Wednesday, December 31, 2008

LView Pro... Send me a Disk!

The LView Pro program itself had some great tools and it was comparatively cheap. Only $50. Compared to Corel and whatever Microsoft offered of the same, that was an incredible bargain. I even paid the extra fee for them to send the software on a disk. I didn't know much about the software game, but I sure didn't quite trust some tenuous string of code to be sent through e-mail. If I was gonna pay 50 bucks, I wanted a solid piece of plastic that I could store in a box on my shelf. If I ever needed it again, I'd know where it would be. You couldn't lose it by hitting 'delete' one too many times. They couldn't log you out of it and refuse to recognize your password. Besides, I knew I could reinstall a really old disk even after software manufacturers called it obsolete and quit supporting it. I didn't trust their judgement on deciding when my property was obsolete. My machine was an obsolete dinosaur. So was I. And I was getting cagy. It was me against Bill Gates. I had been the victim of one too many Microsoft upgrades.

Trying LView Pro

I agonized over the decision of whether to download LView Pro. The problem was, I could find nothing in the documentation to tell me whether my antiquated system could handle the imaging software. All other graphics editors called for superfast processors. I was short on something: RAM, megahertz, CPU... who knew? These terms were always a little fuzzy in my mind. I took a chance when I downloaded LView Pro. I liked it right away, though. First, it changed the graphical settings on my computer to a much finer resolution. I didn't know how it worked, but I did know that even Windows Paintbrush was suddenly capable of handling tiny little pixels and a blue million colors. I was in graphics-hog heaven. It was Bugbones makeover time!

The perils of Bugbones.

Aspiring for Better Images

LView Pro came into the picture when I'd just about had enough of Windows Paintbrush. The excitement of using Paint to make big, spidery squiggles was long past. I had conquered the computerized crayon. By hook or crook, over a period days, if not weeks, I had scraped out my flat, ugly little cartoon bug. Bugbones wasn't perfect, but he'd do in a pinch. I uploaded him to my site, rough and unfinished. But I aspired for better. What Bugbones needed was beyond the capability of Paintbrush, default settings or no. My little bug didn't have the polish of nice icons that I saw on other sites. And logo or no, if I meant to have an art site, even a cartoon one, then images were everything. Clearly Paintbrush wasn't gonna cut it. It was time to get down to brass tacks. I needed an art editor. Freeware and shareware were everywhere, but I knew nothing about them. Oh, I had played with shareware that came pre-loaded on my computer. But none of it would work to really tweak and fine-tune images. Through my friends at The Artist's Exchange art forum, I found out that new programs were on-line and free for the taking. LView Pro was the best value, they said.

The perils of Bugbones.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bugbones and LView Pro

Making little red balls was an amusing distraction, but soon the new wore off. Besides, the little red balls looked spiffier than my logo! Surely I must rework my logo, in keeping with the three-dimensional sophistication and fine resolution of little red balls. Regrettably, the freeware wouldn't do my Bugbones. It would only do balls. For my next free trial, I muddled through a sea of convoluted and conflicting advice and settled on LView Pro.

The perils of Bugbones.

Little Red Balls

Little red balls took up several weeks of my life. I kid you not. It wasn't just having to make them. It was having to place them on the page. Placing those red balls took a whole extra line of code and some knowledge of tables. You had to know how to make an image link to make them effective. I had to buy a book for that. But adding red balls to my page was a case of pride, of self-respect, of keeping up with the Joneses. Now, I was flying with the best of them, using freeware to make red balls. Before long, my Bugbones site was covered with them. Surely I was the red-ball queen!

The perils of Bugbones.

Stars Upon Thars

'Stars upon thars' ~ to borrow a phrase from Dr. Seuss. His Sneeches with stars were the crust of the upper crust. Sneeches without stars were nobody. They might as well go out and eat worms. Stars upon thars is the practical philosophy of web design, and I swore by it. Whatever was the going thing, Bugbones would have it. Bugbones wasn't going to be left out. It wasn't just a case of copy-catting. It was a case of learning by imitation. Nobody really knew what the Web was then, except by looking at what the big guys were doing. I looked at other sites. I read the Webmonkey tutorials. I read a 'Dummy' book. If Dummy said do it, I did it. It's as simple as that.

