26 Jan

The Gag Machine 1.01R

NewSS2Too exhausted to talk much about this tonight but I’m (hopefully) finished preparing the new website and software project. From now on, it’s dealing with anything that crops up and, in the coming weeks, improving it as I hopefully get feedback from users.

What is ‘The Gag Machine’? It’s the Windows-based development/improvement of the app I wrote for Android last year. I never shared it with the world but I’ve found enormously helpful. I wrote it to help with my cartooning and it genuinely helps me come up with new gag ideas. However, I’ve now made it flexible enough that anybody can import sets of data (it reads simple .txt files, one item per line) which it then randomly displays. You can control which fields change as well as the ordering and a whole bunch of other things. You can export files containing many thousands of variations… I’m really not doing a great job of marketing this but I’m absolutely exhausted. I’m asking what I hope is a fair price, especially for the packs which contain the data I use myself and which are the key ingredient. If you’re a cartoonist/creative and you can’t afford it, then I’m also willing to give it away for free if you genuinely can’t afford it. How do people convince me that they can’t afford it? I haven’t yet decided. I guess it’s not my job to do the persuading.

So, please, if you’re interested in, head over there and downloads the trial. And please be gentle if there are any small problems I’ve not yet spotted. Even thought it’s a simple project, working on my own means that this has been both a labour of love but sometimes a bit overwhelming. One other point: It does require the .NET 4.5 framework, so depending on which version of Windows you’re running, there might be an additional download from Microsoft.

I guess this is what’s called a ‘soft launch’ if, by ‘soft launch’, we mean I’m now going to hide in a dark corner for about a week…

Before I do that: here’s a video I did about two weeks ago when I previously thought I was finished. The performance/looks/functionality of the software has improved but (as you can see) I put too much effort into drawing the cartoon ideas that emerged from this session not to use this video.

24 Jan


Saturday has been about my exhaustion. I’m just knackered. A long week has finally caught up with me.

I’ve also given up attempting to say when I’m going to launch my software. I want to say ‘next week, definitely’ but I fear putting a jinx on it. The past week has been a hectic one but I’m now at the point where I could launch it right now. Everything is done. Everything seems to work. However, showing it to a couple of people has resulted in my adding a few new tweakable options. I’m trying to make more features available to registered users, albeit they’re largely cosmetic features such as custom colour schemes and (late last night) an option to have your own skinned background.

It’s probably/definitely gilding the lily, if what I have here is in any sense a lily. It does what it does and people will either want it or reject based on how well it fulfills that. The rest is simply my indulgence.

One unexpected result of this tweaking has been my discovering a weakness of using Windows Forms, which I now realise take an age to update. A little research has explained why and now I discover that whilst Forms are relatively easy to program, the future of Windows development is something called ‘WPF’ or ‘Windows Presentation Foundation’. Luckily, the 8 in 1 book on C# I bought for £1 yesterday has an entire book devoted to WPF, which I tried to read this afternoon but my brain shut down and I fell asleep.

But this is vague rambling. I still need to find one cartoonist who’d be willing to try this software for me and to see if they find it useful. A little input would boost my confidence and might actually make me commit to this little bugger.

23 Jan

My Bargain Books

This never normally happens to me so you have to excuse my excitement. I was walking along the street this afternoon when something caught my eye. I was outside a charity shop and I’d spotted the name ‘Joseph Campbell’ sticking out of a box of cheap secondhand books. Now, that’s not the sort of thing you’d expect in our town. I mean, this is a *very* poor northern working class town. We don’t have bookshops and the books you normally see in secondhand bookshops are the kinds of books you expect to see in secondhand books shops in working class towns: they’re either books by Peter Kay or books about Peter Andre. Books on comparative mythology just don’t turn up around here and I was immediately shocked to think there’s another Campbell fan within a few miles of me and I don’t even know who they are.

So, I pick it up and rummage through the box only to find a rather excellent collection of essays (and a few cartoons) from Punch. So, into the shop I go. I hand them the woman at the desk. She doesn’t know what to ask. She explained (though not in these exact words) that the books were from the box where they put the general crap and not the quality Cheryl Cole books which they keep inside… Sigh…

So, she proceeds to charge me 20p for the two of them. ‘Myths To Live By’, incidentally, currently selling on eBay for about a tenner second hand. Mine cost 10p.

