More ethics planning

Today is my last day off before resuming teaching online ethics classes on Outschool tomorrow. I think I mentioned that I’m starting a new class for older kids, ages 13-15, adding that to my existing class for ages 10-12. This means each week I need two new lesson plans instead of just one. I have four weeks of brief outlines ready to go, and by yesterday I’d written the first lesson plan for each age group.

Today I got ahead of the game by writing the second week’s lesson for each of the classes, so now I have one of each up my sleeve. I’m going to try to stay a week ahead, to give me some slack in case of emergencies. This year’s second topic for the 10-12 group is “Buying and Selling 3” – the third in a series on this topic because I had so many ideas and questions that it filled two previous lessons with enough left over for a third one. And the second topic for the 13-15 year olds is “Free Will and Determinism”. That one should be really interesting to discuss with the kids.

Apart from that and going on a big walk with Scully and my wife, I didn’t do much other than some house cleaning. I also took down the Christmas fairy lights that had been strung up in the living room. Here’s Scully on the walk today, in the Greenwich Point bushwalk section:

Scully on a bushwalk

One piece of news that I came across today was about something that has strongly influenced my projects over the past several years. The comic Darths & Droids wasn’t the first movie screencap webcomic – it owes its existence to the example set by the first one: DM of the Rings. This is a comic created by Shamus Young as a parody of the Lord of the Rings movies, as if they were a Dungeons & Dragons game. It directly inspired me and my friends to create Darths & Droids, which was the second of what has since become an established subgenre of webcomics with dozens of examples.

DM of the Rings was completed at 150 strips. I have long since had a downloaded collection of the comics on my computer, for posterity and reference. One small thing that bothered me about the comics was the fact that Shamus did his screencapping with software that left the frames vertically stretched in the wrong aspect ratio – so all the characters appeared thinner than they should. Also, being a product of the 2006 Internet, the comics are quite low resolution images.

Unfortunately, Shamus Young passed away in June last year. but today I learnt that his children are working on a remastered version of DM of the Rings. They are taking his original comics and recreating them at high resolution, and with screencaps in the correct aspect ratio. You can read the story about the remastering, and enjoy the first high-res remastered strip here:

Also check out that awesome page banner!

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Full weekend update

I neglected to write an entry yesterday as I clocked offline early to spend the evening enjoying some TV entertainment with my wife. We watched a couple of things and then got stuck into classic music videos on YouTube, which wiled away the evening.

On Saturday I did a 5k run, double my usual distance. I felt like I should extend myself a little more. I took it relatively easy, to make sure I could complete the distance, and managed about 27 minutes, which isn’t much more than twice my normal time for 2.5k (around 12:30), so that was good. I also went on a big walk with Scully.

Today I didn’t have time for a run, as we had a lunch with my wife’s family. We got home in time for my afternoon ethics class, and then it was busy after that, taking some time to cook some dinner in between classes.

I spent some time making new Darths & Droids comics to get a little bit ahead again. And made and queued up more form the Irregular Webcomic! batch I photographed a week ago. And that’s a weekend!

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Editing comics

I’m currently reading a book on editing comics that I got from Kickstarter: Filth & Grammar by Shelly Bond. The book is all about what a comics editor does.

One main part is about what a comics editor should look for when giving feedback/requests to the author/artists. One thing it really emphasises is that every page of a comic should have around 3 or 4 bolded words to indicate speech stresses. If a page comes in with no words bolded, send it back and tell them to bold some.

I’ve long noticed that comics seem to do this – have multiple bolded words on each page. But I always thought the propensity of bolded emphasis words in comics was way too overdone. I find it distracting and annoying. I wonder who in the comics industry decided that comics had to have bold-emphasised words on every single page.

In other news, I got an invitation for DALL-E today, and I’ve been playing with it a bit, generating some artwork. Not too much because it’s easy to burn through your 50 free credits and have to start paying money to keep using it.

It also came with some free credit to try using GPT-3 text generation. I gave it this prompt:

Write the rules for a Euro-style board game based on medieval monks brewing beer.

And here’s what GPT-3 produced:

1. The game is played with two to four players.

2. Each player has a monastery, and starts the game with two brewmasters and two workers.

3. The game is played over six rounds. In each round, the players take turns performing one of the following actions:

a. Collecting ingredients: The player rolls two dice. They may choose to collect either the number of hops or barley indicated by the dice. If they choose to collect hops, they take that number of hops from the supply. If they choose to collect barley, they take that number of barley from the supply.

b. Brewing beer: The player spends one hop and one barley to brew one barrel of beer. The player may choose to brew either ale or lager.

c. Selling beer: The player may sell up to three barrels of beer. They may sell either ale or lager, but not both at the same time. They receive three gold pieces for each barrel of ale sold, and four gold pieces for each barrel of lager sold.

