Hey I was on a podcast talking with a couple other webcomic authors about A*! They were Roy Duncan and Jay Bradley, and it was their webcomic podcast Villainland.
*cue Nixon accent* "I am *not* a villain!"
It was fun! Thanks to Roy and Jay for having me and being nice about A* and asking lots of questions and letting me ramble on and on, telling stories about lawyers fleeing to Mexico and how I ended up as the "lead" designer on a high-profile MMO (those two stories are not directly connected >_>). I even gave out some minor A* teasers/spoilers. It's all in the hour-long Villainland episode 31, and you can listen in or download it on the show's page (the link above), but you do have to register (free) with the site first and certify that you're 18 or older--because younger people aren't allowed to have fun, I guess?
Roy and Jay have comics on Drunk Duck--Villain Next Door and Danielle Dark, respectively--which have both been running for years and are quite well done; same goes for Putrid Meat by Deidre "Pit Face" Crouch, who was on-hand providing moral support and Skittles.
It starts at 10:00 pm Eastern time and as far as I know will be me and the show's two hosts, webcomic authors in their own rights, rapping about A* for an extended period of time! Like an hour or hour and a half maybe. 8o I will probably be babbling incoherently for most of that time.
There's no particular need to tune in live since the show should be available for download at any time afterwards. You do need to register and certify that you're over 18 (and thus able to withstand mildly salty conversation, I guess?) in order to listen in, which is kind of a pain but um hey it's probably better than... Oh well no it isn't, but I hope you'll give it a listen anyway, assuming I don't make too much of an ass of myself. ... Which I probably will.
Speaking of which, I made more icons. :P (Feel free to take these and use 'em if you like; I use them in ads and on mirror sites and stuff. I should probably wait until the end of an episode to pick out just a small number of the very best images, but eh we all know I can't wait that long.)
Some day maybe I will draw a normal face. For now I always seem to draw something weird about a face; the eyes I've been agonizing over yesterday, for instance, are kind of demented. Looking at them in icon form I was thinking oh boy, I'd better clean those up, so I started trying it
but the regularized eyes were...boring. Then at the end there I thought well maybe if I make both eyes kind of crazy they'll balance out--but that was just getting ridiculous. I should just relax and realize I'm all about the crazy eyes. =P Which is not to say that there isn't still a lot of improvement to be made on my work in that department.
Man I was worried I wasn't gonna get this update in, because for hours and hours just before now I couldn't get through to the site--or to my hosting provider; I could reach *other* sites on the internet, and according to things like downforeveryoneorjustme.com and browsershots.org, they were still up, and other people could reach them--just not *me*. Gahhh that was frustrating; second time that's happened in the past week or two, too, which is worrying. Might be some kind of Internet karma, though: in the networking world, this kind of spot access problem is called a black hole. =p
I spent a somewhat ridiculous time messing with the eyes in page 87; in cases like this I should really just go with the first or second try and move on, but I can never seem to let things go if I see something I think I can make better. So here was how the eyevolution--oh that is horrible, I am never going to say that again--went:
Kind of an orgy of icon-making went on tonight; these reside on the icons page but here are the new ones specifically:
As you might notice there I did add a bit to the bottom of the smallish drawing of Selenis from today's page 81; I started doing that when it seemed to want to fit into this little composition, which will reside in the episode 10 gallery:
It isn't immediately obvious in the low res versions you see here on the web, but I'm now drawing A* at twice the resolution I was on, say, Friday. This makes it easier to go into little details, but mostly it helps if I want to re-use parts of a drawing for something else, like a banner or poster or something. Also, any prints you order of this drawn-in-higher-res stuff will come out even sharper than previously.
I did a little test of this higher res lasso drawing late Friday, and it actually ended up coming out pretty well as its own drawing. Here it is (and for future reference, will reside in the episode 10 gallery):
Yep another 1 page lackadaisical Friday! On the plus side though next week should be pretty good for comic output since my gym will be closed for renovations--so I'll probably just sit around getting fat and drawing comics, wooo.
