A few days ago, we bought a new dual-layer DVD±RW drive for Diana, our main desktop. I already had an older single-layer DVD±RW in that machine, which replaced the original CD±RW that came with it. Over the past year or so, I’ve really gotten into the digital video editing scene, including putting some shows & cons footage online for loyal Keenspot PREMIUM Faulties. I’ve grown to find the 4.7GB of the ol’ single-layer discs limiting. With our mammoth 57-inch TV, anything less than the highest quality video encoding looks pretty bad, and you can only squeeze about an hour and a half on a single-layer disc before the compression really starts to show. Dual layers give you twice as much space. Plus, it’s always geek chic to have the latest tech.
Obviously, I’m not all that squeamish about putzing around in the guts of my machines. I consider myself more of a software geek than a hardware one, but I’ve done my share of case cracking over the years. I’ve installed countless memory modules (or “sticks” as they seem to be more popularly called now), optical and hard drives, expansion cards, and other internal doodads. As previously stated, I’ve already swapped this particular drive bay once, and now I was about to put in a third drive into that particular bay. So I went into this with the assumption that this would be a relatively simple procedure. I know what to touch, what not to touch, and what goes where when. Easy enough.
But it’s those little stupid things that get ya.
I’m not sure what possessed IBM to lay things out this way (Diana is a business-style ThinkCentre tower), but there’s very little room to maneuver in there. The way things are positioned, I had to unscrew the power supply from the back of the case and swing it down onto the floor just to give myself enough room to access the back of the old drive to unplug things. I always thought I had small hands for a man, but that’s never been a benefit here. I carefully unscrewed the power supply, placed the screws in a safe place, then delicately removed the screws holding the drive to be removed in place. Pop! And out it comes. Slide the new drive into place, plug everything back in, screw it in place, then return the power supply to its slot, and everything’s finished. Time to install software!
Then I find out we need the serial number to mail in the rebate. Figures. Time to crack the case again.
The serial number, of course, is on the top of the drive, so it has to come completely out so we can read it. I carefully unscrew the power supply, swing it down, put the screws somewhere safe, unscrew the drive, unplug it, pull it out, and write down the serial number. Mission accomplished. Now it’s a simple matter to throw the guts back into the cadaver and sew it back up. I plug the drive back up and start screwing it back into place.
Suddenly, my screwdriver slips, and the screw I have oh so very carefully kept in a safe place to keep it from being lost drops from its hole. Sure enough, the power supply is positioned in just the wrong way so that the large hexagonal grating that provides valuable airflow is facing upward. I’ll give you three guesses where the screw went.
At this point, I’m not sure what to do. I know my way around a motherboard enough to know the CPU from the memory from the hard drive controller. But I’m not about to go cracking the box of a power supply. That’s a dangerous place if you’re not sure what you’re doing. I picked up this blue-gray metal box and listened as the screw tinkled as it slid back and forth inside it. Each merry jingle–not unlike a happy little holiday bell–sent twinges through my stomach. I tried to jostle the power supply around like one of those little games where you try to roll the ball through a maze, hoping the screw would roll back toward the large grating and I could roll it out or at least grab it with one of my mini gripping tools. Eventually, there was nothing but the sound of silence.
By now it was getting late in the evening. We had to go to bed so my wife could get up early. (The poor dear had to work most of Saturday and part of Sunday.) So in hopeful desperation I put the system back together, closed the case, plugged it up, and turned it on. And then there was the most sickening clicking fan noise I had ever heard coming from a computer. I quickly turned it back off and unplugged it. Something was hitting a fan somewhere, and now I didn’t have time to research it. In resignation, I started to get ready for bed. I think it was only the allergy medicine I take nightly that let me sleep.
Saturday, I woke up in a better mood. I went out for a much-needed haircut, then came back determined to cure Diana’s ills. My sweetie was not as busy as she thought she would be, so I was able to crawl back under the desk without disturbing her. I cracked Diana’s case, but left everything plugged up. Hesitantly, I pushed the power button. There it was, that disturbing clicking… but not coming from the power supply. One the power cables to one of the drives had been twisted around during all the shuffling, and was now touching the CPU fan. Sure enough, I powered her down, moved the cable out of the way, hit the power switch again, and the noise was gone. Crisis averted.
Well… for the most part. I never found that stupid screw. It’s still floating around in Diana’s power supply somewhere. However, she’s been running for a few days solid now without incident, and she doesn’t really move around much. With any luck, that screw has tucked itself into a corner somewhere and will never be a problem. Then again, I’ve never been one to believe in luck.
