Thursday, 30 December 2010

Ends and Beginnings

Don't panic, this post won't be as deep and angsty as its title might imply.

First off, the Binary Advent Candle experiment is over, for this year at least.  I already knew most of the candles were too small, and yesterday numbers 8, 4 and 1 all burnt themselves out.  8 and 4 not only finished themselves off, but also made heroic last-ditch attempts to set the entire five-candle block on fire too.  Fortunately we caught them before they sent the dining room up in smoke.  And since I could see that the end was coming, I lit number 2 half-way through dinner and let it expire in company with its comrades, even though it shouldn't have been lit for the correct binary formation on the 29th.

To be honest, I didn't think the setup would last as long as it did.  Even with several days missed, I was pleasantly surprised that it was still workable as late as the 29th despite the woefully inadequate choice of candles.

So now, the Mk. I is scorched, covered in wax in places where it shouldn't be, and has the remains of the number 8 candle embedded in its hole, where I won't be able to get it out without using sharp objects or something rather hot.  Here's a photo of the wreckage:


...but for all that, I think the experiment was a success.  People liked it (not least myself), and the principle has been proven.  I'll build a better Mk. II version next year with bigger candles.  And hopefully a better way of containing any escapee molten-wax molecules.

At the other end of the starting-and-ending spectrum, I've just done my first non-watercolour painting in a few years.  I did some work in acrylics at sixth form, but it's been a while since I took up a paintbrush for its own sake, and after three years of largely computer-based study I've started missing the analogue joi d'vivre of paints.  So I asked if I could have some paints and things for Christmas, and it was so.  So this morning, over breakfast, I did a painting of... breakfast.  Logical enough, I think, for the first painting of a new era.  It's acrylic on canvas, ~30x40 cm portrait, if you want to know.  Photo to follow once the thing's dried out and I've picked a title for it, if I remember (which I might not, but I'll try).

Speaking of new beginnings: only 4 days until all my webcomic postings resume for the new year.  The two-week hiatus is going by pretty quick, from my POV.

Umm... that's all for now, I think...


- The Colclough

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

We Got Clock

Today, for the purposes of my arcane webcomic project Alien President, I had to do a couple of drawings of the United States Capitol building.  It was a pain in the neck trying to get all that neoclassical geometry right.

I ended up asking myself "Okay, so I'm complaining about having to draw the Capitol.  Would I rather be drawing the New Palace of Westminster?"

My sense of patriotism said "Yes", but my pragmatic side said "No" - Westminster Palace is even more geometrically confusing than the Washington DC Capitol.  But this little exchange led onto another question: "Which is the cooler building?"

Of course, I'm not trying to compare the governments that lurk inside the buildings.  I'm trying to compare the buildings themselves.  So, which is better?  Naturally, I concluded that the New Palace of Westminster is much cooler than the United States Capitol, for four very important reasons:

(Apologies to any Americans who might have stumbled across this blog, by the way.  I'm just saying it like it is.)

Reason the first: a sense of geographical and historical context.  The Houses of Parliament (as you should know by now) are situated on a plot of land in London bordered by the river Thames on one side, and roads on another two.  The building is asymetrical, designed to fit the specific shape of its site, and it even incorporates the one surviving chunk of the previous Palace, the rest of which burnt to the ground in the first half of the 19th Century.  Said chunk is at a funny angle to the rest of the edifice, but that didn't stop the architects using it.  The Palace's concessions to its surroundings and to its past help it to feel organically rooted to its spot: a building not just in London, but for and of London.  The Capitol, by comparison, is a rather generic shape that could be uprooted, plonked down again almost anywhere else on the planet, and still make just as much sense.  Which is boring.

Reason the second: colour.  Now don't get me wrong, I do like the colour white, but I think it's deeply inappropriate for a government building.  The implications of purity, innocence and whatnot are totally misleading.  Everyone knows that politicians are lying scumbags (well, a lot of them anyway), as demonstrated by the recent Expenses Scandal.  Westminster's brown exterior gives a much more honest impression about the dodgy occupants, compared to the Capitol's somewhat hypocritical whiteness.

Reason the third: the royal connection.  Parliament has ceremonial features relating to the fact that it gets officially reopened every year by the Queen.  The Capitol doesn't.  Long live the Queen.

Reason the fourth (and perhaps the most important): that clock.  By far the biggest blunder made by the architects of the US Capitol is that they forgot to include a clocktower.  Whereas, the New Palace of Westminster is defined in the public eye by its enormous clock, as much as by the scandalous politicians underneath it.  Even without the other three points, the clocktower alone is enough to make the Houses of Parliament the cooler of the two structures, hands down.  Who doesn't like a good clock?


QED.  Just thought I'd share those helpful insights with you.  B]


- The Colclough

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Don't Flush

I've just completed a new animated short.  It's my first attempt at a paper cutout technique, and it clocks in at two minutes in length.  The characters are borrowed (with permission) from the webcomic Brothers in Shells, by my bestest amigo Tim.  Production time approx. 48 hours.

Here's the finished product:





- The Colclough

Friday, 10 December 2010

Christmas with the Geeks

We forgot to get an advent candle this year.  And we didn't even realise until the 3rd, when it would have been a bit too late to start burning a conventional candle.

Fortunately, the nerd in the household (me) had a brilliant idea: I invented the binary advent candle.  A quick Google search didn't turn up a single instance of the phrase 'binary advent candle', so I think I can actually claim it as an all-new, previously-unheard-of concept.  I made my first BAC and started using it on the 4th.

The BAC is a bit of a misnomer really, because it isn't one candle, but five, numbered 1, 2, 4, 8 and 16, and instead of having to burn a specific bit of candle each day, you burn a specific combination of candles.  The system is capable of displaying any integer value from 0 (no candles lit) to 31 (all of them lit) - which has the added advantage that you don't have to stop on Christmas Day; you can keep going right up to New Year's Eve if you want to.

And here it is:
As you can see, this is 8+1=9, i.e. last night's combination.

The current setup is serving as a prototype, and has already revealed one major design flaw: we really should have used bigger candles.  I made Mk. I with whatever candles I could get my hands on, and it turns out they weren't the best choices: each candle should, in theory, be burnt 16 times over the course of the month, but those 4 little red ones just don't have a long enough burn time to see out Advent, never mind the whole of December.

But in principle, it works!  I'm already planning a new and improved Mk. II for next year.

Isn't that geeky?


- The Colclough

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Alpha One's Winter Wonderland: the first preview

Among the many films, comics and other things mentioned in "How much have I told you?" and "The Answers!", you might have spotted my mention of Alpha One's Megalomaniac Quadrilogy.  The Quadrilogy is a series of 4 stopmotion films which I am helping to make, along with Tim and Sarah Johnston, revolving around the misadventures and failed world-domination schemes of a chap who calls himself Alpha One, and his long-suffering assistant Hooper.

I wrote the first film, Alpha One's Laser Cafe, on a whim in September 2007 and helped film it in late October, and it was finished in early 2008.  Like all of the films so far, it was produced by Sarah and directed by Tim.  Tim then said he'd like to make a sequel, and although he didn't have any story plans he suggested 'Hostage at the Hairdressers' as a provisional working title.  This phrase triggered strange events inside my twisted brain, which led to the script for Alpha One's Quantum Shampoo.  We shot the opening two or three times in late 2008, and then in summer 2009 we threw it out again and re-shot the whole film from scratch.

S&T then cooked up the first draft of the storyline for the threequel, before handing it over to me to be turned into a screenplay, which I eventually did after quite a lot of revisions.  Some of the early drafts featured a new character, but I got rid of him and gave his narrative function to the recurring character French instead, which helped to streamline the plot.  After numerous other tweaks to improve the action:dialogue ratio and to condense the script to a manageable length, we finally agreed that we were all happy with Version 4.1.

Back in October, we shot the opening and closing scenes for the new film, entitled Alpha One's Winter Wonderland, and after making the Root Hill trailer the other day I decided to cut together a little preview of A1WW as well.  A lot of the footage is from QS, to set the scene, but there is a snippet or three of the new WW material in the second half.

So here you go: your first look at the upcoming high-definition stopframe comedy epic from the team that brought you Fort Paradox!  Enjoy...




Also (totally unrelated), you can now see the first two episodes of my eccentric comic-strip project Alien President online at http://georgedarlan.webs.com/president/index.htm.


- The Colclough

Monday, 6 December 2010

Friday, 3 December 2010

The Answers!

Last week, I did a little research project in which I tried to work out what proportion of my creative output I've actually got round to sharing with people.  The average answer, from four responses, was 51.25% - which has the interesting implication that I've only shared about half of the things I've ever created.

Anywho, for the benefit of anyone who found themself staring at that list and wondering what on earth I was yakking about, I shall now divulge The Answers, i.e. a new version of the list featuring the same 50 names, but now with added notes and things to explain who/what those 50 entities are.


