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...

08 August 2016

BATMETA: 1-2 Punchline

Destiny of the Daleks is a classic Dr. Who episode that may credit Terry Nation as the writer, but has a slightly more patchwork sort of genesis. While much of what went on behind closed doors has remained obscured, the main bullet points are as follows: Terry Nation wrote Destiny but only as a first draft. Historically, Nation's first drafts ended up as his finals with only the most minimal tinkering from the producers and script editors. However, due to various goings-on in Nation's life, the draft he turned in turned out to be uncharacteristically short on length, to such a degree that what dialogue was written had to be completely re-written around the new material. Effectively, script editor Douglas Adams had to recapture the bottled lightning of City of Death by taking a barely-there plotline and building up an entirely new arc on top of it. The result is an odd synergy of two equally talented but extremely different writers. Nation is no-nonsense. Adams is all about nonsense. Nation is a man of extremes, lots of betrayals, bombs, invasions, and perils. Adams reads between the lines and then the lines between those, then re-works them into a kind of Dadaist tableau of metaphysical causality... usually involving towels. 
It's all rather like watching a car crash in slow motion... through a fireworks warehouse... on the hottest, driest day of the year... when the sprinkler system is out... while the Firebird Suite blasts out of a wall of Marshalls, the whole event finally ending with the stunt driver climbing out of the vehicle and yelling, "Tah-Dah!" at the top of his lungs before his legs give out from exhaustion. He was supposed to deliver a pizza, but we're nonetheless impressed at the spectacle that unfurled before us. 

Now that the prologue is out of the way, let's talk about the prologue of The Killing Joke, and the dynamic between Alan Moore and Bruce Timm. 

The Killing Joke is a 1988 one-shot Batman story written by Watchmen creator Alan Moore, offering a proposed origin story for the Joker, complete with a psychological analysis from our unreliable narrator, the Clown Prince of Crime as he torments Commissioner Gordon after shooting his daughter Barbara through the spine. Though the influence of the book is still being mapped out to this day, sometimes we have to call a spade a spade. 

It's not an especially good story...

And I can say that because even Moore has expressed embarrassment over the piece. The biggest criticism that could be leveled at the story (as well as the recent animated adaptation) is that it's a victim of its own hype. It leans heavily on pure shock value, disguising an otherwise humdrum story from a writer with a reputation for breaking the mold with spectacular flair. Remember, Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns had already happened three years earlier, so the public perception of Batman (and comics in general) had already shifted from juvenile camp and fun to the big leagues of pathos and tragedy. Had it been released earlier, or in lieu of either of those two other works (unlikely, as Dark Knight was Frank Miller's work), maybe it would have had a better chance. 
Similarly, Bruce Timm has had his own run-ins with using shock value to move up from the kid's table, once again causing a ripple still being felt today. When Batgirl came to Batman: The Animated Series, Timm didn't simply want to tick off a box of Batman staples, and he certainly didn't wish to emulate the Yvonne Craig Batgirl of the Adam West show, who, among other silly compromises, was never actually allowed to punch anybody. Furthermore, he wanted to make Batman a tragic figure in every aspect of his life. This included his already tumultuous romantic life. 

Two birds plus one stone equals five words: No dating at the office. 

This is where we have to delve into a slightly (read: very) uncomfortable discussion of eating one's cake and having it too, that of presenting drama and tragedy but somehow not tugging at heartstrings or turning stomachs. Storytelling 101 tells us any good story needs conflict, bad things need to happen to good people, giving them a challenge to overcome and possibly undergo a drastic change as a result. 
Gail Simone found that, more often than not, the tragedy tends to fall on female characters, to an alarmingly disproportionate degree. This is a phenomenon dubbed Women in Refrigerators, a reference to an issue of Green Lantern in which the titular guardian discovers his girlfriend's murdered corpse stuffed in his refrigerator, signaling the return of an old enemy. Put simply, in the opening act of The Killing Joke, Barbara Gordon is refrigerated. She is shot in the spine by the Joker right in front of her father, who is subsequently taken away to be psychologically tormented, all as a means to lure Batman into a final confrontation. 

Here's my personal stance on the whole issue of how female characters are (mis)treated in comics: It is most certainly a problem, but not because it's sexist or misogynistic or any other problematic adjective. It is a problem because it is lazy, tired, cliched, and overdone. On top of that, the only reason I care is because comic publishers keep complaining about how they want to expand their audience to include more female readers, only to keep giving their identifying characters the short end of the stick and beating them unconscious with it. 

For the record, I do not consider Timm's idea to romantically link Batman and Batgirl to be a bad one. In fact, I think it is pure, artistic genius, even brave. That said, I'm going to attach a very big qualifier to that statement:

In a vacuum. 

In the context of a mid-90s animated series generally aimed at a younger audience about a popular comic book hero still shedding the stigma of camp, the notion of Batman as a tragic figure by way of his most stable relationship being with his best friend's daughter, is brilliant. Timm has even said, when asked why the odd pairing that's most certainly bound to fail, "That's why we did it." If it's not clear yet why I'm madly in love with this bad romance, let me put it this way: Where is it written that every relationship in any story has to go well? Hell, George Lucas even asked once why every male and female lead have to end up together. For as much of a headache as it seems to be for comic writers to write superheroes as married, they seem to have a harder time writing a relationship that's got red flags from the word go. Of course it's not going to work. Of course it's going to end badly. Of course it's likely to backfire in the worst conceivable way. However, we'd be less invested, if not utterly disinterested, if everything went smoothly. 
This is where the discussion of Barbara Gordon's role in The Killing Joke gets uncomfortable, for both fans of the book and the new adaptation. Again, compared to other stories that came before it, Moore's little one-off special seems rather quaint, almost phoned-in. As for animation, Timm's treatment of the Batman/Batgirl dynamic loses its luster when venturing into the broader spectrum of the comics it's based on. It's still unique, but it gets buried under a host of similar, yet failed experiments. It's too little, too late. Putting the two together works about as well as it sounds. It doesn't fail, but it has the same problem the original did; take away the shock value, and all you've got left is a decent adaptation of a so-so Alan Moore comic, preceded by an above-average "lost episode" of Bruce Timm's animated Batman. 
None of this means it's bad or unwatchable. The parts that work do so beautifully. Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy own their roles, and hearing Moore's words through them is well worth the price of admission. It respects the source material, warts and all, hitting all the key points with superb fidelity, even maintaining the subtle nuance of the ending. When the worst that can be said of something is it being a product of its era and a victim of its own hype, that's not a bad outcome for a collaboration of two radically different visionaries.