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"Doomed to Obscurity" - New Web Comic Launched

Date/Time Permalink: 01/01/09 12:51:49 pm
Category: Site News

For a New Year's Day surprise, I'm finally launching the webcomic I've always wanted to do. It's called Doomed to Obscurity and if you give it time, it'll grow on you. Strip #1 is up today; subsequent strips will be published every odd-numbered calendar day. That's the rule.

  • Holidays? Yes, holidays too.
  • Does this mean when the month ends on the 31st, you get another strip the next day on the 1st? Yes it does.
  • Friday the 13th too? Yes
  • Leap Day too? Not that it applies this year, but yes.
  • Why such an unusual rule? Because nobody else does it. I like it quirky. And it's a good compromise between easy enough that I don't miss a deadline, and regular enough to keep readers.

As hinted by today's date, this is a New Year's resolution. I will be keeping up the posting schedule all 186 odd-numbered days this year. I already have a buffer of strips drawn in advance, so I'm already ahead. I have a whole cast pre-drawn. I have no excuses.

This is all in Inkscape, and with characters, props, and templates already saved in SVG, reusing parts of drawings becomes trivial. There's still a few details that might change over time, but then that's half the fun of a comic is watching it evolve! I've agonized the most over what graphics platform to use, but Inkscape has consistently given me the best results in what I think a comic should look like, while keeping the characters easy to pose.

I might also add some features to the webcomic's page later, but for now it's up, and that's all I promised to do!

PS My whole inspiration for this is of course to take all of the webcomic and geek tropes, and stand them right on their noses. So expect plenty of irreverence!

UPDATE Thanks to the commenters who pointed out that the images weren't displaying! I fixed the display problem and according to BrowserShots, I've confirmed correct display on every major browser but Safari and Opera 10, both on XP. Even those two might be a case of mis-loading.

Well, that was an interesting launch...

Update 1/23/09: Check here for the new RSS feed.

*AHEM* A Note: When I promise to publish every odd-numbered calendar day, I mean exactly that. Days are 24 hours long. If I don't post until 11:59 PM, that's still the same day. If you want to be sure that a new strip will be there every morning when you check at 3:15 AM, may I suggest checking on even-numbered days? Just an idea...

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Pumping Some More 1600x1200 Wallpapers to the Gallery

Date/Time Permalink: 09/30/08 10:35:47 am
Category: Site News

Yep, more 1600x1200 wallpapers. Get 'em here.

I miss the days when I could just mindlessly slap something together. These days, every project I do has to be this boundary-pushing exploration into new territory, whether it's blogging, graphics, or Flash. It's the kind of period where I'm just determined that it's better to do nothing at all than to do something I've done before.

So this batch of wallpapers shows lots of experimentation. There's cellular automata...

cellular_love.jpg dont_feed_the_automata.jpg whatsa_automata_U.jpg


Serifer_madness.jpg freedom_system.jpg

And this sketch-looking one...


This last (full-size here) was rendered with POVRay making 3D objects with black-and-white striped textures and some reflection, then running Gimp filters on it of the sort you would use to turn a photo into a sketch, including some warping so the lines aren't so straight. I don't know what kind of wallpaper it makes, but it is definitely my most successful attempt at creating 3D art with the effect of a hand-drawn sketch.

As always, CC-licensed, share 'em, trade 'em, collect the set. Scott Carpenter, fellow geek blogger, has recently had a little career boost when the phone company used one of his CC-licensed images on the cover of the new phone book. Maybe there will be hope for me yet, if and when I develop my own work further.

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What's Up With One-Word Search Hits?

Date/Time Permalink: 07/18/08 07:22:24 am
Category: Site News

Dear LazyWeb (as Jamie Zawinski would say),

Every now and then, I get one-word search hits from MS's Example:

search hits listing

It's always like this. Like some bot was going through a dictionary file and visiting every hit returned from each word. It's almost never in groups like this, usually only one or two at a time. I'm not even on the first page for these words. These are the only kinds of hits I get from, and every other search engine comes in with normal searches, never with a single word (unless it's a very uncommon word).

Just out of curiosity, I was wondering if anybody else has noticed this and what does it mean. Is this an SEO study, or is it really how MSN indexes the web?

