Here’s a clarification of my recent Tweet about Diana. Sometime over the weekend Diana, our primary Linux box that serves as the backbone of our home network (DNS, file server, internal Web server, SSH gateway, SVN repository server, etc.), gave up the ghost. I only discovered this yesterday evening, so I haven’t had much time to diagnose the problem. It’s almost certainly a hardware issue. I’m thinking it’s the power supply or the motherboard, as when I try to power her up, nothing happens. The power light comes on, I can watch the CPU fan twitch like it wants to start spinning, but otherwise nothing else visible occurs. No output makes its way to the monitor so there are no error messages to follow.
At this point, I’m not sure of the status of the hard drives. My hope is that they’re fine; the obvious problem appears to be occurring before they even start to spin, as if they’re not getting any power (and that’s why I suspect it’s a power supply issue). The good news is that Demeter, her predecessor, has been sitting idle and collecting dust and has since been rapidly pressed back into service. I should be able to slip Diana’s disks into Demeter, check their integrity, and hopefully recover the data. That’s the core thing right now, getting the data off; hardware is replaceable, data is not. The only hitch is that Demeter is old enough that I’m not sure her BIOS will read Diana’s larger disks. Demeter’s current HD is already larger than her BIOS supports, though, and Linux seems to work fine in this situation, so I’m hoping that won’t be a problem. A worst-case scenario might be to throw a live Linux distro into Athena, our current “alpha” Windows XP desktop, and try to grab the data that way. (Diana’s disks are in ext3, which obviously Windows can’t read.) Both Demeter and Diana have EIDE drives while Athena uses SATA, but I’m almost certain Athena also has legacy EIDE on the motherboard somewhere; if not, I’m hosed there.
Why might this be a concern to you? Well, for one thing, Diana was one of several redundant backup locations for storing my my high-resolution original strips. Fortunately, everything from Year Nine and back has already been backed up to multiple DVDs stored in multiple physical locations, while Year Ten’s files are stored across three redundant drives (two in separate physical machines and one external USB drive). More importantly, Diana was my SVN repository server, housing all the source code for the GPF site. I have working copies of that repository in multiple locations so I’m not hurting there, but with the repository down I’m stuck manually keeping those working copies in sync. The biggest problem that may affect you guys is the humongous time sink this will be for me to repair/replace Diana and get all our internal mechanisms working again. With my day job, two hours of commute, and toddler patrol vying for my time, my comic production schedule is severely squeezed as it is. This is probably going to impact that buffer I was forced to take a hiatus in December to reclaim as I wasn’t able to increase my production, just maintain the status quo.
For those of you who might care, I’ll post updates here when I can. More frequent cries of frustration will likely come through the Twitter feed. If the comic will be severely impacted, you’ll get something in the GPF News. So keep watching those RSS feeds.
Following up last week’s post, here’s the current GPF update schedule plans. The strip will continue to update weekly (please hold your groaning until the end of the post) until February 2008. While I’m still trying to be optimistic that I’ll soon be able to increase my updates to at least thrice per week, I’m also realistic enough to know it’s definitely not going to happen with the big fall/winter holidays coming up (namely Thanksgiving and Christmas). So I’m taking the safe route and officially putting off any frequency updates until well after that. Sketchbook reruns will continue on Wednesdays during this time.
For Fridays, we’ll start running the Book 2 bonus story on November 2nd (GPF’s ninth anniversary). This story will run until January 18th, and we’ll double-up on the Sketchbook reruns until February 1st. Like the first book’s bonus story, this will run once and never again, so if you don’t have a copy of the book this is your only chance to see it completely free. Technically, there’s an archived online version available for owners of the book, but you need to have access to the physical book to get in the first time. (Unfortunately, it probably suffers from the same problem as the book 1 online version in that different printings of the book won’t match the questions asked, so not everyone will probably be able to get in. I’m trying to think of a good workaround for this, but I doubt that’s going to happen any time soon.)