4. At the end of each round, the players check to see if they have enough beer to satisfy their workers. If they do not, they must pay one gold piece for each worker that is not satisfied.

5. The game ends after six rounds. The player with the most gold pieces wins the game.

Wow. That’s almost a sensible game. There are some obvious issues, but you could certainly start from this and tweak it into a playable game.

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Gaming and comics

Friday was online games night with my friends, so I neglected to update here. I actually won two games of 7 Wonders, which is highly unusual, although I did exceptionally poorly at 6 Nimmt to make up for it. We had an absolutely hilarious game of Gartic Phone, with some truly ridiculous drawings and descriptions.

I’ve been spending time yesterday and today doing more prep work for my trip next week. Yesterday I got caught up on a lot of ISO standards material that had arrived in my mailbox over the past several weeks. I’ve also been making comics as fast as I can manage, to make sure I have enough buffer to cover the time away.

Yesterday I also received my Kickstarter reward for Filth & Grammar, a book about editing comics. I’ve only had time to have a quick flick through, but I’ve already learnt something about preparing comic dialogue layout that I’ve now been consciously applying to the Darths & Droids strips that I’m working on.

Today I used some more bunya nuts in dinner, making a mushroom, leek, and feta tart to add them into. It was pretty rich, but delicious.

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Planet of Hats: The Next Generation

I’ve been a bit coy with my updates this week, referring to “drawing” or random chunks of time without saying what I was working on. Well, today the secret is out – I’ve restarted work on my Star Trek parody comic, Planet of Hats!

I ended this comic three years ago, having exhausted all of the Original Star Trek series material, including the animated series and the movies. The next step would have been to start on The Next Generation series, which was a huge chunk of work, and put me off beginning.

But circumstances conspired to prompt me to draw a new strip – you can read about it in the writer comments.

So, I was working on that a bit more today. And I also had some post office errands to run – mailing a redditgifts gift, and some old Magic: the Gathering cards that I’m selling. And doing a lot of housecleaning today. There was a lot of junk all over the place after the market stall on Sunday and me having to work furiously on drawing for a while.

New content today:

Rain and more rain

It rained a lot today. I sent much of the day drawing comics at home, heading out at lunch to get some fish & chips. Although it’s only a 10 minute walk and I carried an umbrella, I was pretty wet by the time I got home.

The comic I was drawing is now complete, and I’ll be publishing it tomorrow – but for now it’s a surprise.

This afternoon I took Scully to the dog park, despite the rain. This time I wore a raincoat with hood, rather than use an umbrella. Scully had her doggy raincoat on. She doesn’t like the rain. She ran after the tennis ball a few times, but then decided she was wet enough and simply turned and walked back to the car. I had to coax her over to the park with some treats, but she really wasn’t into it.

Only a couple of the regulars at the dog park showed up in the rain, and they took a short walk before heading off, since the rain was moderately heavy. It was then that I realised that even though I was fairly dry under my raincoat, the coat itself was dripping wet… and I’d have to climb into the car to drive home. I decided to take it off and toss it into the boot before dashing into the car myself without the wet coat on. By which time Scully (in the passenger seat) had shaken the water off her and coated the interior of the car in spray…

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Some comic sketching

This morning I had to make an expedition to the hardware store to buy a replacement fluorescent tube for the kitchen light. It dies a couple of days ago, and last night I had to cook dinner in the dark. Well, not complete darkness, but darker than I would have liked.

On the way back, I popped into my local art supply shop to get some new felt tip markers and drawing paper, because I planned to spend today doing some drawing. This is for a secret project which should be completed tomorrow, and which I’ll announce in the next few days. And drawing was pretty much what I did for the rest of the day.

I also walked past this interesting historical plaque embedded in the footpath near the Royal North Shore Hospital.

North Sydney Brick and Tile Company

I’ve waked past this dozens of times, but only stopped to read it today. The area where this is located is still an industrial zone, but no more brickworks.

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The downslide

I spent much of today doing coding tasks as well, after yesterday’s epic effort. I did a lot of tidying up of minor things, in particular setting up the permissions on the IWC forums so people can’t do bad things and can do the things they should be able to do. phpBB’s permissions administration interface is not at all intuitive, and at one point it was configured so that nobody could read anything. I think I managed to sort it out now, though. I also added an anti-spam extension, and a dark theme for users who prefer that. (If you want to use the dark theme, you can access it thus: Click your username in the top-right corner of the forums, choose “User Control Panel”, go to the “Board Preferences” tab, and select your board style as “Prosilver (Dark edition)”, and Submit.)

