Friday, May 30, 2008

Advice?

I’ve posting a lot about drawing recently.

The main reason my interest in drawing has been renewed is because I’d really like to start a webcomic

I decided to play things a little intelligently. There are a million webcomics out there and most of them are terrible. I think this is the case because so many people want to create a webcomic but miss the two most important points: You need to be able to draw, and you need a good idea.

Without those two things you have a terrible webcomic…usually about a crazy guy, a slightly less crazy room-mate, a hot female who’s inexplicably dating the crazy guy and some kind of talking robot/toaster/goldfish. Then they make jokes based on gaming and pop-culture.

Well, recently I tentatively decided that my artwork is getting close to good enough. Obviously I don’t consider myself anywhere near professional level, but I can draw well enough to draw consistent characters.

So, fighting the brain crack, I decided to start drawing the strip. If I left it in my head, waiting until I felt I was totally ‘ready’, the idea would never leave my head. I’m not planning on publishing these strips, I’m just trying to figure out if my idea will actually work. I’m figuring that if the idea works, I can always re-draw these early strips to publish them.

What I really want to talk about today, however, is the idea.

My main focus with coming up with this idea was to come up with something as original as possible. Bear this part in mind, because it’s going to be important later.

I was watching Spider-man 3 and my interest was piqued by a line at the very opening of the movie where Peter Parker says:

“The city’s been quiet lately…I think I have something to do with that.”

So an idea formed in my head. What if a Superhero was so spectacularly successful, crime literally dropped to zero, putting him out of work? What if he didn’t have a secret identity and had been earning a living by getting paid by his city on a ‘per-crimes-foiled’ basis? What would he do instead?

Originally the idea was that he’d start looking for crimes everywhere. A guy would sit down in front of his TV, turn on his Tivo and this super-hero would blast through the wall and be like “Ah-hah! This is it, criminal scum! Your days of recording Major League Baseball with only implied oral consent from the MLB are over!”

Quite quickly, however, I realized that there was only really one joke in the idea. ‘Oh noes! The Superhero just destroyed that granny’s car and hauled her off to jail for having a tail light out! Oh look, he just threw that guy through a wall for jay-walking!”

It’s work for a couple of strips, maybe, but it’s so formulaic that it would get boring fast. (Does anyone laugh at Garfield saying he hates Mondays any more?)

So I expanded on the idea. The Hero finds himself forced to take a stereotypically bad desk-job. Then it turns out his boss is a super-heroine who was put out of work by the super-hero’s success.

There’s a lot more in that idea. The guy’s a fish out of water. How does he adapt to an office job when he’s been a super-hero all his life? He can’t to anything important because he can do everyone’s job at super-fast speed, putting all them out of work…so he’s gone from saving the world on a daily basis to fetching coffee. He’s stuck working for a boss who hates him, wants to make his life hell, and isn’t impressed by his super-powers because she has powers as well. How would the normal office workers handle being in a situation where they’re telling a Superhero icon that they’ve literally hero-worshipped for years to empty their trash?

Decent idea, huh?

Well, now comes the bad part…

I prided myself on this idea being original. A Super-hero in a normal office environment! Hells yeah! Then I started listening to the ‘Webcomics Weekly’ podcast.

One of the guys from the podcast has a successful webcomic called ‘Evil Inc.’ Can you guess what it’s about?

It’s a strip about a Super-Villain who runs ‘Evil Inc.’ A corporation that supplies goods and services to Super-villains. In other words, Supers in an office environment.

Crap.

Then I realized that my idea was also kinda similar to ‘The Incredibles’.

So here’s the thing:

As a literature student I know that there’s really no such thing as an ‘original story’ any more. I also know that my idea is significantly different to from ‘Evil Inc.’ and ‘The Incredibles’ in a lot of ways. They have the same elements, but a totally different context.

Basically, Evil Inc is about ‘Supers in an office’, but it derives it’s humor and storylines from asking the question ‘How would a Super-Villain organization work? What services would they provide? How would they hand;y X, Y, and Z?”

(It’s a great strip by the way, you should check it out.)

The Incredibles is about a Superhero who was forced into retirement and gets into trouble trying to recapture his ‘glory days’. Sure the guy has a desk job, but the movie is really about a Super wanting to be a hero again and getting his wish when Syndrome turns up.

My strip is about a Superhero who has no chance of recapturing his ‘glory days’ and finds himself in the situation where he has to adjust to a 9-5 job, a boss who hates him …and going from saving the world to sweeping the floor and fetching coffee.

So, there should be no problem, right? They contain a lot of the same elements, but saying that, Star Wars has most of the elements you find in classic fairy tales, ‘The Matrix’ is about a war between man and machines just like ‘Terminator’, ALL super-hero movies tend incorporate the same elements as well.

In other words, calling these ideas ‘the same’ is like saying ‘Harry Potter’ is a rip off of ‘Lord of the Rings’ because they both have Wizards in them.

However, I’ve been around the internet long enough to get a really bad feeling when I consider going forward with this idea. I can see myself publishing a few strips and getting nothing but “OMG! Ur totally ripping off (insert other work of fiction here)” comments and emails.

The problem with this idea is you’d need to understand the context to see that this idea is fairly unique…but you’re never going to get that context from a single strip…and when it comes to the web, that single strip is the difference between getting a new reader and someone leaving and never coming back.

So, what this all boils down to is this:

What do you think? Should I go ahead or (no pun intended) go back to the drawing board?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mona Lisa? Actually *I* Painted That.

Since I started learning to draw I found a few tutorials by an artist called Jeremy Farlow who’s work I really admire. I mean this guy has got some serious talent.

Then today I was just skimming through drawing videos on youtube and stumbled across something that really pissed me off.

Basically some random guy was using youtube to show off his ‘drawing skills’ by capturing his screen to video while he ‘draws’ on his tablet.

Can you guess what he was really doing?

That’s right. He took one of Jeremy Farlow’s drawings and just filmed himself tracing it…while claiming it was his own original work and that he was drawing it from scratch. You can tell it’s a tracing because the drawing is just way too close to the original to be a hand-drawn copy…especially considering he didn’t erase or have to redo anything even once.

It’s easy enough to do. Just put a piece of paper with artwork on it over the top of your tablet and the paper is thin enough to where the tablet will detect the stylus through it.

I’ve done it myself (only with my own work) to digitally ink something before I had a scanner.

This video simultaneously pissed me off and totally baffled me.

Firstly it pissed me off simple because someone was ripping off artwork by an artist I admire and passing it off as my own.

It baffled me because I just thought “Why would anyone want to do this?”

I looked at the guy’s youtube profile and there were literally dozens of videos of his so-called ‘drawings’, more than a few I recognized and the rest were obviously not by him either.

How do I know the others weren’t his? Because you draw by sketching and refining. This guy can somehow start from the bottom of a drawing, work his way up and get everything absolutely perfect and in proportion the first time with no erasing. Not even professional artists can do that. Even Jeremy Farlow, the guy who’s work he was stealing doesn’t draw like that…he does what all artists do. A gesture sketch for the pose, roughing in the muscles and features, refining and then refining even more when he inks it.

The other big this is that if he could actually draw that well, he wouldn’t be attempting to pass other artists work off as his own.

So this guy, rather than actually learning to draw, instead traces other people’s work, calls them his own, just so people can comment on his youtube videos and tell him how awesome he is.

