Saturday 28 December 2013


I mentioned last time that I was nearly finished with Papercuts Episode 7, with the last remaining components being of the audio variety.  Well, today Tim finished and delivered his ninth composition for the series, I plugged it into the edit along with a handful of other freshly-minted audio elements, and Debt of Gravy-tude was finished.  And released - you should see it embedded a paragraph or two down from here.

I hope you've been taking note of the music in Papercuts.  Like the visuals, every last bit of it has been specially created for the show - no stock footage, stock score, or stock anything around here: I took the decision relatively early on in Production Block A, last spring, that since I was going to so much effort over the project anyway, I may as well go that bit further and record all my own sound effects too.  But the point is, Tim's actually been building up quite a broad-based collection of cues over the seven episodes, ranging from a slow, minimal guitar solo in Episode 3, up to rather more complex and breakneck-paced chase theme in Episode 6, via music for a windmill and a flower, for China, and even for outer space.  You can convey a lot with hand-drawn visuals (if I say so myself), but sometimes there's just no substitute for having a composer on hand to help with the scene-setting or (as is more common in this series) with the 'punctuation' of a scene.  The main point of this post, apart from showcasing Episode 7, is to offer Tim a public thank you for the Papercuts score.  So: thank you, Tim.

In case you were wondering, yes, the vlog is still coming.  Just taking a while to edit.  Keep watching this space!

- The Colclough

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Not Much of a Wrap Party

As you might have heard already if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter (I tweet now - sorta - @TheColclough), I just finished up filming on Papercuts Production Block C; Episodes 5 and 6 have already been released, and 7 has taken another crucial step towards its completion - I'm still hoping to be able to have it finished by the end of 2013.

I think I've mentioned before that for some reason I don't tend to get much of a buzz from finishing a film; it just happens, I feel a bit meh, and I move on to the next thing.  This time, though, it's gone beyond mere "not getting a buzz": in the half-hour since the camera shutter fell silent, I've actually started feeling a tad depressed about the whole thing.


Well, this might be a good time to explain that Episode 7 is, to all intents and purposes, the end of Papercuts as we know it.  I decided a couple of months back that the physical cutout process is too fiddly and time-consuming, so after finishing Block C (i.e. Episodes 5 to 7), I would pack it in, and produce any future episodes using a digital process.  I'd still create the various elements with paper, ink and photography, but the cutting-out and movement stages would take place inside the computer.  I've also considered making one or two revisions to the title sequence, and Tim's made noises about wanting to rework the theme tune, so there's looking to be quite a distinct break between Episode 7 and Episode 8 - the end of "Phase I", and the start of a "Phase II", if you like.  It struck me, a minute or two after finishing the closing shot, that that right there might have been the last time I ever did any work for this show using the physical-cutout technique (which I first dabbled with nearly three years ago), and that was when the almost-sad thing came in.

To be honest, I don't even know what the storyline for Episode 8 will be, or whose pen it'll come from - there are various ideas I've had, and various stories which have been pitched in various forms by one or two others (you know who you are), but nothing that's ready to film yet as far as I'm aware.  The Murkum Show is a different matter, as I've got several new episode scripts ready to go, but as far as Papercuts is concerned, I just finished shooting the last known script, and I suspect the unknown-ness of the next instalment was a contributing factor to my little bout of unhappiness.

Anyway, I think I'm getting over it now.  Just need to do a little bit more editing and audio work, and wait for one new music track from my resident composer, and Episode 7 will be ready to show off to the world, which is a very happy thought!

And in the meantime, since I haven't posted them on this blog yet, here are Episodes 5 and 6.  Enjoy (again, if applicable)...

...and have a very Merry Christmas and (in case I don't see you again before then) a happy New Year!

- The Colclough

Saturday 23 November 2013

The Slate, November 2013

I'm not entirely sure where the phrase 'the slate' came from, but these days it seems to refer to the list of projects which a film studio is either working on now or planning to work on in the near future.  I thought this would be a good time to publish my own slate (or M.C.Media's, depending how you look at it) - so here goes...

Current project: Papercuts Production Block C (Episodes 5-7)

I've got a trio of scripts which came together around late summer, comprising the show's first two-parter, written by Tim, and a one-off episode by me.  Dialogue recording is complete, and the photography and editing stages are well underway for all three instalments.  The production block also includes some additional material: a short prologue to Episode 5, and a vlog showing the filmmaking process for Papercuts, specifically following the progression of work on a single new set which needed to be built for Block C.

 A moment from Papercuts Episode 5... coming soon!

The prologue was originally going to be the opening scene of Episode 5, but I felt that it wasn't necessary for the story and was slowing the episode down; initially I was going to tell Tim to just delete it, but then I decided I actually liked it in itself despite it not really being needed for the overall story, so I thought I'd go ahead and film it anyway, and release it separately as a prologue (inspired by the 'prequels' which Doctor Who has been doing for the last 2 or 3 years), under the pretext that it's a marketing thing.  It's finished, as of this morning, and you can see it here:

The production vlog will probably be the next thing I release, followed by Episode 5 itself.

Beyond the release of Episode 7, I don't really have any fixed plans for Papercuts; I'm open to doing more episodes in 2014 or later, but it all depends on getting scripts ready.

The next few projects: Fifteen-Minute Fortresses, Inanimate HD and The Murkum Show Series 2

This part is subject to change, but here's what I'm currently thinking in terms of my next work beyond Papercuts 7:

First up, you may or may not remember a little video I did earlier this year, titled The Fifteen-Minute Fortress?  Well, I might do a couple more of those.  Revise the parameters of the exercise, but still keep it broadly similar in spirit.  Watch this space.

Meanwhile, thinking even further back, you might recall my five-minute live-action short Inanimate from 2006.  This summer, armed with a vastly better camera and a friend who knew how to make said camera behave itself, I staged a remake of the film, now in shiny HD and starring Tim.  At some point, I need to knuckle down and edit the thing, and once the edit's complete, I'll take the logical next step and release the film.  Inanimate HD is rather more definite than Fifteen-Minute Fortress II, mostly because it's already been filmed, but the editing process could prove to be rather slow.

 Tim Johnston in the new version of Inanimate

And finally, the third and probably biggest thing on my near-future-projects slate is a second season of The Murkum Show.  The first was a lot of fun to make, and there's a lot of momentum building up for the second: I've already got a good idea of what the set will look like, and got seven episode scripts lined up (fun fact: all four of the people who wrote for Series 1 have already got scripts in the queue for Series 2).  It's very unlikely that Murkum Show S2 will see the light of day before next year, what with the work that remains to be done on my current projects, but I'm 98% sure it'll be happening in the first half of 2014.

Doctor Murkum in a recent adventure - expect more in early 2014

Other stuff that may or may not happen next year

I've got a few other bits and pieces on the go.  These include Improbable (a very odd little cel short, which I released a teaser clip for several months ago), Empire of the Pond (a remake of Fishy Business, a 2003 short whose storyline I thought was alright, but whose animation was so embarrassingly bad that I'm never going to let you see it), and a perhaps-over-ambitious CGI production titled Golden Cube, about a robot who works in a strange, futuristic dolly-mixtures factory.  No particular release schedules for any of those yet, but since I'm publishing the slate, it seems only fair to mention that they're on it - albeit down at the bottom.

 No, it won't start making any more sense when you see the finished film.

- The Colclough

Quite A Weekend

23 November 2013: yesterday, someone assassinated President Kennedy.  The papers are full of it.  Somewhere in a back column, they mentioned that writers C. S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley also died yesterday - but of course JFK is the bigger news.  And somebody told me that BBC Television will be starting some new science-fiction show tonight - science fiction on television, of all the strange things to do!

Well, fast-forward by precisly one-half of a century, and the dead guys are still (surprise, surprise) dead.  The balance of attention between Kennedy and Lewis' death-days has levelled out a bit, which I'd say is a good thing, as Kennedy may have been 'the most important' on a materialistic scale but Lewis was far more significant from a spiritual perspective.  Ultimately, though, they're both still dead.  As is Huxley, but I know very little about him really.

