Saturday 8 December 2012

The Storm Has Subsided

My goodness, that was slow and awkward.  Script written in February, voices recorded in June, and it still took until December to complete the fourth episode of Papercuts.  I usually count the production time from the voice recording session, which gives Pedroelectric a total of nearly six months, shattering the four-month record set by Episode 2 Germination Without Authorisation back in the summer.

I think the killer factor was the technical complexity - or rather, not so much the technical complexity in itself, but more the fact that the complexity made the task seem more daunting, and put me off from knuckling down and getting on with it.  As I wrote in the episode's YouTube description: don't write animation scripts with thunderstorms in them.  The rain, thunder and lightning did nothing to ease the convoluted process of bringing this story to the screen.  This might have been a good opportunity to point out that unlike the previous three instalments, which I wrote myself, this one was co-scripted by Tim... but then again I don't think I can shift the blame for the thunderstorm, as that was my idea anyway.  Tim was the one who suggested that they should be watching TV, and that Pedro should be sent up the aerial to fix it, and that the Captain should try to make some commercial use of Pedro's electrified condition, but I have to hold up my hand and admit that the basic concept of Pedro getting electrified in a thunderstorm was entirely my fault.

The previous three episodes were achieved almost entirely through an honest-to-goodness single-pass cutout process (the passage-of-time ideograms and the space scene in Episode 3 Jalapeno to the Skies were exceptions), with any given frame usually being a single unaltered photo.  But this time round, something like half of the film comprises multi-layered material, with the stuff on the TV screen, the rain, the various lightning flashes and electric sparks, and the non-speaking extra in the penultimate scene all being either composited or outright computer-generated after the fact.  That probably went a long way towards slowing me down, because it not only requires twice the amount of material to be shot, but requires both plates to be designed with a view to synchronising them in post.  It's finnicky enough designing a set to function at the right scale and so on even when it's only for a single-layer shot.

But as I also mentioned in the YouTube description, I think it was worth the effort.  Not only am I pleased with the storyline, I also think Pedroelectric has turned out as the most visually interesting episode to date, and perhaps the most aurally interesting as well.

The soundscape includes all sorts of weird and wonderful things this time round: a rainstick, a sheet of cartridge paper (the lounge set, as a matter of fact), white noise artificially generated by Audacity 2, a stapler, a cushion borrowed from our leather sofa being smacked really hard with a metre stick, my grandparents' un-lubricated driveway gate several years ago, the plug of the family vacuum cleaner (you wouldn't believe how hard it was to record the sound of a cable being picked up or put down), me eating Doritos a lot louder than I usually do, and me doing a move which I can only describe as trying to spit as sharply as possible from somewhere underneath my tongue.  Also watch out for Millimetre's dialogue - somewhere in this episode is the first occasion where I actually thought about what he's trying to say, and based his screeches off an actual sentence or two.  I'd be very interested to hear whether you can figure out where or what any of these items are...

Musically, Pedroelectric retains the main theme as usual, and revisits Pedro's heroic sting from Episode 1 Lemon Juice for the Captain, but also introduces the longest new piece of incidental music to date, titled Windmill and Flower.  I don't know if the show the trio are watching on their TV is a documentary about green energy (which is what the script says) or if it's metamorphosed into a really bizarre meta-cartoon within the cartoon, per Itchy & Scratchy.  I'll leave it to you to decide which interpretation of Windmill and Flower you prefer.

It seems I never got round to embedding Episodes 2 or 3 on the blog, so I'll do that first, and then wrap up the proceedings for today with the debut of Episode 4:

- The Colclough

Friday 30 November 2012

This Is All Sam's Fault

Although I should point out that when I say "Sam's fault", I mean that in the nicest way possible.  Not really a 'fault' in the conventional sense at all, just that it's largely down to Sam.

I'm talking about my increasing interest in Asian (mainly Japanese) cinema.

Admittedly, my first introduction to Asian cinema came from a director I don't remember Sam ever mentioning, namely a pair of films from animator Hayao Miyazaki.  Specifically, these were his feature directorial debut Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979), and his Oscar-winner Spirited Away (2001).  The first was a relatively gentle introduction to far-eastern cinema, albeit a slightly surreal experience, as the film is set in a version of middle Europe filtered through a lens of Japanese cultural perception and storytelling.  The other was only the second film to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature (following debut winner Shrek), after the category's belated inauguration in the 2001/2002 season, and is a much more wholeheartedly Japanese work, drawing heavily on traditional Shinto religious imagery.

But then came Sam.  Over the four years since I first met him, I have not only discovered more of his fascination with the Kaiju genre in particular and Japanese cinema in general, but I've slowly started getting drawn into seeing some of the films for myself.  He gave me a DVD copy of the original Godzilla (1954) as a Christmas present last year, and I bought a copy of the more recent South Korean film The Host (2006) on his recommendation.  And I liked both of them.

Despite the move towards the monsters, however, there remained a very significant gap in my education - I hadn't seen a single film by the man who is perhaps the most famed Japanese director of all, Akira Kurosawa.

Yes, that Kurosawa - as in, the man whose 1958 film The Hidden Fortress is often cited as the primary inspiration for Star Wars.

Back in August I obtained a copy of what may well be his other most famous film, Seven Samurai (1954), once again on Sam's advice.  I must admit that when I finally sat down to watch it last week, I had my reservations, mainly due to the fact that the film (even with some material still thought to be missing) runs to 190 minutes long, and I had found the American remake (The Magnificent Seven, 1960) somewhat unengaging and overlong.  I needn't have worried, though - Seven Samurai proves once again the already-well-established principle that remakes, especially American ones, tend to be something of a disimprovement.  The Japanese original did feel long (unsurprisingly), but remained engaging throughout despite being in fullframe, black-and-white and a foreign language.  Character motivations and actions made a lot more sense in their original context, and the pacing was much snappier.

I won't go into too much detail on the film's history, structure etc (Sam has already done all of that, and I don't see how I could improve on his writeup); I just wanted to post something to say, relatively quickly, that I've now seen it too, and I liked it.  And to say thank you to Sam for the tip!

Now to get hold of Godzilla Raids Again and/or The Hidden Fortress...

- The Colclough

Tuesday 6 November 2012

That Impossible Monday

I've been on YouTube for 5 years plus, and over the course of those years I've sometimes wondered what it would feel like to open my emails one Monday morning and find my inbox swamped with YT notifications after one of my videos somehow managed to go viral over the weekend.

Well, one can dream.  It's never happened.

Until yesterday, it sort of did - except not on YouTube.

My Mondays usually start somewhere around 9am, but I was brought to half an hour early yesterday, as Ben popped in and said something (sorta casual, as you do) about all those votes and comments that one of my recently-published Portal 2 custom maps had been getting.  Well, the last time I checked, my most popular map had achieved something like a dozen views, seven or so people playing it, few enough votes (in either direction) that you could count them on one hand, and around two comments.  It had been about a week since I last logged into Steam - a week, on my Steam account, is usually just about long enough for absolutely nothing to happen - but my still-not-quite-awake brain thought it heard Ben say something about 'nearly 2000 votes'.  I would probably have fallen out of bed, except that I'm in the rather sensible habit of sleeping towards the middle of the mattress, rather than hanging off one side.

8:30 may count as 'a bit too early' on ordinary days, but Ben wasn't joking, so it seemed that this wasn't ordinary days.  I promptly decided that if I really had got literally thousands of people playing one of my maps, then this was clearly worth getting out of bed half an hour early for.  Sure enough, I fired up Steam and found some 57 messages, nearly all of them comments on Cliffs of Insanity, and stats boxes showing it had been one of the 3 or so most popular P2 custom maps for the last several days.  Someone even had a screencapture video on YouTube showing themself solving the map - which I have, needless to say, added to my favourites list.  And somebody else left a comment in Russian.

The numbers kept going up, some of them by the hundreds, over the rest of the day, and were still rising this morning.

And just as I was all fired up in test-chamber-building mode, somebody somewhere in the deeper recesses of Valve went and broke something.  As of first thing this morning, I can load Steam perfectly well, thank you very much, but Portal 2 won't start for love nor money; I get an error every single time saying that "the Steam servers are too busy to handle your request for Portal 2" - which doesn't make a great deal of sense seeing that I had the game already working 24 hours ago.  Quite annoying timing.

I digress.  The main point of all this was to say what had happened, and to comment that it all feels really weird after all those years of obscurity.  Really, really weird.

But not unpleasant.

- The Colclough

Saturday 3 November 2012

Who and Why

So, apparently the massive, greedy, faceless corporate giant that is Disney has bought out the most famous and successful independent filmmaker in the world - and as if that's not enough, they immediately scheduled Episode VII for release in the summer of 2015, just two and a half years from now.  As Sarah said at the beginning of her email (which was how I found out about it all), "Oh, dear..."