I just don’t understand that mentality. I mean, I could post pictures by professionals here and claim I did them myself…but I wouldn’t get any satisfaction from it at all because I’d know they weren’t mine and I was just being a liar.

Yep, I think it’s pretty self-evident that this guy is a massive douche.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Computer Guy.

Well, I had a good run…

Yup, I managed nearly four whole years before I officially became my new family’s ‘computer guy’.

Then, in the space of two weeks I helped my Mother-In-Law work out how to use her latop, spent an hour on the phone with someone else trying to troubleshoot their computer problems…and spent three hours today trying to fix my stepdaughter’s computer.

On the upside I can’t complain. Instead of just being the ‘computer monkey’ like I was with a few choice members of my own family, to be called at any time for any reason with absolutely nothing in return…I could probably fix all my inlaws computers and still owe them in some way.

Anyway, today was like any other technical support call I’ve taken. I got the information third hand so arrived at my stepdaughters without half the things I need.

You see, I’d heard from Sunny that Julie’s computer wasn’t connecting to the internet. A browser window would open and then it would ‘lock up’. Of course, under these circumstances ‘lock up’ could mean anything from and actual lock up, to nothing showing in the browser window.

I figured it would be one of three things. Either she just needed to cycle her modem (easy fix), she’d picked up a browser hijack (fairly easy fix) or somehow got a virus (who knows).

I figured that at worst I’d just cycle her modem, install Hijack This and Spybot, run those and then install firefox for good measure. 15 minute fix.

Well I arrive at the house and turn the computer on. Nothing, and I mean nothing is working. Windows will start up, but no programs will start and the computer is running like an old 286 trying to run Vista.

Crap.

So I get the computer started in safe mode, and then see that her Norton ‘Free Trial’ ended over six months ago. That’s six months with no updates or scans.

So I install the free virus checker I brought with me and do a quick scan. It picks up 2 different viruses and a hundred infected files. So I repair them and restart the computer. It was running exactly the same as when I first arrived.

I went back into safe mode and decided to run a full system scan. Are you ready for this?

Nine separate viruses and over seven thousand infected files.

I’ve worked on some pretty fucked up computers before and at one point considered infections in the double digits to be really bad. I turned to Julie.

“Hey Julie.” I said. “Here’s the thing. Virus checkers can’t always repair the infected file, sometimes it just deletes or quarantines them. If I tell this to remove all these, there’s a very good chance that when I restart it, it’s not going to start back up again.”

“Ok.” Julie says. “It’s not working anyway, might as well try to fix it.”

Then a horrible thought strikes me.

“Ummm.” I say. “To be honest, if my computer was this infected I’d just do a total wipe and a clean install…you do have your Windows XP install CD’s, right?”

Well, of course she doesn’t. Turns out she bought the computer from a rental place and didn’t get any install CD’s with it.

So I explain that the only Windows XP CD’s I have are ‘restore’ CDs…which means they simply won’t work on her computer. (I can understand why… anti-piracy and all that, but it would save a hell of a lot of problems. She has a legal copy of XP running, does it matter what CD it’s restored from?)

Anyway, after nearly two hours scanning and fixing, I restart the computer. To my surprise it actually starts up…although this time it’s asking for an administrator password to start up. I ask Julie what it is…she doesn’t know and the rental place never told her.

So I just start trying the usual default passwords. So I spend 10 minutes trying all the default passwords I can think of. Let’s just say I’m lucky that the people who set these things have no imagination.

The computer starts up, and it’s still as slow as crap. I figure that could be just down to spyware or something (which I could clean up later) so I click (shudder) Internet Explorer and after 15 seconds it opens.

It also connects to a website with a name like ‘grergrdfs.net’ and starts downloading. I try to close the window and the computer locks up.

After three restarts I get it back on and manage to start the virus checker. It instantly starts reporting viruses every 10 seconds and reports that nearly everything I try to start is infected.

I go back into safemode and start running another scan…and it’s like I never ran the first one.

I hate these types of viruses. Basically they get on your computer, copy themselves and infect every file they can. Then, they stay in memory, so even when you delete the actual virus, they copy themselves back onto your harddrive under another random name. They’re the Hydras of the computer world. You cut off one head and three grow back.

Finally I admit defeat and tell Julie that I could probably sit in front of her computer for two weeks and I might get it mostly working again…but it wouldn’t be a hundred percent and would be back to its broken state within weeks. I tell her she needs to get hold of a copy of XP so I can completely wipe the computer and start again from scratch.

This is the part of being the computer guy I absolutely hate. It’s like being a doctor and telling a loved one that their family member didn’t make it. It usually goes like this:

“I’m going to have to wipe it.”

“So what does that actually mean?”

“It means I delete everything off your hard drive and start over.”

“So I’ll lose all my pictures?”

“Yes, everything.”

“What about my music?”

“Yes, everything.”

“What about my games?”

“Yes, absolutely everything.”

“Can I not copy that stuff to a USB drive or something and put it back once you’ve wiped it?”

“Some of it you can, but most, no.”

“Why?”

“Because all that stuff is infected, so all you’d be doing is re-infecting your computer. It’s like curing someone of a disease, then injecting them with their own infected blood once they’ve recovered.”

“So I’ll lose all my stuff?”

“Yes.”

“Even my pictures?”

It’s times like this that I really start to miss the pre-CD/DVD burner days. No one worried about piracy so every computer came with the full operating system on a CD. None of this ‘one time use’ and ‘restore copy’ business.

In the end I told Julie she had three options. One, just throw the PC in the trash. Two, call a ‘professional’ and spend the price of a new computer to get it fixed (she’d been quoted $600 bucks). Or three, buy a copy of XP and I’d fix it for free.

That’s the curse of being the family ‘computer guy’. Even though you offer your help for free, you always find yourself, at best, in the position of ‘lesser of two evils.’

On the upside I had cake while I was there. Cake is delicious.

Some people...

A couple of months ago I got some email from a spammer who can only be described as having Brass Balls.

Basically, he’d spammed my comments with an ad and link to one of those bullshit sites that sell knockoff Viagra. What actually surprised the hell out of me was that he emailed me to say the link in his comment was out of date, so would I mind editing his comment to reflect his new shitty fake Viagra site.

I’d somehow missed his original spam (usually I delete those instantly)…but I just couldn’t believe that a freaking spammer was asking me to update the spam he’d left on my blog.

So I found his comment, deleted it and emailed him…using a few choice words describing exactly what I thought about him.

Yesterday, over two months later he replied. I can honestly say I’ve not laughed that hard in a long, long time.

Here was a guy who’s entire business revolves around selling products that don’t work…and doing that by leeching off other people’s hard work and effort. Believe it or not, I didn’t spend two years writing millions of works and building up a readership just so some asshole can use my site to say:

“Hey, great post! If you want cheap Viagra, go to www.imasmacktard.com!!!!1!”

I mean, he obviously wasn’t a reader because the post he actually ‘commented’ on was one where I basically made fun of ‘male enhancement’ products.

Anyway, when I opened the email I was expecting a lot of four letter words, instead the freaking idiot actually tried to claim the moral high-ground. How dare I take that tone with him? He was a professional! How dare I pollute his inbox with trash?

It’s a surreal experience when someone spams your blog, clogs your comments with links to knockoff Viagra sites, attempts to exploit your hard work by piggybacking their ‘business’ off your hard work…then acts like they’ve been personally wronged when you tell them to fuck off and that you certainly won’t update their spam so my traffic can be used to get more customers to his little ‘business’.

