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smbhax
Just a guy makin' comics.
  • Real Name
    Ben Chamberlain
  • Gender
    Male
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Whee episode 36! You won't have to wait long for a follow-up to the fall-out of last episode (is this really the first time since episode 21 we've had a whole new Selenis clone? : o Golly that last one lasted a long time!) because that's what this episode is all about! We'll be launching a Selenis in a somewhat radical new direction, but before that we'll catch up with an old, very brief acquaintance or two, and get back to that classic theme of...explosions!

Yes that's some of the stuff that will re-commence coming at you on Tuesday, since I'm taking Monday off for Martin Luther King Jr. Day. So back Tuesday! Episode 36! Etc!
And that's the end of episode 35! Episode 36 starts tomorrow : o so eh I gotta get on that. I should be able to get the episode 35 e-book done over the long weekend (Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day).
I've been trying to do the traditional watercolor painting methodology of painting "light to dark"—which means, you start the painting with light colors, and gradually work up to the darker colors, or something. You can get some neat layering and color interaction and stuff, and maybe a more subtle sense of atmosphere and lighting. On the other hand, it takes patience. : P
Two more pages left in this episode. : o Then I'll have to kick off episode 36 on Friday! Oh man!
Got a page done, I guess that does it!
Here's an ink (and wash) sketch I got to send to a reader for their support of the comic through my Patreon campaign! : )

<img alt="Image" src="http://smbhax.com/stuff/190111_patreon_sketch.jpg">

Thanks everyone for your support! You make this comic possible! : D

I'm not sure what inspired me to give Selenis a canina companion there, but did you know that Sirius, 8.6 light years from Earth, is also known as the "Dog Star"? The nickname comes from its membership in the constellation Canis Major ("Greater Dog").

Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky, and its proper name means "glowing" or "scorching" in Greek. You could be forgiven for not noticing Sirius is actually a *binary* star, because its companion, Sirius B, while one of the most massive white dwarf stars known—twice as massive as most, and about the same mass as our Sun, packed into a sphere about the same size as Earth—has only about 5% of our Sun's solar luminosity, while Sirius A, the main star, is 25 times as bright as the Sun! Here they both are (B is below and to the left of A) in a 2003 Hubble image:

<img alt="Image" src="http://smbhax.com/stuff/_sirius_hubble_bigger.jpg">
image by NASA, ESA, H. Bond (STScI), and M. Barstow (University of Leicester) (source)

(If part of this about Sirius' A and B sounds familiar it's because I covered some of it in a long post I made about our local area of space back in 2011!)
In October, Google announced they were going to shut down their Google+ social media platform this coming August, after a security snafu came to light (one got the impression they're just tired of the whole business).

In December, they reported (here's the BBC article) that they'd found another security flaw in G+; now they've moved the shut-down date up to April. : P
I played with the font size on smbhax.com today. : P
Here's a sketch I got to send to a reader for supporting the comic through my Patreon campaign : ) :

<img alt="Image" src="http://smbhax.com/stuff/190108_patreon_sketch.jpg">

Thanks everyone for your support! You make this comic possible. Even $1 a month makes a big difference. : )
Months after letting loose an algorithm that started zapping posts it thought were inappropriate—without notifying the person who had posted them, possibly months or even years earlier—tumblr has finally added a "Review flagged posts" page to the user's Account page, where you can see all the posts you've made that tumblr thinks it doesn't like, and appeal them if you think they've been flagged incorrectly. It's kind of funny to see what their algorithm can consider "adult content," I guess. : P

<img alt="Image" src="http://smbhax.com/stuff/190107_adult_content.jpg">

How they did *not* have a review system like that in place when they rolled out their robo-flagging, I have no idea. They would have saved a lot of people—themselves included—a lot of trouble.

Well, better late than never, as they say. Their image recognition could still stand some improvement, though. ; ) Unless they think silhouettes are just too abstract to inflict upon the untutored minds of younger readers! (This calls for more art classes in grade schools! ^_^)
Here's a sketch I got to send to a reader for their support of the comic through the A* Patreon campaign:

<img alt="Image" src="http://smbhax.com/stuff/190104_patreon_sketch.jpg">

Thanks everyone for your support! Big things are happening in A* this year, should be a fun time. : )
Trying to get back in the swing of things here at A* after the winter break. Good to be back! ^_^ I hope the holidays weren't too bad and your 2019 is going all right. : )

The beginning of the year always reminds me (plus they email you these reminders, sometimes...) that being the sole proprietor of this here registered A* business, I gotta get my city and state business taxes done. : P And eh I have to—no, GET to!—do *two* city tax forms this year since I changed cities midway through last year. They're due by the end of the month, so er hm well I'll just squeeze them in here somewhere. : o I don't make nearly enough money to hit Seattle's $100,000 minimum gross taxable revenue =p, but they still wanna know my total anyway. Just as well since I'd have to add these figures up for doing my individual income taxes later anyway, so actually those will be *easier* to get through when the time comes since I'll have all the receipts (mostly dominated by art shipping costs and art supplies ; ) already added up and stuff, which is pretty sweet when that time comes—but that doesn't make it any more fun to have to think about doing that part of it right off the bat in January! Oh well I'll feel that sense of accomplishment when I get it done!
Two space milestones just happened:

NASA's New Horizons probe reached and sent back a photo of the furthest-ever object visited by our efforts, "snowman"-shaped, Washington D.C.-sized object "Ultima Thule" in the Kuiper Belt, 1.5 billion km past Pluto (which the probe was also the first to visit, in 2015). That far out, where it's really really cold and quiet, the object could represent a fairly primordial snapshot of our solar system.

The probe is by now past Ultima Thule; scientists hope to have it visit one more object in the outer reaches of our solar system as the craft continues to race away from the Sun.

Much closer to home, China says their Chang'e-4 probe just made the first-ever landing on the far side of our own Moon; the far side of the Moon (sometimes misleadingly called "dark" side of the Moon, but actually it gets just as much illumination as the side we can see) has been photographed by plenty of spacecraft, but this is the first to land on it—the particularly tricky part has been that direct communication to Earth from there is blocked by the Moon itself, so China managed the landing by routing communications through their Queqiao satellite, which is drifting out around a gravitationally stable point—Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 2—beyond the Moon's orbit, opposite the Earth and Sun.

Chang'e-4 is due to explore a crater within the South Pole-Aitken (SPA) Basin, "one of the largest impact craters in the Solar System and the largest, deepest and oldest basin on the Moon"; the impact that created it may have been big enough to reach down to the Moon's mantle, and thus could possibly be strewn with chunks of material thrown up from beneath the Moon's crust. The specific crater it will visit within the larger Basin crater is the Von Kármán crater, named in 1970 after Theodore von Kármán, advisor at Caltech in the '30s and '40s to Qian Xuesen who, after being detained in the US in the early '50s, accused of Communist sympathies, made it back to China and became the "father" of their space program.
That's it for the year! Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year--or whatever you're up to, have a good one--if you're into that. ^_^

Assuming my scanner is still running merrily along when I return, I'll be back to work on a new A* page on January 2nd. Seeya in 2019 (we'll have the most dramatic plot developments to date, I think--oh and A*'s 10th anniversary! : o)!

(Scanner humming right along now. I think I might have moved its power brick a little further away when cleaning or something down there recently, and that may have been what led to all the mischief.)
Spent a few hours fighting with the scanner tonight, as it started jamming mid-scan again (or reporting a data error, specifically); all seemed lost, I spent a while more researching available large-format (A3) scanners, made one last despairing attempt to get a full-resolution scan (had managed a 100 dpi scan earlier; I usually scan at 600 dpi), made another...and somehow it worked.

Less sure now that temperature has anything to do with it as the room temp was pretty stable for that whole period, more or less. Maybe humidity (it has been super wet and rainy here lately—blasting the heater for a while as I was could have dropped the humidity a good deal over the course of the evening)...but maybe more likely the power supply; the one it came with died long ago with no official replacement available, then an old RadioShack one I finagled into working with it stopped working (the plug was always finicky), so I've been using a newer third-party one for some time now—but I have the scanner up high, and the power cord with its attached "brick" power supply was sort of pulling down on the power jack in the scanner a little, I think, and possibly that was leading to power fluctuations; I've lifted the brick up, and now the scanner is working flawlessly, so... Well, we'll see how long it lasts. : o

(Another thing supporting the theory of it being some sort of power issue is that I've had to go and unplug and replug the data and power cords in a particular order each day for the past few days before the scanner would be recognized by my laptop, and as far as I know that would probably be due to there having been a power interruption in the mean time. Of course, all of this may point to the scanner's power jack having been so weakened by drag from the power cord over the past months that it is simply no longer reliable. : /)

One plus is that in the course of my despairing research, I finally found that Mustek is back selling their relatively low-priced large-format flatbed scanners in the USA again! Yay! So I could get a shiny new one and not completely break the bank, if necessary. First I would try cracking this one open and lubricating the scanner head track...but we'll hope it doesn't come to that. : o But if it works okay tomorrow, I'll give it another test as soon as I get back post-X-Mas, and if it runs into trouble I'll take some of that break time to try lubing it up, and then ordering a new one if that doesn't work. So potentially I could be without a working scanner for the first few days of the new year and might have to extend my holiday break beyond the 2nd—but that's the worst-case scenario. : P
I should let you guys know my holiday schedule! I'm heading back to the ol' homestead this weekend, then back here after X-mas, where I'll be taking a little R&R and catching up on a few little projects of mine (oh and sketches for A* Patreon supporters!). So there won't be any new A* starting next week, through New Year's.

And then back to the drawing board on the 2nd, for another year of A*! = D
It's been a bit warmer here of late and I got lazy and neglected to turn on the heat in the early evening, and as a result could not coax my scanner into limbering up enough to scan a full page until the temperature in the room was raised about two degrees.

Sheesh, scanner! Can't you just put on a sweater?

Anyway, messing with that (I tried an awful lot of chafing its hands first, so to speak) took a while, and it's now so late that I'd better hit the zzzs immediately and save my usual rounds of social media and mirror site updating until tomorrow morning.
(Door saga over, it is all fixed up now thanks to my landlady and her handyman! Having a non-drafty living room is so nice. : ) Now I have to figure out new lower settings for my heaters. ^_^)

Thanks once again to the wonderful folks helping me make this comic by supporting it through my Patreon campaign—I couldn't do it without you! Even $1 a month is a big help; and at higher levels, you can get monthly A*rry rewards mailed to you from me! Here's a sketch sent to a reader at the hefty $10 level, for instance:

<img alt="Image" src="http://smbhax.com/stuff/181214_patreon_sketch.jpg">

Thanks everyone for your support! : D And thank you for reading. : ))
Had a bit of a scare this evening as my trusty large-format scanner, which has been with me since I started scanning anything for A*—2011, I guess—couldn't scan! The scanner head was getting stuck after moving just a little way along its track.

Well, it's been extra cold in my apartment here since they put in the new front door last Friday—in its current unfinished state, the new, better-fitting door is draftier than the old door (at least once I would get inside and plug up the biggest gaps along the old door with paper towels and stuff : P)—so after being unable to coax the scanner to scan by trying unplugging things, etc, I disconnected it completely, turned the heater up, and held the scanner up in front of the heater, also turning it around, upside down, and so forth, while shaking it gently. Then I hooked it back up, crossed my fingers, and...

It worked! : D So we have a proper page today. ^_^ In fact, to let you in on a dirty little secret, it worked better than the scanner has worked in oh a few years, at least. See, some time back it started getting a little jerky at each end of the scan, and you can see at the left and right page edges—at the upper left of page 35:42, for instance, on the diagonal purple stroke edges—that that resulted in the sides of the scans coming out pixelated!

That's not great if I were ever to try to print this thing, I guess, but a) print is icky, and b) I thought the pixelization was kind of cute. : D But after my little workout with the scanner tonight, the pixelization is, at least temporarily, resolved.

As someone pointed out to me the last time I had a bit of a scare with the scanner, it probably needs to be re-lubricated. While I was turning it over and around in front of the heater I spotted two accessible screws, so maybe that would let me get it open (I also spotted a cobweb inside the scanner =o) to be able to lay some grease down on the rail upon which the scanner head slides. I've ordered some white lithium grease in case it comes to that, but it's kind of a last resort because I could very well break the thing or at least get dust on the inside of the glass or something, and these oversize, cheap old Mustek scanners aren't available anymore—or at least, Mustek no longer has an American distributor and I couldn't find anywhere that would sell me one last I looked. Anyway I'm sure it's good for another seven years or so now. ]_]
Okay so last Friday, while a new front door was being put on my apartment in 18 degree F weather, rendering my A* workspace temporarily uninhabitable, I spent the day hitting all the town hot spots! That's let's see six parks, the big cozy coffee shop / cafe (three times: breakfast, lunch, and hot cocoa!), the student-operated creamery on the university campus (chocolate cookie dough ice cream! : d), the university libraries (signed up for a university library card!), and the public library (got a public library card!).

Loads of fun! On the largely empty uppermost floor of the university's "old" library (power strips and disarrayed blinds—a far cry from their swank "new" library adjoining it, with a central atrium where a student musical recital was going on), I found some good stuff! In their "oversize" section, this not-so-little Little Nemo in Slumberland collection—sized to match the original broadsheets in which it appeared, ie nearly the size of a full modern newspaper page! Imagine a single comic taking up the whole page, every Sunday!

<img alt="Image" src="http://smbhax.com/stuff/181212_big_nemo.jpg">

Much bigger than the already pretty big editions I had from Fantagraphics, the two volumes of this giant (and heavy! you'd basically have to lay these on a strong table and sort of crane yourself over them, I guess) effort from Sunday Press Books, for those of you who don't want to lug them out of the university library in a cart, *are* listed on Amazon, for a suitably hefty price. The color seemed to me to be a little faded compared to the Fantagraphics releases, but they definitely give you a much better impression of the sheer size at which newspaper readers early in the last century got to enjoy Winsor McCay's wild flights of comic fancy.

Also stuck away in that old upper floor is the university's pretty decent science fiction and fantasy book collections; here's a fun title from classic (1967) sci-fi for you:

<img alt="Image" src="http://smbhax.com/stuff/181212_the_zap_gun.jpg">

According to the book's forward, this was one of two book titles an editor came up with—then I guess they got Philip K. Dick to write a story for the title! I haven't read the story but I guess maybe I should some day.

And I found where they keep their comics (or "graphic novels," if you like : P), that's the really important part—although their computerized directories also seemed to show a bunch stowed in locked "compact storage" in the basement of the new library—a pretty interesting arrangement of long rows of book stacks on tracks, that slide right up against each other and lock in place, so you can't get at their pulpy insides. : o They also had a long row or two of unlocked compact stacks down there, and (after cranking them apart with the large hand wheel conveniently situated on the ends of each stack) those had tons of really old books on them, which is kind of neat, but no comics I could spot. : P

I also of course mapped out the location of the comics and sci-fi collections in the public library too—smaller collections there and perhaps overall more recent and less varied, but still respectable.

So that was productive! The final big discovery was in the town's frozen botanical garden: a coyote. : o I only saw him or her from a distance, and they trotted off up a lightly forested meadow (trailed by a member of the local tiding/charm/flock/gulp/murder/mischief/tittering/conventicle/tribe/congregation—I am not not making those up—of magpies, who view the garden as their turf) before I had any sort of chance to grab a photo, but it confirmed the rumor I'd heard about a coyote in the park over conversation at Thanksgiving dinner with a local family (old friends of my dad's : ); the theory is that the coyote or coyotes are tempted in by a chicken coop on the premises of one of the adjoining houses.