19 June 2016

Luna

Father's Day present for my Dad.

16 June 2016

Autodesk Tech Support and the Creative Commons

Recently, a certain someone in my +DevWatch I won't name posted a journal entitled, "Uncopyrightable" announcing their uploads as being public domain and usable by anyone for any purpose. This in and of itself does not bother me; the first and last say in how one's art gets used always falls to the artist. Your art, your terms. The part of that journal that did get to me, though, was the reasoning behind the move, that copyright law is a hindrance to human progress. 

No. 
Simply no. 

Copyright protects the investment of artisans, be it only time or time and money. It guarantees them a means by which they may benefit from their work to enable them to keep creating content with as few hurdles as possible. There's nothing remotely wrong with this idea; it's basic sweat of the brow logic. Is it beneficial for their to be some flexibility in these terms? Absolutely. Again, it's the artist's terms. Can this system be abused? Of course it can, but we don't ban hammers when one gets used to bash in someone's skull. Can it have the reverse effect of causing an artist to stagnate by letting them rest on their laurels instead of pushing themselves forward? Sure, but remember what we said earlier about having the first and last say on what an artist makes? 

I could go on about this until the end of time and I practically have over the years, but I bring it up now not just because of the "copyright is bad" sentiment, but also because I spent the last week getting Autodesk to admit to what's apparently a known issue with their mobile app. It has to do with DeviantART and the Creative Commons

For the record, cards on the table, I HATE the Creative Commons. I hate every bloody thing about it. Put simply, the CC is nothing more than Copyleft with its teeth pulled out. It's a GNU in a china shop. It's a clumsy, pandering, pretentious implementation of a license system intended for software patents. I don't like it and I don't get why anyone uses it. I like Copyleft, and I like the GNU, but all the CC does is add condescending, dictatorial stipulations like "non-commercial" and "no derivatives" which may as well say, "I want free, non-critical advertising!" 
"But I don't want people making money off my stuff!"
That's what copyright is for.
"But I want people to share my stuff and do things with it!"
That's what fair use, Copyleft, and the GNU is for.  
Anyway, back to Autodesk and their Sketchbook app. Sketchbook has a really nice option to let you post your work directly to DeviantART, rather than save it to your phone's album and then upload it from there. I don't actually know if this has any real advantage apart from skipping a step, but I like the idea of these two entities cooperating, like Wacom support for Muro. However, I found that when I posted through the app, everything was slapped with a CC 3.0 Non-commercial sharealike license, the most worthless CC license of them all. Naturally, I was a tad annoyed by this. I don't mind that my 3D print designs on Thingiverse or Pinshape can't be copyrighted, but they at least give me the option to set my license (I go with GNU/GPL). After a few more tries on my Xperia and my iPad, all while carefully scouring the menu and settings, I went to tech support to get an answer. Here's what transpired:

ME: Whenever I submit to DeviantART through the app, it sets the default license to Creative Commons. I then have to go into DeviantART and edit the license there. Is there a way to change the submission settings in Sketchbook?

DL: Can you send me some screen captures of what is happening with you?

ME: Well, that's the problem, nothing is happening. The option to change the license when submitting to DeviantArt does not exist. I may as well simply show you the screenshots from your site.

I did send him some screenshots after this part, but I don't think they were ever received.

DL: This is what I get... (link to a BOX account I can't access even after I log into BOX)

ME: I can't open that link. I have a Box account, but it's not letting me see what's in the folder. Are you saying there is a way to change the license when exporting to DeviantArt?

5 Days Later: 

DL: Sorry - Try now! (another BOX link that doesn't work). I would get a video if possible via Quick Time (on Mac) (a link to Apple's support site). 

ME: I'm still not able to load the folder. Look, I'm trying to be patient here, but this is a very simple issue and it's taken you five days to try and send me a Box link I can't open. I've sent a screenshot of what I'm shown when using the "submit to DeviantArt" option. There is no option to change the license from the default Creative Commons 3.0 license to standard copyright. If it's buried in the menu, please just walk me through it. If the settings cannot be changed, please say so, that we can address this obvious fault in your app.

DL: There isn't a way to change the settings. 