I was walking out the shop not believing my luck when I thought to myself: why quit now? I might as well look in the back and see if there’s any more of this ‘crap’ for which they clearly don’t know the value. So, off I go, looking over the bookcase, which consists mainly of cookery books, books by Terry Wogan, and (like I’ve said), countless books ‘by’ Cheryl Cole. And there, sitting at the bottom, among old telephone directories and colouring books in which children had already done their colouring: a clean unused copy of C# for Dummies, the 2010 edition containing 8 books in 1. A post it stuck inside suggested that the previous owner had only reached page 92 before quitting. It’s currently selling on eBay, second hand, for £24. I tried to act casual as I handed it over.

‘Oh,’ they usually have a price on. She waved it at another woman. ‘How much Doreen?

Doreen sucked her teeth. ‘Oh that old thing. See if he’ll give a pound.’

The woman held it up. ‘A pound? Is that okay?’

‘Sigh…’ I said. delaying my answer in case they wanted to reduce it further. ‘Oh, I suppose so…’ I said handing over my pound.

Talk about luck! Only last night I was looking on Amazon at C# books and lamenting about how ridiculously expensive they are. It might be a little our of date (covering C#4.0 instead of the current 5.0) but, as far as I can see, there’s no a great deal of difference.


22 Jan

Practical Pragmatism and the Pirates

I’ve been trying to think my way around the problem of software piracy and I’ve finally decided not to bother. I really can’t outwit people who are infinitely more intelligent than me.

My program works with simple registration keys but it wouldn’t take a half-decent hacker five minutes to work out how they work and how to generate their own. That annoys me but not so much. I have a fairly clear attitude towards piracy. I hope people will pay me for my work if they can afford to and if they find the software useful. If they can’t afford to but still find the software useful, then I’m tempted to give them an option of writing to me to ask for a free key. If somebody is really that hard up but wants my program, then perhaps I’ll give it to them for nothing. They need only say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and promise to pay me when they can afford to. That seems reasonable and how I’d like all software companies to work.

The remainder will be people who can afford to pay me but simply don’t want to pay me or don’t think the program it worth the money I’m asking. These are people who would *never* pay me so if they want to use some hackers version of my code or a serial number that will eventually end up floating around the web, then there’s nothing I can do about it.

Beyond that, what else I can do?

It is, of course, highly unlikely that people will want the bloody thing anyway. It’s such a simple bit of software that I’m even ashamed of asking for money…

Hmm. Too much negativity but it’s been a long day. I’d hoped to have a launch at some point but the simple problem I had turned out to be a major problem. I’d used a database in my code. Probably not the ideal solution but, when I began these two projects, I never expected to have workable products at the end. Learning to program what’s called an SQL database was wise since it taught me how to do it. However, when it came to distributing my code to other machines, those machines weren’t running software that could handle the database. Either I’d have to force my users to download some free third party software or I’d have to rewrite some large parts of my code. For my first project, I’ve decided to rewrite the code. It now uses arrays and is greatly improved because of that. It now goes like greased lightning. Stupid of me not to have done it this way in the first place but there’s something so romantic about SQL databases or, at least, romantic to me since I used to program them years ago.

The result of today’s effort is that my software now installs fine on other machines. The only remaining ‘problem’ is that users will have to download Microsoft’s latest version of the .NET framework, which is a fancy way of saying that my code is made from pieces of other code that Microsoft have written and in order for my code to work, the computer has to have the Microsoft code installed. It’s not a huge problem but a little irksome. Software made using Microsoft’s .NET framework is also notoriously easy to reverse engineer. It’s why I’m not putting too much effort into encrypting my registration codes.

I really need to finish this tomorrow and get on with other things.

22 Jan

Monster Doodles

I don’t have time to write all the things I could write about today. I could write about my renewed disgust with The Guardian for deleting my comment last night. I could write a long and passionate response to the Guardian reader who accused me of spouting ‘unthinking dogma’ when I take pride in thinking things through and, as I hope I’ve repeatedly shown on this blog, expressing my own opinion even when it isn’t the popular one. What constantly amazes about people who claim to be liberal in their politics is how many of them hate free speech or opinions which aren’t their own. They rarely enter into debate without resorting to petty insults and then throwing up the barricades to prevent further argument. If I had more time, I’d know out a 2000 word replay. ‘Unthinking dogma,’ indeed…

My new software is nearly ready to launch. I thought I was ready last night but I’ve got to fix a problem with the installer running on older versions of Windows. Once I have that done (hopefully the next ten minutes but perhaps the rest of this afternoon), the website will launch and I’ll be here all the time trying to drum up enthusiasm for it. If I could manage one or two sales in the next month, I think I’d feel mildly optimistic. I personally love the program and use it constantly.

In the meantime: two minor cartoons drawn in my mammoth cartoon drawing session on Sunday. The gags aren’t great but, for reasons which will become apparent, I’m quite pleased with the results.

