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Aaaaand spoke too soon

Made a post last night about how I think the computer is okay, came home from work this afternoon to find it did this again. I know, I know, I jinxed it.

Dell Diagnostics hardware scan

No issues found! You didn’t find any issues the last four times, either! Why do you keep doing this.

Gaaaah. Should I even try to do a full reinstall? Contact Dell customer service and sit through however many hours of troubleshooting they’d want to do? Or just give up and live like this?


…and, in a completely unrelated bonus vent:

Chris Chan, long-time Webcomic Person and generally infamous Internet Personality, has been trending on Twitter for a bit. For entirely horrible reasons. If you don’t want to read about elder abuse and mental illness, don’t go digging.

But given that she has like a 20-year history of being egged/goaded/manipulated by trolls into doing awful things for their entertainment…my first thought on hearing bad news about her is “wonder which sociopath talked her into thinking this was ok.”

(For anyone who wants receipts, there’s a comprehensive documentary series on YouTube that goes through the trolling in detail. And by “comprehensive” I mean “59 parts so far, each about 40 minutes long, and it’s only caught up through 2017.” The creator just put it on hiatus, because they don’t want to seem like they’re taking advantage of a terrible situation for hits — which is a principled move, good for them — but here I am linking to the back catalog anyway.)

Seriously, in a better healthcare system Chris would’ve been taken into some kind of professional care at least a decade ago, for her own safety. Let alone anyone else’s.

And I hate how sure I am that the instigators are never gonna see any consequences ever.

(it’s the camera)

At some point in late June/early July, I ran a Windows update on New Computer, and the camera stopped working.

As in, the device is now fully convinced it doesn’t have a built-in camera. I tried the “delete the drivers to make the computer reinstall them” fix, and it didn’t reinstall anything, because why would it need those if it doesn’t have a camera? (Can’t download them manually from the website, either, it assures me Windows will handle this automatically.) I follow various troubleshooting steps, and when I get to the point where it says “choose Camera from the list of hardware to troubleshoot,” there is no Camera in the list at all, because what camera?

Not an urgent problem — Old Computer is still totally capable of picking up Zoom duties — but still a pain. (Now I’m using Old Computer once or twice a week, instead of once or twice a month.)

Fast-forward to July 22, and New Computer’s new trick is to reboot in the middle of the night — which, yeah, Windows 10 was already doing. I’ve hunted down and turned off every permission I could find and it wouldn’t stop. (It does its best to re-launch all the programs it unwillingly shut down, and mostly succeeds…)

But now, instead of booting like normal, it spontaneously loads into Dell Support mode and runs a full diagnostic.

There’s no screensaver in this mode, so once it finishes, it just sits. With the words “No hardware issues detected” on a full-brightness blank white screen. For howevermany hours go by before I wake up and get back to using the machine.

So naturally I figure this might be related to the camera problem. Maybe it’s getting worse? Seems prudent to go ahead and pull the trigger on a System Restore, undoing the last few weeks of updates, to before when the problem started.

Only reason I didn’t do that already was the fear that it would break the system worse, going from “tolerable pain” to “total disaster.”

Reader, it broke worse.

Now all I can get into is a troubleshooting utility that says “your options are (1) totally reinstall Windows while trying to keep your files and data, (2) totally reinstall Windows without trying to keep your files and data.”

So the good news is, this does rebuild a working, booting OS. It even keeps all my files intact! And it either remembers or does better with a few settings — notably, System Restore isn’t set to “feel free to fill up 100% of the disk space with your data” the way it was the first time.

All my programs are gone, but it generates a helpful list of “programs removed” (as an HTML file on the desktop). The amount of reinstalls I’ve had to go through at this point, I already maintain a full list of Things I’ve Installed + Backup Settings + Registration Codes + Saved Copies Of Installer Files + Also All The Fonts, but it’s cool to see Windows actually taking a little of the prep effort on itself now.

A few hours of reinstalling, re-signing-in, and re-syncing later, New Computer is 90% back to the state it was in a month earlier.

That was a week ago, and the rebuild has yet to spring any Horrible Surprises on me (knock wood), so we might actually be in the clear. At least, until some exciting new system failure comes along in another 8 months.

…guess what still isn’t working, though. Go on. Take a totally wild guess.

Family vac[cin]ations, the cat vs. the Horrible Strangers, reactions to Black Widow, Loki, Check Please!, Leverage: Redemption

Stuff about stuff that’s been up.

