School prep

Saturday is housecleaning day at Chez DMM. After the weekly chores, I spent much of the day preparing for my school science visit on Monday, putting together slides for my talk on the solar system, and calculating what size balls I need to have ready to show the kids the comparative sizes of the sun and planets. I’m borrowing a 600 mm exercise ball from a friend. If the Earth is that size, I need a 160 mm diameter ball to represent the moon – I think the styrofoam ball I used for this 100 Proofs that the Earth is a Globe post will work nicely. It’s 150 mm, but close enough. And then to show the relativedistance between the Earth and moon I need to put the balls 18 m apart, which I think I can just about manage in the school library where I do my presentations.

And if the sun is represented by the exercise ball, then the Earth needs to be a 5 mm bead, and it needs to be 64 metres away! And Neptune needs to be 19 kilometres away! Hopefully this will impress on the kids just how big space is.

On a different topic, I noticed a disturbing thing today. I made a post to the Irregular Webcomic! Facebook page, and as I was doing it I noticed that Facebook was advertising some groups that it thought I “should join to increase your audience”. What sort of groups were these? Let’s take a look at them:

  • FOR THE BOYS – a group whose icon is a bunch of bikini models
  • Over 18 PEEP SHOW – icon is a silhouette of a woman
  • Holden Haters – icon is a Ford logo
  • Have a laugh Australia – icon is an “R over 18s” logo

So, Facebook, I’d like to know (a) why do you think people in these groups might be interested in my comics, and (b) why is there no feedback mechanism to let you know that these groups are not appropriate, or to hide them as suggestions?

Olive oil flavour

This morning I had a blood test, and had to go to the pathology place while fasting, so couldn’t eat breakfast beforehand. I like breakfast. I don’t really understand those people who skip breakfast or who don’t feel any urge to have food until lunchtime. I wake up ravenous every morning and am hoeing into a bowl of cereal within about 5 minutes of getting out of bed every day. So having to wait until I walk up the street and wait for half an hour at the pathology centre is torture. Immediately after I left I raced to the nearest bakery to get something to eat.

Back home, I worked on writing annotations for the batch of Irregular Webcomic!s that I’d made over the past few days. This is the final step before publication, and can take most of a day, depending how much research I do and how much I write for each comic. But it’s a good feeling having the batch completed. And now it’s time to start thinking about writing the next batch…

I stayed in for lunch today and made myself bruschetta. I’m trying to use up a bottle of extra virgin olive oil that I got as a gift, before it passes its “best before” date. And also some caramelised balsamic vinegar.

It got me thinking about olive oil. We have extra virgin olive oil, for stuff like bruschetta and salads and those things that everyone says you should use extra virgin olive oil for, because it has a strong “fruity” flavour. And we have the “light tasting” olive oil that everyone says you should use for cooking, because it has a less strong flavour that won’t dominate a dish.

Now, I don’t know if it’s just me, but I can’t taste any difference whatsoever between “extra virgin” olive oil and “light tasting” olive oil. Not just the current brands we have either – I’ve never noticed any difference between any of the brands of either we’ve had over the years. I’m honestly beginning to think this whole “fruity” and “light” olive oil flavours are really just the Emperor’s New Clothes, and a way to make us all buy more olive oil because we “need” to have two different types. They all just taste equally bland and oily to me – none of them have anything that could remotely be called a “strong” flavour that might dominate anything else. Can anyone actually taste a difference between these olive oils?? Or even taste them at all??

And on another note, I took some photos of flowers. This winter in Sydney has been ridiculously warm. Besides flowers everywhere, there are new green shoots and leaves on many of the trees already as well. This is all at least a month early, possibly more. Take a look: magnolias, irises, lavender, azaleas.

Spring flowers in winter

Sunday Morning Breakfast Cereal

This morning I woke up with the idea for a new random text generator: Random breakfast cereals! But more on that later. First it was a Sunday morning walk with the wife and Scully. We did a roughly 5 kilometre loop, stopping at a nice bakery/cafe along the way for morning tea.