The Primary Culprits

Before going onto the list itself, here's a brief(ish) overview of the major groups:

Universe XGT – a collective handle for a huge continuity co-created with my best friends Tim and Sarah.  Some of the more important bits of it have emerged into the public view in the form of stopmotion short films, including Alpha One’s Megalomaniac Quadrilogy, X-Battles GT, and The Probe Has Succeeded, but there’s also a big sprawling mass of largely unpublished back-story, most of which would be bad for your head.  Accounts for 10 of the 50 names on the list.

Cylinder and Miserable – my main webcomic; updated five or six times per week from late 2006.  Features lots of random weirdness.  Accounts for 7 of the 50 names on the list.

Grace and Caffeine – the weekly Christian comic strip which I produced for my church from late 2006 to summer 2010.  The principal cast had all appeared in other places first, but Grace and Caffeine was their biggest starring role.  Along with some smaller related projects, accounts for 5 of the 50 names on the list.

The Martian Ballet Trilogy – a series of computer-animated films, co-created with David Allwright, and revolving around the career misadventures of an inept Martian called Mike Half-Left.  We planned to make a fourth film, but it all seems to have ground to a halt, so I’ve taken to referring to the existing films as a trilogy.  Accounts for 4 of the 50 names on the list.

Megastropulodon – a short live-action film made for the final year of my BSc in Media Production, and a TV mini-series which I’m currently writing based on the same concept.  The name is borrowed from the big ugly mutant creature at the centre of the story.  Accounts for 3 of the 50 names on the list.

Intergalactic Hamsters - my BSc Media Production dissertation film.  Well, technically, Intergalactic Hamsters is the film within the film, and my dissertation (full title The Making of "Intergalactic Hamsters") is a spoof behind-the-scenes documentary chronicling the collapse of the Intergalactic Hamsters project.  Accounts for 2 of the 50 names on the list.


The List Explained

...and here are the notes!

  1. Acid Gulps: a dodgy but popular soft drink from the Martian Ballet Trilogy (first appears in Martian Olympics, 2006).
  2. Albert S. Broccoli: an artificially-sentient broccoli from Cylinder and Miserable (first appears in Series 2, 2008), who acts as manager/butler/chauffeur/whatever to Cylinder the Cylinder.
  3. Alex Lanning: a biologist from Intergalactic Hamsters (2010); in the original story plan, Alex was supposed to be brilliant, but lacking in dress sense and other social graces, although this didn’t come out very much in the finished film.
  4. Arthur the Pensioner: a nice little old man, whose only appearance to date was in Arthur & the Punk (2006).
  5. The Blue Danube, with Walnuts: a random video I made back in 2007, which features me smashing up a tableful of small semi-edible walnuts with a claw hammer, in time to the closing couple of minutes of Strauss’ The Blue Danube waltz.  It wasn’t as wasteful as it might seem – we salvaged and ate most of the walnuts afterwards.
  6. The Binary Triumvirate: an alternative/experimental electronic music trio from Cylinder and Miserable Series 2 (2009).
  7. Black Antarctic Cryogenics: a huge cryogenics plant located underground in the middle of a desert, from Cylinder and Miserable (first appears at the end of Series 1, 2007).
  8. Bradley Stanton Park: a blindly patriotic American mountaineer, from a little animation project called Frozen Bones that’s been languishing in ‘development hell’ for quite a while.
  9. Cylinder the Cylinder: the ‘alpha protagonist’ of Cylinder and Miserable (first appearance 2006); also stars in Fort Paradox (2010 onwards).
  10. Distant Prayer – Fragment III: one of my very few musical compositions (circa 2005 ish).
  11. Deep Glass: sculptural work, made from stoneware clay with a hotter-than-usual biscuit firing, and the crushed remains of a Shloer bottle (circa 2006).
  12. Doctor Murkum: cyborg, drug-addled, hopelessly incompetent wannabe antagonist from Universe XGT, easily identified by his grey environment suit and its bulky helmet and breathing apparatus (first appearance circa 1998).
  13. Dyngaria: the name of two almost-but-not-quite unrelated stories that I’ve started writing.  The first incarnation was years and years ago, and unspeakably bad.  The new one is still in its infancy, but much more promising.  'Dyngaria' is also the name of one of the main settings of the newer book.
  14. Edwin (full name Edwin Leonard Hall): the thin, grumpy old chap with the white hair and the gardening skills, from Grace and Caffeine (2006, first appearance in other stories 2003); also stars in Fort Paradox (2010 onwards).
  15. The Essence of Fandom: a mixed-media drawing/painting thing I did a couple of years back.
  16. Emily Arkley: the purple one with the Vespa, from Day-Glo! (2007).
  17. Empire Theatre, Mars City: the theatre where Mike Half-Left’s troubles began, in the Martian Ballet Trilogy (first appears in the original version of Martian Ballet, 2003).
  18. Establisher II: the unmanned titular space probe from The Probe Has Succeeded (2009).
  19. The Fifty-Seven Meme: myself and certain friends of mine have noticed that the number 57 appears more often than most others, sometimes in the most unexpected places, leading to the theory that it is in fact woven into the very fabric of the spacetime continuum, and/or is deliberately stalking us around the universe.  I’ve made several intentional ‘57’ references in various media, in a tacit acknowledgement of its presumed metaphysical importance.
  20. First Dabox: the homeworld of the pragmatically-minded Grud race, in Universe XGT.  The orange chap with the five eyes in The Probe Has Succeeded (2009) is a Grud.
  21. Forkley: a fork-lift-truck type individual, from the ‘Ganaraner’ race of sentient machines in Universe XGT (first appearance circa 1998); also appears in Fort Paradox (2010 onwards).
  22. Fort Paradox: the name of both a recently-started cross-continuity webcomic, and its principal location.  I won’t tell you what the Fort actually is, as that would spoil the surprise for when we reveal it in the comic strip B]
  23. Gastropo Thrush: a molluscoid athlete from the Martian Ballet Trilogy (first appears in Martian Olympics, 2006).
  24. Gavin the Head: you don’t want to know.  Suffice to say it’s from Universe XGT, and if you’re going to try and comprehend Universe XGT, Gavin the Head is a very bad place to start!
  25. Greenchester: a little game I wrote in Visual Basic 6 in 2008.  Windows only.
  26. Harry Dixon: sort of cheating, this one: Harry was the main character from the short student film One in a Million, which I directed, from a script by course mate Stephen Boulter (2009).
  27. Hooper (full name James Richard Boris Montgomery Hooper): long-suffering assistant to the failed megalomaniac villain Alpha One, from Universe XGT.  Unlike most of UXGT, Hooper and Alpha’s misadventures have been published: in the stopmotion films Alpha One’s Laser Cafe (2008) and Alpha One’s Quantum Shampoo (2009).  A threequel is in production.
  28. The iKon Cinema: many years ago, back in the days when I used to make towns out of Lego and cereal packets, I decided I wanted to build a cinema.  It worked too, sort of, thanks to a system of paper strips with different scenes on them, which could be fed through a little ‘gate’ setup to emulate a screen.  The films were a bit rubbish, but it was an achievement at the time.  I could show you a picture of the remains, but they're really dilapidated, so it'd be a bit embarrassing.
  29. I See the Light at the End: my last and greatest sculptural work (to date, anyway… never say never): a 5 x 7 foot mosaic (btw, there’s that number 57 again, see?), built from over 400 custom-designed and hand-made tiles, at Farnborough Sixth Form College (2007).
  30. Jason Meddings: the reluctant ‘Chosen One’ from Megastropulodon Attacks! (2010).
  31. Lost in Minehead 2006: the official video from one of our church youth holidays.  I didn’t do the camerawork, but the project was turned over to me for post-production.
  32. Mark Coleridge: student filmmaker protagonist of The Making of “Intergalactic Hamsters” (2010).
  33. Matilda Ferguson: from a not-yet-published storyline in Cylinder and Miserable (due to appear online in 2011).
  34. Metaphysical Violation Drive: a type of airship propulsion technology from Cylinder and Miserable (first appears in Series 2, 2008, as part of Cylinder the Cylinder’s new vessel the Excylindrical).
  35. Mike Half-Left: ill-fated protagonist of the Martian Ballet Trilogy.  The serial job-failer first appears in the original version of Martian Ballet, 2003).
  36. Pascal Davis: a computer-nerd character who first appeared in his own strip, Pascal Davis and the Machines (2005), and then made a few guest appearances in Grace and Caffeine (2007 – 2010).
  37. The Prayers of Thousands: sculptural work, featuring plaster casts of people’s hands (2005).
  38. Quantum Shampoo: the titular substance from Alpha One’s Quantum Shampoo (2009) – I won’t tell you what it is here.  You should go and watch the movie!
  39. Redwood 257: one of the locations from a fragmentary script which I’ve been picking at on and off for four-and-a-half years.
  40. Rhugestian Swamp Dog: an omnivorous egg-laying mammalian creature, the size of a large dog or a small pig, with a long prehensile nose.  Those who recognise the species will probably know them as the green thing from The Probe Has Succeeded (2009), but in the wider context of Universe XGT, they are said to hail from the planet Rhugestis, not from Harcom-1, the setting of the stopmotion short.
  41. Ron Haggard: the self-proclaimed ‘Sidekick’ from Megastropulodon Attacks! (2010).
  42. The Square: a new-but-unwanted cargo ship surreptitiously rescued from the scrapyard and transformed into a notorious guerrilla warship, in Universe XGT.
  43. The Suitcase: the favourite biological weapon of the so-called ‘Evil Terrorists of Doom’, from Cylinder and Miserable (first appears in Series 1, 2007).
  44. Tarberford: setting of the very short-lived comic where most of the main cast of Grace and Caffeine began their existences.
  45. Tasmin (full name Anna-Beth Tasmin Linden): a new character who I’ve added to the in-development TV-series version of Megastropulodon.
  46. Tharryk: a massive and impenetrable prison galaxy in Universe XGT.
  47. Tom (full name Tom Thomason): the nice chap with the hooked nose, the bald scalp, and the liking for tea, often found behind the pulpit of Volesford Free Church in Grace and Caffeine (2006, first appearance in other stories 2003).  Also stars in the animated short film Goin’ Teapotty (2009).
  48. Turbo Gran: aged but invincible protagonist of the interactive short film of the same name (2008).
  49. TW-A42: a subcategory of the Doorwarden-series robots.  The A42 itself hasn’t yet made any public appearance, but it will soon enough, and one of its successors, the TW-C75, appeared in Vs. Doorwarden (2003) and its sequel (2005).
  50. West Spottlington: a largeish fictional town fifteen miles from Volesford, which is mentioned a few times in Grace and Caffeine (2008-ish onwards), and is also the setting of Megastropulodon Attacks! (2010) – although I couldn’t really say whether or not these two stories both take place in the same version of the town, or if they just happen to share the same name.  It’s never been stated in any published film or comic strip, but I've also decided that West Spottlington is the home of Pascal Davis.