The perils of Bugbones.

Freeware and Red Ball Gifs

Freeware! What a concept! The Artist's Exchange, collectively, was my mentor back then. Artists on the Exchange were free with tips, techniques, and advice, and they were all enthusiastic about freeware. They pointed me toward several good programs. One of them featured Vector resizing. It let you make a big, shiny ball. Everybody who was anybody had a shiny red ball on their site in those days. About.com's ball was very prominent. If your links didn't sport 3-D shiny red balls, you were nobody. Well, they didn't have to be red. They could be blue, green, pink, or ~ if you were very edgy and wild ~ purple. Plain-text links? How dull!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Bugbones: A Cartoon Version

Making the Bugbones logo in Paint was time consuming and difficult, but I managed a simple Bugbones cartoon. I still wasn't happy, comparing it to other cartoon icons that I saw on-line. The curves were jagged, the colors were harsh and flat. The little Webmonkey was simple but fairly elegant! I knew that a fancy image editor could do the trick, but I was in that all-too-familiar catch-22. My basic image editor couldn't handle the job, but I could not afford to buy the fancy stuff at Office Depot. Believe me, I drooled over versions of Corel and PhotoShop. Then I discovered freeware.

Scrapping the Fossil Logo

One of the scanned thumbnails of my Bugbones banner idea looked promising. It had picked up the most subtle lines of the gesture drawing. Unfortunately, it had also picked up the background as an opaque off-white. Every line, wrinkle, and stray mark was represented. Dropping in the colors proved problematic. Erasing the white made big gaps. Windows Paint was my image editor and it seemed pretty primitive. I didn't know anything about graphical settings. The pixels were large, producing coarse, awkward images. I was confused by the differences in pixels from one format to another. In photographs, the colors seemed subtle enough. They could be edited pixel by pixel, too, but saving the files caused unwanted compression. File types were limited in those early versions of Paint. It was good for basic forms, cartoons, and outlines. That seemed to fit with what I was beginning to read in Webmonkey tutorials. Webmonkey advised that subtle pinks, creams and beiges wouldn't do the job. These were not "web-safe" colors. Logos and headers should be simple, cartoony, and composed using the limited 256-color web-safe palette. As a matter of fact, I didn't even know how to expand the 12-color basic palette provided by Paint to 256 colors then. If that early version of Paint allowed palette editing, I didn't know how to do it. Thinking back on it, it was pretty naive of me to think I could create that original fossil-inspired logo in Paint, considering the complexity of my design. It would have been better to paint it in gouache or acrylics and scan the final image. As it turned out, Webmonkey convinced me to go cartoony.

Oh, the perils of Bugbones.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Scanning: No Method to Our Madness...

No, there was no method to our madness in scanner experiments. (Want to know about method? Remind me to tell you about Professor Ziggy and the chocolate-chip cookie recipe.) As a result of our haphazard method, I went home with a hodge-podge of file sizes and types. I had one interlaced .GIF of a painting, "Sisters"; one .JPEG of "Ghost in Pajamas" (a colored pencil illustration); and one I-don't-know-what of Bugbones. (Working with that thing was another story.) After uploading my artwork, I found that I really liked the interlaced .GIF. It made for a cool download! Still, a .JPEG would have been the better choice, I learned. GIFs are better suited for computer-generated images. Alas, we didn't save any images in uncompressed formats. This would impede my options for working with the files. I left Terri's house with three photo files and a covetous desire to own my own scanner. I proudly e-mailed my images to Philip, the fearless guide of The Artist's Exchange, and we conversed about art. Then I began my next challenge: uploading files and placing them on my web page.

Oh, the perils of Bugbones...

Scanner Chronicles: To Compress, or Not to Compress

We soon ruled out the photo file formats we hadn't heard of ~ a wise decision, in my opinion. We were getting to be old hands at Windows95, with enough shiny worn off of our brass to know that if we didn't recognize that extension, chances were, Windows wouldn't either. I knew from reading tutorials, as well as hellacious trials (or mostly errors) that .JPEG and .GIF formats were highly desirable for Web usage, but .BMPs weren't recommended. We did our first scan at 100 percent and were surprised to see the size of the nose on that painted dame! Re-sizing as a visual necessity was a given if we wanted to see more than one eyeball at a time without scrolling. It wasn't hard to resize, but neither of us knew enough about resolution or compression to know that these settings could affect the download speed of a file being fed from a web page. Nor did we know what "interlaced" meant. Of these options, we chose at least one of each, not knowing whether any of them would work for my intended purpose. Thus began my scanning career.

