Wednesday, 1 October 2008

We have lift off

With apologies for the delay, I can now direct you to my new blog. From now on, this is where the action will be and it's doubtful that I'll bother to continue updating here.

So, with a small fanfare (or at least a cheery kazoo), please join me on the voyage of discovery and confusion that I am calling my Creative Year.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

My October Symphony

Are you a fan of regular blog posts? Do you appreciate creative endeavour, even if the results aren't much cop? If so, prepare yourselves for the mildly exciting launch of my Creative Year. As mentioned previously, I have set up a new blog on Wordpress (no offence Blogger, we've had some good times) which I plan to update EVERY SINGLE DAY with something that could, if you squint a bit, pass for creativity. It begins on October 1st (that's Wednesday, calendar fans!) and the posts will be numbered 1 - 365. That's how many days there are in a year! Wow! The blog is called Once Around The Sun because - you guessed it - that takes a year as well! The whole thing has been planned with the intricate precision of a particularly pernickety horologist.

Stay tuned and I'll post the link on Wednesday!

Thursday, 25 September 2008

WANT

I've just spent two hours watching online videos about the capabilities of this little beast:


I'm eligible for the cheaper upgrade copy, but even that's £540. Annoyingly it looks so damn good that I don't think I'll be able to resist, so between now and its release on October 30 expect to hear several news stories about a lanky ne'er do well in the Suffolk area mugging old ladies on pension day. If they knew about Content Aware Resizing, they'd understand.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

DOS-ing about

At work, our surveyor is soon going to New Zealand for a year. I haven't asked why - perhaps he couldn't get a return flight any sooner - but it's not important. The point is that he will be leaving a large, surveyor-shaped hole when he departs and my boss' attempts to fill it have not been fruitful. It was then suggested, by said Antipodean bound surveyor, that I should be trained up to take over when he leaves. Sensing a pay rise, I expressed a firm interest and so he invited me to his place to familiarise myself with the software he uses. I was slightly apprehensive about getting to grips with what would surely be a system so complicated that the sheer brain power required to use it could cause a haemorrhage that would end my life (and therefore hamper my career ambitions). Remember, surveyors are well paid! They must have access to stuff that NASA can only dream of. Anyway, he led me into his study and switched on the Grand Machine of Destiny and Truth (my name for it, not his, applied in anticipation of its awesome processing power). The monitor flickered into life and displayed a Windows 98 splash screen. Ha! Obviously an ironic joke. These surveyors are a hoot!

And then reality was torn from my limp, unsuspecting grasp and sucked into a temporal vortex that eventually spat us out, like a couple of phlegmy hairballs, into 1985! Well it must have been, for we were staring at the following display:



At first I was excited about going outside and reliving 1985 all over again. Bright colours! Over-produced music! A cheery lack of taste! However, this feeling soon wore off. You see, I am a cold and rational man and it took me only a few minutes to realise that temporal folds are not really possible and that the more likely conclusion must be that we were still in 2008. Looking at a 23 year old Lotus spreadsheet. A spreadsheet that only runs in DOS. "When I first devised this spreadsheet," he explained proudly, "I thought it would only have a shelf-life of about ten years. And yet here we are, almost a quarter of a century later, and it's still going strong!" Well, yes. As long as you ignore the parts of the word 'strong' that relate to 'strength' and also that loud alarm in your head that's bleating FUCKETY-FUCK, HE'S STILL USING DOS. It's quite feasible that some people reading this won't even know what DOS is. All I'll say is that although the D doesn't stand for dinosaur, but it probably should have done.

So that's what I've been up to lately. Getting my head around a computer system that's about as advanced as a speaking birthday card. And yet, in a strange way, I'm enjoying myself. Not in a nostalgic sense - who can honestly say that things were better back then? - but because I love spreadsheets. I will, of course, be re-programming this archaic beast in a modern software environment and I'll find it hugely enjoyable. Some of you may recall the dance I created a couple of years ago called My Version of Excel is Better Than Yours. It wasn't a joke, I really do get that excited about spreadsheets. Perhaps in this admission I've lost you, dear reader, but the path of an Excel lover always was a lonely one.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Laced with creative fervour

It's okay, you can stop worrying - I have decided upon my next creative venture by not deciding at all. Instead I have set up a new blog in which I will spend one year posting a new creative effort every day - whether I feel like it or not - with no parameters whatsoever in the hope that forcing myself to try as many things as possible will show me what I do best. If some of you were to comment on things that you like, that will also help me decide what works and what doesn't. Essentially it's going to be a year long brainstorm, probably starting next week. Being a daily thing, most of the posts will probably be in the form of rough ideas rather than fully formed pieces but I'll complete them if it seems worthwhile. Watch this space.