So, there you have it.  I hope you feel all enlightened and stuff.  And for those who've got catch-up to do, happy reading!

=]


- The Colclough

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Writing, Drawing, and Both

This post is basically a collection of little updates on different projects I've got on the go.

Megastropulodon, the TV Series version: I've hit writer's block with the first draft for the closing episode.  Written a couple of dozen words in the last fortnight, if that.  Getting annoying.  It's not that I don't know what I want to happen, it's just that it doesn't want to happen on the page.

The Root Hill video: I re-did the intertitle graphics this morning, as I wasn't happy with the way they'd turned out when I did them the first time a few days ago.  New version is much better.  Video definitely getting there now.

My surreal semi-untitled story about a failed packet-mix salesman: going well, albeit sporadically.  Wrote chapters 7 and 8 on Tuesday, which took the word count into five figures.  Chapter 8 ends with one of the most random sentences ever - and it's only 3 words long, so its randomness-per-word ratio is through the roof.  I do have a plan for how to start Chapter 9, which will make some sense of that random sentence, and I'm looking forward to penning it.  Just haven't got round to it yet.  I could email you the book so far if you ask nicely =]

Alien President: most of you probably haven't heard of this one yet.  Last time I saw Tim, back in October, I asked the random question (probably influenced by sleep deprivation): "What if George Darlan became the next president of the USA?"  Darlan, for those not in the know, is a notorious extraterrestrial inventor and self-proclaimed philanthropist, from Tim's webcomic Brothers in Shells.  Tim seemed rather taken with the suggestion, and I've started writing a short webcomic series dealing with this bizarre hypothetical scenario.  I've finished 8 episodes so far, with scripts written for quite a few more, and I'm planning to start posting the series online next week.

'The Answers': coming along nicely.  Will hopefully be on here by the end of the week.

Um... yeah.  I think that just about covers everything!


- The Colclough

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Saturday and Stuff

Spent Saturday in London with friends from Root Hill.  Despite having been to RH itself 5 times, this was the first time I'd been to any reunion thing.  Partly because I'm not a great traveller, and because it's expensive (although, to be fair, Sam's train ticket was a lot pricier than mine), and because I'm not always in the loop with these things, and so on and so forth.  But it was a good day.  It was good just being around other people instead of staying in the same house all the time.  Not sure how good my presence was for the other people, mind you, but it was good from my POV.

Started the day with a scenic tour of some of London's train stations while we waited for people to turn up, and as soon as we'd got the group together we went to Leicester Square and split up again for lunch - I say 'split up', although most of us ended up at the same table in KFC.  KFC was, as usual, KFC, so the food wasn't anything out of the ordinary.  (Random aside: my first introduction to KFC was in Hong Kong, where there was at outlet in the shopping centre that we lived on top of.  We spent a lot more time at the McDonalds though.)

Then came Harrods.

I don't like Harrods.

I think I went once before, years and years ago, but I didn't really remember much.  But it only took me about two minutes after walking in the door this time around before I decided that the shop really wasn't my scene.  The whole building seems to be a labyrinth of small spaces, filled with far too much stuff and far too many people, with nothing to indicate where the exits are.  We got split up and a bit lost somewhere around the second room, and out of the original fifteen/twenty-ish-strong crowd, I ended up touring the building with a splinter group of just 3 or 4 other people.  I think I kept mumbling something about the exit most of the way around the building.

There were two bits that sort of appealed: the Lego area within the toy department (whatever some people might say, you're never really too old for Lego), and the audio-visual department.  The AV area was showing a looped clip of Avatar on most of the screens, but I think they'd set up the TVs' colour balance wrong - yes, it's a very colourful film, but I'm sure the blues and greens weren't that overblown in the cinema.

The photo frame upstairs was unforgivable.  They had this 5 x 7 inch photo frame (not a digital one, just a bog-standard photo frame) made of metal settings and crystals, that looked just like some average piece of aluminium and cheap-coloured-glass tat from a downmarket gift shop, but apparently this one was made of rare and expensive metals and gemstones instead… so they had the nerve to ask £35,000 for it!  I kid you not.  A photo frame with an asking price of thirty-five grand.  I just stood there and stared in shock, and mumbled things about broadcast-quality 1080p HD cameras, very nice cars, and employing a full-time servant for a year, any of which would cost about the same amount of money.

Enough about that.

We relocated to the science museum for the rest of the afternoon, which was much better.  Last time we were there, I didn't get to see the 'Birth of Hi-Tech Britain' gallery, and had a nagging sense of 'should have done that' at the back of my mind ever since, so I took the opportunity to make up for the omission.

Dinner happened in the basement of a Pizza Hut in Piccadilly.  A lot of the pre-dinner conversation involved talking to Hannah about Doctor Who and the relative merits of Steven Moffat - it's nice to be able to talk to someone about DW without having to stop every two minutes to straighten out the chronology or explain what an Ood is.  My younger brother and sister have some sort of working knowledge of the show, but they can't always remember what happened in what order, and they'd probably draw a complete blank if I mentioned 'Hartnell' or 'Pertwee' or something like that.

The pizza, surprisingly, turned out to be an avocado-scented sock instead... uh... no, actually, it was pizza, just like it said on the tin.  I won't bore you with a long description of the pizza.  You already know how it goes - dough, sauce, cheese, etc etc.  (Speaking of avocado though, are you reading Fort Paradox, and if so how is your brain coping?)

So now it's over, and I'm back to the usual set of other stuff.  I'm nearly finished editing the Root Hill video (just 2 or 3 months in the cutting room this time, instead of 5 ish!), and I'm starting to think it would be a good time to cut together the aforementioned trailer.  Watch this space.

And finally: I'd like to say thank you to everyone who responded to my 'How much have I told you?' research exercise last week.  I'll post the 'answers' - i.e. a list of who/what all those things are, and where they come from - later this week, so you can find out what those names are all about.  8]


- The Colclough

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

How much have I told you?

A lot of my life could be summed up as 'a history of obsessive scribbling' - I've been dabbling in various fictional worlds of my own invention since the year dot.  Some have been bigger, better and/or longer-lived than others, and while some have been shared, others have been kept private.  Some are co-created with other people, while the rest are mine all mine.

Now, I've thought up a little research project which I'd like to conduct, but it'll need some help from outside - specifically, from you, if you can spare a minute (you're obviously not that busy, judging by the fact you're reading this blog right now, right?): it's basically a scientific(ish) attempt to work out mathematically how much of my creative output I've shared with people.  The 'test' is very simple: I’ve compiled a list of fifty names from my various films, comic strips, artwork etc (arranged alphabetically, because I like alphabetic-ness), and you can score up to two points per name – one for recognising it, the other for knowing who or what it refers to.  (If you only knew a character by the short version of their name, you still get the points – the longer versions in brackets are for clarification only.)  After you’ve counted your way to the end of the list, stick a % sign after your number, and report it back to me.  That’s all I need you to do.

There's a bit of a special exception for name #40, because a lot more people will know what a Rhugestian Swamp Dog looks like compared to how many will know what it's called.

