Monday, July 31, 2006

The Insider...

I thought that today I’d take a leaf from MC Etcher’s book, and post an idea I had.

As you’ve probably already guessed, it’s an idea for a videogame, but it’s different as, as far as I know, nothing like this has been done before. Maybe I’ve gone ahead and created a new genre.

First of all, the storyline:

The year is 1901. You receive an invitation to a ‘party’ hosted by a mysterious stranger. The invitation also states that the party is also a competition, with the winner receiving ten million British Pounds.

You arrive at the party’s location. A large, sprawling country mansion out in the middle of nowhere. You walk through the front door, into an ante-chamber filled with another 12 guests. As you enter, the door clicks shut behind you, and you hear heavy locks slide into place. A hatch opens on the wall. Inside are letters addressed to each of the guests, each reads:

Welcome to the game.

Hidden somewhere in the house is a chest containing the ten million. It also contains an artifact worth much more than money. The key to this house.

You have exactly 48 hours to find the chest, the money and the key, because in exactly 47 hours 59 minutes from now a deadly gas will flood the building. I’m afraid that it is fast acting and quite, quite fatal. Tread carefully, however, as my house is home to some quite ingenious traps.

You should also know that one among you is not entirely what he or she seems. He/She is employed by me to foil your efforts, and kill you one by one if He/She gets the chance. Out of all of you, He/She is the only one who has taken the antidote and is immune to the gas.

Your first clue is on the back of this letter, and not all competitors will receive the same clue.

It is up to you whether you want to share your clues and work together or go it alone.


Welcome to ‘The Insider’. A purely multiplayer game.

The point of the game, as you’ve guessed, is to find the chest and escape. The player (or players) who find the chest ‘win’. Points are also awarded for finding clues and solving clues. If no-one finds the chest, everyone loses and receives no points (except for the insider, based on how many people he killed, and how many red-herrings and traps he caused people to fall into).

Now, how this would work. Each ‘round’ of the game would last anywhere from an hour to six hours (set by the server). Also, at the start of each game, one player would randomly be assigned to be the ‘Insider’. The point of the game for him is to slow everyone down, spread mistrust, and of course, kill the other players.

The system would work where the ‘insider’ could only kill other players when alone with a single other player and out of earshot of the others. The ‘insider’ can also see the locations of various red herrings and traps.

However, at any time, any character can accuse another player as being the insider. If they’re right, the insider is out of the game and after a preset time limit, a new insider is picked at random. If they accuse wrongly, the accuser is out of the game.

The gameplay would be simple. At the beginning of the game, each player gets a clue, which leads to the next clue, and the next and so on. As the ‘letter’ states, players who find a clue have the choice of whether to share the knowledge or not.

This would add a lot to the gameplay as only the person who picks up the clue can see it. It’s up to them to tell the clue to the others, so a less than honest player, who read and understood the clue, could make one up to fox the other players, leaving them to figure it out while he runs off for the other clue.

For example, say the clue points to a loose floorboard in a bedroom, but one player receives a clue which points to the third floor. He could say his clue pointed to the first floor, and leave the other characters searching the bedrooms there while he shot upstairs to get the clue. However, in order to keep the game balanced and playable, the clues would be cryptic enough to ensure that at least some of them would require more than one person to figure it out. As in the above example, the other characters would find the clue eventually…and also, what if one of the bedrooms on the third floor is home to a trap? Far better to dupe someone else into searching for you.

They may also occasionally receive a clue that openly tells them to lie to the other players and look in a particular location for a hint that would put them ahead of the game…but again, maybe they’re just being led into a trap.

Each player would also have a set of ‘needs’, The Sims style, meaning they have to go to the bathroom, eat and rest. This is purely to give each player a valid, believable reason to leave the main group, giving them the opportunity to fake out other players and look for a clue on their own… and to get them on their own to give the insider access to them away from the group and set up multiple assassination choices. People gotta eat? The insider can poison some food while pretending to be on a ‘bathroom visit’.

The masterstroke in this (at least in my opinion) is how communication is handled. It’s done entirely by voice-over-net (In other words, real time talking, like over a phone), but you have to be standing near someone to talk to them. In other words, like real life. If people are whispering on the other side of the room, you might be able to eavesdrop. If they’re a couple of rooms away, you won’t hear them at all. In short, the volume of everyone’s voice depends on how far away from your character their character is.

Each game is generated randomly, although there’s an option for a ‘dungeon master’ to create his own treasure hunt and write his own clues for friends.

So as an example of how all this would work, lets imagine we’re playing the game.

Imagine my character was picked as the insider. Everyone has their letters and everyone reads their clues. Again, it all works on trust. Who knows if people are reading their real clues? What if one person has solved the clue by listening to all the others’ clues, to which his clue makes the meaning clear…but makes one up before running off the get the clue himself? Of course, he needs to come up with an excuse to get away from everyone else.

The inclusion of an insider also stops friends from playing the game and agreeing ahead of time to be honest with each other and help each other out. What if the friend you’ve agreed to team up with is the insider?

Anyway, the clues have been read, and everyone’s agreed that the clue has something to do with, say, fire. There are multiple fireplaces in the mansion, so as the insider, I suggest we split up. We have a limited amount of time and we can cover more ground individually.

Then the paranoia sets in. What if one person finds the clue and refuses to share it? What if my clue points to the exact location of the clue and I want to run off and find it alone? So it’s agreed people split into twos…which is exactly what I want. I go with my partner to a particular room, and stab him in the back. I also hide his body.

I return to the group to find three people have found a clue. Of course, they ask where my partner is. I tell them that we found our clue, but then he said his first clue told him who the insider was, and went off to find confront him and kick him from the game. I didn’t go with him, because I got the feeling he was lying and trying to lure me into a trap. If he was telling the truth, he should be back any minute! Don’t worry!

Again, think of this. Eventually everyone will realize that the character is dead. But who killed him? Everyone was in twos, and didn’t know the location of everyone else. What if the Insider killed him before he managed to confront and accuse him? What if he was simply led into a trap with a false clue? Obviously, I’d be a prime suspect, but at this point, who will risk leaving the game to accuse me?

Everyone quickly gets wrapped up in a web of lies and half truths. I could be lying. I could also be telling the truth, but what if I’m telling the truth, but what I was told was a lie? It’s a great situation where everyone has to work together to escape, but no-one can really trust anyone else. Because everything is handled by voice-over-net, you could easily tell someone you ‘overheard’ character A telling character B that he knew character C was lying because of what you heard from character D.

Anyway, back to the game. The clues that were found all say something about water. (Don’t ask me why I’m sticking with elemental clues here, they could easily lead to a loose floorboard in the cellar). As the insider, I happen to know that there’s a trap in the swimming pool, so I say my clue says something about ‘getting in over your head’. The water must be deep. Where could that be?

We find the pool, and someone jumps in and finds a lock-box on the bottom, only when they lift it, the whole pool becomes electrified.

Ooops, what a pity.

So there, you get the basic gist of the gameplay. It’s a veritable buffet of mistrust and paranoia. Part Clue, part ‘saw’, part ‘Murder in the Dark’.

Would anyone want to play it?

Saturday, July 29, 2006

You People Have No Shame!

Alright, That’s it. I’ve had enough. You people have gone too far this time.

Listen, I stood idly by as you Americans tore my beloved English language to shreds. I’ve accepted that most of you think the world ends at your own borders and I’ve answered every stupid question you have about England (Including whether we have electricity and supermarkets). My country has openly supported every decision your country has made, no matter how overtly crazy or how much good judgment they lacked.