In other even less interesting news, my new trainers have finally arrived. I had forgotten what springy footwear felt like. It's... springy! I haven't managed to go jogging yet though. Don't rush me. Also on a footwear theme, I have learned how to tie my shoelaces properly after 31 years of misery and tears. My laces have historically always come undone if I do them in a single bow, so for years I've been using a double bow to prevent this happening. The trade off, of course, is that occasionally they become knotted when you try to undo them, resulting in a frustrating two minutes of trying to pick apart said knot with (as sod's law usually dictates) recently cut fingernails. Just when I was seriously considering velcro shoes, I discovered... the reef knot. All those years I'd been using a granny knot! Why did no one tell me? WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME?  Anyway, I now tie my laces using a single reef bow and they never come undone. It's no exaggeration to say that this has changed my life for the better, and it's all thanks to Ian's Shoelace Site. Thanks Ian - you probably have no friends and your own family must choke with shame every time they think of you but you have my gratitude to keep you warm tonight.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Who's that girl?

The portrait in the preceding post was based on the following photograph.  I wandered off script for the hair as it wasn't crucial to the likeness.


It's Claire Danes!  Five points.  Now that you've forced me to reveal the original photo you can see how cheap I was in not drawing the floral top.  If you want to be nice to me you can say that this photo isn't a good likeness of her.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Unhealthy Interest #2

Here's number two in what I think I shall call the 'Unhealthy Interest' series.  I've realised that it was a mistake to paint my favourite actresses first because, assuming I improve little by little, by the time I get it sussed I'll be left with a cracking portrait of Judi bloody Dench.


You can click on the picture to enlarge it.  Again, I fear that it's not immediately obvious who this is supposed to be.  Oh well.  Expect this series to continue until your indifference can be measured in decibels.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Finished

I realised that my Natalie Portman portrait was nowhere near finished so after a couple more hours of titting around, here's the final version.


I rather enjoyed making it so I think I'll do some more.  This could just turn into a visual list of women I fancy, but it beats sniffing glue I suppose.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Back to the drawing board

I'm still trying to decide upon my next creative venture.  High on my list of possibles was portraiture, so I decided to give it a whirl today to see if I could produce anything of value.  This is the result:


I'm worried that it fails its most fundamental goal because I don't think it's obvious who it's supposed to be.  Can you tell?  If so, was she (I hope I'm safe in stating that it's a woman) instantly recognisable or did you have to think about it?  I'd appreciate some feedback because I've been staring at it too long to be objective.

Either way, I've certainly succeeded in sucking out all the soul and beauty of the original photograph I worked from.  Capturing a person's spirit is harder than I thought.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Customer service

The following is an actual telephone conversation I had today with a customer.  She had called us because she had no hot water.  We replaced a faulty immersion heater.

Stupid woman: Hello, this is Mrs X.  You sent a plumber to my property this morning to change an immersion heater.
Me: Hello, yes.  How can I help?
SW: Well I'm a bit worried about it.
Me: Oh dear.  What seems to be the problem?
SW: Well my old one made a sort of whistling noise when it was heating the water, you know?  But the new one isn't making any noise at all.  It seems to be dead.
Me: Right.  So you still have no hot water?
SW: Oh the water's nice and hot, but the immersion heater isn't making any noise.
Me: Well if your water's heating up that would suggest that the new immersion heater is working.
SW: But it isn't making any noise.  I'm just worried that it's not working properly.  Could you come back and check it?
Me: If your water's heating up then it must be working.  I don't think you need to worry.
SW: Really?  Even though I can't hear it?
Me: Yes.  The old one probably made a funny noise because it was scaled up.
SW: So you don't think there's a problem?
Me: No, I'm sure everything is fine.
SW: Okay.  It's just that it seems to be dead.  I'm a bit worried.
Me: It can't be dead if your water's getting hot.
SW: Oh, I see.
Me: Okay?
SW: So I don't need to worry then?
Me: No.
SW: It's just that the old one used to make a noise when it was heating the water.
Me: It was probably scaled up.
SW: But the new one isn't making any noise at all.  It seems to be dead.
Me: And yet your water's getting hot.
SW: Yes.
Me: So it can't be dead.
SW: Right.
Me: Okay?
SW: So what you're saying is that I don't need to worry?
Me: That's right.
SW: Even though it doesn't seem to be doing anything?
Me: Your water is heating up.  It must.  Be.  Working.
SW: Yes, I see.  I'm just a bit worried, that's all.
Me: Try not to worry.  Everything seems to be fine.
SW: The old one used to make a noise though.
Me: Probably scale.
SW: This new one doesn't make any noise at all.  I've held my ear to the cylinder and I can't hear anything.
Me: Right.
SW: I just don't think it's working.
Me: *sigh*
SW: Hello?
Me: Your water is getting hot.  That seems to suggest, quite strongly in fact, that the immersion heater - the thing that heats the water - is working.  If it wasn't, the water wouldn't be getting hot.
SW: Ahh.
Me: You see?
SW: So what you're saying is, the new heater is working even though I can't hear it working.
Me: Exactly.
SW: Right.  It's just that the old one used to make a noise...

