29 December 2017

Batting for Apples

I have a Playstation Vita and I swear that after one particular upgrade to its firmware, my battery life got cut in half. I thought it was just my imagination or finally taking notice of how long I'd had the thing. However, I found a few other users on forums reporting the same issue, with one offering the possibility that the firmware has a new protocol for the Wi-Fi antenna. I don't have the exact post, but it was something about refreshing more often or using more power. If this sounds familiar, you've likely been following the news of Apple slowing down performance of older phones for the sake of preserving battery life (or not, depending on how you read the nuance of various conflicting statements). 

So, as an iPad user who uses an iPhone as a backup for my Android daily driver, here are my thoughts on Apple's whole battery "fiasco".

I don't care. 

I'm not going to go so far as to say #appledidnothingwrong because that's fueling a fire that nobody asked to have started. As far as big corporate deceptions go, this is small potatoes. When I was at T-Mobile, HTC had this "hybrid" style of smartphone (bit of a last hurrah before Android) with battery life so atrociously below specifications that they offered trade-ins for bigger battery packs. 

From my perspective, as someone who got to see the Google G1 phone in person months before any consumers got their hands on it, Apple's exclusivity deal with AT&T was a massive blunder on their part, but also the very definition of serendipity. I have no doubt we'd have gotten Android phones anyway, but that "power vacuum" created by Big Mama Bell had an undeniably immeasurable impact on the smartphone landscape. Smartphones were now for everyone, and everyone deserves as many options as possible for the consumer-based economy to work best. Some people like to tinker with what they buy, while others just want the damn thing to work as advertised. 

My point is, if you're just joining us, welcome to the wonderful world of how upgrades work for Apple fans. You trade customization for stability, and that stability means every few years you get a whole new machine. That sounds cynical, and even condescending, but it's really what Apple users have expected, asked for, and gotten in spades since the beginning. They want their creative productivity machines to be super easy to use and ready to roll right out of the box. In short, Best Buy's Geek Squad is an aftermarket version of Apple's entire business model. If you own a Mac, chances are the most work "under the hood/bonnet" work you've ever had to do with it is upgrade your RAM. Now, by a show of hands, who knows what RAM stands for? Don't be embarrassed if you don't know. As far as adventures in technology goes, RAM upgrades are like changing a diaper or your car's oil. It may not be intuitive or obvious, and can certainly seem daunting, but you can be walked through the whole process in about 2 or 3 steps. 

If you're an iPhone user, you're only holding onto your phone because A) it's still working fine for what you need and you probably don't use it enough to even notice the battery's gradual diminishing, B) you've upgraded and it's now a backup in case something goes wrong with your new one, or C) it's good enough as a hand-me-down or something to occupy a kid or other family member who only needs it for something specific. Speaking of specific needs for family members, check out Music and Memory if you've got a few old iPhones, iPods, or even iPads resting in drawers. 

In my admittedly limited experience with Apple's iPhone line, they're sort of like the original Star Trek or Batman films in that every other iteration seems to get things right. For example, the iPhone 2 was panned by critics for having a lackluster camera despite a high price tag (their Macbook Air had the same problem). Later, the iPhone 4 became a laughingstock because you literally couldn't hold it in your hands without interfering with its reception. The iPhone 6 gave us #bendgate, enough said. More recently, the iPhone 8... well, admittedly those swollen batteries were a rare occurrence possibly blown out of proportion, but they didn't address complaints about the headphone jack from the iPhone 7, so we'll count that as a missed opportunity. Jury's out on the X, though that facial recognition feature causes more problems than it ever solved. Not only can it be fooled by an embarrassingly crude mockup, but if you're under arrest, a cop can unlock your phone just by pointing it at you. It's a scary prospect. 

As for the odd-numbered lot, I can only really speak for the iPhone 5, which is damn near perfect. The most important feature was the variety of 5 models available. There was the standard 5 and the slightly nicer 5s, but then there was the 5c. Intended as an economy/budget-level device, I had a 5c and while it definitely felt like its price tag, it still felt way more solid than any similarly-priced Android phones, and the display alone ran circles around the competition. Later, after I'd finished having my laugh over the 6, I admit to getting genuinely excited for the iPhone 7. Sure, the headphone jack was nowhere to be seen, but they'd given us an awesome camera and finally, finally made it at least splash resistant. For comparison, my Xperia Z Ultra is about 3 years old and nearly every review you'll see from its launch has it getting dunked in a fish tank. It's a small gesture, but I'll take it. 

Building on the success of the 5, Apple made another smart move that may not quite fit the odd-numbered pattern, the SE. The phone has almost identical dimensions to the 5s, but with upgraded guts from the bendy 6. In terms of price, it's filling the same position as the 5c. Sadly, this is a model that's been listed as afflicted by the battery throttling. That said, I've had mine for a few months, and I haven't noticed it. Then again, I only have it as a backup for my Xperia, the same as my old 5c, which I'll be carting off to Music and Memory along with my old iPad Mini 3. I'm sure whoever gets them won't mind some less-than-stellar battery performance. 

27 December 2017

Even I Use MSPaint

I didn't have MSPaint growing up because mine was a Mac household. Plus, by the time I was drawing digitally, I had a wide array of apps to work with, but I've always had a respect for the use of a limited toolset in creating art. A professor of mine had a quote from Jean Cocteau on every syllabus of his, and I still love it. He said, "Film will only become an art when its materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper."
Similarly, I used to use a 3D modeling program called Strata Base. The company is still around, but the exact freeware program is long since retired. On its user gallery, someone commented on an image made with the software, "It's not the tools, it's the talent." I don't know of a concrete origin for that quote, but it's effectively saying the same thing as Cocteau
It shouldn't surprise anyone that many talented artists out there have done some incredible things with MSPaint, which in no small part helped keep it from the brink of extinction. Recently and thanks to Vox, I came upon an artist named Pat Hines, who shared some of his tips and tricks, including the use of gradients. Making gradients is actually easy, but it may not be obvious to users of more ample drawing applications. 
Zenbrush, my personal favorite drawing app despite the likes of Procreate and Autodesk Sketchbook residing on my tablets, has many similar qualities to MSPaint in terms of having a limited toolset, so this is a little bit of a handshake between these two gateways. 

