confused? Yeah, me too. I can just about keep up with the different schedules. Meanwhile, the Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan re-run on the webcomics site Drunk Duck will continue at its old pace of one update a day, with material queued up until the end of May, 2008.

Lives of X!Gloop: Two years ago, I posted some of my earliest comics, a surreal series called The Lives of X!Gloop on my site. These are now being rerun on Drunk Duck as well, also at a pace of one update a day until I run out. I just might scan and process the unpublished pages from that series as well - that's the sort of job I can do when I'm knackered out from a day's work.

I'll post a summary of the above as a front page announcement tomorrow, so don't worry if you can't keep track of everything.

Testing progress report, because I know everyone will be asking

August 24th, 2007 by Reinder

The test at the localisation company went reasonably well, though I didn't finish the work and will have to wrap it up on Monday afternoon. Then my hopefully-future-boss and I will evaluate and I'll hear about it soon.

Quick points:

- The anxiety faded quickly once I had a good idea of what to do and was settled into my workspace. Good.
- I had forgotten how interesting the work was. Translating really is an intellectually stimulating activity, even in those cases where you end up doing a dozen increasingly more complex takes only to find that the first one, the three-chord one, was the best all along. That happens a lot.
- The work environment itself was distraction-free, though that had to do with few of the staff being there. That will change. In any case, I felt like I could focus and get on with it there, a feeling that's been missing from my life for some time.
- I had to dig through a large amount of reference and guidance material before I could get my teeth into the actual translation. I didn't know yet which bits were relevant so I studied it all quite carefully. That slowed me down and was probably the reason I didn't get the work finished. It was important for me to read it all, but for the most part I won't have to read it again so the second part of the test should go faster.
- My working speed may become an issue and I need to be able to guarantee to them that I'll speed up soon-ish. On the other hand, I'm already quite far into the application process and they do need more people, based on what the boss told me. So I can get away with slow speed, for now, because in the initial stages, it will be better for them to have me around than to have to look for someone else while being short one brain.
- Even if I don't get the job, and even if the reason for that is that the quality of my work is not up to their standards, I should go on looking for translation work. It's just too much fun. I'll just have to shape up and learn, possibly by taking on any assignment I can.

Roll on Monday.

Psychological effects of jobhunting

August 23rd, 2007 by Reinder

I was supposed to take a test this morning at ten, to qualify for a job that I have applied for and have been interviewed for. Sort of a final hurdle sort of thing. It's a good job, and it's rather important for me to give getting it my best shot. So I've been nervous and I caught a touch of that test anxiety I wrote about earlier. It's not as bad as that time, but I have been feeling it.

At nine-thirty, the company called to tell me they hadn't got the testing materials yet, and to to reschedule the test to tomorrow at the same time. At one stroke, that build-up of anxiety and anticipation was flattened, canceled, deflated.

The rest of the day has passed in an odd sort of rush. I know I've done useful things. But I'll be damned if I can remember most of them. Judging from my studio output, I must have cleaned up and inked character art for one page of Feral, then penciled another one. After that - and this I do know - I had a break and went to the pool below the studio, swimming 30 laps, or 1500 meters. I think the reason this is still fairly clear in my mind is that I had delayed my daily swim a bit compared to most days, and because I had intended to do 40 laps, but decided to quit after 30 because my breathing wasn't quite right. I'm always very aware of problems with my breathing due to living with asthma for 30 years.

After that, I finished a second guest comic for CameoComic, a quicky I'd penciled and inked at Erik Wielaart's place on Wednesday evening while the anxiety was already rising. I scanned it, cleaned up the scan, added panel borders and did digital lettering. Once that was sent off to Cameocomic writer Hogan, I went back to drawing and inked the character art for the Feral page I'd penciled earlier (in case you're wondering, I'll fill in the backgrounds on both pages later). Then I went to the bookstore and then home for dinner.

So, in short, I can reconstruct the period between 9:30 AM and 20:00 PM. But I can't remember most of it properly. Presumably I'd been building myself up to be able to hyperfocus during the three hours that test would have taken. Had the test taken place, I would have spent those three hours doing the work and instantly forgetting what I'd done, simply because the brain would have been too busy with the work itself to keep a record. Instead, some of that carried over to the rest of the day, so I breezed through all my activities except the one - the swimming - in which my focus was temporarily broken.

I guess that anxiety, if kept at precisely the right level, is good for something. I did get some really nice inks done on those two pages and was generally more productive and less inclined to procrastinate than I usually would have been.

Well, I must have been. I can't really remember it, see.

Guest comic at Cameocomic

August 18th, 2007 by Reinder

I've got a guest comic up at CameoComic. For some reason, the regular artist on that comic, which has crossed over extensively with ROCR over the past six months, has been falling behind on her updates, so various webcartoonists are chipping in at the last minute to catch up.

The update is part of a long story and won't make a lot of sense on its own, but I thought some of you might want to take a look at it anyway.

Kidnapped Princesses by Geir and Daniel

August 17th, 2007 by Reinder

The Double and Alcydia artist Daniel Østvold has updated his Kunst.no pages (in Norwegian) with some pictures of recent fine art projects and a preview of the sequel to Alcydia, Kidnapped Princesses.

Daniel works fast when he has the opportunity to, but he usually has several things on the boil at any time, so it's nice to see that he has been working on a new comics project. As usual, the script is by Geir. I have no further details than what it says on the pages, which is basically that Countess Alcydia has been settling into a new line of business, kidnapping prinsesses for fun and profit. I hope we'll be able to run it on the Chronicles of the Witch Queen web site late this year.

Quick updates on comics and stuff

August 15th, 2007 by Reinder

I've got good news and bad news on Feral. The good news is that I've moved on from simply finishing up the pages I had lying around and am now writing and drawing new pages. The bad news is that in doing so, I discovered that I'd buggered up the scene planning, and the only way to fix it is to run the new pages starting next week instead of early in October as I'd planned to. DFG and I are on the case, and if all goes well, you shouldn't notice a thing. The pages that are already uploaded will be bumped by the number of extra weeks this insertion will take. If I can't get my stuff together before Saturday, there may be delays, though.

It's a good thing I'd already decided to take a bit of a gamble on me getting that translation job, and spend some time getting ahead with the comics.

I've also drawn one page for Invasion, which I'll probably run on the Webcomicsnation mirror when it comes back from DFG and I've done the additional computer work. I feel a lot more relaxed about scheduling updates on the various mirror/specialty sites than on the main site, which should update as predictably as possible.

Speaking of mirrors, the Drunk Duck rerun project is now well under way. On that new mirror, Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan will update daily starting from the very beginning. It's a way for me to experiment with another comics management and social networking system while also introducing the comic to a new community. The underlying idea is that there is no such thing as a single webcomics community, but instead, a bunch of scattered communities and collectives that are mostly unaware of one another's existence.
So far, I'm impressed with Drunk Duck's system. I spent far less time on settting up several hundred comics than I was expecting to, because Drunk Duck has good batch upload functionality. It only took a few hours to set up updates until the end of May, 2008. I also like the social networking and recommendation features, and the Trophy system. Giving people virtual trophies for activities ranging from the trivial (signing up, filling out a profile) to the fiendishly difficult (getting into the Top 5) or embarrassingly geeky (posting 2500 forum posts) is, of course, a very silly thing to do, but it does work to motivate people to take part in the social networking and community activities. I can't imagine, say, Webcomicsnation adopting it because it doesn't fit that site's serious-about-comics image, but as a simple idea that works, it's quite brilliant.

Stuff.

August 11th, 2007 by Reinder

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)