Archive for December, 2008

Leaving for Christmas with Aggie

December 25th, 2008 by Reinder

In less than five hours, I'll be heading for the United States to spend Christmas and New Years' Eve with Aggie. This vacation will be different from the last three because I'll be taking my parents with me and they'll spend ten days with Aggie and me, Squirrel, Badger, Pyewacket, Dagmar and the many domestic animals that live in her yard. All the signs point to it being the best Christmas ever.

Comics will get posted automatically, and we have internet at Aggie's place - I'm bringing the iBook as well, which she now refers to as my electronic titty. I will scan the latest pages at her place, pass them on to DFG for colouring, and possibly even get them processed and ready to post from there. Stranger things have happened.

I'll probably be in touch - if not, merry Christmas and a happy new year to all of you!

State of the comic: some good news to balance out the previous post’s techno-whining

December 22nd, 2008 by Reinder
Preview of what is in fact the eighteenth page of the epilogue of <i>Invasion</i>, shot with my cell phone camera as I'm currently scannerless

Preview of what is in fact the eighteenth page of the epilogue of Invasion, shot with my cell phone camera as I'm currently scannerless

This has turned out my most productive weekend in months in terms of new line art. I'm so close to the end of Invasion, I can almost smell its lascivious, musky scent.

One thing I've been trying to do more and more during the time I've been working on Invasion is to break out of the tiny little panel boxes, doing more pages that are a single large panel. The results are the opening page, the plague of frogs, the signover of the kingdom, the banquet, the city in a ball and this page. I'm not sure about the results in each case... I think some of these pages could have turned out better. But doing them this way has been very very liberating and I will be reminding myself to do more larger compositions from time to time and give special moments within each future storyline some more breathing room. It makes the process a lot more interesting and gives me more options for determining pacing and emphasis.

Now to get that scanner problem fixed...

State of the comic – broken scanner/SCSI card

December 21st, 2008 by Reinder
Line art for page 17 (really) of the epilogue for <i>Invasion</i>, shot using my cell phone camera

Line art for page 17 (really) of the epilogue for Invasion, shot using my cell phone camera

I'm not out of the woods yet. The desktop PC has a new hard drive, Ubuntu linux is working beautifully including the tablet and Photoshop over Wine, but the scanner is still bust. I got a SCSI card sent to me courtesy of Mithandir and Alien of Chasing the Sunset — Mithandir also set me up with the A3 scanner three and a half years ago — but there's a new problem. Before sending me the card, Mith asked me whether the scanner needed SCSI 1 or 2, and my reply basically amounted to "Moo?". Like most computers everywhere, I know buggerall about SCSI. It's an old, but fast hardware interface with large 68-pins connectors, right?


Once I noticed that the connector at the back of the card wasn't the same as that on the scanner's cable, I did some research. There's a wide range of different connectors. SCSI is still being made and developed, mostly for higher-end systems, but for cheaper systems like the one I bought last march in a rush to replace the studio computer (which has since become the home desktop - I've had a very rough year, computer-wise), getting support will be hard and will become harder in the future.

Why is this important? Because the A3 scanner, antiquated though it is, is still a very nifty device that would take me over fifteenhundred Euro to replace with a similar but newer, USB-based, one. This would effectively wipe out my hardware budget for the next year so that if any other machine breaks, it would have to be replaced in a hurry by another cheap and nasty box that will have more problems within the year like the one I'm typing this on now. Instead of finally moving over to a schedule of smooth, no-interruption replacements of my production hardware before it breaks, I'd have another year of having to react to incidents as they occur, which is exactly the thing that's been frustrating me so much about the computer troubles I've had all year, including the latest hard drive/SCSI card breakage.

It's not hopeless though. When I investigated the card I got in the mail more closely, I noticed there was a 68-pins connector on the side of the card. If the physical chassis allows me to, I might be able to plug that in if I leave the side panel off the system and take the whole shebang out of its niche in my (old and decrepit) computer desk. That's a long-shot though. It presupposes that a) the problem is with the SCSI card in the first place (I still haven't tested that fully, and can't do so without a second box to put the card in); b) the connectors are as compatible as they look; c) it is actually possible with the compact box configuration. We'll see. If the card doesn't work, I'll have to start looking again, and it's going to cost me in both time and money. There may be renewed comic delays.

