The Price of Software

The Price of Software

Earlier today, I jumped into an interesting Twitter discussion on the price of software started by iA. iA makes Writer, which I use at work almost every day. It’s become the go-to place for me to draft the various things I have to write as part of my job.

iA dropped a hint today on Twitter that it’s giving some thought to increasing the price of Writer for the upcoming Version 2. And not just by a little bit. They said this:

…and this:

It’s an interesting situation to think about. Much has been written about software’s seeming trend toward “free” as a price point; Ben Thompson wrote a good piece about this at Stratēchery back in October. If iA is going to attempt to swim against this current, it’s going to be interesting to watch.

Writer is great — as I said, I essentially use it daily. But it would be interesting to see if they would have success with this sort of business move. I am reminded of my early days working in the sports information office at Kansas State; not long after I graduated from college, I decided I wanted to be able to take some of my work home with me, so I spent $169 to buy my own copy of Pagemaker (I think it was the Adobe-branded version, just after they had purchased Aldus). That seemed crazy at the time, but since I wanted to work at home it was really my only choice. It would be another several years before I would have a laptop at work, and about six years and a new job until I had an Apple laptop.

That same “it was really my only choice” doesn’t exist today, and it certainly doesn’t exist for Writer. There are plenty of capable competitors that exist in Writer’s space — lightweight, minimalist applications that exists to facilitate a clean writing environment. Byword, for example, is completely capable, has a couple of features that Writer does not (like built-in ability to publish to a blog), and has Mac and iOS versions. Draft is a web app that has similar functionality. And that’s just a start; there are plenty of alternatives to Writer.

It’s difficult to imagine that Writer could add a killer feature that would be so game-changing that it would justify anything in the neighborhood of a 200 percent price increase.

Still. The very fact that they’re talking about it is going to make me pay a lot of attention to how they talk about Writer 2 going forward.

What I’m Reading

Missed New Comic Day last week, so Helen and I caught up today; today’s pull included G.I. Joe #10, Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye #23 and Batman #25. Pretty light haul for two weeks; Star Wars #11 was out today but the shop’s copy or two was already gone by the time I got there. I’ll have to look elsewhere.

Saturday update from the road

Saturday update from the road

note: I wrote this last night, but forgot to post it here before I went to bed. So, “today” = “yesterday.”

It’s the end of my first full day in Kansas, and I must say today was a good day. I miss this town.

Tom took me on a tour of the entire new west-side football press box at K-State today, and it’s so amazing, even in its dramatically unfinished state, that it brought tears to my eyes. It was only the second time I had been back in the stadium since I left here in 2001, and being able to stand in the press box and point to the field – Kevin Lockett’s catch against Colorado was there; Darnell McDonald’s touchdown catch against Nebraska was over there; Michael Bishop’s dive into the end zone against Missouri was over there; over and over again through all of my amazing memories of that place – was overwhelming. It still tears my heart out that I had to leave here. I can’t wait to be back here for the North Dakota State game in August; that’s going to be one incredible experience.

The best part of today was seeing eight of the nine kids in my family together; it would have been nice to have had Megan here, but getting her over here last night would have been very difficult on me just from a stamina perspective (and also that much rougher on the kids), and getting her here this morning would’ve destroyed the day via four hours in the car. That’s just how it goes I guess. Still, it was pretty great to finally meet my nephew, and Helen and Millie had an absolute blast with their cousins.

Millie spent a lot of time rolling a scooter around on my parents’ back patio repeating “YOLO, YOLO, YOLO.”

I watched Tomorrow When the War Began tonight with dad after the kids were in bed; it’s Australia’s version of Red Dawn, about a group of kids rising up to fight back against an invasion of their country (plot: China invaded Australia for its natural resources). It was actually a surprisingly OK movie, although the ending was atrocious. The movie basically ends with them deciding to become full-on revolutionaries and to officially organize to fight back against the invasion; it would be like Red Dawn ending as soon as they decided to become the Wolverines. There’s a sequel coming in 2014, according to Phoebe Tonkin’s IMDB page, so hopefully that means they’ll actually get to the full-on fighting. This movie came out in 2010, so there will be a four-year age difference in the cast by then, which will be noticeable; that’ll be strange, unless they just time-shift the movie and not have it start immediately after the events of this one.