There aren't any categories for you to fall into - this isn't about classifying some people as good friends and others as not-so-good.  It's about how talkative I've been, more than anything else.  If your score is low, that doesn’t mean I don’t like you; more likely, I either haven’t known you for very long and/or just haven’t spent very long rambling on at you about the bizarre stuff inside my head, and/or you haven’t spent much time watching my YouTube channel and reading the other weird stuff I put on the internet.  I'll just say that if you score 80% or higher, there's a decent chance that your name is Tim; if you score 99%, you win a packet of Maltesers; and nobody will score 100%, because there are at least a couple of trick questions in the list, i.e. things that have never been published, and nobody knows about yet except for me.

So, having got the explanation off my chest, here's the list:
  1. Acid Gulps
  2. Albert S. Broccoli (not to be confused with James Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli)
  3. Alex Lanning
  4. Arthur the Pensioner
  5. The Blue Danube, with Walnuts
  6. The Binary Triumvirate
  7. Black Antarctic Cryogenics
  8. Bradley Stanton Park
  9. Cylinder the Cylinder
  10. Distant Prayer – Fragment III
  11. Deep Glass
  12. Doctor Murkum
  13. Dyngaria
  14. Edwin (full name Edwin Leonard Hall)
  15. The Essence of Fandom
  16. Emily Arkley
  17. Empire Theatre, Mars City
  18. Establisher II
  19. The Fifty-Seven Meme
  20. First Dabox
  21. Forkley
  22. Fort Paradox
  23. Gastropo Thrush
  24. Gavin the Head
  25. Greenchester
  26. Harry Dixon
  27. Hooper (full name James Richard Boris Montgomery Hooper)
  28. The iKon Cinema
  29. I See the Light at the End
  30. Jason Meddings
  31. Lost in Minehead 2006
  32. Mark Coleridge
  33. Matilda Ferguson
  34. Metaphysical Violation Drive
  35. Mike Half-Left
  36. Pascal Davis
  37. The Prayers of Thousands
  38. Quantum Shampoo
  39. Redwood 257
  40. Rhugestian Swamp Dog (if you don't recognise this name, you can still score one point for recognising the critter in this drawing)
  41. Ron Haggard
  42. The Square
  43. The Suitcase
  44. Tarberford
  45. Tasmin (full name Anna-Beth Tasmin Linden)
  46. Tharryk
  47. Tom (full name Tom Thomason)
  48. Turbo Gran
  49. TW-A42
  50. West Spottlington
I shall look forward to hearing your answers, and for the sake of not leaving you in the dark, I shall post an explanation later of where some of these things come from.

Thanks in advance for your help =]


- The Colclough

Monday, 22 November 2010

There's hamsters and there's hamsters

I mentioned a few posts back that my sister Sophie's hamster Coco had died.  Well, a new one turned up about a week ago - this time it's small, female and vicious.

In three and a half years, we got through five different hamsters (four and a half, if you make allowance for the fact that Scribbles is still alive), and none of them ever bit me.  Five hamsters, average lifespan more than a year each, and no bites at all.  Scribbles often goes to the toilet behind my monitor, but that's not the same thing.

I held Taffy for the first time last night, and she chowed down on my finger, without the slightest provocation, within the first minute.  Blood was fetched, and Taffy quickly earned Hamster Non Grata status.  Apparently I'm not the only one to have found her bad side, either.

Now, one does wonder: why is Taffy so much more aggressive than all her predecessors?  Clearly not all hamsters are created equal.

I shall leave you to chew on that question.


- The Colclough

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Notice is Hereby Served

...of my intention to quit Facebook.

Because I can, is why.  If I can live without Facebook, I can live without it.  If I can't, then there's a problem, and I need to fix it - by the cold turkey route if necessary.

TBH, I think I can live without it quite easily.  I did for years and years, and I only got roped in to having an account because people at FCOT wanted to use it for coordinating college-related meetings and stuff.  So, now that FCOT is over, I've decided that for the sake of maintaining my individuality, free will and principles (yes, those), I shall deactivate my account.  The aforementioned principles are mostly to do with the fact that FB is a massive time-waster.  The vast majority of what goes on FB is a load of *beep*.

I've got a two-week timeframe.  There's a Root Hill reunion a week on Saturday, which is being coordinated via FB, but once that's over I shall quit.

If you want a more philosophical-sounding reason, then how about this: because your life should be more than the sum of your websites.  If you find yourself at the point where you couldn't survive without any given site, then that site has become too dominant over you, and you need to get rid of it.  I'm not ditching FB because I think it has come to that, but to prove that it hasn't.

I've just shut down my account on another site too.  That was Tailcast, past tense.

It began life as a social-networking-esque thing with an artistic slant.  The focus was on writing, drawing, painting, photography and music, as opposed to the "here's a pointless update on the banal stuff I did today" ethos of most Facebook posts.  A search through my old emails tells me that I joined on the 24th of May, 2008 – nearly two and a half years ago.  That sounds about right.  It feels like a long time.

While I was there, I uploaded 81 visual pieces, and 27 written.  In total, over 100 expressions of myself, including some of the most personal and intimate things I have ever published.  The written pieces included my first blog (A White Horizon is my second).

But something went wrong – the seeds of it snuck in by the back door a long time ago, like so: “wouldn’t it be cool if we had a ‘shop’ feature, where you could buy cards and wall art and stuff featuring the artwork uploaded to TC?”  Well, fair enough.  But as time went by, and the site kept getting more and more polished, there was a gradual but definite shift in emphasis, away from the community spirit that made Tailcast what it was in the old days, and towards commercialisation.  At the beginning of September, I got an email telling me that any artwork which did not meet the minimum resolution for creating products would be forcibly set to ‘private’, effectively removing it from my profile unless I put in the effort to re-upload newer, higher-resolution versions.  Well, out of my 81 visual uploads, a mere 7 were deemed high-res enough to stay online, and the other 74 have vanished from my profile without a trace (unless I log in and click ‘manage profile’ – then I can see them, but they’re greyed out).

Now, having the option to make cards and wall art and stuff is all very well and good, but most of the time that’s not what people want to do.  Mostly, people just want to look at stuff.  I, for one, just wanted to look at stuff, not stick it on a mug.  And for the webmasters to make the unilateral decision that “low-res artwork is unworthy to stay online, even just for looking at” seems to me like shooting themselves in the foot.

I had been gradually (and unintentionally) drifting away from Tailcast anyhow, but that bizarre and unfriendly decision was the final nail in the coffin for my membership.   As of a couple of weeks ago, I have gone through all of my written material on the site and copied it all to my hard disk for posterity – didn’t need to do so for the visual stuff, as that was all on my HDD already – and about half an hour ago, I finally shut down my account.

Strange thing is, the whole website went HTTP 404 on me when I was about three-quarters of the way through copying everything.  It’s almost like the servers could sense my intention, and were making a last-ditch effort to stop me leaving.  But it didn’t work.  The site came back from the ashes, and I continued my exit procedure.

So, that's over.  And soon, FB will be too.  Not that I'm completely parting company with the internet, mind you - I've still got email, this blog, and my YouTube channel, among other things.  I'm just pruning off the sites that aren't contributing anything worthwhile to my life.
And who knows what else I'll come across later.  Watch this space!


- The Colclough

Monday, 15 November 2010

Find Chapel, Apply Crowbar, Remove Digger

Really.

My church is inconveniently situated on the wrong end of a dirt track running through common land, and the track is constantly getting potholed.  So we've had some contractors in to rearrange the surface of our 'car park', to try and make it less lumpy.  We're not allowed to use concrete or anything, but we can at least level out the unintentional scale replicas of the Alps which keep growing outside our front door.

Unless someone steals the digger, that is.

The contractors parked their mini-digger inside the church's front porch overnight, and sometime on Wednesday night, someone smashed the doors in and nicked it.  As you do - y'know, stealing large machinery from chapels.  Apparently it turned up again somewhere else on the common, probably having run out of diesel, but that doesn't change the fact that our doors are bashed in.

I didn't see the damage until yesterday, and it didn't look as dramatic as I'd expected... until we unscrewed the doors from the emergency framework which is holding them in place.  Then one of them fell right off its hinges.  So until we can get new doors made and fitted, we're going to have to come in a few minutes early for each service, get in by the back door, and take the front doors down so we've got an emergency escape route at the front of the building.

It's all covered by insurance (I'm told), but it's still going to be a lot of hassle.  We'd all love to express a <sarcasm>huge debt of thanks</sarcasm> to whoever decided that it would be a nice idea to pinch some heavy plant from inside a place of worship and take it for a joyride.  Clever you.

Well, it's all going to make for a very interesting interpretation of that line about forgiving your enemies, and all that...

But the good news is that the car park is a lot flatter than it used to be, so at least we won't have to traverse so many mini-Himalayas every Sunday.

Okay, rant over.


- The Colclough


PS. totally unrelated paragraph: I've just made the new (widescreen!) 2010 version of the Root Hill Films logo, which will go on the front of the video.  One more thing off the checklist 8]

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Two down, one to go... and then, redrafting

Finished a couple of things today.