14 June 2016

Pogo Sticky

The best backup is the one you never use, and I've ended up needing at least two this past week. My Pogo Connect, the one that I found on Amazon for 10USD, took a mysterious spill off the top of my end table, plummeting three whole feet onto soft carpet. The damage report goes like such: battery compartment jammed shut, main switch MIA, and vital electronics disconnected from main body. I got an up close and personal look at the inner workings of that stylus whether I wanted to or not. The main PCB which holds all the switches, contacts, and even holds the stylus tips in place was shot out of the aluminum body like a bullet. The real kicker is how this little board was so tightly packed inside the stylus body that it's impossible to wedge it back inside and make contact with the battery. Speaking of the battery, a mere AAA screwed into the back like a flashlight, that stylus body is an aluminum casket for it; the threads of the screw took such a massive beating at the hands of the plush plains that their hearts skipped a beat and criss-crossed each other to form the kind of seal only broken by stripping. 
Needless to say, I'm more than a little disappointed with the craftsmanship. Then again, it was pretty useless as a backup since most of the apps calling for it had phased out compatibility in recent updates. 

As for the sequel, its fate was revealed to be slightly less drastic but still debilitating. In addition to one of my brush tips going mysteriously missing, that adorable little AAA battery decided it'd had enough of sitting idly by and committed acidic seppuku. While its screw mercifully maintained its ability to undo itself, that little zinc oxide cylinder wasn't going anywhere. To be fair, a battery going belly-up isn't any real demerit in terms of craftsmanship, given lithium batteries having a spotty history with mastering the art of not blowing up in a fiery puff. 

The story does have a happy ending, despite still not finding that missing brush tip. A quick photo expose on Twitter got the immediate attention of TenOne, and within hours I was told of a fresh new one being sent out to me and arriving in a matter of days. They didn't even want me to wheel the corpse out; photo evidence was all they needed. This sort of disposability in electronics does make me a little sad as someone old enough to remember when "No Job Too Small" was the motto of any TV repair place, and paying to have a piece of plastic removed from a VCR after a VHS tape somehow shattered while playing Thunderball. These days, it's literally cheaper to simply scrap a TV (let some scavenger--which I mean in a good way--harvest its components) than to get it fixed, even under its own warranty. 

Overall, I'm still impressed with the Pogo stylus, especially its cooperation with Sensu, but given the Pogo Connect 2 being on sale at the time of this writing for about the same price as a Sensu brush tip, I think it's pretty clear if you're going to make art on tablets, it's best to shop around. 

04 June 2016

Instagroan

I'd avoided Instagram for a time, mostly for the sake of efficiency. Between Twitter and Flickr, my photo sharing platform needs were covered. There's also the hipster part of me who turned up his nose as Instagram's whole "we make vintage/experimental photos easy" modus operandi, presenting themselves as a digital version of Lomography. As someone who owns a Holga 120S and has developed his fair share of film, I felt a little disgusted at the pushbutton setup of Instagram. Over time, this bias cooled down to a tolerable indifference, though I still never bothered signing up.
Recently, though, after downloading Nintendo's Miitomo app, I ended up giving in and expanding my Facebook account into the virtual Lomo service. My impression: yeah, it's all right, I guess.

Going back to the "Lomo App" image, it is somewhat comforting that Instagram has admittedly never tried to offer themselves as a replacement to gimmicky film cameras like Holgas or old Polaroids (that was more the work of some of its fans, for which no one can really be blamed), but rather a tribute to the medium, one that embraces the flaws of vintage/amateur photography and, much like Lomography, markets those flaws as features. Light leaks and poor color and double exposures are considered technical shortcomings that would have been the bane of any pro's career, but to artists and people less discerning of their photos' presentation, it's character. It's rough and unrefined, yet authentic and honest. This nostalgia even extended to their logo, a brown-and-cream-colored box camera complete with rainbow sticker. Right away, from that logo, you knew you weren't getting some high-end "unleash your phone's true potential" sort of app. You were getting a virtual version of that old Polaroid or Instamatic you or your folks had growing up, and that's okay.

So, what the Hell happened?

A few months ago, Instagram changed out the off-white bakelite logo for something that not only looks like the lazy byproduct of someone trying out the gradient tool in a drawing program, but also completely deprives the app of any sort of identity. I think it's a mistake for your app to be partly cut out or translucent in any way. App tiles always look their best when they look like plaques or badges or buttons. The old logo was especially cute because it looked like a physical object. Specifically, it resembled an old instant camera from around the late 60s to early 70s, the kind where you had to wait a few seconds before peeling away a bit of sticky tissue paper away from your photo. The new logo looks like nothing. It doesn't resemble a real camera, and doesn't evoke any particular time period. The magenta and yellow gradient has an early 90s vibe to it, but the die-cut, simplified outline is distinctly of this decade (which, bear in mind, we've only got four years left in). It simply reeks of pandering and compromise. It plays it safe and tries to be liked by everyone at the expense of its personality.
What I suggest is that if we use the original logo as a baseline, why not simply push forward ten years? Sure, some of us might be sick of the 80s retro love heralded by Adam Sandler's Wedding Singer and the more recent Far Cry spin-off Blood Dragon, but maybe Instagram is the one place no one would mind it. Hell, they might even embrace it.

Bring on the chrome, Tron graphics, and neon cursive.

15 April 2016

Pogo Connect 2 with Sensu Brush


To their eternal credit, Apple has always catered to the creative crowd and delivered. While many of their products, physical and digital, come at a premium that waxes dealbreaker in the eyes of many starving artist types, the trade-off is an unparalleled ease of use. Obviously there's nothing written saying an artist cannot also be technically inclined or adept. It's a matter of reducing hurtles, red tape, and prep time. As much as labor and sacrifice are part of the creative process, the overall goal is still to have as little between the artist and their work as possible. If there are limitations to overcome, it's by the artist's choice and entirely on their terms. 
I liked drawing and painting on my Sony Xperia Z Ultra, especially in PSoft Mobile's Zenbrush, and using the Sensu brush stylus. It helped transition me from traditional media to digital better than an Wacom tablet had. It was portable, convenient, and surprisingly versatile. The downside to the whole setup, though, was I didn't have a lot of options, particularly in terms of hardware. 
The Sensu brush is a special case, the result of a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign to create a brush that could work with a capacitive touchscreen, no software or connectivity required. The trouble with Android is that there are few to no hardware standards, so anything made to work with an app has to either pick and choose which brands and models they're compatible with, or bank on Apple. It's why you'll see hundreds of different iPhone cases (often in bargain bins) but maybe a dozen other designs for maybe three or four specific Android models, such as the Samsung Galaxy, easily the only Android devices that can hold a candle to the iPhone in terms of versatility.  
Sensu not only makes their own stylus/brush combo, as well as a standalone brush with better ergonomics, but also an attachment for a stylus made by Ten One Design, the Pogo Connect 2. The company had a sale recently, so I couldn't help but spring for it. I hadn't yet taken advantage of the pressure sensitivity on my iPad mini 3, and this seemed a good way to jump in without breaking the bank. The device and its additional nib packs arrived in nondescript packaging, and rather vague instructions. It went through how to connect the stylus to the iPad by way of Ten One's app, pairing it via Bluetooth and adjusting pressure settings and nib style, but I had a moment of confusion on how to change out the nibs. I knew the tips were held in place by magnets, but they're deceptively strong, to the point I thought there was another step, like a locking ring or a release button. Fortunately, Ten One's website had a FAQ with that very issue explained. Still wish they'd put something in the instructions, instead of one page devoted to pairing and six pages to all the FCC/Wi-Fi security legalese. 

The R3 tip, the default nib for the Pogo, is big and chunky, bearing an uncanny similarity to the carpenter's pencil-inspired Fifty Three Pencil stylus. It works well enough for navigating menus when you're tired of dealing with fingerprints on your screen, but drawing feels like a soft, mushy crayon at worst and a big piece of chalk or charcoal at best. It might be useful if you're working with straight, point-to-point lines or any other drawing feature that favors a mouse. Otherwise, there's not much here to give the stylus a "must have" quality. If you're tempted to pick up a Pogo, expect to buy at least one of the extra nib packs. I got three. 

The R1 tip, touted as their fine point for its narrow 4.5mm diameter, is disappointment made solid. Basically worthless, the tip only registered on the iPad when pressed down hard enough to turn its fine tip into a rubber stamp. Despite much tweaking of the pressure settings in the app, neither tip in the pack could produce even remotely practical results. I can't imagine anyone using it for drawing, let alone note taking. I'll be returning mine, instead getting a backup Sensu brush tip. 

The Sensu brush tip (B3), which is what led me to the Pogo in the first place, redeems the device on every level, elevating it above passably mediocre. It worked like a dream in both Procreate and Zenbrush 2. I only wish the undo function had worked in Zenbrush 2 as well as Procreate. Rather than having to tap the screen or even flip the stylus over like Fifty Three's Pencil, a simple click of the Bluetooth button instantly erases the most recent stroke. This is immeasurably handy. It genuinely improves on the original Sensu design. While I love my Sensu to death, its portability comes at a price. Even at its full extension in brush mode, it's not very comfortable to hold, like a golf pencil. It's slightly off-balance and requires you to hold it fairly close to the head of the brush, which can be problematic if your app of choice can't offer any sort of palm rejection, so the slightest bump of a knuckle can ruin your otherwise perfectly flowing line. The Pogo, on the other hand, is a big, chunky thing (like its default nib), reminiscent of those primary pencils you had in elementary school, only lightweight like a Bic pen. I can genuinely relax my hand while holding it. That's a big plus. 

