Monday, August 31, 2009

Hipposeal (Sculpt-a-day 31)

Hipposeal, sculpted 8/31/09, polymer clay over foil and wire

It's done! The last sculpt of the month. Later, a wrap up and some comments. It's been a fun project.

_Pride and Joy_ by Garth Ennis

I'm thinking I'm gonna stop reading Garth Ennis books. They're super violent. He's the guy who did Preacher, which was too gory for my taste. This one was more positive than most, really. This graphic novel is about a guy with two kids whose past as a thief catches up with him, in the person of a homicidal mobster. Strong shades of Cape Fear here, but it's new enough to be interesting. The quantity of collateral damage bothered me, but the writing is solid.

Seems like everyone has done a crime graphic novel. I frankly love the genre. I guess it's a natural seque from superhero books to crime books.

Uglin (Sculpt-a-day 30)

Uglin, polymer clay over wire

Later I'll make a list-post of "things I'm not proud of" and this guy will top it.

Floating cloud happy faces

A Brit came up with a machine that makes foam happy faces whose bubbles are filled with they float. How long before people do advertisements this way?

UPDATED: Apparently the guy featured didn't make the machine. He took an existing machine and added a template? I think? Umm, floating smiley faces hurray?

Sadhead (Sculpt-a-day 29)

Sadhead, polymer clay on a stick

Bobzilla (Sculpt-a-day 28)

Bobzilla, sculpted 8/29/09, polymer clay over foil and wire

Chloe drew a great picture of Godzilla. This guy was supposed to look like her picture. He doesn't, much. But he was fun.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Giant schnauzer invades Austin

I'd never seen a giant schnauzer in the flesh before last week...when I saw one at work. A coworker brought one in for the day.

_Up in Honey's Room_ by Elmore Leonard

Set near the end of WWII, this is a meandering tale about some wannabe Nazi spies and federal marshal tracking down an escaped German POW. This was fun all the way, and the plot is subtle. I like what Leonard did here, this could have beeen a pretty standard plot and it isn't. Instead, this focuses on the characters, with the standouts being Honey Deal herself and the federal marshal Carlos Webster. Here's Honey talking about her ex-husband:

"I honestly thought I could turn him around, but the man still acts like a Nazi. I couldn't budge him."
"You walked out," Muriel said, "just like that?"
"I valked out," Honey said. "I'm free as a bird. You know what else? I won't have to do my roots every two weeks. Dumb me, I spent a whole year wanting him to think I'm a natural blonde."
"He couldn't tell other ways you aren't?"
"Anytime Walter wanted some, he'd turn off the light before taking off his pajamas."

I like the way the characters can be funny and crude and still show a little class. It places them tightly in their own time.

Thumb wrestling

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Octowizard, what I thought was cool when I was 13

I drew this this week. It's supposed to be a humanoid creature with an octopus head. It looks more like an octopus sitting on a coatrack.

It's not much different from the pictures of it I drew when I was 13. I had some kind of Dungeons & Dragons adventure setting that I was working on where I thought it would be cool to have these demonic octopus wizard things which I called Octowizards. Although the name isn't very clever, I like it better than something like O'pa'klah. (Klingon for 'octowizard'.)

Sadly, I still think this is fun. Maybe I'll sculpt one. When I was 13 I thought this looked ominous. Now it just looks cute.

How one old black man defeated the Ku Klux Klan

I can't recommend this short video enough. It's a chunk of an interview with a reformed former Klansman(Johnny Lee Clary), talking about how one black minister responded to threats and violence with humor and verve and won. I found it because it was featured this weak on BoingBoing.

From Cartographer's Guild to Maps of Mastery, great fantasy maps

I dabbled in the site Cartographer's Guild after looking at the old-school D&D map tutorial there. There are a bunch of really nice maps of fantasy towns/regions/continents/what have you over there. This site, by a professional map artist, has some great examples.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Brass Frown (Sculpt-a-day 27)

Brass Frown, sculpted 8/25/09, polymer clay on a stick

Things that make you go arrgh

An enjoyable evening. Apparently I'm getting enough sleep, because I started the evening with three children, and I still have all of them.

