May 5, 2008

All Things Art and Good III

(The reasons behind the series of articles titled All Things Art and Good and the format followed in each article is explained here, in the first post in the series.)

I first came across Philip Straub‘s artwork, as I do a lot of digital artists I like, on the CGTalk forums. The painting was Llanowar Reborn and I thought that looked absolutely wonderful, what with all the greenery and me being a sucker for anything that’s got lots of foliage 🙂 But that was before I saw Infinite OZ – I was in awe the moment I saw Infinite Oz! One of the few things which trumps abundant greenery in my book of art appreciation is a beautifully done sunset or landscape – and this was both, and in an absolutely stupefying manner 😀

Words fail me when I try to describe Infinite Oz … and yes, I used to call myself a writer 🙂 There’s the calm serenity of the pastoral landscape, the farm with the red barn, the cow placidly chewing cud in the near distance, the swing on the gnarly tree next to the fence, the rolling landscape disappearing into the haze in the distance, and of course, the golden sunset – all of this combines to create a powerful image which makes me long for bygone days and simpler times.

But what makes the image really powerful is the ominous tornado in the distance and the glowering skies. They seem to hint at troubled times approaching, at danger and trials which might destroy the serene scene before us. When I look at the image, it’s almost as if I want to capture every bit of the beauty in the scene before it is destroyed forever by the approaching storm. So I gather in every little detail – the little yellow, blue, and orange flowers; the stream meandering it’s way through the pasture; the golden and rosy tints on the clouds and keep on staring and staring and staring 🙂

But the really wonderful thing for me is the fact that Infinite Oz is just one of the wonderful and inspiring paintings on Philip’s site. There are a whole heap more to explore, enjoy and to stare in wonder at. For instance, there’s the aforementioned Llanowar Reborn, full of greenery, mysticism, and mystery; the colourful, comical and childhood memory evoking Enchanted Evening; the simply mind-bending composition of foliage, water, rock, and lava in the book cover simply titled Atherton; and the somewhat mystical and fantastic Temple.

The above list still doesn’t do full justice to the range of imagery and artwork you’ll find on Philip’s site but I’m simply trying to provide a small sampling so that anybody reading this will be compelled to go there and take a look at all that’s there. If you appreciate beauty, you’ll not be sorry that you did 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 7:17 am  |  No Comments

May 4, 2008

All Things Art and Good II

(The reasons behind the series of articles titled All Things Art and Good and the format followed in each article is explained here, in the first post in the series.)

Denis Zilber is a wonderfully funny and versatile artist. You’ve only got to see the title image on his site to get an idea of his talent and his style. I just absolutely love that title image and the mood it evokes. But, I’m getting ahead of myself 🙂 Let’s begin at the beginning.

The first artwork of Denis’ that I saw was the funny, beautiful and extremely comical The Leg. The hint of darkness enveloping the left side of the image, the warm glow cast by the lamp which dispels darkness and covers everything in a rich golden glow on the right, the tiny bugs hovering around the lamp, the intriguingly greenish tinge to the sky, and the pinpoints of stars on the night sky – it all adds to the overall effect.

But most of all, what I love about The Leg are the people in it. The expressions on their faces, the little pink slippers worn by the guy holding the lantern (who for some reason I keep thinking of as "the mayor" :p), the white nightcap with a tassel on the end – these are the elements which add up to an image which is priceless 🙂 Denis commented elsewhere that he knows of no giant bird with just one foot (or something to that effect), so you know the guy has a sense of humour 😀

Then there’s the previously mentioned title image for Denis’ site – The Oldman and the Beetle. This image again illustrates one of my favourite things about Denis’ artwork – the lighting. The warmly glowing lamps on the old man’s cart pierces the gloom of the dark and creepy forest and gives you a sense of well-being, of goodness and warmth. It almost seems to say that as long as the old man travels through the forest with his warm lights, nothing bad can creep up on you 🙂 Of course, given the giant beetle and the glowing lights, I can’t help but think, what are fireflies like in this forest? How big are they and do they glow brighter than the lamps on the cart?

