A Certain Lack of Focus

Monday, March 31, 2008

Fantasy and Spreadsheets

Yeah, who knew I could put those things together in a title? So I've spent the last two hours plugging ages of faeries for my novel into a spreadsheet to see how things break down. It's been shockingly helpful.

eyeThere are a couple of tricks with my faeries that make figuring out character age difficult. The first trick is that the faeries age at about human speed during childhood, then at around age 11 when they begin puberty their aging slows dramatically. At around age 13 they "change" getting their wings, horns, lengthened fangs and become sexually mature (sort of... about as sexually mature as you would expect a girl who just got her period to be: aka able to reproduce but not necessarily recommended).

The other trick is that this group of faeries lost a war about 18 years back. When they lost, the victorious faeries slaughtered all the elders (faeries over age 70) and all the faeries of reproductive age (13-63). When the leader of the tribe begged, they left some children alive, but killed all the children that were descendants of the remaining faeries (there's a practical social reason for this which I may explain later). So what had previously been a healthy population of faeries (ok I know that sounds ridiculous, but bear with me) was left at 25-30 older faeries and five children aged from under a year to eleven years. It took five years before the oldest of these (a female) was able to reproduce. The next oldest female (in terms of reproduction the adult males are still viable, so male children are irrelevant) was only five years old at the time of the war, which means she would not be able to reproduce for approximately eight years.

pregnantThis all sounds a bit cold, and it is, but by playing with these numbers I've discovered some interesting things about the society I'm creating. For one thing, I've got all sorts of extra reasons for the frustration and bitterness I've already put in there. That's nice to know. The main thing I've realized though is that for the female children left after the war, life would have been hell once they reached reproductive age. The oldest child for example, had five children in the course of thirteen years, all by very old men (faeries). The oldest of these children was taken from her, the next oldest lived, the next was mutilated, the next was stillborn and the last lived. At the time the book takes place, she's pregnant again. Possibly even more devastating than her status as a broodmare is the fact that she would have been forced into sex pretty continually as soon as she matured until it was evident that she was pregnant and then again once the babies were born. This is not only because of the brutal nature of the characters in question but the practical concerns of rebuilding a population that was growing from 300 or so pre-war, and shrunk to 25 immediately after.

She's not a particularly important character but knowing this makes her more important to me. It gives me a better understanding of my creatures and my story. I also now realize that whatever desperate measures this group of faeries take, they are probably doomed in the long run since they have only three blood lines to start from. Suddenly, just by putting something as simple as ages into a spreadsheet, I know all sorts of things about the society I created that I never would have imagined on my own. Now that's weird science.

*Pregnant image is an altered image from a photo I found on flickr. Linked.

Friday, March 28, 2008

More Creative Gift Wrapping (procrastination)

giftBecause everyone knows a small child would MUCH rather admire a prettily wrapped gift than, you know, open it, I decided to have some fun with a birthday gift for Matt's (and soon my) niece. I probably wouldn't have bothered except that it was one of those multiple book gift packages that looks all weird and asymmetrical when you're done. Plus I had some time to kill that I could have easily used for more productive things.

izziesSo... I took some of the silver paper that I used last week (or whenever) and cut out a bunch of rectangles. I Folded them all around to give them sharp edges and taped them on (sticky side in). Best find? Random Izzie (a juice soda) bottle caps all over the floor. We never throw them out because they're kinda cute and the cats like to play with them. And we're slobs, that's probably one of the reasons too.

Anyway I put it all together and I can sort of kind of pretend it looks like a car. What do you think? Am I not the queen of wasting time?car

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Phone Photo 03-27-08

gasBecause that's just freakin' sweet.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Online Graphic Novels

I'm currently reading How to Make Webcomics which Matt picked up for me at the comic shop the other day (because he rocks). It's by the authors of PvP, Phables, Starslip Crisis and Sheldon. It is about, wait for it, creating web comics. I'll do a full review (maybe? unless I change my mind?) once I finish it, but for now I just wanted to make a note about wording.

comicsSomething that I found interesting in this book is that rather than referring to serial web comics as online graphic novels, the authors call them longform comics. I'd never heard this before, but it makes sense and I really appreciate the distinction.

