What I’m Buying
This morning, a friend in Minneapolis helped me complete one of the great Internet bargains of all time, in my estimation. I was able to score an enormous lot of 250 double-ended Prismacolor art markers for only $100 from a seller on CraigsList. The lot included Prismacolor’s biggest set of 156 markers with storage racks, plus a big assortment of other markers from other sets. The retail price on the 156-color set is around $650 (although it can be had online for in the neighborhood of $325), so consider that I got that set and another almost 100 markers on top of that, and I got a massively great deal. I won’t be able to get them for a couple of weeks, but I’m really excited to start drawing with them. I’ve done some things with the Prismacolor markers I already have – 60-some colors – but have run into a few limitations where I didn’t have just the right color I wanted. Now, it’s game on.

As a nice bonus, I’m even going to be forced to reorganize my drawing table so make room for them. I won’t be able to decide for sure how to set everything up until I actually get the markers, but I’ve been thinking of a couple of preliminary ideas that I’m pretty interested to explore once I get the markers home. Plus, I’m going to get to make a spreadsheet to keep track of all of the colors of marker I have out and in reserve like I have done with my Prismacolor pencils. That’s going to be fun…

What I’m Drawing
Nothing, right now. I finished a project I was working on Thursday night that was a commission for a friend of mine; I’m not entirely happy with it, but I got it finished. It was the second piece I had started for this person; I started the first one a couple of weeks ago, but after about four hours of work Millie got ahold of it and destroyed it. I was pretty dismayed, because I thought it was going really well. There was a timing consideration with this request, so when I started the replacement I tackled a much smaller project. I got it finished and it’s OK, but it’s not remotely what the first one would’ve been. And I just made some dumb mistakes on it, too. I hope my friend likes it; it’s another one of those projects that, now that it’s out in the wild, I see pictures of it and I wish I had done some things differently.

The point of my postcard project is to get to a place where I don’t hate my own work. Right now, I’m the epitome of the “Ira Glass on Storytelling” tidbit about “your own taste is why your work is disappointing.” I’m seeing some improvement, particularly as I’ve started using some better materials (it really can make a difference), but I can point out exactly the place where I was in a drawing when I got careless with it. Being able to spot that as clearly as I can is driving me nuts.

If the person who gets Postcard #30 gets a significantly better piece of artwork than the person who got Postcard #3, then I’ve done this correctly. I’ve got to clean up some of the garbage for that to happen though.

For more on the Glass quote, start here: http://kottke.org/11/04/your-taste-is-why-your-own-work-disappoints-you

What I’m Playing
I’ve discovered through an accidental screen tap that loaded up GameCenter that I’m ranked in the top five percent of the around one million people who have played the three campaigns of the main game on the iOS game “Major Mayhem.” That’s kindof awesome.

I also played a bunch of Diablo III last night; I’m not entirely sure why. I got my stupid barbarian to level 30, but I’m still in the third act on normal difficulty. I can’t imagine there being any way whatsoever that I play that game enough to max out a character — particularly given the way the game is set up to force you to play through it multiple times on multiple difficulty levels in order to reach max level. It’s just not compelling at all, and the more I play it the more I absolutely despise the loot system.


Checkin’ in

I seem to be falling into a once-a-week pattern with ab.com at this point; honestly, I’m not sure I’ve got more than a post a week in me at this point.

What I’m Studying
I’m a couple of weeks into grad school for the fall; I think it’s going OK so far. Not great, but OK. I’ve at least been able to settle in with the video-chat software the instructor wanted to test out so I can do the interactive television component from home (which is absolutely fantastic). I haven’t yet taken the time to really put in an effort to scheduling out the fall across both classes; it hasn’t been necessary so far, because honestly the first six courses I have taken haven’t required all that much effort. I had this notion that would continue, and it’s just not the case. 🙂

What I’m Buying
Today was the last day of business for the K-Mart store in Bemidji. I never shopped there very much; it was a decent place to hunt for toys for awhile, because the prices were higher than Walmart or Target so the collectors seemed to go there first. You could occasionally find stuff that had been buried away somewhere that they excavated and put on massive clearance, too. But there really were never “let’s go to K-Mart” trips, save for the last two summers if we needed pool supplies — they had a better stock of that stuff than either Target or Walmart. We’ve stopped by a few times during this going out of business mess though, and managed to come away with some good deals. I picked up the Metal Gear Solid HD collection for PS3 for around $24, got a couple of 48-drawer organizers out of the hardware section to sort stuff in the toy lair, etc. Tonight on the last day I stopped in just to see what was left, and I came away with a Michael Jackson dancing game for PS3 that Mel’s wanted for awhile (for the princely sum of $2), and some goofy Bakugan game for PS2 that I bought for Helen because it was a dollar — and for no other reason.