But this is simply going too far. You’ve not so much crossed the line as leapt across it while waving you wedding tackle at the Queen. You might as well have taken a huge dump on Britannia’s chest, pissed on the three lions, turned the House’s of Parliament into a strip club, decorated Big Ben to look like a giant dildo then wiped your butt-crack on the Union Jack.

This morning I was up early. I turned on my TV. Lacking expanded cable, I tuned in to Fox. As the screen was in that 5 second warmup stage, I heard the following:

“Elementary, my dear Watson.”

Hey, Sherlock Holmes! I thought. As the screen flickered to life, I saw it was a cartoon. That’s pretty cool. I thought. A Sherlock Holmes cartoon.

Now, it being early on a Saturday morning, I knew they’ve have to take a little artistic license with the character. Holmes in literature is an exquisitely crafted, almost anti-hero character. You respect him, but you don’t really like him. He’s an arrogant flaneur. A character who shoots up with cocaine when he doesn’t have a case to solve.

Obviously, this isn’t exactly early morning cartoon material. However, Holmes has been cleaned up for TV before, so I wasn’ too worried at this point.

Then, I saw something that made my jaw drop. I think the scene that actually made me throw up in my mouth a little bit was when Holmes was using his cane to sword-fight with two Lightsaber wielding robots as they were trying to ‘dismantle’ Watson, who just happened to be a cyborg.

Then the ads came on. This was ‘Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century’.

As I stared at the screen, stunned and disgusted, a strange and terrible sound drifted in on the light morning breeze. It was the spirit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and it was howling.

I mean, seriously, WTF?

The whole point of Sherlock Holmes is that it’s a completely timeless work of fiction. It still has the same impact and relevance it does today as it did when it was written. I’ve seen hundreds of Sherlock Holmes spin offs, both live action and cartoon.

Until today, I hadn’t seen one where Watson clanked when he walked and looked more like X-Men’s Apocalypse than an Army doctor from the golden age of the British Empire.

What’s next, America? A machine gun wielding Hamlet who quips “To be or not to be!” before gunning down half-shark half-robot Nazi’s from the year 3000? A Christmas Carol with a mutated Tiny Tim who uses his heavily modified crutch to fight crime? Or how about a cheesy prime-time sitcom called “Henry IIX and His Wacky Axe!”

It’d probably do well, it’s got not one, but two x’s in the title.

You people are sick! Sick, sick, sick!

Friday, July 28, 2006

That's Not Right...

If there’s one thing about America I’ll never get used to, it’s the sheer commercialization of your health care system.

In England, healthcare is just that, healthcare. Over here it’s big business.

For example, in America, you have advertisements for prescription drugs, something that is unheard of in England. I mean, we have ads for all the over-the-counter cold and sore throat remedies…but nothing you need a prescription for.

Now, this isn’t really an England versus America debate. It’s just that I think ads for prescription drugs are absolutely useless…and in a way, dangerous.

You see, here’s the way it’s supposed to work. You get sick, you visit your doctor, explain your symptoms, then he examines you and makes a diagnosis. Then, after all that, he writes you a prescription if you need one.

The doctor spent years of his life learning about the human body. He’s a professional. It’s his job to work out what’s wrong with you.

So why are prescription drugs being advertised to us? Shouldn’t it be down to the doctor what medication you receive? Why do I need to know about these drugs when, if I ever need them, my doctor will diagnose me and prescribe them for me? I don’t need to know all about them. I just need to know that if I swallow the pill the doctor gave me, I’ll get well again.

Well, I’ll tell you why. It’s all about dollar signs.

There’s an ad currently running on TV for a prescription drug for irritable bowel syndrome. During this ad, the announcer actually says:

“If you just mention constipation to your Doctor, he’ll probably just suggest fiber and laxatives. If you tell him that you have constipation along with bloating and abdominal discomfort or pain, he’ll probably suggest (Drug Name).”

Is it me, or is that coaching people on what to say to the doctor to make sure you get this particular drug? I even checked this drug’s website (They actually have one) and it has a whole page on what to tell your doctor.

Let me let these people in on a little secret. The only information you need to share with your doctor is your current symptoms and any existing conditions. Not a script from the drug companies in order to get a prescription of their particular drug.

Now many people may take the view that these ads are simply advertising what they’re for and what they do. That there’s nothing sinister or back-handed about it. However, think about that for a minute. If someone actually has those symptoms, they don’t need an ad telling them to tell their doctor about them. If I was ill, I’d go see a doctor and tell him everything I was feeling. Also, sticking with the above ad, yes, the doctor might only suggest fiber and laxatives first…but that’s the whole point! Try the cheap and readily available remedies, before starting someone out on a course of a very powerful and expensive drug! It’s like replacing the whole engine because the car won’t start, before checking the cheap and easy fixes first.

You see if an asprin will cure your headache before going for the CAT-Scan.

Again, this shows the difference between the British and American healthcare system. In England your visit to a doctor is always free. (For the benefit of the Americans in the audience, it’s like all British citizens are permanently on Medicaid. If you want to pay for a private doctor, that’s up to you).

So, British Doctors don’t have to worry about you walking and finding another doctor, because you can’t get cheaper than free, and their pay doesn’t depend on how many patients they have. You leaving to find a private doctor to write you a prescription just means they have a lighter workload.

However, with healthcare being such a big business in America, doctors are in competition with one another. Basically, ads like these are so hypochondriacs will see them and march into their doctors office and demand a prescription…and if the doctor refuses to fill that prescription, the ‘patient’ will simply leave and find another doctor who will.

Then we come to the point that a lot of prescription drugs won’t actually do any harm to a healthy person. I mean, obviously, a drug designed for high blood pressure might make a healthy person’s blood pressure drop dangerously low…but a drug that simply helps regulate your digestive tract?

So imagine you’re a doctor with your own private practice. Someone marches in and demands a particular drug. They don’t need it, but they’ve seen the ads and convinced themselves that it’s the miracle cure for whatever they think they have. You know that it won’t do them any harm to take it, and they’re threatening to leave and find another doctor unless you fill the prescription. When it comes down to a few grand a year walking out the door, how many doctors can afford ethics?

The other point is that it’s like someone walking into a garage and demanding that the mechanic let them pay him a huge amount of money to write down that their car needs the hood painted red to make it go faster. Why the hell not? If someone wanted to pay me a large wad of cash to get something they don’t need, and told me that unless I do, they’ll find someone else who will…I’d do it!

However, the most dangerous part of this is the ‘coaching’ on what to tell your doctor. There’s plenty of stuff that a doctor can’t really test for (How can you prove or disprove if someone has a headache?) So in many ways a doctor depends on your description of your symptoms to start a diagnosis. If someone walks into a doctor’s office and starts reeling of symptoms that point to a textbook case of a particular ailment…why would the doctor think the patient was lying?

So, it’s a case of someone who eats too much spicy food and continually gets indigestion. They see an ad on TV, walk into their Doctor’s office and quote all the symptoms they’ve heard on the ad. Then, they leave with a prescription that while completely harmless and beneficial to people with the disease it’s intended to treat, but potentially harmful to someone who just needs to lay off the chili for a few days.

It’s madness. Plain and simple.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Wait a minute! She Did It!!!!!

Do you ever have one of those moments where you’re daydreaming, and a childhood memory drifts unexpectedly to the surface?

Ever had that happen, only the memory is from so long ago, you’re seeing it through adult eyes for the first time…and with the removal of childhood innocence and naivety, you realize not everything was as it seemed?

This happened to me today.