This is the abridged version.  The full conversation, during which I considered ending my life, continued along these lines for ten minutes. 

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Disaster

I've just received an email informing me that my new trainers are OUT OF STOCK. Woe is me! Now that I know I won't have to, I can confirm that I was so definitely going to go jogging tomorrow night. But now they won't be here for another week and by then I may have changed my mind.

See how the entire universe conspires against me? How can a man compete with such forces?

Monday, 18 August 2008

It's gym life, but not as we know it

This afternoon I ordered a pair of trainers.  Yes, sports shoes!  It is the most significant step towards fitness that I've taken in years.  I haven't owned a pair of trainers since I was 15 so there's every chance that I'll at least remove them from their box and place them on my feet a few times, but the crunch will come when I have to decide whether to take up jogging  or not.  Current odds:

Jog on - 25/1
Jog off - evens

The trainers are made by Hi-Tec, my manufacturer of choice while at school.  I did briefly defect to Dunlop, but the super squishy Hi-Tecs reeled me back in.  Does Usain Bolt wear Hi-Tec?  He must do, surely.  Stay tuned for more fitness news.

No one will guess they're not Nikes.

A cheery wave from stranded youngsters

I appear to have fallen out of the blogging habit.  I have had things to write about, but no inclination to do so.  Instead I have been filling my head with all sorts of fanciful things, essentially trying to decide what form my next creative venture will take.  It looks like it will be something based on digital illustration.  I might take a few weeks to try different stuff and see if anything has a particular appeal.  It is a very complex and exhaustive process.  Already I have dismissed the following:

  • Making scale model dogs out of pipe cleaners
  • Creating collages using soggy cornflakes and jam
  • Recreating classic album sleeves using crepe paper and phlegm

I'm dabbling with the idea of portraiture in some form.  Bad form, probably.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Serving time

It’s August, which is as good a time as any to have another crisis. In most respects I’m a happy, well adjusted boy these days but this urge I have to be creative is a terrible nuisance. Yes, I’m talking about the comic again – the new lease of life I found a month ago didn’t last long and it’s becoming a bane once more. Despite cutting back my output, the increased complexity of the strips means that they’re taking up pretty much the same amount of time that they did before. In other words, far too much. This wouldn’t be so bad if I was happy with the output – I’m not averse to hard work – but I don’t work well under pressure and frankly the current story is a farcical mess. I have no idea how it’s going to end because I’m making it up as I go along and if the artwork has improved then it’s offset by the appalling scripts which I’m embarrassed to put my name to. If you feel even remotely inclined to disagree with this then I’m afraid your standards are not high enough. It’s all having a negative effect on my disposition because I’ve become militant about protecting my spare time. It was my sister’s birthday on Sunday and we all went out for a meal. I got to spend some time with my nephews and it should have been very pleasant, but all the while I was thinking this is my one day of comic drawing and I’m losing five hours of it. I was snappy to my mother during the journey and was generally a miserable git. I felt the same this evening when my friend Paul popped round. He was out for a walk and dropped in for a chat but instead of feeling grateful I just saw it as another half hour lost. In short, the comic has taken over my life. I kind of expected that when I started, and I was happy to devote myself to it, but again it was on the understanding that I’d feel fulfilled by the output. I’m not though. I’m not proud of a single one of the strips.

So again I find myself considering my options. When I threatened to quit last time I eventually reasoned that at least the comic had a grounding, a platform to work from. Any new project would be starting from scratch and would probably engender the same insecurities somewhere down the line. But should you do something you enjoy, or something that might take you somewhere? Can both these things coexist? At work this week I’ve been rebuilding the company website from scratch and loving it. Building websites is a pure joy to me (which was probably obvious from 22 versions of Hermit Guide), but I never had the content to complement the design. I don’t even know what I would consider to be a successful venture. Do I actually need to make my stamp on the world? Is a small pockmark bearing my name really the key to creative fulfilment? And what if I’m confusing creative fulfilment with personal fulfilment? Would the former betray the latter? The only thing I know for sure is that I can’t sit back and do nothing – and that, as I said, is a terrible nuisance.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Home truths

The author Michael Kimball has granted me the honour of writing my life story.  He's a bit short of time though, so he did it on the back of a postcard.  Actually it's part of his Postcard Life Stories project which may eventually be turned into a book.  You can read everything there is to know about me here.


