Monthly Archives for January 2007
Check out IntelliAdmin.com: The 5 sins of Vista written by a Microsoft fan.
I haven’t tried Vista yet (and won’t bother unless I have to, because my hardware is too slow to run it adequately).
The one thing that might make me upgrade from XP is a less brain-dead file browser.
But the one-two punch of “Sin number 1″ (which made me laugh out loud) seems to indicate that in some respects, it is even worse.
It boggles my mind. See for yourself.Tweet
There Are No Design Leaders in the PC World is an interesting and thoughtful article, written by someone who can’t be suspected of being an Apple/Mac zealot.
It features snippets of interviews with Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs who talks about the role and importance of design, usability, and about the kind of people who work on Apple’s products, and who wouldn’t or couldn’t dream of unleashing products that were merely adequate on the paying public.
He laments that there are few, if any, examples of this attitude on the PC/Windows side of the fence.
But as the dozens and dozens of comments on this article illustrate, the obvious truth of the matter is that at best, most people don’t care about design, good or bad. At worst, they don’t like it. They resent it. Basically, to be crass, they think it’s “gay”.
This is true in the computer world, and in most other domains, be it in consumer electronics, cars, furniture, or clothing.
They don’t understand that design isn’t only how something looks, it’s how it works.
This attitude is much more pronounced in the US than it is in France (but we’re all gay in France anyway, right?). Then again, most everyday objects in the US, like cars and coffee-makers, look to me like they were carved in a slab of rock the day before.
Here’s a really cool and useful tip for Mac users that I stumbled upon recently while browsing through Apple’s support forums for the Safari Browser.
The free Camino browser, based on the Mozilla/FireFox browser, includes ad-blocking. Safari doesn’t. It turns out that Camino’s ad-blocking is handled by a .css file. You can actually use that .css file to block ads in Safari (Camino seems to block somewhat more ads than Safari, but still, it’s better than nothing).
Here’s what you do:
- If you don’t already have it, download Camino (it’s a good browser to have anyway).
- Control-click (or right-click) on the Camino application icon in the Finder, and chose “Show Package Contents” in the contextual menu.
- A new window opens that contains a single folder named “Contents”. Open this folder.
- Open the “Resources” folder, locate the file named “ad_blocking.css” and copy it (option-drag, or Command-C/Command-V) to a convenient location (say to your Documents folder).
- Open the Safari Preferences, go to Advanced, and click on the “Style Sheet” pop-up list.
- Choose “Other”, select the “ad_blocking.css” file you just copied to your Documents folder, and you’re done.
With your Safari preferences window still open, you can go to an ad-laden site, like the New York Times, and toggle the Style Sheet pop-up between the .css file and “None selected”. You’ll see the ads appear and disappear from the web page accordingly.
While I decided to draw Geeks in Love in the analog realm, on paper, with a brush and ink, it wasn’t out of some purist attitude. It just feels better than to draw with a graphics tablet, and the result is “warmer” for lack of a better expression.
Still, I wasn’t going to deprive myself of a little technological help.
Tag cloud is an obvious example.
So is On the clock. I drew just one image…
…without hands on the clock, copy and pasted it without shame or mercy, drew in the clock hands in a vector program (Fireworks), and then erased the characters in the noon image, which I reused in the 3pm image. The perfect copies reinforced the “gag”, so why not? I might have done the same thing with a photocopier if computers weren’t an option.
But let me give you a less obvious example.
When I started, I didn’t know whether I wanted to hand paint the boxes or draw them with a ruler. I didn’t know what tool I would use to do the bubbles and lettering either. So on episode 1, I didn’t ink the boxes or bubbles or text, and scanned the image without them.
Using a makeshift light table, I then hand painted the boxes and bubbles and text on a separate sheet, and scanned it in. I then composited the strip image and the box & bubble image in Photoshop and decided that was the look I wanted.
Notice that I made a typo in the first bubble, which I fixed in Photoshop using the H that was already there.
So for subsequent episodes, I just hand painted the boxes and bubbles and text directly on the strip.
I’ve done “worse” though. I drew two versions of episode 1. Both versions were quite different except for the third image, which was nearly identical. I preferred the second version of the strip by far, except that I messed up the third image a bit. So there again, I composited the best parts of both versions of that third image in Photoshop.
version 1 / version 2 / version 1+2
Why not? I had all I needed to get the result I wanted, and the techy solution was faster than to draw a third version.
Here’s a final example. This is what I originally drew in Tag Cloud.