One was writing the first draft of Megastropulodon! Series 1 Episode 5, Eggs of Devastation.  At the final count, the draft comes to 29 pages, 65 scenes, 6400-and-something words.  Obviously, it's far from being ready to shoot, and it'll take a lot more drafts before it's good to go, but I've got it past the first hurdle: the bones of the story are out there on the paper.  (Word-processor, actually, but never mind.)

So now, I can get started on Episode 6.  And once that's done, it'll be back to Episode 1 to start on Second Drafts.  And so on, and so forth...

My other achievement today has been to finish reading this paper on 'the Distant Starlight Problem' - an objection sometimes raised against Biblical creationism.  In short, the author does some clever stuff with Relativity theory, and eliminates the problem.  But it's taken me nearly three days to read, because it's one of the two most confusing things I've ever tried reading, and I had to keep stopping for long breaks to prevent my brain melting.

I should point out that it's not really Dr. Lisle's fault that it's confusing.  The confusing-ness is down to the Relativity-Theory-based nature of the article, so it can largely be blamed on Einstein and/or on the fabric of the universe itself.

The other most confusing thing I've ever tried reading was Donna Haraway's 'Cyborg Manifesto'.  If you've never read it, don't bother.  If you'd never even heard of it until you read this paragraph, be very grateful.  It got inflicted on me during the second year of my media degree, but I never finished reading it, because it was making no sense at all, and I was getting the melting-brain feeling without any worthwhile payback.  It was a prime example of mere human philosophy (possibly drug-induced, judging by the psychedelic pseudo-logic involved) setting up frameworks and theories that had no practical bearing at all on the real world, despite an impressive-sounding claim to be able to explain basically everything.

The big difference between that, and Dr. Lisle's paper, was that Lisle is talking about the real world and his arguments are built on established scientific principles (mostly Einstein).  So despite the sensation of molten neurons starting to trickle out of my earholes as I read, I felt that I was getting something worthwhile out of the exercise.  Namely, an answer to the 'distant starlight problem'.  I don't think I could really summarise what he said without confusing you, but if it's an issue you've ever worried about then I'd recommend taking a look at the paper - just make sure you pack your head in ice first to stop it going up in smoke.
 
Be ye warned: the rest of this post consists of a couple of thematic left turns...

Yesterday, my best amigo Tim posted the 86th and final episode of Sidewards, his bizarre but rather enjoyable spin-off from my main webcomic, Cylinder and Miserable.  The ending caught me by surprise, as I didn't know how many strips he'd actually written.  But it's been great fun reading the comic.  I mean, it's about squabbling, half-psychotic bacon sandwiches committing industrial sabotage... what more do you want?

Speaking of webcomics, have you been reading Fort Paradox, and if so what's your reaction?  Has your grey matter survived so far?

And finally, on another not-really-related note, a quick update for the RH crowd: I went through the various segments of the video the other day (I'm editing it in 4 different parts to stop Vegas crashing) and added up the runtimes - and the total came out at 33 minutes 19 seconds, which is within 4 minutes of the 30-minute target runtime.  So the good news is, the video might actually be closer to completion than I'd realised!  The next step will be to watch through the segments, check for boring bits, and trim accordingly.  Once that's done, I should hopefully have got the runtime down to 30 minutes by natural wastage, and then it'll be time for my Workflow Pudding - designing and making the nice shiny chapter-heading graphics and things.  If you thought the 2008 video was good, you ain't seen nothing yet!


- The Colclough

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Verbosity for a Good Cause

I've ended up taking an unplanned break from the Root Hill video edit over the last couple of days.  I was away from home yesterday (as per the blog post about demolishing Godalming), and today I ended up writing my monster movie script instead.

If you've been reading this here blog for any length of time, you'll have come across my ramblings about Megastropulodon Attacks! - and some of you might also have gotten wind of my plans to write a TV mini-series using a hugely expanded version of the same story.  By 'hugely expanded', I mean that the events shown in the existing short film will be stretched out across the whole 6-part series, to become the ongoing narrative arc which ties the different episodes together, rather than being condensed into a single lump as per the current form.  The existing characters all appear, with a few new additions - some who stick around for the whole series, others who only appear in one or two episodes.

I've got the basic ideas planned out for what will happen in each episode, and I'm currently working on first drafts for three of them.  I'm hoping to rope in other writers to do some of the mid-series episodes, but I'm doing at least the first one and the last two myself.  So I've completed the first draft of Episode 1 (29 pages, 6700-and-something words), and I'm currently beavering away on Episode 5.  For several days, if not weeks, it got stuck around page 11, and I thought I'd written myself into a cul-de-sac, and would have to scrap half of what I'd got and write something different.  But yesterday, I suddenly had a few minor epiphanies, and added together they pretty much got the storyline back on track.  After having one more spark of inspiration shortly after breakfast this morning, I spent a lot of today writing, and came up with over 2000 words - 8 or so script pages, or more than quarter of an episode.

The evening has gone downhill a bit, and the successful-writing-spree euphoria is already wearing off, but at least now that I've blogged about it I'll be able to look back later and bask in the retroactive smugness of having made so much progress before the day soured.

And if you're one of the Root Hill crowd, don't worry - I'm sure I'll get back to the digital scissors soon.


- The Colclough

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Please evacuate Godalming...

...because I plan to destroy it, just as soon as I take over the universe and have all the planet's bulldozers at my command.

Mum decided this morning that we should go to Winkworth Arboretum, which from our point of view is on the far side of Guildford.  I drove, and she navigated, while the younger siblings sat in the back seat, and for once in their lives made relatively few annoying noises.  It was all going so very nicely - until we came to a really stupid junction on the Hog's Back, where the 'straight on' bit looks like a right turn, and the bit that looks like it goes straight on is in fact an exit, from which you get fed onto a random dual carriageway of doom, which cuts through the middle of Guildford, and then disappears on the other side - without any exits!

Well, by now we were heading north-east of Guildford, when we'd planned to turn right in the town centre and head out southwards, and we ended up doing a huge loop around the country lanes outside the city (at one point, we went through Chilworth, and I was very unhappy to find myself there, because in my universe Chilworth counts as very far away from home), until we found ourselves re-joining our planned route at Godalming.

Plain sailing from there on?  Yeah, right.  Godalming seemed to be just a huge mass of badly-signposted roundabouts, mostly surrounded by traffic jams.  And one of them was partly shut because it was half-way through being re-turfed - by 7 or 8 workmen, who were just standing around eyeballing the stack of turf as if they expected it to lay itself.  Needless to say, it did nothing of the sort.  The whole town was the last thing I needed after our ridiculously huge detour.  Hence my decision to bulldoze it someday.

Well... the arboretum was very nice, once we got there - I have photos, which I might get around to showing you sometime - but I've decided that next time anyone proposes a day-trip, I'm going to glue myself into my chair to make sure I don't have to go.  Because I've had enough of a road trip today to last me for years.

Speaking of photos, I have graduation ones: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=303702&id=729711216&l=6994d1b393.  Me in a funny hat and a superhero cape B]

So, rant over.

Hopefully I'll write something a bit more positive next time... 8p


- The Colclough

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Prepare to be Addled...

I'd like, if I may, to introduce you to my latest bizarre and impractical invention.

It's a webcomic.

Depending how much of my previous output you've read, you might not think 'another comic strip' sounds like that big a deal - what with me having already written Grace and Caffeine, Cylinder and Miserable, and others.

Well... my friend Tim also writes webcomics, primarily Brothers in Shells, which is getting close to its first anniversary.  And besides all the cartoons, we and Tim's sister Sarah have also made various short films, and have another private fictional universe called Universe XGT, the contents of which are almost entirely unpublished.  So the three of us decided over the summer to start a new cross-continuity webcomic, in which we would throw together various characters from our different fictions in a shiny new environment, and see what happens.  We've written 25 strips so far, and we've already used representative characters from six completely unrelated narratives, with more probably joining soon.

We named it Fort Paradox, for reasons which will hopefully become clear as the story goes along.

I should warn you up front: the sanity levels are dangerously low sometimes, and if you venture into the Fort, you may well find your grey matter getting a bit overworked.  But in return, readers who persevere shall be rewarded with ninja snails and avocado-flavoured catastrophes, among other things.




- The Colclough

Monday, 1 November 2010

The Watchmaker

After several weeks in the reading, I finally finished Who Made God? by Professor Edgar Andrews yesterday.


It's a fair enough question.  We live in a universe where every effect has a cause, and we struggle to imagine what an Ultimate Cause might look like.  Some people refuse point blank to admit that such a thing is even possible (although the alternative, infinite regression, is even less helpful in the long run).  So, who - if anyone - made God?

One of the big problems in today's world is that there is no solid intellectual framework any more.  The postmodern philosophy of "each person makes their own truth" leads to a huge void, littered with wishy-washy touchy-feely relativistic notions, none of which ever base their claims on anything more substantial than "what feels right for you".  And then on the other hand, you get Dawkins-esque militant atheism, which tries to reduce the entire universe - even non-physical things such as love and hate, and people's sense of the spiritual - to mere chemical interactions.  The point of the book Who Made God? is to show that these worldviews are ultimately hollow, and to demonstrate that belief in the one God of the Bible is in fact a much more intellectually satisfying position, as it explains phenomena which atheism cannot approach, and answers questions which materialism can never hope to deal with.