What's the difference you ask? Well, there may not actually BE a difference, but in my mind there should be. I love longer story arcs like you get in graphic novels but I don't think the traditional graphic novel form works on the web.

Take MegaTokyo, a popular webcomic (maybe not a great example since it's obviously succeeding, but bear with me) drawn by Fred Gallagher. This is done in a fairly traditional graphic novel style, in fact I think they're on something like book 7 by now. But while the art is engaging and sometimes amazing, I could care less about the story. Now that may just be me, I don't particularly care what dumb thing Piro did this time to piss off his girlfriend or the girl he wants to be his girlfriend. Some people like this style of comic story (there's a huge genre inside manga that does this exclusively and MegaTokyo is kind of manga) but it's just not for me. I think though that the larger reason it fails (by my standards) is that graphic novels move so SLOWLY. Think about it. I've seen graphic novels (and MegaTokyo is one of them) that can take ten pages before anything happens. I've seen MegaTokyo posts where an entire page is just one of the characters looking sad from various angles. This works great if you're pacing a graphic novel and you have the entire book in front of you to read at once but... MegaTokyo posts three times a week! That means you could be waiting more than three weeks for something, anything, to happen. It's just TOO slow.

Now I haven't seen many other serial type webcomics, but I'm wondering if there's a way to have some balance. Can it be fueled by a larger plot, with important developments happing slowly along the way, and still leave the reader with something satisfying on a page by page basis? I think it can. I'm working on starting a webcomic now, egged on by reading this book, and that's what I hope to accomplish (I'll keep you posted).

As for MegaTokyo, it's obviously doing just fine. It has a ton of dedicated readers. I don't know what motivates them, what keeps them interested. Personally I still visit the MegaTokyo site when bloglines tells me there's a new strip, but like a high school kid with a Playboy, I'm just looking at the pretty pictures.

Phone Photo 03-26-08

Remember my post from a little while ago about words in real estate?

So, when I go to sell this place, think I should mention the view of beautiful landscaping?mud

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Decorative Gift Wrapping, AKA Thesis Avoidance

No... we still haven't managed to get out all the Christmas presents. We're horrible.

giftAnyway, now that that's established, I wanted to show everyone my latest adventure in gift wrapping. I've been getting more adventurous about wrapping gifts which translates to: sometimes I really really want to waste some time. This weekend I needed to wrap up a big flat gift for a friend of ours. Initially I used the silver wrapping paper with... uhm... extra silver dots. The thing about big flat boxes, is that when you wrap them, even if you're really good at getting a tight wrap (which I'm not) they end up looking kind of sad and lame. It's the sagging in the middle. So I decided to add a couple of purple stripes from pre-used wrapping paper that I hadn't bothered to throw out yet.

giftSince the paper was kind of wrinkled I wrinkled it some more, so it would look intentional instead of just rude. Then I folded over the edges of the stripe to make them smooth and pushed each end under the already folded up silver paper.

It still looked lame.

I decided to put a kind of woven pattern across the box with the remaining purple paper. I ripped the paper into eight strips slightly shorter than the width of the package. I started out with seven but with what I ended up doing it made the package look asymmetrical (in a not good way) so I went with eight.

giftWhen I had them all torn and wrinkled, I twisted each piece lengthwise, and wove them under alternating sides of the two long stripes. I taped the ends of the stripes down around them to hold them in place and then taped down the loose end on the other stripe. The effect was nothing at all like a basket weave, more like an extended tic-tac-toe board, but it did fill the space much more effectively than the two lone stripes. It ended up looking kind of cool, I thought... in a this gift has tentacles and wants nothing more than to eat you kind of way.
giftAnyway, using these creative avoidance techniques I was able to waste nearly a half hour of time that could have been spent toiling away on my novel. With some work, you too could waste lots of time constructing something that one of your friends will almost immediately tear into shreds. Good luck!gift