Let the Scanning Begin!

Now began the operation of scanning in earnest. Neither of us knew what the heck we were doing, but we were game to try. I was too shy to admit that I wanted to scan a silly black-and-white doodle of a bug for Bugbones; so, I whipped out a photo of one of my acrylic portraits and popped it onto the glass. Immediately, we were faced with an array of puzzling choices. Change resolution? Scan as grayscale? Scan as 12-bit or 256 or 17 million colors? Save as a .BMP, a .GIF, a .JPEG? (which we had heard of). Or a .TIFF, a .JFIF, a .PSF? (which we hadn't heard of). And perhaps a dozen others. Decisions, decisions, decisions...

Oh, the perils of Bugbones...

Rituals of the Non-Techie

I arrived at Terri's with high hopes. Immediately began the time-honored ritual among stone-age non-techies, of ferreting out various plugs and gizmos, figuring out which one went where, and attempting to boot the machine, while keeping fingers crossed. The big fear was that hooking up more than one piece of hardware at one time would provoke the dreaded growl and threat, "Illegal Operation!" As a matter of fact, this ritual is not limited to non-techies, but seems to be a time-honored tradition among IT professionals, from what I've observed in the offices where I've worked. The thing did boot up, and I looked forward with relish to performing my first scan. My Bugbones logo would soon become a reality.

Oh, the perils of Bugbones!

Trip to Terri's: Scanner, Here I Come!

My friend, Terri, had been wanting me to take a day off and come for a visit. Now she had the perfect lure. "I have a scanner," she said. "You might come over and use it. I also have a photo-editor. I don't know if that's what you need, but it does some pretty cool things." It's not that Terri actually had to lure me to her house for a visit. It's just that I was working as a temp then, so my finances wavered between flat broke and in the green. When I was working, I had no time for a trip. When I wasn't working, I had no money, and was hesitant to burn a tank of gas for a trip out of town. My '72 Ford LTD got twelve miles to the gallon. A fill-up, in 1999, was not to be taken lightly. It was a life decision. You see how it was. But the lure of the scanner was stronger than the fear of being flat broke and stranded. I filled up that gas hog and hit the road.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Golden Apples

Before I could get very far into my Bugbones logo design, something new happened. Someone asked to see my art. I had discovered The Artist's Exchange art forum on MiningCo. The guide of the art forum was Philip. Philip was probably my first cyber contact, outside of e-mail. We were discussing some technical point about drawing. Philip said, it might help if he could see what I was talking about. "Scan a couple of your paintings and let me see them," he said. Aha! A task! A challenge to be done in pursuit of the holy grail. "Bring back a golden apple."

"Scan me a painting." I'm not sure I knew what a scanner was. But I promised Philip I would try.

The Perils of Bugbones.

Sketching the Bugbones Logo

My planned artwork was more in the nature of a page header than a logo (like the toppers of todays' blogs). It was highly decorative and painterly. Right away I found that my rough drawing didn't have the spontaneity of my thumbnails. It occurred to me that I might compromise by scanning the thumbnail and dropping in the color. Once again, the lack of a scanner became a stumbling block, but regardless of which process I used to complete the header, I would have to have a scanner. If I chose to paint the Bugbones header instead of scanning the thumbnail, I would still have to scan the final result to get it on-line. The painted logo would be quicker, and maybe by the time I finished it, I would have enough money to buy a scanner.

The Perils of Bugbones.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Fossils and Myths (Themes)

Now that I had thrown out the little skeleton guy, Bugbones, I was free to design my site any way I chose. I still planned to keep the Bugbones theme, though. I was in archaeology mode back then. No, I wasn't helping on a dig. Archaeology was an art theme for me. I was exploring ideas of lost civilizations, ancient ruins, evolution, myth, psychology. I wanted to work this into my site theme. My idea was to create a subtle, sophisticated, fossil-inspired drawing of skeletal bug wings with hieroglyphics mixed in, in delicate, creamy beiges and pale, pale pinks. I chose one of my many gesture drawings and began a rough sketch of it.

