15 August 2017

PC Master Race... Leans Left?

This is a partial paraphrasing/rewrite/expansion of an article I wrote on LinkedIn about something I meant to talk about on DeviantART (and may still since I want this to focus on gaming and not art) but that's about as complicated as this story gets... maybe. 

A lot of artists I know use graphics tablets, with many of them calling their mice bars of soap and about half as useful for drawing digitally. It surprised me, then, to learn from Ash Vickers of Megacynics that vector art is primarily done with a mouse. It made sense the more I thought about it, especially as I started experimenting with vector graphics. I also started doing CAD for work, which also uses a mouse (Solidsmack has a wonderful article about using a stylus for CAD, by the way). Needless to say, I had my work cut out for me. This made what happened next a little more scary than it normally would have been. 

I'm right-handed (that's not the scary part) and one morning, I found that I slept wrong somehow and my right arm was extremely sore. It more than likely would have gone away on its own (and it did), but given that I had a full day of design work ahead of me using that very arm, I would be playing a dangerous game of either keeping my arm in pain or making it worse. This made me really anxious, if rather pitifully so. I sat down at my desk, looked at the arrangement of peripherals on my desk, and took a calculated risk. The keyboard got shifted to the right, and the mouse hopped over it and landed on the left. My left hand was going to have to learn CAD and vector work the same way sadists and deadbeats teach nervous kids to swim, chucking them straight into the deep end. 

There wasn't even five seconds of adjustment. 

Seriously, I didn't even need to switch the left and right buttons in the control panel. Using my middle finger for left click and my index finger for right click felt every bit as normal as the opposite arrangement on my right hand. Okay, there was a little bit of a learning curve in the precision and accuracy department when it came to clicking and dragging, so let's bring that five seconds up to about five minutes. This was all about a year ago, and I have no intention of going back. In fact, I'd like to invite all of you to give it a try. You can switch the left and right mouse buttons if you want to, but you may be surprised how intuitive the setup truly is. If you're skeptical, and you're at your desk while reading this, I want you to look down at your current arrangement of mouse and keyboard. Unless you're using a small laptop or you specifically asked for a narrow keyboard, yours likely has a number pad, with a little cross of arrow keys separating it from the nation of QWERTY. Those arrows are going to become important later. This added real estate, which is wider than your hand when it's in a relaxed position, creates a rather onerous compromise when it comes to productivity. 

Seriously, why does this look weird?
Think about it, in order to center the home row of your keyboard under your screen, you have to put your right arm at almost a 45 degree angle away from your body to operate your mouse. This is a little less drastic if you have a trackball, but let's save that discussion for when we talk about Centipede and Missile Command. (let's just say if you're not tossing the keyboard aside and putting that beautiful billiard ball front and center, you're doing it wrong!). If your job involves more typing than clicking, you may be okay with this and it's entirely possible it will never pose any problems for you. Likewise, if you need your mouse more than your keyboard, then having home row off-center can be equally tolerable. In either case, though, you're missing a trick, quite possibly the ultimate office life hack.

If your HR department has invested any time and effort into discussing office ergonomics with you, it may be familiar to hear something along the lines of keeping your arms as straight as possible. This is spot-on. Arguably, your muscles can get used to being at odd angles, but 1) you shouldn't have to, and 2) your muscular system is fundamentally give-and-take. If muscle group A has to work a little harder, muscle group B doesn't. Simple isometric exercises and stretches can help with these, but like we said in point 1, you shouldn't have to. 

Here's where this gets interesting: gamers already get the most out of this clumsy arrangement, but only because of a compromise. The typical keyboard-and-mouse arrangement for something like a first-person shooter or a few other genres that involve navigating a three-dimensional space works out like this: the mouse controls the camera or where your character looks, while the W, A, S, and D keys move your character forward, left, back, and right (respectively). In this setup, the far left side of the keyboard and the rightmost reach of the mouse allow your arms to rest straight in front of you. 

You've nailed it... or have you? 

In my CAD work, I don't use my keyboard that often, not compared to the number pad. It's used about as equally as the mouse. Having my mouse on the left lets me center the home row of my keyboard, which puts my arms straight ahead, with the left resting on the mouse, and the right resting on the number pad, with those arrow keys almost equally accessible. I've even got the arrow keys on the number pad thanks to the Num Lock key if needed. 

Having my mouse on the left lets me use the arrow keys for what they arrow keys are made for. 