If he writes back again, I’m going to give him a taste of his own medicine. Let’s see how a spammer likes it when I subscribe his email address to every porn and ‘free viagra’ site I can think of.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Shitlist.

Last night Sunny and I were watching a movie when I see her fall asleep about halfway through. She does this a few times, wakes up, watches a few minutes of TV, falls back asleep again, repeat.

So, when I saw her awake I asked her if she wanted to go to bed. This was around 1.30am.

We get into bed and after an hour or so I realize I'm just not going to get to sleep. the insomnia monster strikes again.

Anyway, not wanting to get up (Sunny hates it when I do that), I persevere until about 5.30 in the morning until I just decide to call it quits and get out of bed.

Like I said, Sunny hates it when I do this, even though I've explained to her a hundred times that by asking me to stay in bed she's basically asking me to lie down in the dark, in complete silence for 7 hours or so.

Oo I get out of bed as quietly as possible. I know Sunny wanted to clean the house today, so I figure if I'm awake I'll do something constructive.

Well, obviously firing up the vacuum cleaner is out of the question, so I go into the kitchen and start washing dishes...there was about four day's worth, so I washed dishes until I ran out of hot water. (Our water heater is tiny.)

I go back into the living room to wait for the water heater to do it's magic, and remember that Sunny had told me that my stepdaughter's computer wasn't working properlly and, if it was okay with me, we'd go over there this weekend so I could fix it. So I spend half an hour on the internet looking up the problem to see if there are any easy fixes.

Once that was done, I remembered that Miss Jennifer is bringing baby Clay for a visit today, and Sunny had told me that Miss Jennifer had said that if I gave her a couple copies of my resume, she might be able to land me a job at Lockheed Martin. So I open my resume and decide to completely re-do it so it looks more professional.

When I was finished with that, I decided to go onto monster, careerbuilder and a few other job search sites.

It was at this exact moment that Sunny's head pops around the door. She sees me sitting at the computer with a cup of coffee in my hand, says "God dammit!" and storms off back to the bedroom.

So, I can't sleep, and rather than spend 7 hours lying in the dark, I get up, wash dishes, research how to fix her daughter's computer, update my resume and look for a job...and I still end up on the shit list...

Sometimes you can't win for losing.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Draw Circle, Bang head here.

So there I was, sitting in front of the computer pressing that oh-so-addictive ‘Stumble’ button.

One of the interests I have set for Stumbleupon (as you can probably guess from my recent posts) is drawing.

I found a rather cool video…followed by just about the dumbest most ridiculous comment I have ever read.

Now, comments on the internet are usually pretty damn idiotic. For example I once saw a comment on an animation that said, and I quote:

“This sucks, you suck, your entire family sucks. Go die in a fire.”

Bit of an overreaction, no?

Anyway, as a long-time citizen of the Internet, my bullshit filter is pretty high. It takes a lot to make me actually sit up and take notice of something…and it takes a hell of a lot to make me react to a user comment. This one almost made me bang my head on my desk for a solid hour.

Ok, the video was a tutorial by a talented artist. The tutorial was about drawing the head and face. So went through the usual steps and towards the end said:

“Remember, these proportions aren’t set in stone. You’ll obviously have to bend them a little to fit your character. For example, women tend to have higher, more defined cheekbones and black people tend to have more pronounced lips and wider noses. Just play around with these basics and you can make your character look any way you want.”

Hmmm, I thought. Good tips.

However, the first commenter didn’t agree with me. The comment said:

“OMG. You are SO RACIST!!! How dare you! We’re all human and we’re all the same! I should report you and have your websight (sic) taken down!!!!!111!!!1!”

Is it just me, or is anyone else getting sick of how touchy people are about race? I mean, when we’ve got to the point where a guy can’t make a valid, accurate statement about different races’ facial features…and for a perfectly good reason… something has gone terribly wrong in our society. He didn’t even say something like “All black people have big lips”, he said “black people tend to have more pronounced lips’.

How much more ‘politically correct’ could the guy be?

Oh, and 20’ll get you 1 than the commenter was white.

I mean, all you have to do is look at a few people. Black people do have more pronounced lips and wider noses. Women do have higher cheekbones. If we want to look into this a little further, Asians have softer and more rounded features than both whites and blacks.

To be honest, I think the thing I hate most is this mantra that ‘we’re all the same’.

Guess what? We’re not all the same. We’re all different. Saying we’re different is only racist when you take our differences and say one is better than the other.

Of course, this commenter’s reaction means that he or she will one day will attempt to draw a black person and basically draw a Caucasian with a very dark tan. I wonder if s/he will see the irony when someone calls her racist for it.

Before I close this post, I’d like to point out that I have in the past been called a racist for daring to call a black person ‘black’ instead of ‘African-American’ or a ‘person of color’, something I have also done in this post.

I do this because, personally, I think assigning a nationality to someone is a little more prejudice than describing the color of their skin.

Let’s just say I’m from England where I had friends who were neither African or American. They were English. Why should I call a guy ‘African-American’ or ‘African-English’ when he was born in England and so was his great-grandparents? As for ‘person of color’, I don’t go in for euphemisms or sugar coated names to make rich white people feel better about themselves.

The sooner everyone stops being so touchy about this shit, the better. Again, these people just don’t see the irony. A bunch of idiotic white people telling everyone what the ‘acceptable’ way to refer to a black person is…Isn’t that racist in itself?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

HA!

“According to a report from GamePolitics, the judge who presided over Miami lawyer Jack Thompson's Bar trial has recommended to the Florida Supreme Court that he be found guilty on 27 of 31 charges of professional misconduct. Of the 27 recommendations of guilt, twenty-one are from a suit related to Grand Theft Auto and four are from an attempt by Thompson to have Rockstar's Bully declared a public nuisance.

The Bar trial judge, Dava Tunis, found the violent video game activist guilty of misconduct such as "Engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation." The state Supreme Court will have to make a ruling based on those recommendations, with a disciplinary hearing planned for the first week of June.”

Among the Florida Bar offenses for which Judge Tunis has recommended a guilty verdict:

  • Knowingly making a false statement of material fact or law to a tribunal
  • Knowingly disobeying an obligation under the rules of a tribunal
  • Communicating the merits of the case with a judge before whom the proceeding is pending
  • Using means that have no purpose other than to embarrass, delay or burden a third person
  • Engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation
  • Engaging in conduct in connection with the practice of law that is prejudicial to the administration of justice, including to knowingly or through callous indifference disparage or humiliate litigants or other lawyers
  • Making statements that the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to the truth or falsity concerning the qualifications or integrity of a judge

I have only a few words to say on this:

HA! In your FACE! That’s what you get for being a reactionary, fame-seeking asshole who doesn’t care who or what he destroys as long as it gets him on TV!

HA!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Marriage...

So, last night Sunny decides to show me a floor plan for a house she’s designed.

This is kinda a hobby of Sunny’s. We can’t afford to move right now, and I limit her rearranging of the furniture to only a few times per day, so she likes to draw floor plans of her dream homes.

This one was a little different.

“Isn’t that a bit of a waste of space?” I asked. “The Bedroom’s the same size as the main living room. Why not make the bedroom a little smaller to make a bigger living area?”

“Well, there’s an en-suite and a ‘retreat’ in the bedroom as well, though.”