As the (dis)honorable Mr. Wright over at eviscerati.org mentioned, National Novel Writing Month is only a few days away. It figures. I could really use “NaNoWriMo” to get a kick-start on a few projects but… in November? C’mon….
What possessed these people to pick November, of all months, for this? Not only is that the month of Thanksgiving (at least here in the States), which means I’ll be traveling a lot to visit family, but it’s the month leading into December, so that means Christmas shopping, things going on at the church, end of year things at work, etc. I suppose the only month that could possibility be worse than November would be December (which is probably why it wasn’t chosen). And this particular November is not a good one for me. Not only am I starting Year Eight of GPF (which is the next big year-long mega-arc), but my buffer has seriously been trashed by cons, vacations, and illness, so I’m working double-time to rebuild myself back up to eight weeks ahead from an all-time low of three weeks. That’s not to mention job hunting, as I’m fairly certain I won’t be on my current contract come the beginning of the year.
I could really use NaNoWriMo. Oh, how I could use it. While I’ve got a good ten or twelve other comic projects I’d love to launch, I have even more ideas that could work as novels, movies, or television series. I’ve got one that I’ve been brewing for a good eight or nine years now that I conceived back in college. While I’ve got a good four or five books worth of plot and characterization multitasking in and out of my brain’s CPU, I have virtually nothing down on paper or hard disk about it. I have to take time to put this down, and NaNoWriMo is the perfect excuse. It’s just that I’ve got twenty more excuses vying for my attention right now, and none of those are willing to give up their precious time.
Yes, I’d like to have some cheese with my whine now. A fine, aged Romano should do. It’s sharp, strong, and stinky, just like me. Well… maybe I’m stretching on the sharp and strong part.
Anyone who’s paid serious attention to the behind the scenes stuff at GPF knows I’m a big Paint Shop Pro fan. I have been for years. I first tried PSP (back before Sony appropriated the acronym) back around version 3.x, and ended up using it 420+ days into my 30-day trial. By the time version 5.x came around, I sprung for the under $100 price tag to buy the full version. Compared to Photoshop’s $500+ price tag, it was a steal. The combination of power and features for the low price made it my primary recommendation to webcartoonists looking for a cheap image editing tool. I’ve used PSP for years now, and with the exception of a few tiny little things that it doesn’t do so well (like saving CMYK TIFFs for print), I’ve used it exclusively to produce 2000+ comics and five books. (Yes, Book #5 is finally on the way.)
However, times, they are a changin’. I’ve been using PSP 7.04 for a couple years now. I skipped version 8 at first because I was too cheap to spring for a new version, and then when I finally saw a copy of it at Plan Nine I wasn’t that impressed. They moved things around so much I had problems finding the tools I wanted. Combine that with the fact that I didn’t see any new features that seemed useful and I decided to sit back and wait. The next thing I know, version 9 zooms out and, seemingly the next day, Corel has bought out my beloved Jasc and PSP is now part of their line-up. The price has jumped steadily since the last copy I bought and now hovers around $130. While that’s still more reasonable than Photoshop’s $600 (that’s 4.5 times as much for virtually the same set of features), it’s still getting pricier.
Mind you, I haven’t tried the new Paint Shop Pro X. (Curse you, Steve Jobs. Now everyone thinks Roman numerals are the “it” thing for version numbers. At least it’s better than using the year….) I haven’t even seen it in a store yet, just on Corel’s website, so I can’t really speak intelligently about the product. But I’m starting feel the Technology Mudslide catching up with me. You know, that’s that sinking feeling that technology is advancing so quickly around you that you feel like you’re falling further and further behind, and no matter what you try, you’ll never catch up. I’ve encountered that a few times in my professional career when I’ve been stuck using version x of a product because of customer requirements, while the vendor is on version x + 2 and all the new job postings only want the latest and greatest. I never thought I’d hit that with PSP, but apparently I have.
So now, the quandary. Do I shell out $130 for the latest and greatest version of a product that has dramatically changed over three version numbers and a change of hands, unsure if I’ll still be able to do the simplest of tasks that I currently take for granted? Do I keep using the same rapidly aging version I’m accustomed to and hope when Windows eXPlotive2 (or whatever the next version of Microsoft taxation is called when it comes out) hits it will still work? Or do I jump ship and try something totally new? I’ve still got that coupon from Wacom to get Photoshop CS at half price… but if $130 is too expensive in my opinion, can I really justify $300…?