Yes, that sounds obvious, but if that's obvious, why is the WASD arrangement somehow "the norm"? What do you typically use the left analog stick on a game controller for? The camera, with the right analog stick controlling your movements. Funnily enough, this arrangement for dual analog controllers as pioneered in Alien Resurrection for the Sony Playstation was heavily criticized at the time before quickly becoming the norm. Now consider that in old-school gaming, especially in the arcade, movement controls are on the left. Meanwhile, left-handed arcade sticks put movement controls on the right, where right-handed console gamers operate movement controls anyway. 

Gamers are already fundamentally ambidextrous and we don't even realize it. 

It's only appropriate, then, that Razer (By Gamers, For Gamers) would be pretty much lead the charge in producing left-handed ergonomic gaming mice. There are others, but they're playing catch-up on the whole, with many content with catering to office environments where fewer buttons are required. 

Ironically, despite what I said earlier about not needing to reverse the mouse buttons in the control panel, the default layout of the left-handed Naga mouse reverses the clicks. Luckily, Synapse (the application Razer offers to customize their mouse buttons) makes the switch easy. Unfortunately, because it's an application, it's not there right away when I boot up, and there's a few minutes every morning when I have to mentally swap sides until everything gets up and running. For the sake of convenience and not dealing with adding more programs to startup, I swapped the clicks in the Control Panel. So, the left-handed mouse is actually less intuitive to my left hand than an ambidextrous one without modification. Razer, if you're reading this, worry not, for I forgive you ;) ... but if you really want to make it up to me, maybe you can put that MOBA-friendly Naga Hex mouse on fast-track to getting a left-handed version? This 12-button keypad is kinda tedious ;P 

30 July 2017

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective (First Impressions)

As a rule, I've more or less forbidden games on my phones and even my iPad. It's not that I don't think the platform is a viable competitor to the likes of the DS or Vita (In fact, earlier today before editing this, I just beat Daxter on my first generation PSP I still play reguarly). The problem is I have something of an addictive personality, especially when it comes to puzzle games. Growing up on Tetris, Dr. Mario, and Bust-A-Move has engrained the genre in me as a kind of comfort food for the middle ground between my left and right brain. 
As a compromise, I limit one game per device, a maximum of one microtransaction if the game is free-to-play, and with very strict rules on genre, namely no puzzle games like Bejeweled (I still haven't forgiven my Dad for getting me hooked on it) or endless runners like Jetpack Joyride (my Dad still hasn't forgiven me for getting him hooked on it). Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective from Capcom, which at first I thought was a spin-off title in the Phoenix Wright series*, is almost a puzzle game. It's a point-and-click (tap-and-hold?) adventure game with logic and time-based puzzles. 

Hmm, that "D" looks familiar....
You play a disembodied spirit recently separated from his mortal coil by way of a convoluted murder conspiracy involving a group of blue men (No, not those guys). Unfortunately for you, not only did your red-suited carcass end up in a very undignified position, and not only have you completely lost your memory, but someone else in the same junkyard as you is about to be sworn in as a new denizen among the dearly departed by way of a golden shotgun. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, however, as another spirit in the form of a desk lamp named Ray (yes, as in "ray of light" tunnels notwithstanding) is quick to take you by the phantom limb and teach you to use your newfound powers of the dead. 

Like that there parrot that done ceased to be...
The gameplay reminds me mostly of Firefly's Diary (htoL#NiQ) on Vita, particularly with the Ghost mechanic. When in "Ghost" mode, you're able to possess various inanimate objects. The catch is that you've got a limited range, which can sometimes be hard to judge. Often you'll have to "join the dots" and move from point to point. Sometimes an object must be manipulated not only to solve the puzzle, but also to get you to another and more vital object. Think Final Destination with good intentions or Ghost if it was directed by Miyazaki. 

Manipulating possessed objects forms another third of your suite of phantom powers, called "Trick" mode for the sake of a title drop. Although the backgrounds have the same degree of awkward clutter as a hidden object game, the number and type of objects you can inhabit is limited, complete with a few red herrings thrown in. If Ghost mode reminded me of Firefly's Diary, this part of the game reminds me of Haunting with Polterguy on the Genesis. In that game, your goal was to scare away the inhabitants of a house. Your tricks here are a little more versatile and subtle, though getting attention via diversion and distraction is a core part of the gameplay. This part can become the most frustrating as many of the tricks you have to pull off rely on characters standing in specific spots, looking a certain direction, or performing some subtle action you're likely to miss more often than not. It always strikes me as a cheap tactic to reduce strategizing and problem solving to a time trial in order to make something more challenging. 

