Well after several years of waffling, I've knuckled down and got a public email address: email@example.com. So yep, if you've been itching to email me, you can do so! Or just do it anyway! For future reference, that address is now on the "about" page (always accessible from the site's top menu), and while I'm at it I may as well mention that you can still reach me by the other routes listed therein, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, deviantART, and by private message on the A* forum.
Back to that in a moment but here's a new photo-based portrait a nice reader just had me do for them:
Okay anyway the email thing. Oh by the way, if you've already managed to wring one of my other, unpublished email addresses out of me, go ahead and keep using it, that's fine! And in particular if you're buying something from me, use the address you get from that process, as I do check that one assiduously so as not to be late on stuff people are actually shelling out hard-earned money for.
Why so secretive with the email addresses? Well let me tell you a story about ye olden dayes of the internet: back then we skipped merrily along in the sunlight of knowledge, discoursing freely and electronically with those sharing common intellectual pursuits, etc etc, and so forth. And it was good and stuff. Then man discovered spam, and it was less good; then came spambots and botnets, and it got pretty bad, and all those email links I'd been happily scattering about the internet were gobbled up and my inbox stuffed with tons of junk.
Being the stubborn sort and not wanting to lose that email address, I've had it on whitelist-only access for years, and have never published on the internet the address of any other email accounts I've accumulated, for fear that they would likewise fall under a hail of spam.
It has to be said that my ISP doesn't particularly specialize in email, and their spam filters, at least when I tried them in the past, were not so great. But I've heard good things from the kids about this fancy "gee mail" thing (I was holding out for Z mail but what are you gonna do), particularly its spam-resistant qualities, and I've heard and seen other webcomic authors making apparently useful use of public email addresses, AND I recently had to resort to using a Gmail account as a workaround for the php mail function on A*'s phpBB forum giving up the ghost, so I thought well heck, maybe things are different now (or rather, for at least the past five years) and I should give this a try.
Actually when it comes to that, I've noticed a decrease in spam to my other email addresses in the past year or so--instead of several hundred spam mails a day it might just be oh fifty or so. Almost starting to feel unloved! Seriously though, it can't be that progress is being made against spambot nets, can it? I thought they were supposed to be irresistibly taking over the world.
Oh well I'm sure it's more that they're just biding their time, waiting for all of us to re-publish our email addresses... >_>
Oh yeah and thanks to the helpful person who served as my sort of guinea pig for making sure I had this Gmail thingy working. =)
Um and I should mention--and if you've been following me around a bit you may already know this about me--that sometimes I do get a bit behind in my message queue, and may take a while to get back to you. But I always do eventually! So if you don't hear back right away, it isn't because I hate you or anything like that; it's just that sometimes I'm too chicken to look in my inbox for a while. =o
I'm slowly (more so than others would probably be) cluing in to some things about this ink wash business; for instance, the white ink I've been trying to use as a corrective is not, unlike the black ink, waterproof, so even if it seems dry, trying to go over it with a wash will pull it up, and then you've got a muddle; I had a big problem with that yesterday (particularly around Selenis' throat area, on the previous page I mean), so I tried some small-scale but deliberate tests of it today, giving it even more time to dry, and it still muddled right up when wet again. So that's good to know, even if it puts the final kibosh on my fantasy of being able to correct my mistakes =p; although it can work well in non-wash areas--for instance, I repainted an entire head over it in straight black ink (and then some more white on that for hair highlights) on page 146, which I think has been one of my most successful so far in this tricky medium--probably largely because for that page, I carefully planned the shadows out in pencil first, rather than trying to make them up with brushy strokes as I went along in ink, and also because I let the lighting and shadow get semi-abstract and more expressive, which I should probably do more often.
Anyway forget that junk, it isn't what I want to talk about today! Nay! I'm talkin' 'bout TweetDeck for Chrome, aka "ChromeDeck", a very handy and free way to stay on top of Twitter, if that's what you think is a good life decision. There's also a standalone TweetDeck desktop application (and TD for other environments, like Android), but as an Adobe AIR app it is actually more resource intensive than just running Chrome purely for TweetDeck (my main browser is Firefox) on my Windows XP PC; also, the desktop version has some annoying sorta ad-like Twitter feeds you can't really turn off, bleh. Apparently there's a general web-based version in the works, which could be nifty.
Anyway, in the Chrome version, you can set up Twitter feeds running in columns across the page; on my 1080p display, I can fit about five and a half. This is proving quite handy for running my live interactive Twitter text adventure, #cmdprompt (plug plug! :D)! Here's the left side of my setup, for instance: my main Twitter feed--or actually the combined feeds from my five (>_>) Twitter accounts in column 1, a real-time search for anything with the #cmdprompt hash tag in it in column 2, so I can always see what commands people are sending me for executing in my text adventure (:D), and any tweets mentioning me in column 3, so I can catch other replies and public messages and so forth from people, as I am apparently obsessed with myself:
The other two columns I have currently are 4) a combo feed of posts by all five of my Twitter accounts (they're for five of my webcomics, you know) so I can double-check what I've been posting lately (I have a bad memory :P), and 5) a column showing my Twitter private messages.
Come to think of it, something like ChromeDeck is almost a must if you're trying to monitor a hash channel like #cmdprompt, 'cause Twitter's own web-based site (although they own TweetDeck now...but anyway I mean the display you can get at twitter.com) seems not to care too much about whether or not it prints search results in their exact chronological order, and you have to go and pick "All" from the little drop-down menu after searching. Bleh!
I think you can also have TweetDeck bring in other network thingies like Facebook and so forth--hm checking now in ChromeDeck it's Twitter, Facebook, Google Buzz (which I think is being closed?--that's according to some pop-up message in Gmail), and Foursquare. I haven't tried that! But I'm definitely liking it for Twitter use. I tried out a few other similar programs ranked highly in various articles Googling sent me to, but so far ChromeDeck has been the best for what I've wanted to do.
Haha felt the urge to reprocess the large subscription preview-mode comics again--even sharper now! Soon they will just be too dangerous to handle.
I've gone and done something unusually silly even for me; namely, I've started a text adventure on Twitter, which I'm running at #cmdprompt. It began innocently enough, like this
and hasn't progressed too far down either path yet, so now's just the time to jump in!
Basically, the first (decent) tweet coming in to #cmdprompt ("#cmdprompt" must be included in the tweet) after the last new output from me will be taken as the next command; I retweet it to make it clear which command I'm parsing, then output the new description of the state of the adventure. Simple!
I have no idea where the adventure will go--it will pretty much depend upon the invention of the players! So I hope you'll come along and tweet some exciting input for me to parse. :)
One of the early players in the game, @kentcline, sent along an excellent link that you may enjoy: http://thcnet.net/zork/index.php -- it's a "PHP web hack" of the pioneering text adventure Zork, or more specifically, it's earlier incarnation, "Dungeon"--that name had to be changed due to enforcement of copyright by the publishers of "Dungeons & Dragons," which was actually one of the game's inspirations; anyway it was renamed to "Zork"; "zork" was slang at MIT--where the creators, Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling were based (this was in '77-'79)--for an unfinished program.
Although perhaps the most well-known text adventure, Zork wasn't the first--that was Will Crowther's Adventure, in 1975.
I haven't played Adventure; I *have* played Zork before, but I don't think I ever got very far in it--there were more alluring graphical games by that time, and their shiny pixels easily distracted me from the head-scratching, map-drawing demands of a game like Zork. It seems to have managed to leave an enduring impression on me, though. This web version is pretty neat in that it lets you create a login name, then save and restore your game, so you can pick right back up where you left off from anywhere.
I got myself a new toy this weekend: a Canon PowerShot ELPH 100 HS compact digital camera. My dad, who knows a thing or two more than I do about photography, has and likes an older model Elph, I'd seen his take some nice pictures, and they're pretty reasonable price-wise--oh and the Amazon reviews were pretty positive--oh and they can record 1080p video at 24 fps--so that was more or less what made my decision.