18 December 2017

Sirens in the Old Mountain Town

Had a few entries kicking around in the drafts bin, but not really feeling it on most of them. Some are outdated, and others just turned into "out of my system" exercises that I was satisfied with once I had enough on screen. In any case, until I get those solidified, here's a new ambient soundscape to go along with a recent painting. 

01 December 2017

Twit Tweets About Tech

I call it "Addled Existentialism... With A Toolbar"
As much as I like to think of this site as a tech-blog, I also have to be realistic about a few matters. The most important of these is that I am not an early adopter, not as a rule. I'm of the opinion that nobody gets a product right on the first try. Unless you're resigned to buying the same product twice, it's best to wait until all the bugs are ironed out. Sure, I still have my first generation PSP, and while improvements were made since then, I still like mine, almost more than the Vita. The other matter of importance is that we've reached a point in product development, particularly on the software side of things, where this "extended beta" paradigm is not only acknowledged, but deserves to be nurtured. Yeah, day one patches are annoying, but at least they get patched to begin with. Yeah, it gives developers an easy out on the QA and deadline fronts, but it also opens them up to a wider spectrum of feedback they may not have had before. 

I was going to do a write-up of Fifty-Three's latest update to Paper, its native app meant to accompany their Pencil stylus. In the interest of full disclosure, I've been very impressed with the support I've received from Fifty-Three and I appreciate them going above and beyond the call of duty in resolving a small issue with connectivity I was having with a stylus I'd purchased over a year ago. I have genuinely used the Paper app in the workplace when discussing design challenges with coworkers. All that said, the Pencil is not my favorite stylus. It is the second, once tied with Adonit (who are now dead to me for reasons I'll get into another time), paling in comparison to the ever-versatile Sensu Brush. Obviously, that is not a fair comparison, but that's my point when I talk about the Paper app, and why I decided to take a different approach to discussing its recent overhaul. 

I am not the person this app was made for. 

Paper is not an art program. Their Twitter feed may have you believe otherwise, but this is not the primary, or even secondary, function of the app, talents of the users notwithstanding. Paper is a productivity app, and a very simplistic and accessible one to boot. It is Microsoft One Note for visual thinkers. It is Evernote for doodlers. It is Powerpoint/Keynote on the fly. It is Post-It Notes without the litter. It is a dry erase board without the noxious fumes and notable lack of portability, fume-induced out-of-body experiences notwithstanding. 

If apps were physical items you had to visit a brick-and-mortar store to purchase, Autodesk Sketchbook would be at Michael's and Paper would be at OfficeMax. However, apps are not physical items and there's generally only one store you get all of them from. Given that they're not physical items, some consumers view this as anti-them, taking away their precious ownership... that they didn't really have to begin with because that's a sales receipt and not a stock certificate. The point is that the law rightly treats digital media as physical ones as its ultimately a human (or team thereof) producing it on their own time and dime for others to use, but that doesn't mean they're used in the same manner, much less produced. If I bought a game on my Sega Genesis and it was a glitchy, slowdown-riddled mess that may have even had a level or two that were simply impossible compared to what came before, that was your lot. Now, 20-some years after the fact, the lead programmer for Sonic 3D Blast is revisiting his old game and updating it. It won't be available in physical form (yet), but any user with a PC running an even half-decent emulator will be able to play this game that once may have been charitably described as rough round the edges. While I only rented Blast back in the day, I'm honestly excited to see a game I thought was impressive get that extra little bit of polish it needed. Why throw something away when it can be fixed? 

After summarizing all this in a brief tweet, someone commented: 
Ok so I am not the only one. Did the same: 2 emails. I found huge productivity loss with Paper 4 due to regressions and bugs.
I'll give this guy the benefit of the doubt (i.e. anonymity) that he wasn't fully paying attention to the original tweet, namely the part where I specify that the gripes I have with Paper's 4th iteration are cosmetic. What may not have been so clear is that I consider these faults cosmetic because I was trying to view Paper as an art app rather than a productivity app. As for it being a productivity app, the blame-shifting here is hilarious. Sure, it utterly bites (bytes?) when a piece of tech essential to your job doesn't work, but holding up Paper on some kind of pedestal makes you look more than a little inept. There's a reason I still carry a Moleskine and a handful of pens in the same bag as my tablet. 

To put this in perspective, here's a funny-if-pitiful story about when I worked for T-Mobile in customer service. I once got a call from an especially irate customer who wanted 60,000USD. He wanted 60K from us as compensation because of a business deal that fell through. Said unspecified business deal fell through because a text message was delayed by an equally unspecified amount of time. I can't emphasize enough that his complaint was that the SMS text was delayed briefly. Unless you were an early adopter of the iPhone or you've never known a time when smartphones looked like the illegitimate offspring of a graphing calculator and a toy keyboard, you've probably experienced a text not showing up the instant the other guy hits send. 

What kind of business banks a five-figure deal on a text message? 

Seriously, you're either so financially secure and well-off that it's a risk you're as willing to take as you are to shrug off as small potatoes if it falls through, or you're so desperately incompetent you can't even make a call to confirm someone got your urgent, time-sensitive message on time. 

28 November 2017

18 November 2017

Incompatible Terracotta

First of all, super duper shout-out to Luke Phillips for his theremin app. 

I'd checked this out some time ago, but didn't start really putting it through its paces until a few weeks ago, getting a good sense of what soundscapes it can put together just using its own looping/overdubbing features. I decided to make a small project out of it due to it being criminally underrepresented on YouTube apart from Phillip's own demonstrations. Saying that, though, I didn't have a good setup for filming the actual composing/performing that I was happy with. I figured it would be more in line with the spirit of musique concrete to let the sounds speak for themselves.

This is a roughly 50% improvised composition using a theremin app on an Android device pumped through a bass effects pedal's ring modulator setting. It was all recorded in one go with no post-processing on a Zoom H2N. When I say 50% improvised I mean that I had criteria for what notes to use, what waveforms to use (only square and sine wave), what pedal settings to stick to, and what an acceptable overall length would be to convey (if only in an abstract sense) a suggestion of a narrative.

