Thursday 30 June 2011

A Microcosm of Extremities

I went for another of my walks by the River Blackwater this morning, and I came across a rather paradoxical little scene: some sort of bird lying dead in some grass (I'd guess a magpie, but there was enough missing that I couldn't really tell) - fairly unpleasant, but then again, things die. Fact of life. And then, sitting on the corpse, there was an immaculate red admiral butterfly, apparently unfazed by its mouldering perch.  I got within two feet of it, and it just sat there.

Ironic, I thought, that the closest I've ever got to a live butterfly in the wild was when it had decided to take a sunbath on top of a headless bird corpse.

I briefly toyed with the idea of trying to read some significance into the event, but then decided not to bother.  These things happen, I guess.

Then I thought about painting it.  The jury is still out on whether or not that's a good idea.

Speaking of painting stuff from the Blackwater, here's some more development on my kingfisher:

Untitled Kingfisher Painting (work in progress++)

I did some more work on it today, but I haven't got a photo of the latest increment yet.

- The Colclough

Friday 17 June 2011

The Flying Strawberry Waltz

Imagine, if you will, a bungalow, with a sizeable proportion of its garden given over to fruits and vegetables. One of the more eye-catching features is a pair of cage-cum-tent structures made of fine-mesh chicken wire, bamboo canes and what-have-you, each housing a bed of strawberries on four-foot stilts. One cage has a second strawberry bed at ground level, but a quick analysis of the crop reveals that the flying strawberries are the best ones.

The surrounding patch of garden is a miniature-scale maze of little concrete paths and wooden boardwalks, not always easy to navigage thanks to factors such as the rampant beetroot plants taking over some areas.

It's raining. Everything that isn't concrete, boardwalk, beetroot, strawberry or some other vegetation is mud. Temperature somewhere in the low to mid teens, at a guess, but feeling a bit colder thanks to the precipitation.

Two lanky figures skulk around in this little agrarian labyrinth: grandfather and grandson, [age undisclosed] and 23 respectively, although it might be hard to tell which is which underneath the large raincoats. Both pick their steps carefully, the one because he wants to avoid squashing his soil and impeding its horticultural usefulness, and the other because he doesn't really like getting covered in mud. Both perfectly valid excuses, in their own different ways.

The cages are opened - eventually. They are engineered to be blackbird-proof, and it would seem that they have succeeded, so long as you take the view that a structure's blackbird-proof-ness is proportional to its human-proofness. It takes a few minutes to unpick all of the tie-wraps holding the side sheets on so that the fruits can be harvested. Most of the ripe berries make their way into the plastic bowl held by the junior conspirator, while one or two of the best are scoffed straight off the plant, and a few other not-so-best examples are sent for flying lessons.

It may have been stated that the best strawberries are the flying ones. However, it was also true that the worst ones were flying ones, albeit in a very different way. Not so much 'flying' in the sense of 'having grown in the high-level beds'; more in the sense of 'being propelled over the back fence in an elegant aerial trajectory'. The awkward, ground-avoiding perambulations of the two harvesters are counterpointed, in a very peculiar waltz, by the simple, swift flight of the slug-eaten or just plain rotten fruits.

Strange that the most crisp and straightforward path of movement should be achieved by the least attractive blobs in the garden.

There's a one-track road in a little cutting on the far side of the fence, and there's a moment of guilty horror just after a largeish quality-assessment failure is dispatched outwards: what if there's a motorist down there? What if some poor blighter is driving innocently along and minding their own business, and they suddenly find their vehicle decorated with an unexpected splodge of bad strawberry? What if... oh dear. The word 'windscreen' rushes to the mental forefront, followed by the prequel phrase 'unable to see out of'. This could be bad... very bad... who would have thought a mere strawberry - especially a rotten one - could do so much damage?

But then the moment passes, with a reassuring lack of hideous metallic crunching noises. If the dodgy berry does meet a car now, then it'll be safely pancaked under the tyres rather than clouding the driver's vision and sending them off the road. Strawberry averted, one might say. Thank goodness for that.