Long about 7:30 PM, Lily (4) comes hollering in from the back yard, covered in mud and saying Chloe (9) did it. Chloe sneaks in and immediately heads for the bathroom so that I don't find out until she climbs the stairs, tracking mud all the way, that she's in the same predicament. But I'm already stripping Lily, standing her in the bathtub, trying to wash the mud down the drain without success.

This is solved with good humor, however, by Chloe herself, who showers Lily, normally a process filled with screams, managing to convince Lily it's a game, while I read an Elmore Leonard novel from the bed.

Later I go to check on Ethan (12) and Chloe, who've been not actually going to sleep, and I find them both in Ethan's room playing with Ethan's Game Boy. I confiscate all their gadgets, including a cable from Ethan's console game, and deliver them to their mother for safekeeping. But how mad can I be? They've not fought at all the whole evening. The only time they don't fight is when they are playing video games together. Now they've banded against us to do it in secret, and I can only marvel.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Punkinhead (Sculpt-a-day 26)

Punkinhead, sculpted 8/25/09, polymer clay on a stick

UPDATE: Slightly better, digitally-edited pic....

_Gentlemen of the Road_ by Michael Chabon

I enjoyed this book, but it was no Yiddish Policeman's Union...which is a hard act to follow. It is best when its characters are confronted with difficult choices. They are hard-hearted thieves and mercenaries...who somehow return time and again to help a noble childe in need.

With Yiddish Policeman's Union I was fascinated by the language; here, I was less conscious of it, which is not a complaint. I liked the langurous style of it.

A kingdom near Byzantium ruled by Jews figures in the story, but the issues of Judeaism didn't seem as prominent here. Perhaps that's the point: to make Jewish power an ordinary thing.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Neoneo (Sculpt-a-day 25)

Neoneo, sculpted 8/25/09, polymer clay over a golf ball

This one cracked a little after baking. It's a very thin layer of clay over a golf ball. Inspired by a McDonald's Neopet plush toy.

Eternal Earthbound Pets

See, people think such terrible things of atheists. But when it comes to the Rapture, who's going to be left on earth? Atheists...and animals, including the pets of Christians. So who's going to take care of those pets? That's where Eternal Earthbound Pets comes in, bringing peace of mind to Christians everywhere.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Gumgum (Sculpt-a-day 24)

Gumgum, sculpted 8/25/09, polymer clay

Spearman (Sculpt-a-day 23)

Spearman, sculpted 8/23/09, polymer clay over wire

_Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda_ by Stassen

This short graphic novel tells the tale of one boy of Rwanda, whose life has been ruined by the genocide of 1994.

It begins with a prologue that describes the circumstances of the conflict between Hutus and Tutsis that killed eight hundred thousand people in only a hundred days. It has powerful images in both senses of the word: great art, great dialogue, and a great, if terrible, story, that flashes between the time before the massacre and the time after.

Original D&D-style map tutorial

I got a kick out of this tutorial that teaches you some useful tricks for using a full-featured image tool like the GIMP, because the product of the tutorial is a dungeon map like one from the early versions of D&D.

If you haven't tried GIMP before, or tried it a while back and left, know that recent versions are really easy to install on Windows. It wasn't always this way, but things got better.

The tutorial shows you how use layers effectively, and won't take you very long. Normally the tutorial would require that you register for the Cartographer's Guild forum where it is hosted, but if you do the following, you won't really need it.

The first part of the tutorial is about installing a pattern file that you can use to make a grid pattern. However, one of the commenters on the forum posted a simpler method, where you use the GIMP's Filters->Render->Pattern->Grid command to generate a grid on your background without needing any special files. The trick is to set your GIMP grid and your rendered grid to use the same values -- in this case 50 pixels x 50 pixes, with no offsets. To make sure you are doing this right, select View->Grid and make sure your grid is being displayed as crosshairs. Then do the Filter->Render'll know you've got it right when your rendered grid completely overlays the crosshairs.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Coin flipping isn't as random as we think

Here's an interesting piece on the true probabilities of coin flipping. The explanation of why a coin is 51% more likely to land with the same face up that was up when you flipped it is easy to follow and surprising.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

White Guy (Sculpt-a-day 22)

White Guy, sculpted 8/22/09, polymer clay over wire and greenstuff epoxy

He had a ball cap. But it fell off when I dropped him. He's kind of an Aryan Mister Bill.