[Einar] Proof by Assertion

December 18th, 2008 by Adam Cuerden

Proof by assertion is an interesting logical fallacy. Basically, it's just saying things that haven't been proved has, and hoping people believe you.

The Institute of Creation Research evidently love this one. I was glancing through the articles on their site today. a good 75 to 90% follow this format:

  • Here's a recent scientific paper.
  • Evolution/The Big Bang Model couldn't explain this, no matter what the stupid authors of the paper says.
  • Hence, this paper proves us creationists are right!

Don't believe me? Let's see two examples:

In the first part, they're discussing an interesting paper from the Public Library of Science, which, like all PLoS papers, is freely available online. The researchers analysed the walking style of dogs and cats, and discovered that animals who specialise in chasing down their prey over long distances use energy efficient running motions, but being energy inefficient can also have benefits: the stealthy movement of cats is inefficient, but allows them to creep up on their prey, saving energy in the long term. I'll quote part of the abstract - it's a little overly-wordy, but reasonably clear:

However, animals that are not specialized for long distance steady locomotion may face a more complex set of requirements, some of which may conflict with the efficient exchange of mechanical energy. For example, the “stealthy” walking style of cats may demand slow movements performed with the center of mass close to the ground ... An important implication of these results is the possibility of a tradeoff between stealthy walking and economy of locomotion. This potential tradeoff highlights the complex and conflicting pressures that may govern the locomotor choices that animals make.

The ICR, in an article with the completely inaccurate title Inefficient Cat Motion Remains a Mystery for Evolution claims that since stalking is inefficient, this proves that stalking your prey cannot evolve, so Goddidit:

But animals did not choose their modes of locomotion any more than humans “chose” nervous systems that allow them to acquire and process higher information. According to evolutionary thinking, cats “counterintuitively” developed into creatures that compromised or traded efficiency of gait for stealthy crouching. However, this is not counterintuitive to the creation model, within which it makes perfect sense that a Creator would have especially equipped different basic kinds of creatures with such different yet functional modes of locomotion.

Let me put this simply: The PLoS article simply points out that efficiency of movement is not the only factor that can be selected for. In cats, stealthiness was selected for over efficiency, allowing cats, instead of chasing their prey 100 feet (with great efficiency) to instead creep up 10 feet less efficiently but silently, and pounce.  So long as the stealthy movement does not (using the hypothetical numbers) take ten times the energy of chasing the prey, it's still a viable strategy. If sneakiness was not a viable strategy - and thus capable of being evolved, then why would the creator curse the poor cats with ineffecient sneaking?

But even when there's no evidence whatsoever, the ICR boys can still pull something out of their arse. Where Did Flesh-eating Bacteria Come From? never actually answers its question.  It describes flesh-eating bacteria, and asks where such horrors might come from in a word created by god and declared by him "good".

"Well!" say the ICR idiots, "we don't know, but..." and they begin. One scientist proposed that cholera toxin might have evolved from signalling molecules used in a symbiotic relationship with squid (I thought they didn't believe in evolution?), they say, pointing to another ICR article, which claimed that a scientist talking about possible evolutionary pathways for cholera clearly proves creationism.

But why stick with something that has a grain of science buried deep within it? They continue:

In addition, the Creator may have provided these “toxins” in part for their medicinal potential, as in the case of botulin, knowing that they would be needed in a fallen world.

Gee, thanks, creator! All those deaths due to botulism are totally worth it: A fallen world needs Botox to help remove wrinkles in aging celebrities: Almost all uses of botulism toxin is for cosmetic purposes.

They mention a patent on using another toxin to treat connective tissue disorders - which is not the same as having the toxin approved for their treatment, then come to their grand conclusion, explaining just how flesh-eating bacteria fit into creationism:

While it is not yet known what best explains the presence of flesh-eating bacteria, current scientific observation is consistent with the fall of creation, as recorded in Genesis.



State of the comic: Three weeks’ worth of Invasion uploaded

December 14th, 2008 by Reinder
Family portrait of Ragnarok, Hildegard, Harold and Jake looking their Sunday best, made a year ago in preparation for the epilogue to <i>Invasion</i>

Family portrait of Ragnarok, Hildegard, Harold and Jake looking their Sunday best, made a year ago in preparation for the epilogue to Invasion

Episodes for Invasion for the next three weeks have been uploaded. Next week, I may be able to finish the final ones that have been scanned so far - what happens after that depends on whether I've got the scanner working by that time. The episodes will appear on Mondays, December 15, 22 and 29.

