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A* Episode 16 
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Discussion thread for episode 16, which starts today. Space gangsters! =o


Tue Feb 21, 2012 6:25 pm
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Hopefully the markers look a little more integrated in this kick-off of episode 16, rather than jumping out and saying "hey look, marker lines!" Like, this weekend's page for my Sunday fairy tale The Princess and the Giant was the first actual comic I drew after I got them, and I was all like "man everything is going to have cross-hatching TO t3h MAXZ!"

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Which, in retrospect, maybe have been a bit much (also all that hatching kind of killed my arm 8P). But I think I got a little of it out of my system. =p


Wed Feb 22, 2012 5:45 am
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Armed with my markers I decided on a rather elaborate approach to today's page, which was eh well a learning process. Here's the stage-by-stage:

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Where I ran into trouble that took a while to sort out in the end was in doing a light trace of pencil details with a small marker--this was basically one (loose) trace too many, and some of the details, particularly the mouth, were not preserved well, and lost their original emphasis.

I did the light tracing before erasing and then doing a full rendering because while these Copic Multiliner markers hold onto the paper under the pressure of erasing much better than, say, Faber Castell's "Pitt" markers--although not quite as well as the India ink I use with the brush--if you've been working the markers into the paper fairly heavily, while that won't tend to have torn into the surface in a visible way, it will have softened it to the point that going over it with an eraser can tear up little bits of it, resulting in a jagged or stippled appearance, which I wanted to avoid (I ran into that yesterday around the ringed planet in the middle distance).

What I'll have to do in the future though is make sure that, while keeping my hand light, if I make a pre-erasing trace with a marker, it's got to be an accurate and full-fledged one, not just a rough approximation; either that, or I just get used to working out major details at the marker stage, which...I don't think I'm good enough for yet. :P


Thu Feb 23, 2012 9:55 am
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Painting space backgrounds is a whole lot easier now that I'm off the computer; all those fancy Photoshop brushes and tutorials they're giving kids these days don't hold a candle to a little jar of white ink and fingertips, I tell ya.

Speaking of little jars of white ink, know who carries one of those around New York City to assist in sketching with his Rapidograph? Famed "underground" (that term isn't really used anymore but he's grandfathered in, I figure) comic creator R. Crumb, as probably everyone else already knew because you've seen that documentary about him that came out some years back, called "Crumb." Well I've never seen it, but here for instance in the trailer you can see him--for a split second, anyway--out there with Rapidograph and white ink. And in this collection of excerpts from the movie (I think?), you can see him using a brush, Rapidograph, and dip pen--the dude can draw with anything! (And his sketching style of short, slow, evenly weighted strokes certainly fits the Rapidograph to a T--I wonder if he developed that style before or after he got one of the things...probably before, I suppose.)



What's more impressive is that he's doing all that sketching (although most of his final comic work is done with brush and pen, I gather) with the American-made "Koh-I-Noor" Rapidographs, which unlike the German "Rotring"-brand one I got recently have to be cleaned every day and always clog and stuff, apparently; but he seems to enjoy complaining about it and telling stories about how he got ink all over himself cleaning it at first, like in this guardian.co.uk interview.

I used mine a bit in today's page--part of that blackish liney area on the right side of the ship--because I thought it might be handy in spots where I've got some white ink I want to blacken back over; you can't really do that with a brush because the inks will mix to a gray muddle, and yesterday when doing it with markers I kept screwing up the marker tips (temporarily--the white ink washes right off, even after it's dried) by getting white ink crusted over them. So the Rapidograph *sort* of worked there, although the ink doesn't really flow well on the uneven dried white ink surface, and in the end I had to finish the job with markers anyway.


