12 Jul

Making a comic

I made a comic for my dad’s 60th birthday recently. It’s the first time I’ve made a comic and the first time I’ve ever really dealt with making something in print. It was a lot more work than I expected, so I’ve got a whole new appreciation for comic book artists, inkers, colourists and writers. I basically learned a bunch of stuff that in hindsight should have been really obvious.

I screwed up:

  • My margins. I just assumed that if I worked on Bristol board with an even margin on everything, I’d just be able to make it fit nicely when I scanned it and set the page. Of course, the physical paper size of Bristol board does not in fact match the aspect ratio of the classic printed comic book that I wanted to create. Thus, I have margins on the top and bottom of pages that are too large. Obviously.
  • Where to focus my energy. I thought the colouring was going to be the bit that took forever. That, and cleaning up the line work and all that fiddly stuff.  Turns out, Photoshop makes that stuff really fast if you just watch, like, 2 youtube videos and keep a simple palette (even then, I made some compositions overall too dark while others were too light). The bit that took me forever was figuring out what to actually put in the panels and then the physical act of hand drawing them. I should have applied what I’d learned from my actual career and lead with the user stories and got that bit down before worrying about the UI.
  • The subject and style. Rabbits are basically expressionless blobs. They are terrible visual subjects for storytelling. I’d have had an easier time if I’d gone more cartoony and/or more fantastical.
  • The story telling. I am not a writer. I do not know how to construct a story. I can barely string a blog post together. Comics are apparently 99% creative writing and creative writing is so, so hard.

I don’t know if I’ll ever make another one – maybe if someone gave me a story to draw? – but I’m glad to have tried it.

26 Jun

Naming Progressive Web Apps

I got an email a few weeks ago from a German technology magazine asking me some questions about Progressive Web Apps. I responded, but the email eventually bounced and I assume the sender never got my reply so I don’t know – can a print magazine go out of business that quickly?

I was thinking about the questions, though, and the answers I wrote. They wanted to know how we came up with the name (it’s really boring) and what I thought about native apps (meh), and would there be hybridisation (probably, inevitably).

I accidentally helped name this thing because it’s essentially core to Alex’s work these days. I’m more of a sounding board / humaniser than an active designer of the thing. Ultimately, we talk about it because I really care about the web – the open web – and sometimes I wonder if it’s too late to save it – which we find a depressing topic, but one we dwell on a lot.

I mean, we can’t even reliably do email still, apparently (I know they’re not the same), and we’ve got bullshit things like AMP essentially screwing up what it even means to have a website at all. AMP is a symptom that someone, somewhere, thinks the web is failing so badly (so slow, so unresponsive) for a portion of the world that they want to take all the content and package it back up in a sterile, un-webby, branded box. That makes me so sad. PWAs, to me, are a potential treatment.

I keep seeing folks (developers) getting all smart-ass saying they should have been PW “Sites” not “Apps” but I just want to put on the record that it doesn’t matter. The name isn’t for you and worrying about it is distraction from just building things that work better for everyone. The name is for your boss, for your investor, for your marketeer. It’s a way for you to keep making things on the open web, even those things that look really “app-y” and your company wants to actually make as a native app, 3 times over. They don’t want you to make websites anymore, but you still can if you’re sneaky, if you tell them it’s what they think they want.

It’s marketing, just like HTML5 had very little to do with actual HTML. PWAs are just a bunch of technologies with a zingy-new brandname that keeps the open web going a bit longer, that helps it compete with the proprietary, the closed, until the next thing (and hopefully the next thing) comes along to keep it sharp and relevant. It’s for the next billion users who come online and open a browser and go looking for what’s out there, for those users who have to pay per mb for their downloads, who have old shitty phones, who don’t want to, or can’t, be on a native-app-based operating system.

Remember, this is for everyone. The name isn’t.

07 Jun

Americanized

I became a US Citizen today.

I’m still British. It turns out that it’s actually relatively difficult to lose your British status – you actually have to apply to give it up. “Dual-citizen” is one of those weird international legal grey zones, but at least it’s understood and known to be a thing in both countries. Here’s hoping I remember which passport to use when.

It’s not a popular time to become American, not that being British (with all the colonial baggage that comes with it) is really that much better. The leadership in both countries is somewhat up the creek without a paddle at this point, but at least now I can actually vote (and yes, I am voting in tomorrow’s UK General Election).

Plus, now Alex and I share a nationality and that security feels good. It’s the end of a long administrative process we started in 2013 to ensure that we could always stay together.

I recognise the immense privilege I have to obtain a second nationality in another first world democratic country. You don’t generally get the choice in your first nationality, and getting the opportunity for a second is basically winning some kind of life lottery.

06 Jun

Alla primas

One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed attending a school studio to learn oil painting is that someone else is setting constraints to push my skills. I’m a really, really slow painter it turns out. My first oil painting (the fox below) probably took me 20 hours, over a number of weeks. I’m happy with the outcome, but it wasn’t helping me progress and try new things to paint this slowly all the time.

So, my constraint for the last month has been having to do an entire painting in one 3-hour studio session, working wet-on-wet (alla prima). Here’s what I produced during this time.

It’s been pretty liberating and I don’t think they turned out too bad. 

05 Jun

Bastille Day, Nice 2016

I’ve been asked a few times what it was like being in Nice last year. I am only writing it down now because memory is a tricky thing and if I don’t now I’m liable to forget completely or fabricate details one day. Comments are closed. This is an aide memoire and nothing more.

We’d been in Nice for a couple days, after visiting my parents in Chateauneuf-les-Bains earlier in the week.

On Bastille day, we’d spent the day time up in Èze mostly just wandering around, eating and having a glass of wine while admiring the view. We knew there’d be fireworks for Bastille Day and headed back to Nice proper, and walked down to the seaside where many thousands of people were gathering. The were plenty of police around, in anticipation of the crowds and it hadn’t been that long since Paris’ attacks, so it was understandable. I recall commenting that the militarised police with machine guns in the town centre made me feel uncomfortable. I hate being near guns.

The sun went down, the crowds increased. Irritating teenagers made us move on from our first spot, but mostly the crowd was families, lots of little kids. People sat on the wall or on the pebble beach below. We walked down the length of the sea front, towards the central area of the promenade where the largest crowds were, before eventually doubling back and stopping at a less hectic spot on the western end of the road, standing on the wall above the pebble beach. We were about here.

our view

The fireworks went off, they were really quite good. Having them over the ocean is quite spectacular, since the reflections multiply the effect and the wind was barely there. It was lovely and the mood was fantastic.

Fireworks

Once they were done pretty much everyone began to walk back away from the sea – after the sea wall road is the old town Vielle Ville. We were going to try and find some food. Most of the people walking with us were locals, families, heading back towards the transit stops in the park that divides the older part of the town from the newer.

As we walked away from the promenade and passed into the old town, we heard what I said was “probably kids with fire crackers” and carried on. It was slow going in the narrow streets with so many people moving at once.

As we turned a corner towards the park areas, a very large crowd of people came running, screaming, towards us. Honestly, I’ve never seen or felt anything quite like it. I don’t even know how to describe the feeling. Instinct and adrenaline took over, and we turned and ran with them for about a half block back into the old town, back towards the sea, away from the park.

I grabbed Alex by the arm and said “Stop running.” and pulled him into a doorway (I think it was the Apotheka front, because I recall the stepped decks). I said “We don’t know why these people are running, we shouldn’t run.” And we stopped and listened. I used all my French comprehension to listen to the crowds – people said there was a shooter, multiple shooters, in the park. A pair of young women asked us, in French, if we knew what was going on and I said we didn’t. We listened and waited, and heard no gun fire.

We decided to start back to the hotel, this time doubling back into the old town a little, then making a beeline around the park where the people had come from before, putting down the first crowd to some misunderstanding or prank gone wrong (or maybe there really was a shooter in the park). Either way, we probably had no business to be there and we certainly didn’t want to walk into a situation. We walked past little restaurants hoping we might still find some food, but they were mostly closing up or on the phone. Something had happened, but no one seemed to know what.

We made it another block or two before a second crowd charged towards us “There’s a shooter!”, this time from almost the opposite direction of the first. This time we didn’t run with them, we just stepped back into another doorway. I said “I still haven’t heard any gunshots, so I’m not sure that can be what’s happening”. Alex reminded me of what I thought were “firecrackers” earlier, but it was a day of fireworks so we didn’t know for sure either way and at this point, it was probably getting on to 15-20 minutes since we’d heard those.

