Tuesday night update

Two nights in a row, up for getting some grad school stuff done, and two nights in a row no assignment posted. Good problem to have I guess.

What I’m writing
Took advantage of my night off from school to write my review for tomorrow’s G.I. Joe #10. It’s the fourth part of the Cobra Command storyline, which so far has been excellent. This week’s issue is no exception. I’m having fun with these reviews.

What I’m reading
I’m really looking forward to Invincible #88 tomorrow. I was reading #87 on my iPad while I was having lunch out in town, and I giggled audibly at the final-page cliffhanger. I cannot wait to see what Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley do with this.

Also on tap for tomorrow – Animal Man #6 and Action Comics #6. Animal Man is my second-favorite of DC’s New 52 books (behind only the new Batman book, which is just fabulous), and I’m pumped to read the next installment tomorrow. The art is spectacular, and the story is so bat-shit crazy that I can’t help but love it. The way they’re developing the main character’s daughter is just fantastic. About the only thing I don’t like about the direction things are going now is this forced crossover they seem to be pushing with Swamp Thing (the first issue of which I liked quite a bit, but I didn’t keep the series because something had to go), which I’m hoping doesn’t lead to one of the worst things about comics, the whole “buy this other series to get the whole story” trick. I know the characters all exist in the same corner of DC’s New 52 universe, but I’d really prefer if this stuck to the formula the Batman family of books has followed – for instance, Birds of Prey has referenced quite a bit of the stuff that’s gone on in Batman, but it’s only as another angle to the same series of events. It’s not a direct crossover. Without reading Batman the Birds of Prey stuff likely wouldn’t make much sense, but it’s just a supporting element in that story so reading Batman isn’t really necessary to understand it.

I am sticking with Action Comics because Grant Morrison is supposed to be awesome, but so far this hasn’t hooked me. It’s good, but it hasn’t hooked me.

What I’m watching
I finally got a chance to catch up with last week’s Archer off the DVR this evening. I love that show so much; it’s just wrong on basically every level, and I love it.

Lunch meeting tomorrow at work to talk billboards, then I’m going to start working on story assignments for the next issue of Horizons, work on a marketing plan for summer school, plan some event advertising for the rest of the semester, and probably end up doing a couple of other things here and there as well. I also need to get ahold of the theater advertising guys and work on a new commercial with them. New job = awesome. Still very hopeful that something will work out and I’ll get to keep it.

Early to bed tonight I think. I want to draw something, but I also want to sleep. Sleep’s gonna win out tonight.

Jade 2.0 finished

Last night I put the finishing touches on my drawing, “Jade 2.0,” which is a redo of a piece I did in college about a bajillion years ago. I have wanted to redo this for a long time, and needing to find a submission for this year’s faculty and staff art show was a pretty solid excuse. There are, as always, things about this I could be happier about but for the most part I am pretty pleased with the final product. I’m excited to see it up at the show.

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Sunday update

What I’m studying
I’ve spent the last hour and a half or so going through the first four units (out of 12) of an online component for some required supervision training through the MnSCU system office. This is required as part of my “appointment as a new supervisor.” The next unit – on sexual harassment – estimates that it’ll take me two hours to complete this. As if I needed more motivation to get this job permanently, spending all of this time on a mind-numbing online learning module is going to seriously encourage me to make sure all of this hasn’t been for nothing. The devil on my left shoulder tells me “wouldn’t it be hilarious if you spend more than a dozen hours or so doing all of this, then go out of town for the all-day training session on Feb. 10, and then get back to work on the 13th and discover you’re not even a finalist?” 😛 I prefer to think that this will just be the first step in me being able to keep this job forever, though. Be gone, left shoulder devil.

What I’m watching
I took Helen to her first BSU hockey game last night. We had a blast; she even knew she was supposed to boo the Minnesota State players during warmups. She’s got it goin’ on. Unfortunately, BSU lost 5-2 (empty netter at the end made it slightly worse than the score indicated). I haven’t been to a BSU men’s hockey game where they’ve won in years – probably since 2007.