I actually got it for A*! Eventually I'll have a magical script thingy so that you can buy the original artwork for any of these hand-painted pages directly from that page, and the buying display for each of them will show a photo I've taken of the page's painting drying on my drawing table; this will let you see what each one actually looks like, and just how much stuff is outside the margins of the web version--usually a fair amount at top and bottom, actually. For instance, here's the photo of today's page:
The camera's tiny and pretty fun to play around with. At some point I want to do a little illustrated photo essay showing the various materials and things I'm using to make the comic now. And it has various special shooting modes that seemed to impress even my jaded smartphone-having friends; for instance, it can be set to snap a picture when it detects a smile or a wink, and to show a warning when someone's blinking; it can also do some Photoshop-like digital processing effects in real time as you look at the viewfinder screen--it can isolate just one color and render the rest of the scene in black and white, for instance, or it can swap one color for another; here's the effect of swapping I think it was red for yellow on a little glass of maple syrup:
Weird! Anyway as mentioned Photoshop can do something like those effects easily, of course; the strange thing is seeing them done live in the viewfinder as you pan the camera around you.
The only downside I've found so far is that Windows (XP) does not like having both the camera and my scanner plugged in to USB ports simultaneously--if that happens, Explorer kind of freezes up, neither device responds, and I pretty much have to reboot. :P So I have to swap them back and forth each day for photographing and scanning each painting. =PP Ah, technology! Hopefully Windows 7 does that better or something.
Yay that webcomic I'd wanted to link to on Friday, with the really nice grayscale artwork and silent storytelling, is back! It is called Stupid Snake, and I'm linking you there to the first page (one of the few in color, as it happens) since the current latest page is a pretty graphic (and impressively detailed) sequence of skinning a rabbit--so I'll let you work your way up to that one yourself. ;) "Stupid Snake's" story is pretty hard to describe, so I won't try aside from saying that it kinda strikes me as collection of old Norse folk tales gone weird--I mean, even weirder than the old Norse stuff was, which is saying something.
Stupid Snake's artwork is exquisite--really masterful use of grays and black lines: the kind of stuff I'd like to be able to do but probably won't ever manage! So yeah, Stupid Snake! Check it out.
Today's painting was relatively successful; I only ended up repainting the entire head. >_> This gives kind of an interesting effect since when the white ink I have layers with black ink, you get slightly bluish tones rather than the flat grays the black ink yields by itself. So whoever buys the original of this one (once I have that system in place, I mean :P) will see very slightly blue highlights on the hair; you won't see that in the comic versions since I scan them in in grayscale.
Also its looking like some of the originals--like this one, and at least one of the ones I did last week--will have SUPER BONUS alternate layout sketches on the back, since sometimes its easier just to flip the whole darn thing over and start on the other side rather than erasing the one side yet again. ... I have been doing a lot of erasing. Doooh the learning process!
EDIT: Okay well after fixing and re-scanning for the head, I decided that the arm was wrong too. Repaint, rescan... I hope that one of these days I'm gonna get better at picking out layout problems in the penciling phase! That would sure save a lot of time. =p
Huh and then I had to rescan again because of a piece of lint or something that snuck onto the scanner glass in between scans. :PP
You may notice that the recent painted pages are suddenly sharper; I got tired of them looking a bit fuzzy after I'd reprocessed them without Smart Blur and Unsharp Mask on Friday, so over the weekend I redid them with no blur but way more Unsharp Mask than ever. It's been a couple days and I still like the results from that, so maybe I'll actually end up sticking with these settings. :PP
NASA just released a pretty picture, and I suppose it could even be black hole related, since those are often the result of big ones of these:
image by NASA/ESA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/CXC/SAO (source)
That's a combination multi-wavelength image of supernova remnant RCW 86; the blue and green show where gas superheated to millions of degrees by the supernova is emitting X-rays, and the yellow and red are infrared readings, showing dust that's several hundred degrees below zero, which is still significantly warmer than the rest of space as we know it in our galaxy.
RCW 86, 8,000 light years from Earth, is what's left of the oldest recorded supernova in human history: Chinese observers recorded it as a "guest star" that stayed in the sky for eight months in 185 A.D.
With these new multi-wavelength observations, scientists have determined that RCW 86 (I think the "RCW" part denotes it as an object described in the RCW Catalogue, a catalogue of space objects put together by Alexander William Rodgers, Colin T. Campbell and John Bartlett Whiteoak in Australia in the '60's) was a white dwarf that sucked enough material off a companion star to grow large enough that the gravitational pull of its own mass caused it either to detonate in a massive fusion reaction, or collapse at near light speed as the weight overcame the degeneracy pressure of its super-dense material, then rebound outward in a massive explosion.
Also, there was a bit of a mystery about how RCW 86 had grown so big: it is 85 light years in diameter, which I guess would mean that material from its explosion has been expanding through the interstellar medium around it for the past 2000 years or so at an average of over 2% light speed, which is unusually fast. The new data shows that the white dwarf blew out a strong solar wind before it exploded; the wind blew a "bubble" in space around it, effectively clearing the vicinity for the coming explosion, which could then travel outward faster than usual in the low-density cavity.
I said on Friday that I hoped to have the A* subscription system up and running some time this week, but having now had a full night's sleep for the first time in two weeks or so, I kind of like the feeling, so I think I'd better not push myself to try wrapping up the subscription thing too quickly :P; also, I've already got what is for me a large amount of other stuff I have to get done this week, like getting some art together for display at a local venue, and doing a portrait commission that I already put off from last week (bad!). I'll be working away steadily on the subscription stuff, and it will probably be a number of weeks before it's ready to go; as Bobby Bland sings in "Sunday Mornin' Love," "whatever you been doin' woman, take your time and do it right"; I heard that *just* as I was thinking this subject over this afternoon, and it kinda spoke to me--well, the studio version I heard had "baby" instead of "woman," which probably spoke to me a bit more, but still, wise words, I think.
And anyway in the meantime there's the subscription preview of giant ad-free comics for free anyway, so I suppose I won't get too many complaints if I take some time getting the real (not quite free) subscription model in place. =p
Well I came across a pretty neat webcomic today that I wanted to show you, but it appears to have disappeared just as I meant to link to it. :| Hopefully it will come back just as magically; I've been corresponding with the author so presumably they will be aware of the problem shortly. Anyway it had a really lovely use of grays and lines and things like that that I'm not very good at.
Got a couple more kinks ironed out in the comic display scripts today--nothing you'd notice, hopefully, but just minor errors, some of which had been bothering me for some time. What was making this particularly bothersome was that I've had the comic display handled by two separate scripts: one that pushes out the news articles, updates the RSS, and writes out the site's front page, and another that displays all the *rest* of the comic pages; so they share parts in common but had a lot of different bits breaking up the common bits, and over time as I would tweak things here and there, errors would creep in where I tweaked one one way and one the other, and then other tweaks came in on top of those, etc, until I could look at the Perl scripts for them and hardly know what I was seeing. ;P I assume this is not proper scripting procedure. :PP
So anyway one reason then that I'm excited about converting the site to a dynamic front page thing (which will be going along with getting cookie-based subscriptions working) is that the comic display will all be handled by a single script. Whew! That will make future changes much easier, I think, and anyway will give rise to many fewer little annoying layout glitches and inconsistencies.
Oh and I've already changed those silly Photoshop macros for handling the scanned A* pages that I showed you just the other day--I removed the smart blur and unsharp mask steps. See, when I first started painting and scanning the page, the paper grain, which my scanner rather seems to amplify, sort of scared me and I wanted to try to minimize its appearance. But I like *painting* on grainy paper, and anyway it isn't really possible to get rid of all the grain and still keep the small details of the painting intact (pencil lines were coming through those extra processing steps quite spottily, for instance), so I think I just have to accept the grain and roll with it. Anyway the pages now have fewer processing steps between painting and web displaying, so even if grainy they look a bit more natural and preserve their detail better; I reprocessed all the hand-painted pages with them already, so they should be looking very slightly snappier than they were previously.