The comics will also be placed in the crossover archives for Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan. There's no specific home page for Invasion but last Monday's update was archived on - the number for each update represents the date of publication.

Previous family portrait

[Einar] Noah’s Ark

December 14th, 2008 by Adam Cuerden
Gustave Doré - The Deluge

Gustave Doré - The Deluge

A few days ago I found a copy of the Doré Bible at a just-about-affordable price, and snapped it up.

The Doré Bible is an 1866 publication of the Bible with illustrations by Gustave Doré, usually considered one of the master engravers alongside Dürer and Hogarth.  It's a very interesting glimpse at what the Victorians took out of the Bible, compared to us.

Take the image to the right. This is one of Gustave Doré's two illustrations for the story of Noah's Ark, both of which emphasise the death and destruction of the "sinners" that were left behind. (Click on it for a link to Wikipedia, where I uploaded a 600dpi scan)

It's really quite shocking to modern eyes - a story now considered a Children's story  was, in the eyes of Doré and his very popular edition of the Bible, one of horror, of parents trying desprately and futilely to save their children, of beasts trying to get their cubs to safety.

Indeed, Doré seems to actively shun the "obvious" choices. There is no illustration of Jesus in the manger: The Christmas story is instead illustrated solely by an image of the Wise Men and the Flight to Egypt. We don't get the Garden of Eden or the Creation, but do see Cain and Abel's sacrifices.

Oh, and the Apocrypha, not even published in most modern bibles, is lavishly illustrated.

Doré's Bible is a strange to modern eyes, with the illustrations emphasising the death and horror far more than any modern preacher or edition ever would, but do not sensationalise it - instead merely presenting it as what happened.

Frankly, one has to believe that the Victorians truly believed in the Bible far more than any modern Christian - for what Modern Christian really thinks about what the stories mean for those God vanquished? - but, at the same time, did not have the same belief in God's Love. When you look at Doré's illustrations of Noah's Ark, the story changes from a silly Children's story to a tale about the horror of those God set out to kill. It's hard to see that God as one that loves humans.

Two vivid dreams I had last night.

December 14th, 2008 by Reinder

1. Almost a quarter-century after its first release, I watch a video for the Deep Purple album track "Mean Streak" off the "Perfect Strangers" record. It is a fairly run-of-the-mill performance video set in an orange, red and yellow autumn forest, though the video quality is outstanding. One thing is slightly off though: former Gillan basssist John McCoy, looking the age he is today, is sitting in the front of the stage. When the guitar solo comes, we don't see Ritchie Blackmore playing it; instead, McCoy holds up an old transistor radio on which the solo is heard in a tinny, distorted sound quality. After that, the camera zooms out to reveal fewer and fewer musicians on stage. The song morphs into the album's power ballad "Wasted Sunsets".
Afterwards, I talk to singer Ian Gillan and bassist Roger Glover about the video. It is the present, but they both look like they did in 1984. I want to broach the subject of how John McCoy, with whom Gillan has not been on speaking terms since before the release of the album, ended up in the video (I guess there was no real reason to wonder why Blackmore wasn't in it; that was just Blackmore being Blackmore). Instead, I ask them about "Wasted Sunsets" saying it is a much underrated song. Gillan thanks me but Glover says nothing. Gillan mentions that they wanted to play it on a recent Deep Purple tour, but current guitarist Steve Morse couldn't get one of the licks right, so it ended up being played on the latest Gillan solo tour instead. The dream fizzles out.

2. I am in Trinidad & Tobago, having taken on my therapist's offer of a vacation in a place she regularly stays in, in exchange for a simple favour: I have to go to the beach and read stories from a storybook to a cat. Initially, I want to skimp on that duty, taking just the (gorgeous) illustrations collected in a separate volume with me and improvising stories for the cat should it arrive, but the person behind the assignment is adamant that I take the storybook, and read the stories from it. The person trusts that the cat will arrive and listen to the stories.
Trinidad & Tobago is dirty and impoverished. The water isn't drinkable and is poisoned with nitrogen. Swimming in it is also not encouraged, though some local children do. The sunshine is nice though, and walking down the slope from the house to the beach, and back, is decent exercise. In the house, I find some of the notes my therapist has taken about me, among the mess she has left in the bedroom - which I am quite sure is her mess and not mine. The dream fizzles out and I wake up.