It must be said: for a book dealing with such complex ideas, it's incredibly readable.  Andrews' choice of illustrations and use of humour make his arguments very easy to follow.  I would recommend it to anybody, Christian or otherwise.

Among other things, Andrews deals with the origins debate, and the problem of pain, two of the favourite themes of anti-Christian argument, and shows that a consistent Biblical worldview can in fact deal with them.  And while I was reading, I realised something:

Many people (e.g. David Attenborough) argue that because the world is damaged (parasites exist, etc), God cannot have created it as Genesis claims he did - but in making that argument, they miss out the fact that Genesis also says God gave us humans the planet, and we went and broke it.  While reading the book and pondering this issue, I came up with this analogy: suppose you go to the Louvre, Paris, to see the Mona Lisa.  You get there, and you find a big rip down the middle of the canvas.  The curator has pulled the two sides of the rip back together and run some gaffer tape along the back to hold it in place, so you can still get a pretty good impression of what the painting used to be like, but it is still quite clearly torn.  Now, you look at the damaged painting, and you say "Wait up... The Complete History of Painting claims that Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa on a non-torn canvas, but this canvas definitely *is* torn.  Therefore, clearly, Da Vinci never really existed!"

Clever you.  The fact that the canvas is torn doesn't disprove The Complete History of Painting's claim that Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa, or the fact that the canvas was originally whole.  What it proves is that somebody has come along since then, and vandalised the painting.

So it goes with the world around us.  Yes, granted, the 'canvas' of life on earth is quite clearly ripped down the middle, and suffering and death are a day-to-day part of existence in the present.  But that doesn't mean that it was always like that.  A consistent reading of the Bible - as Andrews advocates - perfectly explains the dichotomy between original perfection and present imperfection.  And despite the gaffer-taped rip in the picture, many of the painting's intricacies still shine through - from the unparalleled sophistication of the DNA data-processing systems inside our own cells, out to the majestic clockwork of the galaxies in the sky.

For my own part, I have never been able to accept that complexity can arise from chance processes.  I have done some computer programming, and I am all too painfully aware that a single misplaced piece of punctuation in your source code can send the whole program up in smoke.  Writing even the simplest program takes effort, intelligence, and an understanding of the programming syntax.  Sitting down and randomly mashing your fists into a keyboard will never produce working software.  Having studied both biology (with an option module in genetics) and computing (the serious one, with binary and stuff, not to be confused with mere ICT) at A-Level, I see a strong analogy between computer codes and the genetic code.  Although they are carried on different media and serve different functions, the two systems are essentially variations on the same information-handling principles.  And if it's that hard to write even a tiny little game program for Windows, then as a programmer I am absolutely convinced that it must require an unimaginably vast - infinite, even - intelligence to 'program' the genomes of the countless living organisms we see around us.  Evolution claims to be driven by mutations - and a mutation is basically a genetic typo.  Typos don't write software, they create bugs, and any programmer worth his salt will make sure that he removes any bugs that arise in his work, before shipping the software to his customer.  Equally, mutations do not create life.  They create cancer, haemophilia and cystic fibrosis, among countless other horrible diseases.

In the age-old 'watchmaker' analogy, lots of people have seen fit to deny the intelligence (or even the existence) of the watchmaker, preferring to believe that the 'watch' (i.e. sophisticated functional systems) of the cosmos somehow 'just happened' on their own, as though a keyboard somewhere randomly mashed some disembodied fists into itself and 'just happened' to write Windows 7, OSX Snow Leopard or Ubuntu 10.10 by sheer fluke, through an impossibly lucky string of random keystrokes.

But I find it infinitely more plausible, and much more satisfying, to give credit where credit is due and to recognise both the intelligence which originally created the painting, back in the days when the canvas was whole, and the forces of arrogance and stupidity which have subsequently torn it - and my response: to worship the watchmaker.

Don't believe me?  Go and read the book.


- The Colclough

Saturday, 30 October 2010

The Internet Begins Here

Where does your internet start?

For many, it probably starts somewhere useful but perhaps a little dull, e.g. the stark white void of the Google homepage.  Back in the early 2000s, when the Lord of the Rings film trilogy was still in the making, I had lordoftherings.net as my homepage, to ensure I always knew what Jackson & Co were up to.  Then Rings finished, the site got a bit stale and boring, and so I used starwars.com as my homepage for the next year or two, leading up to the release of Episode III.

But somewhere around 2006, I decided that I'd be darned if I kept using anyone else's page as the beginning of my internet.  I knew enough HTML to write a custom homepage, filled with all my favourite links, and it would never get stale and boring because I would keep tweaking the code to keep the page fresh and relevant.  So I did just that, and in a rather atrocious pun, I named the resulting piece of hypertext "MatNav: Matt's Navigation & Links Page".

Over the last four years or so, MatNav has grown and developed, changing beyond recognition from the humble little bunch of text links which constituted Version 1.  As of Version 5 (created sometime last year, I think), I replaced most of the text links with graphical ones, which made them bigger, and filled the screen more efficiently.

Today, I completed and implemented MatNav 6, the second-most-radical overhaul the page has ever had.  I've re-done a lot of the graphics, rearranged the links using a more thematic grouping, eliminated a few old ones which I don't use any more, and added some new ones to reflect the latest changes in my internet-using habits.  Plus I've changed the stylesheet, to replace the long-in-the-tooth custard-yellow colour scheme of Version 5 with a new, moodier and more graphics-rich look.
Okay, so maybe the idea isn't completely original.  A similar setup is included in certain web browsers.  But I've never seen one where you get to decide exactly how many links you want, exactly how you want them arranged, exactly what each graphic should look like, etc etc etc.  That's what MatNav gives me.  And of course, there's the added bonus of individuality.  "What's your homepage?"  "It's a unique browser-independent graphical splash page that I designed myself."

So, from my point of view, this is the beginning of the internet, right here:


The magic starts here: Firefox 3.6 and MatNav 6.0

By the way: if you like the idea and you want to build a similar page for yourself, then I'd be happy to share my source code and graphics to get you started.

Okay, so that whole blog post was probably totally irrelevant to most of you, but I enjoyed writing it anyway.  So there 8]


- The Colclough

Friday, 29 October 2010

Do I have ze Papers?

Semi-random philosophical question: what are the most important pieces of paper in your life?  Books don't count, because if you included books, the list could get really enormous really fast.  So, just loose bits of paper.  Hmnnn...

I present, for your consideration, a list of candidates:

  • A letter?  Could be, if you're in the habit of sending and/or receiving letters on paper.  Not for me though, as mine are nearly all in electronic form.  Haven't had a letter on paper in... uh... no idea actually.
  • A cheque?  Depends on your financial situation 8p
  • Something you wrote or drew?  I have thousands of these, and if push came to shove, one of them might win out - but a lot of them are pretty negligible.
  • Your birth certificate?  Obviously important, but not that exciting.  After all, practically everyone has one.
  • Your marriage certificate?  Much more exciting... if you have one.  Which I don't.
  • Your death certificate?  Not really - you don't get one of these until  your life is over, so it can't count as an important piece of paper *in* your life.
  • Your driving license?  Could be a winner for petrolheads, but from my point of view it's more a practical tool, rather than a thing of emotional significance.  Well, I say that after having had it for more than three years, with the trauma of failing my first test long since lost in the sands of time.  You might regard your license as your most important piece of paper for the first few months after you get it.
  • A certificate of academic achievement?  Quite possibly, especially if it says something about first class honours.

I haven't actually picked one myself.  I just felt like having a philosophical ramble.

But then again, having been given a piece of paper at Guildford Cathedral yesterday which says something about Bachelor of Science with First Class Honours, I might just go for that one as my current choice for the time being 8]

I could take this as my cue to go tangential on the architecture of the Cathedral, but I'll leave religious masonry for another day.

It's a bit weird to find myself looking back on my graduation as a past event, after well over three years regarding it as something in the future.  Guildford may have one of the country's most minimalist and austere cathedrals, but it's a cathedral nonetheless, and being there with most of the other people on my course, all in matching superhero capes and funny hats (yes, we threw the hats afterwards) is one of those once-in-a-lifetime things that sticks with you.  I think it will be, anyway.  It's interesting to question which aspects will be remembered - the determination of my cape to become asymetrical... the commentary on last month's haircut (which most of my coursemates hadn't seen yet)... the endless, hand-numbing applause... the long, oddly smug-yet-awkward walk down the aisle after shaking hands with the principal... the mildly inappropriate but not overly depressing weather... the funny puddings back at the college afterwards... or something else altogether?  Only time will tell, I suppose.

Some of the other guys have already got jobs - Steve said his mostly involves watching lots of Irish film trailers, which somehow seems inherently funny - and others (myself included) are still looking.  Or in my case, looking a bit, and writing monster movies on the side - as you do.