We're talking, of course, about the company which seems almost literally unable to handle the idea of not making a sequel to any film which got seen by a paying audience of more than 3 people.  Except Prince Caspian, for some reason.  They've been known to pillage their archives as far back as the 1940s, going so far as to produce Bambi II in 2006 - yes, you read that right, Bambi II - a direct-to-video (and I don't doubt utterly worthless) sequel to the original film which had been around since 1942.  Apparently it holds the record for the longest time gap between a film and its sequel, but the real issue is that Disney felt it had to exist at all.

There seems to be a school of thought out there which holds that Star Wars creator George Lucas himself had become something of a money-grubbing corporate fiend of late, but whether or not that is true, he at least had the decency not to bother making Episode VII.  House of Mouse, of course, saw a cash cow and promptly rushed in with the largest milking bucket they could find.  We don't know who's writing the new film(s), or who will be directing them, but to my nose (and those of many others, it seems) it all smells like a particularly rotten case of lucrative-release-date-first-and-shaky-plot-later.  What really irks is the wording of the news piece, which suggests that Disney aren't just looking to make a new trilogy, but that Ep VII would be "followed by episodes eight and nine and then one new movie every two or three years".  In other words, just keep churning them out, mindlessly and endlessly, for the rest of eternity - somewhat like how Shrek ended up.

All bleak and terrible, then?  Likely, but not definite.  There are, in my opinion, a small handful of directors out there (presently numbering 3, although I can't say I've thought it through too comprehensively) who I can't rule out as unavailable (Joss Whedon is too busy making Avengers 2, for example) whose hiring could turn the Third Trilogy into potentially-not-disastrous news, and whose names I shall present in alphabetic order, along with my thoughts on why they might be able to redeem the new sequel(s) from Mouse's rancid avarice...

  • Brad Bird: has directed 4 feature films to date, and all of them have been critically lauded and/or massively successful.  Basically all were both, except that Warner never bothered to market The Iron Giant properly, so most people have never heard of it and it didn't get the fame or the box-office numbers that it deserved.  The success of Bird's films probably has a lot to do with what another writer has called "his vice-grip on storytelling mechanics" - I can't think of any way to improve on that description.  Bird started in animation but proved with Mission: Impossible IV that he can do live-action as well, and right now I have no idea what Bird is doing with himself, so he might even be available to take on Star Wars VII.
  • Kenneth Branagh: not remotely the obvious choice to direct a superhero movie - Thor could have been a disaster on so many levels - but somehow it all came together and worked out surprisingly well.  I suspect Branagh's famously Shakespearian background could stand him in good stead to handle the philosophical and quasi-religious undertones of the galaxy far, far away.
  • Gore Verbinski: proved with the first Pirates of the Caribbean, and with Rango, that he can make a very good film so long as he has a decent script before (and not after - Dead Man's Chest...) the cameras start to roll.  Main strengths include his visual sensibilities (the Pirates sequels still looked fantastic, even when the plot structure was teetering dangerously) and his wit - imagine the director who crafted Jack Sparrow working with Harrison Ford to portray a much older but still smuggler-ish-at-heart Han Solo, and you should be able to see why I put Verbinski on my list.

Might come up with some more names later, but can't promise.

But for now, of course, we'll all just have to wait and see.

- The Colclough

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Comics That Weren't

Last Saturday, I found myself editing the Yateley Baptist Church notice sheet for the first time in about 16 months.  It was due to restart after its usual summer hiatus, and the editorship had boomeranged back to me due to the spiralling work commitments of the guy who had taken it over last spring.  (Speaking of which: it seems to be a dangerous thing to pray that someone will get a job - sometimes they get rather more job than the prayer meeting bargained for!)

Well, so far, so run-of-the-mill.  But there was a bit of empty space left over, and I toyed with the idea of re-printing one of the 178 existing Grace and Caffeine strips.  I re-read the archives, and failed to pick one that I liked as a re-starting point, so the idea went to the cutting-room floor.  I never considered writing a new one - I've had a few ideas for future episodes in the two years since packing the project in, and slowly accumulated them in various notebooks, and I remain open to the possibility of doing a fifth season at some point, but I'm already working on too many different things at the moment and have no intention of adding Grace and Caffeine Year 5 to that list until a couple of the current items have been cleared off it.  Maybe someday, though.

Then my addled brain got onto the statistics: if I'd carried on with the 48-episodes-per-year thing, I'd have got to 274 before stopping for this summer, and produced #275 over this last weekend.  By that logic, there are almost a hundred G&C strips which could have been by now, but weren't / aren't.

Since G&C has been stopped for so long, its 178-strip 'runtime' was overtaken earlier this year by Brothers in Shells, which interestingly enough began life as an ink-and-paper comic but has now made the transition to a fully-digital production workflow, which I expect G&C would also do if/when I get round to drawing Year 5.  And speaking of Brothers in Shells: that notice sheet wasn't the only thing coming back from a summer hiatus over the last few days.  Tim's strange and wonderful snails-in-space webcomic is also back online as of yesterday, and once again features those pesky Tavuc getting the worst of George Darlan's 'benevolence'.  Which made me happy.

Go and read it.  Now.

- The Colclough

Monday 3 September 2012

Daleks and Happiness

Yes: Daleks and happiness.

Not, I will admit, a combination that happens often. But on Saturday night, it did.

I liked Asylum of the Daleks.  I haven't got round to my habitual re-watching on iPlayer with the subtitles on, but my impression (quite a distinct impression, at that) after the initial screening of the Season 33 / New Series 7 opener was a positive one.

As might have been hinted in previous posts on this blog, I was less than ecstatic with the way Doctor Who Season 32 / New Series 6 turned out.  As time has moved on, and the first two Matt Smith seasons have become more and more a matter of hindsight, my liking for 31/5 has remained undiminished, but my dissatisfaction with 32/6 has become increasingly definite.  Not to say it was without its moments - I thought The Doctor's Wife was mostly very good, and The Girl Who Waited was excellent (pleased to hear rumours that Tom MacRae has written another script, for the second half of 33/7) - but the season had some pretty naff episodes, and on the whole, I thought it was badly structured.

And then, there was the massive wait for the new season.  All those months without Who.

But it was worth the wait.  I think the fundamental problem with Moffat's episodes for 32/6 was that he was so busy trying to string together his massive River-centric arc that he forgot to make sure each individual story was satisfying in its own right.  Some of them, in my opinion, definitely weren't, with the main culprits being A Good Man Goes to War and The Wedding of River Song.  I was therefore relieved when he announced a few months back that 33/7 would be a lot less arc- and cliffhanger-driven, with each episode being more of a standalone adventure - and that's exactly what Asylum of the Daleks turned out to be.  Yes, it sets up some big questions for the rest of the season, but the story hangs together in and of itself, and I came away feeling that I had seen a proper, complete story, rather than only the first bit of something.  It manages to be as intriguing as last year's opener The Impossible Astronaut, but without also being as frustrating.

Mixed feelings on the revised title sequence, but that's a minor thing.  The point is that the episode itself works.  I would rank it as Moffat's best script for the show since 31/5 finale The Pandorica Opens / The Big Bang, and - possibly - the best of the eight DW season opener episodes I've seen.

In my opinion, RTD was at his best during his first season, and at his worst during his second, with the third and fourth recovering somewhat.  Moffat's first two seasons followed the same pattern, and if Asylum is anything to go by, then it looks like he might be following the third-season-recovery pattern too.

Which is why, for me at least, Daleks and happiness have coincided.

- The Colclough

Thursday 16 August 2012

Delayed Writeup

Somewhere in mid-sermon last Sunday morning, Ray brought up an analogy (I can't remember who he said he was quoting), which was something to this effect:
You could stay indoors your whole life, studying the sun as a theoretical object in enormous detail, and you could even write the definitive work on the subject.  But imagine what a book you could write once you'd actually gone outside one day and felt the sun's heat for yourself!

I happened to be sitting next to a window, with some bright patches of sunlight across my left arm.

For some of us (a lot of us, even?) in the West, faith is much like the study of the sun from indoors.  And before anybody else thinks I'm pointing the finger at them, I should point out that I'm only writing this to point it at myself.  It took more than 24 hours for the realisation to sink in, but it struck home on Monday evening: I could write a magnificent book on the sun, metaphorically speaking, but I suspect it'd be somewhat on the cold side.  Which is not a good feeling.

For me, it seems, spiritual sunburn is still very much in the offing.

- The Colclough

Thursday 19 July 2012

Apologies for the Delays...

Hello all.

I'd like to apologise for recent patchiness in the updating of and  The hosting site, Webs, seems to have been going downhill lately, and over the last few days it's refused to even let me log in half the time, which has (obviously) been getting on my nerves, and is why last Sunday's sermons still aren't up, and C&M hasn't updated this morning.  Will try again in the evening when I'm back from work.

I've been thinking about moving to a different host and generally restructuring my websites a bit under a custom domain name.  More news on that when I've made my mind up.