A Dead Dog, a Distressed Damsel, and a Dastardly... Dog-killer? Yeah, let's go with that.
Speaking of timing and trials, the last power of the dead at your disposal is a time manipulation mechanic. In addition to connecting with inanimate object, you can also contact the spirits of the recently deceased and rewind their last four minutes of life. Not only can you see their final moments play out from a limited third person perspective, but you can actually save them from dying with your dual-wielding of possession and manipulation. This redeems the "situational" aspect of the game, albeit it replaces quick reflexes with trial and error. Still, I'd rather have my Rube Goldberg machination not work because I missed a step or misjudged a character as opposed to not being able to swipe or tap or drag fast enough at the right time. 

The way the big guy slaps that command console always kills me.
I played the game on an iPhone 5c, and though it ran well enough for those first two chapters, I'd argue that an iPad is the best way to go. This is a beautiful game, especially the character designs. They're 2D sprites, but they're based on expertly-crafted 3D models that are either meticulously animated or diligently motion-captured. It may have made for a very slick and cool-looking platformer in the Prince of Persia vein. 

As of the time of this writing, Ghost Trick is available in its entirety for 10USD, and I can't decide if that's too much for a mobile game. I honestly don't know how much I've ever spent on a phone game, maybe 6 or 7 way back in the day for the Wolfenstein RPG, and frankly that may have been too much. Then again, I've easily spent over 40USD on all the various drawing programs across all my mobile devices. Of course, there's simply no comparing the value of a productivity app to that of a game, however addicting and fun said game may be. 

Does this count as interest?
One last note about the price: As I said, the game is available for 10USD. While that's a steal compared to the full price of its original release on Nintendo DS, in what I can only guess was a foreshadowing of Capcom's more dubious business practices, you can buy chapters in small "packs" for 5USD each. Obviously, the bundle is the better deal given the game is at least 15 chapters on top of the first two freebies. Still, I don't get this piecemeal/episodic setup because the game was ported all at once from DS to iOS. With most episodic games (especially those from TellTale), they're released several months (even years) apart at a premium, then bundled together at a discount for those who waited. It's a trade-off akin to waiting for a movie to be available for streaming rather than seeing it in theaters. For Ghost Trick, though, there was no waiting. It all simply makes me wonder how often someone paid for the chapter packs rather than going whole hog for the complete package at once. 

Suspect pricing structure aside, I enjoyed the first two chapters of Ghost Trick, and while I ultimately intend to unlock the full game, it's an odd duck even in the mobile games market and I don't recommend diving in without testing the waters first. Fans of "match three" puzzles and manic tapping may be turned away by the pacing, while fans of deeper experiences like "escape the room" or remastered ports of older games may find the total package somewhat shallow. The last comparison I would make is to Jordan Mechner's The Last Express. It's a technically ambitious work of art whose only real fault is simply not having more of itself to offer. That can leave a lot of gamers grumbling, but I'm of the mindset that if a game ends too soon, it was probably just long enough. 

*Ghost Trick was produced by the creator of Phoenix Wright, and once speculated on a crossover game, but the title sadly remains a one-off. 

21 July 2017

Stupid and Pointless 500 Index

This is a customer review on the Apple iTunes store for Meshlab's iOS application. Meshlab is described thusly: 
MeshLab for iOS is an advanced 3D model viewer. MeshLab for iOS has been designed to be able to display complex 3D models in a simple and intuitive way, allowing the accurate inspection of a 3D model through a precise yet straightforward navigation. 