Mel was watching The Tudors when I got home last night; I watched a couple of episodes with her, and we went to bed after Anne Boelyn got her head lopped right off. There are something like 34 episodes, so at the point we’re at this show is barely half over. Sheesh. I just wanna watch Escape from New York.

I am also watching no football (which is exactly like possessing no tea in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). This pre-Super Bowl weekend is always a reminder of the misery that is to come after the game next Sunday when there’s no football until August. At least there’s still a couple of months of college basketball left.

What I’m making
I spent a big chunk of time yesterday making a chip book for my Prismacolor markers in a Field Notes notebook. Here’s what the first page looks like. There is space for 12 colors per page and I did 18 pages; 216 total markers. So during the course of making this book yesterday, I drew something like 612 squares and 420-some lines for marker numbers, color names and the page labels. I totally love doing ridiculous stuff like this. I could’ve made something in InDesign, drawn an element for one color, cut-and-paste copied it a dozen or 16 or 24 times on the page or however many would’ve fit, then printed enough copies to get to 216 colors and had this done in about five minutes, instead of the at least four hours I spent over two sessions with a square template, a ruler, a 9H pencil and two sizes of Prismacolor liner. This way is significantly more awesome. And, as a bonus, I finally used one of my Field Notes books for something. So, y’know, there’s that.

Now that I’m done with this one, I really want one for my Prismacolor pencils now. I have several hundred of those, so it’ll be a significantly larger project than doing the 60-70 colors of markers that I have. But that’d be huge fun too.

Lazy Friday night

It’s a lazy Friday night at the casa, which is just fine with me. This has been the first night this week that I’ve just sat and done basically nothing. I’m not going to lie, it’s kindof awesome. Three nights with school, a couple of hours into the drawing I’m working on on Wednesday; it’s been a long week.

I probably should be drawing something now – something, anything, like a new Lego Gaga or the piece I need to put together for the sketch blog my friend Tony and I have started (well, he started it – I set up the site for it on Tumblr but he’s the only one who’s posted anything to it so far). I haven’t been able to get into that mindset of “it doesn’t matter if you’re in the mood or feel ‘inspired,’ you loser – just do it.”

I did get a crapton of pencils in the mail today, so I should continue doing things with them. 🙂 I used up one of my Derwent 2B pencils working on my “Jade 2.0” piece (which was awesome; I haven’t thrown a pencil away because I had used it up since the mid 1990s), and there isn’t a store anywhere near here where I can just go buy one new one. Ace Hardware here in town sells Derwent pencils, but they’re like six bucks for four of them. So I went to eBay and found two sets of 12 that included 2Bs for about five bucks each. I also bought a 12-pack of Staedtler Mars 4H pencils for the grand price of one whole dollar. I’ve never used them before, but I figured for a buck I’d try them out. If I like them I’ll start buying more 12-packs on eBay (that never seem to sell for more than a couple of bucks on actual auctions and not buy-it-now listings). Then, when I run out, I’d rather buy 12 of one hardness of pencil than 12 pencils of various hardnesses to get the one I need. I’m going to be swimming in 8Bs until I die.

What I’m studying
I have to go out of town for some supervision training on Feb. 10; sometime between now and then I have to finish this enormous online course that’s supposed to take like 12 hours to complete. I guess I’ll be starting that tomorrow. Blah. I can think of about a hundred billion ways I could be more excited about that — especially since my evenings are dominated by school during the week as it is.

What I’m eating
Took the family out for pizza tonight; we hadn’t gone out to dinner in maybe a month. We have been trying to eat better at home, etc. — basically no bread or pasta, mostly meat, veggies and fruit, etc. We ordered what we always order – pepperoni with half sausage and half mushrooms. For the first time ever (and we’ve eaten at this place hundreds of times, no exaggeration), they messed up our pizza – it was all pepperoni, but the half sausage and half mushroom were both on the same half. 🙂  We sent the pizza back, but they let us keep the messed up one (because, what were they gonna do with it, right?). So, now we have enough leftover pizza to feed an army. Good problem to have. 🙂

What I’m reading
I read this Chris Sims piece at Comics Alliance today comparing Rumble in the Bronx to Superman Returns. I wish to hell I could write like this.

