Sunday, May 17, 2015

No, I'm not a robot

I've just encountered a new level in online annoyance.

The dreaded Captcha is being replaced on some blogs by an innocuous check box saying "Please prove you're not a robot".

Up to now, on blogs I've visited this simply involves clicking on the box and posting the comment. This morning's, though was different.

When I clicked on the box, up popped a new form that at first I thought was an irritating pop-up advertisement for something to do with cookery. After a few second's hunting for a way to dismiss the intrusion, I realized it was part of the verification process.

I was presented with a dozen pictures of food, and the instruction to click on all those that involved pasta or noodles. Sounds easy, except the images were too small and grainy to confidently tell in many cases what they were pictures of. I tried, but didn't find enough to satisfy the beast and it gave me a new test. Ice cream this time. This was easier because they were more obvious, but there were clear cultural assumptions at work. Who outside of North America, for example, would know that a round carton with a big "DQ" on the side needed to be clicked?

In my view, this now officially surpasses Google+ and Disqus in the "pointless ways to piss off your readers" stakes.

I can guarantee that if your blog inflicts this on me I will not be leaving a comment.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Our connected world

Isn't it strange how technology has changed us in just a few short years? Sometimes I complain about the "always connected" life we live, especially the kids with their iPhones surgically implanted into the palms of their hands, but even I, dinosaur and closet Luddite, feel somehow vulnerable if I leave the house without a phone.

Sometimes, though, it can be handy.

Just about to leave work this evening. Phone rings. Ali, telling me to avoid the highway. Tailback northbound almost back to the edge of town, so find an alternate route. She's caught up in the middle of it so I might be home before her despite setting out a lot later. I travel on side roads and rejoin the highway several miles up, beyond where accidents usually happen.

Beetling along nicely - and thanks for the warning - when I hit another slow patch and finally reach the actual source of the trouble - a nasty accident in the other lane. If traffic northbound was slow, southbound from that point on was worse than I've ever seen it. I need to turn left at some point but all the intersections are snarled up with oncoming traffic trying to escape the mayhem.

Call Ali (before you ask, hands-free and legal!) to check on her progress - not a true necessity, but peace of mind counts for a lot at my age. They've made it past the crush. Better yet, they'd made another diversion down to the coast and just spotted a pod of orcas out in the bay. I was in time to join them, but if we hadn't been connected I would have missed the sight.

Everyday technology does have its perks.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Does music help you work?

Some people swear by music, to help them work, to help them write and create.

For writing, I generally find music more distracting than helpful. Maybe writing - actually stringing together coherent sentences - just doesn't come so naturally to me so I need to really focus to get anything done.

But I'd forgotten how much I used to enjoy music playing while I paint. For me, painting makes less of a mental demand but it's surprisingly physical, so the right kind of music helps keep the brush moving.

On this gorgeous spring day I've taken a spur-of-the-moment day's vacation. A "me" day. Just because.

With no particular pressure to do any of the usual weekend non-fun stuff, it's been pleasingly productive. I've almost finished the background artwork for Tiamat's Nest. I need to sharpen up a few details here and there, but it's pretty much ready to hand over to my designer.
This is intended as a full cover spread - both back and front covers for the paperback. The front cover will just be the right-hand half of the image, and there are a couple of other visual elements to be overlaid on top by the designer.

The last sections of the foreground were painted this morning to the strains of Tangerine Dream.

Do you find music helps or hinders you? A must-have or a no-no?

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Is it safe to come out yet?

*Peers cautiously out from under rock*

I might give the A to Z challenge a go another year, but it is a big time commitment and I chose to spend it on things other than blogging. Even not taking part, the sheer volume of posts flooding my dashboard in April was overwhelming, so I visited a bit but mostly stayed out of the way.

Work is hectic and intense - not unmanageable, but certainly draining. Life outside of work brings the usual Spring activities getting things straightened out after the Winter months. In between the two, the logistics of after-school activities seem to get more challenging with each passing term.

Fortunately, I've still found time for artwork. The cover art for Tiamat's Nest is progressing well and I think I'm on the home stretch.

How was your April? Did you survive the A to Z?

Monday, April 6, 2015


I've been getting to grips with iDraw since I last posted about it in February.