I've used the desktop version of Meshlab off and on for a few months, and it's pretty handy. I was looking to get the iPad version so if I wanted to show off a model before printing it, I'd have options beyond e-mail, flash drives, or Dropbox
"When you open the game,"
It's not a game, it's a productivity app. It's a minor point, and I'm sure he meant to say "app", but it helps establish a pattern that's worth noting.
"there are a few models to choose from. It wouldn't let me change or edit them in any way besides changing the light effect. There wasn't a color button a shape button, nothing!"
This is almost a fair point, as the desktop version does allow you to paint the imported models, albeit crudely and with some questionable export settings. As for the shapes button, once again we're back to the main issue that this program is a viewer. It is not full-fledged modeling software. It never proclaims to be anything more than that, thus setting expectations by which it should be judged. Does it perform as advertised? If not, then that's a bad product. If it does, then it's ample, serviceable, adequate... etc.. If it has features beyond those advertised that are competently executed, then that's a fantastic app. If I expected you to fly by flapping your arms while thinking happy thoughts, would that make my criticism that you are a worthless person no one should ever have to deal with valid? 
"So I tried deleting all the models to see if i would then be able to create a new one. Nope."
You didn't try looking on the website or finding any information on how to use the app? You didn't think to look in the app's Help menu to see if the feature was even available? What makes more sense from a design perspective, hide the "new" button until all documents are deleted (especially considering there are only 4 default models in a drop-down menu that goes all the way to the bottom of the screen), or keep the button visible but display an error message that there is not enough room? Imagine if the fuel gauge of a car disappeared until the needle approached empty. 
"I couldn't even do anything because I didn't have any models to edit. There wasn't a plus button to make a new model."
A typical setup for a VIEWER. 
"so that basically made the app useless!"
As useless as a bicycle is for climbing Mt. Everest... As useless as a Jeep is for entering a low earth orbit... As useless as a can opener is for removing a computer virus... as useless as wishful thinking is for overturning DNA evidence... 
"Look, I'm not an app inventor."
"And I'm sure it's harder than it may seem. But seriously! You can do better than this!"
Yes, there are tablet-friendly 3D modeling programs out there, though their numbers are significantly fewer since Autodesk axed the better part of the 123D repertoire, but that doesn't change the fact that Meshlab is a VIEWER and not an EDITOR. 

I know I'm likely blowing this out of proportion; the app is doing well and this little one-star diatribe isn't going to hurt that for an instant. Also, it's certainly not as big a display of ignorance is the yahoo from a few months back who paid ten dollars for the SketchUP Viewer app ("viewer" is in the name) and complained that he couldn't edit anything. 

19 June 2017

Don't Patreon-ize Me (totes not begging)

Thank you for your Patreon-age.
Patreon made a big change to their platform, and it's getting a less-than favorable reaction. Their menu for both their desktop site and mobile app looks chunkier and geometrically harsher. Most notably, though, is their logo, which one Twitter user felt made it unrecognizable when compared to the original. 

I can understand his point of view, especially considering the logo looks less like a "P" and more like a lower-case "r". If I didn't know any better, I would have thought it was a new logo for ReasonTV. Then again, even before the rebranding, the Patreon logo tended to have trouble standing out, blending right in with the Google+ tile or even Blogger's icon. They're both reddish-orange squares with white lines in them. There would be times when I would click on a social link for what I thought was Patreon and found it to be a Blogger page. 

Besides, let's face it, more people have heard of Patreon than Reason (and I say that as a fan of ReasonTV). 

As for the new logo, it's certainly striking. White backgrounds tend to be a bit of a no-no in logos unless the line-work is strong (read: dark) so it can be used as a watermark or stamped onto simple stationary. Despite that, I like how the logo looks a little like crate paper with its muted, seemingly-translucent color scheme, especially that muted red-orange dot. It may not quite pop from the white the way a deeper red would (i.e., Japan's flag), but it's not lost in the great pale sea, either. The washed-out navy blue of the P's back also helps ground the whole design and helps center your eyes. Also, the more I look at it, the less I see that lower-case "r" and the more I see a stylized "P". That's the odd thing about rebranding; you can get used to almost anything. 
Many graphic designers will tell you about brand images that simply shouldn't work; Google, eBay, Yahoo, Apple's old rainbow logo, and MTV to name a few, yet with a handful of exceptions, they persist and endure. They don't necessarily rewrite any typography or design rules, but they earn their place and show that sometimes breaking the rules is how you stand out and get an edge (the iconoclast). DeviantART decided to forego having its initials in its icon and instead went a more abstract route, like if Matisse made traffic signs. It caused a stir, but down the road, it's as if it never happened, and I certainly haven't heard of anyone missing the "DA" hemisphere of old. ---Actually, I just now had the logo explained to me as the "mid-section" of a "d" sidling up to an "A" and now I feel a bit silly. 

Then again, let's face it, Seattle's Best Coffee still looks like it's advertising a blood drive, and SyFy is as stupid a name now as it was when it was announced, I don't care how good The Expanse is supposed to be. 

The point is that for all the testing and research and time invested into creating a new identity for a corporate entity, no one can afford a sharp turn or backpedal to begin with, and there is truly no good way of discerning how well a new logo will go over with audiences. People generally don't like change, and while some criticisms are more valid than others, events reveal that people can get used to an idea they were once opposed to. In the end, most of us likely weren't involved in the decision and it's not going to affect how we spend our money, so we'll either get on with our lives and carry on or we'll decide this new direction, however superficial, isn't worth our business.