In other, largely unrelated news: I've been busy.  Much cartooning, some painting, and so on.  Definitely got things to show you; I'm just that busy making stuff that I haven't got round to uploading any of it 8p

- The Colclough

Saturday 16 June 2012

All Quiet at the Front End of the Camera

It's been a mere (yeah, right) three and a half months since I recorded the dialogue for the first two episodes of Papercuts, way back on the first of March.  I've had several patches since then when I felt as if there was far too much work involved in the project and it was all taking far too long and I wanted to just pack it all in and cancel the show.

However, after 48 hours of focussed work on the project (it's amazing what you can achieve in 48 hours of focussed work sometimes), I've fnally finished Episode 1, and very nearly finished Episode 2... and then jumped straight back in and started recording dialogue for Production Block B (i.e. Episodes 3 and 4).

A large part of Thursday was spent filming the last bits of Production Block A: specifically, Ep 2 Scene 10, then the last snippets of the title sequence with the ink barely dried on the background I was using, and last but not least Ep 2 Scene 11.  Rounded off the day with a bit of editing.

Yesterday was all about the noise.  Depending what time of day you dropped in, you would have seen me scuttling in and out of my room clutching various ill-gotten gains including the old clock of the mantelpiece, the cutlery drawer, a plastic bucket full of dirt, a full watering can, and a trowel... not to mention the various strange sounds I ended up making a capella.  I also pestered Tim into writing a snippet of incidental music for Episode 1, so that I could complete and publish the episode.  Which, about an hour after I should have been in bed, is just what I did.

Here's what all the fuss has been about - or at least, the first instalment of it:

Episode 2 is complete apart from one track of incidental music, which I'm hoping Tim might be able to sort out while I'm in Kent over the next week, and the general plan is to publish the second instalment about two weeks after the first one, followed by the third as soon as it's ready.  Beyond that, I don't really know yet.  If the scripts for episodes 5, 6 and maybe 7 are ready to go by the time I finish making 4, then I might go straight into Production Block C.  Otherwise, I might look at re-starting Arbitrary Stopframe.  But don't take any of that as final - the only definite decision I've made so far is to stick with Papercuts until at least Episode 4 is finished.

I'm really hoping the second pair of episodes won't take as long as the first did.  I do have a bit of a head start this time in terms of major sets already existing, and things like that.  Watch this space.

In unrelated news, I've been meaning to do a post about how I might have handled certain challenges from The Apprentice Series 8, but that'll have to wait for at least another week, if it happens at all.  And I'm sure I've got some drawings and paintings that I haven't shown you.  Must try and remember to do that before too long...

- The Colclough

Monday 14 May 2012

Chips for the Eyeballs

As in microchips.  But before I get on to that...

I've lost.  Again.  But at least this time it was only a loss by one post, not by 8 or 9 or something ridiculous.  Congratulations, Tim - and happy birthday for tomorrow!

Anyway, I'd decided to save the most interesting one for last - Question 6: If you could add one piece of tech to your body, what would it be?

So many choices!  Rocket boosters in the heels?  Super-strength grip equipment threaded through the arms?  Coffee dispenser attached to the side of the head?

No.  The details are a bit hazy at this point (I'm hoping to clarify them for myself as I write my way through this post), but I'm pretty clear on the general area of interest: optics.  It'd have to be something to do with visual perception.

I'm sure I'm not the only person who's ever looked at a scene and wished there was an easy way of retaining the current retinal image for subsequent review and dissemination, without needing to pull out, calibrate and activate an external camera.  In short, some way of hitting 'save' on whatever you're seeing at a given moment.  A device attached to the optic nerve to read and transmit its signals, with a remote gadget which can 1) activate the save function, and 2) serve as storage for the image(s) - preferably with advanced biometrics built into the controls, to stop anybody else being able to hack it and use it to snoop on my retina.  That's one of the most appealing options.

A variant on the theme, however, would be a device which did much the same thing (generated a computer-readable image out of my nervous system), but working in reverse, i.e. extracting images coming out of my brain instead of ones heading into it.  I suppose I could summarise what I'm thinking of as a GIMP / Photoshop variant built into, or at least controlled by, the visual part of my imagination, again with an external USB-compatible storage device.  Something that would enable me to author whatever image I want just by thinking about it.

Another variant which occurred to me would be to have the brain-controlled thingy, but attached to a live projected output as well as / instead of the storage device.  But then again, I'm not sure if that'd be much of an advantage relative to having the storage version and then plugging the storage unit into a computer with a projector attached to it.

Perhaps I could compromise and have a device which allows you to record from your optic nerve and/or use thought control to generate images, with a remote USB gadget which can either store the images for later, or feed them directly into your computer with its specially-adapted version of the GIMP.  Is that too much power to fit within the remit of "one piece of tech"?  If not, then that's my answer.  If it's too much, then I think I'd settle for the one that lets you record from the optic nerve.

So there you go.

You all thought I'd go for the cigarette lighter built into my thumb, didn't you?  Well, gotcha.

The final stats:
  • Last 10 for 17 status: 10 down, nil to go.  Second place.
  • Latest book read: still The Kink and I
  • Latest film/TV watched: Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
  • Latest music listened to: I can't remember
  • Latest edible item eaten: cream cake
  • Programs and web pages currently running: Microsoft Office Outlook, Firefox (tabs: Tim's games post from last week; Blogger Dashboard; Blogspot Create Post)
  • Webcomics posted today: Cylinder and Miserable Episode 1479

- The Colclough

Friday 11 May 2012

The Penultimate Question

One of the downsides to writing our questions for this challenge without knowing what questions would be coming the other way, is that one or two of the questions overlap a bit.  This is a case in point - Question 3: What's your favourite online game? - since Tim has already answered a question about which computer game he considers to be the best.

Well, in the version of the question which I have to answer, the field is narrowed somewhat, as it specifies an online game rather than the more general 'computer game'.  And since I don't play that many online games, this query could prove a tricky one to answer.

I like Portal.  So it would seem logical to say my favourite online game is Portal: The Flash Version, which is very very similar except in 2D instead of 3D.  Only problem with that is, it isn't my favourite.  It has problems.  Or at least, I have problems with it.  The main issue I have with that game is the difficulty curve - out of its 40 levels, I can walk through the first 30 with no trouble at all.  The next five are a bit more of a challenge, but nothing insurmountable.  Even the one which is labelled "may cause frustration!" isn't as hard as it looks, once you've assessed it and figured out the portalling sequence.  But then comes Level 36 - and as far as I'm concerned that's where it all goes to pieces.  I've attempted that level numerous times, and never passed it.  This coming from someone who's beaten the final boss levels in both of the official Portal games multiple times each.  The near-impossibility of getting through the last five levels leaves me deeply reluctant to cite this game as a favourite.

I've dabbled with a few other online games, but to be honest, most of them don't manage to hold my attention beyond a handful of levels.  A lot of them seem to fall into an awkward middle ground, where their basic logic is more complex than that of, say, Minesweeper, but without feeling as intellectual and without reaching a degree of complexity where it actually feels like a properly complicated game - if that makes any sense?

I've dabbled very briefly with some of the ones Tim mentioned in his post earlier this week, and one of them might emerge as a new favourite, but I haven't played any of them enough to make that sort of call yet.

So in short, at least for the time being, the answer is that I don't have a favourite online game.

Sorry to be so disingenuous.

Stats, for the next-to-last time:
  • Last 10 for 17 status: 9 down, just 1 more to go
  • Latest book read: still The Kink and I
  • Latest film/TV watched: The Apprentice series 8 episode 8
  • Latest music listened to: Requiem by Karl Jenkins, unless you count whatever was on Radio 2 earlier today
  • Latest edible item eaten: chicken nuggets
  • Programs and web pages currently running: Microsoft Office Outlook, Firefox (tabs: MatNav 6.1; Blogspot Create Post)
  • Webcomics posted today: Cylinder and Miserable Episode 1477, Fort Paradox Episode 112

- The Colclough

Thursday 10 May 2012

Speaking of Genres

May as well get the two questions about bad film and telly out of the way at the same time - Question 5: What is the naffest film genre?

To my mind, there are two principal contestants here.  But I'll come on to that in a minute.  For starters, I'd like to explain why I'm not choosing some of the ones I'm not choosing.

Unlike the other question, we're now dealing with whole genres in broad strokes, and some of them simply contain too many cool films to count as collectively naff.  Science fiction, for example, would include Logan's Run (which was a pile of incoherent drivel), the two Matrix sequels (which were sloppily written, and unnecessarily confusing even by the brain-warping standards of their parent film), and Star Trek movies I, V, X and XI; but on the other hand, it includes Star Wars, Star Trek II and IV, Jurassic Park, and the original Matrix, which means that the genre, considered collectively, is still very cool.

