18 January 2017

Adonit Snap Review

The Pencil by Fifty-Three is a stylus I fully expected to hate. I felt legitimately insulted by the way it was marketed as an artist’s tool while looking like a carpenter’s pencil. That’s not to say carpentry isn’t an art, but there’s a reason they’re called carpenter’s pencils and not architect’s pencils. Luckily for Fifty-Three, I was utterly blown away when I started using the Pencil with Procreate. The smudge and erase functionality are a perfect fit and I never want to use another stylus with it. Other apps like Autodesk Sketchbook or Tayasui or the Adobe family were less than impressive, but only marginally. 

In the end, my only true complaint about the Pencil is the tip. Compared to my Elago and particularly my Sensu, it is extremely soft, more akin to a brush than a pencil. There’s a reason spare tips are included in the package and available as an accessory.

When I saw Adonit offering what appeared to be their answer to the Pencil, I got very excited. It seemed like the best of both worlds, the combined precision of Adonit’s Pixelpoint tip with the ergonomics of the Pencil’s carpentry aesthetic. Before things started to look too good to be true, a closer look revealed some notable differences that should allow the folks at Fifty-Three to rest easy. The Snap may copy the look of the Pencil, but only because of hand models being required to have a handspan no wider than an infant’s. The Snap is astonishingly thin and small compared to the Pencil, but the width is still enough to feel comfortable in the hand. An open charging port at the tail-end means no eraser function like the Pencil, but it beats having to disassemble the latter and leave its innards jutting out of a USB port.

Instead of the kind of Bluetooth functionality many higher end styluses allow for iPad artists like palm rejection or mapping un/redo functions to the buttons, the Snap takes an odd route and finds serendipity along the way. There is a single button on the Snap, and when paired with the iPad, it acts as a shutter button for the camera. Most selfie sticks or other mounting accessories have some kind of remote shutter function, but this is the first I’ve ever seen it in a stylus. That’s a pretty hoopy piece of thinking there; even the slimmest selfie stick is nowhere near as convenient or spontaneous as the stylus you’re already using to take notes or sketch with. Besides, no one’s daily routine should ever involve asking themselves, “Should I take my selfie stick with me?” Joking aside, having a remote shutter function for your phone helps keep the camera stable instead of slightly bumping it when tapping your screen or clicking one of the volume buttons.

The button itself makes a barely-audible click and has virtually no travel. It might as well have been a membrane activated by squeezing the body of the stylus. I suppose Adonit doesn’t expect people will use the button often enough to give it better tactile feedback, but I do hope either I simply got one that slipped by QA or later versions of this will be improved.

Fifty-Three offers 3 different versions of their flagship product, one a matte black, the second a glitzy gold worthy of Dolce and Gabbana, and a walnut finish that adds a magnetic snap for Apple’s smart covers. The Adonit Snap, true to its name, offers a metallic look similar to the gold (mine being a rose gold) with the ability to mount it to a cover… provided you use its included magnetic plate. To be fair, even without it, it’s clear Adonit put in a strong magnet inside the Snap. Getting it out of my bag should involve placing bets on what other accessory I’ll have to pull away from it.

As much as I don’t like to put the cons last when I review things, I didn’t want to lead with the elephant in the room, especially since this isn’t a fault of the Snap specifically. I have never liked how these thinner tipped styluses feel against my screen. For all I may gripe about my other styluses, I will give the rubber tip its due credit in giving me a good, solid, tactile feeling of making my mark on a surface. There’s weight, gravity, and grip in my movements, and it’s all reflected on screen. With Adonit, however, that’s all but missing. While it’s technically impossible for the hard plastic tip to scratch the screen’s smooth glass, it takes a lot of mental training to talk yourself down from that ledge of anxiety. The sad part is, there’s still no getting past the sensation of rubbing a nail against glass… underwater. The weight, gravity, and grip of a “crayon-like” stylus gets traded for something that looks to all the world like pen on paper, but feels like neither. Movement is slippery, weightless, and overall disconnected. I feel like I’m giving vague suggestions to my canvas than making my mark. It’s the same problem I had when I tried using a Wacom Bamboo tablet on a desktop, like I was telling someone how to tie their shoes… underwater and using vague suggestions.

I’ve heard a solution from some digital artists involving screen protectors. They supposedly help give the stylus more of a grip to the surface by simulating the “tooth” of paper. I haven’t tried it, but since you should protect your tablet somehow anyway, it may be worth looking into.