Speaking of money and business....

I've debated setting up a creator's Patreon for myself. I once talked at great length about why I don't take commissions, and while I'm not motivated by money in my artwork (no artist is, it's just enthusiasm can't pay bills), I am grateful that people out there enjoy and appreciate what I do. As such, it's only fair that I offer people as many means of "supporting the cause" as possible, whether that's the share buttons on my journal pages or my DevaintART gallery or my Thingiverse profile, to more, er, direct means such as the Ko-Fi links both here and on my Twitter, the "tip designer" button on Thingiverse, my Paypal links I scatter in a few different places, and my Amazon wishlist (located in the sidebar). I've gotten a few tips here and there, and I even get asked about commissions (I'm not above making exceptions, especially to "support a cause" as it were). I've also gotten comments and other feedback such as dis/likes, up/down votes, hearts, stars, clovers and blue moons, pots of gold and rainbows, and me red ba--sorry. I'm grateful for it all and never want anyone to be shy about what they have to say about what I say and do (provided the freedom goes both ways, that's only fair). 
Going back to Patreon, what I do doesn't quite lend itself to much of a consistent output, and I don't feel like comparing the time and effort spent writing a journal entry or movie review with a painting or a comic. Thirty movie reviews in a month versus 10 digital paintings in the same month is not a quantification I feel like justifying to an audience, and I don't think you should have to entertain that concept either. As much as I like the "set and forget" nature of Patreon, even a small reward tier would simply feel like too much of an onus for me to place on someone. Maybe if I ever get to working on a regular webcomic I can commit to or I start doing livestreaming of my painting (which may happen as soon as Inktober of this year), then I'll consider it. 

Until then, thank you for visiting my page. 

18 June 2017

Four Movies

I'd been writing this review for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 wherein I criticize the story for the changes it makes to Starlord's origin. While I still stand by that criticism, its weight was gradually diminished the more research I did into the GotG's lore. Turns out I knew even less than I did about just how malleable this series is and the myriad ways Marvel keeps pounding it into different shapes in a desperate bid for appeal. Some comics blog out there once referred to Guardians as something along the lines of, "A series comic fans desperately want to pretend to love." that's not to say it's bad, just that it never seems to have any lasting appeal. The way the original publication played out was it ran for a few issues, got cancelled, the characters made cameos in other books, the series was revived, cancelled again, and all the while keeping a swiftly revolving door on their roster worse than the X-Men ever got. Silver Sable had the same problem; she seemed stupidly popular with fans and demand for a standalone series would be through the roof, only for the sales figures to dig a well in the basement. Anyway, as for the Guardians and my attempt at reviewing their newest incarnation, I found that the version I knew was so different from any other that complaining about continuity was more than a little futile. As I said, though, I still stand by most of the criticisms I leveled at it. I get that changes get made in adaptations. I don't mind that at all. What I take issue with is when the change is made for the sake of broad appeal and marketability rather than for the sake of fitting the story into a new medium. It's like Watchmen; I get why fans of the book were upset about the ending being changed, but for my money, I think the ending works better in the case of the film. It keeps the story on track and doesn't feel like a mad dash add-on. So, as much as you didn't need me to tell you by now, this many weeks after box office records were shattered, Volume 2 was perfectly adequate as another entry in the Marvel cinematic universe. Also, water is wet. 

The week following Guardians, I went to see King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. I had no intention of seeing it thanks mostly to a painfully humdrum trailer. My roommate, however, a fan of all things Arthurian and fantastic, couldn't wait. For as much of a renaissance as the fantasy genre is getting in Hollywood, it's still fairly slim cinematic pickings compared to sci-fi and superheroes, especially if you venture outside of anything with Peter Jackson's name on it. Some say that's because fantasy has found a good enough home on television with the likes of Game of Thrones and Vikings. Anyway, my expectations were very low for the movie, to the point I genuinely expected to nap my way through the entire thing. I also thought, "hey, maybe it'll be good for a laugh." Two things happened in the first ten minutes, however, that threw the nap in the fire along with those low expectations. First was Eric Bana scaling and toppling a mountain-sized war elephant while sporting glowing armor and a flaming sword. Okay, I thought, you've got my attention. Second was seeing Guy Ritchie in the credits as director. All right, I thought, what have you got for me? Admittedly, the steam starts letting out immediately thereafter, but it's a slow enough burn that by the time the duel with NOT-Frank Frazetta's Death Dealer came around, I can safely say I was never truly bored. I was legitimately invested despite some horrific cliches and tropes. While I'm not pretending it's a perfect film or even a hidden gem, but it was a pleasant surprise, which is almost as good. It reminded me a lot of Solomon Kane, which had similar qualities. A few genuinely cool moments of visual artistry wrapped up in an overall mediocre package of safe, bland design and extremely poor marketing. Seriously, what is it with trailers underselling movies these days? The trailer for Logan made it look like the entire film would be set at that one location (the repurposed water tower in the desert) and padded with a lot of Sergio Leone-styled long stares over the landscape, instead of what we got. As for Arthur, which has unfortunately joined a list of box office flops, I genuinely recommend it. If you're a fan of Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes films, this won't satisfy you like a proper third entry in that series (Hound of the Baskervilles, maybe?) but you'll be able to fill up your Guy Ritchie witty banter-riddled irreverent action movie bingo card well enough. 