Back when I was about 6 or 7, my family used to own a couple of ponies. For some reason, my brother got it into his head that he wanted to learn to ride. He had a few lessons, and then my parents worked out it would be cheaper to buy a pony outright, than to ‘rent’ one from the riding school every week.

First we they bought ‘Chips’, the very definition of ‘firebrand’, and later bought ‘Patch’, the very definition of ‘docile’. (Seriously, I got kicked so hard by Chips that I thought my leg had come off…Patch needed a firecracker in each ear to move).

Well, we stabled the above ponies on a local farm. My brother and I also became friends with the farmer’s son, Jack.

As I had little interest in riding, while my brother was exercising the pony (or exorcising, in Chip’s case), Jack and I would play in the barn, doing all those “What was I thinking?” activities like jumping off the top of a 30 foot high stack of hay bales onto a hastily fabricated crash mat made of straw…the kind of things you do without thinking twice at the time, and only realize years later how easily you could have been killed.

(As an aside, I also once made a tree swing out of moldy old rope we found on the ground, that swung out over a 40 foot drop onto rocks…it’s amazing I’m still here.)

Anyway, back to my story. One of the other things we used to do was collect the eggs from around the farm. Every so often, if we’d collected a lot, the farmer would let us take some home.

Well, one day, we found a whole pile of eggs in the barn. They were under a chicken.

We took them to the farmer, who took them from us, then handed us a few back. I’ve always liked eggs, and free-range eggs that were freshly laid on the same day you eat them are the best you can get.

Anyway, after a few minutes, I noticed that one of the eggs was considerably warmer than the rest of them. Even my 6 year old brain knew what that meant. It meant “Yay! Pet Chick.”

I excitedly told everyone who’d listen. Reminding my parents a few hundred times that we could eat the others, but not the warm one.

Anyway, treating it as though is was an actual baby, I carried that egg around for the rest of the day, making sure that it stayed warm.

Finally, we drove home, and as the car pulled into the drive, my Mum said:

“Hand me those eggs while you get out of the car, or you’ll drop them.”

So, I did. Then, as I was still taking my seatbelt off, Mum walked inside…followed quickly by a reminder from me to not put the warm egg in the fridge.

Then, as I was standing in the living room, I heard a ‘crack’ from the kitched. Mum had dropped one of my eggs. The kitchen floor was covered in egg, and the middle of the mess was a tiny speck of red, about the size of your little fingernail. The egg had indeed been fertilized.

Of course, at the time, I accepted the explanation that it was an accident. After a brief (about a minute and a half) mourning period, I’d pretty much forgotten about it.

That was the memory that drifted to the surface today…and after a few minutes, as I was dipping my corndog in the mustard, I suddenly found myself thinking:

“Hey! She did that ON PURPOSE!!!! She didn’t want a baby chick to take care of, or a rooster waking her up in the mornings!!! She dropped it ON PURPOSE!!!”

What I saw as an accident turned out to be a Poultry abortion…a Chickencide!

So, to my beloved Mother:

It may have been around 20 years ago, but you murdered my chicken. I expect an apology and a replacement.

Kids? Don’t listen to your parents or believe a single word that they say…they’re all evil.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Well, the bastards finally did it.

About six months ago, we cancelled our digital TV service and went back to basic cable.

It was a purely financial thing. It was either broadband internet or digital TV. Considering Sunny doesn’t watch much TV anyway, it wasn’t much of a choice.

So, I called Charter (our cable company) and told them to downgrade our service to basic cable. They said, and I quote:

“Ok, Mr. Paulius, just turn in the box, we’ll stop charging you for digital today, and we’ll have someone out by Thursday to disconnect the service.” (Digital TV stops as soon as you disconnect the magic box, but you still have expanded basic until someone comes out and disconnects it at the pole).

However, a month later, we still had expanded basic (That’s 74 channels instead of 23, and included all the favorites like Comedy Central, Cartoon Network, Sci-Fi and Hallmark (Hallmark purely for MASH)).

Also, our bill showed that we were indeed only getting charged for basic.

Now, not wanting to get in trouble, we called Charter up. We told them they still hadn’t cut off the expanded cable, and they said “Not to worry, it’ll be done this week.” As you can probably guess, it wasn’t. We also told them they needed to cut off the service every time we paid our bill.

Eventually, we stopped telling them.

The way I looked at it was we were on record as telling them they hadn’t cut off the service over 6 times. If they wanted to give us expanded at basic prices, that was their boo-hoo.

Then, about a week ago, we got a call from Charter:

“Mr. Paulius? It’s Charter here. Now this is completely our fault, but we’ve discovered that you’ve been getting expanded basic cable, and we’ve only been charging you for plain basic.”

“I know, we’ve told you about six or seven times.”

“Oh…right. Well, let me just go ahead and sign you up for expanded.”

“No thanks, just send someone out to cut it off.”

(ten minutes of sales pitch later).

“Ok, someone will be out at by the end of the week.”

They didn’t show up.

I started to think we lived in some sort of weird cable twilight zone where no cable van could enter.

Now, I should point out that I don’t watch all that much TV. If my TV is turned on, it’s usually to watch a DVD movie. Then, I made a discovery.

One of my favorite shows of all time is Stargate SG-1. However, I hadn’t watched it since moving to the states, because previous experience has shown me that it was exactly the sort of show that Sunny hates. One day, however, when there was nothing else on, I turned it on.

“Oh great! Stargate!” Sunny said.

For two years we’d both been missing one of our favorite shows, because we each thought the other would hate it.

Then I discovered a new series of it was coming on Sci-Fi and I also started to get into that new show “Eureka”.

After 6 months of expanded cable, I finally discovered two shows that I really wanted to watch.

So I get in last Friday, just in time to catch the latest episode of Stargate, and guess what happens? I turn to Sci-Fi, and get static.

The bastards waited 6 months, until I finally found something on TV I wanted to watch, and then cut it off.

That’s timing for you.

On Criticism.

For some unknown reason, a completely unrelated event today gave me a flashback to my college days.

It was my last writing tutorial before graduation. As my writing course was marked purely on coursework, meaning no final exams, that last tutorial was just a chance to sit back, chat and reminisce about the college experience. All work has been handed in. All we had to do was wait for the results to come in, in a few months time.

At the end of the tutorial, my tutor gave a bit of a speech. Forgive me for paraphrasing a little, this was over 5 years ago, but it went something like this:

“I don’t say this to every class I’ve taught, but it’s truly been a privilege to teach you all. Trust me, it’s depressing to see you all go, because I’ve never taught a group of people like you before, and chances are I never will again.

I’m not saying you’re all the most talented writers I’ve ever taught, although all of you are talented and some of you I see going a long way. No, the reason this group is so remarkable is the way you all give and handle criticism.

I’ve watched you tear each other’s work to pieces, point out every single flaw, no matter how minor… and the person on the receiving end has taken it with a smile and took notes. I’ve watched one person tell another that they’ve hated their work, and then that person has simply gushed at how great the other person’s is.

I’ve been teaching since I was a couple years older than you, and every writing class I’ve ever taught or attended have gone one of two ways, either they’ve broken up or been tension filled the entire time, because one person said something less than complimentary about another’s work…or they’ve turned into mutual appreciation societies, where people gush over each other’s work because they’ve worked out that if they give praise, they receive it. It’s infant school stuff…”I like yours, do you like mine?”

You people actually get it. You know what it’s all about. If you write something and absolutely love it, but everyone else hates it, you go back to the drawing board. You know that by listening to your critics and learning from it, it improves your work. You don’t tell someone you love their writing because they said they loved yours, and you don’t rip someone’s work to shreds because they said yours was crap..

