Long time readers of this blog remember I was trying to help cartoonist Scott Meyer develop a syndicated comic strip. He already has a comic called Basic Instructions that is popular on the web, but its format and characters aren't a natural fit with mainstream newspapers. And while newspaper syndication didn't work out, Scott just came out with a book that is a collection of his comics. I have a copy, and it is pure genius. Check it out.
The web site is here: www.basicinstructions.net/
In July I had surgery to fix my voice issue. For 3.5 years I have had spasmodic dysphonia, a condition where the vocal cords squeeze shut involuntarily when you try to talk. The projected recovery time from the surgery is 3-4 months, while the transplanted nerves in the neck regenerate. I was told that after a few months of only being able to whisper, the new nerve pathway would finally be complete, and one day I would wake up with a voice.
It happened this week.
I don't yet have a full voice, and I still can't talk above much background noise, but it's a real voice. Unlike before, it is fully functional. For the first time in years I can use the telephone, and order food at a restaurant and be heard. It will take several more months for the voice to become essentially normal. I am delighted.
Recently I was asked if human creativity is nearing its limits. It seems as if every idea has already been done. Regular readers of this blog know that every time I describe what I think is a new idea, someone provides a link to an earlier description of the same idea.
I don't think creativity is coming to an end. I think creativity is increasing at an increasing rate, and always will.
Creativity is generally a combination of existing ideas. If there were only two concepts in the universe, creativity would be "What happens if we put them together?" If you add a third and fourth concept to the universe, the number of creative combinations shoots up.
The Internet allows you to check the originality of your idea quickly, so it sometimes seems that all the good ideas have been taken. But the Internet also seeds us with many more concepts than we would otherwise be exposed to. Humans are like distributed computing for creativity. The Internet and the media and our daily lives dump huge volumes of raw concepts into our heads and we process and combine things until something new feels right.
Worrying comes from predicting the future on a straight line, imagining trouble increasing at some established pace. But the real future comes in leaps and bounces, with creative solutions expanding faster than problems. I believe this is some sort of fundamental law of the universe, that solutions will always outpace problems.
Take a deep breath. You're going to be fine. Someone, somewhere, just thought of an idea that will fix everything. And you couldn't stop it if you tried.
The rest of this post is for art nerds who care about this sort of thing. I'll see the rest of you tomorrow.
The equipment you see me using is a Wacom Cintiq 21ux. Here's a page that describes it
It's attached to a plain Windows PC running XP. The software is Photoshop. I created my own font for the lettering, using a commercial font creation packages. I forget which one.
Obviously I started my career drawing on paper, with the first draft in pencil, and then inking over the pencil lines. The dot pattern used for shading was a sort of decal you could buy at high end art stores. You placed the decal on your art and then used an X-Acto knife to cut it to fit.
It was a tedious process, and took about twice as long as my current method. When finished, I would take a photocopy and mail the original to United Media in New York. The flaw in this process is that once the local Post Office figures out who you are, the original art starts disappearing. So the next step involved scanning the originals and e-mailing them, which took forever with the computers of the day.
The next phase in the tool evolution involved drawing the basic art on paper, then scanning it into the computer to finish. Once scanned, I used Photoshop just to clean up stray lines, add the shading with a "fill" command, and do the lettering. I created my own dot pattern for the fills, through trial and error.
During those years I used a Macintosh for the art, and a PC for everything else, partly to be compatible with licensees. Every Mac I owned was a lemon, crashing ten times a day on average. My Windows machines were all relatively sturdy, so I moved everything to Windows and things have been great since. (You don't need to tell me your Mac never crashes. I know.)
About four years ago I moved to a fully paperless process, using the Cintiq 21ux. It took me about three months to get the hang of drawing on screen. It's an entirely different feel, scale, and process.
I still draw a first draft, as you will see in the video. It's hard to tell, but the lines of the rough art are jaggy because of the scale I use to draw it. The rough art is in its own "layer," which is Photoshop lingo. When I'm happy with the rough art, I click on the layer and change the opacity of the lines to about 25%. That makes the rough look like a light gray line. I do that so that when I do the final art in another layer, the black lines of the final are easy to distinguish from the lighter lines of the rough draft below it. I zoom to 200% for the final art, and use the paintbrush tool at size 6, with 25% hardness, giving the lines a smooth look.
The starting file is 600 dpi, grayscale. The comic size is about 2" x 7" with some extra white space around the perimeter. You can draw in any size that is proportional to the finished product. It took some trial and error to figure out what works best for me.
The daily strips are colored by an outside firm. I color the Sunday strips myself, in Photoshop. It takes about ten minutes, mostly just using the paint bucket took and clicking a color into each area. Before I add the color, I convert from grayscale to bitmap then back to grayscale and up to CMYK. The detour to bitmap makes the color fills cleaner, going all the way to the black lines without leaving a little border.
Most syndicated cartoonists still draw on paper, then scan the art and e-mail it to their syndication company. They're going to be pissed when they see this video and realize how much extra work they have been doing.