14 November 2017

A Full 280

Well, it finally happened. Twitter, my favorite social media site of all time, at long last has finally addressed the incessant whining over character limits and literally doubled their SMS-based 140 limit to 280. 
This comes after kicking around a few ideas such as a 10,000-character footnote, which ultimately got put into their Direct Messaging feature. In a way, this kind of came to be already with the way replies were restructured. It used to be when you messaged someone, it was simply (at)username followed by the message. There wasn't an especially good way to follow the dialogue, to say nothing of more voices jumping into the fray. As time went on, Twitter adopted a sort of nesting (ha) format that no longer required the username to take up part of the message. Now, not only could you follow the conversation, but you could expand your own monologue as needed into bite-sized 140-character chunks. Other niceties include the shortening of URLs, the embedding of certain shared content such as photos and videos, and account authentication for other sites. Taken as a whole, the Twitter of yesteryear, when T9 was the new hotness and smartphones looked like glorified graphing calculators, is completely unrecognizable against today. Twitter bears a stronger resemblance to Facebook than its old self, which is somewhat ironic given that Twitter essentially took the status update part of Facebook's layout and said, "This is our entire site."

My point is that while many may see this move to 280 characters as a drastic paradigm shift, it actually isn't when compared to the bigger picture. I still have my reservations about it, but it's not simply because I fear change. Saying that 280 characters goes against the simplicity of Twitter would require me to throw reply threading out the same window. I have problems with that change as well, but from Twitter's perspective, it only makes sense for them to try to be all-encompassing rather than a companion site to one's YouTube or Wordpress or what-have-you. The more versatile your site can be, the longer people will stay. 

Speaking of having more to write...

November always puts me in the mood for writing, which more than likely started with learning about NaNoWriMo from a friend. I've written many an entry about how I've never formally participated, but always admired the spirit of the event. Like Inktober, it's got less to do with the results and more to do with the process and the learning experience it entails. Even if I don't go along with the requisite 6,000-ish words per day to reach the full length goal, I typically have some sort of small-scale writing project in the works. I don't really have anything for this year, apart from some old scraps I haven't touched in some time. I don't feel like picking any of them up, but I also feel rather burned out on drawing from Inktober apart from a few daily doodles and warm-ups. 

Still, between NaNoWriMo and Twitter's new 280 happening within earshot of each other (Coincidence? Probably.) I'd be curious to see more examples of Twitter fiction. While we've had some solid examples from Clare Bell and Matt Stewart, along with some quasi-epistolary works that even take a more multimedia-embellished approach to narrative, I feel there's still a lot of untapped potential to be had on the platform. While I may not partake in the newfound potential of this particular medium's quiet expansion, I'd be curious to see what others make of it, what examples they may set, how much they'll invest in the execution, and what potential it may hold for them in regards to future works. 

24 October 2017

Friendly, But Not Your Friend

I remembered something today after a run-in on Twitter with an alleged "businessman" who "pays well AF" and flip-flops on what constitutes professionalism when it comes to joking about suicide. The short version of the story is not laughing at his jokes about telling people who ask if a job is a paid gig or not to go jump off a bridge embodies a lack of professionalism. It was a very roundabout way of saying, "That's how it is here." He backpedaled when called on it, of course, playing the "LOL JK" card and even virtue signaling about what a generally good guy he is and how he wouldn't really say what he just said even though he did--blah, blah, blah. You may not be slime, but more than likely you're surrounded by yes-men (yes-persons?) who go along with your bullshit because you control the money, which can make you just as bad. 
As we've found out more and more, especially now with the Harvey Weinstein controversy, among many similar sexual harassment scandals coming out over the last few years, there's an undeniable problem with people in power using that power to solicit sexual favors under the threat of blacklisting. 
The story I'm about to tell is not one of those stories, at least from my perspective, but I have a feeling this person may well become the source of too many "#MeToo" stories. I should point out my memory of this has gone semi-fuzzy, but I promise I'm not exaggerating any major details. If anything, I'm being nice and could well be dialing back how gross the whole encounter was. 

Many (read: not enough) years ago, I worked in customer service for a mobile carrier. If you've had mobile service, you likely know that if you stay with a certain company for a fairly long time, pay your bills on time, and generally be unremarkable, you get various deals and discounts on handsets and plans. In general these deals aren't anything special and you're most likely getting the same sort of discounts as you would if you were a brand new customer. There's exceptions, especially if there's been some massive faux pas on our part like erroneous charges or poor support, but as a rule, if all's been good for two years, you get a new phone. Don't like your plan? We've probably got a better one by now. You get the idea.
One day I got a call from a woman who wanted in on this, noting that she'd been with us for many years and was, by her measure, a good customer. This was generally true, so I asked if she was looking to upgrade or change her plan to something new. She got a bit frustrated and stuttered to find her words before belting out something along the lines of, "Do something for me." Essentially, she was trying very hard not to say she wanted something for nothing. She was expecting a free month or a phone without having to renew a contract... it was very awkward and there wasn't that much we could do for her that we wouldn't give to anyone else. She wanted special treatment for being unremarkable. Annoying, yes, but funny to look back on. I bring this up to give you a kind of contrast to a similar yet far more crass call I got sometime later from someone in the same standing. 
This guy comes on the line, gives me his info while I go over his account, and I ask him what we can do for him. Like the lady from before, he knows he's been with us a while and wants... something for it, but he wants us to make the offer so he has a better bargaining position. Again, funny if annoying. Like the other call, he's not being very specific about what offers he's interested in, and mentioning new plans and devices is not impressing him. He gets very annoyed, like I've insulted him by having the nerve to offer the same deals we give to anybody else who's been with us that long. That's when he says this: 

"I've dropped my pants and I'm telling you to please me." 

