Archive for March, 2009

PngOptimizer

March 28th, 2009 by Reinder

While doing some internet research for a future post on webcomic image optimization, I came across a blog post that claims a GPL-licensed Windows program called PngOptimizer outperforms PNGout by about 8% of the original uncompressed file size. I was a bit skeptical as the quoted compression percentage for PNGout in the post seems a bit low to me (typically for me, PNGout takes out 8 to 10% of the original file size) but I downloaded and tried it anyway. I tested it on the web files for Feral and while I don't see PngOptimizer outperforming PNGout on those, it does perform very well and is easy to use. Windows-only, though. I'll investigate more when I get home and have a better set of testing files at my disposal.

Also, here's how to enable using PNGout directly from your Windows Explorer window. Neat, if you like registry hacking.

Also,

Must-see medieval art exhibit at the Frist in Nashville

March 27th, 2009 by Reinder

If you live within driving distance of Nashville, Tennessee and are interested in medieval art, crafts, culture or manuscripts or early Christian history, you can't afford to miss Medieval Treasures from te Cleveland Museum of art at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, running until June 7, 2009. Seeing the illuminations, sculpture, jewelry, calligraphy and paintings in the exhibit has been a perspective-changer for me as all of it showed a level of craftsmanship and especially individuality that I hadn't previously been aware of as far as medieval art is concerned.

Medieval culture and art are not taught well in schools - in mine the entire period and the entire continent to which the term applied were treated as an amorphous, unchanging, uninteresting blob. I'm not sure how it could have been done better though - most historians who teach at secondary school level simply don't have the expertise and haven't been taught it themselves. Add to that the fact that medieval art doesn't reproduce well (in fact, I've bought the catalogue and have been looking at it and it just doesn't come near capturing the brilliance of it all - gold colours wash out in manuscripts but are overemphasized in some pictures of some of the sculptures, detail is blurred and fine lines in miniatures get lost in the printing process) and it becomes very difficult to communicate to people who haven't seen it in real life, just how brilliant it is. But it is brilliant, and you should see it if you can.

As I sit here, Aggie is reading the catalog and correcting mistakes in it. She's an absolute sucker for stuff like this. Update: She just ruined half the catalogue for me by pointing out that many of the shadows on the photos of the sculpture have been photoshopped on, and some of them qualify as Photoshop disasters. That book is only good to be a souvenir of the exhibit, and it's too expensive for that.

(Meanwhile, here's what all else we've done on our vacation. On the day I arrived, Aggie's dog was killed in an accident, which put a damper on our reunion. Also, Aggie's youngest son was sick with Fifth Disease, so we took it easy for a few days for his sake and didn't go on any outings. On Tuesday, I crashed with the fatigue of three difficult months at work, and on Wednesday, we bought baby chicks for the minifarm, and I crashed again, sleeping away the whole afternoon. Oh, and we shopped for engagement rings - a lot. We eventually got what we wanted, but it'll need some work done and I won't see the finished product until after I return to the Netherlands. Aggie will send me pictures of it and I told her I'll photoshop a presentation box around it and present that to her while I propose to her. Having told you people that, I may even follow through on it and do just that)

How to install Pngout on a Mac and do batch operations

March 24th, 2009 by Reinder

I've mentioned PNGout on Waffle a couple of times over the years. It's an unbeatable little command line tool for making PNG files smaller that exists for multiple platforms. It was originally developed for Windows but has been succesfully ported to linux and OS X.

Great though PNGOUT is, the ports don't come with a lot of installation instructions and while linux users can just follow standard procedures for installing a precompiled binary in the right place, Mac users may find it confusing. Here's what you have to do to make the OS X port work:

1. Install it in one of the Unix binaries directories, not in /Applications. You can use /bin or /usr/bin - either should work. Because I'm lazy, I use /bin.
2. Rename it from pngout-darwin to something shorter, or use a symlink.

This procedure is of course very different from installing a .app program on a Mac. For one, you have to do it on the command line. Open your Terminal in the Utilities folder under Applications and if you have put your pngout-darwin in Applications, type
sudo mv /Applications/pngout-darwin /bin/pngout
Hit Enter. You will be prompted for your administrator password. Type it and hit Enter again. That's it - PNGout will now work wherever you call it from. Provided of course that you call it on the command line, which you've already opened.