While I like the eye, the style strays too far from the general look of the strip. So I redid it in Photoshop, by copying a hand-painted eye from another drawing, flipping it, stretching it, etc. until I had a satisfactory result (and while I was at it, I made the hairline recede a little more).
All in all, it’s very liberating to know that small mistakes can be fixed and small adjustments made in the digital realm, especially since real-life brushes can have a mind of their own, which introduces a certain amount of randomness and unpredictability at the inking stage, for better or worse.
The technology helps me get closer to my goal, with less hassle. Who could ask for anything more?Tweet
As I wrote in a poorly recorded and really grating song 20 years ago (“The Clean Room”, available on Vintage Vince, but you’ve been warned), the enemy really is dust.
My ole’ iMac G5 has always been loud under pressure. As soon as I would throw some demanding task at the poor thing, its three fans would rev up, and I just learned to live with that.
But about a month ago, once the CPU fan would rev up, it would never slow down again, no matter what.
The noise was driving me insane, and I kept shutting down the iMac, which was an inconvenient pain, because it works as the Wi-Fi gateway and router of the house. I had opened it up and blown some dust out, but nothing had changed.
A few days ago, in desperation, I opened it up once more, with the intention of calling Apple if I couldn’t figure out what was going on.
Looking at things more closely, I noticed something for the first time. There was a conduit that went from the G5 processor housing, to a fan housing, and up to a kind of chimney. Sure enough, by peeking into that chimney hole, I could catch a glimpse of the CPU fan. So this time, I blew into the chimney, and tons of dust poured out of the the grille at the opposite end of the computer. I kept blowing until no more dust was visible, and vacuumed though the hole for good measure.
Since this operation took place, the iMac has never broken a sweat, even under heavy load. Even better, it feels faster, probably because there are less wasted processor cycles due to overheating.
But what “amazes” me the most, is that the iMac has never been this consistently quiet, not even when I received it. It’s as if it was shipped from the factory with dust caked around the processor to keep it cosy during the trip from China to France.
That’s two years of mild to major aggravation, for nothing?
In case you’ve been living on a cave on Mars and haven’t heard about Apple’s announced iPhone, then I envy you.
I’m not a big gadget-junkie. I don’t own an iPod, or that much techy gear. My phone is an old Nokia (and my recent ramblings about its simple qualities seem more laughable than ever).
But I want this thing, and I want it bad, even though it is expensive (debatable for what it does), and even though I objectively have no real use for it. That’s how unbelievably great it is.
And what is so great about it? Well, the hardware is pretty sleek, but what sets this apart from just about anything you’ve ever seen, real or imagined, is the user interface. It is light years ahead of anything you’ve ever seen, even in the slickest of Sci-Fi movies.
And you have to see it in action. Still photos don’t do it justice:
- The little animated QuickTours on Apple’s iPhone pages will give you an idea.
- But I recommend you see it in the wild, like in this video in which Apple’s Phil Schiller demoes the iPhone on the Macworld show floor (for CBS news).
- And if you’re still hungry for more details, you can watch the 2 hour introduction by Steve Jobs at last Tuesday’s Macworld keynote.
Pam was making fun of my gearlust, until she actually sat through the keynote with me (what a geekette) and she now wants one as bad as I do.
You’ve been warned! It’s a good thing it won’t be available until the end of the year in Yurp. It’ll give us time to find an alternative to selling the kids’ toys or something.Tweet
The US, comic-strip, funnies, format or the more familiar and flexible European bandes dessinées (BD) format that I grew up with? I settled on the US comic strip style for several reasons. I had never worked in that format, and as a staunch believer that constraints are the mother of invention, I figured that working in this rigid and limited format would force me to get rid of any excess “fat” and focus on the essential.
Vous dessinez à la plume ou au pinceau ?
This is the cliched question, immortalized by Gotlib in the Rubrique-à-Brac, that all BD authors supposedly get asked. Do you draw with a pen or a brush? I had my pencil sketches. Now how would I ink them?