EDIT: Bleh, now today they look too soft without sharpening. Sharpened 'em up even stronger than before (and also no Smart Blur) now. I'm liking the crispness. Hopefully I'll still like it tomorrow! ;D
There's a little more info about this in the news post I made earlier, but the quick version is that you can now, by means of the "preview" link at the lower-right corner of the latest comics, try a free preview of the upcoming subscription mode, which (the actual subscription mode, I mean) will grant you comics so big you need a 1080p monitor on which to see them, delivered completely free of ads, for a whole year, for $25.
Oh and you can also get into it by clicking on this eye-catching large banner I made for the occasion:
You can exit the preview mode by clicking the "exit" link you'll have to the bottom right of the comics. Only the new, hand-painted comics will have giant-size versions available, but--in the real subscription mode, not in this limited free preview--ALL the comics--including the older, smaller, computer-generated ones--will be ad-free for subscribers.
I'm very curious to know what you think of the comics at large size.
When I opened this preview earlier today I was thinking I'd take it down once I get the full subscription service going--which will hopefully be some time next week--but now I'm thinking maybe I'll leave it going, just limited to what will by that time probably be the first dozen or so hand-painted comics.
Also spent some time tweaking the layout of things in the navigation bars above and below the comic in barely visible ways; far too much of that time was taken up trying to fix--or work around--stupid spacing problems suffered by Internet Explorer. GAR. Also the center bits--the drop-down menus on top and the bookmarking and networking widgets below--are now actually centered, b'gosh.
And that chain-link link button between the networking widgets always has a link to the permanent address of the current comic, even if it's being displayed on the front page, or in subscription preview mode, or in the "9999" latest comic shortcut page (I think once I get the subscription mode done and the site switched over to a dynamic front page I'll probably just have the comic viewing script default to showing the latest strip anyway, if not given any parameters--currently it defaults to the first strip), or whatever. I was actually prompted to do it a day or so ago when I thought I'd be using basic authentication for subscription mode security, because that would have meant running the script in a separate, secure directory, so if you were viewing a strip while logged in with your subscriber account, and tried sending a friend the URL directly from the address bar (rather than from the "SHARE" widget, which would give you a better one), it would have been inaccessible to them--not that I could have gotten around that limitation of basic authentication, so I was hoping people would notice the chain links and realize they might get a good sharing address from there.
But that's still kinda kludgy, so for that and other reasons basic authentication is out, and--assuming I can get it working--it'll be based on rather more user-friendly session IDs and cookies and all that like a real site, and you won't end up on strange secure pages you can't show to others.
I've still got some work to do to get a full subscription system implemented for A*, but I've got the viewing mode for it done, so I figured I'd enable a free preview of the subscription mode view to get you hooked!
This free preview mode will last only until I'm actually ready to roll out the real subscription system (which will cost $25 for a one-year subscription), which may be ready by some time next week, so check the preview now if you're interested!
Subscription preview mode means:
- The new, hand-painted comics (starting with episode 13, page 136) can be viewed at a much larger size! You will need something like a 1080p monitor or larger to fit them on screen, so bear that in mind before trying it out!
- No ads on the hand-painted comics (in the real subscription mode, there will be no ads on any of the comics)
To check it out, click the banner below to start browsing at episode 13, page 136 in subscription preview mode:
Or click the "preview subscription mode" link below and to the right of any of the hand-painted comics.
To exit subscription mode, click the "exit" link below and to the right of the large-size hand-painted comics.
Enjoy (temporarily! mwahahahahaaaa)! I hope this preview whets your appetite for the sorta-almost-here A* subscription system! Be sure to let me know what you think!
It was pointed out to me on Google+ today that instead of correcting the oppositely mirrored slipping dress strap yesterday, I could have just said that the mirror was a non-reversing mirror, which is a clever trick that's been around for at least well over a century. I set up my own little copy here at home to try it out; all you need is two mirrors placed together at one end at about 90 degrees; not having two mobile mirrors, I just held the shiny side of a CD up against my medicine cabinet's mirror, and behold and lo, the reflection, bouncing first off one and then the other, flips around twice and comes back looking "positive" as J.J. Hooker called it when he filed his patent for it in 1887.
Here's a screenshot from Photoshop showing the "actions" (aka macros) I use to generate the web page comic images from the 1200 dpi scans I take of my daily ink wash paintings. There are some steps in between with manually dragging and toggling layers; oh and that one "Make" step has the manual option entry flag set because otherwise a bug in Photoshop 4 prevents the Auto Levels parameter from working correctly. :P Can you spot the silly error I made in the second macro? I didn't notice it at first because this current part of the story doesn't have subtitles.
I'm sure everything will be fine. >_> Although actually the next week or so will be relatively hectic for me, what with another meeting with a local art gallery manager, a portrait commission, a party, and ehh a dental appointment--oh and a poetry reading! :D (I'm just listening, not reading :P)--in addition to trying to do regular comics plus all the back-end site work I want to do. Where's a nice friendly time warp when you need one?
^ This *would* have been a relatively disaster-free page, except that I realized just before I uploaded it that apparently I don't know how mirrors work:
If you tried signing up for the A* forum since about mid-May, you never got the confirmation email that the forum was supposed to send you; apparently phpBB's php mail function is notoriously finicky, and I suspect some email reconfiguration by my ISP earlier in the year displeased it. Fortunately I found a way to get it working by using gmail to send the forum mails, so you *should* actually be able to sign up and get going on the forum now, and I re-sent confirmation links to all those new accounts that had been stuck in limbo all this time. Sorry about that!
The effect demonstrated in this video is absolutely NOT the meissner effect (though this is a commonly made mistake). The meissner effect is the effect that a superconductor that is entirely in a superconducting state does not allow a magnetic field to penetrate at all, which would result in repulsion of any magnet brought close tot the superconductor. This does not explain the effects seen in the video, especially not suspending the superconductor below the magnets at the end.
Instead what's shown here is called flux pinning. Basically, superconductors like the one used in this video (probably YBCO, YttriumBariumCopperOxide) have an extra 'mixed' state (or 'vortex' state), where some of the material is not superconducting, but most of it is. The small, wire-like areas where the material is not superconducting is where the magnetic field is allowed to penetrate the material. In principle, these areas are free to move through the material, however, due to intrinsic contaminations or faults in the material, these "flux lines" (or "vortices") become trapped; once they are 'attached' to such a contamination, it's harder to move it around (think of it like this: a contaminated area disturbs the superconductivity anyway, so having the non-superconducting area at that spot has a lower energy than otherwise). Actually, since moving flux lines induce a resistance to current, contamination is usually added to these materials on purpose, so superconducting electromagnets (like the ones in MRI scanners) stay superconducting at higher magnetic fields.
What's happening in the video then, is that the superconductor is moved toward some (strong) magnet, and some of the magnetic field enters the superconductor in these flux lines, which are trapped in the superconductor. There is some resistance to changing the magnetic field, which is enough to suspend the superconductor, but not enough to completely resist moving the superconductor around with your hand, when applying enough force. The second and third demonstration, where the superconductor moves by turning above a circular magnet or by traversing a circular track, is possible because the magnetic field in the superconductor does not change when moving in that way (the field is symmetric). So "locking" the superconductor in place is really trapping a bunch of flux lines, induced by a certain magnetic field, in place inside of the superconductor.
Finally, some remarks about what we do and don't understand about superconductors. The simple kind of superconductor is called a "Type I" superconductor. These are metals that are superconducting at really low temperatures, usually lower than 20 K, and include tin, mercury, copper, lead, etc. These were discoverd in 1911 and are well-understood with BCS-theory, published in 1957. Other superconductors are "Type II" superconductors, high-temperature superconductors, or "unconventional" superconductors (these categories do not fully overlap, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superconductor_classification). In 1987 a new class of superconductors was discovered that worked at much higher temperatures than before (up to ~130 K), ao YBCO. These types of superconductors are still not understood; there is really complicated interaction between magnetic spins in layers in this material that already has interesting properties before it is superconducting, and we do not understand why superconductivity occurs here. However, we do have a pretty good grasp of what happens with flux pinning since this can be observed directly, so there are pretty good descriptive models of this. In 2008 another interesting class of superconductors was found, based on iron compounds (called ferropnictides). It is hoped that these can shed some more light on exactly what kind of interactions lead to superconductivity in these and other unconventional superconductors.
