Saturday 30 July 2011

What to Answer Next?

I started at the beginning and answered Question 1 first.  Fair enough.  But I don't think I'll be sticking to the order for much longer, mainly because Question 2 is the strangest and hardest-to-answer of the whole lot, and I need more time to chew it over.  So where to go next?  I don't want to do all the easy ones up front - some of them, maybe, but not all - so...

right, here goes: Question 4: "If you were a character in Doctor Who, who would you be?"

You know that green fellow with the giant pincers for hands, in Episode 257?  I think that's probably me, because..., I'm joking.

Well, it's obvious, isn't it?  Rory Williams.  Seems pretty obvious to me, anyhow.  I'm proceding on the assumption that I'm supposed to compare the characters to my own actual traits rather than being idealistic.  Part of me would dearly love to say the Doctor, of course, because he's ludicrously clever and all that, and he has a TARDIS.  Tim and I have had... let's call it a discussion... of the relative merits of the TARDIS and the Enterprise.  He maintains that by all objective standards of spaceship-ness, the Enterprise wins hands down.  Which I suppose it does - it looks like a starship, it sounds like a starship, the crew all wear starship-ish uniforms, and so on and so forth.  But that's all mere objectivity.  I still think the TARDIS is subjectively better, in spite of everything.  And it does have some objective advantages too, e.g. being able to travel through time just as easily as through space, and having about the same parking footprint as a Morris Minor, which is impressive for a vehicle with a library and a swimming pool inside.

But I digress.  As much as I might like to compare myself to the last of the Time Lords, realistically I'd have to go with Rory.  He's the one who I look at and recognise myself in.  You know, the awkward, less-than-forceful personality, the way he gets the technically complicated stuff (e.g. the dimensionally transcendental TARDIS interior) but isn't always so much up to speed on dealing with the human beings, and so on.

That's not to say he doesn't have his strong points, e.g. his loyalty, which I would like to think applies to me too, although what with having never been anything other than single I've never had the opportunity to find out for sure about that one.

Did anybody think I was going to say someone else?

Statistically speaking:
  • Twenty Questions status: 2 down, 18 to go (still winning...)
  • Days until Root Hill: 21
  • Latest book read: Operation Mincemeat
  • Latest film/TV watched: Endgame (the 2009 film about the end of Apartheid in South Africa, not the other unrelated films of the same name) - I actually saw this before writing my last post, but I had the viewing order mixed up in my head and thought Sherlock had been later
  • Latest music listened to: Doctor Who Series 5 main theme (appropriately)
  • Latest edible item eaten: toasted muffin with bramble jelly
  • Predominant colour of clothes: mid-dark blue (what did I say about a recurring theme?)
  • Programs and web pages currently running: Microsoft Office Outlook 2007, Firefox (tabs: Blogspot Create Post; my last post; MatNav 6.1); The GIMP; Windows Media Player 11
  • Webcomics posted today: Cylinder and Miserable #1323

- The Colclough

Twenty Questions: The Beginning

Okay, so I've gone and done it again.  I've challenged Hannah 'LikesSheepBaa' Newcombe to another blogging race.  If you were reading this blog, hers or both back in January, you'll already know that I initiated the "First 11 for '11" race, and ended up losing it by 10 posts to 11.  Which means, of course, that I've got a score to settle!

There has been considerable debate over exactly what form this challenge should take, but we eventually settled on "Twenty Questions": each of us writes out a list of 20 questions (hence the name) and sends it to the other, and each question must form the basis of a blog post.  First to answer all 20 questions wins.

That was the short explanation.  There are some other rules too: minimum word count 100 per question, not including peripheral stuff like the post title, tags etc; each post must include stats at the end (same as the ones featured in "First 11 for '11", with a couple of additions); each blogger must comment on all of their rival's challenge posts.  And we both have to be finished before the start of this year's Root Hill camp, on Saturday the 20th of August.  The good news is that the questions can be answered in any order.  I intentionally made my questions a mix of the very easy and the rather more arcane (I'll be very interested to see what order H answers them in), and it seems she's done the same.