There are various other genres which have their fair share of creakingly awful movies, but a compensatory (sometimes more-than-compensatory) collection of really good ones:
  • the Action genre - cursed with all sorts of brainless dreck (I had so much fun reading the scathing reviews of Abduction earlier this year), but redeemed by a healthy enough clutch of other films.
  • the Comedy genre - there are several people out there who seem to think that 'comedy' consists of being crude and unpleasant, and the net result is (to me at least) very offputting.  But then there are other films which really are funny, from The Princess Bride to Galaxy Quest.
  • the Drama genre - some examples are really slow and boring, and To Kill a Mockingbird was dragged down by, of all things, the fact that its three child actors had quite literally the most infuriating accents I've ever heard coming out of the mouths of human beings.  But then you get the likes of 12 Angry Men - most of the film is about 12 men bickering in an office-ish room, but they're the jury on a murder trial and the whole thing is much more engaging than you might expect.
  • the Superhero genre - cursed with Superman III, Batman & Robin, X-Men: The Last Stand, and  Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer; but redeemed by the likes of Nolan's Batman, X-Men 2, Thor and The Avengers.
Animation is not a genre.  Brad Bird (arguably one of the greatest animation directors of all time, what with having made The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille) has threatened dire consequences on anybody who says otherwise, and I really don't want to get dire consequenced by an angry version of Brad Bird.  But even if I was rash enough to risk Bird's wrath by calling animation a genre, I'd never dream of calling it "the naffest genre" - after all, it's got Brad Bird's work to bouy it up.

To me, the two naffest film genres are Horror, and Romance.
  • Horror, because I don't like watching people get stalked / dismembered / bled copiously / all that other gruesome stuff tht horror films trade on.  I don't see the point in going to see a film just to get scared, and my mean streak, although existent, is nowhere near wide enough for me to want to see a film which is primarily about people suffering.  Therefore, Horror is a bad genre.
  • Many films have a romantic subplot, but it's usually the most pointless and annoying aspect of the movie, and I can't think of many (if any at all) which were solely or principally about the wuv, which weren't atrocious.  I mentioned The Princess Bride above - yes, it's a fairy-tale love story, but it's equally a comedy, and the 50/50 blend works.  What doesn't work is a movie which is entirely about how s/he's so very cute, and... um, yeah, s/he's really cute.  That's not why cinema was invented.  Cinema was invented primarily for dramatic spectacle, and if soapy wuv stories have to exist at all, then they should be confined to the small screen.  Therefore, Romance is a bad genre.
Paradoxically, I'm told that certain films (e.g. Shaun of the Dead) have combined these two bad genres, infused with a sizeable dash of irony, and managed to turn up something good.  But I haven't seen one of those, so I can't comment.

I'm honestly not sure that I could say which of those two is actually naffer, but given a choice I'd take the wuv story over the splatter flick, mainly because it'd be less likely to induce grisly nightmares.  So if you insist on me distilling this down to a one-word answer, then Horror.

  • Last 10 for 17 status: 8 down, 2 to go
  • Latest book read: still The Kink and I
  • Latest film/TV watched: The Apprentice series 8 episode 8
  • Latest music listened to: Requiem by Karl Jenkins, currently on speakers
  • Latest edible item eaten: jambolaya
  • Programs and web pages currently running: Microsoft Office Outlook and Word 2007, Firefox (tabs: MatNav 6.1, twice; Blogspot Dashboard; Blogspot Create Post), Windows Media Player 11, Windows File Browser
  • Webcomics posted today: Cylinder and Miserable Episode 1476

- The Colclough

The Baddest of the Box

I've still got two questions about bad film and telly, so I ought to get at least one of those out of the way, not to mention that Tim's just answered a question about telly and I may as well follow suit.  Which means it's back to the beginning, with Question 1: What is the most ghastly mainstream TV show of modern times?

97% of my soul wants to say The X Factor.  You might have gathered from my previous posts that I'm no fan of pop in general, so any show that actively promotes it has got to be a bad thing.  In particular, a massive show that drags umpteen million people into its audience and persuades a lot of them to part with a heap of cash to make phone votes on an 0900 number is a very bad thing indeed.

Plus, of course, it's one of the ghastly brainchildren of Simon Cowell, who is (not committed, just is) a crime against humanity.

But I'll admit that that's just a kneejerk reaction.  I'm just throwing that answer out there without thinking about it much, and I suppose I should really do some brainjuicing and make sure I didn't miss something even worse.

I'm sure that if I were to spend any length of time watching CBBC or (shudder) Ceebeebies, I'd come across all sorts of brain-numbing drivel vomited forth in the name of keeping the little ones entertained.  Keeping them braindead, more like.  I've had the misfortune, while passing through the living room, to catch snippets of several recent children's shows which have left me with no desire at all to see any more of the shows in question.  However, I suspect the 'mainstream' aspect of the question might disallow kiddie programming.

If you were to slightly rephrase the question and deal with entire genres of shows, then it'd be easier - and, rather curiously, it would eliminate the show which stands as my kneejerk choice for worst show ever.  If you assess reality / talent shows as a whole, then granted you have the ilk of The X Factor and Big Brother, but you've also got things like The Apprentice, which while not perfect has nevertheless been keeping me amused over the last few weeks.  I think I'd have to say the most irredeemable mainstream TV genre is probably the soap opera, as Tim already pointed out earlier this afternoon.  There may be the occasional decent reality show, but there are definitely no good soap operas.

However, the question wasn't about genres, it was about a specific show.  And, while the soaps collectively are a vile and repulsive waste of broadcast bandwidth, no one of them taken individually is quite foul enough to knock Cowell's pop 'talent' hunt off of the top spot, in my opinion.

I'll probably think of a better answer to this question either five seconds after hitting the 'publish' button, or else at nearly two o'clock tomorrow morning.  But for now, I'm going to stick with my gut feeling and go with the answer that 97% of my soul wants to give: the ghastliest mainstream TV show of modern times is, after all, The X Factor.

  • Last 10 for 17 status: 7 down, 3 to go
  • Latest book read: still The Kink and I
  • Latest film/TV watched: The Apprentice series 8 episode 8
  • Latest music listened to: Diamond Music by Karl Jenkins, currently on speakers
  • Latest edible item eaten: jam tarts
  • Programs and web pages currently running: Microsoft Office Outlook 2007, Firefox (tabs: Blogspot Dashboard; Blogspot Create Post; MatNav 6.1), Windows Media Player 11
  • Webcomics posted today: Cylinder and Miserable Episode 1476

- The Colclough

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Battle of the Battle-Proof Thingies

Okay... I'm half-way through Tim's "Last 10 for 17" challenge, so I think it's time to repeat the question list and colour-code the ones I've already answered and the ones I haven't:
  1. What is the most ghastly mainstream TV show of modern times?
  2. Cheese or democracy: which would you go without for five years?
  3. What's your favourite online game?
  4. If a=9, b=30 and c=25, what does x equal?
  5. What is the naffest film genre?
  6. If you could add one piece of tech to your body, what would it be?
  7. What's the worst pop song you've ever heard?
  8. If, overnight, you could be bestowed with grade 8-level ability on any musical instrument you liked, what would it be?
  9. If you had to join the armed forces, what department would you choose to serve in?
  10. Who would win if the Galactic Empire fought the Borg, the Daleks fought the New Arpathian Principality, and then the winners went on to fight each other?
Meanwhile, Tim was (at last check) half-way through his questions as well, so I'll repeat those with the same colour scheme:
  1. Let's cut through the myths and rumours: what's actually your favourite food?
  2. What's the best computer game ever, and why?
  3. If you could take over one TV show and fix its problems, which one would you pick?
  4. Various things are supposed to end this year, including (some say) life on planet Earth - which ending are you most looking forward to?
  5. If you were to leave Wales, where would you go instead?
  6. What's your favourite cartoon?
  7. Who is/was the greatest composer of all time, in your opinion?
  8. Hamsters or Goldfish?
  9. If I had a child (yes, I know... just pretend, ok?), what name would you LEAST want me to give it, and why?
  10. Which character or story, out of all the ones that you've written, are you most pleased with, and why?
 So far, the contest has involved Tim gaining a 1-answer lead, and then me equalising - five times in a row.  Let's see if I can get my sixth out before he manages his!

Since I just answered Question 8, and then Question 9, it seems logical that my next step should be to deal with Question 10: Who would win if the Galactic Empire fought the Borg, the Daleks fought the New Arpathian Principality, and then the winners went on to fight each other?

To clarify what the question is about for the benefit of those suffering from sci-fi ignorance (or at least suffering from incomplete initiation), and to set the scene for the ensuing tiff:
  • the Galactic Empire are the baddies in Star Wars, powerful enough to rule an entire galaxy all but unopposed for decades.  Mostly runs on clone troopers, with assorted AT-AT walkers, speeder bikes, and other nifty battle tech.  Oh yes, and they have Darth Vader as their conveniently angry, asthmatic, lightsabre-wielding figurehead, and a Death Star, just in case they ever feel like wiping out the odd planet here and there.
  • the Borg are those cyborg types out of Star Trek who are virtually impossible to defeat because as soon as you use a weapon on one of their drones, the rest of the collective learn from the 'mistake' and instantaneously adapt their armour to become impenetrable to the weapon in question.  Also fond of assimilating people, which basically seems to be a fancy-pants way of nicking their soldiers and technology.
  • the Daleks are those ones out of Doctor Who which look slightly like oversized pepper grinders with a bad attitude and a deadly toilet plunger thing on the front.  But you wouldn't say that to a Dalek, because they're much more dangerous and deadly than their appearance (especially the New Paradigm's appearance) might suggest.
  • The New Arpathian Principality, which I suspect most of you didn't know about until now, are the primary villains in the latest phase of the history of Universe XGT, equipped with a massive superiority complex (like the other three groups mentioned here, I guess), and more importantly a vastly advanced system of medical/regenerative technology which makes them very nearly immortal.
I think I can, at least, make a pretty confident statement as to who would be in the final.  Allow me to explain...