We didn't get professional photos taken.  We've got a Nikon D80 DSLR, and we adopted the tried-and-trusted digital photography method of keep-on-pointing-and-shooting-until-something-works.  Well, more or less.  It wasn't quite point-and-shoot per se, but you get the idea.  But it was a heck of a lot cheaper doing it ourselves.

*long pause*

Uh... that didn't really feel like a properly-written ending, but I'm not sure what else to say, so I'm going to leave it there for now.  Photos maybe coming sort of soonish.


- The Colclough

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

A Life Concluded

Some blogs you see coming from a mile off.  Others you find yourself writing at a moment's notice.  This is one of the latter type.

I've just buried Sophie's hamster, and got a little traumatised, so what follows is an exercise in catharsis.

We had Coco for about 14 months.  He was Sophie's third hamster, and our fourth overall (out of five to date - Ben has been keeping hamsters too). Although Coco wasn't one of the rodents that first inspired my dissertation film The Making of "Intergalactic Hamsters", he was one of the two who ended up featuring in it, so I had a bit more of a connection with him than I did with some of the others.

He seemed happy and healthy at the weekend, and I really don't know why he died.  I just looked in his cage this morning and he was sprawled on the floor, already gone.

Sophie doesn't know yet, as she's away on a church youth holiday until Friday.  I'm not looking forward to the explanations when she gets back.

But in the meantime, I've given him a decent burial.  He's in the raised flowerbeds in our back garden, along with his three predecessors, Hammy, Nibbles and Daisy.  I put him under a large stone, partly to mark the spot, and partly to stop the neighbourhood moggies digging up the grave.  By 'decent burial', I don't mean it was very elaborate - I just wrapped him in some tissue paper, along with a tiny little book that has been blu-tacked to the outside of his cage for months and months.  (I've been pragmatic a few times and pointed out to Sophie that hamsters can't read, but she's always insisted that it doesn't matter, and that he liked the book anyway, so it seemed an appropriate addition to his send-off.)  What I meant by 'decent burial' was more that, despite the simplicity, I tried to do it all with a certain amount of dignity.  It's what Sophie would have wanted if she'd been here.

So... it does seem surreal how fast you can go from not knowing/thinking there's a problem, to writing about the funeral in the past tense.  Such is the fragility of life on Earth, I suppose.  How people cope without any conception of life after death I have no idea.  If I thought this life was all there is, I'd probably have lost the will to live and gone raving mad by now.  Thank goodness for eternity.



- The Colclough



Coco as he will be remembered - alive and well and sitting on a QWERTY board, in a publicity still from the set of "Intergalactic Hamsters".

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Dishonest Pixels

Warning: here follows a minor philosophical rambling on the use of video filters, following on from one paragraph of what I wrote on Tuesday.

The issue is this: sometimes, you point your camera at something, and the footage ends up looking quite different to what the human eye perceives, simply by nature of the camera.  If you're seeking a verite presentation, then which is the more 'honest' approach in these situations: to leave the footage as is, and claim the moral high ground on the basis that you've left the footage exactly as the camera recorded it, or on the other hand to apply filters to make the video look more like what the human eye would have seen?

An example from my own work: about four years ago, I was making a little promotional video for the art department at my sixth form college, and I ended up filming inside the darkroom, using my camera's night-vision setting.  Of course, if you're in a darkroom, the only light available is a dull red, but the camera's night-vision mode rendered the image in that familiar dodgy shade of green.  The problem was easily fixed in post by applying a colour filter to turn the image from black-and-green to black-and-red again, successfully emulating the way the darkroom looks to the human eye, and rendering the camera's presence somewhat more transparent.

More recently, in the aforementioned Root Hill 2010 footage, I've adjusted the colour curves for all my glow-in-the-dark passball footage, so that the players and ball stand out better from the black background, and once again I think the altered media looks closer to what I was seeing on the field.

But can I still make the same claims to authenticity if I've tampered with the footage in post-production?

I don't pretend to have a definitive answer to this question.  To be entirely honest, I'm not even sure that it matters that much.  It's not as if the darkroom or RH footage will ever be used as evidence in a court of law.  But Vegas just crashed (I need a RAM upgrade), and I thought I'd come on here and have a little ramble while I wait for it to start up again and reload my project.  If I hadn't told you, you'd probably never have known I'd used any filters anyway.

Quick update on the general status of the RH edit (leaving aside the issues of glowball filter ethics): I've now added all of the Box Hill and Concert bits, and made some more progress on the Crawley bowling section.  Which leaves me staring down the wrong end of the Pizza Hut footage.  Those of you who were there will know what I mean by that (remember the Yorkshire Pizza of Death?).  The rest of you should probably... um... yeah.  Let's just say some of the Pizza Hut footage is a bit scary... 8p


- The Colclough

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Root Hill meets the Digital Scissors

If you've never done any serious film/video editing, then you're missing out on something which can sometimes be gripping, fascinating, and even downright addictive, yet at other times can bore a mere mortal out of its little skull.

Well, I've been doing it for years.  I've tried out... *takes a moment to count* between 6 and 11 different editing programs, depending how you count them, of which my current favourite (if you want the detail) is Sony Vegas.

And right now, I've got five or six hours' worth of footage from Root Hill 2010 under my virtual scalpel, and I'm trying to reduce this rambling mass of frequently-disjointed material into a half-hour compilation of all the best stuff, that will (I hope) flow nicely and have some sense of internal logic, if not actual narrative.  Compared to the scripted-drama editing I was doing earlier in the year, it's a lot harder cutting verite footage, because there's no script to tell you what you're doing.  You just have to take whatever you've got, and try to trim and reshuffle it all into a form that makes some sort of sense.

Last time I did the RH video was in 2008 - I took a break from it last year because of my dissertation work, and left it in the hands of Josh Watson, better known for his short and zany YouTube sketches (see http://www.youtube.com/teabagnose).  In the 2008 video, I took a strictly chronological approach to the editing, which saved some decision-making, but in retrospect I think it might have let the finished product down a bit.  This time, I'm taking a more thematic approach, grouping footage together by place and activity, instead of laboriously chewing through one day at a time.

Sometimes, if you've got the right footage, some bits can be really easy.  E.g. the clip where Sam B claims that he's getting his shoes cleaned during the evening talk, but doesn't have a clue why - which then feeds in very conveniently to the footage of (guess what) Sam B getting his shoes cleaned during the evening talk, with an explanation by the talker.  (BTW, if you weren't there at RH, then you'll have to remain ignorant as to what was wrong with Sam B's shoes, as it'd take ages to explain, and I really can't be bothered to type it all up.  Sorry about that.)

Other times, it's just a mess, and the editing experience starts to resemble what it must feel like trying to disentangle a vast cauldron full of extra-long spaghetti.  With tomato sauce on it.

Of course, the fun bits are the ones where I get to play around with video FX filters, and that sort of thing.  There's a distinct lack of said bits in this project, as it's supposed to be fairly realistic, and I'm not allowed to go off on one and produce some massively arty-farty piece of surrealist film.  Un Chien Surreyou this project is not.  But there is the odd little piece, e.g. the glow-in-the-dark passball footage.  Yes, I filmed the glow-in-the-dark passball game.  And you know what?  It worked.  I've run a little filter on the footage to emphasise the glowy bits, but it basically worked, and so for the first time in its 4-year history, the RH glow-ball game gets featured on the official video.

There will also (hopefully) be some graphical intertitles to announce the beginning of each new thematic section, and designing and making these is a nice little something which I'm saving for later on.  It'll serve as Workflow Pudding, after the endless brussels sprouts of the main editing process.

*Pause*

After typing the previous paragraph, I briefly considered removing the phrase Workflow Pudding, and trademarking it before typing it anywhere again.  But then I decided that this would be churlish, so I'll release it to the public domain instead.  The public domain has given me many wonderful things (the GNU Image Manipulation Program, Audacity, OpenSong, etc...), so it can have my little phrase in return.

*Returns to the main point*

Anyway... for those of you who were at RH, the following should make sense to you: so far I've cut together all my footage from Glowball, LaserQuest (all 1 clip of it), Dorking Leisure Centre, the fire, and Littlehampton, plus some from Crawley (not all of it though).  Haven't got any Box Hill or Concert clips in yet.  If you weren't at RH, then you'll just have to take it on trust that that lot makes some sense.

I may or may not get round to editing a little preview and posting it on YouTube - if anyone has requests ("please can I be in the trailer?", "please can I not be in the trailer?", "I want to see some glowball footage", whatever) then I'm open to considering them.

So... ramblings over.  Back to Vegas 8]


- The Colclough

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Weird Child.

Little brother and sister each had a friend over to dinner today.  Had spaghetti, then trifle.

Sister's friend picked at the trifle (claimed she'd never seen or heard of it before - the poor deprived little mite!), and eventually decided she didn't really like it all that much.  After eating most of it anyway as part of the decision-making process, that is.

But then someone passed her what was left of the sugar-snap peas (ick), and she happily ate the whole lot.