So, here are the questions I sent her, which you will hopefully be able to read the answers to across the course of the next three weeks over at
  1. Where did the sheep obsession come from?
  2. If you ruled the universe, what’s the first law you would pass?
  3. What’s wrong with Doritos, anyway?
  4. Who is your anti-role model?
  5. How big are your feet?
  6. Do you like mornings?
  7. Beethoven or Bieber?
  8. Ink or acrylics?
  9. What’s the most overrated book out there?
  10. Would you prefer an alien invasion or a zombie apocalypse?
  11. What’s the strangest activity/project/group you’ve been involved with?
  12. If you had to choose between your eyes and your ears…?
  13. If you wrote a comic strip, what would it be about?
  14. What’s your most recently formed life ambition?
  15. So… what to do when life gives you lemons?
  16. Which is the best chocolate bar, and why?
  17. What would your dream house be like?
  18. Has Steven Moffat dropped the ball?
  19. Why is your car called that?
  20. Is this the last question?

...and here are the ones she sent me:
  1. We’ve reached the end of the Harry Potter era.  Thoughts?
  2. If you were an animal, how on earth did you become an animal?
  3. How would you describe your taste in music?
  4. If you were a character in Doctor Who, who would you be?  (Side note, my friends have decided that I’m Donna.  Take that as you wish!)
  5. Do you have a favourite medium to use when doing artwork?
  6. How tall are you?
  7. If you were a shape, what shape would you be?
  8. What is your favourite character that you’ve created so far?
  9. Do you have a favourite novel?
  10. You now have a type 40 TARDIS.  Where and when would your top destinations be?
  11. What is your earliest memory?
  12. What is your suitcase packing method?
  13. Please can I have your bank details?
  14. Do you like broccoli when it isn’t named Albert?
  15. Sheep or cows?
  16. Zombies or unicorns?
  17. What is your favourite smell?
  18. Would you ever go bungee jumping?
  19. If you were prime minister, what would you do differently?
  20. If the answer is 42, what is the question?

Some of these will be very, very easy.  Like number 1.  Others, like number 2, will be rather more difficult.

So I've got about 20 days to answer 20 questions... better get started.  And since there's no better place to begin than at the beginning, I may as well kick off with Question 1: "We’ve reached the end of the Harry Potter era.  Thoughts?"

YES!!!  *Punches the air and other excitable gestures*

Pretty much ever since I became aware of the existence of Harry Potter, circa 2001, I've been waiting for it to end.  I don't have all that much against HP, apart from the ridiculous overblown fuss that everyone else has been making about it.  It's just another fantasy series, really, but it's been hailed as the best thing since sliced bread, and crooned and drooled over by hordes and hordes of people as if it was the greatest story ever told.  Which it isn't.

I've made a point of not following the series, just to assert my human right to nonconformity.  That's not to say I'm completely ignorant of it, mind you - I know what all the books are called, what years they were published (or at least most of them), as well as what years the films came out, who directed them, and who wrote the scripts and the scores for them.  I didn't set out to know all that stuff, I just absorbed the information by accident, because I have the sort of mind that can and does absorb that sort of information by accident.

I've read the first book and a half (when I had absolutely nothing better to do), and while I thought they were passable enough bits of literature, I'm not sure they're the healthiest reading matter for young minds, and I certainly didn't think their plotting or phraseology was scintillating enough to merit all the hype.  The storyline hung together well enough, but I didn't think it attained the intricacy of, say, Doctor Who's Pandorica storyline.  The use of the English language was fine, but it wasn't a patch on Douglas Adams (who, let's not forget, described the Vogon Constructor Fleet as "hanging in mid-air in exactly the way bricks don't", or something very similar).