Last week, I did something I hadn't done in years: a twofer movie day. The first time I did that was back in 2002, seeing the first Sam Raimi Spider-man film the same day as Attack of the Clones. The second time was in 2011, the films being Super 8 and Green Lantern

The first was Wonder Woman, for which all the world was waiting. It was good. I know that's not very in-depth, but that's the kind of movie it was. It did a lot of things right and while it didn't quite excel at most of them, it never failed in any regard. It delivered what it promised and the only true complaint I had besides some pacing issues in the beginning and the middle was the child playing young Diana. Of course, that's not being fair, they did the best they could with what they had and I'm sure she was the best pick, but if we never hear from that kid again (I'm not even sure we "heard" from her this time around; I'll be surprised if she's not dubbed), I won't be surprised and certainly wish her well in whatever she pursues. As for Gal Godot, I take back my doubts about her handling the role. I'd already been proven mostly wrong by Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, but this confirmed it. 

After that, and over a plate of some lovely battered chicken fingers at a sports bar, we got our tickets to The Mummy. My reaction to it is about the same as Wonder Woman, but I have to mention Iron Man 2 as part of my criticism. Iron Man 2 is a decent Marvel movie (water is still wet) except when it grinds its own story to a screeching halt and spends what feels like a full half-hour telling how awesome the Avengers movie is going to be. The Mummy isn't quite so clumsy, but if I didn't know that Universal was trying to have its own cinematic universe (which they kind of started back in the day with Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman and even their own early Mummy movies) it would have caught me off guard. At around the halfway mark, Tom Cruise gets taken through a room with cryptid specimens in jars, including what appears to be a Lagoon creature's arm in a jar, and the skull of a vampire (also in a jar of alcohol, which doesn't make sense unless it stops it from dissolving in sunlig... you know what, it's fine, forget it). To top it off, Russell Crowe introduces himself as Dr. Jekyll, and the reference doesn't stop at the name. Luckily, this doesn't linger or feel like an intrusion on the story, so I forgive it. I do wonder, however, if they've planned this out that far ahead. I mean, Dracula: Untold is arguably the first inkling of Universal trying to snag a piece of the Marvel pie, but those hints have been snubbed in favor of this new appetizer. What's to say we won't get a third introduction with the added note, "No, this one's the start, this one for sure. This time we mean it!"? The Bride of Frankenstein isn't even slate for release until 2019. That's a ways off given how often new Marvel films get released. If you read anything by Sandy Collora about his involvement in a Black Lagoon movie, you'll find yourself even less eager to see how this Dark Universe plans to dazzle us. Should we even mention that Bencio Del Toro remake of  the Wolfman getting "rebooted"? 

17 June 2017

No Like Pinterest

For it is always "likes"

Recently, in a move akin to Twitter trading stars for hearts, Pinterest has decided to remove the "like" option from their service. It should be said that I truly appreciate how Pinterest went about this phase-out, much as it surprised me when I logged in a few days ago. There are items I find on Pinterest that I... well, like, but don't fall into any categories I've made boards for, as vague as some of them may be. I used "likes" as a kind of miscellaneous catch-all for this. It was also a nice option for giving feedback, especially on crafts; certain crafts may not be my bag, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate the workmanship and dedication that goes into some of these creations. 