So I'm thinking that as I need to get "buy the original art" purchasing links going next to the new painted work anyway, and revamp the "buy hand-signed print" links to make them more user-friendly, I may as well throw in a "as wallpaper" buying link as well--once you've clicked it on an image you want done up as a wallpaper, and entered your desktop resolution and whether the art should be cropped or given side bars to fit your aspect ratio, I'd just go ahead and whip up the wallpaper according to your specifications (hum and I suppose I should add a small A* logo to it somewhere too) and email it to you. I haven't managed to find a good example of a webcomic selling their stuff as wallpapers like that, but I suspect I could only charge a couple bucks a pop. Still it might be something people would like. So if you'd be interested or not interested, or know more about the desktop wallpaper biz than I do, lemme know what you think of this idea.
At the beginning of September I wrote about findings that the comet Elenin, which was due to pass sorta in the vicinity of Earth on its way back into the outer reaches of the solar system from the Sun, appeared to have disintegrated. And apparently it did; its tiny remains made their closest approach--22 million miles--to Earth this past Sunday. The particles will come back around for another visit in about 12,000 years.
The article notes that about 2% of discovered comets disintegrate as they near the Sun, so Elenin's fizzle wasn't particularly surprising.
And just to show how much stuff is out there whizzing around, the very day after Elenin's fly-by--Monday--a small asteroid, 2009 TM8, passed far closer to the Earth: 212,000 miles out (341,000 km), or just inside the orbit of the Moon. That's still really far away, though, and given that there's no easily found mass estimate for 2009 TM8, it was probably pretty tiny.
At the other end of the space threat spectrum, scientists studying observations made by Mexican astronomer Jose Bonilla in August 1883 are saying that the 450 objects he reported crossing the face of the Sun were the remains of a mammoth comet that barely missed wiping out life on Earth; their calculations from his notes--and I think we have to take these with a huge grain of salt, of course--are that the fragments ranged from 164 feet to 2.5 miles across (those larger fragments being individually as large as comet Elenin was before it broke up), and that the comet they came from "must originally have tipped the scale at a billion tons or more"--in other words, it would have been on a scale similar to the asteroid thought to have wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.
(Ugh, what's worse than painting a bad painting is painting a bad painting but not realizing it's bad until you've finished it all up and scanned it in at close to 7:00am the following morning. And then you see if you can rescue it by dashing black and white ink all over it, and of course that doesn't work (and the painting is now completely obliterated, which is just as well). So then you figure welp, time to start over from scratch. And thus we get to today's page. At least it has energy, only two badly clashing scale and perspective systems, rather than three. Man. Anyway just so I can say I salvaged *something* from the wreckage, here's the part of the rejected attempt at the page that, if you can ignore the zombie-like, dead pose, might not be completely and utterly bad in all aspects:
It's looking like Frame Up Studios in Seattle's artsy Fremont neighborhood will be hosting a show of my artwork in January--starting Friday January 6th, which is the day of the local "Art Walk." So that should be neat, and you can bet I'll bug you more about it as the date gets nearer. :D
Also there is a pretty yummy pie shop right next door to it, apparently called simply "pie"; their logo is a top-down view of a whole pie, with "pie" printed on it. Pretty effective advertising. :d
Feedback on the ad free GIANT COMICS subscription idea was generally positive, so I've been working on getting that hooked up--image file uploads and lost password retrieval it was today, mostly.
That's boring but fortunately people who've hooked up with A* on Google have been sharing some cool science things over the past few days!
First, you may remember that about three weeks ago there was a big flap having to do with a team of French and Italian scientists at CERN who claimed to have clocked a neutrino beam they fired from Switzerland to Italy as having traveled faster than the speed of light, which is supposed to be impossible--light speed being the fastest speed possible is one of the foundations of Einstein's General Relativity and modern physics in general, you might say.
So of course even uneducated nitwits like myself were like pfft yeah sure, and in fact it kicked off a big push to explain how they screwed up their result so badly. Well, The Physics arXiv Blog picked up on a paper with a plausible-sounding explanation: the team was coordinating the clocks timing both ends of the experiment by using clocks on GPS satellites passing overhead, but they didn't take into account the speed of the satellites relative to the ground: "From the perspective of the clock, the detector is moving towards the source and consequently the distance traveled by the particles as observed from the clock is shorter." So apparently once you take good ol' relativity into proper account, the speed of the neutrinos was in fact the speed of light. (This makes me wonder too if satellite clocks already take into account the faster passage of time at higher altitudes (being farther away from the time-dampening effect of the Earth's gravity well), and the slower passage of time due to higher travel speeds. ... Aha! They do.)
It seems like that would be a pretty elementary mistake to make for smart dudes at a place like CERN, so I suppose there are some French and Italian particle physicists with a certain amount of egg on their faces at the moment, if that clock thing was indeed the issue. I wonder if Einstein would have been amused by this or not. =p
And you've probably heard of how superconducting materials can levitate magnets pretty nicely over their usually liquid-nitrogen-cooled surfaces, but have you seen what happens when you put a superconducting material over a bed of magnets? What you get is apparently called "quantum levitation," which has been known since the 30's, but darned if I've seen a demonstration like this before. It's...pretty amazing, but don't take my word for it, just check out the video:
There's a lot of "it locks the magnetic field in place" talk in the video which doesn't sound very well explained to me, but the Wikipedia article is also rather rough going for the layman; something to do with the magnetic field ending up surrounding the superconducting material rather than going through it, and apparently we don't have a complete scientific theory for explaining the whole thing yet. Anyway the important thing is that it looks really cool.
Correction: it appears the demonstrated phenomenon was "flux pinning," not quantum levitation. See the next day's news post for an excellent explanation of both.
I had a bit of a brainwave this evening; it's probably just born of fever dreams from the usual end-of-the-week exhaustion, but I'm anxious to know what you think about this: the option to get giant-sized, ad-free A* comics for a yearly subscription fee. How giant-sized, you ask? Well, I hope you have at least a 1080p monitor, because...you would need one to see the whole thing. Here's a shrunk-down size comparison:
And if you were too lazy to click on that, here's a little slice of the full thing that barely fits in the news column:
I mean jeez look at that, it's crazy--you can see all the little watery ridges and stuff in the paper, even. Look how tiny it makes the site menu look! =o
Actually here's a better sample slice--Selenis from today's page, at the proposed subscriber GIANT SIZE:
So, would a year's worth of those, and no ads, be worth, say, $25 to you? 'Cause I was messing around with some old scripts I just happen to have laying around this evening and I could basically start offering this service like RIGHT NOW. I mean, obviously not right now now, but, like, next week, if I wanted. The giant-size comics would start with page 136 of this episode, since that's where I start to have really high resolution scans that still look really sharp at that GIANT SIZE. Regularly sized comics would still, of course, be available for everyone.
Horrible idea? Brilliant idea? I CAN'T TELL ANYMORE so please let me know what you think! And I should probably go get some sleep or something. =p
These last few pages have been an interesting experiment (in this one here I even started from the blank page with light washes, gradually going to darker ones, and then just barely a touch a pure black ink at the end), but as you can probably guess, right after this moment the light goes out, and I can get back to nice zippy blackness. I think with going *all* gray washes, I lose the snap of the drawing--it really does get a bit washed out. So I think maybe you'll see me using them more as solid fills (like I did in the first one, 136) and maybe I'll be able to bring in stand-alone washes in areas where I'm more comfortable with them. But anyway yeah back to black, whew!
Which reminds me: thanks to everyone who's been giving me feedback on this change from digital to traditional art on the comic! I've been getting a *lot* more feedback than I usually do since the switch, and it's pretty much all been really positive and encouraging, and I really really appreciate it--and it's driving me to try to learn and get better at it with each page.