Final Judgment:

It is not a great iPad solution unless you really like the remote shutter button, but don’t want the bear the shame of owning a selfie stick. Albeit the price point is alluring, the fact is if you’re going to take illustration or notetaking even remotely seriously on your iPad, there are better options for not very much more coin, many from Adonit themselves. On the other hand, Android users will find this a very handy, convenient stylus, even without the shutter button. The thin profile, magnetic snap, and precision point will feel like a natural extension of your phone, turning any brand’s model into a Samsung Galaxy

19 November 2016

And Viewers Like You

Okay, I don't want to give this guy much grief, hence cutting off his name. I see this often enough he could represent a number of people we may know in our lives. It's a sign of a far bigger problem in our culture.

Setting aside the bullshit that is charging people 10USD to view files made on a CAD program that can costs hundreds (Want to see the mock-up of your commission? 10 bucks, please!), we have to bear in mind that there's no trial version of this app, and the word VIEWER is in the name, to say nothing of the full description.

That means this guy paid a full ten US dollars to use an app, only to give it a one-star review because it won't do what it never claimed to do in the first place. 

05 October 2016


Holidays are funny things, many with storied histories ranging from quirky to downright dark. Many are holdovers from Pagan rituals while others mark historical events (birthdays, wars, deaths, etc.). These can be repurposed as religious holidays, their original meanings glossed over in an almost Orwellian fashion, and others get put through a Kafkaesque wringer of red tape for the sake of making 3-day weekends in February. I'm sure there's at least two holidays that were made up by greeting card companies to fill a gap in their schedule. Many controversies have been sparked over to what extent a holiday should be observed, especially in regards to school closures. Comedians have built careers on the reality of the crawling chaos that is Christmas, with Black Friday bleeding into Gray Thursday (while Small Business Saturday never quite catches on). 

As time goes on, I've found I get less and less enthusiastic for holidays, ignoring most altogether and avoiding whatever I get roped into. For example, I've plans to see my family in December, but to be long gone at least a good week before Christmas Day. I'm also having my own Thanksgiving dinner this year with my roommate due to various rifts in her family that have left it deeply splintered. Part of me is a bit nervous about this, mostly from people placing an alarming emphasis on specific days holding specific meaning. 

"But it's about spending time with loved ones! And if it's not on the day..." they cry out, to which I whisper back, "Who's says I'm not already doing that?" Seriously, I don't get the idea that somehow a gift from someone you care about is less important on one day than another. Sure, Christmas Every Day diminishes the, er, meaning or importance or significance or mojo or whatever, but it's not a comet during an eclipse, either. Still, it gives me pause. I wonder if I'm missing something, if I've just become some embittered Scrooge sitting in the corner with arms folded and punctuating the statement with a mighty, "Harumph!". 

Then I realized there was a double standard in my thinking. I was cynical towards "traditional" holidays, but "new" holidays were getting the No True Scotsman treatment by yours truly. I was saying Pi Day was dopey, Talk Like a Pirate Day was stupid (I mean, okay, it kind of is, but you'll see where I'm going with this), Palindrome dates are an excuse for semi-clever marketing (9-9-99, 11-11-11), and Christmas in July is just an excuse for kids in summer camp to make ornaments in Arts & Crafts. Now, when I see people posting their old photos for Throwback Thursday or adorable kitten videos for Caturday, I may not get as excited for it as I do New Year's, but events like NaNoWriMo come closer than Talk Like A Pirate Day ever could. Tumblr taught me that October is Black Cat Month, when cat lovers paradoxically raise awareness about violence against black cats around Halloween as well as their statistically lower adoption rates while many shelters set moratoriums on adoption because of the aforementioned violence. I think it's great to see people get excited like this over some shared interest. My point is it's as valid as any other holiday, even if you don't get the day off. 

As much as talking about black cats got me riled up, I'm simultaneously "celebrating" black cat month with another internet-inspired holiday: Inktober. Started by illustrator Jake Parker back in 2009 as a challenge to himself, the idea is simple: each day has a word or other kind of prompt attached to it, and you make an ink-based illustration for each one. Proper hashtags are applied when posted to social media to make your work searchable for other participants and onlookers, and you get to see radically different interpretations of the same given theme. There's a few other takes on it, different prompt lists or simply keeping the "one per day" part. There's no wrong way to participate, really, but I decided to stick with the original, and have been for the past week. 