Okay, obviously, he doesn't mean this literally (hard to do over a phone, anyway) and I might have given him the benefit of the doubt that he's only even making this remark because I'm a guy, that if he'd been connected to a woman, it'd be a different story... but given what followed, I'm not sure. As you may expect, this comment caught me totally off-guard, and I didn't even know what to say for a few moments. At first, I wasn't sure if I heard him right, so while I'm scrolling through our handbook on what exactly does and doesn't constitute harassment, I ask, "Say that again, please?" 
If you've ever worked in a call center worth its salt before, you know most of them are pretty good about jumping on harassment of operators. Venting and joking around with callers is obviously fine so long as they're the ones starting it, but there are limits and it's often better to err on the side of caution. It's very easy for some off-color slip of the tongue to gradually become something worse. We're friendly, but not your friends, if that makes sense. I'm no prude, and what he had to say didn't necessarily offend me on a personal level, and I could well have ignored it, taken it as simply a crude metaphor, and carried on with the call. However, part of me figured that if I ignored this, what else would I be ignoring? What else would slip through? I've taken thousands of calls, and no one ever pulled a Willum Jeffy Clinton during the exchange. This was definitely breaking policy. If I give someone the impression this is okay, the mess is going to roll downhill and I make things worse for someone down the line. Still, maybe he slipped up, or was trying to "feel the crowd" as comedians say, getting an idea for what would or wouldn't get under my skin. 

He repeated exactly what he said, along with a, "You heard me!" in front of it. 

Okay, now it's on like Donkey Kong. I'm angry now. He's doubling down. I'm writing down what he's said in my notes while reciting the harassment script before giving my manager a buzz. Of course, the caller interrupts and acts like he's done nothing wrong. I told him what he said is not appropriate for how we run and operate our service and we will not tolerate such beha--And this is the part where he brags about how he runs his own business and that this is not a big deal. He says he talks like this all the time when doing business. 

With a deliberate air of, 'Oh, well, please, by all means, enlighten me about a normal day at the office for you,' I probe, "Really? This is how business deals go for you? You talk to your employees this way?"

Now, I have kind of a high voice normally. It can be fairly androgynous if I'm not paying attention to it instead of using my "public speaking/phone voice" and in my "Oh, really?" moment, I may have let it slip. I think between that and my mentioning his employees, it sounded like I caught him off-guard, like he may have mistaken me for a dude when really I wasn't. I can't do justice the attempts he made to try and string enough words together to rationalize what he not only said, but swears he says all the time to everyone else in a professional context. 
Going back to what I said about joking around with customers, an operator can play pretty fast and loose with the decency policy, but a manager is no-nonsense. At first, he almost rolled his eyes like, "Ugh, what now?" before leaning it to read my notes. I could tell when he got to the pants-dropping because his eyes went wide, removing all doubt that this was when you put your foot down. 
Next thing I know, I'm getting gently shoved aside and taken off the call. Not really hearing the rest of it, I don't know if the call simply ended, if his account got flagged or not, but needless to say he wasn't getting any deals that day. My boss came over to me later to ask if I was all right, if I needed a few minutes. I told him I was more surprised than anything and thought of just ignoring it. He assured me I did the right thing, that while this was hardly the worst situation he'd come across (Hell, I could have told him that), as he put it, "If that's how the call starts, who knows how it's going to end." 

What I had dismissed as bravado, locker room lingo, bar swagger, what have you, it turns out may well be hiding something sinister, a quiet corruption. It's not that these things get said or that this way of thinking in and of itself is especially heinous, but the notion that they are defended, even upheld as an essential part of the environment, as if taking it away will somehow negatively affect your business or prohibit you from being the kind of businessman you've built yourself up to be. 

I'll just say it: that's fucking pathetic. 

Like I said, this isn't a #metoo story, but the more I reflect on what this douchebag not only said, but doubled-down on and defended it sans irony, the more I wonder if he's caused some truly awful #metoo stories. 

Goodnight, and good luck. 

12 October 2017

Shattered: An Inktober Comic

This is not my proper "Shattered" submission for Inktober. It's pure coincidence this exchange on Twitter happened the day prior. This is a taller version of the comic, which was originally 2x2. The square is fine for Instagram, DeviantART, and even Twitter, but here and on my Wordpress it's less than ideal. 

05 October 2017

No True Inker (An Inktober Meditation)

2017's Inktober is closing in on its first week and despite a few technical annoyances, it's gone far smoother than anticipated. Like last year, I've been posting the finished results (and the rough sketch made on the Iskn Slate) to my Instagram, where they're immediately shared to my Facebook and Twitter. They're also being mirrored on a special Pinterest board (sans sketches) and sometimes an alternate or discarded version of a piece will be posted to DeviantART. At the end of the month, I may also post them all to my Artstation, possibly Behance as well. 

Exactly one year ago to this day, I wrote about how Inktober was as valid as any other holiday (possibly more so). I wholeheartedly stand by that and even found a few people saying the same on their own journals and social sites. Unfortunately, with this newfound solidarity comes an inevitable gaggle of snobs and purists out to ruin it for everyone, if only passive-aggressively. If anyone's ever given you a hard time about something you DIDN'T do for a holiday, you have an idea of where this is going. 
It's a mild grievance, and though it could have turned into a full argument, I decided to back off and carry on, bearing no ill will against the other person and continuing to follow their work. Besides, they have an unfortunate pairing of personality traits where they've got a very dry sense of humor but are more than a tad inept on the delivery front, so it may well entirely be a misunderstanding. I only bring it up because while that person may have had their tongue firmly-yet-obscurely in cheek, there does seem to be a bit of a fervor over whether or not participants are having a "TEH-RUE!" Inktober experience.

The teal-furred buck of the situation is, unless someone is simply posting duckface selfies with the Inktober hashtags or something equally unrelated plugging up search results (read: trolling), I'm not going to get all flustered about it, and you shouldn't either. If you're pumping out 31 drawings in 31 days from the 1st of October through the 31st, you are doing Inktober. Everything else is merely how much of a challenge you want to make it for yourself. 

This year, it seems for whatever reason there's been some thundering from atop Olympus in the form of a social media post* from Jake Parker admonishing people who don't toe the line on the "TOWOOO!" spirit of Inktober. Brad Colbow has a video showing this post and his reaction more or less mirrors mine. 