I've seen tiny snippets of the first film, but not enough to comment on.  I've seen the second in its entirety, and boy it was disappointing.  The adult actors were fine - sometimes great, even, especially Alan Rickman - but the child leads came across unspeakably hammy by comparison.  I'm told they've improved in the more recent films, but that doesn't change the fact that the world is forever saddled with their utterly atrocious early performances.  Towards the end of Chamber of Secrets, Radcliffe's delivery of a certain line about the powers of phoenix tears made all my insides and brain juices squirm like mealworms in a fisherman's bait tin.  Don't get me started on the phoenix, either.  I'd heard the music for Chamber of Secrets long before I saw the film, and it led me to expect something a bit better from the VFX department.  As in, it made me think the on-screen depiction of the phoenix would have a certain majesty, or at least dignity.  It doesn't.  What a disappointing bird. Although I will admit that from the trailers and things I've seen, the cinematography and effects seem to have improved as the series has gone on.

Sometime last year, they released the first teaser poster for Deathly Hallows, featuring Hogwarts half-destroyed and on fire, with the tagline "It all ends here".  I loved that poster.  In fact, it's one of my favourite posters of all time, mainly because of that little word 'ends'.  The last film is currently in cinemas; soon it'll be out on Blu-ray and DVD, and then, there'll be nothing else to do, nowhere else to go... and maybe the world will finally shut up about it all.  The silence will be golden.

I think I might have got a bit carried away there.  Pretty sure that little rant is more than 100 words 8p

As per "First 11 For 11", the challenge requires statistics:
  • Twenty Questions status: 1 down, 19 to go (*checks Hannah's blog for recent updates*  looks like I'm winning... for now...)
  • Days until Root Hill: 22
  • Latest book read: Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre
  • Latest film/TV watched: Sherlock: The Blind Banker on iPlayer
  • Latest music listened to: something Tim wrote for the next Arbitrary Stopframe (coming soon!)
  • Latest edible item eaten: toothpaste doesn't count, does it?  Before that, dinner.  I'm afraid I can't remember what dinner was.
  • Predominant colour of clothes: blue (watch this space: blue could become a recurring theme, I think)
  • Programs and web pages currently running: Microsoft Office Outlook 2007, Firefox (tabs: Blogspot Create Post; Blogspot Dashboard;
  • Webcomics posted today: Cylinder and Miserable #1322; Fort Paradox #68

- The Colclough

Wednesday 27 July 2011

More Paint

Just because I like showing off photos of my paintings in progress...

(No, the water isn't going to stay all black and depressing like that.  There's some reeds and a load of light-blue reflections still to add)

And here's the really good bit: I've finished some of them!

#011: Stained Glass II (doesn't necessarily go this way up)

#012: Stained Glass III (yep, an unimaginative title, perhaps, but an accurate one)

You might notice the serial numbers have stopped being in hexadecimal. That's not because I've gone off hex or anything, it's just that I've decided I should probably save the ABCs to designate the constituent panels in multi-part works. Method in the madness, see?

- The Colclough

Tuesday 26 July 2011

On Cars, and Human Frailty

I finally saw Cars last night.  Not the recently-released sequel, but the original from five years ago.  What with my noted fondness for Pixar Animation Studios, it may seem odd that it's taken me half a decade to get round to watching one of their films.  I would agree.  But then, it's Cars.  By popular concensus, it was until a few weeks ago the weakest of the studio's 11 feature films - just look at the scores on Rotten Tomatoes, where it came in with just 74%, which would be respectable enough for most studios but is almost a disgrace compared to the 90%-plus earned by every other Pixar film up to last year.

I saw about two-thirds of the film on DVD when it was playing in the background in a house in India back in early 2007, where I was supposed to be helping to sort out the contents of a largeish cupboard.  The whole cupboard was one huge festering pile of clutter, I didn't have the faintest idea where any of the stuff was meant to be going, and of course it didn't help having a previously-unseen Pixar film distracting me.  All in all a horribly embarrassing experience.  And I still didn't see the film properly.

I'm never going back to India.  Ever.  Although I should point out that this decision has got more to do with the night spent vomiting my guts out in a hotel bathroom and being pretty sure I was dying, and with an incident involving unidentified keys, than it has to do with residual cupboard-sorting issues.