Fri Feb 24, 2012 10:56 am
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A couple photos of the pencils for today's page--some intermediate step in which I wasn't satisfied with well mainly the size of that big mouth and jaw, and then the final pencils (and the hours in between the two--I don't even wanna think about how many times I tried to get a good look at a side view of my puckered lips in the mirror ;Ppp):

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One of my new Copic Multiliner markers went caput today! The 0.8 mm size wasn't putting out much ink when I held it in certain ways, and then it wasn't putting out much ink even from the top of the tip; then I tried some warm water and a gentle hand rub (I have no idea if those would help or not :P), but it was no good, the thing is totally dead now. Hadn't even had it a week--barely used! Hopefully this is some sort of fluke...or maybe the cap just wasn't fastened on all the way for the past few days or something? Egh. I've ordered another set, so I guess I'll have backups for the other sizes, and I guess really I'm only out about $2 for that one marker, but still, I hope the others tend to last a good deal longer! :o


Sat Feb 25, 2012 11:53 am
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Boy, these medium-range shots are really showing up my lack of a solid method for translating small detail from the pencil into ink. This time I stuck with the brush for the transfer, but again I just let it be loose and brushy, and again this did not preserve the facial detail correctly and I had to spend extra hours getting an approximation back in there. So anyhoo for a slightly alternate face, here are the pencils:

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I can *probably* do it with the brush if I just concentrate, although a pen might be easier--only the pens I have, Copic Multiliner Markers, don't hold up to the eraser all that well. But I also wasted more time--I was doing this a lot last week :P--on the internet today looking into a solution, and I did find something I hadn't expected. We shall see if it helps the process when it arrives here next week!

On a somewhat related note, The Pen Addict linked to my blog article on The Rapidograph pen and the Crown Jewels from a week or so ago. Thanks, Pen Addict! I'd actually been perusing a number of his pen reviews over the past week or so--they come up in Google quite a bit if you're looking for eh well good pens for drawing, I guess, although his angle is mostly hand writing--so it was both neat and surreal to find myself linked there. Yay, internet! (Also, I tried several different varieties of pens over the weekend, so there's another set of scribbles I gotta scan in to show you some time--the result was a bit surprising, actually--but then, I don't know much about pens. :p)

I do know one thing, though: a pen like this could potentially be the perfect thing--an inkjet pen! Man! Too bad it isn't actually a retail product I guess (the prototype also looks relatively unwieldy but I betcha they could work that out in production).

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This weekend was my very last Princess and the Giant comic; I hadn't exactly been planning to end the series, but it *was* meandering a bit after having completed the first major story arc, and in retrospect I think that was probably because I simply didn't have time to do a proper job of it anymore; and I knew I was going to have to take the next week off from it because I'm going to have jury duty Monday and Tuesday of next week (argh--I have been dreading this for over a year ;P) so I'll need this coming weekend to work ahead on A* so that hopefully I can go do my patriotic duty and still get A* pages going out uninterrupted. Thinking that over made me realize that I have been in a time crunch with it for the past oh however many months, I dunno...and I could really use that weekend time to work on things I need to work on and have been putting off for A*, like writing, managing advertising, site updates like the long-promised subscription system and original art buying system, and eh things like laundry and sleep.

So something had to go and I guess it had to be the Princess. :| Well, it was a fun and educational nearly three years of weekly fantasy comics. I'm down to just A* as a regular comic series now! Gosh. Here's the final Princess page, which like most of the recent ones was really just a sketch, since that was all I could squeeze out of the weekend:

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And dang if I couldn't even get those rushed eyes straight--trying to draw while exhausted and propped up on caffeine is *sometimes* not all that productive. Wait, what am I saying? 'Tis blasphemy, arr!


Tue Feb 28, 2012 6:05 am
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Watch JAXA flight engineer Satoshi Furukawa build a LEGO International Space Station...while aboard the International Space Station:



Looks like microgravity really helps when assembling delicate models--although in this case it was offset by having to construct it in separate sections in a smallish plastic bag; and apparently this was necessary because, aside from the possibility of losing pieces and having them floating all over the station, "exposing the LEGO bricks to the open cabin air was a flammability hazard." HUH. Sounds to me like the other astronauts were just jealous of Satoshi's mad LEGO skillz. Anyway there is more about this mystical feat over here.

