Saturday, January 30, 2010

This is what we're working on....

I’m back!

This time around I thought I would let you in on some of what I am doing with the artwork. I have finished with the text editing, putting the final touches on the Vehicles section a couple of days back.

Now I have the unenviable chore of cleaning up some of Vlad’s artwork. He did a good job, it’s just that between handling the finished pieces and scanning them at high resolution, some of the pieces are ‘muddy’, the ink having rubbed ever so slightly off onto the white areas and the pencil underlines adding to the mess.

And a mess it is. My poor laptop is kinda slow – only (!) 700mhz with about 250 megs of memory. The software I am using is quite good, but as each change is added, it begins to bog down. You know that ‘undo’ button at the top of the screen? Well, that lets you undo anything you’ve done during a session. Unfortunately, when you are working with a high-resolution (3+ megs) image, the computer saves each version of the art in memory so you can go back to an earlier version. It is something which has saved my bacon several times while doing my cleanup. Managing that while performing fill means I have to wait and wait for the computer to do its thing.

I tackled this on three different levels. First, I reduced the image density by halving the size of the image. Five megabyte files are now one meg in size, three megs become about 800k. This reduces the amount of data the computer has to work on, and store at hand, for ‘undo’. So the fill function goes quick and doesn’t bog down for ten or eleven changes.

The second thing I did was also deceptively simple: when the fill function began to slow down, I saved the image, closed it out and then reloaded it. That got rid of all the data stored by the ‘undo’ button and we were off and running with a clean memory.

Third, I transferred the image from the data stick to the desktop, so that the computer was working exclusively with the hard drive to do all its work. This last step might not make much sense until you understand that my laptop is so old, it has a 3.5 inch floppy drive and a seven-gig hard drive. And unfortunately, it also uses the 1.0 protocol for USB devices. This limits the data transfer speed. Backing up files with the laptop is a chore, and something I reserve for the home computer or my son’s laptop. Newer machines run with USB 2.0, much faster (though not FireWire by any stretch).

Images dirty and clean – Trebuchet

As you can see, there is a noticeable increase in quality with the ‘clean’ image. Click on each to get a close look at what I’m talking about.

I am using the little bucket tool, setting the color density to about 99 (no, I don’t know what that means, but it works) and filling each individual space with the color white. Set it too low and I don’t clean everything up. Set it too high and I suddenly find all my nice artwork replaced with whiteout. I have to do each panel one at a time, so it takes about an hour to clean up an image using the techniques mentioned above. Initially, several artists volunteered to clean these for me, but after a handful from each, the workload got to be either too time-consuming or just too tedious. It’s like watching paint dry. I have had no more offers, and I don’t blame them (especially David White, who is already busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest).

So it’s my job now.

Meanwhile, I have bugged our new layout man half to death with queries and suggestions and reams of information I think might be useful to his effort – creating layout for the PDF and print versions all over again. Some of you might have visited his website forum and seen what Josh is going through to make this work. I wish I could help, but as I said on the forums, the reason we relieved the original layout man was a conspicuous lack of communication. Even if he were willing to pass over to us the work he’s done, how would I get in touch with him?

Meanwhile, I tracked down and located the original artist who did the cover piece. Vlad assures me that we have permission to use that art, but I wanted to make doubly sure. Unfortunately, I have not heard from the fellow (Jan) despite repeated emails to the most recent address I could find. Wish me luck. It’s a really good piece and I offered to pay for its use.

Speaking of payments, I am sending out more money this payday after making sure I have enough to cover my bills. I will be shipping Lee his models on Monday.


We have not had a chance to do more running about and shooting due to schedule conflicts and the poor weather hereabouts. Rain, rain, go away. Stay away so I can play. However, like most hobbies, this one has other facets we can explore while the liquid sunshine has its way. One is learning to clean the barrels of our guns – even a little dirt accumulating in those tight barrels seems to have a ‘hop-up’ effect of its own, causing a straight-shooting gun to suddenly send pellets drifting to the left, the right and everywhere else but the target.

We’ve also learned that sighting a gun in with bare eyeballs is great, but that the sighting changes when you’re wearing a pair of goggles. Distortion and all that. Tomorrow evening we’ll be re-sighting the guns with our masks on so they work better on the field of battle. It kinda puts the kibosh on casual plinking, unless you want to wear the goggles everywhere.

Goggles – now there’s a topic. My son used lensed goggles for a long time. However, even back in the days when he was using a spring gun all that running about created fogged lenses, and the damp weather here did nothing to improve the situation. I put some anti-fog on the inside of the lenses, but this put the problem off and did not cure it. Taking your goggles off to wipe them every few minutes is tiresome, not to mention dangerous.