Anyway, Cars turned up on BBC iPlayer over the weekend, and last night I sat down and watched it, finally filling the long-standing hole in my experience of things Pixar.

It was alright, I guess.

For Pixar, that's a damning indictment.  Everything from Toy Story (1995) to The Incredibles (2004) and from Ratatouille (2007) to Toy Story 3 (2010) was excellent, or at least oddball and intriguing enough to merit repeat viewings, if not both.  I'm not alone in having come to expect excellence from John Lassetter and his colleagues, and I'm not alone in feeling let down by a film which, to be honest, would have been considered serviceable enough coming from anyone except them.  To be honest, Cars' meh-ness is compounded into disappointment only by the fact that it was sandwiched between two Oscar-winning Brad Bird-helmed pieces of absolute genius made at the same studio.

But disappointing it was.  Not that there was anything particularly wrong with it, mind you, just that it lacked a certain spark that its stablemates had.  It may have been just as visually appealing as anything else Pixar have done, but the characters and story don't grab the mind or the heart.  Sure, Lightning McQueen could beat WALL-E in a drag race any day, but the little trash-compacting robot was by far the better character (maybe because he talked so much less?) and had by far the better film.

And then, there came the sequel.  When I first heard that they were making Cars 2, my gut reaction was 'Why?'

I still don't know why.  And judging by the critical reaction (a mere 37% on the Rotten Tomatoes review aggregator as of today), nobody else is too sure why either - unless the dirty rumour about merchandising is true.  Cars sold a lot of merchandise, I'm told.  Did they really make a sequel just to sell more toys?  I hope not.  That's a miserable stunt usually pulled by hack filmmakers, and we all thought that was beneath the master craftsmen at Pixar.

Which leads me to the theme of human frailty.  In particular, the fact that we should be very careful about how much we hero-worship our favourite artists, musicians, sport stars etc.  There everybody was, for fifteen glorious years, absolutely convinced that Pixar were some sort of computer-animation demigods... and then Cars 2 happened, and it turned out they were only human after all.  They may be great (and they may well get their form back), but they've got the same blood in their veins as the rest of us, and with it the same weaknesses.

Amy Winehouse is dead.  I only know because BBC News ran a piece about it yesterday.  The usual dead-pop-star routine - hordes of grieving fans laying floral tributes, lots of glowing words about the departed, and somewhere in the background the unsavoury but all-too-familiar suggestion of an overdose.  Frankly, I don't really care.  But judging by the images of crowds outside her home, there are plenty who do, some of them seemingly to the point of obsession.  Another case of setting too much store by a favourite human icon?  A different case to my own, perhaps, but stemming from the same rootstock.

The first trailer has been released for Pixar's next film, Brave, due out next year.  Most of it looks really good - its grim, rugged production design a polar opposite to the neon gloss of the Cars franchise - but there's one huge, glaring flaw: the main character's face looks terrible.  Seriously.  Look this picture in the eye and tell me there isn't something wrong with it.  I can't put a finger on the problem, but that face just doesn't ring true.  The design is stylised, but it's still almost uncanny-valley territory, which is an achievement in itself.  And not a good omen for Pixar.  Please, I'm begging you, Lassetter, CHANGE THE FACE, NOW, BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE.  Peter Jackson had Gollum's face redesigned just 8 months out from the relase of The Two Towers.  You've got 13 months before Brave releases.  You've got time to save it.  Please please please PLEASE change that face.


- The Colclough

Friday 15 July 2011

Finale Again

So, Sidewards ended this morning.  Again.  This time, Tim assures me, it really is over.  And once again, I think I believe him.

Unlike the previous 'ending' at Episode 086, this one at Episode 152 actually makes sense as a closing-out point for the series, as it explains who the sandwiches are/become, and leads back into the events of Cylinder and Miserable Series 1, although the fact that they seem to have attacked Doctor Mallard instead of Cylinder is an unexpected twist to the tale.