Family vac[cin]ations

My parents and brother came to town, making it the first time we’ve all been in one place for almost 2 years. (Parents have been vaccinated for a while, and they visited earlier in 2021. Brother is (a) young, (b) low-risk, and (c) not in a customer-facing position, so he only skated over the “2 weeks since second dose” theshhold just in time to get here.)

We visited a bunch of the local relatives. On one side, the grandparents who flatly refused to entertain unvaccinated visitors (so everyone’s had their shots). On the other, the grandparents who got their own shots as soon as possible, but were having unmasked indoor visits with my virulently antivaxxer aunt and her kids right up until they — the grandparents — tested positive.

Grandfather, who’d only had his first shot, got pretty sick and was hospitalized, but pulled through. Grandmother, who’d had both shots, barely got the sniffles, wouldn’t even have thought of getting tested if she didn’t live in the same house as a seriously-ill person. Aunt has only doubled down on how these fraudulent vaccines don’t even do anything, you guys.

I, uh, timed my part of the visit to not encounter the antivaxxer aunt.

Banging and drilling

A few relatives came over to my apartment to do some handiwork projects. Which meant the Fluff had his space invaded by Horrible Strangers, who talked and hammered and drilled and vacuumed and generally made Horrible Noises.

This cat was not a happy camper.

Normally he hides under the daybed, crouched on top of the boxes I keep under there. This time, he managed to shove one of the boxes away from the wall, so he could squeeze himself in behind it. Note, these are the boxes with the Leif & Thorn books in them — they’re heavy.

It took a solid 2 hours after the Horrible Strangers left before the fluff poked his nose out of his hiding spot. And then he went back under. It was a few more hours, and a few more exploratory peeks, before he was walking around the place like normal again.

Poor guy. He’s had such a nice year, and now this.

Black Widow (no specific spoilers)

Family had a bunch of Potential Outings planned, but the only one we actually did was seeing Black Widow on the big screen.

The building had small groups of other patrons; our theater was flat-out empty except for us. (So if you tentatively want to catch a movie but are worried about large groups in enclosed spaces…give it a shot.)

The movie was good! Mostly takes place during the period when Natasha was on the run after Civil War, gives her a solo adventure that fleshes out her backstory — both parts we knew about, and parts that are new. Funny, heartwarming when it wanted to be, makes good use of that Disney “sure, blow up all the cars you want” money.

I’m usually more into the magic and sci-fi sides of the MCU, and this was a Cap-style action-spy-thriller, no super-science beyond what you can use for “excuses to do cooler stunts.” So it wasn’t an instant favorite the way Captain Marvel was.

But it was good at what it wanted to be. It wasn’t a perfunctory “I want to support the general idea of more female superheroes getting their own solo movies” thing. It was fun, and I liked it. Marvel did good.

Speaking of Marvel:

Loki (also no specific spoilers)

The whole 6-episode series is out now, and I…

…didn’t…like it?

Which is wild, because it has all the ingredients for a thing I should like. Magic! Sci-fi! Time travel nonsense! Alternate versions of the same character having to deal with each other! Significant chunks of action on alien planets! Major queer and/or female characters! Shapeshifters! Quippy banter! Sassy, petty villain getting dragged kicking and screaming into a redemption arc!

The first episode sure felt like it was going to deliver on all those things in a way I enjoyed. And then every subsequent cliffhanger was like “okay…there were a couple specific scenes that are fun, but…is this going anywhere? This big moment should’ve been good, but why didn’t it have buildup? That dramatic setup we did get, why hasn’t it had any payoff? This weird bit, I can think of some in-universe reasons why it was weird, so is it setting up one of those, or is it just sloppy writing?”

And the answer was always “it’s just sloppy writing.”

…to be fair, I think sometimes the answer was COVID. There were scenes where you could see “none of the actors except the 2 leads are getting within 6 feet of each other, and it’s really restricting what the narrative can do.”

But that doesn’t explain all of it.

Feels like it should’ve been a full-length season. Make it a procedural, have Loki and company facing a Time Shenanigans case-of-the-week, and have the characters/relationships develop slowly over each case. Then at the end we get a multi-episode arc where the plot is all interconnected, the developments all come to a head, the status quo gets flipped over.

Instead we got pieces of that arc without any connective tissue. You get prickly suspicious characters skipping from “tense, mistrustful opponents” to “tentative admissions of Friendship” when they’ve only known each other for, what, a few days? With no tangible reason for their feelings to change. It’s just “this is the part of the story where that happens, so it’s happened.”

Ugh. It could’ve been so good! And it just…wasn’t.

…and speaking of “things I just finished that didn’t have connective tissue”:

Check, Please!