I looked at the floorplan a little more closely.

“I think you messed up here.” I said. “You’ve put in two kitchens.”

“Nah, that one’s just a kitchenette in your study.” She said.

“Why have you put a kitchenette in my study???” I asked. “Sure, a mini-fridge and a coffee maker I can understand…but there’s a freaking stove in there. Do you expect me to just live in that room? It has an en-suite as well!”

“Uh-huh.” She said.

“You realize that what you’ve designed here is basically two separate apartments with a shared master bedroom and living room, right?”

“Oh, have I?” she said…far too innocently.

“Don’t you think a freaking kitchen in my study is going a bit too far?”

“Well, it’ll stop you messing up my kitchen.” She said.

“You mean the way I mess it up by cooking for both of us?”

“What’s the problem? You got your own mini pantry in there as well! You can keep stuff for snacks…making sandwiches. You know, you could keep bread in there.”

At that point, the penny dropped.

“Ok, let me just confirm a little suspicion here.” I said. “You went to the trouble of designing a house, giving me my own kitchen…and this is just because I don’t put the twisty-tie back on the loaf once I’ve opened it, isn’t it?”

“WELL I GO TO PICK UP THE BREAD AND IT FALLS ALL OVER THE FLOOR! IT”S A TWISTY-TIE! IT’S SIMPLE AND EASY TO USE!!!!”

“WELL MAYBE YOU SHOULD LEARN TO BE MORE CAREFFUL WHEN YOU PICK UP THE BREAD! I HATE TWISTY TIES! YOU SPIN THE LOAF AND TUCK THE END OF THE BAG UNDERNEATH! TAKING OFF THE TIE TAKES TOO LONG!”

“AND WHAT ARE YOU IN SUCH A RUSH FOR! TEN SECONDS WOULD SAVE ME FROM DROPPING BREAD ALL OVER THE FLOOR!”

“ACTUALLY USING YOUR EYES WHEN YOU TAKE IT OUT OF THE CUPBOARD WOULD STOP THAT!!!”

Four years of marriage. Ain’t it grand?

My Fiance Visa Adventure.

You know, sometimes things happen that manage to make me incredibly happy and bug me quite a lot at the same time.

I found out this week that a fellow blogger and friend recently got her fiancĂ© Visa approved and she’ll be moving to America to be with her future husband soon.

So, on the one hand I’m absolutely made up for her. I know exactly how stressful, expensive and annoying the Visa process can be. Getting the final approval feels literally like having a twenty ton weight lifted off your chest. You see, it takes a long time, is incredibly expensive…and you know that at any time they can turn you down, meaning you’re cut off from your fiancĂ© and you’ve wasted all that time and money.

On the other hand, her Visa process took around 6 months. Mine took just over two years… and that’s just not fair, Dammit!

Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to know exactly what the process is like. So here’s my immigration experience:

It started when Sunny filed the first of a few million forms. A few months later, I received a letter saying they’d received the petition from Sunny and they’d be in contact soon.

Of course, ‘soon’ is a relative term. It was another couple of months before I received my first ‘packet’ from the embassy which gave me a list of documents I needed to get as well as four or five nice long biographical form.

This was when we hit out first stumbling block. You see, Sunny got on the phone to immigration asking why things were taking so long. She was told that a week before we started the process, the INS discovered a group of women, right here in upstate SC, were marrying Pakistani guys for money. So we were told that every application from SC was being triple checked.

It was at this point that my butthole decided to try and eat my underwear. You see, Sunny and I had known each other for about four years at this point, but we’d only spent about 6 weeks in each other’s company. Neither of us could afford to fly over to see each other very often.

Also, regular readers know that Sunny and I have a significant age difference. While we were totally legit, I could see that it could easily look like I was marrying Sunny for a Greencard. Looking back, it’s a good job I’m from England, a close ally of the USA and a country that is on the same economic level. I reckon if I’d been from Mexico or a poorer country, I wouldn’t stand a chance.

Anyway, it seemed that every time I sent off a form, I got three back. It wasn’t a background check like you get when you apply for a job, it was a full biographical profile. They wanted to know who I was, where I was born, who my parents are, where they were born, what they did for a living…I can’t remember exactly, but I’m fairly certain I had to supply information on my grandparents.

Then I hit two more stumbling blocks. I needed my full medical records, inoculation records and a statement from the police to say I’d never been arrested.

The police statement was no problem, I just went to visit the local police station, told them what was up…and after yet another processing fee I got my statement 4 to 6 weeks later.

The problem was my medical records. I went to my GP and the only records they had was the meningitis inoculation I got when I started college. I spent almost three days on the phone trying to track down the rest of my records. I never did find them.

So I called the embassy and the result was something like a three stooges sketch. I called their main number, got put through to someone with a hindi accent who gave me the original number I called. I called the original number again and they put me right back through to the same idiot. It went like this:

“No, I called that number, they put me through to you... Twice.”

“You need to call .”

“Will you listen to me? I already called that number, explained the situation and they put me through to you. If I call that number again, I’ll just get transferred back to you again.”

“I told you. You need to call

“I told you, I called that number. I just need to know about…”

“Call

After ten minutes of this dance, I just lost it.

“For fuck’s sake, how many times do I need to tell you? I CALLED THAT NUMBER AND THEY PUT ME THROUGH…TO…YOU. I need to speak to someone in YOUR DEPARTMENT!”

“All calls must go through

“I’VE ALREADY BEEN THROUGH THAT FUCKING NUMBER! THEY PUT ME THROUGH TO YOU. HOW MANY TIMES DO I NEED TO EXPLAIN THIS? ARE YOU DEAF OR JUST STUPID.”

“Just call

“I CALLED THAT FUCKING NUMBER. I JUST NEED TO KNOW HOW TO…”

Click

Yup, the fucker hung up on me. I call the main embassy number, explain the situation and they transfer me to this shaved monkey who just tries to palm me off by telling me the main call number is the ‘department’ I needed for information about the medical.

In other words, this idiot just didn’t want to do his job. It was easier for him to palm me off and hope I get transferred to someone else.

It took close the fifteen attempts but I finally got the information I needed. I’ve never talked to such a disinterested bunch of people in my life.

Anyway, the next snag was my fault and it was sheer ‘brown trousers’ time.

I got my date for the medical and interview and I thought the worst was over. Exactly one week before the date I was re-reading the instructions and noticed some small print:

Please bring your long-form birth certificate, the short-form is unacceptable. Failure to present this form may result in a delay in the application process or your application being denied.

I just about shit myself. I knew I had a birth certificate, but which one did I have?

A quick check online showed me that, yes, I had the short form.

Even worse news is that my long-form certificate was in Liverpool.

I went online again and checked the process to get a copy. Actually going to Liverpool was out of the question because I couldn’t take any time off work without losing my job. The processing time to do it through the mail was 2 to 3 weeks.

It was a catch 22 situation. I could either not get the certificate which would either result in another 6 month delay or result in me starting from scratch…or I could get the certificate and not be able to afford the rest of the fees.

This was the one time during the whole process that I came into contact with someone who actually seemed willing to help and actually went above and beyond to help me. I called the registrar’s office in Liverpool and explained the situation. I told her how I needed the certificate within a week or it was about ten grand down the drain.

This absolute star pulled out a form then and there and filled it out for me while I supplied the information over the phone. She told me she’d put it in as a ‘rush’ that day. The day before I was due to leave for London it arrived.