And now, as the creator of Cylinder and Miserable and the final authority on what did or didn't really happen in the Geometriverse, I face a very interesting challenge: the decision on if and how Sidewards fits into the overall 'mythology'.  It can't be fully canonised, as it has some discontinuities with the parent show, e.g. the fact that it depicts the creation of the WSDMRF (and, by implication, the Fungal Temple), without leaving any space for the longish back history implied for the organisation in C&M.  But there are some aspects which I definitely want to call canon, especially the existence of Field-Marshal Store.  I know he's only a supporting character, but he amuses me.

So I'm going to have to have a long hard think about how it could fit.  Possible explanations could include Sidewards being a fully-accurate history from a parallel Geometriverse, or an altered set of memories posessed by one or more characters after a neuroprogramming accident.  But I'm not sure whether I really want to go down either of those routes.

Whatever I decide, it'll probably be revealed during the course of C&M Series 3, which I've recently started writing, and which (if I've got my maths right) could start appearing online early next year.

Watch this space!

And if you haven't yet ingested the bizarre adventures of the psychotic, industrial-sabotage-committing bacon sandwiches, their neuroprogrammer overlords and their fungal enemies/allies, then please, clicky on this link here and go and fry your brains.  Right.  Now.

And Tim: it's been a great ride.  Thank ye.

- The Colclough

Wednesday 13 July 2011

Unrelated Bits

* Not sure whether to be really excited or scared stiff about this bit of news: Benedict Cumberbatch being cast as Smaug in The Hobbit - not only doing the voice, but (apparently) some motion-capture performance as well.  Now, don't get me wrong, I've got nothing against Cumberbatch.  I loved his turn as Sherlock last year, and am looking forward to Series 2.  But I always thought Smaug would be voiced by someone a bit... older?  And the burning question of the day is: how the heck do you motion-capture a dragon?  But what with the whole production being so darned secretive about the character, it looks like I'll just have to wait and see 8p

* Hedge-trimming hurts.  That was Monday, and I'm still aching on Wednesday.

* I miss programming.  I recently revisited a breakout-type game I wrote back in 2006, and got really nostalgic. I spent two blissfully happy years (I'm sure there's some rose-tinted-spectacles-ness going on there, but never mind) dabbling in Visual Basic 6 on the college computers while I was at sixth form, but since then I've been largely unable to do any programming, due to my lack of access VB6, the fact that VB7 onwards is incompatible with all my old VB6 code, and the fact that every other language I've come across is far more difficult to work with.  I miss the feeling of power when you bend the computer to your will.

So I decided to go programming again.  I had a look at C++ yesterday.  It's supposed to be the world's favourite language, but I can't see how to get started - the Microsoft C++ compiler is hideously over-complicated, and the GNU Compiler Collection has got a really neat trick up its sleeve: they only distribute it as un-compiled source code, which means you have to use another compiler to compile the GNU compiler before you can use the GNU compiler to compile anything else... which defeats the point of having the GNU compiler in the first place.  The open-source community has done many wonderful things, but an uncompiled compiler just reeks of stupidity, IMHO.

So instead, I looked into Java.  The Java developer kit installed fine on my PC... and then refused to run, point blank.  I tell it to start the program, and it just gives me this blank stare.  I hate it when computers do that.

I wish they hadn't destroyed Visual Basic with all those stupid changes in version 7.  It may share some similar syntax with version 6, but it basically isn't the same language any more.

I might not be going programming again after all.

* More painting:

Untitled Kingfisher Painting (the main difference this time is the added branch and leaf detail on the right, plus a few other, subtler touches)

Stained Glass II (no, you're right, it was the other way up in the last photo)

Told you the geometry would get clearer!

- The Colclough

Monday 11 July 2011

On the Tip of My Brain

Do you ever get that feeling like you've had a brilliant idea, and it's sitting on the tip of your brain waiting to be thought, but you can't quite get it to take shape and come out in words?  Do many people get that?  Is it a normal feeling, or is it just me being weird?