Semi-Final One: the Galactic Empire vs the Borg.  First off, I'd like to point out that I'm much more into Star Wars than I am into Star Trek, and part of me wants to leap to conclusions and say the Galactic Empire would win.  However, that would ignore the vitally important fact that the Borg can assimilate stuff and develop immunities with frightening rapidity.  No matter how good your clone troopers and their blaster rifles, you still only get one shot before the Trekkie cyborgs adapt and render them useless.  And it's no use saying "Aha!  But the Empire have a Death Star!", because the same principle applies on spacecraft level - the Death Star might get to take down one cube, but next thing you know all the other cubes have adapted, become immune, and then figured out how to return fire in kind, reducing Tarkin's magnificent battle station to a fireworks show in a few seconds flat.  Again.  The Borg win.

Semi-Final Two: the Daleks vs the Arpathians.  I think this would be a similar story - sure the Daleks could kill some Arpathians, but the Arpathians in question would then be revived.  It would be a war of attrition for the most part, but the nature of the Arpathians' "Revival Matrix" would mean that Arpathian casualties were only temporary, while any Dalek losses would be a tad more permenant, so the angry pepper mills would lose in the end.  The Principality wins.

And finally, the Final!  (My goodness, what a rotten pun I just did.)  The Borg face off against the Arpathians - and as far as I can see, this is the point where it all starts getting a bit less obvious.  The assimilators face the immortals.  I'm going to have to think through this slowly, one step at a time.  Borg kills Arpathian - Matrix activates and Arpathian revives.  Arpathian kills Borg - Collective adapts and becomes immune to Arpathian weapon.  Borg attempts assimilation - Matrix registers this as a death, and reverts the Arpathian to their original state, cancelling assimilation.  Um... to be honest, as far as I can see, those are the only three moves worth trying, and they're all useless, so it might be a stand-off.

Net result (unless I missed something important?): the whole quad-continuity war ends with a bunch of Borg and a bunch of Arpathians glaring at each other across a room/field/whatever, absolutely unable to do anything about each other's continued existence, and getting annoyed.

So maybe it's just down to who walks away first from sheer frustration?

  • Last 10 for 17 status: 6 down, 4 to go - I'm ahead for the first time in the whole race!
  • Latest book read: still The Kink and I
  • Latest film/TV watched: still Logan's Run, but I plan to change that soon
  • Latest music listened to: Adiemus I: Songs of Sanctuary by Karl Jenkins, currenlty on speakers
  • Latest edible item eaten: Pineapple and Coconut Sponge Pudding
  • Programs and web pages currently running: Microsoft Office Outlook 2007, Firefox (tabs: Blogspot Dashboard; Blogspot Create Post; MatNav 6.1), Windows Media Player 11
  • Webcomics posted today: Cylinder and Miserable Episode 1475

- The Colclough

Jobs with Explodey Stuff

This is one of the harder ones, but once I've done it I'll be at the half-way point of this little challenge - Question 9: If you had to join the armed forces, what department would you choose to serve in?

Up front: none of them appeal.  I really don't think the life military would suit me.

However, the question does make it pretty clear that this isn't about volunteering; it's about conscription.

Am I allowed to pick the propaganda department?  I'm not that great at moving fast (except for the odd very short sprint), especially not at moving fast with any precision, and would be unlikely to be of much use in the heat of battle; meanwhile although it may not be the sort of thing one goes around admitting to most of the time, I suspect I might not be that bad at manipulating the truth into propaganda, so if I could get away with making motivational posters and doctoring the headlines for morale-boosting purposes, I would probably be able to make myself much more useful than would be possible if I was out on the front line making "do I shoot that thing right now or don't I" decisions on the spur of the moment.

That would be my first choice.  But since this post is still on the short side, let's assume I can't do propaganda and I actually have to be out on the front doing something a bit more directly battle-ish.


I think I'd have to write off the navy straight away, not for any emotional reasons, more because I've never really tested myself for seaworthiness, but there are some bad cases of seasick-prone-ness in the family, and it's as likely as not that I've inherited some of that.  I wouldn't write off the RAF quite so instantaneously, but I suspect the RAF would write me off without a moment's hesitation, as my driving is (I admit it) somewhat bumpy, occasionally aggressive, and with a whole third dimension to go wrong in, chances are my piloting would be absolutely abysmal.  Not to mention that when you're scooting around the stratosphere at 1000 mph in some super-jet, you have to make critical decisions blisteringly fast, which I think I already mentioned I'm not good at doing.  Too prone to panic under pressure... as you'd already know if you've ever been in the car with me driving on the motorway...

Which kinda leaves the infantry, and heck knows I don't like the sound of that.  However, I've already brought up the topic of driving - since the army are supposed to be tough as nails, that should mean they can withstand my dodgy motoring, so maybe I should join the logistics corps and punish a truck.

For lack of a better answer, that's where I'll leave it for now: I think I'd be a driver and beat the tar out of an army truck.

  • Last 10 for 17 status: 5 down, 5 to go.  Half-way there, but once again I'm re-equalising with Tim.  Haven't managed to be ahead yet!
  • Latest book read: still The Kink and I
  • Latest film/TV watched: still Logan's Run
  • Latest music listened to: some ghastly mess I overheard on Radio 2 at the shop
  • Latest edible item eaten: Pineapple and Coconut Sponge Pudding
  • Programs and web pages currently running: Microsoft Office Outlook 2007, Firefox (tabs: Blogspot Dashboard; Blogspot Create Post; MatNav 6.1)
  • Webcomics posted today: Cylinder and Miserable Episode 1475

- The Colclough

Tuesday 8 May 2012

Those Tunes I Don't Know

Time to tackle Question 8: If, overnight, you could be bestowed with grade 8-level ability on any musical instrument you liked, what would it be?

As background factoids for those who don't already know, I studied the piano up to grade 4 (along with music theory up to grade 5), but gave it up when I started sixth form.  I never really looked back - much.  I decided that I'd prefer to invest my efforts into forms of expression which stay when you've finished them, e.g. drawing, painting, animating, writing.  The trouble I had with music was that I'd play the piece right once, but then when I tried to repeat it five minutes later it'd all go hideously wrong.  That got extremely annoying.  The hard-earned performance goodness never stuck around for long.

But what if, as Question 8 suggests, I could cheat the system and instantaneously gain grade 8 skillage on any instrument of my choice?  Which one would I pick?

Well, obviously it would make sense at face value to say the piano, since I already went there once.  That would lay to rest those occasional minor moments of regret which I just claimed not to have.  I do have one once in a very long time, but only once in a very long time.  And there remains the fact that I still regard the piano (and certain relatives) as the most logical of all musical instruments, in the sense that each key makes one note, and each note has one key.  That, and you don't have to breathe any specific way, which is the main reason I'd be unlikely to pick a woodwind or a brass instrument.

However, the piano does have certain drawbacks, the most obvious being its size.  The piano is hardly the most portable thing ever invented, and I suspect that if I could play an instrument at grade 8 level, then I might want to carry it around with me sometimes.  To Root Hill, maybe (yes, sheepbaa, I'm looking at that flute).  I know ThePianoGuys have managed to get their instruments into all sorts of obscure and inaccessible landscapes, but most people can't afford that sort of logistical undertaking for their Broadwood Grand, can they?  There is also the small issue of having something like 200 strings to worry about at tuning time.

So if it wasn't going to be a piano... hmm.  *strokes beard*

I've thought occasionally that I might like to play the harp or the marimba.  But those thoughts never got thought out much, just idly toyed with.  And they still have size and weight issues.  If I was going to pick a wind instrument, it'd be a woodwind - I like the sound of woodwinds better than brass, generally speaking, and at an uneducated guess, I'd say probably not as heavy.  This is probably where Tim tells me they're actually heavier...

But all that aside, I suspect I mind wind up in the string section.  The violin has the attraction that you can use its case, in conjunction with a big coat and the right kind of hat, to pretend you're in the mafia and you're going to kill people in seedy bars (yes, I admit it, my mind is mildly warped... not that I'd really kill people in seedy bars, you understand).  Or I might just pick the cello, purely and simply for the fact that Tim's spent several years slaving over that instrument and I wouldn't have to.  Mwahaha.

Although there are certain rules to which Tim and I subscribe, and which have a certain intricate connection to the fundamental fabric of the universe, which means that me cheating my way to grade 8 on the cello might be a slightly ill-advised thing to do...

So for now, I think I'll stick with the piano.