I relaxed for the first time in weeks. Then I remembered I had my medical and interview in two days time. I felt like I had a vice around my chest again.

Now, I’d planned to go to London the day before my interview and stay overnight. My medical was at 9am in the morning, which meant I’d be getting on a train at five in the morning. I figured going the day before would give me plenty of time to do a ‘dry run’ to make sure I knew where to go.

It was my first time in London and the underground system is like a rabbit warren. I also have the sense of direction of a dead stoat. I didn’t want to waste two years and ten thousand pounds because I got lost. It was a damn good job I did.

I arrived in London, checked into my hotel, and pulled out all my paperwork to give one last check that I had everything.

Unfortunately, the night before I’d looked at all my paperwork and left everything I didn’t need at home. In the hotel in London I realized that on the back of one of those bits of paper was the map of where the doctor’s office was for my medical.

I thought I could remember the map. I knew the doctor’s name and had a rough idea where it was. Getting directions to the Embassy would be no problem, and I thought I knew where the doctor’s office was in relation to the embassy so I thought I was golden.

I walked around London for seven hours in brand-new, non-broken in shoes looking for the place. I was clutching at straws by going into every pharmacy I could find and asking if they knew where the doctor’s office was, no-one did.

Right now you’re probably wondering why I didn’t just call my parents, get them to look through my paperwork (all nicely filed) and tell me the name of the street.

Well, here’s the thing. London’s a lot like New York, in that you don’t carry around anything valuable that you don’t actually need. My phone was safe in my hotel, which would take me nearly an hour to get back to.

So for the first couple hours I was sure I was going to find it eventually. For the next hour I figured I’d find it soon. Then I was struck by inspiration. The security guys outside the embassy probably get asked for directions to the doctor’s office all the time, they’d know.

I’d printed out a map of the area before I’d arrived in London, mainly for the underground map that came with it. The security guard looked at my map and pointed me in the right direction.

Oops. Did I say ‘right’ direction? I meant to say “Completely and totally the wrong fucking way’. After four or five trips too and from the embassy, I asked the security guy if I could use the phone in his little hut thing so I could call inside for directions. The security guy was cool (even if he had sent me the wrong way five times) and let me.

I got that same fucking Hindi guy who told me it wasn’t his job to give directions and that I’d already received a map so I should check that.

I told him that I was in London and that the map was back up north.

The fucker told me it ‘wasn’t his problem’.

I asked him why it was such a big deal for him to stand up and say “Anyone know how to get to the doctor’s office from the embassy?” and he gave me more bullshit.

He actually started getting aggressive with me, and it gave me the greatest satisfaction in the world when I winked at the security guard and told the idiot on the phone that I was standing outside the embassy right now and asked him if he’d like to come outside so we could discuss the situation further. The security guard started giggling like a schoolgirl and the dumbass guy inside stuttered for a few moments and hung up.

“They’re all assholes in there, fucking yanks.” Said one of the guards. I laughed and wondered if I’d ever find the damn place.

Finally, I admitted defeat and went back to the hotel. I called my dad and he gave me the name of the street in fifteen minutes.

Well, hindsight is always 20/20. The entire time I was wandering around I was thinking “If I go back to the hotel now, it’ll be getting dark by the time I get back here…plus, Dad might not be able to find the map and then I’ve just wasted an hour of daylight.”

The next part was quite nice.

I didn’t bother going back to find the place because it was pitch black outside, and I’d actually walked down the correct street three or four times. I just hadn’t gone far enough down the street to see the teeny-weeny plaque on the door with the doctor’s name on it. Plus, my feet were torn to shreds.

Well, just as a fortunate coincidence, my best friend from work was doing a work-exchange thing on the same day I was in London. He was working for a week in a front-line office in London instead of at the processing center. I’d picked the same hotel as he was staying in.

So after my ordeal, I got back from my marathon walk to find a note on the room’s TV from Jim telling me what room he was in. I called him up and we went out for a curry and a beer.

I retired to my room early though, I was (and this is a technical term) fucking knackered.

Of course, I didn’t sleep at all that night because I was terrified of oversleeping, despite the fact I’d ordered a wake-up call, set the alarm on my phone and set the TV to turn on at the same time. I was waking up every 15 minutes and looking at the clock.

They’d also put me in a non-smoking room by mistake. I didn’t say anything however, because they’d given me a double instead of the single I ordered.

The next day I arrived at the doctors office an hour and a half early. I’d got so antsy waiting at the hotel, and still terrified of fuck-ups I left ridiculously early. On the up side, I missed the crowds and traffic.

The medical was an experience. Me, along with 15 other people, went inside and handed over our documents. Then I got to wear a very fetching flowery surgical gown and hold a lead plate over my twig ‘n’ berries while they took a chest X-Ray. Did I mention that single X-Ray cost 250 pounds?

Other than the bloodwork and the X-Ray, the medical was a bit of a joke. The doctor put a stethoscope to my chest, took my blood pressure, did the old ‘turn your head and cough’ signed a bit of paper and told me that was it.

That medical cost another 250 pounds. Not bad for five minutes work, huh?

So, having just had a bank-accountectomy, the doctor told me the inoculation records I had were no good because they were hand written. He also told me not to worry because he said I could get them when I went for my Greencard.

I didn’t want more worries or stress so I asked him two questions:

1) Could I get the injections and documentation for them there and then?

2) Would it do me any harm to get an inoculation I’d already had?

The answers were yes and no respectively. I think I actually say dollar signs in the guy’s eyes.

Six injections and a hundred and fifty pounds later I was set.

1 X-Ray, 1 phial of blood drawn and a five minute cursory medical : 500 pounds. (That’s about $1000US). 6 innoculations, normally given at your GP’s office for free : 150 pounds ($300US).

On my walk to the embassy for my interview I pondered that doctor’s job. In country where medical care is free, that guy gets to charge at least five hundred pounds per person for 5 minutes work each. There were 15 people in my intake, so he made $15,000 that morning. He does that twice a day.

$30,000 a day for very little work…I’m definitely in the wrong business.

I arrived at the embassy and shared a smile with the security guard:

“So, you found it then?” He said.

“Eventually.” I replied. “Wish I hadn’t now, I’m six hundred and fifty quid lighter that I was the last time I saw you.”

“Christ.” He said. “Well, I hope she’s worth it.”

“Oh, don’t worry. I’ll be holding this over her head for at least the first decade of the marriage.”

The security guard laughed and ran my over with that metal detector thingy.

My first port of call inside the embassy was to hand over more money. I had to give someone 15 pounds for a courier envelope that my Visa would be sent to me in. This was the only money I’d spent so far that was actually refundable if I was turned down.

So I found myself in the waiting room, realizing that everything came down to the next hour or so. I was expecting to have my name called and spend the next hour being grilled Gestapo-style about every aspect of me and Sunny’s relationship.

Instead, I was pleasantly surprised. I was called to a window like you see at the post office and handed over my paperwork. I was expecting to be sent back to my seat to wait for the interview, but the guy started interviewing me then and there.

He asked me a handful of questions:

“So, how did you meet?”

“How long have you known each other?”

“You know she has children, right? Do you know their names?”

It was on that question that I nearly screwed the pooch. I forgot that Sunny’s kids go by their middle names. The guy’s eyes narrowed slightly.

