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.