With all due respect to Mr. Parker, he may have started Inktober, but apart from due credit as coiner of the term and a snappy logo design, he doesn't own it. It exists with or without him. There's no application process and despite a few would-be pedants insisting otherwise, the original rules are fairly vague and open, with very few stipulations that could be seen as dictatorial. As for the author of that "bad habits" post, I have to ask: What if you're already a traditional artist and therefore don't technically have those bad habits this event is, according to you, meant to cure? Is the "TREW!" Inktober experience exclusively digital artists trading their screens and styluses for pen and paper? Even with the "full experience" statement at the end, this likely isn't meant to be any sort of heavy-handed decree, but it does put up a wall where one is not welcome. Is Danica Sills, for example, not doing it right because she uses watercolors and follows a different prompt list than others? If you watch her videos, and you should because they're awesome, she is not shy about sharing her various stumbles and hurdles brought on by the project and the changes in her focus and habits it brings up. Going back to Brad Colbow, the part he was gearing up for most about Inktober was the schedule, the daily deadline, something he typically doesn't have to deal with to that degree in his line of work. Why are the "digital artists who overuse Ctrl+z" the only people for whom Inktober has meaning? 

That's the key matter to bear in mind if you're going to pursue this: what does it mean to you? 

For me, I view it in much the same way as NaNoWriMo. The next great work of modern literature is not going to be born of someone hammering out a 50,000 word manuscript in 30 days. Prove me wrong, please, but we need to be realistic about this. What's the point, then, some would ask? I say to the same two words to those people for that event as I do for this current one: WORK ETHIC. Sticking to a set schedule with structured deadlines, along with the accountability of sharing your work in public, is going to work wonders for you. 

If you need a little more guidance than that, here's a free caveat: get out of your comfort zone. If you're typically a digital artist, why not try ink and paper? If you're typically a traditional artist, maybe now's a good time to dive in to digital and see what, if anything, you've been missing? If you're only a mere margin-doodler, why not take on a big project to see how far your creativity goes? If you've never livestreamed yourself drawing via Twitch or Picarto before, why not give your fans something to tune in to? 

Here's one more pearl of wisdom if you're feeling a little anxious about it thus far. As much as I don't agree with the "Boot Camp For Spoiled Digital Artists Only" sentiment, I will give it its due credit. Being able to infinitely undo your work can have a negative effect on your productivity, especially if you're already a total perfectionist. That said, even if you're doing Inktober digitally, you can't hit Ctrl+z forever. Hell, even if you're working traditionally, ink is cheap and paper is cheaper. If you've got 5 drawings done, and you're struggling with number 6, you've got 25 more ahead of you. That's not meant to intimidate you, that should give you relief. On the off-chance it doesn't, here's another number: 3.26%. That's 1 drawing out of 31 as a percentage. That is peanuts. 

A wise man once said, "We all have 10,000 bad drawings in us. The sooner we get them out the better."
Speaking of being better, this has been a tough week for me on a personal level. I won't bother going into details because it's pretty first-world stuff on the whole and, in light of the recent tragedy on the Las Vegas strip, there's other goings-on in the world that deserve your attention, sympathy, and action more. Still, it's been a progressively crummy week with the first signs of "bad to worse" hitting home early yesterday. As of right now, apart from my morning coffee to keep me from falling asleep at my desk, I haven't eaten since yesterday morning. Obviously, this is not a good thing to do and I need to fix that as soon as possible. I still feel it's worth noting that my old go-to treatment for depression started working again. Yesterday, all I wanted to do was go home and try not to think about how much better a place the world might be if I wasn't in it. 

I drew this instead: 
and then I decided to give myself a buffer and made this one:
When I was done, I felt better. It was a legitimate escape from what I didn't want to think about, and I didn't go back to it when I was done. Yeah, the drawings suck, but that was never the point. It may be silly to say, "Inktober kept me going." but making art makes me happy. There came a time when it wasn't enough, so I tried something else. That worked for a time, mostly still does, and now this is helping all over again. It may not be the case for you, but it can be such for others. Once upon a time, I would have hated the very idea of something like Inktober, because it would turn my ersatz therapy into a detestable tedium, and that's the last thing I would have wanted. My process was too precious to me to muck it up with deadlines or themes or other sorts of rules. I was treating creativity like a fragile blossom, and what I've learned since then is that while you can't force creativity, you cannot be afraid to push yourself a bit. You don't actually know how far your comfort zone reaches until you try to go outside of it. 

If you've been hesitant and want to try it, it's not too late. Sure, you've got a little catching up to do, but no one's going to give you grief for, say, 25 drawings in 25 days, or 15 drawings in 15 days.... 

*Edit 7th October: when this entry first went live, I was unaware the post in question was from Jake Parker; I was under the impression it was a comment on a post of his and the various screencaps didn't show a username, so I assumed it was someone else, with other similar comments from Parker adding to the drama. While this doesn't change anything I've said, it is worth noting because, at the risk of calling Jake Parker an elitist snob or even a full-fledged hypocritical liar or something along those lines, this is what his website looks like:
Conflict of Interest, much?
There's also a number of items in the art supplies list specifically for the task of undoing mistakes... in traditional media. Again, this isn't trying to hate on the man; I'm willing to chalk this up to a poor choice of words. If I were more paranoid, I'd say he was getting some pressure from one of his sponsors because their traditional art supplies weren't selling as well as they maybe would have wanted. The point is there's a difference between encouraging people to challenge themselves, get out of their comfort zones, and drawing a line in the sand. 

Special thanks to YouTuber Baylee Jae for the clarification. 

25 September 2017

The Perfect Solution

How to Save The Coal Industry From Itself
and Deal With Flat-Earthers in Education. 

Apparently, some people still look to athletes as role models in this day and age over rescue workers, engineers, doctors, and scientists. Teachers find themselves arguing with students over the shape of the earth because Kyrie Irving wasted his Duke University education. If he played football, we could simply blame the CTE and carry on with our lives. 
Also apparent according to a few authority figures is that our coal industry is in serious need of revitalization despite the fact that doing so at this point in time would only stimulate the economy by a factor of one-one-hundredth of a percent and make even less of a dent in the unemployment situation.

Here's how to solve both problems.  

Gather all students who believe the earth is flat, tell them that the robots have taken all the jobs they ever would have been qualified for, and cart them off to the coal mines. If they ask questions, just mention reptoids and flouride in whatever impromptu narrative structure comes to mind and make sure the last word is Skynet. Failing that, tell them that robots also want the coal mining jobs and they'll be in too much of a frenzy to see the plotholes. 
Put them through a basic outdoor survival seminar on site, making doubly sure they know how to make tents and boil water at the bare minimum. Finally, promise each of them a dollar for every metric tonne of coal that gets brought out. If they ask about minimum wage, health plans, or any sort of benefits, simply make chicken noises at them while challenging their maturity and dropping the term "snowflake" at least once. Arm-flapping is optional, but encouraged for the benefit of visual learning. 