Both dreams were very vivid and I can still remember them pretty well several hours later. The autumn forest in dream number one was beautiful - who said people only dream in black and white? I sure don't. In the second dream, I could feel the tension in my stomach muscles from walking down the slope, exactly the way it feels in the waking world.

Bonus dreams: I actually had two other dreams that I still remember in part last night. Both involve running. In one of them, I was planning a trip to a running competition in Zuidwolde at short notice and not getting the schedule together (the competition would have been today, Sunday December 14). In the other, I am on a hiking trail with Aggie and her kids. Aggie is energetic, bouncing along ahead of us and occasionally speeding up into a run (in the dream, she has an excellent running technique). I point this out to Squirrel, her oldest and he shrugs it off.

Lurching from one problem to another

December 11th, 2008 by Reinder

I've got a new hard drive, and managed to buy a SATA drive this time. I've got Kubuntu linux Hardy Heron running, and because I've reinstalled Kubuntu so often during the past year due to repeated hardware failures, I've found the usual configuration hassles to be pretty bearable. So I'm all set to get back to business as usual, right?


Once Kubuntu was installed, I was initially pleasantly surprised at how fast it booted compared to what I'd got used to. Until I realised that part of the reason it booted so fast was that the SCSI initialisation got skipped in the process. The SCSI card in my machine is there to connect the A3 scanner. Since new A3 scanners are ridiculously expensive, I'll be looking for a new SCSI card for it, in the hope that that will in fact fix the problem. It could be a number of different things and I can't really test for any of them with just one functional desktop PC in the house.

Luckily, I won't have to do any scanning in the next few weeks. Invasion updates are scanned for the next five weeks and all I have to do is finish them up. But it's yet another hurdle to getting Feral back on track. And it's more expense just keeping this system going. I guess I should start a hardware fund and put a hundred Euro or so in it every month. Don't know if I can manage that on top of what I already save... not without seriously tightening the belt anyway.

In more positive news... I've figured out how to make a sidebar appear in individual blog pages... that was rather easy. I can't remember or easily tell what the original source of the solution was but it involved very minor changes in the template code. Now the sidebar's more or less consistent across pages, shows more of what's in the blog to people coming in from search engines, and shows the two ads everywhere. Win.

Useful WordPress hack courtesy of Erin, plus to-do list for the blog

December 10th, 2008 by Reinder

I didn't lose a lot of irreplaceable stuff in last Sunday's hard drive crash. Luckily, all my working files and my financial accounts are on external drives as a matter of standard procedure - I never keep them on the same physical volume where my operating system is. But I did lose a few items that needed to be on that volume or that I'd quickly saved into my Documents folder. I lost a handy shell script for ripping sound (and only sound) from DVDs that Xepher of gave me the basics of and that I finished myself until it did what it was supposed to, in a clunky way. And I nearly lost this:

$__reinAdCode = array(); //just prepping the array.
//this defines the google adWords javascript for later use
$__reinAdCode['adWords'] =
'<script type="text/javascript">
google_ad_client = "[number]";
google_ad_width = 160;
google_ad_height = 600;
google_ad_format = "160x600_as";
google_ad_type = "text_image";
//2007-03-18: Blog
google_ad_channel = "[number]";
google_color_border = "36414d";
google_color_bg = "FFFFFF";
google_color_link = "0000FF";
google_color_text = "000000";
google_color_url = "008000";
<script type="text/javascript" src=""></script>';

//project wonderful code for later use
$__reinAdCode['project_wonderful'] =
'<!-- Begin Project Wonderful ad code: -->
<!-- IMPORTANT: All lines, including these comments, must be included. -->
<!-- Removing or altering them could result in your ads being automatically shut down! -->
<!-- Ad box ID: [number] -->
<script language=\'JavaScript\' type=\'text/javascript\'>
// <![CDATA[
r = new String (Math.random()*1000);
r = r.substr(0, 5);
s = new String ("<script language=\'JavaScript\' type=\'text/javascript\'");
s += "src =";
s += "?id=[number]&type=4";
s += "&r=" + r;
if (document.referrer){
s += "&referer=" + escape(document.referrer);
s += "><\/scr";
s += "ipt>";
// ]]>
<noscript><map name="admap[number]" id="admap[number]"><area href="[number]&type=4" shape="rect" coords="0,0,125,125" title="" alt="" target="_blank" /></map>
<table cellpadding="0" border="0" cellspacing="0" width="125" bgcolor=""><tr><td><img src="[number]&type=4" width="125" height="125" usemap="#admap1971" border="0" alt="" /></td></tr><tr><td bgcolor="" colspan="1"><center><a style="font-size:10px;color:#0000ff;text-decoration:none;line-height:1.2;font-weight:bold;font-family:Tahoma, verdana,arial,helvetica,sans-serif;" href="[number]&type=4" target="_blank">Project Wonderful - Your ad here, right now, for as low as $0</a></center></td></tr><tr><td colspan="1" valign="top" width="125" height="3" bgcolor="#000000"><center><img src="" width="125" height="3" border="0" alt="" /></center></td></tr></table>
<!-- End Project Wonderful ad code. -->';


<div id="sidebar">
/* Widgetized sidebar, if you have the plugin installed. */
if ( !function_exists('dynamic_sidebar') || !dynamic_sidebar() ) :

<?php include (TEMPLATEPATH . '/searchform.php'); ?>

<!-- Author information is disabled per default. Uncomment and fill in your details if you want to use it.
<p>A little something about you, the author. Nothing lengthy, just an overview.</p>

if ( is_404() || is_category() || is_day() || is_month()
|| is_year() || is_search() || is_paged() ) :

if (is_404()) {/* If this is a 404 page (currently empty) */
} elseif (is_category()) { /* If this is a category archive */
<p>You are currently browsing the archives for the <?php single_cat_title(''); ?> category.</p>

<?php } elseif (is_day()) {/* If this is a daily archive */ ?>
You are currently browsing the <a href="<?php bloginfo('url'); ?>/"><?php echo bloginfo('name'); ?></a> blog archives for the day <?php the_time('l, F jS, Y'); ?>.

<?php } elseif (is_month()) { /* If this is a monthly archive */ ?>
You are currently browsing the <a href="<?php bloginfo('url'); ?>/"><?php echo bloginfo('name'); ?></a>
blog archives for <?php the_time('F, Y'); ?>.

<?php } elseif (is_year()) { /* If this is a yearly archive */ ?>
You are currently browsing the <a href="<?php bloginfo('url'); ?>/"><?php echo bloginfo('name'); ?></a>
blog archives for the year <?php the_time('Y'); ?>.

<?php } elseif (is_search()) { /* If this is a search page */ ?>
You have searched the <a href="<?php echo bloginfo('url'); ?>/"><?php echo bloginfo('name'); ?></a>
blog archives for <strong>'<?php the_search_query(); ?>'</strong>. If you are unable to find anything in these search results, you can try one of these links.

<?php } elseif (isset($_GET['paged']) && !empty($_GET['paged'])) { /* this is paged browsing view */ ?>
<p>You are currently browsing the <a href="<?php echo bloginfo('url'); ?>/"><?php echo bloginfo('name'); ?></a> blog archives.</p>
<?php } /* this ends the paged browsing output and the chain of elseif's */ ?>

/* this ends the if( is_404() || is_category() || is_day() ||..blah blah blah crap above */

<div style="margin:20px auto;padding:10px 3px 10px 25px;text-align:center;">
<?php echo $__reinAdCode['project_wonderful']; ?>

<?php wp_list_pages('title_li=<h2>Pages</h2>' ); ?>

<?php wp_get_archives('type=monthly'); ?>

<!-- rein I think the below needs to be wrapped in an <li></li> -->
<?php wp_list_categories('show_count=1&title_li=<h2>Categories</h2>'); ?>

/* If this is the frontpage or a normal page? */
if ( is_home() || is_page() ) :

<?php wp_list_bookmarks(); ?>

<?php echo $__reinAdCode['adWords']; ?>

<?php wp_register(); ?>
<li><?php wp_loginout(); ?></li>
<li><a href="" title="Powered by WordPress, state-of-the-art semantic personal publishing platform.">WordPress</a></li>
<?php wp_meta(); ?>
<?php else : ?>
<?php echo $__reinAdCode['adWords']; ?>
<?php endif; /* end of the homepage/normal page check */ ?>
<?php endif; /* this is the end of the dynamic sidebar if */ ?>

(Notes: HTML/PHP tags are escape-crippled so they show up in the published blog, so do not use the source code for this blog page; identifying information for the ad boxes has been stripped out. Quotes should not show up as smart quotes, and one of these days, I'm gonna figure out how to turn that off in WordPressNevermind. Single quotes in the javascript for the ad boxes have been escaped, which they should be if you decide to use this. Apologies for the lack of indents - they were there in the source, but the blog doesn't have CSS to make them show up correctly. Pastebin version)

What it is: a modification to the sidebar in WordPress's default theme, so that the ad boxes show up in a certain place within the sidebar, regardless of whether the version of the sidebar shown is the full version shown on the front page or the shorter version shown in the archive navigation sections and custom pages. It was sent to me by reader Erin, who insists that it's not up to the standards of coding she writes in her day job, but it's definitely an improvement on the original in both clarity and functionality.

Now the next step for me will be to make that sidebar show up on all pages. That could take me a while, though. WordPress's template structure is hideously complicated and I'd have to sit down and study if for several days before I'd be able to figure out how to manipulate it fully. This is in stark contrast with the template coding for Movable Type, which was tag based and very easy for me to understand. On the other hand, WordPress runs a lot more smoothly; Movable Type's performance was horrible and despite the efforts of some very smart coders, it was pretty much defenseless against spam - the spam wouldn't get published but a concerted attack could kill the installation, the site it was on and the system hosting it. So I'll put up with having less effective control over the blog's appearance - I can always study it whenever I do have some time.

Other to-do items include adding some alternate templates for distribution to the website, though I may end up doing that through WillowCMS and CaRP instead,

State of the comic: on hard drives, Macs and Photoshop

December 10th, 2008 by Reinder

Of course, within a day of me posting the previous message announcing that Invasion would be returning as a weekly comic, the hard drive on my PC gave up. And next week's comic is still with DFG for colouring so I will need to finish it this week. Sod's Law in effect.
Of course, I went to the nearest electronics store to buy a new hard drive as soon as I could, but (Sod's Law in effect) I picked up what must have been the last IDE drive in the store when what I need is a SATA drive. So I'll have to be going there again, only this time I'll do some research first.
Meanwhile, I've been working on the comic for the 21st on the iBook using a Mac version of Photoshop 7. That actually works well despite the iBook being 3 1/2 years old and the files involved being pretty large. I'm impressed by the speed at which Photoshop works and the comfort level with the tablet. Interestingly, I had just been pondering buying a new production laptop, leaning towards a combination of a new MacBook and Photoshop CS 4. I'm within a few hundred Euro of being able to afford it... but it'd still cause me pain in the wallet. Especially Photoshop, whose price level is set at "Whatever we can bleed out of those suckers, it's not like they're going to run to the competition". So it was with interest that I read about some rather poor user experiences Mac users have had with Adobe products in recent years: Adobe CS4: Yet another lousy Adobe installer and Macworld forums: Re: Adobe answers critics over CS3 and CS4 installer woes, both with extensive links and trackbacks to other sites criticizing the user experience on Creative Suite. Installers that fill your drive with crap are a big no-no and in this case the installer problem seems to be symptomatic of other problems with Adobe products on the Mac in particular. I've heard some not very nice things said about Adobe products other than Photoshop in the past year as well.
In any case, I won't be getting Creative Suite, just Photoshop. But if it functions as poorly as that on a Mac, then that's one reason for getting another Mac gone. The linked pages also mention some competition for Photoshop that might be worth checking out, such as Pixelmator. I tried that about a year and a half ago and it didn't immediately floor me, but I didn't exactly try it thoroughly, and in any case it might have evolved quite a bit since then.
Research will be key, though, lest I buy yet another piece of electronic kit that is not what I need.

Update: for more gripes against Adobe including its price gouging, DRM and bloated, overfeatured software, see Dear Adobe.