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While launching my dear and ancient Photoshop 4.0 to start getting today's page into the computer, I accidentally pressed "Alt," and much to my surprise, this caused an alternate "About" box to appear (it was only there momentarily during startup, so it took me a while to figure out what the heck it was and what caused it):

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Big...Electric...Cat? Well, according to this page, that was the code name for Photoshop 4.0 during development, the cat's actual name is "Udo," Udo is Photoshop's "unofficial" mascot, and "her nickname is Becky (shorthand for Big Electric Cat), and she’s present in the easter egg about boxes for all the following versions." So maybe you can find her in your version, I dunno!

"Big Electric Cat" has also been the name of a sort of fan or employee or something band who have played at Photoshop get-togethers, but this is not to be confused with the real Australian "gothic" rock group by the same name, who were "inspired by Philip K. Dick's sci-fi novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and the future noir movie Blade Runner." (Tenuous) Sci-fi connection, yay!

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I find that sometimes--especially if I'm trying to draw a person head-on so they should in theory be pretty much perfectly symmetrical, like say here--my drawings will secretly be kinda slanted funny, only for some weird brain-tricky reason, I can't tell unless I view them in a mirror, where the off-kilterness is immediately obvious. I do wonder if this would only really be noticeable to people who are used to reading from right to left--thus I imagine my comic looks truly comical to Japanese readers. :/ Anyhoo I don't mean for the drawings to be slanted like that generally, so sometimes when I'm not sure, it helps to check 'em in a mirror before I'm done. Today's page wasn't a perfectly straight-on view, but I thought I'd check anyway; for that one I just linked above I was running back and forth between my drawing table and the bathroom mirror--I guess because I wanted the exercise or something--but the more convenient thing to do is to hold the drawing facing outward on my chest, and then hold my little hand-mirror (also useful for modeling expressions!) in front of that, which is basically what I tried to take a photo of here:

Image

No slanting problem there, whew!

^ Aside from being backwards, that's also a preliminary version of the pencils for this page. Oh the excitement!


Wed Feb 29, 2012 7:10 am
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Finally knuckled down and used the Copic Multiliner markers for laying lines directly over pencils--that's what I got them for, after all--and I'll be darned if it didn't actually work out pretty well. Huzzah!

~~~~~

IBM just announced that its researchers have developed "superconducting qubits which retain their quantum states up to 100 microseconds -- an improvement of two to four times prior records."

Now, if you're like me, you're saying "what the heck is a qubit?" Turns out it's the quantum mechanical version of a regular computing bit; where bits can be either 0 or 1, a qubit can be 0, 1, or...both simultaneously. Yay, quantum mechanics!

Now, what a qubit actually is, physically, is sort of left to the imagination, but I guess it's any sort of particle whose quantum states you can manipulate for your own ends; and then in addition to having...sort of...the capability of three states instead of the regular old two, you can actually get more functionality out of it in operations by taking advantage of quantum entanglement and teleportation; I've talked about those before, but basically it's a wacky quantum quirk of particles spawned from the same event (in which case they are "entangled"), where in order for conservation of energy to be preserved, they essentially have to share states--so if you alter the state of one of them, the other one, even far away, changes to match! So by playing with the possibilities of that, using tricks falling under the heading of superdense coding (sounds like the kind I do... :p), you can in effect get the computational power of *two* regular bits out of a single qubit.

Anyway, to make a real, functioning quantum computer, you need to have lots of these qubits obeying commands and persisting long enough to execute them and pass along a result. I'm guessing we're still a good long ways off having one of those that's actually better (and not 10 billionty times more expensive) than the computer you're using now, but hey, progress is being made--I just hope they don't call them "quputers" or something similarly awful :p. IBM doesn't talk about how close something that's actually useful is, of course; aside from news of the increased duration of state retention, their news release appears to have been mostly hype, throwing around silly statements like "For example, a single 250-qubit state contains more bits of information than there are atoms in the universe."

That caught my attention as something I could actually fasten on, rather than all that nutty quantum-think. So let's think about what it might mean. The observable universe--which is to say, the part of the universe we can hope to see, based on particles from it being able to reach us at the speed of light

Image
image by Azcolvin429 (source)

--is said to contain maybe 10^80 atoms (that's 10 to the 80th power, ie 1 followed by 80 zeros). Of course we can't see the rest of the universe, so who knows how many atoms or green munchkins it might have, but if it's more or less like the part we can see, and Guth's theory of cosmic inflation is correct, then the universe is "at least" 10^23 times bigger than the observable part, ie containing at least 10^103 atoms. Whew!

Now, I'm not entirely sure what "a single 250-qubit state" is supposed to mean, but maybe it means 250 qubits of data. How much is that? Well, if it was regular bits, it would be 2 (two states) to the 250th power, or about 1.8 * 10^75.

Dang, that isn't even the number of atoms in the observable universe, much less the universe! Ah, but if this was qubits, which have at least three states, then it would be 3 rather than 2 to the 250th power, or about 1.9 * 10^119 -- which is waaaaay more than the theoretical number of atoms in the universe.

So there you go, I guess.

Incidentally, that Wikipedia "observable universe" article I linked also has this interesting comment about the possible size of the universe:
Quote:
If the universe is finite but unbounded, it is also possible that the universe is smaller than the observable universe. In this case, what we take to be very distant galaxies may actually be duplicate images of nearby galaxies, formed by light that has circumnavigated the universe.

In which case, who need qubits? :P


Thu Mar 01, 2012 8:54 am
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Here's an intermediate stage in the inking process for this page:

Image