I don’t like using the plume (fountain pen?) and that scratchy feeling of the pen scraping the paper. I drew my last comics, 82 centuries ago, with a japanese brush and ink. I love the feeling of the brush on paper. It barely registers in the hand, and the result has a lively look. But brushes are also messy, they lose their bristles, they have to be cleaned, ink splashes around, ink bottles topple over…
Enter my 10-year-old daughter. Like me at her age, she spends most of her free time drawing, in her case amazing manga-style art. One day, she brought home a strange implement I had never seen before. A “brush pen”. Basically, it’s a felt pen, but the nib is shaped like a brush and is somewhat flexible. I tried it and instantly fell in love! It felt good on the page, and gave me a graphical look that delighted me, thanks to its ability to vary the thickness of the lines. Here’s an example of what I mean:
Unfortunately, the next day, using that same pen, which I had barely used the day before, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get those thickness variations. The pen was shot, despite my light touch. The result looked like it had been done with any old felt pen.
I didn’t want to be dependant on such an unreliable tool, so I reluctantly gave up on the Pitt, and figured I’d have to resort to a real brush.
Bristles, Buns and Ponytails
I went to the art supply store, and while I stood there, staring despairingly at the 457 different brushes on display, Pamela strolled through the store and stumbled on another brush pen, the Pentel brush pen. But this one was different. It was a cross between a real brush and a fountain pen. The tip is made of real bristles, and the barrel houses ink cartridges. A real brush, with none of the drawbacks of a real brush!
So I bought it, rushed home, and tried it, and instantly knew I had found the perfect drawing tool for Geeks In Love. If you want to know more about this marvelous invention, read this Ode to a Pentel brush pen.
For example, by then, the Geekette had lost her initial bun, and I was struggling with the way to render her ponytail. The Pentel put that problem to rest in an instant:
Next: The Making of Geeks In Love Part III: A Little Help from Technology.Tweet
Once I started drawing the first sketches of Geeks In Love, I pretty much nailed the Geekette right away.
I knew I wanted simple lines. In other words, I wanted boil down the characters as much as possible, to their essential characteristics. If a line or a detail could be left out, it was.
So I set out to draw a Geek that would match the style of the Geekette. This proved to be much more difficult than I had envisioned…
The Geek, Phase 1: Stumbling in the dark
I sketched and sketched and sketched, and while I got a few OK Geeks, I couldn’t reproduce them at will. Worse, I had no idea what made the ones I liked work.
The Geek, Phase 2: A more structured approach
In desperation, I tried to work from a photograph. I came up with a nice, clean character, in a style reminiscent of the traditional Belgian ligne claire.
But I had to face the fact that this Geek was much more detailed than the Geekette, required a beard to be recognizable (I wanted the character to be consistent regardless of the length of his beard or his hair, etc.). This phase did help me get a real feel for the lower part of the face. I finally had a clue what made that work or not. Still, I just couldn’t simplify him any further. I had hit another dead end.
The Geek, Phase 3: Back to the drawing board
I took a bunch of images with the built-in webcam of my MacBook, put one up on the screen, and went to work. I came up with this drawing:
It helped me nail down a vital characteristic I was missing: the overall shape of the head. I wanted the Geek’s silhouette to be instantly recognizable, just as the Geekette’s silhouette was. With new hope, I blackened dozens and dozens of pages.
Strangely enough, I knew I had the Geek when I drew the following picture:
Even though I knew this wasn’t the character, I recognized in that drawing that I finally had all of the ingredients I needed to draw the Geek: the nose, the simplified mouth and chin, the shape of the head. Like so:
I had the rounded counterpart to the angular Geekette.
In retrospect, I realize that during my years of cartooning a lifetime ago, I never went through such a meticulous process. I was too impatient and spontaneous. Paradoxically, this time, it is precisely because I wanted to be able to draw my characters spontaneously, en trois coups de crayon (in just a few strokes), that I pushed myself and found the strength to endure this painstaking ordeal.
Next: The Making of Geeks In Love Part II: The Look and Feel.Tweet
It seems that from the time I was born, all I ever did was draw cartoons. In my late teens, I discovered the joys of making music, and pretty much stopped drawing, except for an occasional phone doodle, much to the dismay of my friends and family.
Then, about two weeks ago, while I was sipping coffee in bed, an idea for a cartoon popped into my head out of nowhere. I further developed the concept in the shower. I then scrounged for pencils and paper and started drawing in a frenzy, giving form to the two geeks I had imagined.
A week later, once I had the characters down, and with some trepidation, I entered an art supply store for the first time in years and years and bought some fancy brushes and paper. I then proceeded to give the cartoon its final form and to design the website on which I would publish it once a week.
So without further ado, I am proud to unveil the first episode of Geeks In Love, and I hope you will tune in each week to follow their geeky adventures.
(Thanks to Pamela for writing the flattering About Geeks In Love page).Tweet
What follows boggles the mind.