Four Ears (Sculpt-a-day 21)

Four Ears, sculpted 8/21/09, polymer clay over foil

This guy's chief virtue is his close resemblance to the drawing I made before sculpting him.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

_Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets_ by David Simon

Looks like the popularity of this book is going to keep me from finishing it...I'm going to have to turn it in before I'm done with it. This is another David Simon work of intense journalism. It follows a year in a Baltimore Homicide squad. It's the book that led to the Homicide TV series.

It's a good book but I feel less urge to read the whole thing than I would a novel. I'm not seeing much overall structure here. I've read about half of it.

The bit I just read was about Miranda warnings and how police balefully predicted the warnings would ruin interrogations; instead, cops have learned to tell suspects they have the right to remain silent while hinting that the only thing that will save them is spilling everything. Simon crafts this paradox into an insight into American institutions: fairness pulling against the state's need to incarcerate.

Simon has an interesting style where he sort of talks to the reader as if he were a local, a Baltimorean street character laying down the law for the reader.

He also writes scenes as if they were from a novel:

"This is giving me a headache," says Wahls. Brown nods. "I'm going to need a lift home after we finish with this."

I noticed a detective Jay Landsman in the book, who reminded me of the character Meyer Landsman from Chabon's fantastic Yiddish Policeman's Union. According to Wikipedia, Landsman is now an actor, and Chabon's character is an homage to him.

Lines about police departments' worship of statistics are also interesting, highlighting how the stats make all murders equal, while detectives divide them into no-brainer "dunkers

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Red dragon (Sculpt-a-day 20)

Red dragon, sculpted 8/20/09, polymer clay over foil

Dragonfly (Sculpt-a-day 19)

Dragonfly, sculpted 8/19/09, polymer clay over wire

_Sporting Chance_ by Elizabeth Moon

Elizabeth Moon was at Armadillocon this past weekend, so when I bumped into this book
at the local library, I picked it up. It had a space-opera sort of cover -- a spaceship, a hot-air balloon, and the back cover blurb sounded fun.

Elizabeth Moon was at Armadillocon this past weekend, so when I bumped into this book at the local library, I picked it up. It had a space-opera sort of cover -- a spaceship, a hot-air balloon, and the back cover blurb sounded fun.

It was fun. It was a fast-paced space romp distinguished by having a woman space captain as the main character, helming a plucky rich lady's yacht crewed by a bunch of ex-military types. It turned out to be the second in a series of books about space captain Heris Serrano. Serrano made a great viewpoint character, capable but with plenty to worry about.

I like this setup: basing your book around a single spaceship large enough to have five to ten colorful characters on it, and pack a few surprises, is a fantastic plot device.

The book developed a lot of tension by the end and I was on the edge of my seat. I recommend it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Ethan invents spaghetti tacos

Send your royalty checks straight to me.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Harold (Sculpt-a-day 18)

Harold, sculpted 8/18/09, polymer clay over foil

Toothbunny (Sculpt-a-day 17)

Toothbunny, sculpted 8/17/09, polymer clay over foil and wire

I'm behind on posting these, so I'm playing catch up today. This one inspired by the works of Leslie Levings.

Read all the Hugo-winning novels; read lots

One of the speakers, Scott Lynch, at last weekend's Armadillocon suggested that aspiring writers read all the best sci fi and fantasy as part of their education. The Hugo Award winners were suggested as a starting place. So I've started a list. Looks like, at a glance, I've already read 35 of the 59 winners, so maybe I'll look to the nominees after that. Here are some links I collected in this search:

Another suggestion from Lynch in the same kick-your-writing-up-a-notch vein was to simply read more...I think he said he started reading 100 novels a year when he worked on this.

Find this guy, win $5k, via Wired

Wired magazine is running a contest where an author has gone into hiding for 30 days starting August 15, and if you can locate him by September 15, you win $5000. He's actually posting some of his credit info so that you can have the sort of info a professional investigator might have. I think this is in context of some articles about how hard it is to disappear in our modern world.