Well, there's only so much fruit on the bushes, and only so much rain the human soul can take in an afternoon anyway, so eventually the two raincoat-shrouded figures shuffle off back into the bungalow, and leave the little flying plants to carry on the good work, and ripen some more berries - ready for the exercise to be repeated tomorrow. If the rain lets up.

- The Colclough

Thursday 16 June 2011

Two Bits of Wood

You may or may not be aware that I have, once again, left the old lair (maybe you noticed that Cylinder and Miserable has taken yet another one-and-a-half-week break from posting, or maybe you didn't).  Well, this time I'm doing something a bit different for a few days, namely helping my Grandad fit a new kitchen.

A reductionist description of today's achievements: we've cut two bits of wood to size.

That's not exactly a fair summary though, as it fails to mention that the bits of wood in question are the main sections of worktop, and they've had to be fitted with millimetre precision into a room which doesn't even have properly square walls.  And there's a nice complicated joint where the two bits fit together.  And they weigh a ton or two each (figurative tons, admittedly).  And there was a whole sink in the way, which needed to be removed before we could make any further progress, and which has now become a lawn decoration.  And the router pretended to break down, which raised some doubts as to whether we'd be able to make that nice complicated joint at all.

I think every single measurement must have been double-checked, triple-checked, quadruple-checked, re-checked, cross-checked, counter-checked and generally checked-to-within-an-inch-of-its life.  Or rather, to within half a millimetre of its life.  But it all paid off, as the joint is about as tight as it could possibly have been without the use of computer-guided laser cutting tools.

No, I admit it, I didn't deploy a computer-guided laser cutting tool.  In fact, as much as this fact may shock you all: I don't even own one.  I should of course point out that this sad fact is a result of financial and logistical constraints, rather than choice on my part.  I'd quite happily have a big shiny computer-controlled laser cutting tool if you wanted to give me one.  Don't know what I'd cut with it now that the worktop has been chopped, but never mind that.

I digress.

You should have seen the amount of sawdust we generated (well, Grandad did the sawdust-generating, mostly, but I share the guilt by implication).  I can now inform you, from experience, that making a 3655mm-long cut with a 12mm router bit is a bad idea, unless you've got a pre-planned use for an Atlantic-sized ocean of powdered chipboard.

I've also attempted, and largely failed, to fix Grandad's old PC.  We formatted C and did a clean install of Windows ME (yes, yes, I know - that's just the installer disc we had available).  It's now locked itself into 16-colour VGA mode, and I can't find anything that'll let me change it to a proper colour palette or a decent resolution.  Very weird.  Never seen a computer do that before.  What's really odd is that I've tried a Ubuntu live CD on it, and that runs 24-bit colour depth perfectly well.  It's just Windows ME being strange and difficult.  Then again, maybe Open Source kicking Millennium Edition's sorry behind isn't really that odd after all...

In other news, I've finished the second draft of Megastropulodon Episode 6, and started the next phase: unsurprisingly, *drumroll* third drafts, beginning once again at the beginning with Episode 1.  I've decided to try doing this round on paper rather than just being glued to the word processor all the time, and that's involved printing out the 29-page document.  It feels much more of an achievement when you see it take the form of a huge wad of paper, compared to when it was just so many kilobytes of digital data.  Now I need to convert it from a neatly-printed wad of paper to a profusely-scribbled-on wad of paper, and tighten up the narrative yet again.  Oh joy.

I think that's all for now.  I might blog again if the DIY gets too slow and boring.

- The Colclough

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Mixed Stuff

Yay for anthology blogs!  At least this time I've got a keyword that conveniently helps describe all of my points...

Mixed Reactions: Tim told me yesterday that he has written the last-ever episode of Sidewards - again.  This time, I'm told, it really is the end, and there are only a few weeks left before the final instalment of the strange but hugely enjoyable sandwich-assassin-fuelled weirdness is published online.  I'm really looking forward to finding out how the plot resolves, but there'll be a little sandwich-shaped hole in my internet life for months afterwards.

Mixed Media: speaking of webcomics, yesterday I finished illustrating Fort Paradox episodes 67 to 70, using a technically complex art style that gives a parchmenty look (appropriate, considering the subject matter - you'll see what I mean when I publish the strips in a few weeks' time), which involved hybridising pencil sketches, an ink drawing, a failed attempt to incorporate oil pastels, and quite a lot of digital manipulation and arty-farty typography.