I am doing things a little differently, though, if only by my own standards. I've been drawing digitally almost exclusively for around a full year, off and on for maybe another two. Despite my misgivings, I have generally not missed working traditionally, especially the scanning and photographing and editing of pieces before being uploaded and posted to my DeviantART or ArtStation or even Twitter. For this Inktober, I thought it might be fun to go back to the simple purity of ink and paper, but I didn't want to go through the hassle of scanning. So, I made a kind of compromise. The drawings I post to my Instagram (where this event really seems to come alive) are taken with my iPhone, sometimes at odd angles and many times with shadows left in, and then edited in some program like Aviary or Pixlr or Paper. The edits are generally cosmetic, mostly tilt shift focus or vignetting or color filters, and no new lines are added to the original drawing nor is any part of the drawing erased (only cropped). 

Whatever you celebrate, have fun with it. 

28 September 2016

Goodbye Cheetah Mobile

Many years ago, I learned the hard way the dangers of not having backups for sensitive data. I also learned that computers need maintenance on both the hardware side of things and the software side. For the few years I had a full-fledged Windows PC, there was no one I trusted more than IOLO's System Mechanic. Later on, when I moved to Linux, that was no longer a viable option. I still keep an account with IOLO open for the sake of my roommate and a very good friend who still use PCs (the license covers multiple installations). IOLO uses an annual subscription model, frequently with promos and discounts that make the whole operation all the more "set and forget". 
When I got my XPeria, I was surprised IOLO didn't have a stronger mobile presence to compete with McAffe and TrendMicro. What I came across instead was CM Security, short for Cheetah Mobile. My experience with them has quickly shrank from mostly favorable to downright annoying. 
I'll save my current stance on the subject of blocking ads for another entry, but I will give a small sample here. I understand that ad-support is sometimes necessary to maintain a business model. I don't mind pay-walls for added features. What I absolutely can't understand is making the ad-support option compulsory. CM is by and large free to use. I get ads on my phone, which I was okay with. However, the ads got out of hand, showing up at every corner, in front of every feature, and the worst part was I had no way out of it. Yes, CM was expanding its features, meaning more revenue required, meaning more ads. Here is my problem: there's no option for me besides walking away. 
I don't mind paying for apps. 
I don't mind paying regularly for apps. 
I have a rule against spending real money on Free-to-Play games, but something like an anti-virus or a CPU cooler or a junk organizer is a completely different kettle of fish. Those are useful. Those need constant updating. Those need regular support. 

I am completely and utterly content to pay to keep my phone optimized. 

Cheetah Mobile, however, did not give me any option to pay them. 

As such, I'm using someone else now. I won't say who on the off-chance they turn out worse, but so far they seem far more willing to give me options than CM

20 September 2016

iOS 10 Impressions

I miss Slide-to-Unlock.
Yes, I'll get used to it, but did they have to cripple touchID along with it? For that matter, my iPhone doesn't have touchID, so I have to click the home button to wake it up. Part of the convenience of touchscreens is that we don't have to rely on buttons. At least, we don't have to rely on them for mundane tasks. Software can't solve simple physics problems like, "the more times you push a button, the more likely it is to break." 

I did have a pretty serious spot of grief when one of my drawing apps crashed while trying to save a sketch. The worst part is not only did it not save the sketch (which was expected), but every single piece I'd saved to my gallery up until that point was gone, including some unfinished works. Needless to say, I was furious. I was all over Twitter asking Autodesk and Apple what gives. Autodesk responded first and, to their eternal credit, they could not have been nicer about it. There wasn't anything they could really do and their advice pretty much amounted to "Shoulda done backed 'em up, son" but given the circumstances of this happening at the dawn of the iOS 10 debut, they wanted to know everything that happened. On top of that, they walked me through all the different ways to backup my gallery, from Google Drive to iCloud
It's a little baffling that for all of Autodesk's resources, backing up to something like A360 isn't a default. It's barely opt-in. As for Apple, they just asked me for the exact model number of my iPad

Fortunately, I had my iPad backed up via iTunes that very morning, so I could restore the pre iOS 10 version and back up my PSD files. Procreate is a little bit trickier somehow; it exports PSD files like Autodesk, but somehow iCloud thinks they're written in some alien language. 

13 September 2016

RED Talks (vertical)

Based on Richard Leach 's poem Red Dome
Itself based on an image by Hanan Kazma
Made with DeviantArt muro with the dome made in Sculptris. A background was first drawn in Muro, then imported into Sculptris as a background. The exported render from that was then brought back into Muro whereupon the edges of the dome were rubbed out to give the impression of being buried. A bit tedious, but it was a good exercise. I was going to do a more straightforward painting, and I still might, but this will do for now. 
This is a special vertically oriented version of the painting, essentially a remake. It's the exact same process as before, only in a "portrait" format.