Every seminar, when you come into this classroom, you leave your egos at the door. That’s rare, especially among writers, and I want to thank you for that experience.

Now get the hell out of my classroom.”

That speech has stuck with me for two reasons. One, my writing teacher was very miserly with his praise, so that speech stood out because it was unusual, and two, it just made so much sense.

I like to think of myself as a creative person. I always have been. I play music, I like to write, draw and make things. However, what’s the point in being creative if you can’t share what you’ve created?

Think about this. When you were a kid, and you painted a picture, what’s the first thing you wanted to do when it was done? Show it to someone of course!

The simplest way I can put it is that being creative is giving a gift. When you’re creative, you’re not doing it just for you. You’re doing it for other people. Otherwise, you might as well finish your novel or put the finishing touches to your masterpiece, no matter what it may be…then lock it up or destroy it. For example, I enjoy writing, but if I wrote this blog purely for my own benefit, or like a lot of bloggers, responded to a negative comment with a “Fuck off, this is just for me, I don’t care what you think”… why am I bothering to publish on the World Wide Web?

If you write “just for you”, don’t care what other people think or care if they like it or not, why put it out there for people to read? Why not just write it in a notebook and lock it in your desk?

People who respond to criticism with the “It’s just for me” response, actually mean “I’m only interested in what you think, if you’re telling me how great I am.” The unfortunate reality is that this tends to work, because there are thousands of other people out there who will blindly praise bad work, because they know it’ll get them a bit of praise in return.

Another way to think about this is if creativity isn’t a gift for other people, why did DaVinci bother to paint anything? He could already see his paintings in his head, so why go to the effort of putting them on canvas?

This problem only occurs with creative activities, because in this area what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is purely subjective. Whereas a runner can accurately gauge his skill by where he places in a race, we can only really judge how good we are at something like writing by what other people think of our work…and again, it’s really easy to ignore anything negative when there are other people out there who will tell you you’re great in return for a pat on the head.

So for this reason, you should want your work to truly be the best it can possibly be, and the only way to do this is by listening to criticism.

I’m not saying become a complete and utter slave to your critics, but the simple truth is if you love something, but everyone else you show it to doesn’t like it, there’s probably something about it that can be improved.

For example, my drawings that I’ve been blathering on about for the past couple of posts are posted on deviantart, a website designed for artists to get feedback. I’ve read a couple comments, and they’ve really helped me improve. Tips and tricks on composition. This is wrong because that should be there. The perspective on this doesn’t match that. If you’re shading this like that, then this needs to be shaded like this.

On the other hand, I’ve got criticism that I don’t agree with. For example, one person said that some of the anatomy in my drawings is way off, specifically that the waist on one of my characters was too wide. The comment came from a cartoonist who draws very exaggerated curves, whereas I’m opting for a more ‘realistic’ approach. (The supposed ‘perfect’ waist to hips ratio is 80% for women, his drawings are more 40-50%). So in that case, I thanked the guy for his advice, but chose to disregard it.

This is what I mean. I received criticism, evaluated it, and chose what to reject and what to assimilate. Some advice and criticism is rock solid, others are a simple style choice. The trick is to be able to differentiate between the two.

At the end of the day, however, if everyone tells you your work is crap, it’s crap. If half the people tell you your work is good, and half tell you it’s crap, there’s probably room for improvement. If 100% of the people tell you your work is great…wake up, because you’re dreaming.

As a great example on how not to receive criticism comes from and experience I had a few years back.

I’d joined an online writers group. Someone had published the first few chapters of a story, and I don’t want to be mean, but it was absolutely awful. The idea was good, but the writer simply had no clue about the technical side of writing. For example, in the space of two paragraphs, he switched from third person, to first person and back to third again. Also punctuation was non-existent.

It was like “Bob Johnson walked up to his door I walked into my apartment and checked my messages there weren’t any so he sat down on his couch and tried to turn on the TV as I picked up the remote it didn’t work so I threw it at the screen,.”

Obviously, I didn’t just tell him it was crap. I also got the feeling he was a young writer, so I offered some advice. I think I said something along the lines of “Good work, the idea is excellent, but you need to fix some of the technical errors. You keep switching from first the third person, and it gets confusing.”

The reply? I didn’t know what I was talking about. Who do I think I am criticizing his work when he’s been a member for two years and I was still new…and I obviously didn’t understand his ‘style’ and it was none of my business.

I never replied to it, but you honestly have to think…if it was none of my business, why the hell was he posting work in a forum designed solely for people to get feedback to improve their work?

In simplest possible term, the quality of anything you create isn’t quantified by how much you like it, but how much other people like it. I could say I’m a better writer than Stephen King, but that’ll only be true when more people choose to read my writing than his.

So why do I think this topic is important and worth writing about?

Take the guy I mentioned above as a prime example. I’ve listened to my critics and changed the way I write accordingly. I know that my writing today is better than it was a year ago.

If that guy kept that same attitude, his writing is no better today than it was back then.


Because every time someone offered him a way to improve his work, he ignored them because taking their advice would be admitting he wasn’t as good as he thought he was…then went back to his circle of sycophants and they exchanged pats on the head and talked about how great the all are.

At the end of the day, if you’re doing something creative and are already convinced that your work is perfect and can’t be improved in any way, you might as well just burn your work every time you finish a new piece.

Monday, July 24, 2006


originally uploaded by Paulius1981.
Why is it that you only notice glaring mistakes in something you’ve done…right at the end when the mistake is un-fixable.

Last night I was in a drawing mood, and as I’m currently on an X-Men kick, I decided to try and draw a picture of Rogue, in the original Saturday Morning cartoon style.

Now, just to give you an idea of what a long involved process this is, let me give you a step by step on how I draw. I know this won’t be particularly interesting to most people, but I have a point to make, and this (if you’ll pardon the pun) illustrates this perfectly.

Step One : The Thumbnail Sketches

This is where I take a fresh piece of paper and draw slightly expanded stick-figures. This is just to come up with a pose, get the perspective right etc. When I’ve settled on something I like, I move onto the next step.

Step Two : The Basic Sketch

Taking a new piece of paper, I draw the basic outlines in full size. This is where you ‘construct’ your drawing, using basic shapes (Elongated circle for the head, cylinders for the arms legs and torso etc) This is the basic foundation that the drawing will be built up on. It makes sure you have the perspective and proportions right. As a hint of any other wannabe artists out there, this was the best tip I ever got. You don’t draw from the top down, but draw very lightly with rough shapes and outlines, then build on top of that, getting closer and closer to your finished product.

Step Three : Final Pencils

This is where, on top of your basic sketch, you actually start to draw in your details, refine shaped, add clothing, hair etc. When you’re done with this, you should have a fairly polished pencil drawing.

Step Four : Scanning and inking

Now, I scan the pencils into the computer, and open it up in Adobe Illustrator. This is a vector drawing program that I use to digitally ‘ink’ my pencils. I particularly like Illustrator because it allows you to ‘create’ your own brushes. It also has the great feature of being able to set the ‘smoothness’ and fidelity of your lines. In other words, if you’re doing a long sweeping line like a lock of hair, if your hand shakes slightly, it’ll smooth out the line for you. This step can take anywhere from an hour to four hours, depending on the complexity of the pencils.

Step Five : Photoshop Coloring - Flats

While this is my favorite step, it’s also the most monotonous, tedious and time consuming.

You basically create a layer for every color on your drawing. With the color layers behind your ink layer, you trace around each shape with the polygonal lasso tool, and fill it with the paint bucket tool. Basically, lots and lots of clicking. At this point, you only fill with the midtone colors you want to use.