The only time women are not attracted to intelligent men is when they have the option of a good looking guy who is dumber than pants on fish. Still, it's comforting to know that given the choice of two ugly guys, women usually prefer the one who is not a moron. And obviously many women will still pick the guy who is both ugly and stupid if he has lots of money, good hair, is tall, or plays in a band. I did my own study to reach that conclusion. It's titled "Duh."
In my vast experience as an unattractive smart guy who was not always a syndicated cartoonist, there are in fact women who have fetishes for smart men. Not many, but they exist. My guess is that about 3% of the female public is in that group. That's probably good enough to keep the inventions flowing for a few more evolutionary steps.
The only risk to the future of humanity is that nerds will invent a technology that is better than sex with another human being. I'll try to keep this next part rated PG-13, so please be patient with the indirectness.
I assume some entrepreneur is already working on creating a business where guys will be able to buy a lifelike female body part that plugs into a standard USB port, and can be controlled by someone else across the Internet. That artificial body part could mimic a hand, mouth, or woo-woo. In the short run, the business model would involve paying women, in countries where such things are legal, to control the device and appear on a web cam chat. In the long run, artificial intelligence and CGI women will be controlling the action, so the whole system would only cost $100, with no recurring fees. And that will be the end of humanity because nerds will stop mating, their genes will die out, humanity will revert to the Bronze Age, and all the attractive, dumb people will be eaten by wild dogs.
I like to end on a positive note, so let's take a moment to be happy for the wild dogs.
This raises an interesting question: What did the lenders know about the borrowers that the borrowers did not know about themselves?
In theory, the people who got loans from the so-called predators had enough monthly income to pay the mortgage plus their other living expenses. The real risk was that the borrowers would become sick, unemployed, unlucky, or irresponsible. Apparently we expect lenders to be better judges of the strangers asking for loans than the would-be borrowers are of themselves. How did the conversation between lender and borrower go in the old days, before predatory lending?
Banker: "Well, Billy Bob, you can afford this loan now, but based on that dumbass hat you're wearing, I give you two weeks before you drink a case of beer and drive your Chevy into a silo."
If a potential borrower has the monthly income to repay a loan, how much external risk should the banker accept? I think it's somewhere in the 2% range. In other words, a good banker should turn down a loan for someone who has a 2% or greater chance of being doomed during the early years of the mortgage, before any equity has built up.
Lenders should be required to assign a doom factor to all loan applicants, like a fortune teller. It would be interesting to know, for example, that Wells Fargo has assigned a 20% doom factor to you. Then you could find out on the same day that you aren't going to own a house, and you have a 1-in-5 chance of becoming a hobo by 2010.
In one of my earlier career incarnations I was a banker. My job for a few years included reviewing and approving commercial loans for doctors and dentists. One day I declined a loan application for a dentist who, according to his recent tax returns, didn't have enough cash flow to repay the loan. My boss at the time reviewed my work and turned the decline into an approval without even looking at the financials. When I asked why, he explained that the borrower had a Chinese name. I questioned the wisdom of this lending procedure and he directed me to the files of delinquent borrowers, challenging me to find any Chinese names in there. There weren't any. I'm not judging, just telling you what happened.
I like the clarity of that explanation, but it seems incomplete. For one thing, there is no discussion of the positive aspects of a financial calamity, for example:
- Rent gets cheaper when housing prices fall. That's a redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor.
- While it will be harder to get a mortgage for an $800K house, that house is only worth $500K now. That should make it a lot easier to qualify.
- Gas at $4 per gallon is a necessary condition for creating the next economic boom: renewable energy and green technology.
- A good recession now and then is necessary to purge the economy of things that need purging.
- College students are starting to choose technology majors over finance majors, probably because of the financial headlines, and this bodes well for the future.
I also wonder if the Internet will take some of the steam out of a credit problem. The problem is a lack of credit, not a lack of people who want to borrow, or a lack of money to lend. When lending is constrained by geography, you might find that your local bank is unwilling to help you. But with the Internet, it seems we could always find a match between a lender and a borrower, at some interest rate. The people who have money to lend aren't going to be keen on the stock market or real estate for awhile, so there should be plenty of capital for private lending at attractive rates. Arguably, banks are an anachronism anyway. This might speed up the inevitable.
I own some real estate (an empty lot) I have been trying to sell. Every recent offer on the property has included a component of seller financing. I expect to see a lot more of that if bank lending dries up.
And allow me to leave you with a pinch of optimism, just because I can. I call it Adams' Rule of Obvious Calamities. It states that any calamity that is foreseeable by the public at large won't turn out so bad after all. The best recent example was the Y2K problem, where computers worldwide were expected to fail. It seemed impossible that those issues could be resolved in time, but they were.
The problems that hit hardest are the ones that sneak up on you. Our current financial problem is big, but I expect a recession to be mild and even useful, precisely because so much human energy and attention is being focused on the fix.