Monday, March 24, 2008

Phone photo 03-24-08

This is what I had for dinner last night.dinnerI chose this as today's picture because I wanted to make you all jealous. In retrospect the photo didn't turn out nearly so delicious looking as the actual meal but believe me, it was good. Matt does most of the cooking and he's always (since I've known him) been a good cook, but I swear he gets better every day. This was Greek potatoes from our Healthy Cooking for Two book, asparagus with garlic and lemon juice, and galic stuffed bison filet with caramelized shallots. I'm a lucky woman.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

IF: Pet Peeves

This week's Illustration Friday is "Pet Peeves."catSo my take on this was going to be the cheesy pun of: Hey it's my PET Tricky and she occasionally IRKS me and gee why are cats always going so high and knocking paintbrushes off my shelves? kayuck kayuck.

But instead I decided to go with the theme of how the hell is it that after four years of training in art I still can't draw a damn cat?

Phone Photo 03-23-08

Found this old phone photo of Matt sitting among the boxes shortly after move-in in July.movingIt looks much better here now. Or at least less like we just moved in. Ok, mostly it just looks like we're slobs now instead of having just moved and I'm not sure that's better, but we're finally starting to make progress. I can see whole chunks of the carpet now!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Weirdest thing ever?

Ok, if this is for real it's both the weirdest and the coolest thing I've ever heard. Go read it before you go any further.

Did you read it? Crazy yeah? Talk about science fiction (or Greek mythology depending on your preference). Except when you just look at the physical facts I guess it's not all that weird. Biologically he's a she, as he points out he never took any steps to change his reproductive organs so the ability to bear a child isn't all that odd. I think its sort of amazing that this couple wanted a child, the wife was unable to bear children, and rather than having to wait five years to adopt or find a very generous friend/family member (which from reading the article sounds unlikely anyway) willing to lend out a uterus, had a husband who was able to do it instead.

My main concern with this is that if doctors have been so unwilling to help them (they inseminated at home) what happens when he goes into labor? Yeah, I know babies have been born for eons, but not to transgender men or women.

Accidental Art

A while ago, before Matt moved in here so REALLY a while ago, we printed out some photos and left them in the car. We forgot about them and recently found the resulting images:
chaosOk I've got these tagged as a drawing so people can find it when they want to look at my artwork (though obviously these were not intentionally created) because they're so cool. I'm fascinated by how the colors have blurred, and I especially like the mix of the complete lack of order with remnants of the original images.
chaosTen points to whoever guesses what the photos are about first. Hint: they're all pictures of the same thing or things.
chaosThis might be fun to play around with sometime, print out some actual artwork and get a dropper filled with water. Could get some cool effects. Not so different to what artists have been doing to watersafe ink with alcohol for ages I suppose, but easier.
chaosThat one ought to have made it pretty obvious, but here's a couple more chances if you don't have it yet:
chaosAnd if you don't get it on this last one I give up on you.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Ah Comedy

Saw this on William's blog and just had to spread the love.

The video gets a bit wonky toward the end for some reason, but it doesn't matter. This skit just never gets old. Except when it gets really old. My literarally (not a word) inclined friends ought to enjoy this especially.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Another Landmark

typingToday I hit page number 150 on my novel/thesis. Only about 120 pages are consecutive, and alot of the rest is page breaks and single line notes, but hey, I'm taking reassurance where I can find it. That's 51,459 words. I might actually be able to finish this! Granted that's book one of four, and getting it written is probably nothing compared to finding a publisher, but quiet you, I'm gloating to myself.

Writing in the Family

I haven't been following Neil Gaiman's blog for super long, but I'm RSSing it now (not actually a word, but whatever, one of my favorite professors claims anything can be a verb. Thanks Bob Pope!) and today read the MOST adorable post ever. Apparently his thirteen-year-old daughter Maddy occasionally blogs on his blog. He doesn't have separate pages for posts so I can't link directly, but go to his blog and look for the post called "picture time" on March 18th. So sweet and a little odd to hear my favorite grown-up author being described as a dad. Even if you're not a huge Gaiman fan, it's worth checking out.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Bumper to Sunroof

cityI'm always thrilled when fantasy and sci-fi stories bring in elements that aren't normally a part of our consideration of the future. There are things we love to imagine futuristic versions of: weapons, costumes, computers and entertainment, but many things are off our radar entirely. You don't often see futuristic toilets or children's toys. We're all familiar with space ships and funky flying cars, but rarely does a story spend the time to consider the changes these vehicles would create in traffic.