Step Six : Photoshop coloring - Shading

Now you have your drawing flat colored, you fire up the airbrush tool. Working on a single color at a time, you set the brush to ‘multiply’ (Make the colors darker) for the shadows and ‘screen’ to add highlights.

The whole coloring process can take anywhere from two to four hours.

Now, this is the annoying part. It’s usually at this point, when I sit back, put down my stylus and light up a cigarette, that I notice my mistakes.

You see, at the pencil stage and the inking stage, mistakes are easy as pie to fix. Pencils can be obliterated and re-drawn with a simple eraser, and inking can be fixed by simply clicking on the line you’re not happy with, pushing delete and redrawing the line.

However, once the colors are in, the only way to correct a line is to go right back to the inking stage and starting over

If you feel like it, you can see the drawing I spent from midnight to 5am drawing at

As you can see, as soon as I got done I thought:

Waist too long, hips out of proportion, belt looks like it’s solid, I didn’t shade the buckle etc, etc….and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

It was I quit.

I’ve been noticing something for a while now, and it’s really starting to bother me.

As you know, I’m the man of a million hobbies. Name any hobby, from stamp collecting to wood carving to model making, I’ve almost definitely had some experience of it. Of course, my ‘experience’ might be that I was really interested in it for a week, then gave it up forever…but I never said I had a long attention span.

No, the thing that bothers me is people’s attitudes. Every time I get into a new hobby and start looking around the internet for information about it, it brings me into contact with people and most of them have the same attitude.

“This is too hard, That’s too difficult, so I’m not going to do it.”

In other words, if it’s hard, I don’t want to bother.

My latest exposure to this was in a forum. I wanted some hints and tutorials on digital coloring (That is, coloring and shading in photoshop), when the same replies kept popping up. “Oh, I tried that once, it was really tough, so I didn’t bother with it.”

Now this may seem like a little thing to get miffed about, but this attitude is becoming prevalent in daily life. When we do something new, we want to be very good at it right away, or we’re not going to bother. If something isn’t easy, it’s just not worth the hassle.

This is why I flat out refuse to show most people how to do things on the computer. Because I know that five minutes in their eyes are going to glaze over and they’re not going to listen to a single word I have to say.

On the one hand, this is annoying, but I can understand it. I once explained the premise of a video game to Sunny and she was interested. When I put it on and started to show her the controls, within five minutes she’d given up and went to find something else to do.

This I can understand, because video games just aren’t the important to Sunny. Even though I know if she persevered for a little while she’d get it and enjoy it…it would be like her showing me the intricacies of interior design. Why learn something I have no interest in?

On the other hand, I find this disturbing.

People just don’t seem to want to put in the effort to learn anything anymore. While this might not seem like a big deal, if I hadn’t put the effort in to learn about computers, my recent computer adventure (scroll down to read it) wouldn’t have just been a few frustrating hours…the computer would have been completely out of commission for a few months until I could afford to pay someone to fix it for me.

I’ve started to wonder what the world would be like if our great thinkers had this attitude. Cars would still be pulled by horses, Mount Rushmore would simply be three smiley faces painted on the side of a mountain and we’d still be attempting to fly by taping bits of wood to our arms and flapping them really hard.

I wish people would just realize that their lives would be a lot fuller if they would be willing to put the time in to learn the things they want to do. People have heard me playing guitar and said “Oh, I wish I could play the guitar!” So I’ve said. “I’ve got a spare, come over tomorrow and I’ll teach you.”

Then, suddenly the enthusiasm stops, the excuses start and I never hear the word ‘Guitar come out of their mouths again. After all, what’s the point in playing guitar if you can’t channel the ghost of Hendrix right now?

I once saw a documentary on TV about children and reading, and it made a lot of sense to me. Basically, the idea they put across is that no kid wants to sit down with a book and put in the effort to read, when they can slap in a DVD and get a story with no effort whatsoever.

The other big point was that the other reason kids are reading less is that they don’t understand that it will get any easier. Basically, kids think that from now until the day they die, they will always have to sound out the words, get help on the longer ones and generally stuggle.

I suppose my point here is that today’s adults probably have the same delusions. If they try something and it’s hard, it will always be hard.

Personally, I love to learn and the harder something is starting out, the more I like it, because I know I’ll feel all that much better when I’ve mastered it.

This is also why I get angry when I hear people complaining about today’s standard technology. The fact that they don’t understand just how difficult it is to make something work makes them completely unappreciative of it.

For example, I’m typing this blog in my living room. When I’m done, I’ll click a link and it’ll publish. Then people anywhere in the world can access it. That means that by just typing a web address, electrical impulses will race across trillions of miles of wires, probably across thousands of miles, locate the right machine among billions, then tell that machine to send another particular series of electrical impulses back through that labyrinth where your computer can interpret them into this blog.

That whole process will take seconds, no matter where you are in the world…and then people will complain that the page loaded slowly.

If you think about it, it’s like someone inventing an interstellar spaceship, capable of traveling billions of miles in the blink of an eye, and then the astronauts complaining because they can’t just get in it and press a big green button marked ‘go’.

(Deep Breath…)

Ok, rant over.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

You're Unique...Just Like Everyone Else.

I just saw something on the ole interweb that made me laugh.

It was a picture of an Goth girl, wearing a T-shirt that said:

“You laugh at me because I’m different. I laugh at you because you’re all the same

This is something I’ve never understood. You see, what is a Goth? Someone who dresses all in black? Likes to act all depressed and world-weary? Listens to a particular genre of music?

Now before I get flamed to death by every Goth that stumbles upon this page, if my definition of Goth is wrong, I don’t really care, because that’s not the point I’m trying to make.

My point is that Goths are hardly rare. We’re talking about a large group of people who all dress the same, like the same things and do the same stuff. Walk into any school, college or university and you’ll find a healthy compliment of people of the Goth persuasion.

So how is being Goth being different and non-conformist? Basically, all they’re doing is conforming to a different social group. In a normal school setting you’ll find hundreds of different groups and cliques. Jocks, Nerds, Goths, Punks etc.

When I was in college there was a large group of Goths, who even had their own clubs and societies, all of whom prided themselves on being ‘different’

Hmmm, ‘different’ non-conformists who choose to hang out with a large group of people who all dress and act the same way they do.

I hate to point this out to any Goths in the audience, but being Goth isn’t being different. You’re being exactly the same as every other group, only you choose to wear different clothes. You’re no more different to everyone else as the preppy girls who refuse to wear anything other than ‘this season’s’ hot new designer are.

As a final point to people like this. Talking about suicide and how terrible your life is 24/7 doesn’t make you exotic, interesting or mysterious. It just makes you an attention seeking fool.

You see, people who are actually serious about suicide tend to kill themselves, not just talk about offing themselves to anyone who’ll listen.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Shitting a Gold Brick.

Let me tell you what just happened to me.

For my fellow technophiles, the following is a tale of gut-wrenching, pant wetting, grandma-slapping terror.

The rest of you will probably go: “Huh.”

So it was getting to that time when it stops being late, and starts being early. Sunny is at work, I’m alone in the house, and I’ve just got through a two hour session of playing ‘X-Men: Legends 2’.

It’s coming up to 6am. Namely my bedtime. I’m just getting ready to turn off the PC and head to beddy-byes, when the game locks up. No response, I can’t quit out of it, can’t shut it down, can’t even alt-tab to safety.

So I do the one thing I absolutely despise doing. I turn off the computer without shutting it down.

(At this point, imaging that there’s a sudden flash of thunder and lightning, and a church organ flourish).