“Oh, sorry.” I said. “They go by their middle names. So I know Clay as Clay, rather than Charles.”

“Oh, ok.” He said.

“When did you last visit her?” He asked.

At that moment I had a total brain-fart. I couldn’t remember the month, never mind the actual date. I figured honestly was the best policy.

“Sorry, I can’t remember.” I said. “I’m nervous as hell. The date’s in my passport though.”

I took my passport back from him, checked the stamp inside and told him.

At this point I still thought this was a preliminary interview, so I was shocked as hell when the guy said:

“Ok, well as long as your bloodwork comes back okay, you’ll get your Visa by courier within the week.”

My mouth dropped open, then I said, stupidly:

“So I can go?”

“Yup.” The guy said.

I was walking on air, I smiled and nodded to the people I’d seen at the medical and headed out the door.

I was halfway across the road when I realized something.

My passport was in my pocket. I’d just shoved it in there when I’d read the date off the stamp. If my passport was in my pocket, how the hell was the guy going to put my visa in it.

It was at this point that I actually became thankful for getting lost the day before. The security guards knew me, knew what a fucking awful time I’d had, so it should be no problem getting back inside.

I sheepishly walked up to the hut and caught the guards attention.

“Hey.” I said. “I’ve done something stupid. I forgot to give them my passport and they’ll need it to send me my visa. Can I get back inside?”

“Do you remember the guy’s name who interviewed you?” he asked. I had no idea. Luckily the guy was cool about it.

“Tell you what, I’ll escort you back in.”

So the security guy got me through all the check points and back into the room. I went up to the desk and asked for the guy who interviewed me.

“Do you remember his name?” They said.

“No, sorry.” I said. “But he was interviewing me at this window less than five minutes ago.”

“Oh, ok.” She said. Minutes later the guy who interviewed me arrived at the window, looking confused.

“Hi.” I said. “I got halfway home then realized you’d probably need this.”

I handed him my passport. He laughed.

“Yeah, probably.” He smiled. He opened the passport, asked to see another ID (to make sure I wasn’t doing some kind of scam) and I said goodbye, again.

This time I was halfway back to the tube station when I remembered someone I needed to call.

“Hi Sweetie.” I said.

“Hey baby.” Replied Sunny. I could hear the sheer terror in her voice.

“See you next month.” I said.

We had our fourth wedding anniversary last week, I still haven’t got the hearing back in my right ear.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Holy Crap It WORKS!!!

Ok, I've deliberately tried to keep the drawing posts to a minimum but I can honestly say I'm totally blown away by the figure drawing course I bought.

For example, one thing I could never get the hang of was drawing the face in profile. I mean this is something I spent the past freaking year trying to master and could never get it right. Then I did two twenty minute lessons from this course, spent another half hour 'practicing' until I had all the rules and 'formulas' memorized and now I can draw faces in profile with confidence.

That's a years worth of reading, following tutorials and practice with no success...then getting it down pat in less than an hour and a half with this course.

Here's a video to prove it.

(At the start you can't see any of my pencil lines very well, that's not a fault with the camera... you're not meant to see them...those are very faint 'construction lines')

video

I apologise for the crappy picture quality. I couldn't find my camcorder, so I had to record this with my webcam.

I know that the drawing itself isn't spectacular. (What do you expect for a 6 minute sketch?) My point is that yesterday I wouldn't have been able to draw that picture one tenth as good even if I'd spent hours and hours on it. Hell, forget yesterday, I wouldn't have been able to draw this picture that well three hours ago.

Also, I tested my webcam by drawing some very faint lines and saw that they didn't show up...so when the drawing was done I didn't bother erasing the construction lines...which of course showed up perfectly when I actually started recording. Stoopid camera.

Oh, and in case anyone's wondering the music from the clip is Jonathan Coulton's 'I Feel Fantastic', followed by the ending song from 'Portal', also by Jonathan Coulton.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

I'm A PC....

I just saw the newest “Hi, I’m a Mac’ advert and something popped into my head.

“Steve Jobs is a freaking Genius!”

Here’s what Steve Jobs does. He takes an existing product, repackages it, makes it ‘cool’ and then sells a bazillion of them.

Let’s start with the iPod. MP3 players existed long before the iPod, but very few people bought them. They were easy to sell to the hardcore geeks just because of the technology…but the average person didn’t see the point of carrying thousands of hours of music around with them, especially when you could by a portable CD player for less than a quarter of the price.

So what did Steve do? He made the iPod look ‘chic’. He gave it the trademark white headphones and got major league musicians to appear in the advertisements. He knew he couldn’t sell technology to the average person, so he turned the iPod into a fashion accessory. People want iPods for the same reason they want Ralph Lauren shirts.

Turn up at school or college with a generic, non-name brand MP3 player? Hell no. I might as well turn up at the nightclub in a Wal-Mart shirt and Brut cologne.

Then we have the iPhone.

Here’s the shocker. The iPhone really wasn’t all that revolutionary. In fact, smart phones existed before the iPhone that can do everything the iPhone can, and in many cases, do it better.

So Steve did it again. He took existing technology, gave it a ‘fashionable’ form factor and gave it a very pretty touch screen. Before the iPhone people saw smart phones with all the same whiz-bang features and reacted by saying “I don’t need all that stuff, I just want to make phonecalls. Why spend the money?”

Then Steve unveiled the iPhone and marketed it not on the technology, but on how pretty and ‘cool’ it was. You might not need one, but look at how goddamned amazing it looks! Look at the touch screen! Turn it sideways and it automatically adjusts the screen!

Just like the iPod, you don’t spend money on the iPhone based on what it can do. You buy it based on how it looks.

I think the best example of Steve Job’s thinking is the ‘Macbook Air’.

If you buy one of these, what you’ll get for your money is a cut-down laptop. A whopping Three thousand bucks will buy you a laptop with a 1.8ghz processor, a tiny 64 gig hard-drive, two gigs of RAM and no CD or DVD drive.

If you’re not all that technically minded, let me put it this way. You can get a laptop with much better hardware for less than five hundred bucks from Walmart. From any other company, three grand would buy you an absolutely top-of-the-line laptop that would make the Macbook Air look like a pocket calculator.

In other words, you could get a regular laptop with the same specs as the Macbook Air second hand for a couple hundred dollars off eBay.

But, of course, Steve Jobs has realized that the average person doesn’t buy things based on the technology. People buy things because they’re fashionable and look cool. You don’t buy an iPod because of its features, you buy it so people can see you wearing those white headphones. You don’t buy an iPhone for its gadgetry, you buy it so people can see you using one.

…and you don’t buy a Macbook Air for it’s hardware…you buy it because it’s the world’s thinnest laptop. I mean, it’ll fit inside a manilla envelope! Sure, it has less performance than a laptop from ten years ago, but you buy it so you can pull it out your bag at college and everyone around you will be amazed at just how sexy it looks. “It’s the world’s thinnest laptop, don’tcha know? Nice Dell, chump! Want a wheelbarrow to cart that thing around?”

Basically, Steve Jobs took a computer company with a 5% market share and made it a good thing. With only around 5% of all computer users owning Macs, this didn’t make their machines unpopular…it made them exclusive. He made everyone believe that owning an Apple product means that you’re a non-conformist and one of the ‘cool kids’. Forget IBM and Microsoft, those companies are for old crusty businessmen. Buy something with the Apple Logo and come sit at the cool table.

This brings me back to the advertisement that inspired this post.