As you may or may not know, the enterprise edition of the new version of Microsoft Windows, Vista, five years in the making and 2 years late, came out last month. The consumer versions are due out in the coming weeks.
It turns out that Vista is built from the ground up to inhibit the playing of any multimedia content (audio, video) through hardware that doesn’t have a built-in copy protection mechanism that encrypts the data as it goes in and out of your PC. Worse, if Vista detects any such attempt, whether deliberate or accidental (because of a bug for instance), it shuts down the subsystem (video card, sound card, software driver) responsible for the potential “illegal copying attempt”. Worse still, this shutdown doesn’t just affect your PC. Vista reports the breach to Microsoft, and the criminal subsystem is shutdown on all of the PC’s that run that particular hardware or software! You’ll just have to wait for the vendor to release new firmware or drivers.
If you are a pirate, and if you can hack in to trigger one of these shutdowns, you’ve singlehandedly disabled millions of computers in the world. Cool!
But I’m not a pirate you say? I just want to play the MP3′s I ripped from my legally-bought audio CD’s through my soundcard. Well unless your soundcard uses a technology that encrypts the audio signal on its way out of your PC to your speakers, you can’t. What about playing legitimate, copy-protected content? Well, the anti-copying technology in Vista requires so much processing overhead, that even on the most powerful PC’s available today, playback is crappy, your audio skips, your videos drop frames. In fact, the overhead is such, that Vista doesn’t even try to process the content with the PC’s processor. It offloads the processing to the processors on the video and audio cards. It’s up to the makers of such cards to tackle the burden. They must also implement copy-protection technology in their products, sacrificing precious performance cycles to encrypt the data being processed.
Even weirder. If you are playing protected audio in a non-approved manner, the system also degrades the quality of the video output as part of its ruthless crackdown on your criminal behavior.
And how about this? If you bought a PC with an HDCP connector (a standard that encrypts the video signal), to play HD-quality video on the expensive high-definition HDCP-enabled monitor you also bought, for now, you’re out of luck. Apparently, these connectors aren’t really up to spec and so Vista degrades the HD video quality, or simply blocks the video signal.
And finally, who, you might wonder, decides if a system is secure enough? Microsoft? Wrong. Such anti-copying security technologies must be approved, in writing, by at least 3 major Hollywood content providers (you know, computer security experts such as Disney, MGM, etc.)
You think none of this can possibly be true? Computer-security expert Peter Gutmann lays it all out and backs it all up in A Cost Analysis of Windows Vista Content Protection. It’s a long and techy read, but I encourage you to read it anyway (just skip the technical gobbledygook). I’ll just quote one sentence from his article:
Executive Executive Summary
The Vista Content Protection specification could very well constitute the longest suicide note in history.
Respected tech pundit Robert X. Cringely doesn’t take issue with the facts presented in this article, and agrees that the consumer is the big loser, but argues that it is a smart move from Microsoft’s perspective, and not a suicidal strategy. Read his article if the original article is too off-putting.
Windows Vista will soon come pre-installed on every PC, so there’s no real escape. So unless you want to be treated like a criminal, experience crappy music and video performance, even when you’ve bought legitimate content, you’d better stick with Windows XP and/or start planning your move to Linux or to the Mac platform. But even that may not be a solution, because chip makers and card vendors might not bother to make products that don’t conform to Vista’s requirements.
The only hope is that all this digital rights management folly will be circumvented. In fact, it always has been in the past, and it already has been partially cracked in this case. So thanks to hackers and pirates, we’ll hopefully be able to continue to enjoy the content we already legally own. Otherwise, we’ll just have to download uncrippled content from pirate sites, that we’ll be able to run on cheap Chinese DVD players or something.
Hopefully, consumers (that’s you!) won’t stand for this shit, and sanity will prevail. That’s what one specialist, Cory Doctorow of BoingBoing fame, says in his answer to this year’s Edge World Question, “What are you optimistic about?”
After all, as he rightly notes “copying is what bits are for”.Tweet
Matt Love recently sent me this link: Marketplace: Rock, real estate and Alan Greenspan.
The sound of the rock and roll underground recently is defined by two genres: a psychedelic folk revival and what the kids call electroclash. Why this, and why now? Ian Svenonius explains.
This makes perfect sense. I don’t know if my music qualifies as psychedelic folk or electroclash, but the only reason I’ve barely touched my saxophone in the last 15+ years is because of where I live…Tweet