Speaking of which, I did another black and white photo-based portrait for a reader today! I also had to raise the prices on these a little ($10 now! =o) 'cause I've been completely unable to resist spending waaaaay more time on them than I'd originally intended. But see, how could you *not* spend the time necessary to capture an expression like this one:
Scanning the pages at 1200 dpi is resulting in source image files that are over 100 MB each, even when zipped with maximum compression. If I ever do get back to doing two pages a day that could be about 4 GB of source image files per month--that could kind of add up! I mean heck over time that's gonna be a lot of burned backup DVDs, even. And what if my ancient, tinder-dry apartment burns down, etc. So today I signed up for Amazon S3 ("Amazon Simple Storage Service"), which lets me upload bajillions of bits of data to what is supposedly pretty secure backup storage on Amazon servers, and for a pretty reasonable monthly fee. Zipped up, all my comic stuff so far has come to about nine gigabytes, and...looks like I've got about five gigabytes of that still to go in this long initial upload. But at least when Seattle is wiped off the map in the coffee wars, my ridiculously high resolution scans will still be safe (uh assuming part of Amazon's "redundancy" in their S3 storage includes backup servers *not* in the Seattle area =o).
Tried to get the brushwork a little livelier today, and to use the whiteness of the paper more effectively. Still feeling a bit clumsy at this new medium, so thanks for bearing with me--it will gradually get somewhat better.
I accidentally wrote an extra news post last week! An incredibly image-heavy one! I saved it up because I knew it would come in handy, and here it is:
One thing it's easy to forget in looking at space photos like the ones I posted a week ago of Centaurus A is that those things in the background that look like little stars (and they'd be much closer than the galaxy, since they'd be in our own Milky Way, just in the way--if you will--of the view of the galaxy from Earth) are often entire galaxies themselves. For instance, I was looking at this pretty picture of the Spindle Galaxy
which is a lenticular galaxy seen edge-on from Earth (lots of dust in it!), and I noticed I could see some background galaxies around it, particularly in the upper-right corner. So I looked at the full-size version you can download from the source page, and...man! Lookit all the galaxies you can see just around that bright foreground star in that upper-right corner (I've rotated this 90 degrees counter-clockwise to fit it in the news column :p):
Of course, there's the famous Hubble Deep Field image from 1996, where the space telescope looked at a small area of the sky ("an area 2.5 arcminutes across, two parts in a million of the whole sky, which is equivalent in angular size to a 65 mm tennis ball at a distance of 100 metres") for ten days to get a really deep exposure of nearly 3000 galaxies packed into that tiny sliver of sky:
And then it went even "deeper"--for fainter and fainter light, from farther and farther away--in 2003-2004 with the eleven-day-total exposure of "11.0 square arcminutes" ... "just one-seventieth the solid angle subtended by the full moon as viewed from Earth, smaller than a 1 mm-by-1 mm square of paper held 1 meter away, and equal to roughly one thirteen-millionth of the total area of the sky" known as the Hubble Ultra-Deep Field:
Well I took care of my largest commission yet (a double portrait!) today (that I can't show you :P), and then I spent way too much time formulating and playing with ink washes. I've got a little blackish rainbow of them now in five spice bottles...which I don't think have absolutely watertight lids. So I'm well on my way to having everything in my apartment slightly ink stained, which I think will be fun, or at least inevitable. And I had trouble deciding on how dark to go on this page with the washes, so eh well I think I learned a thing or two in the process; I wanted to try going lighter on the black lines, which I thought were a bit too heavy-handed in the page I did yesterday.
So I don't have much else to show you, but I did come across a couple interesting sciencey articles the other day sort of related to A* type of issues:
- Titanium treasure found on Moon talks about scientists having found--through study of Moon rocks brought back by the Apollo 17 astronauts in 1972, and through Hubble photos of their landing site--that certain ore deposits on the Moon have ten times the titanium content of similar ores on Earth. Titanium being somewhat valuable, this suggests a potential lunar industry.
- Paralyzed man moves robot arm with his mind tells us about a guy in a research study at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center who, though physically paralyzed himself, has learned to control a robot arm to a certain extent by thinking about it; a chip planted on the surface of his brain reads the brain's activity and is apparently able to discern which parts of that activity are about moving the arm. This has of course been done for decades with primates of various sorts, but this implanted chip thing seems relatively non-invasive, so perhaps this represents something of a refinement.
Today's page is the first one done in ink wash rather than the ol' Photoshop "Lasso Tool." I feared it would be a disaster but I at least didn't spill ink everywhere, so that's a plus. I had it done hours ago but then I had to reprogram the comic display scripts to display .jpg files (heretofore all the comic images were all .png files), and--as usual with me and scripting--it took a while because I always overlook something. :P So I did break the front page one or two times there, but it's all sorted out now (or at least it will be if this news article posts correctly >_>), so huzzah!
Rather fortuitously, the little drawing table my very kind parents had gotten for me and this crazy painting venture (last time I painted was like 15 years ago with oil paints in college) arrived late last week, and I got it put together today just in time to start real painting work--although the assembly was a bit trickier than I had figured it would be, as the top came separate from the legs, and there were no screw holes or anything in the top to attach it to the legs--AND the manufacturer's measurements on where to make the holes were off by about a quarter inch. I mean why don't I just go and saw down some trees and do it all myself, manufacturer? Oh yeah AND some of their screws were defective; fortunately they included some extra ones, I suppose because they have a high defect rate. :P
Anyway I eventually got it set up and only gored myself with my pocket knife's awl punch about twice in the process--didn't even draw blood! Sweet. It's a "Berkeley" folding drawing table by Martin Universal Design (it came from here, although the legs ended up being white rather than black, hmm), and I chose it because it was the only one that went high enough for a standing drawing table--up to 53", whereas the others I could find only went up to like 46" or so max. The other rather handy thing about it for my work space is that it's relatively tiny for a drawing/drafting table (3"x2"), and fairly light, and can be folded up and moved for um like when I need to do something else in my little studio apartment. Here it was with the page drying on it--you'll notice other details of my apartment around it which you will not of course be at all interested in:
(That "Pink Pearl" eraser is just there to hold my ink bottle in place on the slightly sloped table top--I wouldn't actually try to erase something with one of those, bleh!)
(Oh yeah and I'm now using Strathmore's "Vellum"-surface Bristol board for the painting; the painting I showed Friday was on their "Smooth"-surfaced Bristol, but the ink kinda washed around it too much and couldn't pile up into the blackest of blacks like I really wanted; "Vellum" on the other hand is a bit rougher and gets the blackness down nicely! The packaging says it's for "dry media," but the ink seems to like it all the same, and the brush can bite into the surface better, giving some dry brush effects and so forth that I couldn't get on the other surface. It's very slightly less blindingly white than the "Smooth" is, lending everything a slightly darker tone, which I suppose is appropriate; it also means I can use my white ink for highlights, but not as easily for corrections, so hm well this will be interesting.)
The table seemed a bit rickety when I set it up but for the first page at least it has performed like a champ. Hopefully it and my puny apartment last for many more pages!