I also installed a bunch of SSL certificates on all my sites, and then went through the tedious work of tracking down all the security errors and fixing them. Now all my websites should show shiny padlock icons in the URL bar, instead of the scary “Not secure” warning they used to show. (If you see any pages that don’t show the padlock, please let me know.)

Finally, in a stab in the dark, I decided to apply for a position in the 2020 Alaska Robotics Comics Camp. For years I’ve envied everyone who has gone to this annual event, and wished I could go. This time, I don’t have a job to keep me home… so I thought why not apply and see what happens?! It’s a lot of money, getting to Alaska and then paying for the camp, but if I get selected you can bet I’m going to do everything I can to afford it!

New content today:

Architects of the West Kingdom

Today was spent getting used to my new tooth, and also in doing some comics work. I assembled a new Darths & Droids strip for Sunday’s update, and then wrote a bunch of new Dinosaur Whiteboard comics for the first time in six months. It’s funny how having more spare time means I’ve had less time to spend making those. Anyway, I’m hoping to keep those up 5 days a week for a while again.

I did some admin work involving contacting my mother’s ISP to sort out some account stuff for her. Then went out for lunch and to buy some groceries to lead into the weekend.

Tonight was fortnightly games night with friends. Five of us gathered at Steven’s place, and we kicked off with a Darths & Droids writing session, titling the strip I’d made this morning and then writing new strips. After we did that we got stuck into games.

I played a couple of quick games of Rubik’s Race, which was really only there because Steven has primary school aged children. It’s nowhere near as difficult as a Rubik puzzle, and is essentially a simple sliding tile puzzle that is played as a race between two players.

After pizza we got stuck into a serious game: Architects of the West Kingdom. This is a worker placement game, in which you have 20 meeples and each turn you place one on the board in a location of your choice, and then depending on the location you perform an action per meeple that you have at that location. Some locations simply give you resources, while at others you spend the resources you have to buy artisans, or build buildings. There are also some actions that interact with other players’ meeples, such as capturing them, or ransoming them off to the prison tower for money. You gain virtue for doing virtuous things, such as building the cathedral, giving goods to the king, or paying off debts, while losing virtue for things like raiding the tax store, or visiting the black market to secure a better trade deal.

Here’s the game partway through. I’m playing red, with my supply on the far side of the board in this view:

Architects of the West Kingdom

It’s really engaging because each turn is only a few seconds long and your turn comes around again quickly, so it always feels like you’re doing something, rather than waiting for your turn. You get victory points for buildings, gold, marble, coins, virtue, having built parts of the cathedral, and also any bonus points on cards you may have bought during the game. So there’s a lot of variety in ways to accumulate points, and thus a lot of different strategies that you can use that feel like viable ways to winning. All these are good features, and it’s a fun game. As it turns out, I won with 34 points! The next player had 30.

If you’re looking for a good new game that supports up to five players, I recommend it.

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School science prep

Today I did further preparation for my school science visit on Monday. I’ve been trying to contact a nearby high school to borrow some of their lab equipment, but they kept not returning my calls. So this morning I decided to try Sydney University, where I studied for several years, and know some of the staff in the physics department. I called up and got onto the first year lab coordinator (who I hadn’t met before) and asked her if I could borrow some stuff. She put me onto the lab technician, but he wasn’t in yet, so I sent an email.

Then I was planning to go do some grocery shopping, but I didn’t want to be out driving the car when he phoned back, so instead i stayed home in that sort of anticipatory state that makes it hard to concentrate on anything. He emailed back at 11:00, saying to meet him in the physics labs at 11:45.

Now, I was at home, and the university is on the other side of the harbour… I mailed back saying I might be a few minutes late, and jumped in the car. Fortunately traffic wasn’t bad and I managed to find a parking spot right next to the university gate closest to the physics building, so I was actually on time. I borrowed a retort stand and clamps, and a brass mass carrier with a stack of brass weights. Pretty simple stuff, but it would have been tricky to improvise adequately for Monday.

And I spent some time trying (in vain mostly) to help solve puzzles for the MUMS Puzzle Hunt. I don’t know where the rest of the day went!

Oh! I queued up a bunch of new comic submissions for Lightning Made of Owls. We had a bit of a slump in submissions for a while, but now there are several comics in the queue. If you want to make a simple gag comic and have it published, send it in!