Then, I realize I wanted to check my email before bed, so I turn the computer back on. I get my startup screen, then…

Nothing. A lonely cursor blinks in the corner of the screen. It just sits there, winking at me.

“Hello! (Blink, blink) Nice day, isn’t it? (Blink, blink) Oh, Guess what? (Blink, blink) Your computer’s fucked! (Blink, blink)”

This isn’t right. I think. I Ctrl-alt-del my way back to safety, sanity and what little normalcy is left in my so-called life.

The same thing happens.

Not a problem. I think. This has happened before. The BIOS has glitched and taken my hard-drive out of the boot list. I’ll restart, fix the BIOS settings, and away I’ll go!

So I restart, check my BIOS settings, and discover that my hard-drive has indeed vanished from the boot list. I put it back in there. Problem all fixed!

So, I restart yet again. This time, things have gotten much, much, much worse. This time, I get my startup screen, and it just sits there. I press F2 to get into my BIOS settings…and get precisely no reaction. I press F10 to get into the boot menu. Nothing!!!

I start to panic a little. You see, not only is the computer the very Nexus of nearly all my leisure activities, it is also an essential tool in my job search, my one conduit of contact with my parents back in old blighty, and my gateway to pictures of naked ladies on the internet!

(Just kidding about the naked ladies, Sunny, Mum.)

You see, our phone doesn’t have long distance or international service. I can’t even call my parents to let them know I might be out of contact for a while. I know that I’m a big boy, and all brown up, but you don’t know my Mother. If I suddenly dropped of the face of the earth with no explanation, after about a week, she’d turn up at my front door to check I was alright. (I love my Mum, I do.)

So, at this point, I’m not quite at panic stage yet. I figure that as well as the BIOS glitching and taking my HD out of the boot list, it’s also not recognizing my keyboard. I have a spare PS/2 keyboard that I can plug in…and problem solved!

Then I remember that I used the keyboard to Ctrl-Alt-Del a minute ago. The keyboard is fine!

Why am I locked out of the BIOS settings? I think. Why isn’t it letting me in?

My expensive computer has turned into a machine that’s sole purpose is the show me a big ‘E’, and the lines “F2 : Bios Settings” and “F10 Boot Menu”. I press F2 and F10…nothing happens. Nothing at all…

At that point, the diagnostic tree in my mind starts to grow branches. Everything that could be wrong starts to blossom and grow. I take out my mental shears and start pruning.

My first possible solution is to simply turn the thing off, unplug the power cord, leave it for 5 minutes, and try again. This almost never works, but I always try it first because sometimes it does and going and getting a cup of coffee is the nicest way of repairing a computer possible.

I return to the PC, reconnect the power cord and turn it on. Now I start to get a little worried. Even Blinky, my sarcastic cursor pal isn’t showing up. Just that same accursed big ‘E’, and the instructions that mock me. It’s like jumping into an escape pod on a crashing spaceship, then seeing that the launch button is just a red sticker that does nothing.

Now I’m getting worried

You see, I’m good with computer software, operating systems etc, but my knowledge of the hardware is average at best. I mean I can build a computer with my eyes closed, because building a computer is essentially an exercise in putting the square plug in the square socket and matching up colors…but actually trying to work out what widget is out of whack is a hit-or-miss affair for me..

So I do what any partially skilled person would do.

I opened up the computer, disconnected the power to the Hard Drive, disconnected the IDE cable, and also left the case open to cool down a little. My theory was that by disconnecting these things, when I reconnected them and powered back up, the BIOS might recognize it again.

Again, I’m faced with the big ‘E’ and the painted on instructions.

Now I really started to panic. This was serious brown trousers time. Everything pointed to the BIOS chip (For the non-techies out there, who haven’t begun to drool and whose eyes haven’t glazed over yet, the BIOS chip is the Basic Input/Output System chip. In simplest possible terms it’s the bit of your computer that tells each bit of hardware where it is, and how to talk with the other bits of hardware. In a room filled with 50 people of different nationalities, it’s the translator).

Without a Bios chip, a computer is just a big expensive paperweight. It’s like buying a car with a padlocked hood, and then being told that nothing under that hood is actually connected up.

In other words, if this chip had fried and was no good, it would have to be replaced, which meant professional help. Professional help equals lots of dollar signs, which is something I just don’t have.

Then, an echo began to stir in the deep dark recesses of my mind. Somewhere one the motherboard is a battery with a jumper next to it. If I can find that, I can completely reset the Bios chip to factory…assuming the chip is still working.

At this point, let me just curse eMachines, and demand that their internal souls rot in hell for eternity. You see, eMachines think their users are far too stupid to work on their own computer, so they don’t bother including the Motherboard manual, showing the locations of the jumper switches and what position they need to be in for what purpose. In fact, other than a small bit of paper that says stuff like “Put the red plug into the red socket!”, you get no manuals at all. Also, computer hardware is the one thing you almost always have to read the manual for. Without one, it’s like being dropped in the center of a foreign city without a roadmap.

In other words, you might know every component on a motherboard and what they do. However, if you don’t know where each thing is located on that particular motherboard…it’s the equivalent of trying to turn on your living room lights and finding some bastard has installed about 30 other switches. Oh, and if you press the wrong one, your house might possibly explode.

So I open the case again and manage to locate the battery. Next to it is a two position jumper switch.

(Again for the non-techies, a jumper switch is simply pins wires pointing upwards, with a TINY plastic thingy slid over the top. Depending one what two pins the plastic thingy covers, dictates what position the switch is in).

Then, I have a brainwave. My mate Jim back in England knows about a 100 times more than me about motherboards…I’ll just drop him a quick email and…


I pull off the jumper switch. Then I realize I really should have checked what position it was in before I removed it. (I should also mention I have large hands, I’m attempting to remove a piece of copper filled plastic which is less than a 12th of an inch square. I also have roughly two square inches of space in which to do this…it’s a miracle I got it off at all.)

Gingerly, I put it back in, hoping I’ve changed the position of it.

This is particularly nerve wracking as those pins are very delicate. You bend one, trying to bend it back could easily snap it off. I can’t stress how tiny those things are. Think about the lead in a mechanical pencil…then you’re getting close to the size of these things.

I put it back on. I turn the computer back on.

I get the same screen, I press F2…


I do, what is known in the Tech-community, as the “pure-relief fueled, jubilant lap of honor around the room.”

It lets me into the BIOS. I run through everything and make sure it’s set up right. Now all that’s left is to restart and hope it comes back to life.

IT DID!!! Whooo HOOOO!!!

I managed to get the computer up and running again. I never thought I’d be so happy to see the Windows logo in all my life.

…and of course, showing my true geek nature, as soon as it was fixed, my first thought was…

“I sooooo have to blog this!”

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Random Thoughts

Last night I was sitting at the computer. I glanced at the clock. It was 11:15, the usual time I wake Sunny up so she can get ready for work.

I walked down the hallway. I popped my head around the door:

“Sweetie?” I ventured”
“Mmm, hmmm?” Came the reply.
“It’s quarter past.”
“Ok, give me five more minutes.”

Suddenly my mind started racing. How can one person ‘give’ five minutes, or any finite amount of time to another individual? Surely time is just the fourth dimension of our physical universe. How can one human being, a being tied up inexorably in this fourth dimension gift time to another? That’s impossible! It would be like attempting to give another person more height width or time.

Then I remembered Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, the basis of which is time dilation as a body’s speed increases. The faster you go, the slower time becomes from your perspective.

I started to think of ways to accelerate the missus to an appreciable portion of the speed of light…

Then I realized I was just being stupid, so I said “Ok.”

Yesterday, Sunny and I were making Jelly (That’s jam without the fruit, not what these misguided Americans call Jell-o).