Doctor Who, on the other hand, is very much alive and kicking, and since the beginning of this month or thereabouts, the entire BBC seems to have metamorphosed into a giant promotion-and-celebration machine for its own sci-fi brainchild.  I haven't yet seen Mark Gatiss' drama about the show's origins, An Adventure in Space and Time, but it's waiting on the hard-disk recorder and I'm rather looking forward to it.  Ditto The Science of Doctor Who.  But the big news, of course, is the 75-minute anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor, which will be airing tonight, precisely 50 years after the very first episode went out on 23 November 1963.

I've seen that first episode, An Unearthly Child (along with the next 12), and it makes for an intriguing comparision - most of the major components are already there half a century ago, but on many other levels the thing has progressed and reinvented almost beyond recognition.  The acting has improved (thank goodness female roles no longer consist of "She sees the shadow of the monster.  AAAAAAIIEEEGHH!!!"), as have the set design, the cameras, and the visual effects.  It's not that the show has increased in ambition, necessarily, more that the technology has got to the point where the ambitions can be realised much more closely.

Tonight promises a huge, ambitious, monster-infested multi-Doctor story, and I for one am dead keen to see it.  May or may not blog again afterwards, if I think my reaction to it was interesting enough to blog about.

Until 7:50 pm, then.

- The Colclough

Saturday 16 November 2013

The Chainbreaker

I'm about to do a bad thing: I've been nominated for an award (namely the Versatile Blogger Award), and part of the rules stipulate that I should nominate another 15 bloggers.  Well, I'm not nominating anybody, because I know a lot less that 15 other bloggers, and the ones I know, I know are already nominated.

My nomination comes via Sam, so I shall start by saying: Thank you, Sam, and recommending that the rest of you go and have a read of

In the process of listing his nominations, Sam has not only handed me this thing, but also single-handedly rendered me unable to fulfil the rules, as the other people I'd have nominated myself - most notably Tim ( and Hannah ( - are already on Sam's list.  Does failure to pass on new nominations equal declining your own award?  I'm not sure.  But either way, I'm afraid I've got to break the chain.  Sorry about that!

- The Colclough

Edit, several hours later

I knew I was forgetting something: I was supposed to mention seven facts about myself.  So, um... seven things that I haven't already told y'all...


...*scratches head*... goes:
  1. I usually shave on about a six-day cycle.  Basically, I have a clean shave, and then don't get round to picking the gadget up again until my face starts itching, which tends to take six days or thereabouts.  I picked this as a fact to mention because I was in the middle of my nearly-weekly shave when I suddenly remembered I'd forgotten a chunk out of this post.
  2. I've collected several dozen special-issue 50p, £1 and £2 coins.  I don't know exactly how much the collection is worth, either in terms of its face value or what another collector might pay for it, but I don't really care, as the whole point in collecting them is that they're my collection, and not for sale.
  3. It's not that I don't like limes, but they don't seem to like me - at least not if I eat much of it in one go.
  4. I've never owned a car.  Since I started learning to drive, my parents have had four different Fords (a 1996 Galaxy, a 2009 Mondeo, and two different Fiestas), of which I have driven all except the Galaxy.  I'm in no hurry to break the family Ford-driving habit.
  5. I think all of the odd-numbered Star Trek feature films (including the 2009 one) and most if not all of the even-numbered Windows releases (including 98, Vista a.k.a. NT6.0, and 8) are rubbish.  You probably don't want to get me started on all the reasons why.
  6. My drawing career has embraced all sorts of different types of paper, starting with ordinary copier paper, side-stepping to take in that weird stuff with the tear-off strips up the side with all the holes in, which you don't really see much any more, then getting ambitious with enormous bits of wallpaper backing sheet, taking to a cartridge pad with great enthusiasm, and most recently dabbling with watercolour 'paper', which is actually more like a type of cardboard.
  7. My taste in computer games is rather specific: the vast majority of the games I've enjoyed are puzzle-solving ones, and many of them involve screwing around with physics (e.g. Antichamber, Portal 1 & 2, Quantum Conundrum and arguably QUBE).  The other thing that appeals to me most in games is humour (e.g. DLC Quest, and Portal again).  My most recent acquisition is The Bridge.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Friends in Inconvenient Places

Okay, it's not the friends' fault.  It's not that they moved to Cardiff; it's that I moved away from.

Of course, we frequently jump at an opportunity to piggy-back a visit on top of a trip that's being made for some other purpose, but sometimes one or more of us (more often me) will shell out for a train ticket.  They're usually not bad: a quick hop on the local line into Reading, the main body of the journey on a HST on the old Great Western mainline, and then another local trolley at the far end.  Tickets have been known to cost as little as a tenner per direction, with some judicious advance booking.

Well, this time round, I went to buy my tickets at about 3 weeks out from the intended date of travel, and due to work commitments, I was going to head out on an evening train.  Tickets before 7 were in the £50 bracket and wouldn't have left any time for dinner anyway, and anything leaving home after 8 wouldn't have got me into Cardiff until stupid-o'clock at night (and my friends aren't exactly night owls), so all things considered it had to be the 7:07pm train.  £36, and that was only to Cardiff Central, as the local trolleys get very sporadic at night.

The tickets arrived, and the 7:07 didn't actually say 7:07 anywhere on it, but turned out to be a 'Super Offpeak'.  Very helpfully, it offered absolutely no indication whatsoever as to what times of day constituted 'Super Offpeak'.  Initially I wasn't too bothered about this as I only really had one sensible choice of train anyway... but then the work arrangements changed; I was asked to do an extra day the week before last, and I managed to get a day off in lieu this week, meaning that I was no longer limited to travelling to Cardiff after dinner.

So I phoned First Great Western in a bid to figure out what 'Super Offpeak' actually meant: could I travel in the middle of the day, for example?

No I couldn't.  I must admit to not being keen on getting an Accent at the far end of a phone line, but to be fair, this particular one was much more helpful than most of the others I've encountered (and a real person, however their enunciation, is still preferable to an automated system), and got me some definitive answers: un-allocated seating would be in Coach E on the HST, and - here's the rub - 'Super Offpeak' is FGW-speak for 'at night'; in other words, I could delay travelling for as long into the small hours as I fancied, but couldn't pull it any earlier, which is what I was actually interested in.

Just out of idle curiosity, I logged back in to National Rail Enquiries, fully expecting (considering that my departure date was now only 8 days away) that the cheapest tickets would be at least £40 each.  But they weren't - the 11:02 departure, including local trolley at the far end, was still only £15.

I did the maths: I could get the 'Super Offpeak i.e. basically at night' ticket refunded, albeit paying 50p for the stamp to return it, and a £10 fee to get the refund processed - so £25.50 back, out of the initial £36.  But even after paying the postage and the processing fee, and buying the new ticket at £15, I wound up £10.50 better off.  You can do things with £10.50 - including buy a whole ticket from my place to my friends', if you book far enough in advance.  Other advantages included getting another 7 hours at their place, and not having to drag one of them into the middle of the city to collect me from Central, so it seemed a bit of a no-brainer decision.  I'll be on the 11:02.

My parting 'moral of the story': beware evening trains on First Great Western!

- The Colclough

Friday 6 September 2013

Nice Glorious Typical Chopstick

It's a funny thing - I find English being misspoken with a thick Indian accent rather frustrating, but the closely-related phenomenon of English being 'misspoken' in print, in a way that smacks of computer translation from an East Asian language, oddly endearing sometimes.

Take, for example, the text on the chopstick packet from the noodle bar Sam and I went to in Littlehampton, on one of the days out from Root Hill last week:

    "Welcome to Chinese Restaurant.
    Please try your Nice Chinese Food With Chopsticks
    the traditional and typical of Chinese glorious history.
    and culture

I think the text says it all.  If you appreciate the Engrish, then you appreciate it; if you don't, then no amount of explanation on my part is going to make you get it.

One other thing - it wasn't even a Chinese noodle bar.  It was Thai.

- The Colclough

Wednesday 4 September 2013

First Impressions and Beginner's Luck

Over the course of Root Hill 2013, I got introduced to at least half a dozen new games, and I thought I'd do a post about them and what I thought of them.  In aproximately the order I played them: Gloom, Resistance, Zombie Dice, Carcassonne, Alhambra, and King of Tokyo.