~~~~~

A friend of mine linked me to this:



Well... I always knew the end would come at the hands of robots, but now it's pretty clear those hands are actually going to be a Hitchcockian (except in a chillingly precise formation) swarm of merciless "quadrotors." (Heck if I'm going to stick the "nano" in there--"nano" is a prefix for "one-billionth," and while these thingies are tiny, they're nowhere close to being one-billionth the size of a regular helicopter (or even four regular helicopters) :p.)


Fri Mar 02, 2012 9:42 am
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Here's a relatively black and white stage in the inking of today's page. It's even got the pencils still in there:

Image

~~~~~~~

NASA acknowledged that they lost a laptop--now considered stolen--containing control codes for the International Space Station last March. :o But NASA says the station was never in jeopardy. And "the theft was alerted to Congress on Wednesday along with 5,408 computer security 'incidents' that resulted in unauthorized access to NASA systems or installation of malicious software in the past two years."

That does seem like a lot of "incidents." One of the other bad ones was this past November, when computers from somewhere in China gained access to most of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory networks. The agency says it is "in the process of implementing" better IT security procedures, such as encrypting mobile and laptop devices, "of which just one percent are currently encrypted."

Sounds like a good idea!

~~~~~~~~

I'm going to be working ahead on A* pages over the weekend, to cover me for when I'm out for jury duty on Monday and Tuesday of next week. So hopefully I'll have the pages for those days done in advance and they'll go up when they're supposed to go up and it'll be back to business as usual on Wednesday and you won't even have noticed I was lounging around the city courthouse for two days. :P

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Ooh and speaking of the future--as we do often around here, I suppose--I've also been working on tweaking the macros I use to process scanned A* pages for output on your computer screen, and the upshot is that you are right now enjoying the very subtle differences in these episode 16 pages (I went back and reprocessed the previous pages in the episode). What are the differences, you ask? Well...you probably can't really tell. But the "BIG" subscription preview HD versions of the pages are now a little smoother--I was over-sharpening them :/--yet with slightly better contrast, and the text in both regular and HD pages is a bit sharper. Exciting! Maybe next weekend I'll be able to go back and reprocess all the hand-drawn pages from previous episodes, too, so we'll be all nice and consistent at least as far as those go.


Sat Mar 03, 2012 11:05 am
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