The next thing I gotta work on is getting some store stuff going so whoever is crazy enough to want to have one of these lovely paintings for themselves can buy one right through the site. Hopefully I can get that done in the next eh two or three days, so then I can get on to other things like maybe even eventually doing more than just one darn page a day. =P
- Don't use your nice flexible sable brush to dot on the stars--it bends too much and the dots squidge around (Glen^5 and I have been discussing some other possible star-painting methods on the forum)
- Double-check the proportions of the pencil sketch, *before* you start laying down ink--can't just cut and move things around afterwards like you can digitally (*cough* her right arm *cough*...EDIT: although now that I look at the scanned version, maybe it wasn't all that far off actually) ((Well, okay so I'm scanning them into the computer so technically I *could* move them around afterward in Photoshop...would prefer to avoid that, though)
- "Smooth" paper (used here) doesn't seem to load up with as much ink as rougher paper, so the blacks don't come out quite as black--they're a bit more washy and uneven (gotta head back to the art supply store again to get the rougher "medium" Bristol, and maybe a few other odds and ends--oh like more white ink to paint stars, and cover my boo-boos)
- I get a much cleaner scan when I really weigh down the heavy (100 lb) paper (ie stacking stuff on top of it, like more paper, books, and a nice plank of wood :p), since it has "cockled" up a bit from the ink wash and isn't quite perfectly flat when left to its own devices
This was meant as something of a "dress rehearsal" for the start of the actual painted comic run on Monday, so I used the 11" x 17" smooth, acid-free (etc) Bristol paper I got for that, cut a little template frame from one of the paper pack backing boards to draw out my page drawing area (16" x 6.75"; the final area used in the actual comic page will be slightly less than that, 15.93" x 6.67", which in the 1200 dpi I use for scanning works out to 19120 x 8000 pixels, exactly 20 times the size of the final comic image (956 x 400)) on it, which you can see marked around it in pencil, particularly at the top, and composed a drawing in that framework, although I turned it sideways for a vertical piece. So if we pretended this was going to be an actual comic page, cropped and rotated and sized and all it would look like this:
So we'll see how this goes! It'll still be a bit rough at first as I'm still learning the many ins and outs of this ink painting business, but I'm pretty excited about it as I think it looks about at least as good already as what I've been drawing digitally with the Lasso Tool in Photoshop, AND it's just pretty fun to be playing with paint brushes again, not really having done it since my oil painting college days fifteen (egad!) years ago.
In some ways it's faster than working digitally since I can't just futz with an image ad infinitum; so I hope to be able to get up to two pages painted a day, once I'm up to speed. I don't see that happening next week, both because I'll probably still be a bit slow with it, and because I'll have other things to get worked out on the site to support this change, like, well, making the comic display script support jpgs, for one. :o I'll probably just make it mostly image-format-agnostic--less efficient, but more future-proof. :P
And then I gotta get a shopping script going so you'll actually be able to buy one of the original paintings, should you see one you think would go particularly well with your decor. They'll be pretty affordable because I want them to find homes! :)
And this one here will be for sale too, since it's actually on the archival-quality paper, whereas the previous ones were just on my old (OLD) and already slightly yellowed college sketch pad. Oh yeah and since this one ended up having a pretty decent and very vertical image of Selenis, I can turn that into a skyscraper banner and refresh my ad campaigns--gotta start showing off the new look! :)
I hope you guys will like it--if you don't, PLEASE let me know! :o Again, it will be a bit rough at first as I'm still getting the ink wash thing down, but bear with me for a bit and I think not too long from now it'll be looking pretty darn decent.
As it happens, I think this is also a pretty good spot in the story for this switch, as the rest of this episode will be decidedly dark and inky. :o
Yes, for some reason I painted a five-legged robot! That is the kind of silly thing I get up to when just drawing random things for practice, I guess. =p
Speaking of silly things, someone on an online forum asked me today how I pronounce "smbhax" (this site's short URL, which I use as my handle at various places online), and I had to confess that I pronounce it "simba hacks"; although I don't know if I had ever actually said it aloud before last week, when without thinking about it I dropped "simba hacks" in a work-related conversation with some friends, to their great amusement.
One of them also pointed out that "Simba" was the name of the young lion in Disney's "The Lion King" animated movie of 1994, which caused me some consternation because I'd always had an image of an elephant flash through my mind at the sound of the name, although I *have* seen "The Lion King." Googling for an elephantine Simba came up with this message thread, in which someone managed to find a link with a movie quote revealing that "Simba" was the name of Tarzan's elephant friend in the Tarzan movies starring Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan in the 1940's. Weissmuller was quite the strapping fellow (I couldn't find a photo of the elephant :P):
I've probably seen snippets of one or two of those at some point, although I wonder if I didn't get it rather from some reference to them on an old TV show or something.
More factoids! "Simba" actually does mean "lion" in Swahili; why it was given to an elephant in the 1940's Tarzan movies, well, an informed poster on that thread hazards a guess:
Edgar Rice Burroughs created an ape-language for the books, in which "lion" was "numa" and "elephant" was "tantor." Apparently the screenwriters changed these words to either Swahili (sometimes with no relation to the real meaning) or to gibberish because of copyright issues.
I *do* remember "numa" and "tantor," come to think of it, as I read those ERB Tarzan books a decade or two ago--along with some of his other fun adventure series, like the "Barsoom" series (adventures of "gentleman of Virginia" John Carter on Mars), and the hollow, primeval-Earth land "Pellucidar" series. Good stuff!
In an interesting coincidence, for much of this week while drawing A* I've been listening to the first Barsoom novel, "A Princess of Mars," as a free audiobook. In fact I'm really excited about having found that site--booksshouldbefree.com--as a whole, and plan to pillage its free treasures to keep my ears occupied during cartooning hours for the foreseeable future.
Yay! I'd planned to go directly into the more literary stuff I guess, but then I noticed they have a conveniently organized science fiction section, and could not resist first sampling its more sugary delights. The only drawback of free audiobooks, I guess, is that some of them aren't the best recordings (the reader of "Princess of Mars" is a little flat, but does well enough)--a distressing number of them have very prominent hisses and clicks in the audio. Audiobook readers! Please make sure you have a good recording setup before you record your reading of a classic book for all posterity! Now we're stuck with a hissy rendition of "The Gods of Mars." ;_; Well I refuse to listen to hissy stuff so I'll just be going through the site's archive a little faster than I'd hoped, I suppose. :P Still there are enough quality recordings there to keep me occupied for many pages of A*, I think. :)
Another coincidence: Disney is putting out a live-action movie adaptation of "Princess of Mars" next year (May 9, 2012), called simply John Carter. It's directed by Andrew Stanton, who also directed Disney's "Finding Nemo" and "WALL-E," which I have heard people liked, so that might be promising...although Burroughs' novels aren't exactly standard cartoon fare, being rather bloody affairs--and on his Mars, nobody wears any clothes :o. I'm guessing there will be some changes from the book. :P
Rather interestingly, although "A Princess of Mars" came out as a serial in 1912, and a book in 1917, it's never been made into a film. There have been a number of fairly advanced attempts, including an animated one by Looney Tunes director Bob Clampett in the '30s, which would have been the first American full-length animated film, a Disney project in the '80s whose cast was going to include Tom Cruise, and an attempt by Paramount around 2003-2004 that didn't quite get off the ground.
Kind of a Rosie the Riveter thing there! It was actually kind of a costume study for a hairdo I'm thinking of having Selenis sport around the end of episode...uh...15. I'm not sure why that went with a rather muscular neck, but hey! Anyway, it's definitely a ton of fun to do glossy black hair with ink and brush, so maybe I'll have to have her keep that look for a while. >_>
Well I did not listen to my own warning, and promptly came across more neat space science stuff on the internet that I can't resist talking about. Dang!
This was because after yesterday's stuff about radio telescopes, I was thinking to myself "doesn't NASA have a particular big radio telescope" which was silly because they don't, particularly. But that silly search of NASA's site yielded an interesting supermassive black hole article! It describes how back in May of this year, radio telescopes captured the best-ever (at the time, anyway) image of jets coming off the magnetic poles of a supermassive black hole.
The galaxy thus captured was Centaurus A, the fifth brightest galaxy in the sky, and, at 10-16 million light years distant (the precise distance being the subject of much debate, probably due to its peculiar appearance preventing it from being easily compared with other galaxies), one of the closest radio galaxies--galaxies emitting a lot of radio activity--to Earth. Like Arp 220, the nearest "ultraluminous infrared galaxy" (many fewer of these, though; Arp 220 is 250 million light years away), Centaurus A is thought to be the result of a rather violent merger of multiple galaxies; this coming together of material from two galaxies (and another several hundred million years earlier) may have sparked the active galactic nucleus around its central supermassive black hole, which is shooting off two jets of material at *half the speed of light*, extending outward for over a million light years.
