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...

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. 

01 August 2016

Double Down on DS

NOTE: This op-ed is based on very loose hearsay, speculation, and partial evidence. The very nature of the Nintendo NX is subject to change between the time of this writing and its eventual release. 

The console market is in a place of uncertainty for the first time since the early 1980s. Sure, the uncertainty principle has followed consoles from day one, but if we look at the facts, the years have seen a dwindling number of advantages consoles have held for consumers over PCs in the last fifteen years. The Dreamcast introduced a built-in modem in 1999, whereas previous attempts at internet support have been aftermarket accessories like the Satellaview or the Sega Channel. Despite this, the idea of distributing games over data lines was years away from viability, with the 64DD, PS2 Hard Drive, and Phantom Console's graves as trail markers. Now, hard drives and internet connections are standard, along with digital storefronts and infrastructure for downloads and even streaming. Put simply, the line between consoles and PCs has been completely blurred, the only true differences having more to do with politics than hardware. PCs are still fundamentally the wild west while consoles are gated communities. Literally anyone can develop a PC game, and even get it released through a proper online store like Steam or Humble Bundle. Console developers have to offer their firstborn just to be put on a waiting list for a development kit. Granted, that line is blurring, but there's very little point in waiting for the treaty to be signed if the arms race is already over by way of stalemate. 

Between Miitomo and the runaway hit Pokemon GO, Nintendo has shown they're not above going to third parties for hardware, the taste of Philips out of their mouth at long last. Still, what we've always loved about Nintendo is how they go their own way, for better or for worse. Though they may have tread lightly in bringing the NES to America, compromises have been few and far between, much to the chagrin of developers, publishers, and even gamers. The Super Nintendo sold well enough, but if not for the Mortal Kombat blood controversy and Sega looking the other way to EA bypassing normal publishing channels to bring Madden to the Genesis, the SNES could have buried the competition as the NES had done to the likes of the Master System and Atari 7800. The N64's use of cartridges (in)famously drove away powerhouses like Square to Sony's bed, alienating those RPG fans who had cut their teeth on the SNES. Again, it sold well enough, but we have to ask what could have been. Similarly, the GameCube was a reasonable success, but now stands as Nintendo's second worst-selling home console, after the Wii U (we won't count the 1973 Color TV-Game since it's a Pong console), owed again to a proprietary format and a reluctance to play ball with third parties. 

Meanwhile, in the portable and handheld market, Nintendo's only true blunder to this day is the Virtual Boy. Otherwise, even the weakest link in the Game Boy/GBA/DS chain has been a license to print money. It's almost hilarious how people would forgive serious flaws like a blurry, spinach-green display on the original or a dim-as-moonless-midnight screen on the Advance and still send the things flying off the shelf. It took Sony pouring buckets of money and marketing into the PSP to even make a dent in that wall (Rest In Peace, Neo Geo Pocket Color). It finally took the iPhone to make Nintendo sit up and notice they weren't alone in their dominance of the handheld market. As much as I laughed at the prospect of iPhone/Android games and still hesitate to call it a serious platform, just like consoles, the line is blurring and it's all getting better. I still love my Vita, and I still have my original PSP, and if I could only have one, I'd take either of those over the best iPhone or iPad any day. The problem, the final hurdle for mobile phones and tablets to overcome, is the interface. Touch controls and gyroscopes do not give the same satisfying, tactile feedback as buttons or even knobs. Nintendo seems to understand this. That's why I think they're making a legitimately smart move in presenting the NX as a souped-up gaming tablet, following patterns laid down by the likes of the NVidia Shield or the Wikipad or some of Sony's Xperia devices. Some may be scratching their heads, but I think this move is the best decision they've made in years. They're still going their own way as they always have, it's just down a trail they blazed years ago. 

16 June 2016

Autodesk Tech Support and the Creative Commons

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

Simply no. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Days Later: 

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

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

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

14 June 2016

Pogo Sticky

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

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

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

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

04 June 2016


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

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

So, what the Hell happened?

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

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

15 April 2016

Pogo Connect 2 with Sensu Brush

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

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

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

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

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

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

09 April 2016

An Open Letter to the Lafayette Bible Baptist Church

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

--Your Friendly Neighborhood Objectivist

03 April 2016

V12 Turbo Beetle

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

01 April 2016

Flat-Earthers Say The Dubayest Things

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

I was wrong. 

17 March 2016

Half a Mind to Have and Have Not

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

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

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

23 February 2016

Voxel (sketchfab embed test)

<a href="https://sketchfab.com/models/96a63a453f3f4963836c792fca979e92/embed">https://sketchfab.com/models/96a63a453f3f4963836c792fca979e92/embed</a>
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