Look at it this way, imagine if YouTube only let you create playlists for things. You'd inevitably have a playlist called "favorites" or "likes" or some other miscellaneous term. These are videos that you like, but not enough to add to a playlist you run in the background while cooking dinner or working out. 
A food sculpture can be very impressive, but does it belong on a board devoted to recipes? Does a button-sewing tutorial belong on a board devoted to full outfits and fashion trends? Better question, how many more boards should I have to make before eventually I simply give up and make a "miscellaneous" board that serves the same purpose as "like"? 
In fact, that's exactly what Pinterest did. They took all my "likes" and made a whole new board for them. I can go through and move a few to more appropriate boards, or merely leave it as is, though I can't add any new pins to it since that would defeat the purpose of the move. It's a fun idea, this kind of "legacy" feature. 
As of right now, I've got something like 2,000 pins in this "like" board. I went through a handful today just to see how smooth the editing options were, and was fairly impressed. However, I won't be conducting any sort of mass exodus to close out the board, and I'm glad Pinterest isn't forcing my hand to do so. That puts them leagues above Digg when they royally dropped the ball on a server malfunction a few years back. They essentially lost my account, said they were trying to get it back, suggested I make a new one, then said if I made a new one there'd be no way to recover the old one or at least merge it with the new one. If that sounds ridiculous, I'm doing them a favor with that description, because I didn't learn about those parts in that order and from one person. 

Take this as free advice to anyone out there crazy enough to create a new social media platform: Don't be Digg, be Pinterest. People may only be renting space on your servers, but remember that you WANT them to stay and continue to rent space on your servers. I'm still with Pinterest. I will never go back to Digg

Funnily enough, I'm surprised there don't appear to be any memes devoted to Pinterest's recently-added "tried it" button being ticked on things that no one could possibly have tried. I suppose there's some low-hanging fruit no one is that bored to humor. 

09 April 2017

Just Do It... not be jerks, that is

I’ve said at some great length that I’m not a fan of the Creative Commons, at least as far as its role in the art community is concerned. In short, it’s workings are more befitting to a patent enabling software programmers and developers to interface with users/modders without the hassle of red tape. This was called Copyleft. It was later formalized by Richard Stallman when he created the GNU. This was later modified again into the Creative Commons, the primary difference being the “noncommercial” and “no derivatives” clauses as available options. 

My point is, for as much as I dislike the CC, I still acknowledge its place, I respect people’s right to use it (responsibly), and I certainly do not ignore it. 

The following story of people who blatantly ignored the CC license is somewhat old news, with the offending party’s eBay store having not only all of its listings removed, but feedback as well. Just3DPrint is three college kids who offer 3D printing services on commission. If you’re new to 3D printing, don’t worry, you don’t need to understand more than the basics to see exactly how complex this problem’s root system is. As you know, DeviantART offers you a choice of standard copyright or a handful of CC license variations when you post any of your work here. Due to the open source nature of 3D printing on both the hardware and software fronts, sites like Thingiverse and Pinshape, which host user-created CAD models, the standard copyright is not available, only CC or GNU. This may seem onerous, but we have to remember what it means to copyright a work. Copyright reserves the rights to make copies to the rightsholder (hence “all rights reserved”) but putting your file on an online repository with download options specifically meant for people to make a physical copy of your sculpture needs something a little less “reserved” than copyright. There are numerous other reasons why 3D file repositories are set up this way, but that’s the most prominent aspect to the hosting arrangement. 

There is kind of an odd, nebulous gray area to this hosting arrangement involving third-party printing services. 3DHubs is a social network wherein owners of 3D printers, be they big quasi-corporate printer farms or yahoos in their living rooms, can offer their services for a fee. So, what then does that mean for uploaders of 3D files who select the “noncommercial” clause for their CAD file? Sure, DeviantART has an on-demand print service for artwork, but there’s two important things to remember. First, it’s entirely optional regardless of what license you select. Second, you get a cut of the sale. With 3DHubs, you may not even know your file is being printed. Thingiverse uploaders can have “Print” buttons to streamline the process, but a user can still download the file to their own drive and then upload it to 3DHubs directly. With thousands of transactions daily, 3DHubs can’t watchdog every single upload to make sure a noncommercial clause is being violated. The saving grace is that 3D printing is still a fairly niche hobby, so the total amount of “monetary damages” if we’re to use an extreme example is negligible. It’s still a little odd that a transaction started on Thingiverse using their “print this” button doesn’t in some way come back to the original maker. 

I’ll step out of the journal entry to give some advice to any 3D artists or sculptors who may like the idea of people having their own version of your creation. Although 3DHubs does not compensate the creator of the original model directly, Thingiverse has recently implemented a tips jar feature allowing users to send money directly to makers. Meanwhile, Pinshape, which I would consider the superior service from a commerce standpoint, lets creators set their own price for downloads. 