My son solved his problem by purchasing a mask with a fine mesh instead of clear plastic. No problems with that so far, although it is said that the biodegradable pellets tend to shatter and mesh will not stop the fragments. We’ve had no issues so far. I dislike the bio-degradable pellets for several reasons. One is that in humid weather they tend to gum up, jamming the barrel of the gun and sticking together in the magazine. Another is that they are seldom polished to the high tolerances required by a gun firing fifteen rounds a second. And of course, there is that fragmenting problem.

I haven’t the money to buy a new mask, so I made do with my son’s old mask. I went to Radio Shack and bought the smallest fan they had, then strapped it onto my mask at the top, where the ventilation holes reside, with a plastic zip tie. I cut some of the ventilation material away so the air would flow clearly across the inside of the clear plastic lens. I sealed the area around the bottom of the fan where it sits on top of the mask with silicone seal, so the air doesn’t leak. A nine-volt battery I duct-taped to the headband powers the whole thing and after tacking a few stray wires down, the thing turns out to be pretty sturdy.

Leaving the fan on during a game was not only annoying, it kept me from hearing small sounds in the woods – such as folks stepping on sticks or moving through brush as they were ‘sneaking’ up on you. So I left it off until the fogging began (late in the game). A few minutes of running the fan in a safe area and my lens was clear. I am told that this is a common alteration and that there are reasonably-priced masks on the market which come with a fan already installed. Maybe I will pick one up. Maybe….

Haven’t received my pistol yet – it won’t be in until Monday. I broke down and ordered that R36C in the end, using money my wife won at the local casino. Bad boy! It will be here in a week or so. Meanwhile, Bill’s G36K arrived today and he is unhappy with it – seems the 9.6 volt battery he ordered along with the gun does not, in fact, fit in the damn gun. No telling if this was a mix-up at the store, a problem which we can overcome tomorrow, or something the company knows nothing about. Or not yet. Bill is writing them to see if they have a fix. Meanwhile, he still has the stock 8.4v battery to use.

Thanks for stopping by.



 Ashley said...

The joy of airsoft. Fiddling and fettling is par for the course, but I imagine that the battery issue is just down to them supplying the wrong sized one.

Steven Satak said...

No, apparently it will fit if you break one of the retaining pieces off the inside of the battery compartment! It is half a cell too long, obviously a design mistake made by engineers who do not use the rifle and never will. Otherwise they would have done something besides design the battery compartment specifically around the intended stock battery pack...

I got the R36C for a couple of reasons, but the biggest one was so that my son's friend would have an AEG to use when he came over to play. I really have no use for it myself, as I have a pistol and an M-14 already.

Xynar said...

Slow compy there. Need a faster desktop or laptop? I can try to scrounge up a replacement for you. I'd like to see this TRO get finished.

Steven Satak said...

To be honest, I could acquire one clocking 2 ghz off Ebay pretty easily, for about $250 including shipping. But that would eat into the cash I am trying to save for the printing. Ya know?

I get about one image done an hour, and when smoking outside, I last about that long each evening before retiring with frozen hands. Not the weather alone so much as the nicotine and its vasoconstrictive effects.

I know, you want to see it printed. Me too. But the layout backgrounds are being rebuilt, the payments to the artists are still going out and I must still save additional money for printing. So there is waiting to be done anyway - and I fill that waiting period with cleaning up the art.

Seriously, I don't think too many folks would be able to tell the difference at the scale we'll be rendering most of this. But I have seen the art for past efforts look sketchy because that crap was in there. So out it goes. YOU might not know it's there, but I sure would. And it definitely affects the quality of the printed version.


Xynar said...

I'll look around. Do you prefer a laptop or desktop? I have a dual core desktop that just needs to be reloaded and I can then ship it to you. I'll have to scrounge a laptop better than 1GHz though. Give the word and I'll give you the hardware and try to cover shipping.

Steven Satak said...

Part of the reason why I use a laptop is that I can use it outside, away from Momma (who monopolizes the house computer) and I can smoke and drink coffee whilst working.

Most of the time I have had no trouble with the processor power - in fact, the hardest time for me was when I had to re-install Windows after it slowed to a crawl. I got a legit number off a computer a friend gave me for WinXP, but the fact that his tower has been sitting in the spare bedroom for the past three years should tell you how much mileage I would get from a home machine. Thank you for the offer, however.

If you can get a more modern laptop it would be great. Even something clocking at 1.3 ghz would be a definite step up. I would have to budget for it, however.


Doug said...

Check out a netbook, $300 or so:

I have two of the Acer Aspire Ones, they work well.

Steven Satak said...

Doug, Doug, what am I going to do with you? If I cannot afford a $250 used computer which will be a huge step up, how on earth could I afford a $300 Netbook upon which none of my disk-based software will load - even if I could afford it?