In other news, I have started reading again.  I cycle endlessly between reading and not reading, each period lasting about three months.  Whenever I fall out of the habit, I instantly seem to forget just how beneficial it is.  When I first started reading aged fifteen, I devoured nothing but classics; Thomas Hardy, the Bront√ęs, Jane Austen.  Then I bridged the gap with Graham Greene, who remains my favourite novelist, before moving on to contemporary fiction.  More recently it has been biographies that tickle my fancy, but my latest love is for science.  Not science fiction, but real science.  Suddenly I feel like that Paul Whitehouse character - "Int science brilliant!  There's all this stuff, right, that people prove by trying to disprove it.  If they can't disprove it, it's like a proper fact.  Brilliant!"  I have a moderate obsession with Richard Dawkins right now.  He gets pigeon-holed as a militant atheist, but he knows other stuff too!  I'm just a sucker for things that make you lose yourself in wonder.  Such as, if it were possible to fold a sheet of newspaper over on itself 100 times, how thick would the resultant wad of paper be?  I thought maybe a metre or two, but the answer is that it would be as wide as the known universe (about 12 billion light years).  Wow!  Geeks like me are really impressed with stuff like that.  We can't help sharing it.  I'm also developing a healthy scepticism for all things supernatural and learning to accept that even the wildest coincidences have no significance whatsoever.  It's amazing how much bullshit we swallow from people who convince us that perfectly ordinary things have deep spiritual meanings.  The most remarkable thing about thinking scientifically is that far from robbing life of mystery, it makes it ten times more amazing.  Believing in the paranormal used to intrigue me, but casting it aside and revelling in what's around us is immeasurably more satisfying.  Every night I can't wait to read more, learn something new about this world we live in.  The truth isn't just stranger than fiction, it kicks fiction's imaginary arse.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

'Meanwhile' is an acceptable segue when you're tired

When I heard that Margaret Thatcher had been granted a state funeral, I couldn’t believe that I’d missed the news of her death. Radio 1’s Newsbeat hadn’t even given it a passing mention. How embarrassing! It was a good fifteen minutes and three online articles later before I realised that she was, in fact, still with us. I know she’s lost her marbles and everything, but isn’t the whole thing a bit cruel? Hey Thatch! Yes, Margaret, that’s you. We’ve been talking and stuff and we reckon, since you’re probably not gonna last much longer, that we should start planning your funeral. Don’t worry, leave it all to us. It’s gonna be huge! We’ll leave your coffin open and let everyone come and have a look if they want to. Isn’t that nice? I’m sure everyone will be really respectful and no one will gob on you. Do you understand all that? You remember who I am, right?

Meanwhile I have quite a feeble pet hate, but it rears its head quite often. When you’re driving, and there’s a gap that may be too small for two cars to fit in, it’s common courtesy, if not necessity, for one of the drivers to move over and let the other pass. Why doesn’t this apply to pedestrians? I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve been forced into the path of a speeding juggernaut (or perhaps an ambling Fiesta, but nonetheless into the road) by two people who appear incapable of adopting a single file formation for the three seconds necessary to allow me to pass without leaving the pavement. It’s so rude. Mostly they seem oblivious to their actions which just makes it worse. Older people are the worst offenders. My disapproval doesn’t manifest itself very forcefully I’m afraid, but I do like to tut loudly or mutter ‘thank you’ under my breath. I’m working my way up to a Richard Ashcroft style shoulder barge as I stride forcefully ahead. I vote that everyone should apply ‘How Am I Walking?’ stickers, complete with freefone number and reference code, to their backs before setting out. Or perhaps I should apply them myself, without their knowledge or consent, like those ‘kick me’ notes you used to see in school. I think if I did that, I’d also have some stickers printed up to keep in my car that say LEARN TO PARK PROPERLY YOU MORON for application to the windscreens of those infuriating idiots who park across two spaces.

Back to the subject of walking, I had one of those ‘trip and try to maintain composure’ moments yesterday. It wasn’t just a mild stumble though, I almost went arse over tit. The people walking towards me did a pretty good job of not displaying signs of amusement, which must have been harder in light of my absurd ‘in total denial’ facial expression than for the trip itself.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

From census to senseless

Have you ever been stopped for an in-car census? I hadn't, until today. I didn't even know such a thing existed, but I was driving into Ipswich when the traffic started to slow and I noticed a police presence. Then the signs - 'Slow: Census'. They appeared to be stopping cars at random so I tried to look uninteresting and hoped I'd be spared, but a petite woman in a dayglo jacket waved her clipboard at me and performed the universal 'please wind your window down' action (which is a little redundant in the age of electric windows, but I suppose the 'pressing the down button' mime is a little ambiguous. In fact I'd have to be monumentally thick to try talking to her through the glass, so no mime of any description was really necessary). I should say at this point that I hadn't been pulled over into a layby or anything - they were stopping people in the middle of the single lane road, which meant that by the time I was finished there were approximately 30 cars behind me. Our conversation went something like this:

Her: Good afternoon sir.
Me: Hello.
Her: I'd just like to ask you a few quick questions. Can you tell me where you've just come from?
Me: Rendlesham.
Her: And was your car parked there overnight?
Me: Yes. I live there.
Her: And where are you heading now, sir?
Me: I'm going to the cinema.
Her: In Ipswich?
Me: That's the one.
Her: And what will you be doing in Ipswich?
Me: (slightly incredulous) I'll be... watching a film.
Her: And how would you have travelled today if not by car?
Me: Rollerblades.