The perils of Bugbones...

Monday, December 22, 2008

My First Computer

By now, I had my first computer. It was a hand-me-down with Windows 95 and an eight-inch screen. Everybody else was in heat over Windows 98 by then, but I was mighty proud of my new toy. I even had the disk and could register my copy. I still didn't have Internet, but I spent many happy days playing with Paintbrush, resetting my Wallpaper, and messing with the control panel. Need I tell you how many times I went into panic mode over some mystical Windows error message? The most terrifying one back then was the warning that I had done an "illegal operation." I had no idea what I had done, but having the application growl and promptly close each time left me feeling properly admonished. Was I a hacker? An accidental hacker? I felt like that blonde moll in the comic strips, who pulled the tag out of the pillow: "Do not remove under penalty of law!" I was looking over my shoulder for the cops every minute. But having a computer meant that I could work on my Bugbones logo at home.

Oh, the perils of Bugbones...

Bugbones: Thinking of a Logo...

I had my free site and a name. Now I needed a logo for Bugbones. Believe it or not, I first fixated on the idea of my old friend Bugbones, the creepy little skeleton guy. Maybe I was retreating from the challenging tech world back into the relatively safe world of my childhood. Nah, really... I just liked the little guy. It soon became obvious that the little booger just wouldn't do. For one thing, the eight-by-one-inch banner was the standard of the day. The importance of having one was gospel, said whoever wrote the Web Bible. For one thing, it could be used as a banner ad. B-a-an-ner! (You had to have one. Or be stupid.) Well, try as I might, I couldn't make Bugbones into a banner. I couldn't crop him, crunch him, squeeze him, or mash him into shape.

Oh, the perils of Bugbones...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Dot-Com Aspirations

Yes, I already had aspirations of making my website a... ta-da! Drum-roll please... DOT-COM! Wasn't that what everyone wanted? We were in a thing that didn't have a name back then. We were in the Dot-Com Bubble. Bugbones was a strange but original-sounding site name, chosen on the fly, a convenient way to avoid, at Angelfire, the same frustration that finding a username at Yahoo had been. Here I had chosen my site name in an accidental, offhand manner, only to realize that the name would affect my site content. (I didn't think of it in quite that way. 'Content' was a word that would become thoroughly familiar and important to me in the coming years, when SEO would briefly rule the cyber world. These concepts did not yet figure into my knowledge about websites.) Changing user names wasn't an option, I thought. Angelfire's terms forbid signing up for a second account, and I've always striven to obey the terms and conditions of the hosts I've used. I wasn't too concerned about the fact that my Bugbones site would have my art on it. The site would not be one-hundred percent about my art. It would have humor, cartoons, graphic art and illustration. My site wasn't going to be a resume, it was going to be a newletter with art. Though I did agonize over whether to buy a dot-com and change the name, I knew I couldn't yet afford it. A dot-com was for the future, and Bugbones didn't have to be my be-all, end-all. If Bugbones didn't work out, I could abandon it. If it was successful, just imagine... I could have two dot-coms! What lofty aspirations...

Oh, the perils of Bugbones!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Bugbones the Second

Bugbones, as I said, was original. Or was it. I do recall that, back in the stone age, some other kid handed me a strange little drawing of Bugbones. I took it up, as kids do, and made it my own. In all those years, I had never asked where that kid got Bugbones. As a budding artist, I was always coming up with original drawings. I assumed that kid did, too. I also borrowed, as the inspiration hit me. It never occurred to me that Bugbones might have a predecessor other than some obscure kid from my grade school, until the day that I went to sign up for my Hotmail account. I'm not sure why I needed a Hotmail account. Probably Angelfire suggested that one should have a separate e-mail address to publish on one's website. When I went to sign up for Hotmail, I was surprised to find out that Bugbones already existed. So did Bugbones1, and Bugbones10, and Bugbones45. "Odd," I thought, and raised an eyebrow. But Bugbones was already my Angelfire username, so Bugbones it must be. I settled on Bugbones2000 in honor of the much-feted upcoming year 2000. The almost-lacking-but-one-year millenium. I liked the ring of it. (That address is no longer mine ~ I let it lapse long ago).