Dracula Frankenstein

21 Jan

So Long Page 3, I’ll Miss You

I’ve never read The Sun so I’ve never been a regular admirer of Page 3. At the same time, I’ve never deliberately not read The Sun. Nor have I ever thought long and hard about what Page 3 represents. Was it really everything that the anti-Page 3 protesters claimed it to be? Did it really embody systemic violence towards women? Did it objectify women? The first I doubt but the second I’m certain about. It objectified women in the same way that any human objectifies another when they look at them in an admiring way. That’s neither a good nor a bad thing. It’s just human (and possibly mammalian) nature. We’re programmed to reproduce and part of that involves seeking out mates we find physically attractive. It’s simply not in our programming to think ‘I won’t find her body attractive until I know that she has a personality to match’. It simply doesn’t work that way.

What’s more telling is that the end of Page 3 isn’t really a victory for feminists. It’s a hard-nosed business decision taken in a climate in which Page 3 was become a tame parody of what’s really happening in the world. Personally, I can’t understand why anybody could get angry about Page 3 when the likes of David Beckham and Kim Kardashian can barely keep their clothes on. The whole of our culture has become sexualised and one mitigation in favour of Page 3 was that at least there was an aesthetic motivation behind it. It might have objectified women but it also idealised them in the very same way that Greek sculptors idealised the human form millennia ago and painters through the ages have idealised the female figure in oils and watercolours. A Page 3 photographer might lack their skill but there was something more to Page 3 than a pair of tits and a cheeky smile.

Yet I really fear that Page 3 is disappearing because it no longer plays at the edge of a taboo. The victory isn’t one for feminists but for the pornographers who simply aren’t satisfied with a slightly oblique view of the side of a breast. Campaigners might argue that the end of Page 3 shows what we’re a more enlightened civilization but, dare I suggest, it shows quite the opposite. Page 3 was remarkable not for what it showed but what it didn’t show. Page 3 was as much about restraint as it was about being explicit. It now becomes a thing of the past because the future will be about things that are much worse.


[Addendum: I just wrote a comment over at The Guardian and I thought it nicely fitted into what I was saying here. I’ll repost it here because I want to remember how confused I’m feeling on this whole issue. The comment is in response to a video they’ve posted about a women who had naked pictures of her stolen and posted on a porn site. She responded by publishing naked photographs of her which The Guardian has now published. I’m not quite sure how there’s a difference between that and Page 3, given that the subjects of both sets of pictures are giving their permission for them to be made public. Anyway: my comment…]

The Sun ditches Page 3 and The Guardian post a semi-naked woman on the front page to make a point about not objectifying her body, whilst very clearly objectifying her body.

Sorry. I know there’s so much to admire about what Emma has done but I’m not clever enough to know what I can or can’t look at. Should I have even clicked on this article? What does that say about me? Why aren’t I commenting on the adjacent article about hobbits? Am I allowed to objectify a hobbit body? Sorry. That was glib but I’m just confused about what my brain is supposed to tell my body to feel in these situations.

The simple fact is: people rightly celebrate the end of Page 3 but we live in a deeply sexualised culture where we’re never more than one or two clicks away from something not simply explicit but disturbingly explicit.

Though I know, typing this, that nobody will agree with me. Porn culture seems to be the only culture it’s fashionable to follow these days…

[Postscript: The above comment was deleted by the Guardian moderators, for reasons I can’t see nor understand. The only thing it seems right to say is that the woman did a great thing. Anything beyond that is apparently banned.]

20 Jan

Three Strange Ones For Tuesday

In the words of the immortal Master Sergeant Ernest G. Bilko: I’m busy, busy, busy!

Yesterday I made the final push for the summit. The app is nearly ready to launch. It will go live today or (if hit any problems) tomorrow at the latest. The website is built but not yet proofread. I’ve recorded a video to show the software in action and the software is itself now coded, debugged, and packaged. Yesterday I added a system for registration numbers. Today I need to buy a plugin for the website which should hopefully automate the system so that anybody purchasing my app will get a registration number emailed to them so they can unlock the full functionality of the software.

Today’s cartoons are strange trio. I drew them last night for reasons that will become apparent once I’ve launched the new website. If my Clay Elephant Shooting cartoon of yesterday was odd, then I think these three are odder. My favourite is the hairy handguns for reasons too long and complication to go into here.

HandgunsspGiraffeSofa buttockssp

17 Jan

I Have My Very Own Arch Enemy

Shivering on a cold Saturday. I love the winter but sometimes even I find the really bitter cold a little too much.