In the original Star Wars trilogy for example we saw hover crafts and flying scooters, but it wasn't until the prequels that we saw an example of 3-D byways. Star Wars was revolutionary in some ways, but in spite of gravity defying technology the designers obviously had their feet firmly planted. Even in Phantom Menace, the mind blowing pod race (which some consider the only saving grace of the film) was relatively two dimensional. The race was not so different from a car race or a dirt bike race, only a hundred feet in the air. Space battles were fought in all directions but planet side, the designers seemed to have put little consideration into how to use a space less effected by gravity.

starwarsThe first time we saw a third dimension added to traffic in the Star Wars universe was in Attack of the Clones, when Anikan and Obi Wan get into a speeder chase scene. Here we had a deep city full of traffic with layers upon layers of invisible highways.

I have great respect for the designers of the Prequel movies (if not for the writers) but I find it difficult to give them credit for the clever vision of futuristic traffic presented in Star Wars II. The visual effect of the Star Wars traffic was so similar to the traffic created in another chase scene, out of 5th element, that I have to believe the Star Wars design was at best heavily influenced.

5th Element came out in 1997, Star Wars II came out five years later. More persuasive, while the traffic in Star Wars reads as background, it actually played a role in 5th Element. One of my favorite details in any science fiction movie is the Portable Chinese Restaurant, modeled to look like a boat (and why shouldn't it be?) that stops at Dallas's window. The traffic in 5th element isn't just filler, it's almost a separate character. This is fitting as Dallas is a cab driver.
5thSome other examples of good traffic scenes can be found in Firefly, the most recent Dr. Who series and probably lots of Anime. In Dr. Who you get to see a never ending traffic jam, where people are living (and dying) while stuck in traffic, and nobody knows that all the exits are closed. Another movie that brought an interesting take on 3-D traffic was Minority Report, in 2002. This vision of the future seems a bit nearer than Star Wars (yeah I know that's technically supposed to be "a long time ago" but it's futuristic, deal with it) or 5th element. The cars don't fly, but the movie utilizes 3-D space with the roadways, which twist around each other in all directions. The traffic itself is far more organized than movement in either 5th element or Star Wars, which could be read as a reflection on the society it represents: highly ordered and over-regulated. Cool looking though.

*Images link to their homes.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Phone Photo 03-13-08

catpillowThis is so getting made into a lolcat.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Unfortunate Combinations

lettersIf you've ever worked with OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software, software designed to turn scanned papers into editable text, you may have noticed that certain letter combinations are problematic for the computer. "cl" is often read as "d," "lc" turns into "k," and "rn" becomes "m." These aren't the only combos that cause trouble but they're the most common ones that I remember.

I would assume that this problem occurs more often with certain fonts and sizes, or with documents that are less clean, printers that are lower quality. While I can see how the characters resemble each other, I'd always though of this as a uniquely AI issue, until I found myself doing the same thing a couple days ago when checking my yahoo account.

One of the combinations I didn't mention was "ol," which potentially turns into "a." I didn't mention it because it's not a problem with most fonts. In most typefaces the "a" is as it appears here, with a... er... thinggy? curling up on the top and at the tail end. The "a" can appear though adas a circle with a barely curved line at the end, like an "ol." I made this mistake momentarally when I saw a granola bar ad from the corner of my eye. Maybe I was just tired. Personally though, If I were the designer, I'd be more careful about which font I used if I wanted to describe a product as having a "bold" taste. Or maybe he just doesn't like them.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Phone Photo 03-10-08

plowThe plow leaves it's mark on the temporary landscape.

Improv Strikes Again

This is fairly entertaining. Improv Everywhere stages a mini-musical in the middle of a public food court.