_Castle Panic_ board game

At Armadillocon this weekend, buddy Doug and I tried out Castle Panic, a boardgame made by an Austingame company that will be available in a few weeks...maybe more in other cities.

I won the demo game we played, so I think it's a great game. The short skinny: easy to learn, clear bold graphic design, sturdy pieces, efficient game mechanics, fast tense gameplay.

The general premise is that the players, together, are defending a castle in the woods against monsters who come from the woods to attack it. There are two mechanics that I thought were interesting:

  • The monsters move automatically; they're not controlled by the players. They arise from the woods at random points and then move straight for the castle, except when cards modify their moves. The feel is that of a video game, where many dumb opponents keep heading for you and you have to take them out as quickly as you can.
  • If the castle is destroyed, everyone loses. Your goal is to kill all the monsters before that happens, then be the person with the most valuable pile of monsters. Y0u'll often want to help other players when a monster gets close to the castle, even if that means letting the other player get points.
You attack monsters using cards. The board has a sort of radian-style grid...nested circles make named rings, and lines divide the rings into arcs. Each arc can be referenced by a color and name. There's an archer ring, so if a monster is coming in through the blue sector and enters the archer ring, you can hit it with a Blue Archer card. And then there are cards that can hit anywhere in blue, and cards that can hit anywhere in archer.

At the end of every turn, all the monsters advance one space each, and you must draw a couple of new monster cards to add to the board. The kicker is that sometimes a monster card says "draw four new monsters" or moves all the monsters in farther.

It quickly becomes a panic: when you were confidently planning to hit a monster with a card, and that monster moves somewhere else, your plans go awry.

I liked it. I plan to pick it up as soon as it's available.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

An earlier goblin (Sculpt-a-day 16)

Goblin, polymer clay, sculpted early 2009

Filling in today with an older goblin sculpt that I somehow never posted. This one has been primed after sculpting. I like the design, the face, the hair, hate the arms.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Simplest snake (Sculpt-a-day 15)

Simplest snake, polymer clay and wire, sculpted 8/2/09

I'm at Armadillocon 2009 today, so I'm preposting something from earlier in the month.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tiny goblin (Sculpt-a-day 14)

Tiny goblin, sculpted 7/30/09, polymer clay and wire armature.

This guy is absolutely nothing to get excited about, but he made me happy because he's smaller than my previous goblin effort and I sculpted him very quickly. I used carving methods for his face, which I haven't tried much, and I want to do more of that.

I'm at Armadillocon 2009 today, so I'm preposting something from the start of this project.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Goblin head (Sculpt-a-day 13)

Goblin head, sculpted 8/12/09, polymer clay over foil on a skewer

Ethan bakes a cake

Ethan called me at work yesterday to ask how to get tiny bundt cakes out of their pan. I was not much help. He made this cake-on-cake monstrosity all by himself. It was delicious. Pictures by Marie Welsch.

_Screenwriting 101_ by Neil D. Hicks

I picked up a copy of this writing book at my local library after seeing it mentioned on the Mechanical Hamster blog. I'm liking it a lot.

I'm only halfway through it, which carries some risk in even talking about it ... but it's not a novel that could go bad at the end so I'm not too worried. I get excited about books in the middle...when they're done, I go on to the next book, and then I often fail to blog them at all.

This book has so far spent a lot of time on story structure, and its concepts are very similar to those in another screenwriting book, Story by Robert McKee. But this book is much shorter and the topics and exercises seem easier to follow and more practical. Since I think Story is really onto some genius stuff, this is a good thing.

Now, I think story structure, the mystery of what makes a story work, is THE thing I need to learn, so that colors my opinion. I dunno why but the screenwriting/playwriting folk write about this stuff a lot. Another similar book is The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri.

Egri's book and McKees are also books that I'm currently working on. I've owned both for a while and I haven't finished a complete read of either one. I get to a certain point and decide I should go off and work on my writing and absorb it. I don' t think that's a bad thing; I think both books have a lot to teach and are much better than most writing books.

I expect I'll pick up my own copy of Screenwriting 101. It's full of exercises and invites you to scribble all over it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Plesiosaur (Sculpt-a-day 12)

Plesiosaur, sculpted 8/11/09, polymer clay over wire and foil