Store closings are always a little depressing, especially toward the end when there is just a smattering of merchandise that nobody wants until it’s 95% off surrounded by empty shelves or bare spots on the wall where the fixtures have been sold. I remember going to a few of them when I was a kid and we lived in El Paso; even then they were weird. It’s hard to describe why, even; on some level I think that by the time the store gets right up to the moment when the doors close for the last time, when you go inside you’re surrounded by scavengers and not shoppers.

What I’m Drawing
I’m eight postcards into Series 1 of my Facebook project right now; I drew a Tauren warrior for my friend Derek, and Willie the Wildcat for my friend Donna. It’s a lot of fun to see how much people have enjoyed receiving these. As much as I did this because it seemed like a good idea to force me to draw with specific goals in mind, I also thought it’d be cool to give some things to my friends. Donna sent me a picture of her two kids posing with her postcard; honestly, that was pretty awesome.

I also picked up a third commission out of this; my cousin wants me to draw her a larger version of the Willie card I drew for Donna. It’ll probably take me awhile before I can get to that, but it sure would be fun. I’ve got a set of greyscale Prismacolor markers coming at some point, and those will come in super-handy for that particular project. I think it’ll be a good opportunity to try and do a marker background like Ryan Ottley. Seems simple enough, but I’ll probably mess it up. 🙂

I’m about halfway through another commission for my friend Shari; I had started one two weekends ago that was going really, really well, and then Millie got ahold of it and destroyed it. About six hours of work, down the tubes. So, I had to start over. I drew something different for the second version, and so far I think it’s going really well. Need to get it finished up.

This whole “commission” thing still seems bizarre to me. The fact that people are actually seeking me out and asking me to draw things for them is still a weird feeling. I still don’t think I’m that good. 🙂

What I’m Reading
Nothing. At all. I’m really far behind on comics — to the point that I’m probably going to just bail on buying most, if not all, of them, just because it’s hard to find time to sit down and read them. Still have Cobra #17, Batman #0 and Batgirl #0 from last week sitting upstairs in a pile. I should go get them right now, actually.

What I’m Playing
The fourth World of Warcraft expansion, Mists of Pandaria, comes out on Tuesday. I’m trying really, really hard to resist buying it (Melissa bought it, which is going to make continuing to stay away more difficult). My current retirement from WoW — my fourth extended stretch of time away from the game — is in its ninth month. I haven’t logged in since January, but I’ve kept my client patched and updated anyway. Since WoW came out in 2004 (yes, eight years ago), nine months has been my longest period of time away. I was also away for about nine months during my second hiatus. As much as I don’t want to play, it still seems like skipping an expansion is going to be what it takes to really seal up this coffin. That game had me bad for a long, long time, and staying out of Azeroth isn’t easy. I miss Derka.

Where We’re Moving
As for the previous post, there’s no movement on the house situation. We had one showing two days after the house went on the market, but that was nine days ago at this point, and we haven’t had so much as a phone call since then. The pipe dream of a super-fast sale to facilitate this switch seems to be fading; but, the lack of phone calls also means there isn’t any movement on the house we’d like to buy, so that’s not such a bad thing.

Pursuing a house

I mentioned in my previous post on the 8th that we spent some time on Saturday looking at houses; it was mostly on a whim because we enjoy doing it, but for the first time in many years we found one that warranted more than just a look.

TL:DR version: The day before yesterday, Melissa and I put our home up for sale.

The second house we saw on Saturday had basically everything that’s on the list Melissa and I have assembled in our heads as we’ve looked for possible new homes for our family over the last eight years – and that’s not much of an exaggeration. We have looked at dozens and dozens of houses in Bemidji and even in neighboring towns over the years; we’ve come close a couple of times and even put an offer on a house back in about 2006, but this is the first time we’ve gone far enough to put our house on the market.