Back at home, I finished work on tonight’s new Darths & Droids comic. Then I implemented the random breakfast cereal generator. Technical coding details follow in the next paragraph (feel free to skip it if not interested in coding nitty-gritty):

One issue critical with this generator was a problem that Andrew Coker and I have wanted to tackle for some time. The idea was to generate a cereal name (e.g. Crunchy Chcolate Bombs), and then a description of the cereal. But the description should use some of the same words as in the name, so that it’s described as “Scrummy bombs of chocolate with extra marshmallow bits” rather than, say, “Yummy shreds of bran with raisins”. To do this we needed to store some of the randomly generated words in a context dictionary and then recall them later on using variable names, rather than just generate more random text. Doing this required quite a bit of code refactoring, and a lot of heavily nested text replacements in the partially munged output string. This of course generated a slew of bugs with other replacements such as capitalisations and stuff. So we worked together to track them down and squash them. After a few hours of coding, we think we have it working properly.

TL;DR: Here’s the brand new mezzacotta breakfast cereal generator!

Another thing I’ve been doing is getting back into my Italian language practice. I’ve been practising regularly on Duolingo for a few years, doing some every day, but I slipped after my last overseas trip and didn’t start up again when I got back home, until a few days ago. Now I’m back into doing some revision every day. Fortunately it seems like I haven’t forgotten too much! If you use Duolingo, you can follow my profile here.

And a photo today, another behind-the-scenes of a set I built for the Cliffhangers theme. It might not be obvious where they are from this, but when you see the actual comic hopefully it’ll be convincing enough.

The train to Abydos

Comic maker, makin’ comics…

It’s Saturday, and the day when I finished off making that batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips that I photographed back on Thursday. I composed some of them that day, but most of them waited until today.

While assembling the comics, I did my usual thing of changing the scripts and punchlines of a few of the strips. For one of them I solicited advice from my friends on our private chat channel, on whether to go for a broad audience punchline that was not necessarily as funny, or a narrower audience punchline that I thought was funnier. They agreed that the narrow punchline was in fact funnier, so I used that. My general philosophy is that I’m happy to target a fairly small niche audience with a technical punchline that nobody else will fully understand, as long as it’s funny enough for the people who do understand it.

On a slightly different note: have you ever wondered how I keep track of which characters have which coloured speech bubbles? Wonder no more! Here is a little image file that I keep handy and always have open when I’m assembling new comics. I can easily use Photoshop’s eyedropper tool to sample the exact colour of each major character’s speech bubbles, so they remain consistent across strips. (I didn’t do this early one, and some of the characters’ bubbles changed colour once or twice, but I’ve been consistent for a long time now.)

IWC palette

Comic making day!

This morning I finally managed to get my act together and photograph a new batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips. I pulled out the Lego and started work about 8:30. I had to run down to the garage to get a particular character from the boxes of Lego stored down there – one I haven’t used for over 1000 strips. I also contemplated rebuilding a complex thing for a set, but that would have taken an hour or two extra just to do that, so I improvised with a photographic background.

I finished photographing about midday. That’s about typical for a batch – during which I photograph enough frames for 20 strips – or 4 weeks’ worth at one per weekday. During the afternoon I began assembling the photos into comic panels and adding dialogue. I’m about halfway through that – will need to finish it off another day. And then after that comes the writing of the annotations and then uploading everything to the staging area of the web server so they can update automatically. All up it’s about two full days of work to prepare a batch like this… after the writing is done. Doing the writing for a batch of comics can take anything from 1-3 days, depending how inspired I feel and how easily the jokes flow.

As well as the comic panel photos, I took a few behind-the-scenes shots, to show you what the overall set looks like. Here are a couple of shots of the entire set that I built to represent the Cambridge University particle accelerator lab, as seen in comic #4036. The sets are usually very empty outside the bounds of where the camera will see!

IWC behind the scenes

Apart from household chores, meals, and a bit of Italian language practice, that’s pretty much my entire day today!

Unforeseen events

Today I planned to photograph a batch of new Irregular Webcomic! strips that I’ve written over the past few days. But first thing this morning I had to visit the dentist for a routine hygiene/clean thingy. Alas, it turned out that I had a cracked tooth, which needed filling…

I ended up spending over two hours there, and left with a numb face. Arriving home a lot later than I thought and not feeling the best, I decided to give the photography a miss and leave it until Thursday. Instead I did some more prep for Friday night’s D&D game, and a bit of coding on a secret new random text generator, which promises to be a lot of fun.