  • Last 10 for 17 status: 4 down, 6 to go.  Nearly half-way.
  • Latest book read: still The Kink and I
  • Latest film/TV watched: still Logan's Run
  • Latest music listened to: Somewhere Over the Rainbow cover by ThePianoGuys
  • Latest edible item eaten: Biscuit
  • Programs and web pages currently running: Microsoft Office Outlook 2007, Firefox (tabs: Blogspot Create Post; YouTube)
  • Webcomics posted today: Cylinder and Miserable Episode 1474

- The Colclough

Cheese or Democracy

This is probably one of the oddest questions I've ever been asked, so I should have fun writing up my answer.  Question 2: Cheese or democracy - which would you go without for five years?

Of course, the good responsible citizen's answer would have to be "go without cheese".  To say that you value your toasted cheddar sandwiches above your political freedom would be to disregard the sacrifices of those who... um... sacrificed stuff, to earn the vote for the rest of us, and so on and so forth, blah blah blah.

But that sort of logic (while sound and patriotic) doesn't make for a very entertaining blog post, does it?

There's a case to be made for saying I can actually choose to keep the cheese, and it goes something like this: in between elections, we seem to have relatively little sway over our government.  We can jump up and down and complain that something's a terrible idea, and they just push it through anyway.  T. Blair was pretty good at that, as you may remember.  So with the current fixed-term parliament, you could argue that we're more or less going without democracy for five years anyway.

Besides, cheese is integral to lots of other things.  You can't have a Staffordshire cheese and bacon oatcake without cheese, because otherwise it'd just be a Staffordshire bacon oatcake - which is still good, but not as good as the version with cheddar in it, in much the same way that a sponge cake is good but a sponge cake with jam in is better.  You can't have Wallace & Gromit without cheese, because Wallace's love of cheese (and his consequent propensity to make rash decisions for cheese-based motives every so often) is one of his most important character traits - after all, their first adventure was all about going to the moon to get some cheese because the moon's made of cheese, wasn't it?  And that leads me onto another important point: the moon is (at least allegedly) made of cheese, and therefore to go without cheese for five years would mean spending those five years without moonlight, and without any tides, which in turn would wreak havoc on the marine ecosystem (how can a turtle come to lay its eggs on the spring tide, if there aren't any spring tides?), and thereby possibly set up a domino effect leading to the collapse of all life on earth.

Therefore, on balance, I think I might actually say "go without democracy".  Even if I only do it for the sake of the turtles.

I'm deeply curious as to how Tim will vote on this one!

  • Last 10 for 17 status: 3 down, 7 to go.
  • Latest book read: still The Kink and I
  • Latest film/TV watched: still Logan's Run
  • Latest music listened to: still that thing by Yanni, I think
  • Latest edible item eaten: Chilli con carne
  • Programs and web pages currently running: Microsoft Office Outlook 2007, Firefox (tabs: Blogspot Dashboard; Blogspot Create Post; MatNav 6.1)
  • Webcomics posted today: Cylinder and Miserable Episode 1474

- The Colclough

Monday 7 May 2012

Implausible Extrapolation?

No, I'm not about to go off on a rant about the flawed logic involved in deriving a macroevolutionary hypothesis from the observable processes of microevolution.  I'm going to answer Tim's obscure mathematical query, Question 4: If a=9, b=30 and c=25, what does x equal?

Part of me just wants to say 42.

But despite the inherent sci-fi coolness of that answer, it might be cheating.

Also, I have a cleverer theory, and it goes something like this:
  • For any given string of numbers, however random, you should be able to construct a triangle of differences.
  • First off, the numbers themselves are 9, 30 and 25.
  • Therefore, the differences between consecutive numbers in the sequence are 21 and -5.
  • Therefore, the difference between the differences is -26.
  • So we now have a triangle, like so:
9          30          25
21          -5
  • If each row is extrapolated towards the right, assuming the difference between the differences is a constant -26, we get something like this:
9          30          25         -6         -63         -146 ...
21          -5          -31          -57          -83 ...
-26          -26          -26          -26 ...
  • Assuming a to be the first number, b to be the second and c to be the third, it seems logical to say that x must be the 24th, since it is the 24th letter of the alphabet.
  • x, i.e. the 24th value in a sequence which begins with 9 and has a difference between differences of -26
  • And if this line of logic is followed far enough, you can determine the value of the nth number in the sequence, for any n.
  • I think the formula works out as...
  • *insert a longish pause while I try and fail to boil all those numbers down to a simple equation*
  • Well, what I've got so far is " n(x) = ( n(2) - n(1) ) + ", which isn't even a complete equation, and I'm pretty sure it would still be wrong even if I'd bothered to finish it.
  • Stuff this for a lark; I'm going to fire up Excel and get it to calculate x for me!
  • My helpful spreadsheet program tells me that the 24th number in this sequence, i.e. x, is -6086.
  • x must therefore be -6086.  Because Microsoft Excel 2007 says so.
  • Tada!

Okay, that was arcane.

Perhaps I should have settled for '42'?

Compulsory Stats:
  • Last 10 for 17 status: neck and neck, each with 2 down, 8 to go.
  • Latest book read: still The Kink and I
  • Latest film/TV watched: Logan's Run - absolutely dreadful film; don't bother watching it!
  • Latest music listened to: something by Yanni
  • Latest edible item eaten: Smarties, and cinnamon hot chocolate
  • Programs and web pages currently running: Microsoft Office Outlook, Word and Excel 2007, Firefox (tabs: Blogspot Dashboard; Blogspot Create Post; MatNav 6.1)
  • Webcomics posted today: Cylinder and Miserable Episode 1473

- The Colclough

Gah! Trailing Already...

Tim has challenged me to a little blog race.  I won't bother repeating the intro, I'll just link you to his post.  We've only just started, and as of right now I'm already one post behind.

As per the Twenty Questions challenge I had against Hannah last summer, it's a "here-are-questions-now-answer-them"-type race.  The 10 questions which I need to answer over the next week are:
  1. What is the most ghastly mainstream TV show of modern times?
  2. Cheese or democracy: which would you go without for five years?
  3. What's your favourite online game?
  4. If a=9, b=30 and c=25, what does x equal?
  5. What is the naffest film genre?
  6. If you could add one piece of tech to your body, what would it be?
  7. What's the worst pop song you've ever heard?
  8. If, overnight, you could be bestowed with grade 8-level ability on any musical instrument you liked, what would it be?
  9. If you had to join the armed forces, what department would you choose to serve in?
  10. Who would win if the Galactic Empire fought the Borg, the Daleks fought the New Arpathian Principality, and then the winners went on to fight each other?

As per last time, some of these are going to be easier than others.  And just because it's the easiest one to answer, I'm going to start with Question 7, What's the worst pop song you've ever heard?

That's very easy.  Thanks to Radio 2, I now have a shortlist of most hated pop songs.  Most of them are ones the Radio 2 types have been playing ad nauseam over the last few weeks, and I hate them partly because of the horrific repetition, and partly because they're excruciatingly depressing.  Nearly every pop song I've heard seems to be about a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, and more specifically most of them seem to be about a relationship gone sour.  What a complete, pathetic lack of imagination.  Can't you think of anything else to sing about?  Why can't you sing about, say, science and cake?

I won't give you links to any of the songs.  The whole point of this post is that I hate them all and never want to hear them again, so it would be gratuitously cruel to give you a link and make it easier for you to suffer.

Anyway, the current shortlist is as follows, in reverse order:

  • Somewhere around #6 or #7: We Take Care of Our Own by Bruce Springsteen.  Not too relationship-y, just hated for being really miserable.
  • Tied with the above entry: American Pie by Don McLean.  Hated for being overly long, overly cryptic, pretty darn miserable and perhaps (if I heard the lyrics right) vaguely blasphemous.  Weird Al's Star Wars-themed parody is millions better, mostly because the lyrics make more sense and it's a lot more cheerful.
  • Circa #4 or #5: Love Will Set You Free, as performed by Engelbert Humperdinck (what a name - he really must have had sadistic parents) and apparently intended as Britain's entry to the Eurovision Song Contest 2012.  For a song whose title revolves around love and freedom, it sounds really dismal, almost as though the composer and vocalist are both resigned to a life without love or freedom.  Unless the whole of the rest of Europe is even worse, or depression is in vogue with the Eurovision judges this year, then I can only assume the UK entry's committee are deliberately planning to lose.  Not that I follow Eurovision or care who wins, mind you.
  • Circa #3 or #4: one that I don't know the title or composer of, but the chorus involves the phrase "I love you, I love you, I love you", moaned as if it was the saddest damn thing ever to happen.  I hate it for much the same reasons as Love Will Set You Free, except slightly more so.
  • #2: Masterpiece by Madonna.  Apparently the song is written from the perspective of a lover to their beloved, but it's so badly done that the first few times I heard it I assumed that the singer bitterly hated the addressee and wanted to kill them.  Then I looked it up on Wikipedia and discovered that it's meant to be about Edward VIII from Wallis Simpson's point of view, and it started annoying me even more.  I mean, it's all very well for some silly American popster to write soppy wuv song about the cutesie romance of the king who gave up his throne to be with his darling, but my view of the whole affair is much more negative, more or less in line with The King's Speech, and I consequently find the song somewhat repulsive.
  • #1: Somebody That I Used to Know by the implausibly-named 'Gotye'.  Probably the most miserable song I've ever heard, and infuriatingly prone to getting stuck inside the grey matter, and therefore the most hated.  If you've never heard it, don't go looking for it.  Just be grateful for your blissful ignorance.