Changing individual files is as simple as going to the directory the file is in using the cd command and typing pngout <sourcefile>.png <targetfile>.png, replacing the names between brackets with the real filenames you want. There's a batch operation for linux that should work on the Mac as well. It's
for s in *.png;do pngout* -c3 -b0 -v "$s" tmp.png && mv -f tmp.png "$s";done
This is a slightly tweaked version of the operation shown in TASVideos: How To Make PNG. For my own use, I have tweaked it more, taking out the -c3, -b0, -v parameters and telling it to output the PNG files directly into a subfolder instead of outputting each individual file to 'tmp.png' and renaming it later:
for s in *.png;do pngout "$s" pngout/$s;done

Back to the installation issue: I think the fact that you can't just drop pngout-darwin in Applications is a weakness in the Mac OS X operation system: the command line interface and the GUI don't use the same file paths for executable programs, so that using command line programs, already harder than using the GUI, comes with an unexpected pitfall. If there is a workaround for this, please let me know.

Capsule Review: Steven Brust, The Book of Taltos

March 24th, 2009 by Reinder

I read The Book of Taltos during my fourth air trip to the US, some 9 months after buying the book with the intention of reading it during my first. It collects two short fantasy novels by Steven Brust, set on the planet Dragaera and featuring the human mobster Vlad Táltos. I have one other collection of Brust novels, The Book of Athyra, on my to-read list, having got both books on the strength of the first collection, The Book of Jhereg. Maybe it's the headache I had throughout the trip or maybe the very circumstance of reading a book on an airplane makes me less receptive, but I didn't really like Taltos very much. (I've also soured on the comical novels of Christopher Moore after reading them on airplanes).

Brust is rare among fantasy writers in prominently featuring an openly Marxist/Trotskist political dimension to his writing. Unfortunately, in these two novels, the political bits (the sections describing how the theoretically absolute monarchy in which the stories are set is in fact constrained by economical and material factors, the sections describing a proletarian uprising) are about the only memorable bits. While the construction of the plot and setting is outstanding and one or two characters are interesting, there's little that an experienced fantasy reader won't have seen before and rather too much that they will have seen far too often already. On the other hand, the stories get better with recollection, and may benefit from re-reading, especially in more favorable circumstances. So I'm kind of on the fence as far as this book goes.

Next ROCR update: not before two weeks from Monday, squire

March 20th, 2009 by Reinder

Tomorrow morning (Saturday, March 21), I'll be getting out of the house at an ungodly hour to catch my plane to Nashville for another week at Aggie's place. We've got to stop meeting like that and during that week, I'll be taking several important steps to making that possible. You'll be the 936th person to hear it from me.

Meanwhile, my day job's been draining my energy pretty hard, so I didn't get the next update ready before the weekend as I'd planned. I'm not going to get it ready during my week with Aggie either - we'll be traveling a lot. So that means no update for Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan on the 23rd or the 30th. Sigh... I really want the comic to become regular again even if it's just one episode a week, but I had to compromise the quality a lot to even manage that for four weeks in a row.

Still, having a life and especially a love life is more important to me these days, and in the longer term, I think readers will realize that I will finish my story one way or another, and for newcomers, there's a huge archive to dive into.

So apologies if you were hoping for more story progress! It's all for the best really. ROCR will be back on April 6.

Some more fun fantasy comics

March 14th, 2009 by Reinder

I've been running a low-cost advertising campaign on Project Wonderful recently, and I'm finding some interesting comics in my referrals as a result:

North World is one that I'd seen before. I'm a sucker for styles like that - an effortless blend of American comic strip and European juvenalia. I also love the concept of sword and sorcery fantasy in a modern setting and with modern dress.

Heliothaumic, on the other hand, mixes contemporary and period settings freely. It has a cute style and looks interesting with a unique approach to figure drawing. I haven't archive-dived it yet, but will do when I've got a little more time.

Curvy is the weirdest of them all and the one that generated the most buzz in a short time. I briefly looked at it when it started, thought "this is interesting" and filed it away for future archive-diving. It appears to update frequently, so I'd better get a move on.

All three to be added to my Belfry account (how about creating public profiles, guys? After 12 years, it's about time you got around to doing that!) and my giant link list.