Oh, all right, I said 'bus' but I suspect that she'd have dutifully scribbled down whatever form of transport I could come up with. Perhaps when you've been asking the same stupid questions all day you lose your powers of reasoning. Anyway, she seemed content with my responses and waved me on but I had to say where I was for another minute or so because the car in front of me had also been stopped and the driver obviously had more to say for himself. The only purpose I can think of for the census is to gauge traffic usage with a view to easing congestion, which is slightly ironic given the tailbacks they were causing.

The film I went to see was Wanted. I can only assume that the full title is Wanted: Something Resembling a Decent Script because it was quite absurd. I spent the first three quarters of the film trying my hardest to like it and the remainder sat shrivelled in sad resignation. The basic premise is that there's a group of super skilled assassins who can do cool things like bending bullets round obstacles and healing quickly in waxy baths. So who do they kill? Do they advertise in Yellow Pages for new clients? Oh no, they take their orders from a piece of old rag. A mystical tea towel. No really, I'm not joking. The ancient loom weaves a piece of cloth and the anomalies in the threads spell out the name of the next victim in binary code. I'm not even going the mention the exploding rats. Utter nonsense. I can't remember exactly the dialogue that closed the film, but it was something along the lines of "I used to be a nobody, now I'm a super cool killing machine. So what are you doing with your life?" Well, since you ask, I've just wasted the last two hours of it watching your ridiculous film. Ta very much.

On the way home they were still doing the census but not in my direction. I was half hoping that petite dayglo woman would ask me how the film was in order to give Suffolk County Council a more rounded view of my Ipswich experience, but never mind.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Q&A

It's late, I'm tired, I have to be up early to assist my mother with some decorating tomorrow but hey, I'm putting you guys first again. The reason being that it's quite rare for me to have a social event to blog about so it just couldn't wait any longer. On Saturday, you see, I breached the capital and delved into darkest Islington (which was actually very sunny) for Ariane's birthday party. She has one every year and they are always enjoyable affairs because her friends tend to be very interesting, sociable people. Despite being neither of these things myself, I'm a keen observer nonetheless and I don't think I embarrassed myself too much apart from when someone politely enquired how I knew Ariane. I told them, quite casually, that she'd answered an advert I had placed in a contact magazine. What I'd meant to say was that I'd placed a contact ad in a magazine. I did have a designated role in the proceedings though, which was to host a 1990s based quiz. I should be getting a dab hand at this; last year I was called upon to host an 1980s quiz. Having learned from my somewhat over-complicated Madonna v Michael Jackson tug-of-war format last July, I kept it simple this time. Questions, answers, scores, winner. It's enduring, isn't it? Still, when you're calling out questions to a room full of people you do rather hope that your voice will slip into a calming, authoritative Radio Four type of tone but of course I could only manage an annoying nasal whine. It seemed to go okay though, and the team who solved a nagging mystery by calling themselves The McCanns Ate Her were duly crowned winners. I had to then make a sharp exit in order to catch the last train home, where I read a copy of the surprisingly literary When Saturday Comes and remained oblivious, until I got home, to the fact that the cheap Sainsbury's ball point pen I had misplaced earlier had been in my pocket all the time and leaked thick black ink everywhere. I now have about five pounds in loose change that is legal tender only in Gloopville. Thankfully I was wearing black jeans, but still have a red mark on my leg from where it was necessary to scrub at my skin in order to avoid having the world's lamest tattoo. Next year I'm taking a pencil.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Er, sorry.

So I've been thinking -again - and after all the kind messages of support it appears that I may have been a little hasty in pulling the plug on Doormat Picnic.  The comment that got to me most was Thom's: You always quit too soon in your projects.  Sadly, he's right.  And the reason I usually quit is because I believe that there's something else I may be better at.  Perhaps it's time to concentrate on being good at just one thing, however long it takes.

BUT:

There's still a big time issue with producing three strips per week, so if I'm to continue I will have to reduce the quota to two, probably on Tuesdays and Fridays.  Is that fair?  Another problem is that story three was originally going to be a rather surreal affair where all the characters went on strike and stopped doing what I told them.  Yes, that's what desperation does to my brain.  Thankfully I have now seen sense and scrapped the idea, but that also means that I have to scrap the three strips I had done for it.  That reduces my buffer to a single strip!  So you may have to bear with me if I fall behind again.

It's decided then: the comic will continue for the time being.  I realise this whole quitting thing now seems like a 'publicity stunt' - the equivalent of handing in my notice purely to solicit an improved pay offer - but it really wasn't.  I just didn't think anyone would miss it that much.  So thank you, especially to Thom, and I hope you'll be there for the start of story three on Wednesday.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Paaaaarrrrp!