Here's that best-ever radio image of Centaurus A's jets:
image by (left) Capella Observatory (optical), with radio data from Ilana Feain, Tim Cornwell, and Ron Ekers (CSIRO/ATNF), R. Morganti (ASTRON), and N. Junkes (MPIfR), (right) NASA/TANAMI/Müller et al. (source)
The left image shows the huge radio-emitting clouds shot out by the jets to a distance of 1,000,000 light years around the galaxy, which is shown in visible light. The right image is the detailed radio image of the jets, with the implied supermassive black hole pointed out between them ("radio-emitting features as small as 15 light-days can be seen, making this the highest-resolution view of galactic jets ever made"). Thar she blows! If we could see those jets with our own eyes, Centaurus A would look "nearly 20 times the apparent size of a full moon" in our night sky!
That detailed image of the jets was picked up by the TANAMI array ("Tracking Active Galactic Nuclei with Austral Milliarcsecond Interferometry" :o), a group of nine radio telescopes on four continents, centered around Australia, and coordinated by computer interferometry into one really big radio telescope, much like what is now being done on a much larger scale with that new ALMA array in Chile, although the individual TANAMI scopes are mostly much larger than the eventually sixty-six 12 and 7 meter scopes of ALMA.
The largest radio telescope in the TANAMI project is the whopping 70 meter scope at the Canberra Deep Space Tracking Station in Australia, the only NASA Deep Space Network site in the southern hemisphere, the other two DSN complexes being the Madrid Deep Space Communication Complex in Spain, and the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex in the Mojave Desert in California; the primary mission of these stations is to provide communication with spacecraft, but their secondary purpose is to probe the cosmos with their huge radio telescopes--each one has a 70 meter dish, and a number of smaller ones (20-30m) as well. Here's a view of the Canberra site, with the 70 meter telescope pointed directly upward in the middle:
A rather fascinating view of the center in near-infrared, which cuts through the dust lane to reveal "the parallelogram-shaped remains of a smaller galaxy that was gulped down about 200 to 700 million years ago":
Brush and ink practice--my first real brush and ink painting, in fact:
It's a preliminary version of a prospective guest art (you're probably not really supposed to show these at least until the other comic has them up, but hey then I wouldn't have much to put up today, so oh well hopefully they won't be too mad) for the webcomic Girls in Space, a whimsical, colorful science fiction romp starring a pack of feisty young women...in space. Quite colorful and worth checking out!
My attempt in no way does it justice...in fact it's quite an awful painting really, with terribly crude handling of the brush, backwards technique, and boo-boos everywhere, but believe it or not, it's miles better than my previous brush and ink attempts from a week ago, which were so reprehensible I couldn't show them to you at all. :o
That relative success is due in large part to having upgraded my materials; whereas before I was trying to work with synthetic brushes (da Vinci "Cosmotop Spin") and eh sorta regular ink ("Speedball"), this time I had on my side a da Vinci "Maestro" brush (size 3!) and Japanese "Sumi" ink; the Maestro, made by hand like this in Germany, totally blows away the synthetic brushes in terms of flexibility and precision, and the "Sumi" ink is just way blacker and easier to spread than the other stuff I tried--nice neutral grays when you use it in a dilute ink wash, too.
What also saved my bacon was liberal application of Dr. Ph. Martin's Bleed Proof White, which is essentially the "White Out" of the ink world, I guess. It was also a lot whiter than the old sketch pad paper I'm using for these practice attempts, so actually it maked for a pretty good all-around highlight, in addition to erasing some of my more glaring boo-boos. ... I'm gonna need to get a bunch more bottles of this stuff. It's fun to do stars with it, for instance!
Well yet again I accidentally stumbled across a bunch of neat science stuff today; still wanna get another ink practice piece in tonight so let's see how fast I can run these down:
- Seven supernovas exploded in the last 60 years (say that five times fast!) in galaxy Arp 220, in which two galaxies are actually colliding; this somewhat violent coming-together touches off a lot of starbirth--and death--activity as material from both galaxies comes together to form sudden high-density regions. All this activity has made it the nearest (at 250 million light years away) "ultraluminous infrared galaxy"--most of the energy reaching us is in the form of infrared light. Anyway, seven near-simultaneous supernovae in a galaxy is apparently a new record; it is estimated that a supernova occurs about every 25 years in Arp 220, whereas in the Milky Way for instance we only get one about every 100 years.
- I've posted a bunch before about Saturn's cool moon Enceladus and its ice geysers. The Cassini probe has continued to study these amazing phenomena, and found that not only do the ice crystals they emit rain down on Saturn, but they also coat Enceladus in a thick layer of snow--up to 300 feet deep in spots! I guess maybe that's what we can see in this cropped-to-fit-the-news-page version of one of those Enceladus images I posted before:
- The Atacama Large Millimeter Array, an international radio telescope installation being built in the high Chilean desert, has just begun to come online; although only about a third of its planned 66 7-and-12-inch radio telescopes are up and running now, it's already a world-class radio telescope by current standards. Radio telescopes read wavelengths that are much longer than those read even by infrared telescopes, so not only can they see really really old light from near the beginning of the universe--this light having been stretched to radio wavelengths by the subsequent expansion of the universe--they can also see right through fields of thick gas and dust that might block the vision of other telescopes; longer wavelengths are less likely to be blocked by such impediments because their "waves" vibrate back and forth less frequently on their journey, and are thus less likely to strike an obstacle like a gas molecular or dust particle (this is also why sunsets are red: the shortest, liveliest visible wavelengths are blue, so blue light from the Sun gets blocked more by the atmosphere--hits more stuff in the air--than red light from the Sun, so the Sun appears reddish when seen through a lot of atmosphere as it nears the horizon).
The array of linked radio telescopes, which will use computer coordination to work together to as one (or multiple, I guess, if they split up for separate tasks) massive telescope, will eventually cover a 16-km swath of the high desert! Here's a view of nineteen of the telescopes in place:
image by ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/W. Garnier (ALMA) (source)
When complete ("by 2013"), it will be far and away the most powerful radio telescope on Earth, with a "spatial resolution of 10 milliarcseconds, 10 times better than the Very Large Array (VLA) and 5 times better than the Hubble Space Telescope." Radio telescope images tend to be kind of blobby rather than sharp and precise like visible light telescope images, but still, they can be very useful, and can be composited with light from visible and other wavelengths to reveal large-scale structures not otherwise apparent; that last photo of galaxy M84 that I posted yesterday, for instance, showed radio data from the VLA in red, illustrating giant lobes of hot gas shooting out from the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center.
Speaking of supermassive black holes, the official ALMA press release (which has some typos that I'm trying to avoid) indicates that our galaxy's own supermassive black hole Sgr A* will be the subject of intense study by the giant telescope:
26,000 light years from us in the center of our galaxy, sits Sagittarius A*, a supermassive black hole four million times the mass of our Sun. Gas and dust between it and us hide it from our optical telescopes. However, ALMA is tuned to see through the galactic murk and give us tantalizing views of Sgr A*.
Heino Falcke, an astronomer at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, said, “ALMA will let us watch flares of light coming from around this supermassive black hole, and make images of the gas clouds caught by its immense pull. This will let us study this monster’s messy feeding habits. We think that some of the gas may be escaping its grip, at close to the speed of light.”
EDIT: I should mention that you can see the initial releases of ALMA radio images--of star-forming regions in the Antennae galaxies, superimposed on Hubble visible data--in that same press release. Here's one of the sharper ones, for instance.
- And then there's radium! I was looking up the element radium for a reason that I may tell you about later (>_>), and there's some interesting stuff in the history of its discovery and use! Radium is over a million times more radioactive than the element from whose decay it is obtained--uranium--and its hazardous nature was realized pretty early on; for instance, in 1900, two years after its discovery (by the Curies), famed French physicist (oops, there's another tongue-twister) Antoine Becquerel got an ulcer on the skin next to his waistcoat pocket after carrying a small ampule of radium in it for six hours. Yes Antoine, maybe you shouldn't do that! Radium takes most of the blame for Marie Curie's eventual death, too--she also observed getting an ulcer from it after carrying a sample around all day.