The whole point of the Ad is that the newest Macs can now run Windows operating systems and run Microsoft Office. Their main selling point is that after a few decades of competition, their product can now almost match their main competitor.

Now, I’ll be completely honest. I don’t go in for fan-boyism or ‘brand loyalty’ at all. I’m ‘loyal’ to a brand as long as it does one of two things: It makes a product better than its competitors or cheaper. I don’t get offended or feel the need to ‘defend’ the PC when I see a Mac ad, because to me, that would be like defending my purchase of a Pepsi to someone who prefers Coke.

I bought Pentium until AMD released a processor that was faster and cheaper. I bought nVidia graphics cards until I found a more powerful ATI card for a lower price.

Put simply, I’m not going to buy a product that’s more expensive and less useful that a competing product because of ‘brand loyalty’. Like I said, I’m ‘loyal’ to the brand that makes the best, cheapest product.

So why am I telling you this? So you’ll know where the following is coming from. I’m not writing this in a ‘Macs SUCK!’ way…you know, like you’d find in a million different flame wars in a million different chatroom and forums. I’m writing this as an ‘educated consumer’.

So here’s the deal. I bought the computer I’m writing this on almost two years ago for about $500 dollars. For that, I got a 2.13ghz 64bit processor, 1 gig of memory, a 160gb hard drive, a DVD writer and media card reader.

About a year ago I spent another hundred bucks on a new graphics card and another 50 on more RAM.

So today, I have a computer that can run pretty much any game I throw at it, runs almost everything a Mac can, and about a million other software titles that a Mac can’t. When it starts showing its age in about another year, less than 200 bucks will keep this computer ‘current’.

If I buy an Mac, I’m going to spend at least $1200 for their most basic model. It won’t run any of my games or other software, and in two years when it starts showing it’s age, I won’t spend a couple hundred bucks upgrading it, I’ll have to buy a whole new Mac.

Sure, it’s slightly more reliable than a PC, but that’s because they all have exactly the same, non-upgradable hardware. PC’s aren’t ‘worse’ because they’re less stable, it’s just a trade off. Macs are incredibly stable but aren’t upgradable. PC’s are a little less stable, but I can upgrade or replace any component I choose.

So, buying a Mac means I’ll be spending more, getting less…and the main reason to buy one is because their newest ones can do most of the things my PC has always been able to do…and it will look nice on my desk.

I think I’ll stick with my PC for now.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Men Are From Mars...

So Sunny wakes me up this morning so we can go pay our bills and buy some groceries for the week.

I walk into the living room and try to get my eyes to focus. First thing in the morning my body takes longer to boot up than a 486 trying to run Windows Vista. Sunny, on the other hand, wakes up like a pocket calculator. She goes from dead asleep to firing on all cylinders in the time it takes to blink.

So I’m buttoning up my shirt (which is taking a while because my brain is still trying to remember how many fingers I have and how they work) and suddenly Sunny literally jumps up.

“LOOK!!!” She says.

She stands still for a second, the jumps around 180 degrees and points her butt at me.

“Wstfgl?” I eloquently reply.

“LOOK!!!” She says again. It’s too early in the morning for this level of thinking. I know I’m supposed to be noticing something obvious so I take a leap to the safety of behind the sofa and say:

“What am I looking at?”

“My pants!” She says.

Uh oh. I think. She’s finally lost it.

“What about them?” I say.

“Gaaaah!” Says Sunny. I forgot that, as a husband, I’m supposed to keep track of every item of clothing she owns, where she got them, how much she paid and what size they are. As far as I’m concerned they’re just a pair of black pants, very similar to the other three or four pairs of black pants she owns. She continued: “These are size (censored) and they fit! There’s room in them as well! I’ve gone down three sizes!!!”

She then made a sound that can only be described as sounding similar to a wounded pterodactyl crossed with the call of a bald eagle. She sort of screamed, but while inhaling instead of exhaling. Then she giggled and jumped up and down some more.

It was then I was hit by inspiration. I had an idea that I’m going to share with all you guys out there.

Let’s face it, women are completely insane. They can go from ecstatically happy to murderous rage in an instant. Every single one is different and trying to work out how they think is like trying to find the Holy Grail in your own back yard.

There is one thing all women have in common, however. They all think they could lose a few pounds and would rather find that they can fit into a smaller dress size than win a million dollars.

So here’s the idea.

Go out and buy a couple pairs of jeans that are a size larger than what your wife or girlfriend usually wears. Then, you take out the label and replace it with one that’s a size smaller than they usually wear.

Then, the next time you find yourself in trouble or want something your missus would usually say no to, pull out the jeans and say you saw them ‘on sale’ so you bought her a pair. Say you weren’t sure of her size so hope they fit.

This will earn you the following brownie points:

1) You actually bought her something.

2) You thought she was a size smaller than she is.

3) She then tries on the jeans and discovers that, not only do they fit, they’re a little big on her.

Bam! Instant good mood.

Of course, if she ever finds out that you pulled this trick on her, you can wave goodbye to your scrotum…so if you decide to use this little trick, you didn’t hear it from me…got it?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

My Own Worst Enemy

Having a vivid imagination can be a very bad thing.

I’ve always had a very active imagination, that’s why I love to write, draw and do all manner of creative things. The only problem is that your imagination can turn on you.

Last night, I was sitting at my desk, doing a few lessons from my drawing course when I got up to go and get something to drink.

When I returned to my desk I found my sketchbook closed with my pencil on top of it. I paused for a moment. I was sure I remembered leaving the sketchbook open and my pencil to the side.

“Nah.” I thought. “It’s a new sketchbook, the spine’s still stiff. Because I wasn’t holding it down, the front probably just flipped over.”

My sketchbook is hard-cover and bound just like a normal hard-backed book. It wasn’t totally unfeasible that it ‘closed itself’

Suddenly, that little voice in my head said:

“Yeah, that could happen…but how did your pencil get on top of that two inch thick book without assistance?”

Now, at this point, a normal person would shrug, sit back down and start drawing again. They’d put it down to a trick of the mind and just assume they’d closed it themselves without thinking.

Me, however, with my overactive imagination, instantly thought “OMGWTFBBQ!!!! GHOSTS!!!!”

There’s a part of my brain that’s always on that loves to invent stories. Think if it as a biological ‘muse’. This is the part of my brain that will see an ordinary, everyday object and twist it in some way to make it interesting. It’s the part of my brain that looks at a Tivo and thinks ‘Heh, imagine if you got one of them and found it could record tomorrow’s shows! You could use it to win the lottery…but what if you saw a news report that reported your death? Then you try to stop it, but in the end it’s your trying to stop it that causes your death in the first place!”

…and that’s how I aced my writing course at University.

Unfortunately, this part of my brain never knows when to just shut the fuck up.

So I’m standing in my living room, glass of Kool-Aid in my hand and staring at my sketchbook…and my brain’s working overtime.

“Hey! What if you opened it and found writing in it? Writing that was in, like, totally creepy handwriting! What if it’s in blood?”

Shut up, Brain.

“No, think about it. Ghostly writing could mean anything! Maybe someone snuck into the house a while ago and the second you sit down and open the book, they’ll clonk you on the back of the head while you’re distracted!”

I said shut up, Brain.

“Maybe it’s worse. Maybe it is ghosts, and it’s all like ‘GET OUT!’ Sunny’s at work and won’t be back for another 6 hours. You’d have to wait outside…but then where would you live? We both know you’re not gonna step foot back inside this house if it’s haunted. You could sleep in the car, but is sleeping in a car just outside a haunted house any different from sleeping in one?”

You’re about to take a screwdriver to the frontal lobe if you don’t shut it.

“I GOT IT! Maybe you’ve gone totally freaking batshit insane and developed a totally new personality. You know, two people sharing the same body but you’re not consciously aware of each other. You’ll open that book and find a ton of freaky shit written in your own handwriting! It’ll be all ‘DIEDIEDIEKILLKILLBLOODBLOODDEATH!!!’ and then you won’t be able to trust yourself around anyone, because you’ll never know when you’re going to wake up standing over a body with a bloody knife in your hand.”

SHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUP.

“Pffft, relax dude! One minute you’re all ‘come on brain, make with the story ideas’, the next it’s ‘Shut yer big fat gob!’. They’re only stories, you know!”

I know, but it’s 3am, it’s dark in here, I’m alone and all this is totally unsettling.

“Oh, just open the sketchbook. All that’s gonna be there is that drawing you were working on.”

I know.

“So open it then.”

I’m going to.

“Some time this year, perhaps?”

You know…I’ve had enough of drawing for today, I think I’ll watch TV instead.

“Heh…Imagine if you turned on the TV and there was this ghostly face on it and it was all ‘GET OUT!!!’, and you unplugged the TV but the face wouldn’t go away!”

Fuck that shit. I’m going to bed.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Intervention time...

This morning I got out of bed, walked into the living room and saw Sunny sitting at the computer writing a blog.

“Leave that on when you’re done.” I said. “I wanna use it for a few minutes.”

“Ok.” She said. “But on one condition.”

“What?” I said.

She held up her coffee cup and gave me her ‘sweet little girl’ smile.

Well after a few minutes of reminding her that I already moved 3500 miles and gave up everything to be with her, she said ‘Bite me’ and I went to make her coffee.

When I arrived back in the living room I put Sunny’s coffee cup down next to her and glanced at the blog post she was writing. This is lifted directly from her post:

“Oh and I actually DID get rid of THREE- Count'em THREE as in 3 whole oversized Christmas ornaments when we were doing our spring cleaning this year. So I DID compromise...again.”

Regular readers will realize that this is in reference to my recent post in which I talked about moving the three metric tons of Christmas stuff into storage.

I started laughing.

“What?” Sunny Said.

“You realize that you getting rid of three baubles and calling it a ‘compromise’ is a load of crap, don’t you?”

“No it’s not!” She blurted. “I got rid of some stuff, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, but that’s like me having about 30 computers in this room, having the hallway and laundry room stacked to the ceiling with gadgets and software for them and you saying ‘enough is enough’, telling me to get rid of some of it…and me ‘compromising’ by throwing away two blank floppies.”

She blinked at me,

“Well, you’ve got tons of computer stuff and you never hear me complain!”

“No, I have my desk and one bookcase for my computer stuff. You have enough Christmas stuff to fill a good sized storage building. That hallway was packed to the ceiling!”

“Ah-HAH!” Sunny said, suddenly hit by inspiration. “You had a BIG box of computer stuff in that hallway! It wasn’t all me!”

“Yeah.” I conceded. “But that was one box versus thirty…and it wasn’t ‘big’ it was about twice the size of a shoebox…”

Suddenly, something hit me (metaphorically speaking, although Sunny has been known to chuck stuff when she realizes she’s lost an argument).

“Wait a minute!” I said. “That was my ‘spares’ box. You asked me what I wanted to do with it and I took a spare power cable out of it and said we could throw the rest away. I said there’s a couple things I might need at some point, but they’re cheap anyway and chances are all they’ll do is gather dust!”

Her mouth opened and closed like a confused fish.

“Well, you wanted me to get rid of half my Christmas stuff and I got rid of some so that’s a compromise. End of story.”

Yep, with enough Christmas decorations to heavily decorate 5 trees and three houses, she gets rid of 3 grapefruit sized baubles and calls it a compromise.

As soon as I can get my hands of a few sets of body armor, tear gas and riot shields, I’m holding an intervention.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Relearning

It’s one of those frustrating facts of life that it’s much easier to learn something that it is to re-learn something.

Take my first time driving in the USA. I was over here visiting and Sunny asked me if I’d like to drive, so I gave it a go. (because I was visiting, I could still use my British license.)

It did not go well. I was used to driving a stick shift, sitting on the right of the car, driving on the left hand side of the road. There I was in an automatic that felt like a freaking battle-tank (It’s a hell of a step to go from a Ford Fiesta to a Chrysler Lebaron).

So I started off, looked to the left instead of the right looking for the mirror, then braked by mistake while looking for the non-existent clutch and damn near opened the door reaching for the gear shift.

I’m dreading getting my license over here because I can see myself zoning out and finding myself heading south on the northbound lane of the interstate.

Anyhoo…

Remember a few posts back where I talked about drawing? Well today I finally got my ‘Structure of Man’ DVD’s. A complete figure drawing course which is the same one used by Lucasarts, ILM and a bunch of other big name artists and studios.

I was actually excited. I’ve always wanted to be able to draw and draw really well, but I can’t afford actual lessons and I’ve found practice without instruction just means you do the wrong thing over and over. So I popped the DVD in and decided to just watch a few lessons to see what they were about.

Uh-Oh.

You see, I’ve been drawing on and off for a few years now and looked at my fair share of online tutorials, etc. These DVD’s have a process unlike anything I’ve ever seen. On the one hand this a good thing because it breaks everything down and had a very innovative way of teaching.

It also means that everything I’ve learned so far is now ‘wrong’. Well, wrong isn’t the right word. The techniques I learned to draw with are incompatible with this teaching method. Which means from now on, I’m not just learning to draw…I’m re-learning as well.

Normally, with any drawing course, I can skip the absolute basics because I already know it…with this I’m starting from scratch and while I’m following the instructions, my brain is screaming at me to do something else. Imagine trying to drive when someone’s rigged your steering wheel so turning left actually makes you go right.

All that being said I think this course will actually be useful to me. As well as ‘how to draw’ it points out the psychological tricks that help you progress.

Basically the course teaches you to draw anatomy in a way where you trick your brain into thinking that you’re ‘inventing’ what you’re drawing instead of trying to represent a real world object. Apparently your brain learns much more quickly when it thinks it’s creating rather than copying.

The easiest way to explain this is if you draw an arm as a series of abstract shapes, to a formula your brain has invented…that’s easier than trying to draw an ‘arm’ as a concept. Our brains have already ‘pidgeon-holed’ an arm as basically two connected ‘tubes’, so that’s how we draw them. However, when you look closely and look at the muscles under the skin, just the outside of an arm from shoulder to wrist has no less that seven curves just along that one edge. Forgetting the ‘symbolism’ (“this is an arm”) and instead learning how to draw those abstract shapes, you can then draw them accurately from memory from any angle.

Basically, if I asked everyone out there in blogland to draw a head, it would be hard. If I asked everyone to forget about heads altogether and draw an egg shape, and gave instructions on the shape and position of the features in relation to each other, it would be much easier. ‘Draw a house’ is much harder than ‘draw a square with a triangle on top, a rectangle for the door and two smaller squares for windows’.

Anyway, that’s about it for today. One day I’ll be an artist, just you watch.