Now walk away. 

If you're at all concerned about matters of conscience, rest assured that the part about robots taking all the jobs they would ever be qualified for is completely and totally true. If further doubts arise, ask yourself this question: Exactly what tasks would you trust people who fall for this plan to do, much less people who believe the earth is flat? 

Funding is simple. Take the total number of participants, work out what they would earn in their lifetimes from social security, and deduct one-third of that from social security. Like this new workforce, it will not be missed. 

10 September 2017

Distro Fever

Thingiverse has recently been beset by some "enterprising" individuals and small groups who think spamming forums at best tangentially related to what they have to offer is a legitimate form of advertising in this day and age. Thingiverse is owned by Makerbot, in turn owned by Stratasys. It acts as a file repository for digital files created by its community for purposes of 3D printing, CNC, Laser-cutting, and many other forms of computer-aided manufacturing and rapid prototyping. There is no advertising on the site. 

Without getting into a long, drawn-out retrospective of what Linux is, one of the great aspects of Linus Torvalds' original source code is that it can be customized to whatever extent computer engineering allows. As a result of this, there are hundreds, if not thousands of individual "flavors" of Linux, with Android being the most widespread. The trouble this paradigm presents, however, is one of saturation. Operating Systems are vast technical undertakings, and barring anything simpler than a graphing calculator, they're not handled by small groups on their downtime. Debian, for example, is the culmination of thousands of hobbyists working piecemeal over many decades. The point is that while everyone starts somewhere, "humble beginnings" aren't as endearing a selling point as they once were when there were maybe a dozen computer manufacturers worldwide with virtually none of them having any interest in the consumer market. 

Okay, first big red flag. Never, ever, ever trust anyone who uses "Good day" as a greeting. I know it's more of a language barrier thing than anything else, but I've seen too many e-mail and telemarketing scams that use this slightly-broken English to ignore it. As a rule, "Good day" is a parting phrase, especially if you're Willy Wonka and/or you really want to stick it to somebody. Call it a pet peeve, but couple this with the fact this exact same message was posted in at least 8 different interest groups, and matters start looking more than a little shady, and we're only at the first line. 

What follows is a standard laundry list of claims. While many well-known Linux or other cross-platform applications such as OpenSCAD, FreeCAD, Blender, and Inkscape are as free of charge as they are easily available, certain flavors of Linux like to separate themselves from the endless cacophony by offering included bundles of programs. It's more a stamp of approval than anything meant to be convenient. By having a program preinstalled, you're showing that it's passed your various benchmarks and is guaranteed to work, whereas some Linux flavors may not play nice with others for the sake of favoring a different suite of programs. Again, there's nothing wrong with that (though some argue whether or not it violates the various open source licenses some programs are made under, but those cases are few and far between) and it's honestly very convenient, no more guesswork for one's workflow. 

Then there's this part about giving out free goods and services:

Along with the "Good Day" greeting and the faux pas that is forum spam, another red flag is unqualified promises. Something I used to see on Yahoo! Answers all the time was someone asking a fairly vague question about Risc Management or Viral Marketing or whatever, all wrapped up with the promise, "Help me out and I'll give you anything you want."

Yes, yes, I know they're just a phishing operation trying to get my e-mail and can't REALLY get me anything I want, but that's precisely my point. These InventOS yahoos answering the prayers of designers and makers are making the same vague, unqualified offer that a con artist does. If your product, an operating system, is still in the alpha stage as you say, are you sure you've got the resources to back up this 
Let's start with the elephant in the room concerning the economics of this claim. Yes, everybody starts somewhere, and of course you often have to spend money in order to make money, but there's a fine line between a free sample and a free ride, to say nothing of not being able to spell freeloader without free... and load. 
While the technology behind 3D printing is nothing new, with roots going back to the early 1970s, this recent wave of "Open Source Prosumerism" that started with the original Makerbot Kickstarter campaign and the explosive popularity of the Arduino microcontroller is still fairly young. We've had a lot of promising startups rise as quickly as they fall. Many a career has been made and ruined on the power of a few calculated risks. Still, a broad range of events across the board plus a little common sense have given this particular subculture of designers/inventors/makers/artisans/what-have-you a better perspective on how to market themselves. 

Your skills have a value, even if the only cost is your time. 

Offering a service of value for free drives down that value for everyone else in that profession. It's kind of ironic that the open source nature of the software you're using to make your OS (which comes prepackaged with applications other people have made) has seemingly driven you to offer physical printing services and design consultation for free. 

As of this writing, they have no responded, and I rather doubt they will. 

Actually, they're not offering everything for free (they're just asking for volunteers to help them back up their claims). I don't personally know of any Linux distribution that makes use of Patreon, but it's not necessarily a red flag. Ubuntu has a similar business model, offering its software for free but asking fees for technical support. Google doesn't offer Android as a standalone download, instead licensing it to hardware manufacturers with part of the sales helping support further developments. So, technical support and customer service has a dollar value, but a physical print of a design someone has volunteered to me is free, so long as...? 

So, is InventOS a scam? Probably not, but they sure act like it. Between the broad, sweeping claims, sketchy "marketing" efforts, too-good-to-be-true promises of free lunches, and wait-and-see attitude towards valid questions of their business model, it's certainly hard to tell their message apart from the many offers from Nigerian diplomats trapped aboard the ISS who need me to buy them 1,000 spark plugs with unsigned checks they'll mail me before getting sent off to out of state PO boxes. More likely is that they're simply inept. 

By the way, here's what their community forums look like as of today:

05 September 2017

Patent-ial Turnarounds

In August of this year, Gamevice brought suit against Nintendo for the Switch console, alleging it infringes on their patent for the Wikipad, an Android-based gaming tablet released in 2013. Although the suit was brought to light in August, it's possible Gamevice began filing suits earlier, as the Switch was released in March 2017 with marketing beginning several months before. 

