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

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

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