But we knew something was up and that no one seemed to know what.

We decided we should just get back to the hotel, and made a very out of the way route trying to avoid the town centre, assuming that whatever was going on was no place we should be, but everywhere we passed small groups of people running or anxiously fleeing something. We passed people sobbing, some looking for family and friends they’d lost in the confusion and panic. A group would be walking along, and another group would run from somewhere causing the first to take off at speed with them.

Cars sped over zebra crossings, not stopping to look. We were most in danger of being in a car accident or trampled in a stampede caused by panic at that point.

It was tense and we felt tense but we carried on walking, making our walk longer and longer to avoid crowds as necessary, but we came across the same groups the whole way.

I looked at Twitter, found tweets saying there were roaming gunmen, a bomb, an explosion.

It wasn’t until we were back at the hotel with a live TV feed that we could actually filter for the truth. It had taken probably an hour and a half to get back (the sea front to our hotel would normally be less than 15 minutes).

We had texts from family who’d read the same bad information on social media and thought we were in immediate danger, we had thirsty journos contacting us for our on the scene story (which they weren’t getting – we were fine and not willing to be hysterical for entertainment purposes, nor feed the speculation mill). We even had a call from Alex’s work incident team at 2am to check we were OK (we didn’t even know they knew where he was).

The information vacuum felt like the most dangerous after effect.

We would later know the act of terrorism had been just a few minutes long (5 minutes, apparently) and was likely over before we’d encountered the first running crowd, and was isolated to the seafront promenade. There were no roaming gunmen or bombs, no danger in the park, and the “firecrackers” we had heard were the short round of shots fired by the perpetrator and the return shots by the police. The van had driven just over a mile along the promenade, which explained why so many people initially had needed to run in so many different angles to get out of danger. Everything after that was confusion and panic.

The next day, we found breakfast in the old town, and later met one of Alex’s colleagues, his wife and their two young children. They live right next to where the event had happened, and had watched the fireworks. Their children’s day event had been cancelled because people weren’t travelling into the town centre, so we had coffee outside on a sleepy street, while the kids played inside.

We were sad for the those who had been hurt or killed and upset that it had happened at all, we fretted about how people would react and what changes might come, but we didn’t feel terrorised.

Here’s a semi-interesting thing. I was thinking about this and trying to get my memories correct, when I got an email from Google reminding me that I have their travel log service turned on. It’s a not very well advertised feature called “Timeline“.

I wondered if it had recorded that night, and if it had, did I remember correctly?

Well, I wasn’t far off. You can see where we did the first switch-back just below the corner of the park, the elongated route home, and I was roughly right about how long it took. Who needs your own fallible memories when the Big G is keeping tabs? Weird.

14 Apr

Sylvia portrait

I recently finished a painting for a small show at a nearby assisted living facility, featuring portraits of residents and staff.  I don’t usually (ever) do portraits.

I’ve been painting out of the Jean Henry School of Art in San Francisco once or twice a week since last summer, learning oil paints. I’m really enjoying it.

21 Feb

Hey, guys

“I’m making this slightly theoretical point because it helps to explain why I don’t agree with Sherryl Kleinman’s suggestion that women who use terms like ‘guys’ and ‘dude’ are trying to claim ‘honorary man’ status. Rather I agree with Scott Kiesling, who argues that women use ‘dude’ for the same reason men do: because they want to express cool solidarity—especially, the evidence suggests, with other women. Rather than displaying internalized sexism, they’re like the little girl who sometimes wants to play with toy cars rather than dolls. It’s not that she wants to be a boy, she just doesn’t see why girls shouldn’t play with cars.”

From Language, a feminist guide

10 Feb

Firewatch

I just finished playing Firewatch.  The story is good, well voice acted, and beautiful. It only takes about 3 or 4 hours to play it through.

There’s an extra money spinner that’s a bit silly that goes with the game – at a point early on you pick up a disposable camera with only a few of the snaps used up. You can take shots as you hike around the country side, and later have them printed for real. I really like the real world/game world bleed through.

They’re like some weird alternative life holiday snaps from when I was a park ranger for a summer.

Here’s mine.  As with real life, I wish I’d taken more.