Patent suits are nothing new in the tech world, certainly not in the gaming industry, and definitely not Nintendo's first rodeo on this front. What makes this suit different, or at least what seems to be getting it more attention than other suits is Gamevice's exact demands as far as restitution. Not only is the company seeking damages, but moving to have sales of the Switch halted altogether. Similar suits have led to the Classic Controller being discontinued and at least two other suits have sought to halt Wii sales in the United States. Nintendo was able to defend itself against some of these suits while settling with others. 

After customer complaints of Nintendo underselling its NES Classic mini-console, its fluctuating Amiibo line, and similar grumblings of Switch console availability, it simply seems Nintendo fans can't catch a break when it comes to putting Nintendo hardware on their shelves. Overall it seems unlikely Gamevice will get its way and have the Switch stopped dead in its tracks, that part of their case most likely being a bargaining chip of sorts, something they can give up later as a gesture of good faith towards a more reasonable settlement (a bluff). 

As of this writing, there's no real word on how much of a bluff said bluff actually is. For the sake of putting to rest any possible fears people may have of not being able to get a Switch, I'd like to offer a glimpse into a possible future, based on nothing more than informed speculation. Here's the informed part: 

Let's face some cold hard facts about the Nintendo 3DS... the 3D gimmick was awful. It's practically Virtual Boy levels of awful. I know some people never had an issue with the 3D, but I did, and I know I'm not alone. I couldn't look at that thing for more than 30 seconds before my brain desperately tried to make a break for it through my nose. Between that and my Playstation Vita, I had little to no interest in what Nintendo's clamshell had to offer (also I'm not a big fan of the clamshell design). I did eventually get a DSi XL secondhand mostly for the sake of playing a handful of games I was interested in that weren't for the 3DS. I did, however, get a 2DS for my roommate. Apart from the screen being kinda small compared to the various XL models of DSi and 3DS, it pretty much fixed every issue I had with the 3DS. I think it was a good move on Nintendo's part to offer more options to their customers. It's easy to fall into the old Sega trap of too much hardware, but on the other end of the spectrum, I think Nintendo is more often than not far too stingy with hardware. Their so-called Wii "mini" was almost an insulting joke of a console, ironically being slightly bigger on some dimensions than the Wii proper, and with overall fewer capabilities like a lack of an SD card slot (so no WiiWare or Virtual Console games). 
More recently, Nintendo has made a 2DS XL, finally giving the bigger screen the previous lacked, though going back to the clamshell design of the past. At this point, I'm okay with that. The price the 3D brought with it, along with the Amiibo feature that was equally uninteresting to me, were my biggest gripes against getting a 3DS

It turns out there's actually a reason for this new handheld's existence, and it has to do with a patent lawsuit. 

A Sony employee brought suit against Nintendo for a patent infringement involving a "glasses free" 3D effect for displays. The suit was settled out of court and while Nintendo does still produce the 3DS XL, the 2DS and new 2DS XL don't violate the original agreement. It's funny to imagine the various higher-ups at Nintendo looking over all the legal paperwork from Sony over the 3D, looking up at each other, one saying, "You know, the 3D really is kinda dumb." with another adding, "Why don't we just make a DS that doesn't do 3D?" and everyone nodding in uncontested agreement before going off to lunch. 

Now comes the speculation. I don't have a Switch, and I haven't talked to many people who do. Earlier, I honestly praised Nintendo for turning their next-gen console, their Wii-U successor, into a handheld. It's frankly genius to leave the console market behind and instead double-down on handhelds, which have always been Nintendo's more lucrative endeavors, going all the way back to the Game & Watch. If the Gamevice suit is really over the detachable controllers, would it really hurt Nintendo to just pull a 2DS move? Are any Switch owners out there playing their games and thinking, "Man, this wouldn't be worth it if I didn't have these tiny little sticks of controllers I could slide off!"? After all, if the side controllers are too small or uncomfortable, more traditional controllers can be linked to it for multiplayer. 
Imagine a Switch that keeps the dual analog sticks and buttons exactly where they are, but doesn't let you detach them. Suppose multiplayer were only minutely inconvenienced by requiring additional controllers or (in rare cases) another system to play through a link like every handheld before then can do. I mean, I'm no product designer and I certainly have no concept of what goes into developing a handheld, but how much R&D could truly go into effectively making a souped up original 2DS? One slab, buttons on the side, all framing a big, beautiful screen. It would basically be a Vita done right (and I'm saying that as someone who likes the Vita wholeheartedly). 

This is where I'd have an image of some hastily-rendered mockup made in TinkerCAD or SketchUp or Blender or something, but as I said, I'm not a product designer, and I'd rather open it up to see what others might come up with given these criteria. Remember, Gamevice's beef isn't with having buttons on the side of a screen; Nintendo's Game & Watch beat their Wikipad to that decades ago. All we need is a system with all the Switch's insides, but with an interface that doesn't have detachable controllers. 

Before writing this, I'd tossed around the idea of Nintendo making an entirely new console, but making it backwards compatible with Switch games. The more I thought about it, the less likely Nintendo would go that route. I simply hope they don't outright abandon the Switch the way they abandoned the Wii-U so hastily. 

Of course, my ideal Nintendo would be one that foregoes hardware in favor of simply working with the platforms that are available. Hardware is ultimately a failure mechanism for games, as Moore's Law puts developers and publishers in a position of making the most of what's available to them while preparing for the future. As much as I don't like the idea of endless ports, re-releases, and remakes overshadowing new and original IPs, I absolutely hate the idea of a game being bound to hardware that's likely going to fall apart with time regardless of how meticulously I maintain it. I do not care how I get my games anymore. As long as developers are getting paid for their work and are able to carry on making more games, I do not care about the means of conveyance for their properties. 

Goodnight, and game on. 

03 September 2017

The Last Guardians of the Orville's Trek (OUTDATED)

Douglas Adams spent virtually his whole life trying to push science fiction comedy into the mainstream. Drawing primarily on the absurdist works of Kurt Vonnegut and Stanislaw Lem, Adams took the edge off such hard satire and social commentary for something seemingly more light-hearted and overall softer in tone. That's not to say he was unsophisticated or less compelling or somehow tarnished those who pointed out the shortcomings of the human condition within the scope of speculative fiction. He still had the same borderline misanthropic, cynical DNA of Pirx the Pilot or Player Piano, but added a distinctly English flavor of self-deprecation one might call Happy-Go-Lucky or even Quixotic. 