Gloom: appeals to the more twisted side of my sense of humour, as each player controls a family of five characters, and must spend the game trying to give them the lowest possible self-esteeem.  The game consists of a special deck of cards, and nothing else - with the twist that the cards are mostly see-through, so they can be stacked to hide or reveal various parts of each other, with the outcome affecting your score; you have to tell some story to explain each card you play, which makes things rather more interesting; the idea is to play the bad-event cards on your own characters, and the cheerful ones against your rivals to give them unwanted positive self-esteeem points.  The game ends as soon as all five of one player's characters are dead, and then whoever has the lowest overall self-esteem points across their family wins.  Mwahahah.

I'm almost tempted to describe it as The Nightmare Before Christmas: the Card Game, but to be honest it's more TNBC without the Christmas - just gleeful misery.

Introduced by Sam; my opinion 4/5.

Resistance: to all intents and purposes, you're the Rebel Alliance out of Star Wars, or a comparable ragtag group of freedom fighters standing up against a big bad empire.  The political whys and wherefores are irrelevant; the point of the game is to figure out which of the five to ten players are actually Resistance, and which ones are spies sent in by the aforementioned big bad empire.  A subset of the players are selected to take part in each of five Missions, and the Resistance win if 3 missions are successful - the rub being that if spies are chosen to go on a mission, they have the option to fail it.

Somewhat like Mafia, but more structured and much more prone to mind-games.  Also, don't play it with Simon; he takes the spy-hunting far too seriously...

Introduced by... can't remember; my opinion 3 or 4/5.

Zombie Dice: very simple, really - you're a zombie, and you chase humans.  Draw 3 dice, roll them: a brain symbol means you catch the quarry and get their brain (duh), a flash symbol means the quarry pulled a shotgun and, well, shot you, and a pair-of-feet symbol means they got away, so you re-roll that particular die if you decide to continue your turn.  Get shot 3 times and your turn is over, with nothing added to your score.  So basically you collect brains and quit while you're ahead.

 The strategy is made more interesting by the different colours of the dice - red ones are more likely to land on a shot, while greens are more likely to turn up brains, and yellows are equally balanced, which means that you can gauge the likelihood of a positive outcome in a re-roll based on the colours of any dice which turned up feet the previous time.

Introduced by Sam (again); my opinion 2/5 for mental stimulation, but 4/5 as a quick bit of entertainment, ideal for when your brain's already gone to sleep.

Carcassonne: in a rustic mediaeval landscape made of square tiles randomly drawn from a bag... okay, I'll give up on the narrating-it-like-a-film-trailer thing.  It wasn't working.  Anyway...

The tiles are drawn at random, but there are rules on how you can lay them - specifically you must place similar edges together, grass against grass, city against city, and so on.  Then you start laying claim to various bits of road, field and city, in the hope that they'll get bigger and you'll win points for them.  Various other stuff happens, but that's the basic idea.

The version I played included 2 or 3 expansions, which give you extra turns, or give you extra points for getting the largest share in various industries (textile, grain etc); usually I'd prefer to play a game vanilla before introducing expansions, but the basic rules of Carcassonne are sufficiently simple that I was happy to make an exception.

The look of the landscape may prompt a comparison to Settlers of Catan (remember Hannah's post on that one?), but there's actually very little in common between them except for their rustic pre-technological settings.

Introduced by Josh (I think); my opinion 4/5.

Alhambra: gave me a sense of deja vu as it features a very similar landscape-generated-from-random-squares thing to Carcassonne, but this time round each player builds their own layout and it only represents one palace complex instead of a whole country.  The novel mechanic is the presence of not one but four different currencies within the game; for any given round there will be four different bits of palace available to purchase, and each requires a different currency.  Sometimes you opt to collect a particular currency to buy a particular bit, but then again, somebody else might buy the part before you get a chance to, so it's a bit of a gamble.  Points are awarded at three specific moments during the game, based on who has the most of each type of piece, and who has the longest wall surrounding a part of their palace.

The separate landscapes are both an advantage (nobody can cut you up) and a bit of an achille's heel (you can't cut anybody else up); the different currencies are an interesting mechanic, and help to make the game more engaging on the whole, but they can sometimes slow things down, especially at times when most or all of the available parts are expensive.

Introduced by Josh; my opinion 3/5.

King of Tokyo: in spirit, this is basically half a dozen Kaiju movies mashed up into an affectionate, board-game-shaped pastiche.  It mostly runs on die rolls, and various die faces can give you victory points, give you 'energy' (currency, used to buy power-up cards), or attack whichever monster is currently occupying Tokyo City (unless you're in there yourself, in which case you attack everyone else at once!), the aim being to keep your health above zero and be the first to reach 20 victory points.  Unfortunately I failed to keep my health up; out of the six games I'm writing about, this is the only one that I didn't win at least once during Root Hill - hence the "Beginner's Luck" part of the post title.  But the bit before I got stomped was quite enjoyable.

Introduced by Sam and/or Josh; my opinion 3.5/5.

- The Colclough

Pictures from Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Never Twice the Same Circle

Sam suggested recently that I should do a post on how life has changed over the years, and I've decided to take up the suggestion, focussing specifically on the seven years since I first went to Root Hill.

I'd just finished sixth form, back in 2006.  I didn't know what I wanted to do next.  I'd barely started work on my giant mosaic project.  Cylinder and Miserable had only just started, and Grace and Caffeine wasn't even a twinkle in my eye yet.  I still had Arthur & the Punk in post-production, and the likes of Day-Glo! and The Probe Has Succeeded hadn't been so much as storyboarded.  Yateley Baptist was just two years into Adrian Reynolds' pastoral tenure, and the end wasn't remotely in sight.

In myself, I knew there was something wrong with me in terms of a chronic inability to empathise, but I had no idea what caused it or what to do about it.

And Root Hill?  New, bit scary... we had Andrew 'Moneybags' Sadler as one of the leaders, and we went to Guildford for the Tuesday outing, with Laserquest, boating and other things.  Other leader Dave Hollands was sometimes seen waving a tape-writing camcorder around, and the resultant video was available on either VHS (yes, really!) or DVD.

Fast forward seven years to 2013: I've been on the Root Hill camp eight times.  Andrew has been replaced by Jim Sayers (after a transition period in 2009 / 2010), and Guildford has been replaced on the timetable by Horsham, from 2011 onwards, because they shut down the Laserquest in Guildford.  The choice of churches on the Sunday morning remains largely the same, although I've switched my habits from Chilworth to Dorking in the interests of a shortened commute.  I took over as the videographer in 2008, and killed off the VHS option; my temporary successor went widescreen the next year; this year the video was shot by another newcomer, using a DSLR, and will be released exclusively online.

The people have nearly all changed - almost nobody else from the 2006 camp was still there for 2013 (one or two exceptions, but not many), but I'm not complaining.  I came into Root Hill as one of the youngsters, and felt a bit lost among the established friendships between the older campers; now, I am the older campers, and it's a lot easier taking on the younger ones as they arrive rather than trying to make my way around the whole new camp all in one go.  For me, the 2013 crowd feels much more like home - and feeling like home is, in my books, a very good thing.

But in spite of all the changes, Root Hill remains very much as it always was.  There's still a big pile of wood chippings next to the bonfire area each year, which I like to go and perch on top of to chew over things on some of the evenings.  The timetable and the menu barely change at all, in their major components at least.  And that's where the title of this post comes from: Root Hill is largely cyclical - it's ended up being a bit same-old-same-old, but it's a good kind of same-old-same-old, which is precisely what I keep going back for - but the cycle never repeats itself perfectly.  There's a degree of circularity, but it's never twice quite the same circle as any of the previous times.

This whole 'people' thing leads into another point of change over the last 7 years: the shift in my understanding of myself.  Five years ago, I was presented with the answer to why I struggle so much with people: it's a high-functioning autistic-spectrum condition, most likely a variant of Asperger's Syndrome.  In the half a decade since July 2008, the diagnosis has gone from new and shocking (I kinda wish my old Tailcast blog posts hadn't got wiped off the internet, as the one I did about my initial reaction would be good to link to for back-reference) to being fully accepted and normalised (as I mentioned a couple of posts back).