Quick update before bed

This has been a rough week for me. Work has been stressful, which made it difficult to focus on school in the evenings, which in turn made it way harder for me to focus on the two relatively simple assignments I had due this week for school. I got them done and I think they turned out just fine, but getting them finished required a lot more energy and effort than the final product warranted.

The application window for the job I’m currently holding closed Monday of this week at noon; I think that has a lot to do with how I’ve been feeling this week. I know that I have passed that invisible line in the sand and have moved beyond “just continue what my old boss was doing” and am now squarely in “this is my job.” It’s intimidating. The job is still incredibly fun, there is just more and more and more stuff every day added to the pile. It’s testing the limits of my ability to stay organized and maintain proper to-do lists. 🙂 But, mostly I think it has to do with that Monday deadline coming and going. Before Monday the job was just mine, and I didn’t think too much about the process of trying to keep it permanently. But, it’s game on now. I could win it, I could lose it; that’s really happening now. Again — intimidating.

I had lunch with Helen at her school today. They’re having a special week of activities that included the ability for family to come by and join our kids for lunch, so I met up with her for boiled pork, salad, corn and an apple. She was over the moon happy that I was there, and she and I had a lot of fun. She’s such an awesome kid.

For example, she totally loves playing “Dragon’s Lair” on my iPhone. It’s simple enough that she can beat most of the levels on her own (she only has problems with two levels, including the last one, and that’s mostly because the way the controls are coded for those levels makes successfully completing them extremely challenging), and yesterday she and I beat it for the first time. She was so proud of herself, and I got to spend all day today knowing I had a six-year-old daughter who beat one of the iconic video games of the early 1980s. I even bragged about her achievement on Facebook.  As I say – awesome kid.

Interesting post-sharing numbers from NHL.com

National Hockey League goaltender Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins is currently making some waves for his decision to ditch out on his team’s visit to the White House to meet the President, a tradition in sports after winning a championship. He released a statement yesterday regarding his decision, and it was posted at NHL.com.

I saw it today; here’s a screen grab from the top of the post:

The sharing numbers are really fascinating. 2,000 “likes” on Facebook, only 350 retweets and only 31 plus-ones for Google+. Thirty one. We have heard quite a bit about how quickly Google+ has grown, but for this particular post its number of engaged users is essentially inconsequential – the Facebook crowd is almost 65 times larger, and even Twitter has outpaced it by a factor of 10. Thirty-one plus-ones.

This is your prototypical “n of one” case, and is by absolutely no means any sort of overall judgement about the engagement levels of the users of these three services. In this particular fringe case, though, the staggering differences between the engagement level of the three on a pretty high-profile story really caught my attention.

Something I saw in an email newsletter this morning

I got an email newsletter today from Bob Johnson Consulting that included this:

Hitwise reports that for the week of January 14 Facebook was the most visited social media site, with 63.88% of all visits. And YouTube was firmly in second place with 19.68% of visits. (Well behind but slowly advancing was Twitter at 1.52%).

I wonder if that’s a legitimate measure of Twitter’s traffic? It’d be interesting to know if “visits to the web site” included all hits to Twitter’s API (Twitter underwent an architecture change in 2010, so the API that drives Twitter.com also drives its mobile and desktop apps), or just actual visits to Twitter.com. Also, according to Hitwise, they’re only measuring web traffic based on aggregate-report generators being run by ISPs. So any mobile access to Twitter’s API from a cellular network might be getting overlooked, which should be a huge portion of Twitter’s traffic.

Just at face value, Twitter holding only a 1.52 percent of social media traffic share makes no sense.

Experimenting with iBooks Author

I spent about two and a half hours playing around with iBooks Author tonight, trying to figure out various things about how it works. For 1.o software, it’s actually not bad at all. What is implemented works and works pretty well, but there is plenty of room for expansion. Right now, I have nine pages of the latest issue of Horizons, in iBooks on my iPad, and to just be able to push a button and make that happen is pretty sweet.