As Sunny was preparing things, I was setting up the new printer. Suddenly I heard the following exclamation:

“Ohhhhhhh! GROSS! Uggghhhh!”

Hit by the sudden understanding that my gastric safety probably depended entirely on me staying clear of the kitchen, I stayed put. I could always pretend not to have heard anything. However, the outbursts continued:

“Urrrrgh! Sick! Ugggghhh! That’s disgusting!”

Finally, curiosity got the better of me. As I left the living room, the smell, that can be conservatively referred to as ‘rotten eggs mixed with freshly burnt ass-hair’ assaulted my nostrils.

“What smells like ass?” I asked.

The story…was not a pleasant one.

Looking for a particular, and seldom used, cooking implement, Sunny discovered a sealed container in one of the cupboards.

We have no idea how long those potatoes were sealed in there, but it was long enough to convert most of them to liquid. I thought the smell was bad, until I discovered that Sunny had simply opened our utility cupboard, dropped the container whole into the trash, and closed the door.

As I opened the door, and grabbed the garbage bag, let’s just say that I got the original, unadulterated odor.

As I dropped the bag and ran from the room, retching and hoping a few lungfuls of clean air might stop me from being sick, I was struck by a thought:

“Huh…Now I know what Hell smells like.”

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Because I'm Inexplicably Proud Of It

stormcolor2 copy
Originally uploaded by Paulius1981.'s my completed 'Ultimate X-Men' version of Storm.

Monday, July 17, 2006


As a lot of my regular’s know, I like to draw.

That’s not to say I’m a particularly good artist. In fact, I think my skill level is best summed up by my response to the check-out girl at the store when I bought a new sketchpad, pencils and a new eraser:

“Hey, wow! Are you an Artist?”

“Ummmm….(Long pause)…No. But I’d like to be.”

Now, as I’ve said in a previous post, the hardest thing in the world to draw is women. The problem is that every human being on the planet sees other human beings every day. If something is just slightly off, the finished drawing just doesn’t look right.

A lot of the time, you can’t even put your finger on exactly what’s wrong with the drawing…you just know something’s wrong.

Drawing men, on the other hand, is fairly easy. I’m trying to draw in a style halfway between comic book style and realism (look at any Ultimate X-Men comic to see what I’m shooting for). Men in this style are all straight lines and hard angles, and once you’ve learned the proportions, it’s pretty hard to mess up. With guys if you make the ribcage or shoulders too wide, you’ve just drawn a super-hero.

Sticking with X-Men, look at the massive difference between characters such as Xavier, Colossus, Night-Crawler and Juggernaut. Wildly different body shapes, but none of them look ‘wrong’.

Women, on the other hand, are all curves and soft lines. Unless you get their proportions and perspective exactly right, they just look deformed. Women are very hard to draw.

So I did what anyone would do. I practiced.

Then, a few nights ago, I found a website called ‘’. It’s essentially an art-showcase/learning site for everything from writing, to photography to cartooning to oil painting. There are some truly great artists on there (both amateur and professional), so I thought I could benefit from a bit of professional advice.

I joined up, and posted a couple of pieces I’d done that week.

It was only a couple days later I realized I’d posted only pictures of women. One in rather a ‘provocative’ pose, and another loosely based on a video-game character whose clothes are not exactly what you’d call ‘baggy’.

All I’m going to say is when you’re trying to get the anatomy of a drawing right and try searching the internet for pictures to copy….I challenge you to find one that isn’t even slightly ‘provocative’.

So I got a little worried. My main thought was “Uh-oh…everyone’s going to think I’m a pervert.”

Now let me be perfectly clear. Every drawing I’ve done has clothes. There’s no actual nakedness, but my online portfolio consists entirely of pictures of women in tight fitting garments.

Also, the way I learn anything is to focus entirely on a particular area until I have it down. (For example, when I was learning guitar I focused entirely on learning all the chords before I moved onto soloing etc)…so at least for the next few months, my portfolio is going to consist entirely of drawings of women.

Then I browsed the site, and realized I didn’t really have to worry.

You see, you can browse that site by art-type and subject. For example, Digital art and cartoons, or oil painting and landscapes. In fact, it’s the main reason I joined that site because many good artists post not only the final picture, but the preliminary sketches, then the inks, basically every step along the way.

You don’t just see the picture, but also how it was drawn. It lead me to a good many ‘Ah-HA!’ moments, where you realize “Ahhhh! THAT’s how you do that!”

So I was browsing, and found a category called ‘Anthro’.

Here’s my thought processes on what happened.

“Anthro? What’s anthro? That’s a new one on me! I’ll just take a look”



Let me explain what ‘anthro’ is.

This is where people draw animals, but in a human type way. The first picture I was ‘treated’ to was a picture of a fox (and I don’t mean in the way you’d look at a sexy lady and say ‘She’s a fox’, I mean an actual fox), only with a very human body, size DD boobs, in full lingerie and thigh-boots.

I actually threw up in my mouth a little. It looked like the result of an unholy union between a common-or-garden fox and Paris Hilton.

…and to think I was worried about coming across as a pervert. I’m drawing clothed women, while apparently hundreds of people like to draw the Triple X version of “Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers”.

Anyway, if you’re interested in seeing my latest drawing, the link is

The page is pop-up free, so take a look. (I'm especially proud of my drawing of Storm from X-Men.

For those that are interested, that pic was drawn entirely on the computer.

Also, is great if you’ve got a bit of time to kill. Just don’t look under ‘Anthro’.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

...And You Think You've Got It Bad

So it’s big news this week that gas prices in America are at their highest ever.

Apparently, here in SC we’re getting some of the lowest gas prices in the country (Currently at around $2.75 a gallon, but expected to be above $3.00 by this weekend).

Everyone’s going nuts. Three dollars a gallon is almost enough for your average US driver to declare a national emergency.

So, allow me to put this in perspective. Here’s a comforting thought for all the Americans in the audience:

Back in England, according to google news, petrol prices are currently at 97 pence a liter.

Now, for those not up on metric and English currency, let me do the math and make this clear for you for you.

There are approximately 5 liters in a gallon.

The exchange rate for British pounds to US Dollars is currently $1.84 to the pound.

So, for the mathematically impaired, a gallon of gas in England will cost you 4.85GBP, approximately $8.93.

So, to sum up, if it takes around 10 gallons to fill your car, it’ll cost you about $30 in America. If you live in England, it’ll cost you a whopping $90!

So, when you look at the gas pumps, spare a thought for all those poor Englishsters who are paying almost $9 a gallon…and bear in mind that in England, these aren’t temporarily high prices. This is our average. It’s not going to drop any time soon.

Talking To A Robot.

Ok, I need to make a pre-emptive warning.

A couple nights ago, Buddy, in his infinite wisdom, decided that my modem cable looked damn tasty and chewed through it.

(I have no idea what’s wrong with this dog. What part of the canine psyche can ignore a full bowl of dog food, yet see the four day old, partially rotted remnants of a meal, covered in garbage juice and coffee grounds and think ‘Mmmm, tasty!’)

The idiot has a whole box filled with chew toys, but instead he chooses the wire that’s flowing with electric current. Oh, and yes, he has been zapped a few times, but keeps going back for more.

Anyway, we had the cable guy out today to replace the wire. Everything ran fine, but I’ve noticed the cable modem is dropping its signal every now and again. It’ll inexplicably stop working for a few hours, then come back on just as randomly.

So tonight, it went off just as Sunny was leaving for work (Which just proves fate has a sense of humor. I try to stay off the internet while Sunny is home, and do the bulk of my surfing while she’s at work.)