Well, in this case it's a whole fictional world that won't co-operate.  I mentioned Frozen Bones in passing way back in this post from December, and stated that it had spent quite a while in 'development hell' - film-and-television terminology for the state where you're trying to get a project together, and it isn't working.  As often as not this has more to do with a lack of money than a lack of script, but in the case of Frozen Bones it's the script.  I've got a load of characters and things, and it feels like they should all fit together to create a strange but entertaining whole, but it's proving perversely difficult to write a story around it.

I'm currently on the second attempt.  A couple of months ago I thought I'd got it, and I wrote three episodes, which introduced all of the characters and were intended as the jumping-off point for a longer series.  Then I showed them to Tim, and he said it didn't work.  And then I re-read them, and I realised that he was right: the first two-and-a-half scripts read like a bunch of introductions, and not much else.  There was precious little time spared for either story or humour, which completely defeated the object of the series.  There was the odd moment, especially towards the end of Episode 3, but nowhere near enough.

So I threw the whole lot out, re-tooled several of the characters, and started again, and after much brain-racking, I've got several promising snippets for a new Episode 1, but the overall story remains infuriatingly elusive.  Grr.

- The Colclough

Friday 8 July 2011

Now Illustrated!

Just thought I'd show you some photos of the stuff I've been rambling about lately...

Untitled Kingfisher Painting (now greener than ever!)

Beginnings of a second stained-glass experiment, this time with more freehand-ish geometry.  Any resemblance to an eye was purely coincidental.

The line work hasn't shown up too well in the photo, but this is another of my abstract-geometry ramblings.  The image will be a LOT clearer in the finished product.

And finally, those snails...

Cepaea Nemoralis shells, x8

That photo is currently my computer wallpaper.  Just thought you might like to know that.

Maybe next time I'll actually think of something to talk about 8p

- The Colclough

Wednesday 6 July 2011

The Varnish of Impedence

Typical, isn't it - just when you've got three different paintings on the go at once and you really want to work on them, you find you can't because the work table has been dragged outside, sanded down and covered in wet varnish.  Hmph.

I had a rotten sleep (or lack of) last night, and I'm barely awake enough to write a coherent sentence.  (Not sure what possessed me to think I could paint coherently.)  My dreams were profuse and pointless, and among other things they involved a shower room with a kitchen-sink waste shredder in the floor, a moment where I relived a minor event from a few days ago and then realised in-dream that i was reliving a past event in a dream (that was a seriously bent piece of metaphysics), and a failed attempt to navigate a really badly designed Portal-style test chamber.  Then I woke up, forgot all the rest (which there was a lot of) and then wished I was still asleep.

I've got some recently-acquired snail shells sitting on the kitchen windowsill waiting to be cleaned.  So I'll go and clean them and see if any more writable thoughts occur to me while I'm at it.

*Goes and cleans shells*

While cleaning the shells, it occurred to me that I may as well talk about shells for a bit.  The ones I've just been cleaning up are mostly Cepaea nemoralis, alias Grove Snails or Brown-Lipped Snails.  My interest in collecting shells in general, and my soft spot for C nemoralis and the very similar species C hortensis (White-Lipped Snails) in particular, date back to around 1994, when I found an empty snail shell in the back garden and decided to keep it.  It's gone from there.

For a few years I collected more exotic species by buying them, but more recently my collecting habits have gone native again, and among other things I've been gathering shells off the beaches in different parts of the country where we've been on holiday, which has turned up some interesting results.  E.g. the winkle shells were nearly all yellow off Guernsey, nearly all black off Northumberland, and a surprisingly broad range of colours in the Menai Straits; while my clams from the Sussex coast are much more robust than ones from Cornwall.

As an unrelated aside: I came across an interesting word in the King James version of Leviticus this morning: "beeves".  As in, "...whether the offering be of the beeves or of the sheep or of the goats..." - so by cross-referencing it against other translations, and with other words like "beef" and "bovine", it seems to mean "cattle".  So there we go: my random archaic word for the day.

So now I've managed to write a fairly longish post where only the first couple of lines have anything to do with the title.  But I like the current title anyway, and I can't be bothered to change it.

- The Colclough