Oh, and on the way home from the dentist, I got swooped by a magpie! It’s still the middle of winter, but it’s so warm and spring-like already that the magpies are apparently nesting already. It hit me full in the back of the shoulder and head as it dive-bombed me. I was rather shocked as I haven’t really been attacked by a magpie for several years – I’m usually pretty cautious when I know they’re nesting, but it never would have occurred to me that they’d be laying eggs so early in the year.

It really has been an amazingly warm winter here. There are still trees with autumn and even pre-autumn green foliage that hasn’t dropped, while other trees are sprouting new spring foliage already. And the magnolias are in full bloom:

Comic writing…

I knuckled down and wrote a big batch of Irregular Webcomic! strips today. I’ll photograph them tomorrow morning and then assemble them over the next few days. Might show off a preview photo or two tomorrow. But the main question I had today was a matter of pirate grammar: Which of these is most correct?

  • the cook ne’er been captured
  • the cook ne’er bein’ captured
  • the cook ne’er be bein’ captured
  • the cook ne’er been bein’ captured

Speaking of comics, I’ve had some new submissions for Lightning Made of Owls after a big period of no new strips coming in. A new one was published last Friday, and another today.

Then I did some stuff with character sheets from my players for Friday evening’s upcoming D&D game. I’m letting them generate 5th level characters to start the game with, and so granting them some magic items. They have some limited choice, but I’m deciding the final items. I’m trying to pick things that would fit their characters and which will be useful and fun in play.

The other main thing I did today was house painting. We had some work done a while back to repair some minor cracks in the walls and gaps along ceiling joints and stuff, and rather than pay the repairers to paint, I decided to just do the painting myself. I’ve been slowly doing it in bursts, as there’s a lot of undercoating and then top coats to apply to all the various surfaces. The cool thing is I get to use the drybrushing technique I learnt for painting miniature gaming figures to blend the touch-up paint colour with the original paint. The touch-up paint is almost the same colour as the original paint, but it’s just possible to discern a difference if you look carefully. But much harder with a drybrushed transition between them. Gaming skills in real life, yeah!

Winter Sunday

Spent time with the wife and Scully today. We did a 5 km walk around the neighbourhood, passing two dog parks along the way where Scully got to run around and chase a tennis ball. We stopped at a bakery for morning tea, and then walked home via the marina down in the bay.

At the marina

Work-wise, I wrote some scripts for new Irregular Webcomic! strips, tidied up tonight’s new Darths & Droids strip for publication, and worked a bit on the mezzacotta random generators. Andrew Coker, whose original idea led to these random generators, did a lot of coding work today, developing a new generator to produce random art description plaques, like you see in art galleries, that give the title, artist, and a description of the work. It’s not quite ready to show off yet, but if you look at the Github project you can see the code as we commit and push it.

Here are some preview samples of the sort of artwork titles we can generate:

  • Portrait of the artist’s sister-in-law
  • Composition of pentagons and squiggles
  • Self-portrait as Agamemnon
  • The perfection of love in the toe of someone laughing
  • Allegory on the vision of Satyr

Sunny Saturday

It’s Saturday evening here and it’s been another beautiful warm winter’s day. I know there’s currently a record-breaking heatwave in Europe. It should be winter here at this time of year, but I swear it’s almost as if autumn never really ended, while spring has already begun. There are a lot of deciduous trees with old leaves still on them, while at the same time a lot of trees are flowering for spring already. There are magnolias, cherry blossoms, rhododendrons, camellias, and some others that I don’t know the names of flowering all over the neighbourhood. Oh, the golden wattle is also flowering, but then that always flowers in winter:

Wattle flowering

Today I took Scully to the vet for her first annual booster vaccination. She’s 16 months old now, and the vet says she’s looking fit and healthy.

I was planning to write a bunch of Irregular Webcomic! strips today, as I want to photograph and make a new batch in the upcoming week, but I never got around to it, doing other little things and household chores that chopped up the day. I’ll have another go tomorrow.

But what I did complete today was uploading photos for another day of my travel diary from my trip to Portugal back in May. I posted the diary entry over on my personal blog, where I post such things.