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Rain, Rain, Rain

I just looked out of the window and guess what – it’s raining again! That’s been the picture all along the West coast for months now. Fortunately, we had an interim vacation and managed to find some sunshine in California. Whilst we were in San Diego we even missed out on all the snow back home. How lucky was that!

Of course, traveling these days is not without its challenges, especially if you are flying. So it was no surprise when we had the usual excitement at the airport security check…..

There’s hardly any item these days which will pass unnoticed through airport security. I needed five separate bins to process all my belongings plus the things I forgot to remove and was ordered back for!

To combat the growing queues, airport security decided to fire-up their brand-new body scanners. Since neither the staff nor the passengers knew how to use these machines, the queues became even longer and the chaos was complete.

I now know, that when they say, “empty everything from your pockets” before the body scanner, they really mean “everything”. I was sure that paper tissues in both pockets wouldn’t affect the scanner. They did and security was not impressed!

In future, I think the best way to handle airport security will be to wear a swimsuit and carry everything else in a large bag. On second thoughts, maybe it would look too suspicious, since there isn’t a swimming pool at the airport. Perhaps they should provide one, so that passengers will have something to do while they are waiting!

The Smartest Guy in the Room

This year, I received an unexpected Christmas present from my family. They bought me a SmartPhone. I guess they were thinking, “This guy is so dumb, he needs some extra help!” The advantage of this new phone is, it’s bigger, it’s heavier and the battery drains much faster. Anyway, it’s a big improvement on my old phone, which was not so smart, mainly because I had dropped it several times and if you were dropped several times from a great height, you wouldn’t be so smart either, so there!

Now all I need is a Smart-Computer, because when I connected my Smart-Phone to my Not-So-Smart-Computer, it dumped all the contents of my computer onto my new phone. That’s not my idea of smart! I had to spend several days discovering how to remove all of this not-so-smart data from my SmartPhone and disable all the smart software, written by all those smart people, clogging up my not-so-smart computer!…..

Now that I’m much smarter, I can show-off a little. I went to the local food-court and there were two smart cookies at the next table with their smart phones, so I was able to brandish my extra-smart phone with a feeling of smug satisfaction. The biggest benefit of all, though, is that I can now send smart messages to my smart relative, who told me last year she’d bought an email-phone. When I asked, “What’s that?” she said. “I’m not sure. It’s kind of like a phone but you can get email on it. I think you can send email as well, but I don’t know how to do that because I forgot to ask!” A few weeks later, I suddenly received a message. It read, “Now I no how 2 snd msgs 2 U. ttfn!!!” So I wrote back and said, “WTF R U tryng 2 tel me? Ttyl.” I haven’t heard from her since!

I hope everyone had a smart Christmas and I wish everyone a very smart New Year!

PS. If you’re a music lover, I highly recommend this song: Dumb with a Smart Phone. I guarantee you will like it!

Rules are for Other People

If you are a person who doesn’t like rules then you would really appreciate our city. It didn’t take me long to discover that nobody here was following any rules except for me. Whether it’s motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, neighbors or anyone else, the motto appears to be “rules are for other people”. One way streets – which way! Red lights – I’m colorblind! Pedestrian crosswalks – only for dummies! No dogs on the beach – hey, my dog can’t read! No cell phones while driving – I’ll drink coffee instead! No cycling – hah hah! No parking – well, that’s an issue for Neatstep!…..

I was determined not to abandon my principles until, one summer day, I received a warning for illegal garden-watering . I phoned to protest and the clerk said, “Is that the house with the big tree?” How do you know? “It’s in the photo!” You took a photo? “The officer did!” I was just testing my sprinklers! “I’ll make a note in your file!” You have a file on me? This is getting worse!

I had followed every rule I could and here I was being targeted. So I’ve decided, “if you can’t beat them, join them!” From now on, there is only one rule for me – “rules are for other people!”

All Quiet

Summer arrived very late this year. Whilst it was hot and unbearable everywhere else, we had rather wet weather until the end of June. Now that is very unusual indeed! On the positive side, it meant I had more time to stay indoors working on Neatstep. It’s been a very quiet time since the last blog, with no major incidents to report. That’s probably because we didn’t do any traveling. As we all know, traveling is dangerous, but it’s what everyone wants to do these days – except for me, possibly. I prefer to spend the summer downtown, mingling with all the tourists, enjoying the variety of entertainment and soaking up the general atmosphere. It’s also where I can observe the various patrollers at work and gather inspiration for some more comic situations. I’m pleased to report, that so far, it’s been a successful season for Neatstep.

South of the Border

We just returned from another eventful trip, which started with our usual pirate taxi (this time in Las Vegas), then snow in Arizona (not what we were expecting), some anxious moments in Acapulco and a bit of excitement on our Mexican Riviera cruise. Finally, our luggage was thoroughly demolished upon arrival, so now I know what it means when the airline asks, “how many pieces of luggage do you have”?