So, she likes sugar-snap peas better than trifle.  This is bizarre and upsetting, but still sort of understandable - after all, some people don't like damp sponge cake, and others don't like cold custard.

But then, just as I was digesting this piece of weirdness, Mum tells me something even stranger: namely, that one of little sister's other friends likes cucumber better than chocolate.

This I am not sure I can handle.

I have a very definite view on the raison d'etre of cucumbers: they exist for the sole purpose of adding crunch to tuna sandwiches, which are otherwise a bit squishy and dull.  Outside of a tuna sandwich, a cucumber is a strange and meaningless thing.  Cucumbers are never, ever, under any circumstances an alternative to chocolate, and it is morally wrong to think otherwise.

I'm not sure I can handle much more of this...


- The Colclough

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

That's Not Very Coherent

I tried to access my blog updates list just now, and I got this:


Someone's been drink-writing again.  It should be illegal 8p

Um... yeah, nothing important to say this morning.  Just throwing that one out there for my own amusement.

Did you like Megastropulodon?


- The Colclough

Thursday, 30 September 2010

The blog you've all been waiting for!

This blog post brings good news: as of this evening, the long-anticipated Megastropulodon Attacks! Director's Cut is available to view online, for free, complete and unabridged.

The only catch is that I had to cut the film in half to put it on YouTube, as they only allow videos up to 15 minutes long, and the film clocks in at 15 minutes and 48.48 seconds.

So, I uploaded the first half yesterday, but half-way through processing the second video the uploader crashed, and my whole web connection ground almost to a halt for the rest of the day.  So I tried again this morning and left the computer chewing over the issue while I went to Legoland for the day with Mum and my younger siblings.  And this time, it worked!  I got back to find one of those nice green notification boxes telling me that the upload was successful, etc etc.

And now, without further ado: here are the videos!  I hope you like them.

Part 1


Part 2


So, there you go.  I must say, it was nice to be able to end my month's blogging on a positive note!


- The Colclough

Monday, 27 September 2010

You wait and wait and wait and then...

This one starts all computery, and then drifts into philosophy.  You have been warned.

***

Today seems to have gone mainly on waiting for stuff.

Our new PC was supposed to arrive this morning, but it wasn't delivered until after 4.  I think everyone got a bit tetchy waiting for the doorbell to go.  But it did arrive in the end, and now it's all set up and ready to go.

It's got Windows 7, making it the first computer in the family to move beyond the Windows XP paradigm.  Not that I have anything against XP - it still holds up remarkably well for a 9-year-old operating system.  But there is something rather shiny about 7.

I've also been waiting for an email or two which really ought to have been here a long time ago, but neither of them has arrived yet.

*Gets distracted*  I've just become aware that the several-decades-old clock in the lounge is bonging obsessively - nay, almost psychotically - I'm talking several dozen chimes in a row, which is (of course) far beyond the call of duty for any clock.  *Investigates*  Turns out someone wound up the chimes mechanism, and now Mum's winding the hands round and round in an effort to wind the chime spring down again.  But if you didn't know that and you just heard the noise, you could be forgiven for thinking that the clock had gone mad.  It's been known to happen, you know - we've got a cuckoo clock in the dining room that went mad, and once it starts cuckooing it won't stop.  It's been counted doing well over fifty cuckoos in one go.  It does stop eventually, but only when the weight on the cuckooing gizmo hits the floor, a good six feet down from the clock.

Anyway, back to the point.  The new PC - dubbed 'Bolt' for its speed - isn't a new addition to the Colclough computer fleet, it's a replacement.  Its arrival means the decommissioning of an older machine - one running Windows 98 SE - and now that the old thing is sitting on my floor with no controls or monitor attached, one side panel missing, and looking a bit sorry for itself, it's really feeling like the end of an era.  We acquired the machine in question in 2001 or early 2002, and shortly afterwards upgraded it with a video card, which was in many ways responsible for the beginning of my career as a filmmaker and animator.  Years' worth of my life history have passed through the processor of that PC, and it's put up with so much that I'm almost amazed it's still running at all.  In its later years it's been affectionately nicknamed 'Crunchy', because of the horrible noises the fan motor and hard disk make whenever it's switched on.  I've moved on - in addition to a 4-year-old laptop and my own 2-year-old 64-bit quad-core, 'Beastie', the new arrival makes three computers in the house which all easily outclass old Crunchy, and it really doesn't have any useful function any more.

I've still got an original Windows 95 installer disc (which I suppose must have arrived with one of Crunchy's two predecessors), and I'm rather tempted to format Crunchy's C drive and install Win95 on it, just for the nostalgia trip of seeing the 15-year-old OS in action one last time.  And when that's done, I'd also like to format the disk again and then see if the decrepit box will run Ubuntu.

And when I've finished playing with the corpse, there are two other things I'd like to do.  One of them, in fulfillment of a long-standing ambition, would be to take the machine to the top of a tallish building and throw it off the roof, just to watch it smash at the bottom.  I've been wanting to do that to a computer for a very long time.

But the other thing is very different: part of me wants to give it a hug before it finally meets its end.  Yeah, it's weird.  I know.  But as one of those people whose IT skills far outstrip their people skills, I don't just look at a family computer as another piece of hardware, like a washing machine or something.  It's a friend, of sorts - or at least it used to be, before it went senile and started arbitrarily destroying important files.  That's what the hug is for: not because the metal and plastic is anything special in and of itself, or because the old box is still valuable (let's face it, it isn't), but for auld lang syne.  For the dozens of films and videos which I edited there, for the hundreds of comic strips I wrote there, for all the emails written and received there - my best friends live 120 miles away, and a lot of our conversation is conducted via email - and for everything else that the machine and I did together over the last eight or nine years.

Having said what I said about people skills... I'd still hug a human friend goodbye too if I knew there was an ending in the offing.  Unless they didn't want it, of course, in which case I wouldn't.  But you don't go through the same process with humans, of deciding that their end has come, formatting C, saying a ceremonialised farewell and then throwing them off a rooftop.  Well, I don't anyhow.  I hope you don't either.  (Do you?)

Still, the point remains: it'll be sad to see the last of Crunchy.

Now, if its successor matches its longevity record, then we won't be saying goodbye to Bolt until at least 2018...

***

See, I told you I could blog on other days of the week besides Thursdays!


- The Colclough

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Things and Stuff

No, I haven't made a conscious decision to blog only on Thursdays from now on.  It's purely coincidental.  I'm afraid the following is a rather disparate collection of mini-rants on totally unrelated subjects 8p

I've decided never to waste money on Recorded Delivery postage again.  Royal Mail have had 9 working days to get the Megastropulodon DVDs to the cast, and one of them still hasn't turned up.  Well, it hadn't last time I heard from the would-be recipient, which was on Tuesday evening.  Considering that I paid £1.70 for first-class recorded delivery, I'm getting very cheesed off with RM.

I gave up the hair experiment on Monday.  I got fed up with it being permenantly dirty, knotty and getting in my face, so I made use of some scissors.  Other people have said they like the result, but I don't like it at all.  I'm not showing you a photo.  I've been considering wearing a hat for the next six months so I don't have to see the mess every time I walk past a mirror.  I hate mirrors sometimes.  I suspect there's a happy (ish) medium somewhere between what I had on Sunday and what I've got now, so I shall be avoiding scissors for quite a while now.

On a slightly more positive note, I've finally got round to booking my funny hat and my superhero cape for my graduation ceremony at the end of August.

Which leads me straight back to the negative side of things... now that I've finished college, I don't know what I want to do with my existence for the next few decades.  It really feels like I've dropped off the end of something, and I'm sort of freefalling.  I can't even knuckle down and work on a new animation, as my various script concepts are stubbornly remaining just that - concepts, and not much more.  Anybody else got any ideas about what a super-powered granny might get up to?

The uncertainty is very depressing.

Um... what else to rant about...

Well, they say great artists steal, maybe that applies to bloggers too?  I shall go and raid someone else's blog for inspiration... *goes and raids*

Hannah (whose fault it is that I started writing this blog in the first place... at least in part) has been complaining about finding it hard to express important things verbally, about the tendency to bottle things up, about unasked and unanswered questions (http://hannahlikessheepbaa.blogspot.com/2010/09/id-wear-my-heart-on-my-sleeve-but-its.html, http://hannahlikessheepbaa.blogspot.com/2010/09/me-and-my-heart-we-have-issues.html), and I'd have to say, some of it reads like a transcript of my own brain, because I don't talk about stuff either.  I've been trying to think of something encouraging to say in reply, but nothing has come to mind yet, except to say you're not alone.  There are aspects of me that nobody else knows about.  Apart from God, of course - I guess that's omniscience for you.  I suppose the first step towards being honest with other people is that we have to be honest with God first; after all there's no point trying to hide the truth from someone who already knows the truth anyway.  Once we've got to grips with talking to God, then maybe it might start getting easier to talk to other humans.  Or maybe I'm just barking up the wrong tree again.  I don't know.

Anyway, I've probably ranted enough for the time being, so I'm going to hit the 'publish' button and get on with something else.

- The Colclough