My Friday was a disaster from noon to night. Not a single person wanted to beta test my new Windows software (recommended retail price $25). Cartoonists mustn’t read this blog or perhaps cartoonists only ever read my ‘Guide to Unblocking a Rotring’ and, once their pens are fixed, they don’t come back. Such a shame. I tidied the application’s interface yesterday, adding a few little switches, fixed a few tiny bugs. Today I was going to make it available for download. I think I’ll wait a little longer.

Traffic is at an all time low and emails coming into the blog have dried up apart from SPAM which is worse than ever. 22 emails waiting for me this morning. 22 new ways to ‘improve kidney function’, cheap medicines, and Chinese handbags.

So many single hits on the site it’s depressing. I find myself living for the moments when a visitor reads 30 or 40 pages. The only solace I have is the number of times that happens from somebody reading at a university. I used to have a regular reader from London University, which was always a point of pride. The other day somebody from Manchester University seemed to enjoy the site. Call it intellectual snobbery or simple delight in finding a reader (and one not so far away) but I felt like I’d connected with a real human being. I find that’s such a rare thing these days.

Speaking of connecting with somebody: yesterday I also saw my favourite checkout girl at Tesco. I say she’s my favourite but it’s a rare kind of favouritism based on total enmity. Do you ever meet a person and know they’re you’re natural enemy? Simply saying hello creates an immediate friction and you know that you’ve just met your exact opposite. They’re the anti-matter to your matter and certain to cause the explosion of the universe should you ever touch. I’d like to think she’s the Moriarty to my Holmes but it might well be that I’m the guy in black and she smokes a pipe. Every time I use her till, I’m aware of this great hatred that exists between us. She very clearly hates me and I dislike her intensely. She’s a funny shade of orange and extremely talkative. I make jokes and she’ll look back at me with dead eyes and say ‘sorry… I don’t get it’. She says things like ‘you look fed up’ but not in a concerned way. More like a challenge. If I say ‘black’, she’ll says ‘white’. She has strange half-closed eyes, as though she’s doped up on something. ‘Ya what?’ she’ll say. ‘Nothing,’ I reply, grimly packing my bag. ‘Can’t hear you,’ she replies. ‘You want to speak up.’ That only makes me grumble deeper into my rucksack.

She seems to embody 90% of the world. If the rest of the world is like the girl at the Tesco checkout, then no wonder I’m having trouble. No wonder the world is in trouble.

I continually feel at odds with the internet and the world. Yesterday I learned of the existence of a website called TubeCrush. (http://tubecrush.net/, I’m not giving them the Google kudos by actually linking.) Even if it’s legal, I’m pretty damn sure it’s not moral. Had I launched a website where you could post pictures of attractive women you’ve covertly photographed on the Tube, there’d be a national scandal. I’d be a public enemy, hounded on Twitter, and given the Evan Davis thumbscrews on Newsnight. The fact the website is for women to post their photographs of men means it’s not a talking point. The media don’t seem that interested in taking it down. It’s just ‘a good laugh’. I just don’t understand the world.

I also suspect I’ve gone on Google’s bad books but it’s hard to tell why. Sometimes you do things to promote your blog which Google likes. Sometimes you do things they hate. I added some new Ping services to inform various websites when I update my blog. I wonder if I’m now pinging too much and the dip in traffic is related.

Lots of reasons for feeling uninspired today. Last night I lost the best cartoon I’d ever drawn and it felt like a boot into a sensitive region. I’ve always suspected that Artflow couldn’t really handle multi-layer 4k canvases but I thought problems would be more evident as I went along. Today I intend to redraw the cartoon, simply so it won’t beat me. If I paint it, I’ll paint it on the PC.

I also took the rare step of replying to a web marketer who wrote to me asking if they could write content for my blog. I wrote a long Stan-like email and told them they can have the site for a year if they give me enough money to buy a Surface Pro. I did it as a joke but it got me wondering how much this site is worth. Siteprice.org tells me that this website is work $6,748. Not sure how the hell they calculate that or how I could actually turn it into that kind of money. Anybody out there want to buy this blog for $6, 748?

I see websites on sale for crazy amounts of money that don’t have any content or their content is no more enlightening that a picture of some Japanese guy wearing diapers. I know I would sell up if I could. I like the Spine name but it’s never been a name I’ve particularly loved. I once owned the domain name www.apenguin.com but I had no use for it. I now see it’s on sale for $2000. Some domain speculator has clearly picked it up. Wish I’d kept it. I’ve always been more penguin than bone. Maybe I should just sell the website and start again as a Japanese guy in diapers. Perhaps the world would then come rushing my way to take pictures and post them on Tubecrush.