I filed a damage report and the clerk asked, “How many pieces of luggage do you have”? I said to her, “Did you mean before, or after the flight?”

Originally, I was given the choice of three trips. My fourth choice (stay at home and relax) was apparently not acceptable. So I opted for the least adventurous itinerary, or so I thought…..

We rented a car for our 2,000km journey from Las Vegas around the canyons, across Arizona and via Palm Desert to San Diego, California. Everything went smoothly except for the navigational disagreement which landed us at 9,000 feet on a mountain pass, in heavy snow with no traffic or snow-plough in sight. That’s when I discovered it’s not a good idea to deploy the windscreen washers if it’s freezing outside!

We finally made it to San Diego and onto the cruise ship for some much needed relaxation. We went to the Captain’s reception and there was a self-service buffet but no waiter. The captain said, “Are you enjoying your trip?” I said, “Yes, but I just have one question. Whilst you are here with us, who is steering the ship?” He said, “Why do you think this buffet is self-service?”

Fortunately, we made it back home in one piece, unlike our luggage. The highlight of our trip was undoubtedly the Grand Circle
canyon tour, through Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Natural Bridges, Monument Valley and Grand Canyon. Even the word “spectacular” seems inadequate for these amazing natural wonders. I’m most definitely going to do this trip again – if I ever find the rest of my luggage!

Hot off the press

I was hoping for some publicity this quarter and it eventually happened. However, they do say “be careful what you wish for” so it was unsurprising that it wasn’t Neatstep featured in the local paper, but rather myself. I would have much preferred it the other way around but maybe Neatstep’s time will come!

One notable occurrence during this time was the local Comic Convention here. Amazingly, we do have such an event in our small city and it was very interesting. It’s good to see so many different artists and styles all coming together under one roof.

The other interesting occurrence was on the GoComics website where lesser-known comic artists have now been more fully integrated into the whole GoComics offering via ComicsSherpa. This is a generous move which provides aspiring new artists with more exposure to a wider comic audience. Neatstep can definitely benefit from that, although I’m not sure about the readers!…..

Meanwhile, Neatstep continues to “Twitter” along with a gazillion other participants. So far, so good! As long as nobody “follows” me home, I think I’ll be OK.

It’s Summer Again

I’m not a bookworm, but recently I was reading a very funny book by Bill Bryson called, “I’m A Stranger Here Myself”. In the introduction, he writes “The thing about a weekly column, I discovered, is that it comes up weekly”. When I read that sentence, I knew immediately that I was going to enjoy the book. It’s a pity I don’t have this guy writing gags for Neatstep.

A lot has happened in the last quarter, during which time I’ve been very busy updating my comic strips with all the new characters. I’m pretty pleased with the results and with the increasing readership at ComicsSherpa. I’m not a great believer in technology, but not wanting to be outdone by all the famous celebrities, I have signed-up Neatstep for a Twitter account. I will be launching this service shortly with a couple of specially written comics on the subject of “social networking”.….

I spent the last quarter experimenting, not only with the character drawings, but also with producing some unique greetings cards for various special occasions. I also got sidetracked into creating an animated Neatstep sequence, which I will use on my website in future whenever I want to take a break.

With all those diversions out of the way, I can now concentrate on moving Neatstep up to the next level – whatever that may be. Meanwhile, summer has finally arrived, so I will be out and about downtown in search of likely situations for Neatstep to deal with!

It’s Autumn… but it’s still Summer

September has ended but the good weather here continues and the tourists are still inhabiting downtown. I’ve spent much of the last quarter updating my earlier comics with the new characters. Whilst this may seem totally unnecessary to most people, it has been an important exercise for me and I have learned a lot from it. Most of all, the whole comic strip series now looks more consistent.

I recently experimented with a clever web-based program which allows rapid production of professional looking newsletters and magazines. In the near future, the plan is to use Zinepal for creating a regular Neatstep Weekly Maga(zine). If you fancy yourself as a news editor, then you might like to try out this website too. It’s easy and it’s a lot of fun…..

My new Twitter account is proving to be very entertaining. It seems to be the de-facto standard now for just about everyone who has something to say. I am trying to restrict my comments (tweets) to the once-weekly introduction of the latest Neatstep comic.

Finally, I will just mention my recent short road-trip along the Oregon coast. It was perfect weather and as everyone had promised, the coastline is truly impressive with long sandy beaches and lovely rainforests. For once, thankfully, there were no significant Neatstep episodes to relate. In fact, everywhere we visited in Oregon, we encountered “free parking”. Now, that’s something I could get used to. Our local City Council should take note and release all those foreign tourists who’ve been imprisoned here for parking on the yellow lines!