Adrian left Yateley Baptist four years ago after five years as our pastor.  We found and called his successor Andrew Wigham a few months ago, and he has moved in and started his work over the last two or three weeks.

I've passed my driving test, and been driving for long enough to pick up all sorts of terrible habits - palming the wheel more frequently than the gearstick, for example - and I've had a younger sibling get married, since 2006.

Cylinder and Miserable has run for 2126 episodes (1920 of them published, and counting); Grace and Caffeine has long since folded (after 178); cross-continuity spin-off Fort Paradox has had time to appear from nowhere, make strides, get forgotten, and get revived; the mosaic got completed, moved, damaged, repaired... I don't even know if it still exists, to be honest; Portal and its sequel got released, I got into them, and I found my other niche in life as a Portal 2 test chamber architect; The Probe Has Succeeded is very old news indeed, and my animation efforts have more recently been focussed on the likes of Papercuts and The Murkum Show.  What's next?  Who knows.

I probably missed a lot of stuff.  But you'd get bored if I went over everything.

Sam: thanks for the suggestion.

- The Colclough

Friday 23 August 2013

Theoretical, Practical... and Useless

"Bicarb for Bees, Vinegar for Vasps".

So goes the mnemonic for what you should put on an insect sting.  Bee stings are acidic and should be neutralised with an alkali - the typical household example being bicarbonate of soda - while wasp stings are the other way round, i.e. they're alkaline, and should be neutralised with vinegar.

Also of note: bee stings are barbed, and will stay behind in your skin - which has the side effect of killing the bee shortly afterwards - while wasp stings aren't barbed, and stay attached to the wasp instead of to the victim, leaving the insect free to fly off and re-offend.

I've known all of that for years, but it's always been a hypothetical bit of information, as I've never been stung by either... until now.  Went to pick up a box outside the shop today, and next thing I knew there was a barbed sting stuck into my left hand around the area where the thumb joins on.

Fat lot of good all my theoretical knowledge of insect stings did me, though, when the opportunity arose: what's the point in being able to identify it as a bee sting, and knowing that the correct antidote would be an alkali, if there's no alkali available, hm?  Answer: not much point at all.  Just had to suffer.

To be honest, I was surprised to discover it'd been a bee because I'd always thought insect stings were supposed to hurt a lot worse than it did.  Not saying it didn't hurt, just that I would have expected it to hurt more.  Not complaining though.  Not about that, anyway - in retrospect, I was rather more put out about not being able to make use of my knowledge on the subject than I was about having been stung in the first place!

No, I'm not asking for another round so I can have another shot at putting baking powder on myself.  Just for the record.

- The Colclough

Wednesday 14 August 2013

What You're Not Reading This Year

Any of you who've kept an eye on my DeviantArt page might have arrived at the conclusion that this is the time of year when you could expect another round of blue-pencilled introspection in the form of some Knowing It's Called Aspergers drawings.  You would have been right.  But you may also have noticed that said drawings haven't happened.

Well, it's been five years now.  As of the 6th of July this year, I've lived for half a decade with the notion that it isn't just me being an unfortunate and inexplicable freak of nature, it's part of the autistic spectrum and as such is a known and documented phenomenon and not a unique failing on my part - and after half a decade of chewing over the idea and figuring out how it fits in with everything else, it finally seems to have normalised.  The drawings were, in essence, about how I felt on the subject, but now I seem to have assimilated it into my status quo and no longer feel much about it at all: "ah, that time of year.  How do I feel?  Um... no different to how I felt when I wasn't thinking about it."  Hence no drawings; there's nothing to draw this year.

I thought it might have been nice to have one or two "I think things are winding down, so here's a little coda"-type drawings to conclude the series, but I spent most of July (on and off) thinking about the question, and couldn't come up with anything to draw as a coda that wouldn't have felt like a tired re-tread of the previous 44 pictures.  And in retrospect, I think the 44th - Day 1475 - serves well enough as a finale to the project.

I'm going to have to start putting something else on my DA page, aren't I?

- The Colclough

Saturday 3 August 2013

Ways to Pickle Your Brain

What the title says... here's a few thoughts on the subject, based on stuff that's been going on recently:

Have a heatwave.  I can usually keep functioning until 11pm quite happily, but I've struggled lately.  It's been particularly awkward at work - I seem to have spent several hours feeling like I'm wilting all over the till.

Play Antichamber.  Acquired recently when it came up on a Steam sale, taken more than 5 hours so far... and I don't even know how much of it I've solved.  It's unspeakably confusing.  Non-euclidean geometry, things changing behind your back (which often happens in my dreams, but now it's happening on my PC monitor too!), and sundry other very odd game mechanics.  Makes you miss the comparative linearity of Portal.

Change all the windows in your house and get paranoid that something's missing.  It's especially confusing in the porch, because the new front door has a lot more glazing than the old one, and lets in a lot more light, generating the subconscious assumption that it must have been left open by mistake.  Which is confusing when the door's actually shut.  Still, the new windows are, in themselves, very nice, and the new front door key has the added bonus of looking not so much like a key as we know it, Jim, but more like some fragment of the Enterprise which has gotten lost in time.

Get your new hamster to eat something which you don't know isn't poisonous.  After a longish period without any hamsters, we've had two new ones in the last week: Smokey (Ben's fourth), and Muffy (Sophie's fifth).  I went to clean my teeth last night, and found Muffy's cage temporarily sited on the kitchen table, and the rodent busy munching on a bit of christmas cactus which was accidentally poking through the bars.  I had no idea whether or not christmas cacti are toxic, so I pulled the plant out of reach (which left the hamster looking a bit confused!), and scuttled off to google the thing.  The internet seemed to concur that christmas cacti aren't poisonous - the worst that might happen is a bit of gastric upset and vomiting, but nothing life-threatening - so I could sleep easy.  But still, while it lasted, one more thing to help fry my brain cells...

Any other suggestions?

- The Colclough

Saturday 8 June 2013

Faster than a Speeding Camera Shutter

You know how they say animation is usually a slow process?

In my last post, about two-and-a-half weeks ago, I introduced you to a little project called The Murkum Show.  At that point, I had finished Episodes 1 to 3, got Episodes 4 to 6 in pre-production, and written Episode 7, and I had no real idea of how long the series would continue.

Well, in the world of The Murkum Show, it seems that two-and-a-half weeks can be quite a long time.  I've now finished Episodes 1 to 9 and got Episodes 10 to 15 either written or mostly-written, with various contributions from Tim, Sarah and Sam - and we'd got ahead of ourselves a bit, and started writing material for Series 2 already, so I've decided that it's time to close script submissions and lock down the episode lineup for Series 1.

I admit that I might have cheated a little by having the episodes be so short, but it's rather gratifying to have a series progressing so fast for once, instead of the snail-esque crawl that my animation work usually moves at.

There's a huge amount of Murk Army back-story which would be very hard to publish due to its rambling nature and the disparate formats it's been written in, but there are certain frequently-revisited elements which have found their way into The Murkum Show - one example being Murkum's hopeless attempts at motivational speeches, like the one in Episode 3 Headlong Dash ("War is... um... war!"); various others will be cropping up in later episodes, and although their in-joke nature might not be apparent to the casual viewer, it's rather satisfying for me (and I think for Tim and Sarah as well) to have them in there.

Here are Episodes 2 to 4.  Enjoy - and tune back in next Saturday for Episode 5 I Want the Droids!

- The Colclough

Tuesday 21 May 2013

A Show of His Own

Back in 2011, in the days of Arbitrary Stopframe Series 1, one character emerged as the clear favourite out of the eleven who had appeared in the show.  Everybody else got just one appearance, or at best two, but Doctor Murkum (one of the many denizens of Universe XGT) got three episodes to himself - well, two-and-a-half if you take into account that he had to share the last one with an angry DVD copy of a South Korean monster flick.  And somebody - I think it was Tim - suggested that perhaps Murkum should get a show of his own.

Well, he's got it.  Tim's suggestion rankled away throughout 2012 - if I gave Murkum his own show, what sort of show would it be?  I considered making it a chat show, but that one fell by the wayside; I could never come up with a workable answer to the questions of who he would talk to, about what, and why.  I briefly considered having a split-timeframe format, intercutting footage that was meant to have come from Murkum's first camcorder back in the 1980s with other footage of him in the present day reviewing his past escapades on tape and trying to deny or explain away the more embarrassing bits; that one floundered due to its technical over-complication.

Eventually, I settled on a less-is-more approach, and decided that each episode should be a short stand-alone sketch, set at Fort Murk in the present day, in which Murkum brings injury and/or embarrassment upon himself.  He does that a lot anyway, so it made sense that The Murkum Show should bring it to the screen.  The fun thing about writing for Murkum is that he's numb-skulled, arrogant, violent, a kleptomaniac and a pathological liar, so I can write/animate him suffering all sorts of indignities without having to feel even remotely sorry for him - he deserves every indignity that comes his way.

So, with that premise in mind, I built a set out of Lego, scribbled down a trio of short episode scripts (half a side of A4 each, if that), and sent them to Tim for appraisal.  It's worth mentioning at this point, for those who don't know already, that I've known Tim for a very long time, and Murkum is almost as much his fault as he is mine.  So that's why he gets to read the scripts before anybody else.  Basically he agreed with my own assessment, which was that Episodes 2 and 3 worked, but 1 felt unfinished; combined with the fact that I'd decided I wanted the series opener to feature some of Murkum's highest-ranking employees, it seemed like the logical thing to leave Episodes 2 and 3 as Episodes 2 and 3, but push back the previous 'Episode 1' to become Episode 4, pending a rewrite, and pen a new episode to begin the series.  Which I did shortly afterwards.

The next step was dialogue recording and processing - it took a lot of faffing about with a constricted throat and a pile of audio filters to make Murkum-on-speakers sound like Murkum-in-my-head.  The job was made more complex due to Murkum being a cyborg (with an artificial voicebox, mechanical components in his chest to keep his respiration and circulation going, and all of his limbs at least partially cybernetic), and I needed to try and make his voice sound like it was being electronically generated, but without ending up as a clone of Microsoft Sam.  Got there in the end, though, with some more assistance from T.

The actual animation process was relatively short and painless, with the first three episodes (collectively 'Production Block A') shot back-to-back over the course of last Thursday, and I then completed sound editing for the trio and released Episode 1 Elite Class on Saturday.  As you can see right here:

Ta-da!  The Murkum Show has landed.

I've already finished dialogue recordings for 'Production Block B' (Episodes 4 to 6), and am aiming to film the visual components in the next few days.  The plan is to release one episode every Saturday while stocks last, so come back on the 25th for Episode 2 Drinkies...

- The Colclough

Tuesday 30 April 2013

End of a Pixellated Era

I actually did it.  After the best part of 2 years' on-and-off work in the current phase, and nearly 7 years after starting the project overall, I finally wrote the 2126th episode of Cylinder and Miserable this afternoon, completing Series 3.

I have to admit, at this point, to a strange act of... well, unwarranted strangeness.  I actually picked episode 2126 as the end-point for Series 3 several years ago - at the same time (I think) that I picked 1448 as the end-point for Series 2.  Which was before I'd written very much of Series 2.  And for no objective reason that I can put a finger on, I actually stuck with those two completely arbitrary numbers, ending Series 2 on Episode 1448 nearly three years ago, and Series 3 on Episode 2126 today.  It must be getting on for half a decade that 'Episode 2126' has been lurking at the back of my mind as a semi-mythical future event - much like 'Star Wars: Episode I' must have been to many moviegoers up until about 1997, before The Phantom Menace got released - but now it's an actual, honest-to-goodness fact, sitting on my hard disk as a .gif file.  The long-gestating third phase of my huge, unwieldy and frequently bizarre webcomic project is finally over.

It hasn't always been easy - the finished article bears a scar or two from the processes of its own creation, and I owe Tim a debt of thanks for getting me to let go of some elements which (without my realising it) were dragging the comic down - but on the whole I'm pleased with the outcome.  It ended rather well, if I say so myself - I'll be interested to see whether you agree with me on that point, when the newly-minted episodes get published around this time next year.

I want, and need, a break.  I've got a narrative masterplan for Series 4, but I won't start writing that for at least another year, simply because it's hard work writing such a big project, and I can't keep it up continuously.  So don't go expecting news of work on Series 4 in a hurry.  In fact, if I've got the maths right, I think I might end up finishing publishing Series 3 before I've had as long a break as I want or started writing Series 4, which would be the first time since writing Episode 0001 that I completely run out of unpublished strips.  But we'll have to wait and see on that front.

In the meantime, if you're not doing so already, you can find Series 3 still publishing over at

- The Colclough

Thursday 28 March 2013

Videos from March

I've uploaded a couple of videos this month, and forgotten to put them on here at the time, so this post is a little end-of-month roundup of videos that should have been on here earlier...

Made second but posted first: The Fifteen-Minute Fortress, in which I do some rambly bloggy stuff, intercut with footage of me trying to build a Lego castle thing (of sorts) in 15 minutes flat.  Watch below, and judge for yourself whether or not it was any kind of success - and what the answer might be to the question about a sequel which I pose at the end...

Made first (shot in October, in fact, and finished in February) but posted second: X-Battles GT5: Exploding, in which some Lego (wait, thematic connection going on here!) characters have a fight with laser weapons.  Produced in conjunction with Tim and Sarah, and all rather fun to make.

- The Colclough

Thursday 14 March 2013

Oh Help, There's a Corner

It was mooted some time last year that if I lived long enough (i.e. until my 25th birthday) and managed not to crash the Fiesta in the meantime, I might be able to get insured to drive my Dad's car, a 2009 Mondeo diesel estate.

I reached the old quarter-centenary last month.  Without crashing the Fiesta.

As of early yesterday afternoon, I'm told, I am now insured to drive the Mondeo.  So last night I went for my first spin in it.  I have to say, it was quite a surreal experience, in that all the principles are exactly the same, but pretty much every single detail was different.  Still an automatic gearbox, but a different type of automatic gearbox.  Still got the indicator stalk on the left, but it feels different somehow.  Still got brakes (as you'd hope, really), but much more bitey than in the smaller car.

But if you'll excuse the terrible pun, the big difference was how big it is.  Compared to the Fiesta, the Mondeo is a bit wider, has a higher and longer bonnet, and sticks out half a mile further at the back end, which makes cornering that bit hairier.  I spent the inaugural drive alternating between thinking "this is fine, I don't know what Mum complains about," and then having sudden moments of doubt whenever I came up to a corner, as the Mondeo's hugely increased wheelbase makes cornering a very different experience to what I'm used to.

But strangeness aside, I got it back onto the driveway in one piece, so it was all good in the end.

And then, out of sheer force of habit, I reached for the key to turn it off.

Which was silly of me, because I've known all along that you don't put the key in the steering column in the Mondeo.  It signals its presence wirelessly, and you start or stop the engine with a button on the dashboard.  But my muscular memory kicked in, and I reached for the non-present key anyway.  Duh.

- The Colclough

Rest in Fleece

I recently wrote a blog post bemoaning the apparent passing of Hannah Newcombe's blog at, and suggesting that I should mark the anniversary of the last post with a virtual funeral.  Well, it's now a few days (weeks?) on from the anniversary, and I have prodded the corpse to double-check that it really is dead, and guess what?  It hasn't twitched.  It looks pretty dead to me.

So here goes the funeral!

As a non-relative of the deceased, perhaps I should begin by outlining how I came to meet them.  Well, it's Root Hill's fault.  I met Hannah for the first time at Root Hill 2010, and found my way onto her blog via her pair of trainers with somebody else's blog address on them (as one does).  This conspired together with other elements of RH2010 to inspire the beginnings of my own blog - this one you're reading here right now.  The two blogs intermittently goaded each other on over the next year and a half, and a good time was had by all.  Or at least by me...

I had suggested that the funeral should take the form of a selection of my favourite posts from the sheepy one's blog, along with an explanation of why I liked them; however, this could present something of a difficulty as there are quite a lot of posts on there (a quick bit of math says 219!) and I've never been very good at picking favourites.  I thought about giving it a shot anyway, but soon realised that the sheer number of posts I'd have to re-read and sort through is overwhelming.  However noble my intentions, and however much I might enjoy re-reading some of the old posts (which I do sometimes), I just don't have the time to systematically go through all 219 of them.  Between the challenges, the ramblings, the huge web of Doctor Who and Hitchhiker's Guide references, the ad-hoc remarks on life as it happened, and the occasional, wonderful moments when my own creative output got put in the spotlight, there are too many posts on there for me to pick out just a few.