So I called the cable company.

What a mistake that was.

I mean the people are nice enough and knowledgeable enough…but actually getting to speak to a person is a feat in itself.

I think there should be some sort of test for internet users, and if you’re at my skill level, when you call, they’ll just send someone out to check the equipment. It would save a lot of hassle.

So I get the robot voice, only this one isn’t a ‘press one’ or ‘press two’ robot. It’s one of those that wants you to talk to it.

Now, I’ve nothing against voice recognition software. However, when the voice recognition is set for a South Carolina accent, and I’m speaking Northern British, it gets bloody annoying.

This leads to me trying to talk to the damn thing in my very, very poor impression of an SC accent. Just to add a little humiliation to the hassle.

Now, this robot thinks it’s clever. It would actually be bloody useful if I didn’t have the first thing about computers. It said:

“All our operators are busy, so lets go through the first few steps they’d ask you to do.”

So the damn thing has me unplugging things, plugging things back in etc.

Now, this would be helpful, only that what it’s telling me to do, I’ve already done at least ten times over the past hour. Unplug the modem and plug it back in. Check the co-ax is properly connected. Connect the modem directly to the main cable line, in case the splitter’s faulty. Blah, blah, blah, blah blah!

In short, if you were in my living room with me, you’d see the odd human drama of me pacing up and down the living room, getting more and more frustrated shouting “Continue!” and “Yes!” and “No!” at random intervals in a bad SC accent.

Oh, it was fun.

Finally, the robot admits defeat and puts me on to a real person:

“Hello, Charter Internet, how can I help.”

“Oh, hello, finally…Right, I’ve been having a problem with my…”

“Oh, hey! I like your accent!”

“Thank you, I’m British.” (This was cute the first few times, but every time I call ANY business, they always compliment me on my accent. I don’t want to sound like a dick here, but when I’ve been talking to a robot for half an hour, and spent another 20 minutes on hold, I want my problem solved, not a discussion of Comparative Linguistic Variations).

“Oh, great! What was your problem?”

“Right, I had one of your technicians out today to replace a cable. Everything was working fine, but it just went off about an hour ago. Yes, I’ve cycled the modem, yes I’ve checked all the wires, yes I’ve checked my TCP/IP settings, and I’ve also tried connecting the modem to the main cable feed, so it isn’t the splitter. The modem is refusing to lock on to your signal, the ready light isn’t coming on, and the sync light is flashing. I’m not trying to be a know-all, but I’m very experienced with computers and either there’s a problem at your end, or my modem’s faulty.”

(Just to be clear here, I don’t like being rude, but as anyone will tell you, there’s nothing more annoying that being lead step by step through a long and tedious diagnostic procedure that you’ve done yourself at least three times.)

“Ohhh…(Pause). Umm, is the computer on now?”


“Ok, I want you to click run, the type CMD…”

“…Then run Ipconfig, and tell you my IP address?”



(I didn’t actually say x a bunch of times, I just don’t like publishing my IP address)

Eventually, they admitted defeat.

“Right, because this is a repeat call, I’ll put you through to our billing department, and they might be able to get someone out to you today. I don’t have the authority to do that, so explain the situation to them, and they’ll get someone out there quick.”

I got that awful hold music, then the recording of the overly enthusiastic guy trying to sell me more products. (I’ve never understood that. I’m calling because the shit I’m already paying them for isn’t working. Why would I want to buy more crap from them?)

Then the line went dead.

I called back.

Long story short, I was told that there might be an intermittent outage, but they’ll send someone anyway.

So, if you don’t hear from me for a few days, it’s because my internet is jiggered.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

An Interesting Question.

MC Etcher, on his truly fantabulous blog “Etch-A-Sketch Attention Span”, relayed a question asked by the great Stephen Hawking. I wanted to comment on this, but realized I had far too much to say to fit into a comment.

So, I’ve hijacked his topic, and I’ll attempt to deal with it here.

The question is: "In a world that is in chaos politically, socially and environmentally, how can the human race sustain another 100 years?"

Well, let me begin my answer to this with a very wise old saying:

“Those that forget the past are doomed to repeat it.”

I’ve posted before hundreds of times on the subject of history repeating itself, and I think this question highlights that point extremely well.

You see, people talk about social, political and environmental upheaval as if it’s a new thing; As though we’re the first people to go through problems like these. It almost makes me laugh when people talk about today as ‘dangerous times’, when less than 60 years ago, World War Two was in full swing.

I don’t want to go off topic here, but it’s strange that we can be so worried about a possible terrorist attack, when on this date 66 years ago, which is by no stretch of the imagination a ridiculously long time ago, people living in London had the fear of nightly bombings by the Luftwaffe.

You see, there has never been a time in human history when one group of people wasn’t at war with another group of people. There has never been a time when the world, environmentally, wasn’t going into or coming out of a major change…and there certainly has never been a time when political strife wasn’t commonplace.

It’s like in modern times, people complain about our governments being corrupt and self-serving.

I hate to sound cynical, but it’s almost the primary function of a government to be corrupt and self serving.

Take the war in Iraq for example. Many people hold the belief that the War on Iraq is about oil and nothing else. America is simply serving her own interests.

I don’t want to get into a debate about that issue, but it certainly isn’t a new thing. As a prime historical example, take The Crusades. The official line is that us, the ‘Good Christians’ were trying to liberate the Holy Land. It, of course, had absolutely nothing to do with Empire building.

There are even parallels with Al-Queda. Religion has been the number one rationalization for war for centuries. In modern times, we in the West are corrupt, decadent ‘infidels’, who must be destroyed. There’s no arguing with that logic. God is on our side, those people are Godless heathens, so we’re 100% completely right.

In England, in medieval times, it was commonplace for British Kings to bribe the Church into proclaiming anyone who just happened to have something they want as ‘Godless heathens’, because it was the perfect excuse and justification for an invasion.

As an aside, the thing I find most laughable about this notion is that the first of the Ten Commandments never seems to apply in a Holy War.

The only difference between now, and the entirety of human history is that our weapons are more sophisticated. Nukes could end things pretty quick.

However, when we go back into history, things even out. Yes, our weapons are more sophisticated, but so are our enemies’. There are also a hell of a lot more people around.

For example, in the year 1750, central London had an approximate population of 650,000 people. Today, that number is around Three Million.

So where am I going with this?

Basically, what a sustained bombing of London would do today, is the same relative damage that an army armed with swords and battleaxes could have done back in the 1400’s.

In other words, the world was in just as much danger back then as it is now. They might not have had sophisticated weapons, but the point is, you don’t need sophisticated weapons when your target is a town of a few thousand people.

In simplest possible terms, a few thousand men armed with swords was just a big a threat to civilization back then, as stealth bombers are to us today.

So, to sum up my answer to Dr. Hawking’s question:

Yes, the human race will sustain another 100 years. Things are no different today than they were 500 or even 5000 years ago. People still faced the same challenges, and still had the same problems, only instead of it being a terrorist detonating a dirty bomb in the center of New York, it was an enemy poisoning a town well.

Again, not 60 years ago, the human race lost over sixty million people in World War 2, but it didn’t take very long for the human race to ‘grow back’. For example, the world population just 30 years ago was 3.9 billion as opposed to 6.6billion today. In 6 years 60 million people died, however, the human race gave birth to around 3.7 billion people in less than 30 years!

Politically, nothing has changed and environmentally things will even out for the simple reason that we’ll have to make changes. We’re using up the last of our oil and will soon have no choice but to switch to alternatives.

So will the human race last another 100 years?

Yes. Yes it will.