UPDATE: This is resolved, confirmed, and nailed to the wall. In fact, it is Microsoft generating fake referrer hits, and they are doing with it exactly what you think they're doing. Here's just one confirming report, even admitted by Microsoft. Since they act like the spamming assholes we all deal with every day, I will happily treat them like spamming assholes and block their domain.

No loss. I have never seen a legitimate hit from an MSN search, anyway.

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A little visit from the Wallpaper Fairy

Date/Time Permalink: 04/19/08 12:22:40 pm
Category: Site News

Well, winter's finally over and we've had a refreshing spring rain to cleanse the mental palette and renew our hopes.






So I'm too lazy to do naught but clear out the wallpaper posting buffer. As this batch shows, I'm turning towards more positive themes. Rainbows and flowers and stuff. Does this mean something? Maybe not.

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My Second Blogiversary

Date/Time Permalink: 03/15/08 11:05:59 am
Category: Site News

Today marks the second year since the founding of and this blog. That makes it past the mark where approximately 50% of bloggers quit (at the 18-month mark), and puts me in closing distance of the average age of the top 100 blogs by ProBlogger's reckoning (33.8 months). In Internet years, it's old enough to buy smokes.

So, a look back on the past 12 months at the territory I've covered, counting from here. This'll be either posts that got a lot of attention, were landmarks, or were amusing quirks. Be prepared to either enjoy the Narcissistic inventory of my belly button lint or become bored silly and go do something else.

My second year got off to a bang with Ubuntu is not Linux - pass it on!, which the masses rejected mightily, and I tried to straighten it up with No, really! Ubuntu is not Linux! Try it on for size! and pissed everybody off even more. They've pulled 24 and 72 feedbacks at this time. Would you believe, after all that, that I am stubborn and stupid enough to be planning yet a third explanation of the Windows-to-Linux Immigration Factor? This time with diagrams? Because there's something important there to understand - not about computers, but about people! It's about what people do, how they act, and it's about having the courage to change what you can, the serenity to accept what you can't change, and the wisdom to know the difference. It's about Tao and Go strategy and winning through working with the universe instead of against it.

Worst attempt at humor: No. 43: How Not To Be a Geek. My apologies.

And on 04/16/07 at 01:20:24 am, the big bomb dropped: I asked Is the Tux500 racecar advertising project a scam? and began the fight of my life. For two months afterwards, I was to be confronted with an Internet cult of personality attempting what may well stand as the biggest fleecing of the Free Software community in history: Suckering $600,000 (the figure climbed up to that) out of Linux users to put a $10 sticker on a worthless race-car. My standing against it inspired the perpetrators into hacking attempts, flamage, business sabotage, and threats both legal and physical against me. I'll follow that whole sticky tar baby up in a post on its own later, because it's worth examining the aftermath.

May 7th was the next time I finally got a chance to shake the Rottweilers off my tail long enough to think about something else, and started the Flash category. It's gotten the most hits this year, collectively, and the searches that come in indicate that most people aren't even aware that you can develop full Flash applications - logos, animations, games, anything you want - on Linux, using only Free and Open Source Software. Knowing how to create Flash files is as good as money in the bank in today's global web market, so I encourage anybody out there to use these tools, and hopefully they will develop further. I'll pick up Flash tutorials again some time - but don't hold your breath for that roller coaster idea. I may be 80 years old before I figure out how to do it.

The Linux Insecurity Complex was the next big hit. It got a lot of traffic from diverse sources - not the big social media sites but dozens of small blogs. It was the kind of post that seemed to make a lot of people think, and after all that's what I'm here for.

Interlude: .buıʞoo1 ʇou ǝɹ,noʎ uǝɥʍ dn ǝpıs-ʇɥbıɹ sı ʇsod sıɥʇ Gotcha!

I started another new category, graphics tutorials, for all the doodling I have time to share. It gets traffic all the time dribbling in - there's more demand for Gimp tutorials, especially ones that match Photoshop tutorials trick for trick. Eventually, the category will contain something about every way to make an image I know. I still like the Gimp mirrored-ball number - it's my favorite "You drew that in WHAT???" picture.

In September, somebody gave me the computer they were throwing out... and for the first time in some seven years, I did *not* delete Windows. Instead, I rehabilitated it with Linux live CDs and Free Software tools, and have since kept it around for the occasional compatibility test. Out of that came Why Windows Users Are Insane, which got some linky-love and a fun comment thread.

The same Windows box became home to my first time installing BSD, and some reflection on the different communities, among others. For the first time, I was getting BSD users in the comments, some of whom hardly beat me up me at all.

In Ahhh! What did they do to my Gimp? I proved (by the comments) that Gimp users really are nearly as capable of flaming when incited to outrage as Photoshop users are just by waking up in the morning. By the way, just to demonstrate: Gimp is probably my all-time third-favorite FOSS program, right after Emacs and Firefox. Yet I'll still criticize it. It makes Photoshop look like a loser, but I'll still find fault with it. Just something good to point out, if I'm ever accused of blind zealotry (which I am not... often).

A post that's been getting a lot of attention is 10 Reasons Why the Command Line is More User-Friendly than the Desktop. The opinion is heavily divided on this one - between the people who see what I mean and the people who, well, don't. It helps if you note that I didn't say the CLI is better than the GUI, didn't say the CLI is superior to the GUI for every task, didn't say the CLI users are better than the GUI users... etc. Just making a point about what's user-friendly, and in the process demonstrating that the term "user-friendly" is such a subjective definition.

All in all, an exciting year. My thanks to the readers, and the commenters - including the ones who don't like or don't agree with what I have to say. Remember, it's a blog because it's give and take - I learn from the comments when they have something to teach me, too. But I hasten to add that I've changed my policy from absolute liberty to moderating comments that are nothing but personal attack, on either myself or others here - not always, but sometimes. I have ideas for better ways to handle this in the future; but I'm not going to make any promises on something until I have it already written and ready to patch in.

It's a path to enlightenment, and both the beautiful sunrise on the horizon and the thorns we step on along the way have something to teach us all.

Now, then, commenters: How about a general performance review? What kinds of posts should I be doing more of, and what kinds of posts should I steer clear of? Open mike, here, no taboos.

A special sig to celebrate my second year

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Comment CAPTCHA form no longer excludes text mode and screen readers.

Date/Time Permalink: 03/11/08 10:52:01 pm
Category: Site News

Just a quick note to let everybody know that I added a quirk/feature to the comment form of this blog. If you are unable to view the image, the alt text will tell you a word to type in instead. So now visitors using text-mode browsers and screen readers can offer feedback as well.

Hopefully, the spambots don't get wind of it. But I've been watching sites like Coding Horror use the word "orange" every time and other sites using a math problem for a CAPTCHA for some time, and they haven't seemed to regret the decision.

You would think that simply displaying the text '2 + 7 = ?' would be easily defeated by a script, but then you wouldn't be thinking like a spammer. Spammers are not hackers; they buy programs off the web sold to them by other spammers, all of them ripping each other off as much as they rip off the end target user. They learn one new trick every ten years or so.

At least, that's my theory...

Update: Note to anybody interested: Check out this method.

UPDATE: Well, the spam's back! Lately it's one or two-word comments along with links to porn sites, many scattered across posts more than a year old, like ten in a row hit in a minute. I'll have to see if one of those math ones work.

Dammit, there should be a way to keep the site from getting overrun why still running things so they're fair to everybody!

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Penguin Pete Packs a Pick of Pixelated 'Papers

Date/Time Permalink: 12/10/07 06:51:43 pm
Category: Site News

Wallpapers, that is...






Always news to be met with a resounding "meh...", I added some more wallpapers to the 1600x1200 gallery. And yeah, the one with the moon in it, the moon is vector-drawn. And yes, that six-pack is "GNU Ice"... the beer that's free as in beer!

But let's talk about the bottom two (or the last two of the five, depending on how the floats align) for a minute. Those two are my exploration of a form of graphic art I've seen emerging in places like Deviant Art... as close as I can figure, the form, which is filled with concentric circles and splats, is or may be known as "grunge", "emo", or simply "vector abstract" style.

Examples here, here, here, and here.

Now, I'm probably an old fart who's just now opened his peepers to a trend after it's already jumped the shark, but it does seem to be a new genre of digital art, perhaps shaped more by the fact that it's incredibly easy to draw circle and lines in vector. If anybody out there knows its proper name, do be so kind as to clue in the old bean, would you?

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My FreeBSD posting - Why Am I Doing This?

Date/Time Permalink: 10/05/07 12:29:24 pm
Category: Site News

The reactions - both here and all over the web - to my last post about installing FreeBSD have shown that some people seem to be unclear on my motives and methods. Perhaps it's time for a refresher course on my mission with this site.

First off: thank all of you who recommend PC-BSD. Yes, I've heard about it, and there is no doubt in my mind that it both would have been easier to install and a slicker environment. But that wasn't what I was looking for - this time.

Second off: Don't mistake this for a review. I'm not ready to write a review yet. When I get a desktop setup and installed packages and take screenshots, and have some time to use the system, I'll write the review then. What this was, was one person's story - so far.

Third off: For those of you who (and boy, is the irony thick here!) are barking "RTFM" at me: I'll cite you chapter and verse from several manuals, but none of the manuals addressed the problems I was experiencing. To summarize:

  1. The section on Creating Partitions Using Disklabel advises to hit "A" in DiskLabel to get a default partition scheme. True, it also says you might have to edit it, but for a first-timer I figured the FreeBSD disklabel setup knows best. Also, may I point out that the docs say that /var should only be 256MB, and /usr should be "the rest of the drive". Yet disklabel did this exactly backwards, and I guessed that disklabel would still have to be right. Even this section didn't make sense, because obviously /home/my_user_name/ is going to go on the / partition, so what if I collect more than 128MB of files?
  2. The section on Choose Distributions shows in figure Figure 2-25 that the dialog does not mention how much disk space within each partition would be needed for that install option. Remember, here, too, that I was going for a test-trial install, and figured the "canned" sets would do fine. F1 doesn't help, here.
  3. Upon setting forth, the system then partitions the drive and begins to install packages, ending with - usually - an error dialog saying "write failure on transfer (wrote -1 of XXXX bytes)". Note that this is worded so the problem could be almost anything. Had it been "this partition is full", I would have had more of a clue what the problem was.
  4. Try Googling for "FreeBSD write failure on transfer (wrote -1", without quotes. What do you get?
  5. My eventual solution of making just two partitions of swap and "everything else" (a) went contrary to all conventional wisdom in both the documentation and online, and (b) may yet prove to be a bad idea. But this is a test install on a box I don't care about, done just to get familiar with the system.

In fact, the concept of limiting system folders to so many MB in their own partition is kind of an impossible feat to get correct. We have /, which has /home and is a prime candidate for expansion, /var which will grow over time, and /usr which will expand depending on what you install in the next step. It might even make more sense to pick packages first, then partition, since both of these steps are held in memory before committing to the changes, and at least you could figure a number for what /usr is going to need after you've seen a list of what's going in it.

Now that I've shown all of you my stumbling points, let's clarify one more thing:

What is my purpose here? Is it to criticize FreeBSD? No, I even stated, "Note that I'm not complaining here. I wanted a challenge, and I got one." Is it to scream in frustration and give up? No, I persevered, and am now getting some time to quite like the system. Is it to tell people "This is too hard for you, you're better off getting PC-BSD?"

There is a very specific reason why I am careful to report my own mistakes. This is to show:

  • Even an Uber-Geek who can run Plan Nine From Bell Labs and wrangle with dc can have difficulties installing FreeBSD.
  • This tells people who are also having problems, "I am not alone".
  • But I can overcome obstacles and persevere, and I detail the steps I took to win.
  • This tells people, "A breakthrough is possible".

Also, I write this from the point of view of someone with years of Linux experience. I do this to show, "If you came from Linux, here's the things that will be different." I'll be doing a lot more of that. I also try to phrase things from the point-of-view of the average home user. So, never mind if an experienced sysadmin who's been using BSD since he graduated from Berkeley in the 80's would think FreeBSD is a piece of cake. I've been using Slackware for several versions now, I love it to the point of passion, but I still make no bones about how it is a more challenging Linux distro than, say, Ubuntu.

Several people have remarked their agreement with me - they found the FreeBSD install difficult as well. Now, they know that they aren't crazy or technical idiots, but that they have met a very challenging system. So when they make up their minds to try it again, they will be prepared to take it in little steps, backtrack, and experiment to get it right.

Lots of things are challenging in life; the things that are the most worth having are often the most work. My point is to show average home users how they, too, can improve their position, by using the example of my own faltering, fumbling path - hopefully avoiding the mistakes I made and picking up a helpful hint from the things I managed to do.

If everybody is done getting defensive for feeling that I'm attacking their distro, depressed because technology is so hard to do, defeated for not doing better, and demoralized by their flame-back reactions to the other flamers: can we now move forward, seeing these things in a positive light for a change, for the constructive opportunities for growth which they are?

Here we all are - being human!

The clueless newbs are human. The programmers who wrote the systems are human. The people who tell me to RTFM are human. The people who think I'm crazy for tackling such a difficult distro are human. And we all have these human reactions. That's what I do - technology from the human point of view. Doggone it, sometimes this stuff makes the straw stuffing in my head hurt, but I reck-skin we'se all gonna get it figgered out eventually, huh?

...yours, in our continued shared quest for enlightenment,

a pixel sig of no consequence

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The Penguin Grows Horns: Installing FreeBSD

Date/Time Permalink: 10/04/07 11:12:11 am
Category: Site News

It has always bothered me that this site and my experiences stay inside of Linux so much, when the whole site is about "free and open source software". I've only dabbled in non-Linux FOSS with live CDs and such, but I'm ready to install a real BSD and stick with it for awhile. So, the recently-acquired box with Windows-XP will now be sharing space with a daemon. Windows on the first hard drive, BSD on a second, exactly as I did with Windows and Red Hat almost a decade ago.

First impressions: FreeBSD is hard to install. Damn hard. I am the veteran of some 50 to 100 operating system installs in my lifetime, and I blew FreeBSD five amazing times and had to start over. It is well-documented and everything, but I still fumbled around with it. One misfire was the result of filling the 4.1 gig hard drive to capacity by selecting "all" for install options, reasoning that it couldn't get that big. It could. It would help if somewhere it told you how much space each installed module would take up.

My chief hassle was disk partitioning. It might be argued that it's more difficult to come from Windows to BSD than it is to come from Linux to BSD, because when you came from Windows you're a blank slate and can learn Unix the BSD way. Come from Linux, and you already have Linux-based ideas about Unix, and BSD is only about 75% similar to Linux. You get comfortable with BSD, thinking you can handle this, and then it throws a partition named "/dev/ad2s3b" at you.

Anyway, I would stress that you should not trust the auto-partition option in fdisk. I did that, and it allocated 1.4 Gigabytes to /var with only 500 Megabytes given to /usr. After that install, I discovered that /var was at 0% capacity while /usr was full to 106% capacity. Yes, I know "106% full" is impossible, but that's what 'df -h' told me!

Anyway, Linux users trying to grok BSD will have to throw away their definition of 'partition'. In BSD, what you call a partition is actually a slice, and the slice is divided into partitions. I'll explain this byzantine scheme in a later post.

Note that I'm not complaining here. I wanted a challenge, and I got one. I'll conquer this, too. And I have a poetic anecdote to share: At my most recent attempt, I got a working install going, but it was still pretty hosed up. At this point, I questioned whether this was worth the bother. I was in the console.

Wandering around and coming back, I was surprised to find that the FreeBSD text-mode screensaver had kicked in. There, before me, was the cutest colored-ASCII drawing of the daemon mascot I'd ever seen, happily bouncing around the screen. A text-mode screensaver - something you never see in Linux. It looked at me with it's soulful puppy eyes. I melted.

That daemon was a messenger to me. It told me, "If you persist on this path and overcome your struggles, you will be rewarded with new delights you never knew existed." Yes, and I'm going to get there. Here I come!

How I finally did it: I threw all caution to the wind in the partition-label part and just made a 256MB swap partition and the rest is / ! Ha! After that, I picked the base "X-User" install and added some packages after that (Emacs, Window Maker, rxvt, and such). Clean install, room to spare, works like a charm. I know there are partition-zealots out there fainting at this, but this box isn't even going online or fooling with ports - just a test-install to get ready to dual-boot it on my Slackware box, perhaps, someday.

I also chose not to install a boot manager, because we're sharing this computer with you-know-who. When it comes to dual-booting with Microsoft, I like to just slap in a second hard drive, put the other OS there, and boot to it from a floppy, leaving Windows in the only known condition in which it cannot possibly cause trouble: like a mushroom. Kept in the dark and fed manure.

I found no obvious way to make a FreeBSD boot floppy. Instead, I used my handy-dandy all-purpose GRUB floppy. At GRUB's prompt it was a simple matter of typing:

  • root (hd1,a)
  • kernel /boot/loader
  • boot

...and FreeBSD lives and breathes! The daemon is back to frolicking happily on the screen while I run /usr/libexec/locate.updatedb in the background to begin exploring. All is right with the world!

a blogging for dummies book

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