The interesting thing, personally for me, about Denis’ artwork is his versatility. He seems to have several different styles depending on the program he used to create the image (as well as other factors, probably). For instance, his Flash art has this hand-drawn-line quality which I like a lot. It reminds me a bit of Gary Larson of The Far Side fame 🙂 Take for example, Traveling Home. I like the simple colours, the shadowing, again the bright glow of the light, and the slightly space-and-mind bending perspective.

Another one of my favourites, again with a slightly different style, is The Journey Begins: First Encounter. This one doesn’t have so much of the humorous and cartoonish style of the other images. There’s hints of it though, for example in the face of the knight’s helper. I like the detail on the leaves, the nice blending of greens and yellows on the trees, the lines on the horse and of course, the bright glowing light, again 🙂

If I have one complaint, it is not about Denis’ art but the way the images are presented on his site. The images are cut off and so I can’t enjoy them at their full size 🙂 For instance, the title image that I keep coming back to looks much better as it does on his site than it does in the cut off format on his sample gallery. And with The Journey Begins, I can’t help but feel that there is more to that image and that I’m missing more detail because the image was cropped. Of course, I could be wrong 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 7:08 am  |  No Comments

May 2, 2008

All Things Art and Good

After my previous post about Ruben de Vela and his artwork, I began thinking (and yes, I know that’s not good for me :p) I’ve come across a lot of brilliant art that transports you and makes you stare at them for hours. And I also know that most of these artists (if not all) are famous in their own right and are known to a lot of fans. But what of those others who might never have come across them because they just weren’t in the right place? The Internet, after all, is a massive place. What if I showcased some of these brilliant paintings and digital artwork that I came across during my meanderings on the Net?

With me, to think is to act 🙂 So I wrote to some of the people who’s artwork had simply reduced me to a deaf mute gazing in wonder, or who had made me think, or had brightened my day, and asked them if I could feature some of there artwork on my blog. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to feature their art here as my own, or to even download their images and host them here. I simply want to talk about some of these digital paintings that inspired me and then link back to the author’s own site so that others can find the same wonder and joy I found by exploring all the riches that each of these sites provide. However, I did want to post a thumbnail at my own site to give the readers so that they’ll see how wonderful some of this artwork is and have the incentive to go exploring 🙂

Most of the people I contacted were wonderful and very cooperative and had no issues with what I wanted to do. So I’m going to be talking about some of these digital wizards’ work in upcoming posts. I had actually intended to talk about at least two artists today but as usual, my typing fingers have run away with things and the post is already so long that I don’t think I’ll be able to do justice to two of these wonderful masters of the digital image 🙂 So without wasting further space, let me get on to the artist of the day.

I first came across Phil McDarby, as I did most of the other artists I’ll be talking about here, on the CGTalk forums. (There’s a wonderful variety of great artists on that forum but that’s a subject for another post.) The first artwork of Phil’s that I saw was The Greenwood Deep and it simply transfixed me. Yes, it literally held me still with amazement as I stared in wonder at the vision of loveliness laid before my eyes and tried to soak in all that beauty 🙂

First, there’s that huge tree – I’m a sucker for greenery of any kind and this painting is full of greenery 🙂 The tree gives a sense of age, wisdom, having been there for centuries and millennia. And that pathway through the tree hints at something magical and wonderful lying there just out of reach, to be discovered if you would just walk up that path. Secondly, there are the tree stumps with the glowing holes, which look like eyes. Are they fairy dwellings? Or cyclopean guardians of the majestic old tree in the center? I keep wondering … And thirdly, there’s the little girl at the very edge of the painting. Obviously, she’s discovered this scene just now and is as amazed and transported as I am. What magic will she find if she ventures out, what adventure, what wonderful and magical creatures?