Watching these videos reminds me a bit of interviews I've seen on The Daily Show. They're entertaining to begin with, but even more so when you realize that most of the people being interviewed have somehow never heard of John Stewart and don't realize the interview is a joke. This video has the same feel, it's a bit sillier than some of the IE videos I've seen, and the biggest joke is that most of the people aren't in on the joke. I must say though, part of the reason it's funny is they're just terrible.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Studio Space at last

giraffeHere are the promised pictures. It's amazing how much a difference it makes having space to work. I feel like I can breathe again. Which doesn't necessarily mean I'm working obviously. Right now I'm more taking pictures of my clean drawing space and feeling really proud of myself. Small steps, right?

The first thing I did on Friday was finally put together the shelves for over the computer. They're made of steel pipe (like my desk legs) and plywood. They're pretty sturdy as a self contained unit, but unfortunately they wobble a little because apparently it's friggin' impossible to get pipes in this configuration level. Live and learn. They're up against the bookshelves though and that seems to keep steady enough. I also went out and got a bunch of these metal mesh thingies to help organize. This, combined with all the shelving and such I already had, seems to pretty much contain all my art junk. For now.meshThese could actually make better file boxes than I would have expected. They look cooler than most file boxes I've seen at any rate.deskMy desk looks like a picture from a storage magazine except the lighting's not as good. It's weird. I'm particularly proud of the gap beneath the bookshelves on the right that let me slide my keyboard underneath, out of the way. Very nice for drawing.catChyna likes to get behind the computer, I guess because it's warm. Apparently when I organized I shifted things around so there's no room back there. Whoops.catSo she stole my chair instead. Yeah, she looks sweet, but she's not giving it up without a fight.stuffThey like to watch.

Phone Photo 03-08-08

snowUnfortunately this picture doesn't quite capture what it's like looking out the window here. I'm in a half basement apartment and it's like looking out the mouth of a cave. Good thing we don't have to go anywhere today.


Here's a drawing I did in my illustration class about a year ago (cleaning is an adventure).scratchboardThis was my first (and LAST) experiment with scratchboard. I love the look achieved by good scratchboard artists, but it's not the medium for me. I was moderately pleased with this piece. closeupOnce I looked at it from a few feet back I realized I needed more line variance, but at that point it was time to turn it in and I was completely unwilling to suffer a second more additional time with scratchboard. It's the noise. I can't handle the noise. Shame, because I think I could have fun with it otherwise. Anyway this turned out better than I would have expected for a first attempt and at least had some well executed details, even if the whole wasn't quite there.

Ten points if you know which tarot card it is (without looking it up on wiki).

Illustration Friday

This week's Illustration Friday topic was Garden. I already had a garden image I like so I linked to this old post. Feel free to check it out. If anyone from Kim's garden blog is visiting you might want to also check out the IF page, there are always some great illustrations on the site and for those with a gardening interest it's worth a few minutes. Here are a couple of my favorites so far: Alice, Outiart, McCann, and Ellis Nadler.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Posting? HA!

Ok, so remember how I said I was going to re-start real live actual honest to goodness blogging this week? Uhm... next week maybe?

I've actually GOT two posts written and ready to go on sci-fi/fantasy design, I just need to draw the banners for them (yes, must. Because in my mind it's necessary). And I have tomorrow more or less free (Thesis? Psha.) but instead of blogging I'd actually like to try and get my desk *gasp* clean. I already made a major chunk in the colossal mess on Wednesday and it's AMAZING how much better I feel just from being able to see the wood grain again. If I could actually get my studio space organized for once that would just be... friggin fantastic. I've been close before, but I think it may actually be doable. If I promise to post pictures will you forgive me?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Phone Photo 03-05-08

Here's another of the same tree in the daylight. The ice shows up a bit light but it looked so cool in the lamplight I couldn't resist trying to get the image last night.iceShame my car's in the shot. It kinda wrecks the composition. I gotta say though, considering how crappy this phone-camera is, for once it managed to do a nice job focusing on the part I wanted it to.

Phone Photo 03-05-08


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Monday, March 03, 2008

Phone Photo 03-03-08

Look at me, I'm posting again!paperFeeling a bit better, just tired. Hope to start normal posting again on Wednesday.