Other features of the funeral were going to be a selection of music, and some thoughts on food.  Music first:

In a suitably lamentative and funereal mode, and in keeping with the prevailing spirit of sci-fi nerdiness, I nominate This is Gallifrey from the Doctor Who Season 29 / New Series 3 soundtrack, by Murray Gold:

...followed by Tim's (characteristically baroque) suggestion, the aptly sheepy Sheep May Safely Graze by J. S. Bach:

Sam suggests Fade To Black by Metallica - I know virtually nothing about rock (you see, I'm assuming Metallica is rock... I could even be wrong about that, for all I know!), so I don't necessarily understand the connection apart from the fading-to-black-usually-denoting-the-end-of-something thing - but I'm sure Sam has some underlying reason for the choice, so here's the link anyway:

And to conclude the musical interlude, something I came across via Hannah's blog, which fits well with one of our shared interests, and also somewhat reflects my feelings over here at A White Horizon now that I'm one of the last two survivors from the little circle of Root Hill bloggers (hannahlikessheepbaa isn't the only one to have gone down over the last year or two; Sam's the only other one still going that I'm aware of): Type 40 by Chameleon Circuit:

And finally, the after-funeral lunch.  Sam remembered something important which had slipped my mind - Zombie Fluxx - and used that as the basis for his food suggestions: Sandwiches, Donuts, Coffee and the Zombie Brains.  That's a good game, Zombie Fluxx.

And for my nominations: as a semi-regular repository of Whovian enthusiasms, Hannah's blog absolutely must be commemorated with Fish Custard, a la The Eleventh Hour.  I also nominate pizza, in memory of various (usually Root-Hill-related) past events - but not Yorkshire Pizza of Death.  I think one of those is quite enough for one lifetime.  I'm tempted to suggest lamb/mutton, but really not sure whether that's an appropriate interpretation of "likes sheep".

Hannah, thank you for the blogging.  It has been a thoroughly enjoyable... thing.  What's the proper collective noun for a period of time during which multiple people write blogs that play off each other?  I have no idea.  But what I was trying to say is, it's been a thoroughly enjoyable one of those.

Rest in fleece, hannahlikessheepbaa.  So long, and - because we can't let you pass into the blogospherical afterlife without cracking some sort of Hitchhikers' joke: thanks for all the fish.

And custard.

- The Colclough

Thursday 7 February 2013

About That Letterbox of Yours

You remember in my last post I told the Root Hill types among you to watch your letterboxes for incoming DVDs?

I know for a fact that none of you will have got what you're watching for yet.

I swear it's not for lack of trying.  I've printed all the address labels and everything, and I would dearly love to get the things in the post.

But can I get anybody to sell me fifteen DVD-box-size padded postpacks at anything like a sensible price?  Yeah, right.  Last year I got them in 3-packs from Tesco, which worked out at 33p per envelope.  Fair enough.  This year, Tesco have been out of stock for weeks (literally, weeks), while the post office only had half the number I needed, and were after £1.39 each for them!  Combining that with the amount postage has gone up in the last 12 months, I could almost make a loss just on the post and packaging.

Still got one or two other ideas on where I might be able to try, but I haven't had a chance to try them yet.

So the long and short of it is that you can relax your letterbox-watching vigilance, because the DVDs haven't been posted.  I am very, very sorry for the delay.

- The Colclough

Saturday 2 February 2013

Things Achieved: First of February

Morning: got pinched and punched for the first of the month, by one of the accountants.  Not sure that really counts as an achievement, but I think it was a first for me, so there you go.  Apparently I have to remember to say 'White Rabbit' before she has a chance to attack me on the first of March, to forestall the pinching and punching.  As the Americans say, go figure.

Afternoon: unpacked the future out of its little cardboard boxes and put it on the shelves.  'The future' as in the future of household lighting, in case you're wondering.  We'd taken delivery of a new range of LED bulbs, and as Kings' employee-most-known-for-being-paranoid-about-the-light-bulb-shelves, it fell to me to help optimise the shelf layout, produce and implant the colour-coded shelf edging strips (they're really nice edging strips, if I say so myself; I should have taken a photo), and put all of the relevant information into the till database.  I also made a promotional page for the shop's website as well, which you can see here.

They're rather expensive (prices starting at £9.99 for one bulb), but with the up-to-25-year lifespan and the 80% energy saving, they will more than pay for themselves.  The lifespan and the efficiency are the same advantages touted for those ugly compact-fluorescent bulbs over the last few years; but the LEDs have more: they turn on instantly - you don't have to wait for ages between throwing the switch and getting some light - and the bulbs actually look decent, unlike the hideous convoluted bulkiness of a CFL.  I'm rather looking forward to the day the CFL becomes extinct and LED bulbs take over the world.

Evening: finished making the DVD copies of Root Hill on Camera 2012.  Really.  Pictures to prove it:

The stack of finished DVDs

Preview of the main menu

Now I just need to put the blighters in the post.  Watch your letterboxes.

- The Colclough

Tuesday 29 January 2013

It Also Animates!

I mentioned a couple of posts ago that I was given a Wacom Bamboo graphics tablet as a Christmas present, and I showed off my first piece of serious Bamboo-based artwork.  Today I decided to move ahead with another semi-related project which I've been thinking about for a couple of weeks: an experimental animation using the Bamboo, the GIMP and Sony Vegas.  I started drawing the test scene this morning, and finished animating it around mid-afternoon, and it came out looking like this:

As rumoured in the aforementioned previous post, the clip features Elbows Dude, a heavily-stylised character who had featured in just one previous work, a one-off comic strip from 2006 which was called The Short Adventure of Elbows Dude and was about Elbows Dude flexing his elbows a lot and generally being in a comic strip.  That's him in the picture above - no, he's the green one, silly; the purple ones are dead cows.  And to satisfy the historically-curious among you, here's his debut outing:

Fun fact: I've never published that thing before, perhaps because I thought nobody would get it.

I've got a few other Elbows Dude-related story ideas drifting around, which have been festering in my head since about 2010, and now (along with today's segment) have semi-congealed into something approaching a plot, albeit a really surreal one.  Hence the clip I've just made will - hopefully - go on to serve as the opening of a larger production.

Now, I could be all mean and make you wait for the whole film to come out, but I'm not feeling mean today.  So rather than keep you all on tenterhooks waiting to find out what the animation actually looks like, I decided to use the existing segment as a teaser trailer for the film.  Alright, hush the clamour already - here's your video:

Confused?  Yeah.  Me too.  I have no idea why it's raining cows in there.

Just you wait until you see the rest...

- The Colclough

Friday 25 January 2013


Having mentioned in my last post that I've finished video editing for Root Hill on Camera 2012, it occurred to me that I should stick the trailer on ye blog, for completeness' sake if nothing else.

Not much else to say here right now, only the trailer.  And if you didn't like it, then just be grateful you didn't see the first draft.  It was pretty terrible.

Normal blogging service will resume whenever it resumes.

- The Colclough

Thursday 24 January 2013

What the Wacom Can Do

After a minor case of unsubtle hinting, I was given a Wacom Bamboo Pen & Touch graphics tablet for Christmas.  I hadn't really used graphics tablets much before, and my last attempt (borrowing Tim's tablet, which is also a Wacom) produced this rather unimpressive bit of scribble:

A concept sketch for Fort Paradox 115: my first graphics-tablet drawing.  Srsly.

However, I was pretty sure that my initial failures were just teething trouble.  After all, I spent my first two or three weeks in The GIMP being hopelessly confused and (whisper it!) almost missing Photoshop, of all things - before it suddenly clicked one day, and I've been using the program for all sorts of things ever since.  I expected a similar thing would happen with the tablet, if I had one of my own and was able to get some practice.