• Tables of Contents are auto-generated for each chapter when you add a new chapter to the document. Author is built specifically for textbooks, so you’re forced into preface/chapter/etc. terminology with no apparent way to change it for publications where those sections make no sense, like a magazine or a catalog.

• The Table of Contents pages for each chapter are difficult to edit, mostly because there is a photo for those pages that you cannot delete. If you don’t want to use a half-page vertical photo for each chapter, you have to move the photo box off of the visible area of the page. You cannot just delete it.

• There doesn’t seem to be a way to automatically generate even a starter layout (your elements, but obviously not positioned correctly) for whatever screen orientation you don’t start with. The program defaults to landscape; so if you want to support both orientations and also have a portrait mode for your publication, you have to build it entirely from scratch. So to support both, you’re essentially forced to build two completely independent books instead of one.

• There is no support for creating or importing custom colors. The only available colors are obtained from the system-level color picker.

• You cannot link text boxes and flow text in between them. If you have text that requires multiple pages, you have to paste the entire story on the first page and then cut off the bottom, then paste the entire story on the second page and cut off the top. This is a huge drawback when you consider having to build portrait and landscape modes entirely separately, especially if you’re working on a document of any size at all.

• Custom shapes are a pain; you are limited to picking points with a pen tool. But, once you’ve created the shape, there isn’t a hollow-arrow type cursor that lets you select individual points to edit each of the shape’s vertices. You’re stuck resizing the entire shape with the regular cursor. This is a page layout program with word processor-level controls; Apple will need to add some pro page layout features for this to really take off.

• I didn’t see a way to customize the appearance of the widgets. For example, the chrome around the photos for the gallery widget is enormous and, beyond deleting the text so those areas are all blank, there didn’t seem to be a way to get rid of the chrome entirely or pick an alternate chrome that allowed more space for the photos. As it stands right now, the chrome takes up a ton of space. It’s probably OK for very large photos, but for smaller photos it really takes away valuable space that should be afforded to the actual art.

Lots of little nitpicks for 1.0 software, I know; I don’t want to make it seem like I’m down on it either, because I’m not. What I was able to achieve in just a few hours while I was mostly just trying to learn to navigate the software is pretty remarkable, I think. I have nine pages of this magazine running in an eBook version on my iPad; on Friday, any notion of an “electronic version” of Horizons began and ended with “well we have a PDF version.”

There is a lot of initial work to get going here, but I suspect that once I get the hang of the software I can build a custom Horizons template and use that to save a ton of time in the future. It’s like anything else – do a ton of work up front to save yourself time in the future.

There will be some hacks who put publish terrible stuff with this – you’re going to see a lot of “magazines” coming from schools that are just full-page JPEG images dropped into Author and uploaded, which will be horrible. But there will also be some phenomenal work done with this as people get a chance to get used to it and discover how to push the boundaries of what the software can do. This is really exciting, and there really is unlimited potential for very cool stuff to come from this ecosystem.

Now the fun part will be to wait and see how often Apple issues updates for iBooks Author. They should be in possession of a significant list of feature requests for future releases, and I wonder if the speed at which Apple is able to release updates and add new functionality to the software will be an indicator of how seriously they’re really taking this project. Are we going to see frequent updates and lots of activity? Or will this be relegated to “hobby” status for Apple, like the AppleTV used to be? I suspect the former, so the wait is officially on for the first software update.

Now to plan my next iBooks Author projects — a completely unauthorized encyclopedia of IDW’s G.I. Joe comics. That’ll be fun. 😀

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!

Conversations with an almost-two-year old
Millie, looking at my phone’s lock-screen picture of Helen: “Sissy?”
Me: “Yes! That’s your sissy.”
Millie: “Megan?”
Me: “You want to see pictures of Megan? OK.” (I find a picture of her on my phone)
Millie: “Megan!”
Me: “Honey, Megan is your sissy, too. Can you say Sissy Megan?”
Millie: “Yuck!”

iBooks Producer update
I spent about 10 minutes with iBooks Producer yesterday and was able to drop in some graphics from the front cover of the latest issue of our alumni magazine and have something presentable in just a few seconds. Today I’m going to try and spend some more time with it and get at least a story or two and the Campus Notes section laid out. Not sure it’s necessary to do the entire issue yet, since I’m just trying to figure out the software and see what the build process is like. But if it ends up being as easy as building the cover ultimately was, then I’ll probably go ahead and build the entire thing just to see how it looks.