Much to my chagrin, I’m drastically chopping down the final chapter of To Thine Own Self… to alleviate the torture to all of us in having it drag on too much longer. If I were still updating seven days a week, I could see spending several weeks each expounding on the wedding reception, Trudy’s internal conflicts about her return, why Patty hates weddings, and what really happened to the Gamester. But even I can’t really justify dragging it out that much, not when we’re getting buffeted by the wind gusts of passing snails. So I’ve cropped Chapter Eight down to the bare essentials, the plot points that we absolutely can’t go without, and I’ll push out some of the otherwise unresolved threads to be answered later on. This means that TTOS will either end on February 13th if I can actually increase the updates to thrice per week in February, or March 3rd if we continue at once per week to that point. Beyond that, GPF will officially enter Year Nine (about a year and a half behind schedule), where I’ll be heavily concentrating more on humor than plot. (Even I need to take a break.)
More updates as soon as I have them….
Last month I stated that I hoped to have GPF back to a M-W-F schedule by November. Nuh-uh. Not gonna happen. While Ben’s sleep patterns are much more predictable (save for the occasional oddity like this past Wednesday night, where none of us got more than two hours sleep) and we’ve made significant headway in cleaning up and organizing our basement, I haven’t gotten any strips done since that September 10th post. Getting seven comics done in that week must have been a fluke, because I certainly haven’t been able to repeat it.
The hardest part of maintaining my schedule has to be the scripting. Drawing the line art is difficult because it means I have be sequestered in the basement at the art desk for about a half hour to an hour per strip. I’ve been working on ways to do the line art digitally, but all those R&D efforts have been largely on hold since Ben’s birth. And while it’s possible for everyone else to come down to the basement with me, I really don’t want to dictate what everyone else can do just to buy me art desk time. (At the moment, there’s little down there to entertain Ben with anyway.) Doing the digital half of the strips (clean-up, text, colors, etc.) can be time consuming but at least I can do those on the laptop in the living room with the rest of the family, so I can be a part of what’s going on and readily available if someone needs me.
But scripting is tough because I really need to shut myself off from everyone else and concentrate. Big stories like To Thine Own Self… usually have a large, overall time line that I follow from the beginning, but I very rarely script things down to the individual strip level that far in advance. Individual strips, jokes, and dialog are usually written as I come to them unless they are so critical to the plot that they need advance planning or I come up with something so good I can’t afford to forget it. So before I work on each “week” of strips (Sunday + six dailies) I hide myself somewhere quiet and script each line of dialog, block out each panel, and occasionally reorder things if necessary. This way I have a plan by the time I get to the art desk so my time there is most efficiently used and I’ve got a second chance to improve the art before it becomes semi-permanent. Scripting is time consuming because I write out each line of dialog (which I don’t do during the art desk phase; I just leave sufficient space and add the text digitally), occasionally erase and reword it, and sketch every panel. Often I have to think hard about how the dialog flows, who says what in what order, and what kind of punchline I can use for the last panel. I actually think scripting is the most time-consuming part of the process, because to do it right I can’t be interrupted. I can step away from the art desk or laptop and come back with little mental paging; scripting is a mindset, and when I am forced out of it, I often have to reorganize my thoughts to get back to where I was when I left. And none of what I’ve mentioned so far has brought research to light, since many times I have to go back and re-read old stories to make sure I get all the back references correct.
And that’s where I am now. I’m in the scripting phase for the next “week”, and I just can’t get enough time together to step away from everything else to hide myself away and just write. I may need to re-evaluate my process and look for alternative scripting methods, like typing dialog and descriptions into the computer first at times when I can’t sketch. I’ve tried that before, usually when I’m working with another artist for a crossover, but it rarely seems to work well for me. Part of the scripting work is figuring out how much space the dialog takes up per panel and balancing text versus art so one doesn’t overpower the other. That’s hard to do in a word processor. But right now, I can’t think of anything better to do than forsaking my family and effectively ceasing to exist for several hours.
So no big comeback in November. Sorry, folks, but thems the breaks. Nobody could be more frustrated about it than I am. I’m not sure what, if anything, I’ll do for GPF’s ninth anniversary. The strip will likely continue on the weekly Monday schedule at least through the end of the year; there’s no way I’ll be able to up my schedule with the winter holidays coming up. The Sketchbook Reruns will probably continue the “Rejected Story Month” updates during that time, and I’ll probably run the Book #2 bonus story on Fridays once the Book #1 bonus runs out. After that… we’ll just have to wait and see.