The new house would be a great place. It’s basically the exact same size as our current house, but with square footage on two levels instead of three. It bunches three bedrooms together on the first floor, with another windowless room in the basement that would work for a fourth bedroom for Megan or guests or other purposes. The kitchen is small but very nice; there’s a large L-shaped wrap-around deck; a space that could be a formal living room; two-car attached garage; there’s a master suite with en suite bathroom and a walk-in closet; the basement is huge with two living areas, a couple of bonus rooms and another 3/4 bath. To top it off it’s on a two-acre lot that’s mostly wooded. Just a nice place.

Even with all of the amenities, the most important thing about it: it would be our house. We’ve been in our house now for the entirety of our relationship; Melissa bought it over a year before we met and was renting rooms to her friends. When Megan and I moved in after the wedding, she still had two of those roommates. We have lived here because it’s a perfectly fine house that’s been perfectly acceptable for our family. But we didn’t pick it together.

A lot of things have to happen for this to work; there already has been a wrinkle in our initial offer that’s not in our favor, and the entire deal basically hinges on our ability to sell our house quickly. And since this was a spur-of-the moment thing that we weren’t at all planning in advance, we’ve got a ton of stuff to do on our house. A ton.

But, we’re making a run at this and we’ll see what happens. Worst-case scenario is we stay here, and as I said – this is a perfectly fine house.

So, yeah.

Earlier this evening I posted this on Facebook:

Today’s been one of those days where I’ve had to have an inner monologue, “I love my children, I love my children, I love my children” playing on a loop in my head. Otherwise, they’d have probably both been catapulted into the lake.

It’s not much of an exaggeration. Helen and I had wanted to go to the indoor garage sale that was held today at Sanford Center for awhile now, so we all rolled out of the house about 8:15 this morning and headed over there. Millie survived about one lap through the booths before she just lost it; there was toddler rage over every single thing she could see and was then not allowed to touch. Even buying her four little trains out of a quarter box only kept her at bay for a little while. We eventually just rolled her screaming right out of there. Much shorter morning than we were expecting.

We got some food in her and things turned around a little, but then Helen decided she was going to fall into her “I am going to put my hands on every piece of food in every grocery store we visit” mode, and it got to the point that each store led to three or four demands to keep her hands to herself and stop picking things up before threatening to unleash some manner of doom upon her.

Things settled in a bit after we got home and had some lunch, but it was a short-lived reprieve. Mel and I had a couple of appointments lined up to look at houses, continuing our Star Trek-like eight-year quest to see if it’s even possible to find a better house to move into in Bemidji that we can actually afford. The first place was like a ranch you’d see in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre movie; the house was just bizarre in the way it was laid out (the dishwasher was in the laundry room, and not in the kitchen, for instance), and it had four outbuildings — three of them were massive — and everything was just completely full of some combination of stuff and junk (mostly junk). It was a ridiculously inexpensive property with an amazing amount of potential, but there wasn’t a single square inch in the house we could identify that didn’t need some manner of renovation or, more likely, a complete overhaul.  So, pass. But, it there were cats everywhere, and Helen loves cats. So we were yelling at her constantly to stop hunting cats through the house by climbing all over the stuff of whomever lived there, to stay with us and not run off to chase cats when we were outside, etc., and then had to endure about 15 minutes of crying when we had to leave the cats and not take one of them with us, and also deal with the reality of returning to a cat-free home.

Second house visit was thankfully uneventful (more on that later, maybe — the house was fantastic, and in stunning fashion it’s a house that feels like a significant trade up that would actually cost us less than we’re spending on this place. And we’d be getting all but maybe one thing that’s on our wish list of “stuff we’d have to find in a different house in order to seriously consider moving.”).

Then we get home, and Mel naps on the couch, Millie’s watching TV in the living room and Helen’s watching TV in our bedroom. So I went upstairs to work on a drawing that I started Friday night and did some more work on during the course of the day today. By the time I quit, I had about four hours into it, and it was going really, really well I think. But at some point, Millie snuck upstairs, got into my markers, destroyed the drawing, drew all over the subwoofer for my computer speakers, and trashed about four walls.  Just a two-minute whirling dervish of toddler destruction.

I had thoughts about restarting the drawing tonight, but I just don’t want to. I’m going to have to come up with something else to do, because it’s a drawing I was doing for someone else (and it’s quite a story — a story for another day).