Voter incentives

March 8th, 2009 by Reinder

Starting tomorrow, there'll be a new voter incentive for ROCR at TopWebcomics every Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, for the time being. Vote for Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan on that topsite list to get some sneak peeks into the production process, such as pencil art and ink-only versions of the latest pages, and commentary about the digital inking proces and fixes made. You will be able to vote every day, but because most people don't visit every day, incentives will not be replaced more than 3 times a week so people get more of a chance to look at them.

I was always dubious about the whole idea of top site lists, but the system at TopWebComics is easy to use and does benefit site owners. Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan is currently at #332 in the rankings for March. I want to figure out if we can push it up to a place where it's more visible. Voter incentives will work well for me because I have a process in which I keep almost everything, and there is enough to tell about my experiences learning to do digital art.

I will of course go on posting other things on the other sites... the incentives will be strictly behind-the-scenes.

Crossover fixed!

March 7th, 2009 by Reinder

One of the hardest things I've done in nearly nine years of putting Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan online was the work I did for the FRAMED!!! Great Escape crossover, a multi-comic crossover from 2001. It only involved me drawing 7 installments and co-scripting another 21, but everything that could possibly go wrong, did, and over the years, the sites other participating comics were on dropped like flies. About a year ago, I was warned that the domain for the Silly Cone V comic had been squatted on by some ghastly incest porn website and had to take down all the links.

Recently, though, I've been putting up the ROCR comics from that crossover for the Drunk Duck mirror for ROCR and, because I knew where to find an alternate domain for the lost comics, I fixed the links on both the main site and the mirror as I went along. So for the first time in almost a year, my little section of that multi-webcomic crossover event is complete! Of course, most of the rest of the Great Escape is still gone, but the subplot I was in should be comprehensible enough, or at least not unintentionally incomprehensible.

Some neat music stuff I found on Youtube

March 6th, 2009 by Reinder

Loudon Wainwright III singing White Winos on a 2004 Dutch documentary in the Het Uur van de Wolf series.

I watched this when it was broadcast. Then, as now, I loved the fact that the producers cared enough to have the song subtitled. When I showed the clip to DFG, she thought LWIII's head movements and slurred speech were the result of him having had a little too much too drink before the interview, but as far as I can tell, that's just how he is.

LWIII gets misrepresented as a jokey songwriter a lot, especially by journalists who want to talk up his (significantly less talented) offspring at his expense. In his best songs, the humour is in the service of something deeper, and occasionally disturbing.

That said, the jokey, clownish part of him is there, and here's a clip of him on the BBC's Jasper Carrot show in the 1980s - the trousers are not part of the clown act as people really dressed like that at the time - singing I Don't Think Your Wife Likes Me and hamming it up for the camera.

And...one more, singing Cardboard Boxes on Wogan, at around the same time.

British television in those days was a goldmine! Below are three clips from BBC Pebble Mill ca. 1982, featuring Simon Nicol and Dave Swarbrick from Fairport Convention playing as a duo. I love Swarb's violin style, but what stands out is how good Simon Nicol could sound as a guitarist and a vocalist. His voice is limited in power and range and tends to drown out in a larger band, but in the first one of these duo performances it sounds impassioned, raw and much more powerful. And of course, the only reason he never got much credit as a guitarist is that he spent years performing with Richard Thompson next to him.
Time to Ring Some Changes:

The Hen's March Through the Midden/The Four-Poster Bed - two instrumentals that Swarb had played since the 1960s. Not quite as good as the recording he did with Martin Carthy, but fun nonetheless.

The least of the three clips, but still worth a look if you made it this far: Three Drunken Maidens - cheesy but fun, both in content and presentation. Swarb's annoying habit of humming along to his playing is unfortunately very much in evidence.

A couple of years ago, I reviewed Swarb's then latest album Swarbrick Plays Swarbrick and mentioned his health troubles. Not long later, he had a lung transplant and within a few months he was back on stage. Below is a clip (with unfortunately poor sound quality) representing what he sounds like today, accompanied by guitarists Kevin Dempsey and Martin Allcock, another much-underrated guitarist. Swarb looks rough (but not as rough as before the transplant) but his playing is as energetic as ever.

Vote vote vote!

March 1st, 2009 by Reinder

For the first time in years, you can now vote for Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan on a topsite list. Vote for ROCR on Topwebcomics! Update: link corrected.