What I’m reading
I finally got around to reading this week’s issue of Batman yesterday morning; what an absolutely fantastic read. In the previous issue, Batman was drugged by an assassin, and this week we got a look inside Batman’s head as the drug caused confusion, disorientation and hallucinations. As the story moved on, the reader first had to turn the book sideways to read the pages; then after a few pages, you had to read it upside down and turn the pages in the opposite direction you typically would — paging backwards to advance the story, and eventually the book ended right-side up again. It was an absolutely genius layout trick, involving the reader in Batman’s spiraling journey into drug-fueled insanity right beside him. The fact that the story so far in this series has been really fun to read and Greg Capullo is doing absolutely beautiful work on the art is just icing on the cake. This was a brilliant comic book.

It was proof that in the hands of exceptionally talented creators, print still maintains some significant advantages that digital will have a really difficult time overcoming.

I also read the first issue of IDW’s new Transformers series, “More Than Meets the Eye.” It’s the first of two concurrent series IDW has launched to continue their Transformers universe; the second series, “Robots in Disguise,” launches this Wednesday, I believe. The art was quite a bit different than what the Transformers books have had in the past – it was very reminiscent of the look in the Transformers Animated TV series; long, thin, angular limbs and basic shapes without a tremendous amount of detail. It was a good look. Interesting premise for the series, too; it was an entertaining launching point for a new series and I’m curious to see where IDW goes with it.

In other reading, I’d like to try and make a dent in my “to read” pile today. I’m going to try and catch up on Batgirl, which shouldn’t be too bad since I only have two issues to read, and I think I’m going to grab my entire nine-issue run of Moon Knight and just re-read that from the beginning since I’m probably at least four issues behind on that series.

What I’m watching
I’m going  to try and camp out in the bedroom as much as I can today and watch the NFL conference championship games. I can almost guarantee I won’t be able to watch both games in their entirety; having kids running amok makes six uninterrupted hours of football basically impossible. If I had to choose, I hope I get to watch most of the AFC game between the Patriots and Ravens, although I suspect the 49ers/Giants matchup on the NFC side might actually be the better game.

What I’m playing
I actually stole some time with the big TV to get some Playstation 3 time in yesterday morning. Granted, it was only about an hour, but it was about an hour more than I’ve had in the last few months. I got through a level or two in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II; that’s a fun, but frustrating game. I’m only about six hours into it, in total, but it feels similar to the first one in that as your character gets more powerful, your opponents keep pace with you so you never feel like you can dominate a group of enemies. There’s always an opponent with a counter to whatever powerup you just received, it seems. Ah, well. It’s still an entertaining game.

Comic book review: Cobra Command: Cobra #9 (IDW)