Today is my friend Ariane's birthday.  Although she still looks like a sprightly teenager, she is in fact 28 years old.  She is great!  This is because:

  • She is tremendously supportive of whatever harebrained project I've got on the go and offers lots of helpful advice and encouragement
  • She calls me all the time and never seems put off by my monosyllabic, incoherent grunting
  • She is always optimistic and picks me up when I'm down
  • She is very funny
  • She isn't afraid to tell me things I need to hear
  • She buys thoughtful gifts and always writes lovely things in greetings cards
  • She offers compliments without prompting
  • She is very grounded and knows what's important in life
  • She doesn't take up much room
  • She has put up with me for over eleven years!

I am very lucky to have her as a friend... have a great day, Ariane!

(Oh, and it was Thom's birthday last Sunday but I forgot to mention that.  Sorry mate.  You're great too.  And stuff.  *Quick awkward man hug*) 

Wipe your feet on the way out

I haven't posted lately because I've been deep in thought, contemplating all sorts of things.  Do hamsters care that their lives are completely shit?  Was that £6 car wash a waste of money?  Why did I eat an orange last night that had clearly gone off?  Chiefly, though, I have been considering the future of my webcomic; it appears, despite reasonable efforts at promotion, that almost nobody is reading it which wasn't the plan at all.  I'm not an egomaniac, but since I was hoping for at least a modest following I have taken the decision to cease production.  The arguments go something like this:

Pros:

  • You never know, things might pick up.  Chin up, pip pip, give us a grin.

Cons:

  • Nobody is reading.  95% of those who look at it never return.
  • The six week buffer has almost been eroded, necessitating rushed artwork and corner cutting.  Quality is meant to improve as time goes on, not diminish.
  • I'm not enjoying it anymore.
  • I can't plot storylines to save my life.  There's more drama in an episode of Bingo Night Live.
  • It doesn't have a genre, or niche.
  • It was never as good as I wanted it to be.
  • Nobody is reading.

Yeah, I'm a quitter, whatever.  The truth is that I've invested almost every spare moment since January in the project and it has run its course.  I truly admire those who have kept their comics running for years and years, but clearly I'm not cut out for it.  There are other artistic avenues that I want to take without the pressure of weekly quotas.  More on that as and when.

So thanks if you were one of the handful of regular readers, I appreciate your support.  The comic will complete its run on Monday July 14th.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Those were the days

I almost missed Thom's belated comment to my 'Ten Thousand Hellos' post, but I'm so glad I spotted it.  It casually directed me to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, which, incredibly, has several old pages of the original Hermit Guide for viewing.  I was totally astonished to see them, and somewhat depressed to note that I was a far better blogger six years ago than I am now (is it bad form to laugh at your own writing?).  Most of the images haven't survived the archiving process but it was still a fascinating journey.  I must draw your attention to the page dated 28 November 2002, in which I moan about my lack of wisdom teeth.  Does that sound familiar?  I was also amused by my discovery of eBay on one of the early pages, even recommending it to my readers as if they wouldn't have heard of it!  Anyway, the archive page is here if you're interested.  There's plenty of embarrassing stuff too, but it made my day.  Thanks, Thom!

Sunday, 22 June 2008

I have rewritten the Kama Sutra

It's often hard to work out human poses when I'm drawing, so as a reference I recently bought a copy of Poser 7, which lets you manipulate 3D figures into whatever position you want.  It's different to the old version that I used to own, though - in that one, opening a new figure would automatically replace the figure on the stage.  In the new version, you have to delete the old figure first or you'll get two figures at once.  I keep forgetting this, and earlier on I inadvertently invented a new sexual position.

I call it 'The Slaphead Pelvis Bisection'.  And if that doesn't look painful enough, I'm afraid it's also necessary for the male to bury his head between the female's shoulder blades:

Let me know how you get on.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Doctor Love

Some skills in life take a great deal of time, practice and dedication to acquire and refine. Others you just kind of pick up, through habitual use, voluntary or otherwise. Today it occurred to me that with no prior intent I have nonetheless become Doctor Love.

It’s true, I had no idea that this was the role that life would bestow upon me but a friend of mine has been unwittingly honing my skills for the past 18 months or so. He has, you see, been chancing his arm at internet dating despite the fact that he doesn’t own a computer. That’s where I come in. Where I work I am considered to be ‘quite handy’ on a PC, which is probably just because many of my colleagues don’t spend as much time on theirs as I do mine. In the kingdom of the blind, etc. etc. So anyway, 18 months ago I agreed, somewhat naively, to assist my friend by setting up an online profile for him with a view to pairing him up with some of the nice ladies of Suffolk. How hard could it be?