This was my second e-mail address and the Hotmail learning curve was a pain. I don't remember if the problem was a Hotmail problem or a Netscape Navigator problem. I would carefully compose my e-mail. But when I hit send, the thing would go blank. Hotmail would hang and my letter would be lost. This was frustrating and all new to me. I sent in my first support question. It was a cookie problem. I was using a public terminal and taking too long to compose my e-mails. But I was now the grand owner of two e-mail accounts and a free site. I had my own little corner of the Web, my miniature Web presence, all established under the unlikely nickname of Bugbones.

Oh, the perils of Bugbones...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bugbones appealed to me...


Bugbones appealed to me. He was my little-child notion of an edgy and sophisticated cartoon fellow. He was cryptic, he was bizarre. Above all, he was gross. Kids love gross. I took to drawing Bugbones with a passion. Notebooks filled with drawings of Bugbones. Slam books of Bugbones. And then, over the years, Bugbones was retired. Bigger and better motifs came to take his place, and Bugbones was relegated to my artist's crypt of old ideas and sketches. I never actually identified with Bugbones. It wasn't my nickname or anything. My picking it at the moment of web page conception was just a fluke. Logging into Angelfire required a user name. Bugbones, lurking now 30 years in his crypt, came creeping out of the cobwebs of my subconscious mind. Original user names are not easy to come by. I like original ones, no numbers. I had plenty of fodder... actual old nicknames of mine, characters I identified with, or just silly bits of conversation that existed in the stock repertoire of my own memory. Bugbones was odd, but it was (I thought) original. True, it might not fit with my eventual goal, of publishing my artwork. But I think by then I already knew that Bugbones would be my teether. I couldn't upload tons of art, I didn't even own a scanner. I didn't even own a computer, for heaven's sake! But I could do Paintbrush files. And I could create funny jokes and stories. Bugbones would suit my purpose. I could do a cartoon site or newsletter. And when the time came to change it, Angelfire's T and C assured, I could choose my own domain name. It could be anything. Yes, it could be anything.

Oh, the perils of Bugbones!

Why Bugbones?

Why Bugbones? Funny you should ask that. It is an odd name. The legend of Bugbones goes way, way back into the stone age of my youth. Bugbones was a strange little character that I drew when I was a kid. It wasn't even my idea. Some boy had drawn one in school and showed one to me. (Yes, even then little-boy artists were inviting me to come up to the studio and see their etchings. Sometimes I did, too.) Bugbones was edgy. He was wild. He was a strange little skeleton in a stiff, robotic pose. He stood like Michael Jackson, in Thriller: one arm stuck up, one down, kind of pivoted from the elbow. Walk-like-an-egyptian! Bugbones had little cracks running through his bones and skull. And there were bugs crawling on him, little creepy spiders that hung from his limbs. His grin was grim, his nose was hollow. Come to think of it, he really was a lot like Michael Jackson.

Oh, the perils of Bugbones!

Angelfire

As I said, I burned cyber-rubber on my way back to Angelfire. I wanted that free web page. Wow, it was amazing to me, the thought that someone would be kind enough to give someone a page. Now, you may wonder why I didn't start my first page on Yahoo. I already had their e-mail account. The truth is, I don't know if Yahoo even offered web hosting back then. My information on the Internet and how it works was being assembled in the same fashion as my web page: piecemeal, bit by bit. I added things as I learned of them. The extent of my knowledge about the Internet and how it works was now: (1) You can surf it. Surf, I now knew, meant to click on links and read things. (2) You can search. Searching was a way to find links. (3) You can e-mail. And you don't have to have your own computer to do it. (4) You can get a free website at Angelfire.

Angelfire. The name appealed to me. I am an artist, an idealist, and a hopeless romantic. Angelfire sounded so brilliant, so mystical, so beautiful. Angelfire. And they gave you a free site. What an angel!

Bugbones. My own name sounded so... I don't know. Gross. Ugly. Strange. It wasn't Angelfire...

Oh, the perils of Bugbones!