It looks like I expected right.  This morning, I finished this (a rather better piece of scribble, if I say so myself):

Blue in the Firelight, January 2013

I almost crashed GIMP during the production process, as the image had so many layers; in the end I fixed the problem by separating the thing out into three different files - one with the initial compositional layers, a second to tidy up the line art, and a third to add the colour.  You can see a higher-resolution version of the finished picture on my DeviantArt page, and you might notice it cropping up as my new avatar on DeviantArt and on Steam.

Where next?   Well - here's a bit of good news for the Root Hill attendees among you - I'm very nearly finished the Root Hill On Camera 2012 DVD: the video segments are rendered, the disc menus are authored, and the print components have been designed.  All that remains is to produce the physical copies and get them in the post.  And once that little project (little... haha, right) is off my slate, I'm planning to try and get back to animating something.  So many ideas drifting around right now, including Papercuts episodes 5 onwards (waiting on script delivery from a guest writer or two), Arbitrary Stopframe Series 2 (waiting on... um... me getting round to it), The Murkum Show (working title, waiting on me figuring out what it's actually about apart from having lots of Doctor Murkum in it), and the long-planned Fishy Business remake Empire of the Pond (which has recently seen some movement on the test-illustrations front).  But more recently, the idea occurred to me that I should try doing a quick-and-dirty (that fatal phrase...) graphics-tablet cel animation featuring my little-known character Elbows Dude in a variety of improbable scrapes, which he solves with his elbow powers.  Right now, I honestly don't know which route I'll be going down next, but all five of them have some appeal, so I'll hopefully be picking one and getting down to business before too long.  Watch this space!

- The Colclough

Saturday 19 January 2013

Landmarks, Challenges and Ze Future

Okay, I missed it.

As in, I wrote my 150th post on this blog, back on Tuesday, and didn't even realise I was doing it.  In my webcomic Cylinder and Miserable it's a long-standing joke that the characters stop to comment on the passage of strip numbers every 50th episode, or more recently they make a point of complaining about the long-standing joke, or just make a point of refusing to comment altogether.  But over here on A White Horizon, I didn't even know I was doing #150 until after I'd hit the 'publish' button.

Still, you could argue that 150 is only a half-landmark, and the next 'proper' one is #200 (which I'll try and make a point of doing something special for, although I'd probably be hard-pushed to do anything as impressive as Sam's 200th post back in June), so I'm not too upset about my failure to spot it.

That, and Tim said he nearly died laughing at what turned out to be my 150th, and I guess a blog post that almost kills your best friend is fairly momentous, even if not quite in the right way, so you could say the landmark didn't quite go unmarked after all...

That was the Landmarks bit.  Now for a comment on Challenges.

As you may have noticed, my first blog post of 2011 was my first of 11 submissions in the "First 11 for '11" challenge against Hannah, and my first blog post of 2012 was my announcement of the free-for-all "First 12 for '12" challenge, which I ended up losing pretty badly to Hannah, Sam and Tim.

As you may also have noticed, this is my third post of 2013, Sam and Tim have also been blogging since the Auld Lang Syne was sung, and none of us have mentioned any "First 13 for '13".  Which is because it isn't happening.  I'd forgotten about the whole thing, Sam had opined that a speed-based challenge probably isn't the best approach (and I've been thinking he's right), and Tim said he's too busy to take part in any blog challenges this winter.  So all things considered, we decided not to bother.

It's also worth noting that Hannah hasn't blogged once since the 24th of last February (almost 11 months ago, do the math), and sad as it may be, it rather seems that the world's greatest sheep-obsessive blog is dead.  Particularly poignant and stuff for me, as hannahlikessheepbaa was really the blog which inspired this one in the first place.  It's largely her fault I blog, and largely my fault Tim blogs, so A White Horizon and OpenCGDA have lost their spiritual parent and spiritual grandparent respectively.

And that leads me on to the last of my three points: Ze Future, or Ze Lack of Future, for a certain other blog.

In light of the impact made by, I think it would be fitting for the blog's surviving friends and relations to give it a dignified send-off, and to that purpose I intend to arrange a virtual funeral.  I was thinking that everyone who has appreciated Hannah's blog over the years could join together on the anniversary of its last known sign of life (i.e. on the 24th of this February) to pay their respects by writing about the general significance of Hannah's blog to them and about which of her posts they liked best and why.  I thought we could also propose a selection of music which would embody the memory of the departed and express our feelings at their departure, and round the whole thing off with a virtual post-funeral lunch comprising food items chosen for their relevance to Hannah's blog.  I'm nominating This Is Gallifrey and fish-custard in the latter two categories...

I seem to remember discussing the funeral idea with somebody already, but I can't remember who it was.  Anybody who has any fondness for Hannah's blog will of course be welcome to attend / participate.

Obviously, if the corpse suddenly comes back to life then that would radically change the funeral plans (maybe rework them as a resurrection party?), but until that happens, I'm planning to proceed on the assumption that the funeral is a thing.

- The Colclough

Tuesday 15 January 2013

What's a Desktop?

I got one of those phone calls this afternoon, where they claim to be from Microsoft and want to talk to you about your computer problem (taking advantage of the fact that most people who have a computer have Windows and/or a problem, usually both), with a view to getting you to pay for some alleged 'repair service' which will actually do more damage to the machine than good, and let the perpetrators run off with your credit card details.

I spotted the guy immediately - the combination of a thick Indian accent and the (always dubious) opening line "Hello, I'm calling from Microsoft; am I right in thinking you are the primary user of your computer?" - and since I knew the Accented One was a miserable low-life trying to pull a fast one on me, I decided I could justify wasting a few minutes of his time by pretending to be a tech-illiterate moron.  Five minutes spent trying to help me find my own mouse would be five minutes less for the cad to maraud around and prey on someone more vulnerable.  That, and I thought it'd be fun.

Needless to say, I fully appreciate the irony inherent in the notion of me playing the tech-illiterate moron, seeing as the computer is by far my most frequently-used tool, and I basically got my current job (coming up to its one-year anniversary next month!) on the grounds that I can speak HTML and I showed promise at navigating the shop's database.  But just for a few minutes, I carefully suppressed years of deeply-ingrained Windows-user know-how, and pretended I didn't have a clue.

"There's this thing out there that will infect your computer as soon as you go on the internet.  It affects all versions of Windows," the Accent informed me in apparent earnest.  "Oh dear," I muttered in fake worry, "that sounds pretty bad.  I guess I'd better let you give me a hand..."  And so we began.  I don't claim that what follows is a verbatim transcript, but it does summarise the more interesting points.

"Can you be in front of your computer right now?" the Accent asked me.  I was already there - having been using it when the phone rang - so I decided not to bother over-complicating that step.  "Yes," I said, "I'm there".  "Good," said the Accent.

"Right: is it a desktop or a laptop computer?" the Accent asked me.  "What's the difference?" I replied.  After making him explain two or three times, I finally 'deduced' what I'd known all along: it's all in separate bits spread all over the desk with cables between then, so it's a desktop.  I then feigned surprise at the 'realisation' that a desktop computer is called that because it's non-portable and stays permanently on the top of the desk.

"Which version of Windows do you have?" the Accent asked me.  "How do I find out?" I replied.  And then I muddied the waters further by saying I'd heard that there was this thing called Linux which you could get instead of Windows, and how would I know if I had that?  Mumble, mumble... we never did work out that I'm running Windows at all, never mind getting down to finnicky details like XP x64 Pro.

I pushed the OS question a bit further by asking "What happens if I've got Linux?  Will it still get The Problem?"  "Yes," the Accent said, "it'll be much worse."  Oh, really - I thought - well, thank goodness I'm not running Linux in your imaginary scam-world then.  I could have been in trouble.

"Could you go to the screen that comes up when you turn the computer on?" the Accent asked me.  "Oh," said I, "but I always have the screen on when I turn the computer on.  Otherwise I can't use the computer!"  Apparently put off for a moment by this unfortunate spot of ambiguity in the English language, the Accent changed his tack a bit: "Can you go to your main screen?"  "Um... I've only got one.  Some of my friends have two, but I don't."

"What can you see on your screen right now?"  I happened to be staring at Windows Media Player 11, so I said in dim-but-happy mode "I can see my music!" and merrily launched into a string of pointless questions as to whether the quantity or even the selection of music could affect the computer's vulnerability to The Problem.  I even started reading out the contents of my library, but only got as far as "some Adiemus albums, and the soundtrack from that Portal 2 game, and" before being interrupted by the next question.