I suppose the saving grace for this flaw, besides the overall small market that 3D printing is today, is that no matter the license you select, due credit must always be given. Granted, this “free publicity” doesn’t put money from a sale directly in the hands of a rightsholder, but it helps deter price gouging by letting people use any printing service they choose. The service does not own the product, so it’s in their best interest to stay competitive. 

Just3DPrint, however, not only offered prints of items carrying a noncommercial clause, but did not even acknowledge, credit, or link the original creators of the models. Thousands of models on Thingiverse were being offered through Just3DPrint’s eBay store, with none of them having attribution details. A well-known Thingiverse user by the name of Loubie helped shed light on this story when she found one of her sculptures available on eBay sans a shout-out (They later said they would correct the listings to give proper credit if politely asked). There was also a noncommercial clause to her CC license, so she did what any rightsholder would do and asked them to remove the listing. 

She was utterly snubbed and told to go fly a kite. 

Loubie reached out to the community by posting some of the correspondence and encouraging other users to check the eBay store to see if any of their models were misappropriated. The comment section of this post exploded when J3DP themselves tried to run damage control and profess their innocence. However badly you may be guessing they failed, the reality is worse.

Their reply was a 3,000+ word diatribe covering a wide variety of subjects under the IP and patent umbrella, nearly all of which was so categorically false that there was no shortage of replies pointing out basics like what a trade secret really is and how the Berne Convention works. 


If you don’t want to go through the whole manifesto, here’s a vertical slice: the original reply from J3DP to Loubie upon her asking they take down their listing of one of her sculptures per its noncommercial license, emphasis mine. 

"When you uploaded your items onto Thingiverse for mass distribution, you lost all rights to them whatsoever. They entered what is known in the legal world as "public domain".The single exception to public domain rules are "original works of art".No court in the USA has yet ruled a CAD model an original work or art.Therefore, you have no right to exclude others from utilizing the CAD models you have uploaded.Furthermore, if in the future we do get a precedent in the USA for establishing CAD models as "original works of art", we would still likely be just fine as we are not re-selling your CAD models, but rather "transformative" adaptions of them in the form of 3D printed objects.
SFEP.S. When you created these CAD files, did you really want to limit the amount of people who could enjoy them to the 0.01% of the USA with a 3D Printer? 100% of America can purchase the items from us at a reasonable cost and enjoy them-creating made in the USA jobs in the process as well. Furthermore, if you hate the idea of people profiteering from your work, you may want to take it up with Makerbot/Stratasys who only hosts Thingiverse for AD revenue, to sell more 3D printers."

The Creative Commons is not the public domain (even the CC-Zero license is merely a formality). The Creative Commons does not replace Copyright. The matter of whether or not CAD files are protected is complex, but only in terms of nomenclature. What J3DP are insisting is that instructions for something are not copyrightable, which is like saying a screenplay is public domain until the movie of it gets made (at which point only the film would be copyrighted and anyone else could still adapt the screenplay). Computer Aided Drafting is not art the same way a painting or an illustration is due to the distinction between form and function, but it is nonetheless sweat of the brow, a product of human endeavor. If you invest the time and energy into creating something, copyright and patents guarantee you protection from what legal experts call freeloading assholes. 

Stratasys themselves have a wonderfully informative post about this: http://consulting.stratasys.com/2016/02/cad-copyright-and-creative-commons-the-infringement-saga-continues/ 

Further comments from the three stooges refer to the license agreement as “a fiction” created by Thingiverse as part of their scheme to profit from its users. We are now officially in foil hat territory. The Creative Commons was not made up by hosting services for nefarious purposes. I would love to see the evidence saying otherwise, but I have a feeling they’d just bring up reptoids or Freemasons or some other garbage boogeyman organization. 

Is it even worth pointing out that Thingiverse does not have advertisements on their site? 

I’m working on a much larger dissection of the J3DP manifesto I hope to have up on my WordPress site in a few weeks. Albeit it’s old news, it’s still so monstrously hilarious in its ignorance and stupidity that until these man-babies own up to their bullshit, I don’t think enough attention can be called to it. Their eBay store may be shut down, but their main site is still up and they are still offering their services. 

Update: This Article https://technical.ly/philly/2016/02/26/just-3d-print-makerbot/ sheds a little more light on their "advisors" 

13 March 2017

Ivya Rephyouse Mi

honey, you lose me... so telephone....
DeviantART: http://neuronplectrum.deviantart.com/art/Senmiya-Kisby-Wyre-668851778