So there you have it.  The list is open for revision, subject to the discovery of other, even more depressing songs, and/or to Radio 2's next choice of irrational obsession.

Compulsory Stats:
  • Last 10 for 17 status: neck and neck, each with 1 down and 9 to go.
  • Latest book read: The Kink and I by one James D Mallory Jr, M.D.
  • Latest film/TV watched: All Creatures Great and Small series 1 episode 10
  • Latest music listened to: Machinarium OST by Tomas 'Floex' Dvorak
  • Latest edible item eaten: apricot and ginger pudding
  • Programs and web pages currently running: Microsoft Office Outlook 2007, Firefox (tabs: Blogspot Dashboard; Blogspot Create Post), Skype
  • Webcomics posted today: Cylinder and Miserable Episode 1473

- The Colclough

Thursday 26 April 2012

Filming Report: Day Four

It's taking longer than I expected.

After four days' filming, I've managed to get through most of the 20-second-long title sequence, about half of Episode 1, and three short scenes for Episode 2.  There have been a lot of things taking up time, but the real killer so far has been the 'sets' - I've had to complete the main exterior and dining-room interior backgrounds before I can make any episodes at all, and they've taken forever.

The good news is that those two - which will almost certainly be the largest and most troublesome drawings in the whole project - are now finished, and both have been used for some filming.  There's a third major set which I need to complete before I can film the last component for the title sequence, but it hopefully won't be as big as its two predecessors.

Quick breakdown of what happened on which day:
  1. Parts of the title sequence using blank backgrounds; main title photo; two 'ideogram' elements (a clock and a calendar, used to denote the passage of time instead of captions saying 'ten minutes later' or whatever)
  2. Scenes on the main exterior set for title sequence and Episode 1
  3. Ep 1 scene 3 (drystone wall cameo set); Ep 2 scenes 3, 5 and 9 (wait and see!)
  4. Ep 1 scene 2 (dining room)
All of the remaining Episode 1 scenes (4, 6 and 8) take place in the dining room, so the plan is to finish those off next and then do some scenes for Episode 2 which happen in a patch of waste ground.  Meanwhile, design and draw that other major interior, and get the missing title sequence shot whenever the set is ready.

And once I've animated both episodes, then I just need to do some extra sound effects recording, and wait for the music to be delivered.

And then I've got two more scripts lined up for the second production block.

More preview pictures coming when I get round to it.

Y'all had better appreciate this blasted toon when it comes out...

- The Colclough

Saturday 14 April 2012

Cameras Have Rolled

Well, not in the most strictly literal sense, i.e. photochemical film stock passing through an exposure gate at several (usually 24, 25 or 30) frames per second.  Like all of my video and animation work, Papercuts is being shot digitally.  But the point is: it's now actually being shot.  After I don't know how many weeks in pre-production, I've finally started animating some stuff for the new show.  Admittedly, all I've got done today is part of the title sequence and a couple of other very small bits and pieces, but it's still a start.  It shouldn't take too much work before I can shoot more of the title sequence and a couple of short scenes for Episode 1.

The downside is that in the process of animating what I thought would be the beginning of the title sequence, I discovered that it actually wouldn't be the beginning.  I decided there would have to be another shot up front - and then I decided that said shot ought to be on the sofa.  The sofa doesn't appear in any of the scripts until Episode 4, so I wasn't going to have to worry about drawing that right yet... but now I need to draw it up front so I can finish the title sequence for Episode 1.  Darn.  But then again, once the main sets are drawn, they're drawn, and what slows down the production of the first couple of episodes should speed up production on the second pair.  Swings and roundabouts and all that.

The main thing is that I'm pretty happy with the material I filmed today, even if its runtime is a bit on the fleeting side.

And to prove that I'm not just bluffing here, and I really did shoot stuff, here's the very first frame to be recorded: Papercuts Main Title Sequence, Shot 2, Frame 001, otherwise known as "DSC_6019.jpg".

Watch this space!

- The Colclough

Wednesday 4 April 2012

Still Alive

Time since last post: about five weeks.

Stuff achieved in that time: job worked, money earned (such a beautiful sheaf of purple banknotes...), Arc Phase Variations no. V partially inked, more Cylinder and Miserable written (just five days to go until Series 3 begins publication, in case you missed the announcement on the comic's homepage), Papercuts elements drawn... and computer reformatted.

I spent today wiping the C drive of my just-over-four-year-old PC, affectionately known as 'Beastie', and reinstalling my software, all in a bid to eradicate a nasty virus called Zeus which infected the machine last Wednesday and proved near-impossible to kill.  Fortunately, it only infected software files (not images, music or other media files) and only infected things on the C drive (not my other two hard disks), so I was able to back up my documents and stuff to the external drive, format C, and reinstate most of the stuff I want to keep.  Haven't got round to reinstalling my video editors or games yet, but I've got everything I need for my planned C&M writing binge tomorrow - picking up in the middle of the conversation I was writing last week when Zeus forced me to stop.

The first 24 hours when AVG first started telling me my files were getting infected, and before I'd managed to analyse the damage and work out a plan of attack, were somewhat traumatic.  I occasionally have dreams where I switch on my computer and instead of starting Windows like it should, it goes off and does loads of really weird stuff that doesn't make any sense at all, and what with me being the creature of habit and logic that I am, I tend to find those dreams quite upsetting.  So to actually have a program running around with a mind of its own and breaking things was pretty much a nightmare come true.  However, the nightmare is over, and although I might have lost the odd file here and there, I've been able to preserve all the files that I felt any attachment to, and the reformatting has had the beneficial side effect of clearing up quite a bit of software rot.  As I sit writing this, Beastie feels much like its old self... just a bit less cluttered.  And I've got Dusty the Hamster scuttling round my room, as he often does of an evening.  So things seem back to normal, or as close as makes no difference, and I can now look back at the whole escapade a bit more philosophically.

The week without a functional computer did have its downsides, but it actually had several upsides as well.  Among other things, it prompted me to spend more time working on the analogue stuff, and I've been very happy with some of the drawings I've got done - especially the exterior of the Papercuts house, which I'm quite looking forward to showing off once the rest of the drawing is done.  I also began reading Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones' book on "True Happiness", from Psalm 1, just hours after getting the first infection alert, which I have to say made a very interesting contrast.

All in all, I couldn't help thinking that quote from Portal seemed quite appropriate as today's headline.

Hopefully, normal levels of Colclough-ness will be resumed soon - I mentioned earlier that C&M will restart on Monday, and despite the fact that Papercuts seems to be creeping along very very slowly, the project is actually more alive than the casual viewer might be led to believe.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to go and evict Dusty from on top of my pillow.  Again.

- The Colclough

Thursday 1 March 2012

Things Begin!

I've been starting some new things today.

First off this morning, I began pencilling the general layout of the fifth instalment in my series of circly drawings - which, by the way, I've decided to call Arc Phase Variations.  Also worth mentioning that I completed the fourth drawing the other day, and I'll try and get a photo up sometime.  Then, sticking with the arty theme, I painted the background layer for Stained Glass VII.

Then I fired up the computer, and got down to work on the HTML conversion for my Cylinder and Miserable spin-off storyline The Lemonsmith Correspondence.  The new mini-series is fully canon, and partially bridges the gap between the completed Series 2 and the upcoming Series 3.  It comprises 75 emails, supposedly written between Cylinder, Albert, the eponymous Claudia Lemonsmith, and one or two other characters, and I've uploaded the first 8 to the website as you can see if you click this link here.  I did the first 8 as a batch because it was a narratively logical stopping point; some of the other batches will be a lot bigger.  Not sure when the next lot will go online, but I'll try and make it soon.

And finally, my last creative act of the day (apart from writing this blog post, obviously) was to sit down with my microphone and a couple of scripts, and record all the voice work for the first production block of my new cartoon, Papercuts.  Production block A comprises the series title sequence plus episodes 1 and 2, and production block B will comprise episodes 3 and 4.  As for block C, we'll have to wait and see (or wait and C?  No, sorry; that was a bad one), because no more episodes have been written yet.  But the point is, the work has progressed beyond the script-writing stage, which means that the successor to Arbitrary Stopframe is now officially in production!  Watch this space for release date news...

- The Colclough

Monday 20 February 2012

Strangulation, Stock Checks, and Sleeplessness

It's a funny old world.  I had my first formal job interview back at the beginning of January - all suits and CVs and that - and although it was an interesting and useful experience (not to mention a bit scary), I didn't get the job.  Two weeks ago today, on t'other hand, I began a week's unpaid work experience at the local DIY shop, and word must have gotten out that I'm not too bad with computers.  That, and I obviously didn't annoy too many people.  Because sometime on the Friday, the owner asked if I would come back for a couple of days each week, starting from the next week, and beat their computers into submission, and get paid for it.  I accepted, and handed over my National Insurance number card.