09 September 2016

SketchFab Embedding

The last time I dabbled in 3D modeling was around 2003 with Poser 4 and Strata Base. More recently, I've been focused on CAD programs used for 3D printing, but in learning those I've come across the likes of Sculptris and Meshmixer. I'm a long way from selling game assets on Unity, but it's been fun experimenting like this.

    Severed Alien Head
    by Roland MJ Ziemke
    on Sketchfab

    Brain Beast
    by Roland MJ Ziemke
    on Sketchfab

Apple Reveal Thoughts

Let me start by saying I think it's honestly clever of Apple to close down their site and store in the time leading up to their keynotes. I'm not being sarcastic, I think it's a good way to curb people cancelling orders in light of newer products. It's certainly a good way to draw attention, though I wish their "come back later" wasn't so vague and wasn't so easily mistakable for a typical 404-like error. 

Apple made at least three major announcements regarding their lineup: The iPhone 7, iOS 10, and the Airpod wireless earbuds. There's also the second series of the Apple watch, but for my money, I can't tell the difference. I haven't worn a watch in years, and this hasn't made me want to start again. 

I was rather surprised, though somewhat relieved, that they made no announcements on the iPad front of things. Then again, the iPad pro was only recently announced, so they'd do well to hold off on any major upgrades until more users get back from their honeymoons. There's been some talk of Apple phasing out one of its major lines, possibly the Air, though a few tech sites have speculated the mini to be on the chopping block. As an iPad mini 3 owner, I certainly hope the mini doesn't go anywhere. 

First, let's talk iOS10, easily the least interesting announcement. I'm glad so many iPhone and iPad models are represented so no one feels left out or like they backed the wrong horse. Speaking for myself, it often feels like when I got my 5c, I was getting the "kiddy" edition, with its limited memory options, fruity-flavored color selection (though my "pink" is more salmon than grapefruit), and less-than-stellar build quality. It remains to be seen how well 10 will handle the hardware, but I certainly don't suspect any "planned obsolescence" agenda on Apple's part.  

iPhone 7. I must have a skewed view of time when it comes to Apple products, but the 6 doesn't seem long ago enough for a successor to be rolled out. Maybe it's got something to do with "Bendgate" as much as that was blown out of proportion, certainly far less egregious than that antennae fiasco with the 4. As for the 7, I find the specs overall less than exciting, more a 6.5 than a full iteration, which may be all most Apple users want as opposed to the extended betas many of their products feel like. There was one feature that got my attention, however, in the most unlikely place. The camera is dual-lens, but not for 3D purposes. Instead, they seem to be building on an old Kodak digital design from years ago, with one lens being wide-angle and the other telephoto. What's more, instead of simply switching between the lenses to suit the application, they can be used in conjunction to create depth-of-field effects. This is legitimately intriguing and I can't wait to see some results. 

Airpods. These things look stupid. There, that's your in-depth, thorough analysis of this product. I've never liked bluetooth earpieces, I can't stand earbuds, and now they've come together in an over-engineered mess. There's clearly a lot of good tech behind it and many useful features, but the design is lazy, they look way too easy to lose, and the only people I can think of who would have a legitimate use for it are vloggers tired of having those obnoxious white wires swinging every which way while they "um" and "uh" their way through an attempt at a movie review minutes after getting out of the theater. 

06 September 2016

Ad-Friendly, User-Enemy

Hopefully, I don't have to dump a bunch of links to get everyone up to speed on what's recently transpired on YouTube. I will, however, drop a quick summation of events so we're all on the same page. As we know, YouTube is supported through advertising revenue. Companies buy ad space in the form of banner ads, overlays, and pre-roll ads which give the option to be skipped if they're over a certain length. The revenue paid is based on something called CPM, or cost-per-thousand views (Roman numeral M). In the early days of this setup, only a select few users would be allowed in on this revenue. There was an application process, with judgment based primarily on the size of this potential partner's audience, the number of subscribers. Average views per video can count as well, but this is generally the exception. Over time, as YouTube grew, the partnership model was abandoned in favor of something more freeform; sharing in advertising revenue was an opt-in setting available to any user. Despite this freedom, the ad-revenue model came with a few provisos as to what content a channel can show. This has mostly to do with copyright, use of music, video clips, and gameplay footage, as well as product placement. Enforcement has generally been loose, with fair use doctrines keeping it that way as best they can. 
A few months ago, however, YouTube revised their terms of service to somehow be even more broad yet more restrictive. Now, copyrighted material was secondary to the overall nature of a channel's content. To that end, channels deemed "not advertiser friendly" would be stripped of their monetization. No one seemed to notice this change until about a week ago when YouTube personality Phil DeFranco posted about a dozen or so of his videos being demonetized virtually overnight, and with seemingly no appeals process. 