The mind boggles … and lies there basking in all that wonder, glory and beauty while it continues to contemplate this wonderful work of art. And that’s just one of the paintings on Phi’s site 🙂 He’s got a lot more, like Gloaming Born, which has more wondrous and wonderful trees; or Magic, which apparently is a precursor to the amazing The Greenwood Deep; or Wonder, which I can stare at in wonder for hours – the list just goes on. There’s just too many treasures on Phil’s site for me to describe them all. So go check out the other stuff he’s got 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 6:26 am  |  9 Comments

April 30, 2008

All Things Great and Good

Thanks to Ginosion, I have another review for Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog, woo hoo! Ginosion’s a good friend and I appreciate him taking the time to write a review immediately upon reading my blog post yesterday. So, I think I’m going to dedicate this post to Ginosion and other good and great things on the Internet that have come my way recently 🙂

I am a subscriber to WOSSNAME which is a great e-mail newsletter for fans of Terry Pratchett and his Discworld series. Yes, they are all good and great things but that’s not the thrust of this article here 🙂 In the latest issue of WOSSNAME, they featured Discworld art by an artist named Ruben de Vela. Now I like good art. I can’t draw well enough to beat a man with palsy in a gun battle, but I certainly enjoy good art when I see it. And I was blown away by the examples of Ruben’s artwork that WOSSNAME featured. (Oh yeah, if you’re curious, the newsletter linked to Squeak, A Hat Full of Sky, and Angua by Ruben.)

While I enjoyed all of the images, I was especially struck by the one of Angua. There were so many tiny little details to the piece which brought the spirit of Discworld to life; from the tower of art in the background to the posters on the wall which, instead of gibberish, had actual Discworld (and Ankh Morpork) related stuff. Additionally, the kind of 3D perspective the painting had and the quaint old-world feel that the buildings conveyed was just fabulous.

Of cousre, this was before I discovered Ruben’s deviantART gallery and discovered his own comments on the image. Apparently there were things I’d missed about the image in my first few looks, like Gaspode the wonder dog and CMOT Dibbler! That just confirmed, in my own mind at least, how intricate and detailed that particular image was 🙂

As I think I’ve mentioned before here on this blog, I enjoy the detailed, crammed-to-the-brim-with-references covers that Josh Kirby used to do, especially for the Discworld series. I absolutely love that kind of artwork over your normal, humdrum one-idea, one-image kind of cover. Ruben looks as if he might be the kind of person who can pull off the Josh Kirby-esque artwork that I love so much. I wish him the best and hope that someday, he will indeed be doing work equivalent to that of Kirby because we need another Kirby, darn it! 😀

January 13, 2008

Drooling Male Syndrome

I’ve been on this free language learning site called Livemocha for a couple of days now. It’s pretty interesting (and effective) as a language learning tool but that’s not what this post is about :p Laurie signed up yesterday because I’ve been sitting next to her practicing my Spanish phrases and she wanted to regain some mastery of French. She signs up with her personal details and uploads a picture of herself and not two minute pass but wham! She gets a request for chat. She doesn’t realize that the guy wants to voice chat till she’s halfway into the request but rejects it at that point. A minute later, another and then another and another …

So what makes guys act like drooling dogs when they see a female online? It doesn’t matter whether she’s really a woman or not, as long as the online persona has the "appearance" of being female, they just keep coming – and no, no pun was intended there :p Now I’ve been on Livemocha for much longer than Laurie but do I get any chat requests, friend requests or anything of the sort? Nope! Of course, it might be that they see my profile and the strange, unfamiliar name and think that I’ll probably go "I keel you!" (OK, sorry about that one but I saw this guy on TV about a month ago with a skeletal dummy with an Arabic accent who said that all the time and I find that hilarious for some reason :p) if they tried to befriend me. Or maybe it’s the fact that I have a photograph which shows me to be male.

Speaking of photographs, Laurie changed hers to a fairly innocuous one and even changed her gender to male on Livemocha but the requests still kept coming. I don’t know if the site was doing some caching of images or these guys were so desperate that they only looked at the profile name to decide if the person was male or female. Finally, once she changed her profile name to something which was gender-neutral, the requests stopped.

So I ask again, what makes human males act like some sort of quadruped in heat each time they are online and see somebody who might possibly be of the female persuasion? Or are most males like that in real-life as well but just control themselves just a tad bit better because it’s "real life"? I wonder …

Oh yeah, Laurie has a post about this on this on her blog as well 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 12:47 pm  |  No Comments

June 13, 2007

The Aardvaark

Discovered an interesting web service today – ToonDoo 🙂 They allow you to create your own webcomic by dragging and dropping various components via a pretty easy to use web interface. What I came up with appears at the end of this post.

My cartoon is not a commentary on America or the Bush government or politics in general :p It’s actually about something which happened a couple of days ago in a mailing list I was on.

The thing is, I think that most people take that kind of behaviour for granted and don’t see the harm in it. We punish small children to stop them from doing something bad. Sometimes we spank them. We see nothing wrong. In fact, we’ll come up with all those old truisms like "spare the rod and spoil the child". But what are we actually teaching the kid? If we don’t explain things to them, then we are simply teaching them that it’s OK to physically intimidate somebody else.

And don’t get me started on how we carry on this kind of behaviour after we (supposedly) reach adulthood. I’ll let the cartoon speak on my behalf :p

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Posted by Fahim at 3:00 pm  |  3 Comments

May 3, 2007

Boosting Joost

Over at LinkedIn, where I’m a member, I heard about this new service called Joost. It was still in beta but the aim of the service was to provide television on demand, for free, to all users via the Internet. Sounded like a good idea to me and so I wanted to join in and see what the service was like.

Only thing is, Joost is in beta at the moment, as I mentioned, and you needed an invite from an existing member to get in. Fortunately, LinkedIn members were there to help 🙂 Mat Morrison from digital marketing strategists, RMM London had some invites available and was kind enough to send one my way when I asked over at his blog. (Incidentally, I’ve got invites now and if you want one, ask away – you might have to link back to me but I’ll give you an invite :))

The Joost download was not very big and the install went through fine. The video streaming is pretty good, even with the crappy broadband connection you get here in Sri Lanka. The playback is a bit choppy but since Joost appears to cache the program as it is being downloaded, you can simply let it play in the background at the standard choppy rate (if your Net connection is as bad as mine that is) and then play it back when it has a good chunk downloaded.

Actually, the caching goes beyond that. Let’s say you shut Joost down while you were in the middle of playing a show or a song. The next time you connect to Joost, it will continue on from where you left off and it appears to have the cache for the segment you already downloaded intact. I liked that because I can watch a long show without having to go through the download again 🙂

There’s some Indian content on Joost as well and so I’m getting my Hindi music fix :p They even have a couple of shows from the Sci-Fi channel (not available in the US or Canada via Joost though) but that’s where I ran into my first snag. I’m not sure if it’s a Joost issue, a Vista issue at my end or something else (like not enough disk space) but everytime I tried to cache one of the Sci-Fi channel shows, Joost would crash out half-way through. Hopefully, they get that kind of thing sorted out (if it’s a Joost issue) and I can enjoy my television to the max 🙂

Note: If you want a Joost invite, you will need to let me know both your first name and last name as well a valid e-mail address since Joost requires these things to send out an invite. (You don’t have to put the e-mail address in the comment – if you give your valid e-mail address when posting the comment, I’ll be able to get that even though it’s not displayed along with your comment.) If you don’t want to leave those details in a comment, please e-mail me directly 🙂

Due to the number of people asking for invites without providing the details requested above, please note that I’ll be ignoring any requests without all the necessary details.

May 2, 2007

Putting the zing back in sting …

Recently, I’ve been running across a supposedly new compression format over and over again. The format? WinZix or rather, .ZIX files. The name and the extension seems to indicate that they are trying to capitalize on WinZip’s popularity and market share. Their website claims that they have the "ultimate compression". The truth? Now that’s a bit more tricky :p

When I first heard about WinZix, being the software junkie that I am, I was tempted to download it and try it out. However, the name and the way it was branded made me hesitate. I decided to check it out first. There wasn’t much online about WinZix though. There were people claiming that it contained trojans and that it messed up their systems. There were others claiming that it didn’t compress any files at all and in fact, it increased the size of a file that was compressed with it. However, these were all claims made on the Net and you know how that goes :p

So, I downloaded a .ZIX file myself – not the program but a file supposedly compressed with WinZix. I then opened the file in a hex editor and noticed that it had a file header which identified it as a WinZix file. But what was more interesting was to see a ZIP file header a few bytes further in from the WinZix file header 🙂

Now, most files contain a file header (or a signature) which identifies the file type and allows the corresponding program to determine whether it’s a file format that the program works with. I knew the ZIP signature since I’d worked with ZIP files before. Being paranoid by nature, a thought flashed into my mind at this point – what if the WinZix folks weren’t actually compressing files but taking standard Zip files and wrapping it with a new header so that WinZip (or any other program working with Zip files) will not see it as a Zip file?