When he worked on Doctor Who, future writer Steven Moffat said of his tenure that his contributions were worthless, that his humor and comic sensibility were of such esoteric genius replicating it would be impossible. 

Sadly, I don't think he's wrong. Science fiction and comedy is a delicate balance that you're either going to get very right or very wrong, and what few times you get it right are usually going to get a tad samey after some time. It's the very definition of niche, with the appeal leaning rather heavily on novelty and rarity. Historically, the most successful examples of Sci-Fi-Com apart from Adams' own Hitchhiker series have been Men in Black and Red Dwarf. In fact, MIB is partially responsible for kickstarting many more lucrative talks about getting Hitchhiker made into a feature film. Previous attempts were frequently stalled at the pitch level with many a stuffy executive insisting that science fiction and comedy didn't mix, that if they did someone would have succeeded at it by then. Along comes MIB, and suddenly sci-fi can be funny after all, laughing all the way to the bank. 

As a die-hard Hitchhiker fan, hardcore Smeghead, longtime Whovian, and whatever MIB fans are called, as well as a fan of Stansilaw Lem (haven't gotten to Vonnegut yet), you'd think I'd be really cool with the success of light-hearted humorous sci-fi options like Guardians of the Galaxy. However, as much as I like Guardians, certainly Guardians 2, I think I may well have reached my point of saturation. Even while watching Volume 2, I began letting out audible groans at the many recurring instances of what, if I had to coin a term, I'd call Deflated Melodrama. It starts with someone saying a line that's very melodramatic, almost Shakespearean, and the next line is a shrugging dismissal. In The Long Dark Tea Time of The Soul, quite possibly my favorite Adams book, certainly that's not part of the Hitchhiker cycle, the God of Thunder Thor himself declares in a loud booming voice that he shall meet his father Odin in the Halls of Valhalla, to which a minor character asks, "Again?" Put simply, this is the dead horse that Guardians 2 kicks into the ground for two hours. It was funny the first time because it came out of nowhere and was repeated maybe only one other time in the remainder of the book. I stopped counting how many times Marvel's manic merry misfits made their mark on this martyred muse of a mare. 

Seth MacFarlane's new show The Orville is coming to FOX, an absurdist parody of Star Trek that looks and feels to be one part Red Dwarf and one part Galaxy Quest. For the record, I liked Galaxy Quest. It came out in 1999, a full year after Star Trek: Insurrection made it pretty clear that First Contact was bottled lightning and the Star Trek franchise as a whole was beginning to fade from favor with even its most ardent fans. It essentially said what we were all thinking at the time. I bring it up because I can't help but feel like the same thing is happening with The Orville

Although the J. J. Abrams/Bad Robot reboot of Star Trek has been successful, it hasn't been successful enough for Paramount to reinstate it as the company's crown jewel. For my viewing pleasure, I think the series is just fine, each film getting incrementally better than the last, especially with Beyond. Hell, I wish Beyond had been the first, instead of faffing about establishing the canon with Number One (pun intended) and giving fans a pandering tribute they never asked for with Into Darkness. As such, there's considerable debate as to whether or not there will be a fourth film, whether or not that will be the final chapter in the Abrams timeline, and if the cast wants to commit to that many future installments. 

Then there's the TV show... the one that's been cancelled now. I've never seen a grander, hotter mess than this spectacle of entertainment-by-committee versus social media outrage culture. A wise man once described the Falklands War as two bald men fighting over a comb, and I don't feel like that's too far off from what's happened now. No one wanted the show that Paramount wanted to sell, but no one necessarily agreed with the Social Justice Warrior outcries. Sure, setting the series in line with the original (Enterprise, Classic, Next Generation, DS9, Voyager....) would have been as welcomed as a female, non-white captain (staying faithful to Gene Roddenberry's super-centrist, egalitarian ideologues), but not only was the proprietary streaming service eye-rolling, the last-minute ground-up overhaul of everything from the setting to the ship and alien designs to the cast being more, er, "washed out" reeked of the studio playing it safe in the laziest possible manner known to them, which ironically is what causes franchises like this to stifle in the first place and lose footing to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. Social media mobs may have had good points about racism and sexism dominating mainstream entertainment, if only passive-aggressively, but I don't share their basis for that point of view. That is, I didn't care what race or gender the captain and crew were, I cared about having something different that still paid tribute to the original. A safe bet to Paramount, systemic racism to others, and lazy repetition to me. Yeah, Picard is probably my favorite captain out of Archer, Kirk, Sisko, and Janeway, but I don't want him to be the gold standard against which all other candidates are judged. It's like all the actors who have played the Doctor; I like Tom Baker, but I like the others as well and all for different reasons (even Matt Smith and Colin Baker). The last thing I ever want to say about a Doctor is how much like (insert any other Doctor here) they are. It's the same for Star Trek. I want different starship captains to captain their ships among the stars differently. Challenge my expectations, for pity's sake (feel free to make your own joke about spaceships and the word "Challenge" if you want some sort of parallelism like the sentence about captains... I don't feel like pushing that boundary just yet). Maybe I won't like the new direction, but I don't want someone else missing out on what they make like for the sake of my placation. 

YouTuber Armoured Skeptic can explain all of what happened with Star Trek Discovery better than I can:

So, here we are. A Star Trek series has been cancelled, but a Galaxy Quest-like parody is getting the greenlight. Will I watch it? I don't know, probably not. It looks well-made and I don't doubt it will be funny, but barring any exceeding of expectations within the first few episodes, I don't see myself staying invested. Even then, nothing really makes me want to check it out in the first place. It's offering to scratch an itch I don't have. Instead, I think maybe I'll fill up my Kindle with some Vonnegut, and finish Pirx the Pilot. I also realize I've never actually read the first Dirk Gently book, and I'm rather mad at myself for that. 
You know that guy who really likes (insert band from 1960-1985 here) and says all current music is bullcrap? If I end up becoming as much for science fiction comedy, swearing that it all never got much better than Red Dwarf before returning to my reading of The Cyberiad... I'm completely and totally okay with that. 

UPDATE: I guess it's not cancelled, after all. (shrugs before returning to reading Memoirs Found In A Bathtub)