So it was that last Monday, the 13th of February, at the age of 23 years and 359 days, I finally embarked on my first regular paid employment, having got myself the position without showing a CV or wearing a single tie - which is good, because I hate having anything tight around my neck - and I spent the day counting compression fittings for copper pipe, and setting the digital records straight as to which supplier we buy them from, what re-order codes they use, how many of each item we had (the database said we had -120 ish of some things!), how much they cost, and various other facts and figures.

My excuse for having not written a blog post in over two weeks centres around the aforementioned fact that I've spent seven days at the DIY shop.  On top of that, I spent half a Saturday in Kent for Josh's birthday, followed by a Wednesday morning at the church, moving the sound desk across the room with all the rewiring and stuff that entailed, followed immediately by having Tim staying for three-and-a-half days, involving some pretty late nights, and concluding with my own birthday do.  Which didn't leave much time for sitting down here to tell the world what I've been up to.

That's not to say I haven't made any progress on creative output.  I mentioned around the middle of last month that I'd written the pilot script for a new animated series, and I've now got four scripts in the can - the first three written on my own, and the fourth co-written with Tim last week.  The show is called Papercuts, and I'm planning to start dialogue recordings and animation tests in the near future.

That's a beginning, but I've also been getting close to a finish line: I'm nearly at the end of the storyline in my short Cylinder and Miserable spin-off series, which I'm hoping to complete soon and publish at the end of this month and/or the beginning of March.

- The Colclough

Friday 3 February 2012

Welcome to Our Universe

As I said in the post title, welcome to our universe.  "Our" as in "Mine, Tim's and Sarah's", and "Universe" as in "Universe XGT".  We're not entirely sure what the "XGT" bit stands for, but it doesn't really matter that much.  It's a convenient collective handle for our shared fictional space, home to some 30-odd sapient species, and venue for much hitherto-private amusement.  The occasional snippet of UXGT has leaked out into public view, mainly in the form of stopmotion short films such as Alpha One's Laser Cafe and The Probe Has Succeeded, but most of it has stayed under wraps... until now.

Well, we decided lately that perhaps we should share some of the more interesting bits of UXGT with the wider world, and to that end we've set up a new blog over at, where we intend to publish assorted UXGT-related stuff in no particular order and on no particular schedule.  We'll write what we feel like writing when we feel like writing it.

Over the last two or three months I've been drawing a series of pictures, trying to define the look of some of the major races (and a fair few minor ones along the way), and the other day I finally ticked the last major one off my 'do' list and scanned my sheaf of papers.  Tim and I have agreed that the best way to start off the proceedings would be to write a series of posts introducing the most important alien species one at a time, illustrating the point withe my drawings.  I thought I'd start off with someone you might have seen before:

Recognise this chap?

That would be Odom the Grud, from The Probe Has Succeeded (he also stars in Arbitrary Stopframe episodes 1 and 8, but those don't count as part of UXGT canon).  What's a Grud, then, you might be asking?  Now's your chance to find out: the following is a reduced edition (a trailer, if you like) of the species intro...

The Species of Universe XGT: the Gruds

The Gruds are a fairly widespread race, with five eyes, orange to yellow skin, and a very stocky build.  They originated in the Drav galaxy, later spreading across many others including the capital worlds of Vomo and Sardastian.  The species is responsible for some of the universe's largest mining and heavy-industry operations.

Although they are usually lacking in aesthetic taste, and have minimal appreciation for culture, the Gruds are nevertheless a welcome part of intergalactic society, as they are intelligent and industrious, most of them being scientifically minded.  Many of the universe's great technological achievements can be attributed to this unattractive but very productive species.  Out of the small minority of Gruds who do not find a vocation in science or engineering, most tend to work in defence or security positions, for which they are ideally suited due to their imposing physique and no-nonsense mindset.

If you wanted to summarise the entire species in one word, it would have to be 'pragmatists'.  For example, they have no concept of romance, and instead of proposing marriage on their knees using an expensive piece of jewellery, they are more likely to remain standing up, say something along the lines of "I have made many calculations, and I believe it would be mutually advantageous for us to enter a marriage agreement" - and then illustrate the point with a spreadsheet.

Species facts & figures
  • Homeworld: First Dabox, Forrad starsystem, Drav galaxy
  • Other distribution: species controls approx 40 planets and has presence on numerous others
  • Biology: placental but non-mammalian warm-blooded vertebrates
  • Gestation: 10 months
  • Time to maturity: 20 years
  • Natural average lifespan: 100 years
  • Average adult height: 6-8 ft (F), 7-8 ft (M)
  • Language: Ballum
  • Currency: Tesseen

You can read the full version of the introduction on the UXGT blog at

- The Colclough

Those 22 Things That Started With 'B'

It's been a while since I posted "22 Questions, 1 Clue", and I reckon it's about time I told you the answers.

  1. Which primary colour has the least number of cone cells in the human eye?  Blue
  2. What is the second-highest rank in the Anglican clergy?  Bishop
  3. Which is the largest country in South America?  Brazil
  4. What type of temporary skin defect is likely to appear after a burn?  Blister
  5. What Russian group, whose name means ‘the majority’, went on to become the country’s Communist Party?  Bolsheviks
  6. What form of private transport was first developed by various European inventors in the early-mid 19th century?  Bicycles
  7. The Hebrew word for which creature was the basis of the name Deborah?  Bee
  8. Which sport, included in the Olympics since 1992, uses a shuttlecock?  Badminton
  9. Which UK county often has the word ‘Royal’ attached to its name?  Berkshire
  10. Which town in Hampshire contains Festival Place and The Anvil?  Basingstoke
  11. In British usage, what word refers to the hinged panel covering a car’s engine?  Bonnet
  12. What region of Germany is known, among other things, for its motor works?  Bavaria - as in "BMW", i.e. "Bavarian Motor Works"
  13. QUESTION DELETED on grounds of extreme obscurity - the answer was "Banana", but the way we got there was rather convoluted
  14. QUESTION DELETED on grounds of extreme obscurity - the answer was "Bob the Fly"
  15. What notorious incident took place in the Far East between 1898 and 1901?  Boxer Rebellion
  16. Which Sheffield-based confectioners first produced Liquorice Allsorts?  Bassetts
  17. Which classical composer carried on writing music despite going deaf?  Beethoven (Ludwig van)
  18. Which band is famous for, among other things, walking over a zebra crossing?  the Beatles
  19. Which animated film began life with the working title American DogBolt
  20. Natwest, Lloyds and HSBC are all what?  Banks
  21. In the Star Wars trilogy, what is the name of the bounty hunter who takes Han Solo to Jabba the Hutt’s palace?  Boba Fett
  22. What is the other common name of the mythical creature ‘Sasquatch’?  Bigfoot
  23. What city is the capital of Belgium?  Brussels
  24. What name is given to the lowest compartment in a ship, and to the water that collects there?  Bilge

So there you have it.  How well did you do?

- The Colclough

How to Lose a Race

You might have noticed that I lost "First 12 for '12".  As in, lost quite badly.  The first two contenstants finished within three days, Tim claimed third place within two weeks... and it's taken me a month to finish.  All the more embarrassing since I was the one who initiated the contest.  I could try offering another selection box of excuses, but I'm not going to bother.  Suffice to say that I couldn't get enough half-baked blogging ideas to metamorphose into finished posts fast enough.

I did have some posts planned.  Really.  It just took a while (or several whiles) to work out the details.  "Godzilla Versus" was one of them, and I'm hoping you'll get to see another two pretty soon, including the answers to "22 Questions, 1 Clue".  But in the meantime, I thought I should end the race with an illustrated acknowledgement of my defeat.  So I tried to do a quick drawing of the podium... but it all went horribly wrong, so I gave up and decided to settle for verbal acknowledgement instead.

Just you wait.  2013 will happen (the Mayans have nothing to do with it, trust me), and "First 13 for '13" will be a whole different contest!  MWAHAHAHAHAAAAAHH!!!

My final statistics for the end of the race:
  • First 12 for '12 status: 12 down, 0 to go. All finished.
  • Latest book read: still working through 1 Kings in the KJV. Now, Solomon's successor is dead too.
  • Latest film/TV watched: a Ren and Stimpy episode (can't remember which one came last)
  • Latest music listened to: Indaco by Ludovico Einaudi
  • Latest edible item eaten: toasted hot cross bun, and cowjuice
  • Predominant colour of clothes: the old blue and grey, this time with a white t-shirt underneath
  • Programs and web pages currently running: Microsoft Office Outlook 2007, Firefox (tabs: Blogspot Create Post; Blogspot Dashboard; MatNav 6.1), Skype; Windows Media Player 11
  • Webcomics posted today: n/a

- The Colclough