Still that didn't keep early industry from using radium in all kinds of things. Right up into the 60's in fact it was used for glow-in-the-dark watch dials; and in the 20's a lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Radium Girls--a group of watch painters working for the U.S. Radium Corporation, whose daily task was painting those little glowing dots on watch dials with radium paint
image from Revised Work Plan, Volume 1 of 2, U.S. Radium Site, City of Orange, Essex County, New Jersey (source)
They were encouraged to keep their paint brushes nice and sharp (I'm using The Masters Brush Cleaner and Preserver for a similar purpose!) with their lips and tongues, and had fun by using the radium paint on their own faces to make glow-in-the-dark masks. :o This of course led to very bad medical complications such as radium jaw and, in some cases, death, although the exact number of deaths caused to the Girls isn't known; defending lawyers for the corporation blamed the Girls' illnesses on syphilis, implying thereby of course that they were scandalously loose women.
Radium is particularly nasty when it gets in the human body, because our body treats it like calcium (a lighter element in the same column of the periodic table), sending it to right to our bones, where its radiation can degrade bone marrow and mutate the cells. (And horrifyingly, early on it was used "in products such as toothpaste, hair creams, and even food items due to its supposed curative powers"!)
Fortunately, justice somewhat prevailed, and the five Girls who had filed the suit eventually won "$10,000 (the equivalent of $128,000 in 2010 dollars) and a $600 per year annuity while they lived, and all medical and legal expenses incurred." The case was also remarkable in that it was widely covered by the media; it led to a much greater public awareness of the dangers of radioactive materials, and "the right of individual workers to sue for damages from corporations due to labor abuse was established as a result of the Radium Girls case."
- Radium was also a key tool in the famed Rutherford experiment that led to the discovery of the atomic nucleus! In this 1909 experiment at the University of Manchester, alpha particles (consisting of two protons and two neutrons, just like a helium nucleus) radiated by radium were aimed at a thin gold foil surrounded by a circular sheet of zinc sulfide, which lights up when struck by an alpha particle; the idea was to measure the deflection of the radiation after it hit the gold foil.
According to the prevailing "plum pudding" atomic theory of the day, the radiation should have more or less gone straight through the foil, whose gold atoms were thought to consist of negatively charged electrons floating in a sea of positive charge. But quite to the contrary, the detection sheet showed that while most of the radiation went through, some of it deflected off at wide angles, even close to 180 degrees--right back at the radium source! Rutherford said of it
It was quite the most incredible event that has ever happened to me in my life. It was almost as incredible as if you fired a 15-inch shell at a piece of tissue paper and it came back and hit you. On consideration, I realized that this scattering backward must be the result of a single collision, and when I made calculations I saw that it was impossible to get anything of that order of magnitude unless you took a system in which the greater part of the mass of the atom was concentrated in a minute nucleus. It was then that I had the idea of an atom with a minute massive center, carrying a charge.
Man, that took a while. I've got to stop reading the internet!
I gotta go practice my ink work but I came across a supermassive science thing accidentally over the weekend so I'm gonna try to do that fast. Go!
The zig-zag shape of this 1997 Hubble spectrograph of the core of galaxy Messier 84
image by NASA, Gary Bower, Richard Green (NOAO), the STIS Instrument Definition Team (source)
told scientists that the hot radiating gas at the galaxy's center was whipping around at 880,000 miles per hour within 26 light years of the core, and doing the math on that showed that there must be about 300 million solar masses at the center of it--a really big supermassive black hole (supermassive black hole Sgr A* at the center of the Milky Way is "only" 4 million solar masses).
Galaxy M84 is a lenticular galaxy, and I've talked about those fuzzy kinds of spiral galaxies before. Without clearly defined spiral arms, they can look a little boring (although I have some nice ones under that last link), and M84 isn't really an exception; here is it in visible light by Hubble:
On the other hand, if you look at it in other bandwidths, as done here with X-ray data from Chandra in blue and radio data from the Very Large Array in red (in front of a background seen in visible light by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey), it gets a little more interesting:
image by: X-ray (NASA/CXC/MPE/A.Finoguenov et al.); Radio (NSF/NRAO/VLA/ESO/R.A.Laing et al); Optical (SDSS) (source)
In those wavelengths you can see huge lobes of hot gas being pushed out of the galaxy by the two jets coming off the poles of that big supermassive black hole at the center!
Thanks to everyone who has been nice to me as a newbie on Google+! It's been fun and I've already found some neat stuff other people have posted, like this post linking to a cool scanned article from 1936 about raising the WWI German fleet from the bottom of Scapa Flow, where they had scuttled themselves after surrendering. And then there's...uh...hm okay well I can't link to the post for some reason (I've noticed some UI rough edges like that around G+ so far, like for instance the rather important "Notifications" display seems a bit fiddly), but anyway I was talking with the author of megaTexas about the grays he used in his comic, which show an impressive variety and depth! I thought maybe he might have used something like watercolor or ink wash for them, but nope, it was all Photoshop. Shows what I know!
China just launched the first section of what will eventually be their own space station. This Chinese station, which apparently will be fully assembled by about 2020, will weigh in at about 60 tons, which is pretty tiny compared to the International Space Station's (expected to be in operation through 2028) 495 tons, but it still sounds pretty hefty to me. You can probably do tons of cool stuff with a 60 ton station!
I said yesterday that I'm thinking of / planning to switch to doing A* comics in traditional media--pencil, brush pen, ink wash--rather than on the computer, and that today I'd explain why, so here goes!
The first reason is health: if you do it in traditional media, you aren't stuck in front of the computer all day! I think various bits of me, like my wrist, back, and eyes, will appreciate that in the long run. I'll have a nice little drafting table (which my very supportive parents offered to get for me months and months ago, since they were worried about the standing desk arrangement I was switching to; I hadn't planned to take them up on it, but for traditional media work, such a table would be super!), so I can work at a nice incline, and have solid elbow support, which is pretty nearly impossible to have with a drawing tablet, since the top of the tablet isn't level with the rest of your desk. But I'll also just be able to, say, work on the other side of my tiny apartment one day if I feel like it. Scenery!
The second reason is filthy lucre! If you do your comic in traditional media, you can sell that original physical version--once you've scanned it in--and people seem to like getting these types of things because they're lovely one-of-a-kind pieces of art. And in fact a local gallery my dad (and self-appointed business manager) was hitting up to display my stuff was interested, but wanted something a little more unique to display than prints, and I bet they and other similar-thinking galleries would be much more interested if I had physical original artwork they could display. Anyway the main thing though would be that I could sell the 11x17" original painting for each A* page to whoever really liked it, and that could really help pay the bills! And I've heard of other webcomics that get a good chunk of their income from selling their original art, for instance Dave Kellett's Sheldon (and I'm planning to kinda copy some of the things he does with his art-selling interface, but I'm gonna have to figure out how to interface with PayPal's payment notification protocol so that I can mark an original that sells as sold so my site won't try to sell someone else the same unique item :o--but it looks complicated :ooo).
And those were my original two reasons, but a third I've been thinking of since doing some practice with brush pens and ink wash is that I think--if I get decently good at using these media--that I'll eventually be able to make pages that look nicer than what I've been doing on the computer; I'm not sure why, but there's something about the organic look of real natural media work that is awfully appealing. Maybe we just like trees and rocks because we live (and have evolved to live) among them, and so we like things made from trees and rocks, too. And then there's a crazy complexity of unexpected detail and accident in natural media that you don't get in computer art, exactly. And you can kind of see the process the artist used to compose the piece in natural media, a lot of times, whereas in digital work people are pretty good at covering their tracks--and I always find it fascinating to be able to see parts of the process.
So anyway, I think it's worth a shot. It certainly doesn't prohibit me from doing pages on the computer, too, or going back to doing them all on the computer if this ink wash thing just, like, bombs. So I hope you'll bear with me while I get my fingers dirty for a bit! I know it'll be a little rough at first, but things will work out one way or another eventually.
At any rate, I won't be doing a real A* page that way for a while yet--at least a week or two. Gotta get in more practice and experimentation with the brushes and ink; hopefully I'll have some more attempts to scan in and show you next week (and hopefully they'll be gradually improving!).
Heyyy over the weekend, stop by and check out a new page of my fairy tale comic, "The Princess and the Giant," which will get its new page on Sunday, as usual. Here's a teaser/link to last week's Princess page: