January 25, 2008

All Macced Up

I’ve (finally) got my MacBook Pro back, now with Leopard. The techs said it didn’t show and problems with the new OS, so I’m hoping it’ll be a lot more usable and a lot less crashy now. So far I’ve been using it a fair amount and it’s had one lock up - one too many perhaps, particularly due to the behaviour it showed (screen backlight went out, required hard reboot to fix) but I’ll see if it’s a reaccuring problem. For now I’ve installed a widget to control the MacBook fans and am running them at higher rates than normal - my hunch is that with all the fixes this particular MacBook as had that something might be overheating, so with some extra airflow it might be more stable. We’ll see if that proves true.

I’ve also placed an order for a 20″ iMac to replace my beige box PC. I like Mac OS X as an operating system and it’ll be great to have a desktop capable of running it and Mac apps; I think it’ll make a better workstation than my current computer. I also sprung for the wireless keyboard and mouse, mainly because Apple forces you to get a keyboard and mouse and I’ve already got a wired version of their new aluminium keyboard. I might go back to using the wired model and a corded mouse (the Mighty Mouse is weird, although it does have a nifty horizontal scrolling function), but it’d be useful to have the wireless models as an option for a cluttered desk.

I spent ages deciding between the 20″ and 24″ models; the 24″ looks impressive, and the LCD panel is of noticeably higher quality, but I decided to get the 20″ so I can pair it up with a second display; the 24″ is a bit big for that. To start with I’ll stick with just the iMac, but I’ll keep my eyes open for a good deal on a top notch LCD display to go with it. The Mac1 Apple reseller in Canberra often has firesales where they slash the price of a good-as-new Apple Cinema Display by about a third; so I’ll pounce next time that comes around.

A minor annoyance is that I won’t have a copy of Windows for a while, so I won’t be able to run Win software until I get a license I can use. I might give WINE a go to see how well it runs under Mac OS X, but I’m foreseeing problems. Still, at the moment not being able to run PC games can be considered a benefit; gives me one less thing to be distracted by.

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January 22, 2008

Dribs and drabs for the next few months

On the weekend I spent a bit of time estimating how I can fit my Ph.D. program, webcomic project and game programming alongside each other for the next couple of months. My conclusion is that I can’t - not extensively, at least. For the next few months at least I can’t really set any deadlines or milestones except for those involving my studies.

While I am still going to work on both cartooning and game programming as a break from my work, I am not going to be setting any targets or projects until my Ph.D. is over; I just don’t have the energy for it. As far as I can see, I don’t think I’ve got the time to work on anything substantial until about April - not unless I want to give up sleep.

This might be for the best, as it’ll give me some time to work slowly on building up my skills rather than feeling pressured to rush things out. While I really wanted to launch my webcomic early this year, I feel I can’t really warrant the time to do so until I’ve got my Ph.D. thesis off my back. Instead I can put the extra few months into more planning, getting my drawing skills up to scratch and getting familiar with the tools available. Likewise, instead of working on any decent sized game I can use the time to get to grips with Python and Flash without feeling guilty about not releasing anything.

Of course I’m still not sure if I’ll have the time after I’m done, because it’s still up in the air of what I’m going to do when all this is over. I’m hoping a month’s holiday isn’t out of the question.

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January 18, 2008

Introducing the Webcomic Project

As I mentioned last time, it’s time to put some content into this journal for 2008. I’ll start with something that wouldn’t quite fit into my old gamedev journal; my webcomic project.

I’ve been planning to start a webcomic ever since I first seriously tried Inkscape and realised that working with computers and vector can overcome my inability to draw straight or to use a pen without smudging. That was back in 2006; I’d stopped and restarted a few times since then. However I realised late last year that I still really wanted to go ahead with this, so I’ve put some effort into planning this thing. It’s now reached the point where I can consider it a full scale project with a decent chance of going ahead this year, hence the post. I’m still a little bit hesitant to be posting about the webcomic as there’s still a fair chance it might die before publication; I need to ensure I can keep up the pace of content creation before going live. But it’s now my top hobby project, eclipsing game development for the time being (although that’s still going on, albeit slowly).

My main source of delay is nailing down exactly what it is I want this webcomic to be. I’ve cycled through a number of different premises, all comedic; semi-autobiographical ones about hobby game development, unlikely superheroes, various gaming ideas, and so on. It’s hard to hit upon an idea that screams out “Here’s something you can write compelling material on for over a year”, as well as something I gauge to be within my somewhat limited abilities.

At the moment, I’m leaning towards something gaming related: preferably something within a game than commentary about games. I was hesitant about going down the gaming route because there’s a big stigma against them in the webcomic creator circles, probably for good reasons. Gaming comics typically fall into one of two categories: sprite comics which generally consist of Megaman and Mario yelling about how they/each other/the webcomic sucks; and the “two snarky male losers on a couch playing video games” variety (may also contain generic wackiness).

However after some thought, I realised that this was running counter to my original goal - to improve my art skills specifically for the creation of game graphics. If I’m going to aiming to illustrate my own games, I might as well base the comic on games. Plus this allows me to tie into one strength I have over other webcomic; the chance to make games based on my own webcomic. It’d be great to be able to tie the two hobbies together.

At the moment I’m thrashing out ideas in a wiki while sketching out character designs on paper. So far I’ve got a fair idea of what I want the basic characters to be, but I’m really unsure about the best way to make them interact with each other in a sensible way. I’m looking for a gag-a-day type format but with some story driven continuity, which is pretty tricky given my general rustiness in creative writing and lack of experience in webcomic creation. I might be biting off more than I can chew for a first comic, so there’s a danger it might start off crap for a few months while I find my feet.

I’ve been dragging my feet though in wrapping this up; it’s a lot of fun to brainstorm new characters and idly sketch different designs, but I need to put my foot down and make some decisions on things and start tying all the threads together.

I’ll be posting more info of the comic in creation here, partly for feedback and partly as an attempt to clear things in my mind. I’m not sure if this is the usual way most people come up with webcomic ideas, but I’d like to run this through a bunch of people who won’t have any qualms about pointing out the obvious flaws in my design.

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January 17, 2008

A post for posting’s sake

I’ve been feeling guilty about letting my journal stand idle for so long, so it’s time for a general update. It’s not as if I haven’t been busy, it’s more an issue of not really meeting any milestones that I felt were worthy of posting about.

Mainly I’ve been writing up my thesis dissertation, which is an exercises fraught with writer’s block and bad grammar. It’s a painful process that’s moving slower than I’d like, but it’s starting to come together. Hopefully it’ll be in a better position by the end of the week.

As a break from writing I’ve started working through some beginner Python exercises. Python looks like a nice language for quick development, and with a Tk library built it it’s probably a good platform for home brew GUIs and tools. I haven’t yet figured out the best way to approach building applications or games in Python; I still haven’t done anything sizable enough to get to grips with the language. I’m puzzling over the best way to get from a Python dabbler through to building proper Python programs.

I’m also chipping away at my webcomic project, which may have come a little off the rails too. I find it a lot of fun developing characters, sketching out what they look like and getting a broad idea of their personality. But I might have reached the point where the combination of what I’ve got doesn’t really make sense. My idea about the whole premise of the comic has shifted multiple times over the last few weeks, and I’m not sure if the stuff I was doing a fortnight ago works with what I’ve been doodling now. I may need to take a step back and ruthlessly prune what I’ve got to something that actually works as a comic premise.

Also, I haven’t got my MacBook Pro back yet; will be picking it up sometime in the next day or two. I think the verdict from the repairers was that there’s some bizarre conflict between Mac OS Tiger and my machine, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. The laptop was working fine with Tiger before the screen blew the backlight, and I don’t know how replacing that could cause a hardware conflict. But if upgrading to Leopard seems to fix the problem (and their tests seem to suggest it does) then it might be enough of a reason to upgrade so I can get my working Mac computer back.

I’m also keen on getting an iMac sometime soon as a desktop replacement, although I don’t as of yet know exactly which hardware configuration is best for me. I mainly would like a second Mac with a better screen on my desk so I can use that when working at home. My current Windows PC is okay for what I used to use it for, but it doesn’t run my Adobe CS3 software or VoodooPad, plus my CRT monitor is positively ancient now. When MacWorld is over I’ll start making the decisions I need to choose a desktop replacement.

For now, that’s all. I’ll post more regularly in 2008 so I can get my money’s worth out of this site. I also need to replace this long running poll with something a bit more topical; first I need to think of what I’d like to ask.

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January 4, 2008

Macbook Saga Revisited

I got my MacBook Pro back yesterday with a new hard drive. With Leopard (Mac OS 10.5) and a copy of my applications installed it seems, but [i]not[/i] my project and work directories for some reason (which thankfully I’m mostly sure I’ve got backed up).

Since I only own Tiger (Mac OS 10.4) I decided to wipe the hard drive and start afresh (plus most of my apps did not like their forced change of OSes). But unfortunately, after I had a fresh install of Tiger I found that the new hard drive did not fix my problem - it still randomly reboots. So I’m without my MacBook Pro for a few more days at least.


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January 2, 2008

New Year 2008

Happy New Year, and welcome to year 2008! Wishing you all a very good year.

I’m back from visiting family in Melbourne. I had a reasonably good time just hanging out with my family; I had plans to get some hobby stuff done while I was away but it never got around to happening. This was partly due to the weather; the temperature got pretty hot late in December and I lost all energy to do anything.

The presents I gave were well appreciated (mostly printed books of webcomics), and I got some nice gifts myself; mainly books and DVDs, although I did also get a new mobile phone. The phone was free with part of a new package, and seeing that my old plan is pretty old now it seemed a good idea to upgrade. It’s a Nokia 6300, and looking around at the included files it seems to be Flash Lite compatible which gives me another platform to potentially develop for. Great!

It’s probably going to take me a few days to get back into working, but I’m going to be pretty flat out with work for the next three or four months. My PhD scholarship runs out in late March, and I’m hoping to finish off my research by then or April at the latest (so I don’t have to scrounge for money to finish my degree). Consequently things might get a bit hectic over the short term. Plus I’ve still got to arrange something for after I graduate; it still seems an eternity away but it really isn’t that far off.

I’m still going to try to put some time in hobbies (I’ll need an outlet to keep sane), but I don’t expect to be able to put too much time into anything over the next few months.

As it’s the New Year, it’s also time for New Year Resolutions. This year I’ve got two: improving time management and my own health.

Time management is something I’ve had trouble with all my life, and this year I don’t really have time to spare. I keep feeling annoyed with myself for squandering my time, and this year I’m setting it as my prime goal to fix this. I’m hoping by the end of the year to feel satisfied with my delegation of time to tasks.

Secondly I’m going to make an effort in improving my own health, which I feel has been slipping over the last year. I’ve been slowly gaining weight and getting a bit flabby, and this is resulting in me generally not feeling my best and having low energy. As I’m nearing middle age I’ve got to put more effort into looking after myself, so I’ll try to cook more, skip more of the unhealthy foods and most importantly get some more exercise.

I’ve also got to decide what I’m going to do with this website. It’s been languishing a bit over the last month or two. I’ll need to put some more stuff up here too.

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