I still reckon Visio is more suited to most uses at work. The big thing Visio has that iDraw hasn't is the concept of connections. Visio is all about shapes (boxes, circles etc.) and the connections between them. Move a box, and the linked connecting lines intelligently reposition themselves to preserve the links. Great for org. charts, mind maps, and technical diagrams.

iDraw doesn't do that. Everything is a "path" which you can edit but which remains separate from other objects on the page. Having said that, I'm finding iDraw far more powerful in respects that make it way more suited to my purposes at home.

iDraw makes it incredibly easy to draw irregular shapes using the line and pen tools, and to tinker with shapes you've already drawn. Visio is fairly limited here. A rectangle, for example, can be squeezed and stretched and rotated but remains stubbornly rectangular. Many times I've had to cobble together an overlapping collage of boxes in Visio to achieve an effect, but with iDraw, you can create highly complex shapes with ease. Many of the other tools, such as line and fill, also offer huge degrees of control and flexibility.

As well as being easier in many ways, there are things I can do in iDraw that I could never hope to achieve at all in Visio. More on that another time, maybe...

I've now got a few very different drawing projects on the go, including a star chart, architectural drawings, and mock-ups for a book cover. To give it a fair comparative road test, though, I tackled a project similar to something I'd already done successfully in Visio. Over Christmas, I drew a ship plan using Visio. This time I used iDraw to produce plans for another ship that will feature in the sequel to Ghosts of Innocence.
(Click on image to zoom in)

Conclusions: Because this type of drawing is mostly collections of simple lines, both tools are easy to use in broad terms. However, iDraw makes it easier to add curved elements, and I found it handy to separate parts of the drawing into layers for easier editing. I know I can achieve good results in both tools, but my preference now is firmly for iDraw.

Case closed. Happy camper.

How's your Easter weekend going? We are having a fabulous time. Warm sun, and the deck is now cleaned and the furniture brought up from winter storage.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Da Vinci Cock-Up

I don't often post opinions on books or movies, and this post will probably illustrate why, but I feel the need to let off steam.

Last night, I finally got around to watching The Da Vinci Code. I know this movie has been hyped to death, which always I try keep from negatively affecting my views, but even so I found myself mystified and deeply disappointed.

First off, the movie was supposed to be a gripping roller-coaster action movie. Sorry, but no. I'm not a big movie-goer, but I'm sure I could quickly reel off a dozen or two recent movies that blow this out the water. In fact, practically every recent adventure that comes to mind did a better job of keeping me on the edge of my seat than this one. The Da Vinci code was tolerably OK in this department, but nothing more.

Secondly, and more importantly, I felt insulted as a viewer by overt and clumsy author manipulation.

Need to build audience sympathy? Cue one character orphaned in a car crash, and the other trapped down a well as a young boy. Sympathy engaged ... check!

The trouble is that both backstories were such blatant emotional plays and neither was especially relevant to the plot. Yes, you could argue that Sophie needed to be handed to the care of her fake grandfather, but then her real grandmother pitches up near the end, so where the heck was she all these years? There are countless less intrusive ways to achieve the same ends to mentor her.

The killer for me, though, was the countless points where characters behaved in unbelievable ways just to further the plot or introduce random tension. When the air traffic controller refused to co-operate with a senior police office to track dangerous fugitives because he was "on his break", my willingness to suspend disbelief crumbled and the rest was downhill from there. The author's hand manipulating the puppet strings was visible everywhere.

On the plus side, the underlying premise of historical subterfuge and the true nature of the Holy Grail was a gem. What a pity this brilliant concept got weighed down by clumsy author intrusions.

The lessons for writing? Respect your audience's intelligence, and respect the integrity of your characters.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Snowmobiles on water

At one point in Tiamat's Nest, Charles is on the run and his friend takes them across country on a ski-doo, or snowmobile. Along the way, they use it to cross a river a hundred meters wide.

One critiquer wondered if such a thing is possible. Yes it is!

I remember first seeing this trick years ago on a Top Gear program set in Iceland, before Jeremy Clarkson started getting in trouble with the BBC, and the memory returned when I was looking for obstacles to throw in Charles's path.

I thought maybe that this would be rare anomaly, but when I researched the possibilities in earnest I discovered that the feat is very well known and has even been turned into a sport!

So I am confident that what I wrote is a manageable, if rather dangerous, stunt.
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