It has been a nightmare. His written English isn’t too good (to put it mildly) so I have been writing all the messages for him, employing every trick in the book to make him stand out. During this time it would be no exaggeration to say that we have contacted just about every woman in a 20 mile radius and employed an increasing lack of discrimination. 21 with four kids and an incontinent dog? She must be worth a punt. Fifty a day smoker with a suspended sentence for shoplifting in Lidl? We mustn’t judge. A graph has been hanging over his head, one axis marked ‘time’ and the other ‘desperation’; it charts a perfect 45 degree incline that is currently orbiting Jupiter. There have been some promising moments, but mostly we have succeeded only in finding people who are… well… not the full ticket. Quirky, if you will. Different.

Total bloody loons.

Some short lived flings have come and gone but we are, essentially, no further forward. Worryingly, my friend is now beginning to doubt that the internet is the answer and is suggesting that I accompany him on singles nights and speed dating. This is not good at all. We went to one singles night last year that was so disastrous it made the Titanic look like a mild mishap. The scars are still red. To his credit though (and my annoyance), my friend remains upbeat. ‘I don’t know why you don’t try this yourself,’ he asks me on an almost daily basis as we scour the dregs of the online hopefuls. ‘Don’t you worry that you’ll end up alone?’ Actually, I don’t. After witnessing barrel scraping of this magnitude, I am more convinced than ever that singledom is the lesser of two evils. He still rings me whenever he’s confused about what to do with his chosen lady of the moment, as if I have a clue what I’m talking about. It seems to work, though – I just apply basic logic and reason and see what comes out the other end. I can talk a good game, but I’m getting really tired of it. It’s times like these that I wish I had some faith to pray to, some hope that the whole process will be taken out of my hands by a merciful deity. Why are some people so terrified of being alone? You can get used to anything if you give it a chance.

If you happen to need any relationship advice, but the way, I’m happy to pass on my wealth of experience.  Just start your comments with ‘Dear Doctor Love’.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

A comparison of web browsers

It’s Thursday. That can only mean one thing: it’s geeky review time!

(Peppy theme tune… fade… push in on presenter)

Thank you. Today we’re going to look at internet browsers. I’m not very good at reviewing things, so heavy bias and half-arsed testing are pretty much a given.
 
Opera 9.5
It may have the worst shortcut icon of any program in history – a boring red ‘O’ – but this browser has long been a very slick piece of software. This latest version is more than a simple refinement though – it’s a total overhaul. The new look is a radical change but thankfully it kicks arse while retaining the familiar functionality. The best feature is ‘Speed Dial’, which can be set to open upon launch and lets you enter up to nine of your favourite sites as thumbnail images that can refresh automatically. This lets you see if a certain site has been updated without having to visit it.

Looks: 9
Speed: 8

Firefox 3
The popularity of this browser is increasing all the time and it has been generally recognised as the best choice for those wishing to escape from Microsoft. Mozilla, not wishing to rest on their laurels, have tried to keep ahead of the game with this latest version… but it’s a shocking disappointment. If you haven’t already downloaded it, don’t bother. In fact, I don’t know why I’ve included the link. The interface looks like it was designed on a Friday afternoon by the tea boy and for reasons I can’t imagine the browsing tabs don’t appear by default. (Yes, you can change this in the preferences, but that’s not the point.)

Looks: 2
Speed: 7

Safari
This is the standard web browser for Mac users, but it’s also available for Windows. In my experience it’s undoubtedly the fastest browser of them all – pages load very quickly indeed – but you won’t be able to appreciate that because your eyes will be bleeding from the horrendous interface. It’s standard Mac fare – a brushed steel effect minimalist snooze-athon. Far worse though is the font smoothing, which makes all text look smudged and messy. You can’t turn it off, either – there are just options for how much smoothing you want. Why not none? (I’m hard and edgy. I like hard edges.) Like Firefox, the tabs are missing by default but unlike Firefox there doesn’t appear to be a way to override this.

Looks: 1
Speed: 10

Internet Explorer 8
This is only a beta release at the moment but on first impressions, it’s exactly the same as version 7 apart from a few features that you’ll never use anyway. It’s still slow, it’s still clumsy and it’s still the most likely browser to display pages incorrectly.  

Looks: 5
Speed: 5

Conclusion
If you use Internet Explorer and you’ve never tried any other browser, just do it – I bet you won’t go back. They’re all free to download and all have their strengths, but I’ll be sticking with Opera.

(Peppy music fades in… fade to black… credits)

Next week: Vegetable peelers

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

It's still spring

I realise I’m coming across as a whining pedant, but I’ve lost count of the times that I’ve heard people complaining that the summer has been really disappointing so far, weather wise. To all of them, I’ll say here what I’m not brave enough to say to their faces: SUMMER HASN’T STARTED YET. Your time to moan will undoubtedly come but there's no need to jump the gun.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Happy New Year

It’s not too late to make a New Year’s resolution is it? Good. It occurred to me this morning just how many small things at my workplace irritate me and my hope is that by listing them here I will purge my vexation into remission. Let's crack on.
 