Angelfire, e-mail and SPAM

Now that I had e-mail, I could start a website. Man, I burned cyber-rubber on my way back to Angelfire to sign up for that free home page. Well, it might not have been that fast. Actually in the interim, I had spent several weeks discovering that friends of mine had e-mail, and spamming them with a flurry of jokes. SPAM was a new concept. I had not yet been on the receiving end of it. Back then, SPAM was a fairly new concept. There was SPAM, but we were not yet experiencing massive amounts of it. The SPAMbots had not yet begun to devour our free time. Those were the glory days of e-mailing. Then, the spiders were quietly building their web. Still in the creeping stage, they were secretly harvesting e-mail addresses. And they were laying their egg sacs, biding their time. But I was no professional SPAMMER. I was merely a hapless fly. A Bugbones-style splat in the middle of their web. Like all newbies, I sent out my jokes. I once asked a friend if she minded. "Well," she said, "yours are not bad. At least your jokes are funny. I think you must just send the best ones you get." (Yes, I do, preen, preen.) "But it would be nice if you'd send an actual letter now and then." I took her advice, and from there out, I toned down the jokes and sent more letters.

Oh, the perils of Bugbones.

Yee-ha! Yahoo Mail, here we come!

Now that I knew you could have e-mail without being a computer owner, I was a happy camper. Yahoo! came highly recommended, so Yahoo it was. I found Yahoo and started the process of signing up. Ouch! This would be my first of many more experiences with frustrating sign-ups and log-ins. First came the user names. Taken. Taken. Taken! I soon discovered that you had to be pretty creative about nicknames, unless you wanted to be Joe999999. But it's not too hard for me to come up with creative nicknames. My friends and family have given me a variety of appellations. They love to call me names. After the user name came the frustrating password errors. Four dozen tries. My arms nearly fell off! I started hacking in a frenzy, and voila! Open sesame! Suddenly, I was in! But by then ~ you guessed it. The enchanted password had been anger-driven gibberish. It was a secret password all right. Not even I had a clue. I had a user name and a password, but not a clue as to what the password was. I couldn't ask them to e-mail me a new password, because I had no e-mail. That's what I was trying to get! So, I had to add a one (1) to the end of that coveted first username of mine. And do the whole process over again. Many times, I have envied the person who finally got my first user name when that account probably expired for lack of use. But, no matter. Just think of it. Now I had mail! That mystical critter, e-mail, that I had heard about for so long... All the TV ads: You've got mail! Bling! And now, I actually did have! I e-mailed my friend, Terri.
"Yahoo!" she said. "I'm glad you picked an e-mail address that reflects your mountain heritage."

Oh, the perils of Bugbones...

Bump in the Information Superhighway

Angelfire required an e-mail account. Letdown! Frown-face! I didn't have a computer. How I envied all of those roadies, speeding down the information superhighway in their brand-new e-Machines! But I had no computer. I was still sitting by the roadside with my thumb stuck out. No computer; hence, no e-mail. (What the heck was e-mail, anyway? Ah, I think surely I knew that much, even then.) E-mail was the thing you got when you clicked that Eudora thingy on a PC desktop, if you had one. But the library computer didn't have that thingy. Or if it did, it was off limits to me. Drat! But at least I could type a letter in Wordpad and print it at the library now. Even that was a great improvement over handwritten drafts or pecking at my early-80s-era electric typewriter (the one that punched holes in the paper). So, I began word-editing with a will. Mainly, I typed letters to send to my friend, Charlene. But e-mail, I did not type. I went to the library and typed letters, or I moped at home. It all seemed so frustrating. Finally, someone (probably that same button-pushing niece) clued me in that you could get e-mail without having your own PC. Off to the library I sped.

Oh, the perils of Bugbones!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Perils of Bugbones: My first contact with the Information Superhighway

My first attempt at a web page was Bugbones. Bugbones was my little free site, hosted by Angelfire. Some kid had told me about Angelfire. Probably my button-pushing niece. (How we once rued those button-pushing, videotape-erasing fingers! That kid had to be a byblow of Watergate.) I didn't even have a computer then, but I was determined. If a web page was free, by gum, I was gonna get one. I headed for the public library. No, not the one in my small town. The one in the next town over, the one that's bigger than ours. They had a computer reserved for public-access Internet. Yes, one. An Internet cafe, with one cup of coffee. For a town of 50,000. Information superhighway, here we come! Vrr-r-r-o-o-oom!

Oh, the perils of Bugbones!