Grad school underway

My fall semester of graduate school is underway. Classes officially started yesterday, but I didn’t have anything to do with either of them until today on an official basis.

Both of the courses I’m taking this fall are interactive television courses; I’ve only had one previous experience with an ITV course, from this past summer, and it wasn’t a particularly good experience — mostly because I did not enjoy sitting by myself in the large interactive TV studio on campus. Tonight was similar; however, the professor seems to be interested in making a conscious effort to get the students in the remote labs more involved in the flow of the coursework. So far, it seems to be working; I had several opportunities to work with another student tonight, and in the first course I never communicated with anyone. So, good start.

Also, I’m working with several people to get a connection to the course broadcast on my laptop, so I’m hopeful that tonight’s session in the ITV lab will be my last. I will so vastly prefer the opportunity to do this from home.

Tonight’s course is on system thinking; the textbook seems like it’s going to be difficult to penetrate, but I’m very interested to learn more about this. We talked about some things this evening that on the surface seemed relatively straight-forward, but as we examined things in a little more depth they weren’t as simple as they seemed on the surface. I love things like that.

The second course is simply called scholarship; it is essentially a “how to write a thesis” course and will set the groundwork for the capstone paper I will have to write to complete the requirements for my degree (I’m taking a non-thesis option, and have already completed the additional course that this track requires). This course gives me pause, as I’m worried about my ability to keep up with the reading and writing.

Both of these courses, even on day one right out of the gate, feel like they’ve got the potential to be courses that are actually going to require me to put some effort into them. I don’t shy away from this, but if that holds true it will be a polar opposite experience from that during my first 18 credits of coursework.

What I’m Playing
I’ve spent quite a bit of time playing a rail shooter on my iPhone called Major Mayhem. I cleared the three campaigns in the game a couple of weeks ago, and since then have just been farming the game’s myriad achievements. There are 150 mini-achievements, like “score 50,000 points in a single mission” or “get sliced by a giant blade of death,” and I’ve cleared 149 of them. There also are 100 primary achievements — those are far more significant, along the lines of “kill 50,000 enemies” and “complete all three campaigns without dying.” I’m through about 40 of those, and honestly have been putting more effort into finishing the 150 mini-achievements first. The 150th mini-achievement is something I can do relatively easily (I’ll probably do it tonight as soon as I finish this post, in fact), and from there I’ll start farming through the primary achievements.

The ending of this game teases a Major Mayhem 2 that will probably take place in space; it’ll be interesting to see what the devs have in store for the sequel.

What I’m Reading
On a “people online sure think this is good, so I’ll check it out” whim, last month I picked up the first issue of Marvel’s new standalone Hawkeye series, written by Matt Fraction with David Aja art. I liked it quite a bit; enough that there wasn’t much hesitation when wondering whether to go ahead and pick up the second one this week. I’m really glad I did — as much as I enjoyed the first issue, the second issue is fantastic. I’ve really enjoyed Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man series, but he seems to have taken his game up to a new level with this series. It’s hard to pin down exactly what it is that I like about the writing; the characters are just solidly defined and everything flows well.

And Aja’s art is phenomenal. There were two pages in particular in the second issue that simply blew me away; there’s a sequence where tiny individual black and white panels are drawn showing a character mouth each letter of the phrase “That’s so cool,” with a series of panels in between showing Hawkeye shooting three arrows at the target, which brilliantly illustrated how quickly the action was supposed to take place in real time. it’s one of those rare circumstances where static two-dimensional images that don’t move on a page can be used to show an abstract concept like the rapidity of events which take place in the span of only a second or so. It was great. There’s also an amazing 35-panel grid on one page toward the end showing the back-and-forth of a telephone conversation that is just marvelous to follow.

I’m in on Hawkeye for awhile, I think. And it’s not because I have any great affinity for the character; through two issues, it’s just a fantastic comic book.

I’m also still reading IDW’s G.I. Joe comics, but I may not be for much longer. The writer has just reached the point where the series of things that flat-out don’t make any sense or are contradictory to what he’s shown earlier in the series or completely wasted opportunities to develop the story in interesting and meaningful ways are piling up faster than my ability to tolerate them simply because it’s a G.I. Joe title. I’m up for giving this about one more story arc, and then I’m going to start asking some questions about how I spend that $12 each month.