Of course, the obvious answer that any Open Source-minded computer/art geek will mention is… the GIMP. Lest you think I’ve been living under the proverbial cyber rock for too long, the GIMP’s been on my radar for quite some time. The first time I installed Linux on one of my boxes I made sure GIMP was there and I ran a few experiments with it. Unfortunately, that old machine (Pandora, for the curious) was rather underpowered and ineffectual at running X Windows, let alone something as hefty as the GIMP. When we upgraded machines and I had something more beefy to play with, I tried again, but had trouble finding the right tool do do the task I wanted to perform. I have a few GIMP books here and there, but other than skimming them, I haven’t done much else with them. After all, why should I spend valuable time learning a totally new tool when I’ve grown quite adept at the one I use all the time?
Wipe that smirk off your face. I recognize the irony.
On a whim, I swung by the GIMP site yesterday, just to see what version they were on. 2.2.8. The last version I had was 1.2.x (and that one had only been loaded up a couple times). Might as well give it a try. So I downloaded it and the latest GTK+ for Windows and installed it on Apollo, the ThinkPad that handles 99.9% of all GPF work now. (It’s already installed on Demeter, the current top of the Linux boxen, but I rarely use her for workstation type duties.)
I was pleasantly surprised. They’ve improved the interface a good bit and made finding options for some of the tools easier. The greatest of all surprises, though, is it recognizes my Intous3’s pressure sensitivity. PSP 7.x doesn’t. As a test, I opened up the raw scanned line art for the October 31, 2005 strip and started working on it. Although I was still unfamiliar with the toolset and I seriously missed some of my old PSP tricks, I was able to clean up the lines and completely color the first panel so it looked identical to the final version I recently did in PSP. It wasn’t a very thorough test, however, as that particular panel didn’t have any text or bizarre special effects in it, but it was still farther than I had gotten the last time I tried something like this. Maybe having the tablet helped a little (“drawing” selections right-handed with a mouse when you’re left handed isn’t easy), but maybe being more patient probably had a greater impact.
There’s been a nagging part of me that’s wanted for a long time to ditch Windows completely and go completely Open Source. I’m too realistic to go cold turkey, though, as there are far too many Windows-only apps that I rely on. PSP has been one of my primary anchors to Windows. But I’m impressed with how far the GIMP has come since I last worked with it. I think I’ll keep doing some experimentation and perhaps even try working some simple GPF strips exclusively in GIMP to see how they go. Who knows… maybe I won’t need PSP anymore after all….
Last Friday, I had the honor of being invited to speak to Ms. Rubin’s 7th grade art classes at Philo Middle School in Winston-Salem. Ms. Rubin is a friend of a former employee of Plan Nine, so she requested down the chain to see if any of P9’s artists might be available to come by her class. I just happen to live in the Piedmont Triad area, so I was the logical choice. It took several months to actually work out a good time for me to come by, but I think it was definitely worth it.
I was asked specifically to talk to the kids about what it’s like to be a professional cartoonist. On one hand, I was honored to be invited; on the other, I feel kind of bad about being called a “professional,” when I don’t exactly meet the National Cartoonists Society’s criteria to be considered a “professional.” Oh, well. Still, I had a blast. Although I was nervous, the kids had lots of great questions and seemed to be impressed enough with my art, the books, and especially my Wacom tablet. Even the Fred plush doll made an appearance (and briefly served as an impromptu beach ball).
The sketch above of Fred was done live on the tablet while the kids were watching. (A larger composite of several other sketches is up as this week’s Keenspot PREMIUM-exclusive Jeff’s Sketchbook feature.) I apologize for the quality of this, as I’m still new to using the tablet itself to actually draw on the computer. I still draw my line art on Bristol board and just use the tablet for clean-up work, so I’m still learning. The reason Fred looks a little bit squashed is because I was looking at the projected screen at an odd angle, so it threw my perspective off a little bit.
Still, it was fun and an honor to talk to the kids. I felt odd telling them about “back when I was your age,” but it was interestingly true. When I was in junior high, I was writing regular comics for my own enjoyment. I can look back at those comics and see how far I’ve come. I reviewed some of their recent projects, and I noticed how familiar they looked to my own scrawlings from way back when. I even got a chuckle from Ms. Rubin when I said, “I even used to draw in class when my teachers thought I was paying attention… not that you guys would ever do that.”