Cobra Command: Cobra #9
IDW Publishing
Street Date: Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012
Cover price: $3.99
Cover A: David Williams, with colors by Kelsey Shannon
Cover B: Antonio Fuso, with colors by Arianna Florian
Cover RI: Trevor Hutchinson
Written by: Mike Costa
Art: Alex Cal
Colors: J. Brown
Letters: Neil Uyetake
Light on action in comparison to the previous few issues in the Cobra Command storyline, Cobra #9 serves as a breather to get a look at some intriguing behind-the-scenes action as Cobra moves into the next phase of its invasion of the Asian nation of Nanzhao.
The political machinations supporting Cobra’s invasion continues to play out in this issue; it allows writer Mike Costa to show the duplicitous nature of the new Commander, as he tells ambassadors what they need to hear during his in-person meetings while continuing his operations as planned in the field.
Tomax continues to hang out on the fringes of the action and somehow still be one of the smartest men in the room; he’s quite enjoying that he seems to see the Commander’s broader agenda, and it is fun to watch him smirk at those who just don’t get it. Major Bludd has been overdue for an attitude adjustment, as well, and he gets is here — still perhaps holding onto some resentment from the Cobra Council’s last-minute reversal that stripped him of the Commander mantle, Bludd had thought he understood the “business end” of Cobra’s invasion. However, he soon learns that he’s not as smart as he thought he was. The Baroness seems to be moving back into the forefront of Cobra again, which is a welcome move as well.
Tomax is somehow in on the Commander’s overarcing agenda; it’s him that calls for Cobra’s move to complete its total occupation of Nanzhao. Having him in a prominent role will be great for this storyline, as he remains one of the best characters in Cobra. Also, he’s a character that Mike Costa genuinely seems to enjoy writing. Tomax needs to be back in the forefront of a book that has basically been defined by his story since day one.
With the new Commander’s plans for Nanzhao slowly unfolding, and the Joes at this point only having a guess as to what he and Cobra are actually up to, this issue serves as the tipping point for what should be a downhill race through the rest of the Cobra Command storyline.
IDW is only a couple of issues into Cobra Command, but it’s obvious that it is pursuing a different direction for its G.I. Joe universe. There were numerous things about the Season 1 MASS Device storyline that could’ve been handled better, and the Cobra Civil War didn’t at all play out in a way that lived up to its name. But so far, the Cobra Command storyline has been fantastic. A ruthless Cobra Commander overseeing a vast, nation-conquering army, and only a small band of well-trained, well-equipped soliders stand in his way. This is the G.I. Joe we’ve been waiting for.
ART
Alex Cal continues on art duties, as he has in the previous issues of the Cobra Command storyline so far. As it has been so far, Cal’s art is solid. He draws Destro with a fluid mask — basically a silver-painted head — which allows for facial expressions and gives him some more personality. It’s a good decision. Some of the Photoshop-filtered mountains, rocks and buildings are a little distracting, mostly because style-wise they just don’t fit with the rest of the page, but it’s a minor gripe. Cal’s on a roll; he was doing strong work toward the end of his Season 1 run, but he’s stepped up his game for Cobra Command.
Cal has seven pages of his inked, uncolored work from Cobra #9 posted on his blog. It’s always interesting to see what these pages look like before they’re colored.
COVERS
Cobra #9 has the same theme for its three-pack of covers that the No. 9 issues for G.I. Joe and Snake Eyes had before it. Dave Wilkins’ Cover A features the major Cobra players for this issue — Destro, Baroness, Major Bludd and the new Commander (in the helmet he wore when he was still just plain ol’ Krake). It’s too bad the Cobra logo covers up so much of Krake’s head; I would’ve liked to have seen that image unobstructed.
Regular Cobra artist Antonio Fuso provides Cover B, with colors by Arianna Florean (who also has done interior work for this series). Not much to write home about here; it’s a solid cover of Snake Eyes flipping through the air, but it feels like it should be a cover for Snake Eyes, and not Cobra. It just doesn’t seem to fit, especially when viewed side-by-side with this issue’s other two covers.
Nick Runge again provides the Retailer Incentive cover, as he has for the other two No. 9 issues this month. Baroness, Bludd, Krake (who I honestly didn’t even notice the first few times I looked at this cover) and, strangely, Serpentor are the featured Cobras here, again in a 1980s movie poster style illustration. All three of the covers he’s done this month have been quite good. Oddly, Destro’s head is floating up in the upper left-hand corner; in the other two covers he did, all of the main figures were posed together. Destro could’ve been eliminated entirely and not have the image change; it’d be curious to know why he was included. Like with Krake on Cover A, portions of Destro’s head are masked by the IDW logo and issue credits and by the “Cobra” logo. This cover probably looked much better as a standalone piece, but once you add the embellishments that make it a comic cover, Destro probably should’ve been cut. Baroness makes this cover; she looks like she’s whistling or blowing a kiss to someone; in either circumstance, the mind races in an attempt to figure out what’s going through her head.
PREVIEW
The Terrordrome has a preview of “Cobra #9” here.