Naturally, this has led to people announcing the proverbial death of YouTube, which seems to crop up anytime anyone anywhere says "YouTube" and "money" within two full sentences of one another. It's a plethora of various concerned parties all talking past one another, but we'll try to compartmentalize the cacophony for clarity's cake.... sake. First and foremost, there's YouTube itself, a subdivision of Google that costs billions of dollars to maintain, yet offers little more than a hole in Google's pockets for their trouble. The act of hosting videos on servers made available to stream at will to anyone in the world consumes a massive chunk of change and as far as most viewers go, this costs them nothing out of pocket. Next, you've got the content creators, who seem to come in two distinct flavors and even bring two very different audiences with them. Here's the most concise way to put it: if I go to YouTube right now, without logging into my Google account, and browse the front page for trending videos, the ones that seem to get the most circulation, views, comments, and overall traffic, tend to come from content producers who frankly don't need the ad revenue, like CNN or ABC or some larger corporate entity who's using YouTube to supplement their other venues like TV, radio, and even print. If I log in, however, my browsing is a little more... inclusive. This is mostly due to interests in things like gaming, 3D printing, obscure movies, etc., generally the stuff which flies under the radar of the bigger guys. When looking at YouTube through these ruby-tinted goggles, it seems like a fantasy world, where John Q. Average-Guy can set up a webcam and have an audience of thousands upon thousands entirely by virtue of being himself. While I don't think this concept is a total fantasy, and I'll certainly never let it stop me from making it a reality, we have to face the current reality head-on. 

Film critic Bob Chipman said this of comic book geeks and I think it holds true for the overall dynamic of YouTube's audience. Die-hard fans of comics, games, and old toys get a lot of attention from Hollywood, as evidenced by their presence at conventions and similar events. However, beyond that, the sum total of these super-geeks do not represent even 1% of the average film-going audience. Michael Bay's Transformers is not made for people like me who grew up with the cartoon and never totally outgrew it. They're made for everybody. Now, why that seems to mean the franchise in question has to be watered-down, homogenized, or retooled from the ground up is another discussion entirely that we won't get into. The point is, however big these smaller channels like Armoured Skeptic, Boogie2988, Tested, and MrRepzion get, however many views their videos pile up, they do not have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Team CoCo, Electronic Arts, BBC, or Viacom. Prove me wrong, please, but it's more night and day than David and Goliath between these two sides of the coin. It's at this point that content creators need to step up their game, assess their plan, weigh the pros and cons, brainstorm, and make some incredibly difficult, executive-level decisions about why they're doing what they're doing. None of these decisions are wrong, whether it's walking away or kicking in the afterburners, but choosing not to decide is not making a choice (sorry, Rush). 

If you're relying exclusively on advertising revenue from YouTube to support yourself, you are setting yourself up to fail, you will fail, and no one will ever feel the least bit sorry for you over it. I hate being the guy to say that; I never want to stand between someone and their honest living, let alone kick them when they're knocked down from it. The sad reality is this is the big leagues, where the pros play, the wild west, where angels fear to tread. When you make a public figure of yourself, even as an iconoclast/vigilante/anarchist/pundit/pirate/whistleblower, you become a brand, a service, and even a product. You adopt an identity, a character, even if it's only a distillation of yourself. That identity becomes your life, and it's up to you to control who lives it and when. 

What am I saying with all of this? What's my solution to this problem? It's simultaneously simple and complicated, so try and keep up. 

You need to give yourself as many options as possible and pass as many of those options on to your audience as possible. Can your videos only be seen on YouTube or do you also embed them on a Wordpress or Blogger page? Do you have a Patreon? Do you sell merchandise through Etsy, Redbubble, or eBay? Do you have a Paypal, Ko-Fi, or even Amazon wishlist set up? Basically, whatever it is you're doing, you have to do more of it, and you need to give your audience as many ways to show their support as possible. People aren't unreasonable, and while many are greedy, plenty are more than understanding enough that the entertainment they consume is the result of someone else's time and energy, which is only fair to compensate in some way. The web is a great big toolbox, and there's no reason to only use a hammer to build a house. 

Goodnight, and good luck. 

02 September 2016

Pomeroy Printing: Sculptris to Shapeways with texture

Pomeroy Printing: Sculptris to Shapeways with texture: I got into Sculptris a while back, and it's a great (free) program to sculpt organic objects. Only recently did I start painting the obj...