"How old are you?" asked the Accent.  I feigned worry again and asked if I was going to be in trouble because of a legal minimum age for using a computer, to which the Accent said "No, no, I'm not talking about anything illegal."  This remark provided me the opportunity to slip in the knowing question (albeit still disguised under the vapid manner I'd been keeping up for the previous few minutes) "Are you sure?"  I don't know whether or not he picked up on the subtle aspertion being cast against his alleged Microsoft credentials, but if he did, he didn't let on.

"So," I blustered on, "does the computer know how old I am and behave differently based on my age?" I was somewhat taken aback by his answer - in retrospect, I think the Accent must have decided I was really stupid and thought it would be easier to just play along: "Yes, it does."  "Oh," I mumbled.

Anyway, I honestly don't know why he felt he needed to know my age, and I didn't much fancy telling him.  So I decided to bend the truth.  Well, alright, I guess misquoting your age by seven years goes beyond 'bending the truth' and counts as outright fibbing, doesn't it.  I claimed I was 17, and I think that was the point where the pudding got over-egged.  His Accentedness didn't buy it for one moment.  "No, you don't sound 17," he said.  In retrospect, I should have asked how old he thought I sounded - was he going by the timbre of my voice and cottoning on that I'm actually in my mid-20s, or was he going by the implausible stupidity of my responses to his questions and thinking I was more like 7?  I guess I'll never know.

I claimed I was really 17, but I have a throat condition that makes my voice sound unusual. And at this point, the Accent had obviously had enough, because he muttered something which I couldn't quite make out for certain, but which sounded a lot like "I think you've got a few other conditions as well," before telling me to "Have a nice day, sir," and hanging up.

One can only speculate as to how much longer I might have been able to keep it going if I'd come clean and said I'm 24...

Looking back on the conversation, the best bit was probably one of the earliest ones, but I thought I'd save it for last in the writeup: when he asked if I was the primary user of my computer, I said I was, but I said I sometimes let the hamster have a go too.  Needless to say, the Accent seemed to have trouble knowing what to make of this.  But while it may sound like the least realistic thing I said in the whole phone call, the beauty of it is that it's arguably true, at least in a manner of speaking.  Okay, so Dusty doesn't exactly 'have a go on the computer' as such, but he does sometimes walk across my keyboard and accidentally press the odd key with his feet.  So you could say he's 'on the computer', even if only in the crudely physical sense of standing on the controls.

As a coda to the story: once I hung up, I found myself shaking.  I suspect it was a physical reaction to the strain of suppressing my usually-dominant honest streak and telling barefaced lies for a solid eight-and-a-half minutes.  Strange and fascinating.

Anyway, shakes aside, I very much suspect (and certainly hope) that my Accented friend had the worst of the conversation!

- The Colclough

Monday 7 January 2013

From One Weeks' Vantage

Okay, been a week (what, already?) since 2012 shuffled off its mortal coil.  I always said the Mayans were wrong and I'd make it to Event 2013, and here I am.  Here, more to the point, we all are.

Thought I'd do a little write-up on the past year, and have a brief ponder on what might be coming up...


I turned 24.  I remained weird.  I also remained single.  I didn't remain unemployed though, as you might have read in these pages back in February.

I nearly lost my computer.  But it got fixed in the end, so all's well, and all that.

We obtained our seventh hamster back in January, and he has been entertaining us with his nuttiness ever since.  And chewing the carpets.

The Jubilee happened.  Celebrations in my area got rather washed out, but sometimes that's life.  Now I'm busy rooting for Her Majesty to reach the end of her 64th year on the throne and overtake Victoria as the longest-reigning monarch in British history.

The Olympics happened.  I enjoyed the event, mostly.  It was interesting to see that that at one point the USA decided to report the medals table using a different algorithm to everybody else in order to pretend that they were on top, when really we all knew China were leading - almost as if the whole nation was throwing a huge collective strop because being in second place out of 200-odd nations just wasn't good enough for them, dammit Jim.  Us Brits, meanwhile, were perfectly happy with third rank - or at least I was.  I thought the closing ceremony was a washout - okay, it's some overpaid morons singing naff songs; even Imagine is massively over-rated, what's the fuss about here? - but thought most of the opening show was brilliant, and the actual sporting in between managed to grip even me, who hasn't a drop of sporting blood in my body.

I made some interesting discoveries about animation - most importantly, the fact that paper cutout animation is actually a lot slower and more difficult than you might think.  My animation output for 2011 comprised 13 episodes of Arbitrary Stopframe, but 2012 managed only 4 episodes of Papercuts.  Although to be fair, Papercuts episodes feature dialogue (with the consequent burden of lip-synch work), and each have three times the runtime of actual animation (i.e. not counting title and credit sequences) of an AS episode, so when you do the maths they work out relatively close.

That was my film output - what of the intake?  Records indicate (yes, I keep records) that I went to the cinema four times in 2012, to see The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists (visually top-notch, as one would expect from an Aardman feature, but disappointingly weak in the story department, and less funny than it should have been), Avengers Assemble (don't get me started, I could eulogise for ages, especially about Phil 'Agent' Coulson), Brave (not quite Pixar's best, but still pretty good), and finally The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (overlong, yes, but largely enjoyable, especially the performances of Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis.  Sorry about the inevitable disagreements betwixt us, Sam, but I did like it).  I've lost count of all the things I've seen on TV / DVD / Blu-ray, but highlights have included Galaxy Quest on Blu-ray, Sherlock season 2, the first half of the first season of The West Wing, my first time watching full seasons of The Apprentice (s8) and Young Apprentice (s3), and of course Seven Samurai.  Not so much a highlight, but still of note, the first few episodes of Star Trek TNG.  So far, at least half of them have been really awful - but I kept watching because I'm a bit of a completist sometimes.  The Dreaded Moffat has been very cruel and only given us six episodes of Doctor Who this year, instead of the 14 we should have had, but at least the first half of Series 33/7 has been an improvement over the sloppily-written debacle of 2011's Series 32/6.

I finished publishing Cylinder and Miserable Series 2, and started on Series 3.  Didn't end up resuming Grace and Caffeine or starting my planned Brothers in Shells prequel spin-off yet.

I also met a guy called Wayne, and we've been writing a sitcom whose basic premise is The Screwtape Letters mashed up with The Terminator, and laced with a liberal dollop of up-to-the-minute financial corruption.  More on that later, maybe...

And to round things off, I won 2 out of 5 podium spots for best post, and second ranking on the Best Blog of the Year list, in Sam's 2012 blogroll review, which I have to say was a very nice cap to the blogging year.


In short, goodness knows.  There are 51 more weeks to go before 2014 starts, and 51 weeks is a very, very long time, both in politics and elsewhere.

On the animation front, I'm hoping to get X-Battles GT5 finished soon.  Beyond that, Papercuts episodes 5 to 9 are all in various stages of being written, but none are ready to go yet, so I might be taking a break from the show and producing something else next.  Possibly more AS, and/or possibly the long-brewing Empire of the Pond, given a helping hand by my new graphics tablet.  Or maybe something about Murkum, animated entirely in Lego - but I don't have a workable screen story for that project yet, so you'll have to wait.  On a related note, Tim, Sarah and I finished Alpha One's Winter Wonderland back in the summer, and shot a fifth X-Battles GT short in October (nearly finished, just waiting for some more sound-editing work).

Hoping to finish writing Cylinder and Miserable Series 3 this year.  Might get round to doing one of those other comic-strip things I mentioned.  Might not.  Don't know.

Looking forward to Iron Man 3, Thor 2, Monsters University, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.  Waiting to see what the reviews are like.  Need to catch up with Skyfall on DVD/BR sometime.

I've known people who took less than 51 weeks between meeting their future spouse for the first time ever, and getting back from their honeymoon.  Not to say I expect to marry in 2013; far from it, I've long since given up any actual hope or expectation on that front, but I know enough about probability - and about God's sometimes inexplicable sense of humour - to recognise that I can't absolutely rule out any traces of possibility.

Can but wait and see!

- The Colclough