As a random side note, the new episodes are the longest consecutive run of FP strips to use the Candara font - the previous record being three, for strips 26 to 28.

Mixed Shades of Green: remember that pencil-on-canvas sketch of a kingfisher in action, which I mentioned a couple of posts back?  I said in my last post that I'd painted the sky in, and this morning I've done a second, rather more involved round of painting, this time focussing on the vegetation.  It took five different tubes of paint (only one of which was green) and five different brushes to create what could be described, in a reductionist analysis, as a big blob of green.  But I'm quite pleased with my big blob of green, so I've decided it's time to take another photo and show you my progress:

Untitled Kingfisher Painting (still a work in progress... but this time with more progress!)

Mixed Quality: I saw the Doctor Who 'mid-series finale' A Good Man Goes to War the other day, and I feel compelled to comment on it.  I'm amazed that a certain sheep-liking ginger person hasn't blogged on this topic yet, what with her well-documented obsession with all things Whovian, but that's beside the point.

The point is that for me, AGMGTW was a very mixed bag, brilliant and depressing in equal measure.  It had some excellent lines (I found Rory's final remark before the title sequence particularly funny), and lots of lovely VFX stuff, and so on and so forth, and in several places it showcased the usual Steve Moffat cleverness.  And that Sontaran was hilarious.  But there were problems, on a scale I haven't seen before in a Moffat-scripted episode.  Spoilers follow, so if you haven't seen it yet, you might want to skip the rest of this post - if you're going, then take a biscuit, and I'll see you next time.  Otherwise, you're in for some ranting and railing.

Moffat, like Davies before him, seems to have something against the Church.  Yes, I know, that's common enough, but it does get depressing when one's favourite science-fantasy telly show feels it has to join in the bashing.  Granted, Moffat's bizarre depiction of the 51st-century 'Church', as a pseudo-faith-based interplanetary military organisation, seems to be stabbing mainly at Roman Catholicism (what with a reference to 'the Papal Mainframe') and high-church Anglicanism rather than the smaller, more down-to-earth Baptist congregations like the one I belong to, but it still irks a bit.

Some of the supporting characters were frankly unnecessary.  Lorna came across (IMO, anyway) as an insipid example of the 'person who is in awe of the Doctor and desperate to meet him' archetype, and I really couldn't work out for the life of me why 'Thin One' and 'Fat One' had been included at all.  I don't think they added anything interesting to the plot whatsoever, and they should have been cut from the script before the episode got anywhere near the filming stage.  I've written some screenplays, and I know a thing or two about writing out unnecessary side characters, and I'm sure AGMGTW would have been better off without those two.

So, that's the thematic and narrative problems whinged about.  And finally: anatomy.  Yes, you read that right.  The thing is, I'm a great stickler for basic anatomical plausibility in fictional creatures.  I can accept the hypothetical existence of a faun, a unicorn (provided you assume the horn doesn't grow until after birth, so the baby doesn't rip the mother apart from the inside), a dragon, and many other things, but there are some fantasy critters out there whose anatomy just doesn't make any sense.  As I explained in this post back here, I dislike centaurs on the grounds of their badly-thought-out physiology.  You try to figure out the skeletal structure or the position of the major organs, and you'll quickly find out that they just don't fit! Which is where the Headless Monks go wrong as well.  The phrase 'Headless Monks' does sound rather funky, but the literally-headless chaps in AGMGTW have a few fundamental anatomical glitches.  You've got to wonder: how do they eat, drink, taste, breathe, smell, hear or see?  Most known higher life-forms do all those things with their heads, and if the Monks don't have a head then they could face some serious difficulties.  Well, not 'face' the difficulties as such, since the face is part of the head and they therefore don't have one, but you know what I meant.  My suspension of disbelief can stretch to cover the Weeping Angels, the Vashta Nerada, the Star Whale, the Pandorica, Sardick's sky machine, the Silence, and many other things, but people who stay alive without heads?  Sorry, Steve, you've lost me.

Here's hoping the monsters in the next few episodes make a bit more sense.

And, for those who are still reading: sorry about the whinyness.

Have a biscuit.

- The Colclough