The famous, award-winning, funding-record-making, m/m webcomic? That I didn’t read during the whole length of its run. Finally picked up the print volumes when I saw them at the library, and that’s how I got through the whole thing.

It was really thin. Cute and fluffy and disjointed. Kept setting up potential conflicts, but then skimming right over them.

I flipped back through some fail_fandomanon threads from when the updates were being released live, and it was a recurring theme for new readers to go “wait, was this just…resolved offscreen? Or did I accidentally skip a page?” (I was reading a physical book and would occasionally wonder if it skipped a page. It never did.)

…unsurprisingly, the author was in Hockey RPF fandom, and a lot of fans were bringing their interests from Hockey RPF fandom. So you would have character show up in the background, and readers would be like “aha, I can tell this is an expy of Real Player X, I enjoy him because I’m transferring my fannish feelings about Real Player X onto him.” Then they’d still be invested even if he only appeared 2-3 times and never did anything significant in-universe.

Reading it over the course of a couple afternoons — and with zero personal background in who these IRL hockey players are — was a breezy experience.

But, wow, I totally get why it was so intense and frustrating for so many people reading it in realtime. It would’ve been a constant cycle of “sets you up for something interesting, keeps you on the hook for a week or a month or several months for the next update, dashes your hopes when the setup gets deflated or sidestepped or offscreen-resolved, but hey, now there’s setup for another something interesting, maybe if I just wait for the next update in a week or a month or–“

It did work well enough for enough readers to bring the author buckets of money, though. And she delivered a complete series by the end — everyone who backed a Kickstarter to get a book, got a book — which is more than you can say for a lot of webcomickers who’ve taken people’s money. As many faults as I could pick apart in the writing: you go rake in that cash, girl.

Okay, to end this on a brighter note:

Leverage: Redemption

Sequel to the original TV series. Not a reboot, a retcon, or a reimagining — just “it’s been a decade in-universe, let’s pick back up with these characters and see how they’re doing now.”

And, wow. It’s the rare follow-up that’s so well-done, and so worth it.

The first 8 episodes are streaming free (at least in the US). The cases-of-the-week have the same “yeah, we didn’t fix the system, but we gave a complicated and satisfying comeuppance to this one exploitative scumbag” vibe of Leverage Classic. There are bits that make it clear it’s set in the 2020s — a Big Pharma creep who took CARES Act money, a reference to a politician who sounds like an AOC expy, that kind of thing — but it’s not “chasing the trending headline” in a way that’ll make it feel dated and irrelevant too fast.

They killed off Nate (his actor has sexual-assault accusations, makes sense not to employ the guy), and the other characters miss him in a way that’s present without taking over the show. Brought Sophie/Parker/Eliot back together. I assume Hardison’s actor has a job with a better-paying show, because he guest-starred briefly to establish that he’s still around, then brought in his also-genius-hacker kid-sister replacement on the team.

They also picked up a not-quite-Nate-replacement — he’s a newbie but learning the ropes fast, and he can fill the role any time they need a clean-cut business-savvy white guy.

After Elliot’s actor did a stint on the crew in The Librarians, it’s delightful to me that Flynn’s actor is the new guy on the Leverage crew. Please let the creators find an excuse to cameo Eve, Exekiel, and Cassandra in the next half of the series. That would be crossover catnip.

Why I’m still using a 20-year-old art program (not exclusively, but still…a lot)

Three months after this post about getting a new computer, and things are going swimmingly. There was a building issue for a while with a Mysterious Hidden Process steadily filling up hard drive space, but this forum post had the fix, and poof, my free space went from 29 GB back to 129 GB.

I also did a writeup about Paint Shop Pro 7 back around that time, and figured it deserved its own post.

And hey, it pairs really well with this recording of the strip-creation process! Not quite start-to-finish, but most of the “cleanup-flats-shading-effects” process. (Light Quarantine Flashback spoilers.)

Programs you’ll see in use:

  • Legacy version of PSP: cropping, lineart cleanup, flats
  • Newest version Clip Studio Paint: tiled patterns, perspective effects, anything that uses nice brushes or complex assets
  • Either: shading, adjustment layers
  • Legacy (pre-subscription-model) version of Photoshop: files saved by Clip are just different enough to be unreadable to PSP, but re-saving them in PS fixes that

And here are the functions of PSP that make it extra-useful for basic comic-strip operations, i.e. the reasons I’ll keep using the program as long as it will run…

  • Opens real fast. Not as much of a bonus since I got the high-powered New Computer, which can even open Photoshop quickly, but still nice
  • Lets you paste on the layer you’re working on. I do a lot of “copy this bit of the lineart and paste it over that other part,” and if they generated a new layer every time, I’d be constantly stopping to merge them all
  • Same with adding text  — which I write in another program, so it can be insta-copied as text into a transcript (I fully expect Clip Studio to add an “export all text into a plaintext file” option one day, it’s such an accessibility gimme!, but we’re not there yet)
  • Lets you paste a selection with one color erased to transparency. Lots of white backgrounds I get to auto-erase
  • Color/pattern settings don’t have to be universal, they can be different for every tool. So there’s a lot less referring back to the palette — you can just pair 2 lineart colors with the pen, 2 flat colors with the bucket, 2 shading colors with the brush, and then one-click switch between all of them
  • Keyboard-shortcut instant toggle between layers. Based on their order, regardless of layer names (lowest is ctrl+1, next is ctrl+2, etc). Working on one layer when you notice something needs fixing on another — toggle over, fix it, toggle back, without your eyes/cursor/attention being pulled away to rifle through the layer window
  • Switching between “view all layers” and “view current layer” also has an instant shortcut. No matter how many layers you have, pick one and see it alone in a couple of clicks, no need to go through and individually hide all the rest
  • This one isn’t about PSP working better, since Clip and Photoshop both have much more powerful vector tools…but PSP draws 99.9% of the lines I need that for, and it’s the one I already know, which saves me the effort of getting used to a whole new “click these points and drag those handles to generate this curve you have in mind” system

I could make a whole list of features where Clip and/or Photoshop have a fancier version, which is useful when I need to get fancy, but for a lot of these average daily operations, it’s overkill.

So: Clip has all these sophisticated content-aware fills — great, but you don’t need any of them to handle black-and-white lineart. Photoshop will let you do all this precise warping and twisting of vector text — sure, but I don’t need Fisheye Perspective Skew for the “click” of a door opening, just a little tilt and it’s fine. Both of them have amazing brushes; I don’t need any of them for basic cel-shading, it’s all covered by “freehand selection” and “multiply fill.” And so on.

And listen, if you got your start in CSP or PS (or any of the freeware programs still being updated), and learned digital-art skills there from the ground up, your workflow probably developed to fit that program anyway. So maybe none of this sounds like a huge improvement on what you’re used to.

But if it might be valuable, or sounds intriguing, or you feel like trying something new, or you’re just really into retro programs by defunct companies that are so well-coded they still run after 20 years and 5 OS upgrades…I’m gonna leave this link here. Have at it.

Yuletide mostly-cheer

It started snowing on the night before Christmas, and kept going on-and-off ever since, so everything outside the window is carpeted with perfect winter scenery. Seeing as I don’t have anywhere to go, this has been great.

I got an absolutely heartwarming Yuletide fic, a new take on “Ozma decides to spend some time in Tip form”, featuring some quality Worried Dorothy and Protective Aunt Em:

Homecoming (6127 words) by Anonymous
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Oz – L. Frank Baum
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Dorothy Gale/Princess Ozma
Characters: Princess Ozma, Dorothy Gale, Aunt Em
Additional Tags: Comfort, Genderqueer Character, genderqueer character misread as male, mentions of past emotional / physical abuse, aunt em has a bunch of unexamined gender and class biases
Summary:

A nice young person with experience on a farm comes to help Aunt Em with the chores for a celebration.
Meanwhile, Ozma isn’t in the Palace, and Dorothy goes looking for them.

More rec posts to come. I’ve been churning my way through all the promising-looking fandoms, trying to read everything in-the-moment instead of letting it disappear into marked For Later.

…with the exception of a bunch of Locked Tomb fics, because I’m still only 80% through Harrow the Ninth (the second novel), and any time I’ve looked at post-Harrow writing for more than 5 seconds I’ve been spoiled for something. (Fortunately, there are So Many wild and unpredictable twists that it’s turned out I was still unspoiled for most of them.)


On less fandom-y notes:

Half my family is being scrupulous and careful about COVID restrictions, and the other half is…not. I don’t know what to say. They’ve already had two scares (notable COVID-like symptoms that ended up testing negative), you’d think that would make them more cautious, not less. The hospitals are full of people who thought “oh, nothing bad will happen to me.” And by “full” I mean record-breaking cases, record-breaking deaths, “lining up beds in the hallways because all the rooms are occupied” full.

This Week In Virology had a good discussion of the new COVID variant that’s developed in the UK, including a breakdown of why it’s not likely to be more vaccine-resistant than any other variant. There is a serious chance it’s more transmissible, but even if that’s true, it’s not so transmissible that it can overcome all the usual measures — keeping distances, wearing masks, washing hands.

So we just have to stay serious about doing those.