There was an article making the rounds in the past day or so about an extra large magnetar. Magnetars are neutron stars that happen to have a large spin magnetic moment--having to do with quantum "spin" which is kind of a confusing thing--giving them a large magnetic charge, although this charge fades after a mere 10,000 years or so. Their magnetic field is measured in the range of gigateslas, or one billion teslas, one tesla being a magnetic force equivalent to what you get from a strong rare earth magnet.
It sounds impressive, but isn't all that much; while a magnetar's charge is enough to pull a human body apart at 1000 km, or to screw up your credit cards at about half the distance of the Moon to Earth (says Wikipedia), a neutron star, which is a super-dense remnant of a supernova--basically what happens when stars below about three solar masses go supernova: you end up with really dense matter (sometimes called "neutronium" which is a bit silly, but basically it's neutron-heavy stuff so dense that a teaspoonful would weigh something like five trillion kilograms :o) in an amount not quite sufficient to collapse into a singularity--is much more likely to do destructive things to you via gravity, radiation, or a pulsar beam or something. Still, you have to admit that "magnetar" and "gigatesla" are super-cool-sounding words.
Anyway, because magnetars don't last very long, there aren't very many known; this particular one, CXO J164710.2-455216, in the "super star cluster" Westerlund 1, somewhere between 12,000 and 16,000 light years from Earth, is the closest one known. The stars in the cluster--many of which are unusually large--are thought to have formed in a single big burst of star formation 4 or 5 million years ago, which makes them quite young; and since they all formed at the same time, and one already went and supernovaed into this magnetar, that means it must have been larger (since larger stars die faster) than any of the other stars still there, and I guess the largest of those is just about 40 solar masses.
So the question was, why did a star of 40+ solar masses supernova into a neutron star instead of a black hole? You need a remnant of about 3 solar masses in order to collapse into a black hole, and it had been thought that a star of 20 solar masses or more would leave you with at least that much after its supernova--but somehow in this case, the supernova of what must have been a very large star left much less mass behind than expected, little enough that it couldn't collapse into a black hole. So one idea is that this star had a binary companion that helped strip away a lot of the mass.
Still, it isn't as though scientists have had a whole lot of opportunity to study actual supernova explosions, so who's to say that they don't just blow off way more material than current theories think they do? It had been thought that stars lost something like 75 to 90 percent of their material in a supernova, but maybe it's more like the 95 percent that the Westerlund 1 magnetar appears to have lost; or maybe mass loss in a supernova is way more unpredictable than nice convenient theoretical formulas would like.
Westerlund 1 is a pretty cool place. According to this new article, although it's hard to observe due to obscuring gas and dust, it's estimated to weigh in at about 100,000 solar masses, and all the stars in it are big ones: 30 to 40 solar masses. At a mere 6 light years across, it's as dense as areas typically much closer to the galactic core (like A*'s setting :). I liked this description in the article by lead researcher Ben Ritchie:
"If the Sun were located at the heart of this remarkable cluster, our night sky would be full of hundreds of stars as bright as the full Moon."
That's the type of environment I've been trying to portray in A* (here, for instance), and this is the first instance I can recall of a quote in plain English from an astronomer actually talking about it in quantifiable visual terms.
Here's a niftier photo of the cluster, taken in infrared light (the above photos were visible light and X-rays, respectively):
image by 2MASS/UMass/IPAC-Caltech/NASA/NSF (source)
The AP put out a news article today saying that the Moon is shrinking; apparently some scientists have decided that the look of certain fissures on the Moon's surface indicate that it's been shrinking as it cools from its formation. The interesting thing about this I guess is that the cracks look fairly recent, geologically speaking, and may indicate that the Moon is more geologically active than previously thought.
Still, poor Moon! And I seem to recall reading somewhere recently that the Moon is also gradually getting farther and farther from Earth. It can't seem to catch a break! Although I suppose that's better than it getting closer and closer.
There was a minor ripple in the webcomics world today as comic hosting site ComicSpace, after a surprise week of downtime, just as surprisingly came back, having apparently deleted many of the comics it hosted, and converted the survivors to a generic WordPress template, while moving them all to different URLs. For instance, I had all five of my comic series mirrored there, but now there's only A*, and it doesn't even fit inside the template it's been stuck in. (You can see it here for now; I'm probably going to delete my account there within a week.)
And no FAQ on the changes, or even an acknowledgment of the change. This is not the way to retain your content providers, ComicSpace! Oh well. It was the weakest of the sites I mirror my comics to, so no big loss I suppose; still, I did have a small number of folks following my comics there; hopefully they'll find their way here or to a more functional mirror site.
Those others are listed on the about page, incidentally. Also today, another of them hit a glitch where it reported having no comics for any of the thousands of webcomics it's hosting. I won't tell you which one since the site has an active admin and presumably they'll get it fixed up shortly. Funkiness like this is sadly rather common on free webcomic hosting services; the one that's been stable for me since I started is also the largest: Smack Jeeves (here's the A* mirror on Smack Jeeves). So well done, SJ; you are a shining light of reliability in the world of free webcomic hosting, and hopefully I haven't just jinxed you.
Okay I wanted to waste some time talking about where I went camping, because eh well I don't get out much, so humor me. :P We went to Grayland Beach State Park, and here's even a satellite view of our exact camping spot. Now, if you zoom that view out and scroll west (left) to the beach, you'll notice a sort of bluish pall over the sand. If you check a street level view from just outside the park, you'll notice a grayish overcastedness to the whole scene. You can see this pall lurking over the whole area as you approach.
So there's a reason this place is called Grayland. ;) The rest of Western Washington was in a 90-degree-plus heat wave this past weekend, but besides the coastal cool, which knocks off maybe ten degrees or so, Grayland has its own misty chill that drops the mercury another oh fifteen degrees maybe, so inside Grayland's magical spell, it was kinda chilly! And the perpetual mist is constantly condensing around you and falling in little scattered droplets perhaps locally known (okay it was a term I overheard while in the bathroom :P) as "mizzle."
By check-out at 1:00 pm the second day, the sun was almost getting through Grayland's low cloud barrier, the mizzle had ceased, and as we went to the beach, with blue sky visible along the horizon inland, I almost thought the fog would burn off and give us clear sunshine. Nope! On the beach, which is really quite impressive--maybe 100 yards of sand to the water at low tide, stretching in both directions as far as you can see, which isn't as far as it would be anywhere else on Earth--you could actually see billows of fresh mist coming in off the ocean, replacing any amount that the afternoon summer sun could burn off. We played frisbee for a while, and my friend who was stationed closest to the water told me the disc would sometimes vanish from his view in mid-flight.
So that was interesting! Pretty good place to be during a heat wave, I guess, but I dunno how comfortable it would be in any other circumstances. The empty and somewhat otherworldly expanse of gray sand and ocean I saw on the beach in the morning gave me some definite thoughts for alien worlds. ;D
(Oh yah, the "Cranberry" you'll see on the road sign there isn't mere local color; there's a huge Ocean Spray facility a little way down the main road.)
Sheesh, 15 hours of sleep last night and I'm still nodding off early tonight; I guess I should've got more sleep before and during the camping trip hmrmrmrm oh well. While I was doing things like jumping up at the crack of dawn and running off to the completely fogged-in beach to feel like the last person on Earth, this little webcomic of mine was getting over 10,000 visitors in a day for the first time ever, which is pretty keen as far as I'm concerned; when this episode started a few months ago, A* was at about 4,000 visitors per day, and I figured maybe if I did this episode right I could get it to like 6,000 by the end, so being three times as far along in half the time (we're at just over the halfway point in the episode, approximately) is super-duper awesome and altogether encouraging.
Okay I'd better wrap this before I doze off again; here's a clickable shortcut to this past weekend's Princess and the Giant comic, which I eked out early under sleep-deprived conditions, resulting in numerous oddities such as rubber duckies and naked flaming skull heads (more on such things in the Princess' discussion thread):
Yes that is a weird pose for the weekend! Things are all in all getting pretty weird with this whole working ahead business, trying to cram my weekend comic work in during the week and so forth; like, in the Princess comic I've been working on over the past two days, first she came out as a streaking female Ghost Rider, flaming skull head and all--no, really--and now I've realized that I subconsciously stretched the primary sections of her body by *exactly*--I measured this in pixels--33% along the horizontal--AS I DREW IT--in order to convey an increased sensation of fast motion across the page.
It's sort of neat but I wish my subconscious would clue me in as to what it's doing a little sooner sometimes. My conscious mind has been trying to "correct" this subconscious skew for the last hour or so but is now realizing that the subconscious was actually very clever about it, and stretched small sections of detail--like the head, hands, chest, etc--by slightly smaller amounts, as the eye slows down to rest on them, and did other things like increasing the width of the legs to make her look like a really fast runner just in terms of muscles. Man. My subconscious is apparently crazy smart. Now if only it was more of a team player.
Anyway probably the more subconscious version will be going up tomorrow, and I'll probably put the naked Ghost Rider super-subconscious version (Freud is sorry he is missing this) up in my deviantART gallery, behind a "Mature Content" warning, at about the same time.
Then I'm driving a bunch of people on what they call a "camping" trip, and I'll be back late Monday, hopefully, to post the last page of A* weirdness. So hopefully Tuesday will allow me to get back to doing multiple pages per day, and, eh, maybe not quite so weirdly--at least, not just subconsciously weirdly.
Man, Vero's really gotta work on those landings! This one was pretty fun to draw, and yes, I *have* been looking at a lot of Frazetta lately, fancy you should ask!
Okay, now I gotta start ahead on this weekend's Princess comic. Never drawn one of those during the week, this is going to be weird. Gotta get in the right frame of mind... Maybe if I sing some songs to myself, or something...
Rubber ducky you're the one. You always make bath time fun! Rubber ducky I love you!
So far this working ahead thing is going all right; just need to get two A* pages done today and I'll have enough to cover me (at this meager one-per-day rate ;|) through my return next Monday, leaving me with the next two days to complete this coming weekend's Princess and the Giant page.
I think I mentioned recently how I was roped (haha oh so funny am I!) into being co-founder of the new #Lasso-tool group on deviantART. Well now it is group madness! Last week I had two other groups ask to show some of my Princess artwork: #MonochromedVision ("one color art" although it's actually two colors, 'cause one color is eh blank you know) and #ShadedInBlack (interesting and large niche covering any art with shadows done in black). #MonochromedVision is more in line with my own interests, so I became a member of that group, but I also ended up making the icon for #ShadedInBlack, because they didn't have one and when I teased their founder about it, he challenged me to put my money where my mouth is. ;) So I took the easy way out, and you may recognize their icon as being a crop of Princess and the Giant page 53.
So that was all very exciting! Oh yeah, my deviantART page is here in case you were wondering---okay so you weren't but just go visit, yar! Hm I need to get some of the recent A* stuff up there.
I guess one upside to this working ahead and only uploading one page per day this week business is that you at least get the update during the day on which it is meant to occur, rather than the wee hours of the next morning. ;)
I've got a bunch of interesting links on A*-related stuff that I came across this weekend!
A reader mentioned to me that actual aerospace engineers they work with seem to enjoy a magazine called Aviation Week. I was poking around their site, and they do have a lot of space-related articles--mostly NASA and such news you can also find elsewhere, but still, they do a good job of collecting it. They've got a gallery where people can upload space-related pictures, and I thought this picture of India's first satellite being transported to its launch site on an oxcart was pretty nifty. They also had a link to this video with a CGI reconstruction of the 1987A Supernova, showing how the remnant we see today might have come about; the blast is thought to have expelled material outward primarily in two opposite ring shapes:
I came upon the US Department of Energy's International Nuclear Safety: Ukraine, Chornobyl Photos gallery; "Chornobyl" is how you spell it when transliterating from Ukrainian, whereas the more familiar "Chernobyl" is transliterated from Russian--the reactor accident took place in '86, when the area was under Soviet control, so at the time we got the Russian spelling.
I found the gallery because I was looking for information on an interesting corium formation I had heard of being there, called the "Elephant's Foot" due to its shape: it's a 2-metric-ton clump of "corium," which is basically the "melt" part from a nuclear meltdown, consisting in Chernobyl's case of a good amount of uranium fuel, zirconium (from the melted control rods, I think), metals and things from the bottom of the reactor, which melted through, and concrete; during a meltdown this all forms a blazing hot molten "lava" that flows downward from the reactor. Here are some of the more interesting shots, with my summaries from the somewhat inconvenient separate captions page:
^ The shelter site's deputy director checking out the "Elephant's Foot" in '96. This is all still pretty radioactive, so I was surprised to see the guys here not wearing full protective gear; I guess it must be all right for whatever duration they were down there, but I think if it was me, I'd want to wear the full suit, if only for the crazy headgear.
And then I came across footage of various nuclear tests.
^ This is the 23 kt ("kiloton," ie having an explosive force equal to 23,000 tons of TNT; according to Wikipedia, a kiloton of TNT is about a 10-meter-per-side cube; 23 kilotons is absolutely puny by modern thermonuclear weapon standards: for instance, a Trident II submarine missile can contain 8 W88 warheads, and each one of those warheads has a yield of 475 kt, ie the whole missile would be 160 times more powerful than what you see exploding here; another comparison is the Little Boy bomb dropped on Hiroshima, whose 13-18 kt blast killed 140,000 people) "Baker" test from 1946's "Operation Crossroads" series, which I talked about before here.
^ 1955's 22 kt "MET" test from Operation Teapot in Nevada. Check out that eerie violet glow bathing the cheerful test viewers. None of them even put their hands over their groins, which as everyone knows is standard defense procedure during a nuclear attack.
^ Official film glamorizing the 1962 test of the portable, artillery-fired Davy Crockett nuclear shells; Attorney General Robert Kennedy attended the test, and can be seen wearing "high-density goggles" in the viewing stands at about 8:42. The idea was to drop the nuclear shell on the enemy, killing most of them by direct radiation intensity, then send in ground troops, in theory able to move around the worst of the fallout cloud, and mop up remaining resistance. Fun times indeed. ("Only two vehicles required a wash-down!")
^ 1971's "Cannikin" test at Amchitka, on the tip of the Aleutian Island chain in Alaska. At 5 Mt ("megatons"; a megaton equals 1 million tons of TNT), this is the largest underground nuclear test held by the US; the force of the blast caused seismic shock equivalent to an earthquake of 7.0 on the Richter scale, making the ground about a half-mile around (I forget where I read that distance, so take with grain of salt) jump up about 5 meters, leaving a crater that is now a mile-wide lake, and producing a concussion that killed 700-2,000 nearby, and presumably non-Communist, sea otters. The group that formed to protest these tests became Greenpeace.
I'm doing this thing called "camping" with some crazy friends this coming weekend--it mainly involves staying outdoors for a prolonged period of time, apparently--so I'll have to draw my weekend comic, "The Princess and the Giant," during the week, which will knock into my A* drawing time, which more or less means that I probably won't get more than one A* page to you per day this week. Bleh! Maybe I'll be able to squeeze in a few more, but it isn't all that likely.
I'm also annoyed with myself because I accidentally saved the next page's original, high-res art as the tiny, scaled-down version. Dar. Been quite a few episodes since I made that kind of mistake. So when that one comes along, it won't have a "buy as hand-signed print" link below it. Annoying, because it came out pretty well, too! Hm... Ahh, I know, I'll add a "Save as Copy" step at the start of my flattening/resizing macros, so it'll make a backup before squishing things down. Yay! ... Wish I'd thought of that like a year ago. =P
Gosh, now I've actually kind of cheered myself up after that debacle. So anyway if you need more comics in your day aside from the one meager A* page per day that I can feed you this week, why, you could take a gander at that perpetrator Princess' strip that appeared this past weekend, by clicking on this preview banner shortcut thing:
EDIT: Thanks to the author of the fine Rusty and Co. webcomic for pointing out that the better way to save myself from saving original art in a squished state would be to use the "Image > Duplicate..." command on it, then do the squishy stuff to the duplicate. And that works just dandy in macros even, so yay!
Vero's new "hell" will have to wait until Monday, but I did draw this past page at twice my usual size--which is itself twice what you actually see on the web site--so I stuck a super-big version of it in the gallery, just...in case you wanted a big version. Yeah! You can click this tiny version to get to it, because I'm tricky like that:
And, yes, the inevitable banner versions, because I like banners:
Need more comics? Well, the "Tale of Death Boy" in my whimsical daily comic Sketchy is getting totally crazy, as you can see
so I'm sure you'll want to go see what that's all about. >_>
I gotta thank the authors of Harmonic Resonance for putting both A* and The Princess and the Giant in their site's link list. Thanks, harmonizers! It's very helpful, and I've already gotten some traffic from over there. :)
Speaking of La Princesse, there was a new page of that fairy tale comic of mine this weekend, and if you haven't seen it yet, here's a link banner for you to use to jump over and check it out:
And thanks to Matrix Online fans for alerting me on the forum that Sony Online Entertainment finally got around to removing my billions of screenshot sequence stories, and my hand-drawn cinematics, that I made for MXO when I was working there as a game designer--which is what I was doing before I started doing comics. So I had to update A*'s about page to remove the links I had to that deleted stuff, and while I was at it I condensed some of my rambling about myself, removed another dead link (Comic Planet is no more), and added a little timeline charting the development of A*, starting with the release of the first, silent, animated episode back on March 18th of last year, and ending with the last significant format change to date, which was switching from gradients to sharp lasso-carved shadows on April 9th of this year, with episode 8, page 98. The timeline is mostly for my own satisfaction, because I've been wanting to get this stuff written down before I start forgetting the specific changes I've made along the way, but I guess you can read it too, if you want.
I blabbered on about temperature in space a bit last week, and we're still dealing with it this week, so I was interested when a friend on Facebook pointed out to me that temperatures on the International Space Station can vary from 250 degrees F on the sunny side, to -250 degrees F on the shady side (that's 121 to -157 C--it's such a nice even coincidence in F, though!) .
Annoyingly, I can't find an explanation for that particular temperature range. If you Google this stuff you come upon black body calculations for temperature per distance from the Sun, but those give you a pretty cool temperature mostly in the middle of the 250 to -250 range the ISS's hull experiences. So obviously the ISS isn't a perfect black body, and I guess its hull temperatures have to do with what it's made out of, how it's shaped, mass to surface area ratio, and so forth; you'd think the Internet would have some page talking about calculations for spacecraft hull temperatures in space, but darned if I can find them. *sigh* So I suppose if I was desperate to get a rough approximation of a spacecraft's hull temp at some distance from a Sun-like star, I could use 250/-250 as a basis, then multiply that by the black body equation's distance section, which is (2*distance)^0.5, and, um, hopefully things would work out. :P
Not so coincidentally, this came up because an ammonia coolant pump broke on the ISS last week; that system circulates ammonia throughout the hull, balancing the temperature from the sunny side and shady side, and it's pretty important for preserving life-supporting conditions in the ship. The good news is they don't think it will be too tough to fix.
While flailing around trying to find actual info so I wouldn't have to do math myself, I came across some interesting related things, like:
- The silica tiles the space shuttle uses as a shield from the heat of atmospheric re-entry are so bad at conducting heat that you can hold a red-hot one in your hand without getting burned:
- Some spacecraft, including the ISS, use Whipple shielding, which is basically the principle of having a thin surface separated from the main hull; an incoming hypervelocity object will go through it, but will have broken into pieces, so the impact energy is spread out over a much wider area on the hull than it would have been, greatly reducing the threat of hull penetration. Because, although it might look pretty
you really don't want the hypervelocity thingy hitting you intact.
- In 2015, NASA will launch Solar Probe+, a robot probe that will get within 8.5 solar radii of the Sun, much closer than the previous record-holder: Helios came within 65 solar radii in the 70's. At 8.5 solar radii, a 15 cm-thick carbon-composite heat shield on the probe's sunny side will heat up to 1400 degrees C (2600 F). (No, don't go watch the movie Sunshine, it's very misleading. :P)