I decided to test out this theory. I deleted the first six or seven bytes from the WinZix file, removing the WinZix header but leaving the ZIP header/signature intact. I then tried to open the file in WinRAR (which supports ZIP format) and it opened up fine and I was able to extract the contents of the ZIP file.

So there you have it 🙂 WinZix is really a phoney. It doesn’t actually compress any files and certainly might have trojans or backdoor programs or viruses embedded in. Or it might simply be a way to cash in on people’s gullibility and make some cash since apparently they do say that they include adware in their EULA. Whatever else it might be, a compression program it is not :p

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Posted by Fahim at 7:10 am  |  15 Comments

January 22, 2007

Worlds galore

Notwithstanding their popularity, I haven’t been much of a one for MMORPGing. About the only Massively Multi-player Online Role Playing Game that I’ve played consistently in the past has been Puzzle Pirates 🙂 While I loved the puzzles in Puzzle Pirates, the monotonous nature of having to play the same puzzles over and over again finally got to me and I gave up.

Since then, since most MMORPGs are fee-based (and because I just didn’t have the time to devote to them) I’ve stayed away from them. Stayed away that is, till a couple of days ago when I read about Second Life. I downloaded the client and tried it out but found it to be utterly boring – not to mention very, very slow :p If you want to have a virtual life pretty much the same as your normal life, Second Life is ideal – all you do is find a job, build a house, talk to people … that kind of thing – boring :p I uninstalled Second Life after the second time of trying it.

But, my appetite whetted for online games, I went in search of other games to try. That was when I came across Pirate King Online. I loved the colourful, cartoony graphics and since the game said that it was going to be free for ever, I decided to give it a try. Of course, the client turned out to be 300MB and it took me about a day (with the slow broadband we have over here :p) to download it. Once I downloaded the client and installed it, it found more updates on the server and started downloading those. Once that was done, I was finally able to get in and I must say, I really enjoyed what I found in there 🙂

It’s an interesting fantasy world full of creatures to fight, skills to unlock and lots and lots of quests. This is the kind of game that I actually like. One where there are set missions and you have things to do and ways to level up. Of course, if you want the usual virtual life stuff, I believe you can set up a stall and become a merchant or offer other services. But for the moment, I’m content to simply play the various missions and to level up 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 9:56 am  |  No Comments

December 25, 2006

Shameless plugs

I meant to write about .NET 3.0, which has dropped by the wayside for the moment (for me personally) due to the fact that there is no really capable IDE to do development in and I’m too lazy to download the 4GB or so of files necessary to run the CTP of Orcas (the next version of Visual Studio) as a virtual machine 🙂 I also meant to write about Ruby and Rails, which I’m actually beginning to like as a development environment for doing web-based work because of how fast you can get off the ground.

I would also have liked to have written about Eclipse, which I’d taken a look at many times over the years as a possible Java IDE but had always given up because it didn’t appear to be ready – it seems to be ready now, or much closer 🙂 I particularly wanted to write about RadRails which integrates nicely into Eclipse and provides you with an amazing IDE to do Rails development in :p I might also have liked to have mentioned the fact that Eclipse also appears to have plugins for PHP and some of the other languages out there and is now on my list to be looked at as the development IDE of choice. But I haven’t actually tested out PHP or the other plugins :p

So, I think I will content myself with a simple blatant plug for something else totally not development related 🙂 There’s this link on the sidebar for another site of mine named, "Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog". It’s the first iteration of this novel I’m working on and I’m putting up a few new pages every week. Some people seem to like it. So go on, take a look and let me know what you think 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 8:06 am  |  No Comments

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