There are other brush tips (B1 & B2), made in-house by Ten One Design, but I have yet to try them out. Frankly, I'm not in a big hurry to try them out. I expect they'll perform well enough, as brushes are clearly the Pogo's strength. One issue that came up when I was organizing all the tips was storage. The R1 and R3 nibs are easy enough with their rubber tips and low profiles, but as a rule, brushes have to be stored carefully, lest you bend the bristles too far and get the head misshapen. You also have to consider taking them out and putting them back in, since its best to avoid touching the bristles. It's not a major issue as I don't intend to take Pogo on the go, instead favoring my Sensu, but I'd still be curious to see what others come up with as far as storage. I thought of an Altoids tin, but the magnets might make that tricky. 

While my overall impressions and experience with the Pogo Connect 2 is positive, I can't give it a strong recommendation without some qualifiers. The Sensu brush tip makes it a worthwhile purchase on its own, but the additional tips run the gamut of broken to uninteresting. The device itself is extremely well-built, with good battery life and even a nifty tracking feature to help you locate a misplaced one. If you're looking for a good, all-around versatile stylus for everyday use on your iPad or iPhone, this is not the one. If, however, you want a painterly experience or would like to upgrade your Sensu, the Pogo with the B3 tip is a great combination. Peanut Butter met Chocolate on this one. 

09 April 2016

An Open Letter to the Lafayette Bible Baptist Church

I said I didn't have time to explain why I don't go to church to the two who came to my door unannounced wearing jackets more befitting municipal services than clergy (a little deceiving) because I don't expect to entertain discourse on a Saturday morning, as much as I don't mind discussing ideologies. Were I less than the type to give others the benefit of the doubt to the purity of their intentions, my answer would be, "Because I grew up." Luckily, I'm not that guy, no matter how much I've had to drink. The proper and more civil reason is because while I was raised Christian, I found many problems with its base doctrines and tenets I could not reconcile with the world around me. I eventually found a new perspective with better insight and greater possibilities. I take no issue with churches or their charitable endeavors. I do, however, question their motives, especially in socio-political circles, evading taxes while influencing state policy, feigning humility yet engaging in deceptive marketing practices befitting a business, and ultimately offering a service with no guarantee of delivery and even less accountability.
I had no interest in attendance, and I'm even less inclined to reconsider now after this visit at an apartment complex adorned with a "No Solicitors" sign.

--Your Friendly Neighborhood Objectivist

03 April 2016

V12 Turbo Beetle

Imagine Volkswagen offers a new version of the Beetle, one with a turbo-charged V12 from Lamborghini, and for the exact same five-figure price (in €, let's say) as a fully equipped Beetle. The catch, as there would have to be for this kind of offer, is that the fuel tank is only a single gallon, putting this monster's range at around 20, if you adjust your settings to only use so many of those cylinders, at the expense of top speed and optimal acceleration. With that scenario in mind, let's talk about Apple.
I haven't owned a proper Apple product since 2005, that little gem being my Bondi Blue iMac, bought in 2000 and running OS 9. It had a 10GB hard drive. One day, around 2003, the drive took a dive and I had to scramble to save every last bit of it by way of about two dozen Zip Disks. When I took it in to get repaired, I was warned they wouldn't be able to replace the drive with the same size. I took a deep breath and asked how badly I'd be downgraded.
Luckily for my dignity, the gentleman behind the counter did not laugh, as so many lesser places might have. He politely explained that the smallest hard drive they offered was 30GB. Obviously, it was an aftermarket drive, one not directly endorsed by Apple, but compatible nonetheless. I chalked this up to having an older machine in a fast moving world.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago, and we've got commercials for storage expansion devices for the MacBook Air, a tiny and inconspicuous drive capable of doubling the Air's 256GB drive. There are similar options for the iPad and iPhone, but none of them are what would be called terribly practical, certainly not as seamless as the geekily-named Tardisk. They typically involve lugging around an external drive with some sort of wireless option that doesn't so much work in sync or tandem with the onboard storage as much as trailing it.
Recently, the iPad Pro was released, an admittedly impressive piece of machinery that makes me seriously consider it plus Pinnacle over a Mac Mini running Final Cut as an option for producing video content on a semi-regular basis. I mean, I'd get a decent video editing console and a tablet for drawing and painting in one singular package. It's practically perfect... Except a closer look at the specs reveal it as perfectly impractical.
Between the iPad Mini 3 (which I have currently) and the Pro, the difference in processing power is a mere factor of 2. Also, why is the 12-inch version only capable of 1080p video recording while the 9-inch one can pull 4K? Granted, video recording is a completely pointless feature on a tablet compared to a phone, but that's the rub, isn't it? All of these little compromises in areas that really aren't selling points in and of themselves add up to a goofy mess of a product line from a company we once lauded for taking bold and unusual risks. Now, they're just kind of dumb, shortsighted, and even naive. Of all the features to hold hostage behind the higher price tags, storage space should not be one of them. I could almost understand having an SD card slot on the upper tiers, not unlike microphone inputs on camcorders; it's not quite a prosumer feature, but versatility is often the first casualty of accessibility. However, there's still only built-in storage on the most tricked and pimped Pro. This strategy makes no sense because you're not really being rewarded for your larger investment. Apple, as a rule, has never done anything conventionally, and I doubt I'm alone in loving them for that (Cheap desktop computer? Fine, but we'll make it really small and adorable... Mac Mini). However, there's innovation, and then there's mud-flavored candy.