1. Loading the photocopier
Despite my frequent moaning, I seem to be the only person in the office who realises that our copier paper is not the same on both sides. It has a smooth side and a slightly rougher side. That’s why they write ‘first print side’ with an arrow on the packaging. It’s not just there for a joke. And yet still, like a dropped piece of toast, it invariably ends up face down in the machine when loaded by the others. The extra friction resulting from writing on forms copied like this probably slows down my productivity by anything up to a second per week.

2. Staples that are incorrectly orientated
There is only one acceptable position for a staple – see figure 1. There are a few common alignment errors that are committed by my colleagues which range from mildly irritating (figures 2 and 3) to utterly maddening (figure 4). Presumably figure 4 results from right handed people being far too busy to waste half a second rotating their pages into the optimum stapling position. Worse is when a stack of papers that have already been stapled together are appended by further papers and further staples, resulting in the unholy mess that is figure 5. The worst of all, however, is when people use the ‘open ended’ stapling option by turning round the striking plate. I have yet to fathom why this option even exists – it’s a near certainty that you’ll draw blood by inadvertently ramming the sharp end under your fingernail. I frequently encounter figure 6 – stapling at its worst.


3. Holes punched by guesswork
You’d think that punching holes in a piece of paper was a fairly elementary skill, but no. The correct way, of course, is to fold the left hand long edge and make a small crease to mark the midway point. This must then be aligned with the arrow on the hole punch. It’s not difficult. In our office, though, it is still considered acceptable to skip the folding part and just punch at a point that looks ‘near enough’. The result? Misaligned papers in my lever arch files. The only fix is to re-punch, but then you get either long oval shaped holes or, if a colleague’s guesswork is particularly shoddy, four holes (witness figure 7).

4. People who don’t understand the concept of printer’s proofs
The time to notice that your new stack of 500 business cards contain a typo is not when they arrive in their box. Do you remember that colour laser print that they sent you a week ago? The one that you gave a cursory glance to, signed and returned? Well it had exactly the same typo and you DIDN’T FUCKING NOTICE. Now I have to add an ‘h’ in biro to the email address on all my cards which makes me look like a total div. Thanks.

5. Incorrectly addressed mail
The postal service is a very useful and efficient means of sending information that can’t be emailed, but some people don’t seem to realise that the sorting process is no longer carried out by nice old ladies in between knitting scarves for their nephews. We live in an age of automation. Postcodes are not optional extras. Writing the first half of the postcode because you can’t be arsed to look up the rest is not an acceptable compromise. Writing ‘near ______’ in brackets is more likely to get your mail lost. The address should be written in lower case with no punctuation, apart from the post town which should be in capital letters. In the UK, you do not need to write the name of the county. Human beings don’t read your addresses, machines do. When you fail to adhere to these rules, don’t moan when your post has been delayed because the machine rejected it and some poor sod had to sort it by hand.

That will do for now.  Hmm… I think I’ve broken my resolution already. Still, lasting until the middle of June isn’t bad is it?

Friday, 13 June 2008

Ten thousand hellos

Well folks, I threatened change and here it is – a new blog and the return of Hermit Guide* all rolled into one glorious package. For all of you who have had an HG-shaped void in your lives since April (quick show of hands please... anyone?), I hope you now consider your desire well and truly sated. Oh, and I apologise if the animated banner has just rocked your face off.

The most important thing about this blog, and the reason I had to start from scratch, is that I no longer plan to talk about the comic. Henceforth this will be a separate pursuit. The failure of the previous blog was largely due to a misunderstanding of its responsibilities and I feel that any Picnic news can be adequately dealt with on the site itself. Another thing I won't be doing is adding StatCounter. I was talked into it for the last blog with promises of great riches but I find it too distracting. For those unfamiliar, StatCounter allows you to monitor the visitors to your website – or blog – in ridiculous detail. It tells you when they came, where they came from, how long they stayed and what their preferred breakfast cereal is. This sounds quite exciting in theory but mostly just reduced me to episodes of paranoia:

Wow! I had a new visitor from Belgium! This is splendid news! Let's see... they viewed the blog for less than a second and never returned. No, no, it was not a mistake! They're obviously just a speed reader who prefers to digest their blog intake in monthly sittings! They’ll be back, they’ll be back!

Then, of course, I become hyper aware that other sites may have StatCounter (or something similar) and convince myself that checking them more than a couple of times a day will result in accusations of cyber stalking followed by restraining orders, ASBOs, dawn raids and court appearances. I'll concede that it's useful to know if your site is popular or not, but it's also nice to leave something to the imagination. I've decided, therefore, that I'm content enough to delude myself with the very impressive (albeit imagined) statistics in my head.

* Seminal, trailblazing and multi-award winning website of mine that ran between 2001-2008