Happy Easter

The quarterly blog update is late this time around because I have been busy working on some major revisions to Neatstep & Co. I had not been completely satisfied with the recent drawings and how the series was working out. It seemed like a giant puzzle with no obvious resolution and I couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong…..

So, I decided to seek some expert advice from a professional cartoonist and sent out an SOS email. I was extremely surprised, one weekend, when I received a phone call from Rob Smith Jr. out of Florida. He had very kindly reviewed my comics and had a list of things for me to do. I can’t thank him enough. This was exactly the input I needed to get me on the right track and all of a sudden, everything seemed a lot clearer and I could see my way through to the end of the puzzle.

The most important task was to work on the character drawings and loosen them up a bit. At the same time, I decided it was necessary to pick a permanent style for each character. After reviewing the 100+ comic strips so far, strangely enough, I liked the earlier drawings best of all. It was almost as if my drawing had gone progressively worse, over time, instead of better. My family members agreed and so it was decided, fairly quickly, to adopt the original figures as the standard from now on.

After making a host of subtle changes I think the right balance has been achieved. The final step will be to revisit the whole collection and incorporate the new drawings together with all of the other suggestions that were made. I am confident that the revised series will fulfill my own expectations, which for me, is the only really important criteria. I hope that my readership will feel the same way when the results are presented and meanwhile, I wish everyone a very Happy Easter!

Exotic Travels

Not wanting to be outdone by Tripgood, we ventured on a semi-exotic journey from West to East via the Panama canal. It was an interesting and exciting trip, but as usual, not without incident.

We hadn’t left our home airport before the first issue arose. Unknown to me, my wife had packed our overnight gear in my carry-on bag. The first I knew was when a security guard pointed accusingly at me, waving a near-empty tube of toothpaste. “This is too large”, he said. “It’s almost empty”, I replied. “No matter, it says 400g”, was the response and it was then confiscated. Can anyone explain to me why a large, near-empty tube of toothpaste is more dangerous than a small, full one? …..

We made the short-hop to our neighboring airport but the pilot must have known I was onboard because we then followed the same procedure as my last flight. The wheels went down, we pretended to land and then there was a sudden change of plan and up we went, circling around for a while. Either the pilot was having too much fun, or maybe he was still searching for the airport in the fog. The delay didn’t really matter because they were busy changing the wheel on our next aircraft, so we all watched, to make sure they did it properly.

When we finally arrived, our hotel with swimming pool was “without” swimming pool. It’s funny how they forgot to mention the renovation work when we booked. I could sense that this was going to be one of our great vacations, since everything was going really well so far!

We enjoyed San Diego but I’m not sure whether they enjoyed us. We decided to try out the public transport system for sightseeing. However, on boarding the local bus, I managed to “crash” the driver’s ticket machine, by feeding it too quickly. The driver spent several minutes on the intercom, receiving instructions for the “reboot”. Strangely, none of the other passengers were amused. We got the impression that they were not on holiday, relaxing like us! The driver was very helpful, especially considering the abuse being thrown at him by some impatient passengers. San Diego was our favorite place on the whole trip and we’ll definitely be going back there, especially now that we know how to use the ticket machines!

We boarded our ship and cruised from West to East, passing through such famous places as Acapulco, where we watched the unbelievable “cliff divers”, the amazing historic Panama Canal, where nobody went ashore and Columbia, where we did a guarded – I mean a guided – tour. There’s nothing more exhilarating than walking in the midday sun, with 100% humidity, then drinking a few beers and hopping back on a tour bus with a freezing air-conditioner. You can’t beat that for healthy recreation! Nevertheless, I have to admit that it was all very interesting and educational and everyone was very friendly and I took hundreds of photographs.

The final stop was Florida, where we rented a car at the airport and headed for the Everglades Park. I had printed out several maps from the internet and this was good because everyone else wanted to send me in the wrong direction. I, at least, knew where I was going, even if nobody else did. Ignoring all instructions, I headed Southwest, through Miami and we eventually arrived at Shark Valley, where there are no sharks but lots of alligators.

We parked the car and headed to the tram tour station, where my wife spotted a plastic alligator placed at the roadside. She moved up close and I took a few pictures. Then, suddenly, it occurred to us that this replica looked a little too realistic, so we asked some other tourists if they would poke it, so we can be sure it’s a fake. While they were contemplating this, the object suddenly blinked an eye and everybody jumped backwards. Apparently, unlike Disneyland, everything in the Everglades is real!

We survived the Everglades too and after a few days in Naples, we headed home. Meanwhile, Winter was closing in, so we arrived none too soon before the big snowstorms hit everywhere. As Neatstep always says, the only problem with going away is coming back. After catching up on everything else, I have finally got round to typing my travel blog, as much as I can remember. The rest is history!