01 April 2016

Flat-Earthers Say The Dubayest Things


Made the mistake of watching an +Eric Dubay video. I'd heard the convex lens argument before on a +Stefan Molyneux video and was ready to write it off as the guy in that video simply being new to the whole movement. 
You know the saying, "You never see a gray one."? It usually refers to the life expectancy or tenure of a certain occupation, especially a very dangerous one. With conspiranoids, especially flat-earthers, a similarly apt statement would be, "You never see a smart one." I bring this up because I'd been giving Dubay the benefit of the doubt that he might be the most intelligent flat-earther, to such an extent that I don't think he genuinely buys into his own bullcrap (i.e. John Norman isn't a misogynist, it's just what sells books) and at worst is simply caught up in his own tabula rasa metaphor. 

I was wrong. 

17 March 2016

Half a Mind to Have and Have Not

Let's talk about grammar, spelling, and an overall command of punctuation for a moment. There's a possibility I've gone over most of this before, so if you think you already know where this is going, you won't be missing anything.

The Gadget Guy asked why I don't ridicule the grammar of people who agree with my views meanwhile it's somewhat the focus of my caricatures of him.
Short version: I don't honestly believe there is any such thing as perfect grammar, not in English, anyway. The language is too big a mashup for anything to mesh properly. Still, while I let out the odd "teh" or "lead" when I mean "led", some people have a batting average so much lower than mine, so much than the rest of the team in fact, the other team throws the game out of sympathy.
ShortER version: You're just that bad.

Now, as for why I seem to play favorites:
The reason has to do with the definition of pretentious.
"attempting to impress by affecting greater importance, talent, culture, etc., than is actually possessed."
To that end, if you're going to claim to be intelligent, observant, and articulate, or otherwise having an inside track on some unknown truth, it's not unreasonable to expect you to demonstrate the skills necessary to understand this information in the first place.
If you've ever seen Apocalypse Now, you might remember that journalist who basically thought Marlon Brando was the second coming. One of his lines about "reality" goes something like this: You can't go into space with fractions.
This line sums up exactly how The Gadget Guy "thinks". While it's true mathematics in and of itself can't help anyone achieve anything, it's application does. When Galileo said, "Math is the language in which God has written the universe." he wasn't being literal. He was saying that merely using philosophy and direct observation was not enough to understand the world around us. There wasn't anything inherently wrong with it, simply that it was misapplied. Mathematics and the scientific method provided a mechanism to prove hypotheses and spot any falsifiable aspects. Consider the moon, how eclipses were seen as ill omens by primitive folk, while those who knew better not only knew there was nothing to fear, but could even predict their occurrences. In fact, it can be used to one's advantage, such as Christopher Columbus using it to convince the Native Americans he was god-like. Arthur C. Clarke illustrates this in his Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. This all finally brings us to Friedrich Nietzsche's master-slave morality, wherein the values of "haves" are judged by "have-nots" as having evil intentions by default, a resentment of other's sentiments. In a roundabout way, it's envy. Worse, rather than the type of envy that may motivate people to transcend their betters (inspiration), it's the type that takes its bat and ball and goes home... after setting fire to the field and bludgeoning the other players unconscious.