Other minutia from today:

  • I got new tires for my car;
  • I found some fun things at Hastings for super-cheap, including this huge coffee table book of black and white portraits of characters from the Watchmen movie for five bucks and a four-dollar trade of a New Teen Titans storyline about Donna Troy. Awesomely, they also had Star Wars #4 and Hawkeye #10, rescuing me from their absence in my stacks of barely-read illustrated paper at home; and
  • I picked up the Lego Minotaur board game on clearance at Walmart for $10 when I bought my tires.

New computer day, Lego Star Wars, and today’s comic haul

New MacBook Pro

I’m writing this on my absolutely awesome new MacBook Pro; it’s a Retina display with 16 gigs of RAM and a 500-gig SSD. I’m still getting everything up and running; I have reconnected to my cloud services, which would have had me up and running and doing work almost immediately if I would have needed to do that. Except for some files and my non-iTunes music, I’m basically functional right now and I haven’t moved a single file off of my previous laptop. It’s just all there with the cloud storage.

The Retina screen is everything it’s supposed to be; the clarity is amazing, and the little things you run into when traveling about the Web that aren’t optimized for the high-resolution display just look muddy and sad.

I’m downloading Diablo 3 to put this thing through the paces; I have heard that it supports the Retina display’s full resolution, and I’m curious to crank all of the graphic settings up and see what this machine can do. Unfortunately or fortunately, however you look at it, since my World of Warcraft account is still active I’ll probably have to check that out too. Y’know, for science.

The only issue I’m seeing right now is with our home WiFi; it probably is related to both of my DropBox accounts trying to sync while I’m downloading the Diablo 3 client and goofing around online, but every couple of minutes every download operation stops and has to reconnect. I will be interested to see if this continues once these massive simultaneous downloads are finished.

Lego Star Wars: The Yoda Chronicles

The new Lego Star War special, The Yoda Chronicles, debuted on Cartoon Network tonight. The girls absolutely love these, and awesomely they have served as a gateway drug to Star Wars for them.

This episode hooked me in the first minute with a sign that said “Coruscant: 15 parsecs” with a subhead that says “A parsec is a unit of distance.” It’s a great “we-know-40-year-old-nerds-are-watching-this” shot at the oft-discussed Han Solo claim from Star Wars that he “did the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs,” which led a bunch of nerds to speculate that George Lucas mistakenly thought it was a unit of time. Awesome.

The basic plot is actually pretty interesting, from a Star Wars nerd perspective, too. Count Dooku and Gen. Grievous plotted to steal the Kaiburr crystals from the lightsabers of four Jedi Padawans; those crystals were combined to create one “super crystal” which the pair took to Kamino and used to power Sith-enhanced clone troopers.

Cartoon Network led into The Yoda Chronicles by playing The Padawan Menace and The Empire Strikes Out back-to-back; we have had Padawan Menace on BluRay for awhile, and it’s very good; Empire Strikes Out wasn’t quite as good (although the Darth Maul character is hilarious) but was still pretty funny. I will have to pick that up for the kids as well.

Comic Haul

Today’s pickups for #NewComicDay.

Morning Glories #28

G.I. Joe #4

G.I. Joe: The Cobra Files #2 (this was released on the 22nd, but I just got around to getting it today)

Transformers: More than Meets the Eye #11 (this is six months old; somehow the shop didn’t get it pulled for me, but there was a copy sitting on their back-issue racks today. So I got it)

I was also planning to get Transformers: Robots in Disguise #17, but that wasn’t in my pull box. I should just bail on those and go digital.

So I’ve been distracted

To say I’ve been distracted and a bit over-extended lately would be putting things mildly. Here’s a rundown of my activities over the last couple of months (since Christmas really).

Social Media Strategist Certification

I joked about this on Facebook last night; I’ve started working on an online training course to prepare to take the National Institute of Social Media‘s exam to become a certified social media strategist. The course just started on Monday so I don’t remotely have a good handle on it yet, but so far it’s incredibly basic and actually isn’t all that different from the grad school courses I’ve taken online for my degree program at Winona State. I’m hoping that things pick up considerably as the course progresses.

New comic day

Roy’s had a big pile of Marvel’s Essential Horror volume 2 today; they were running a cool deal where they were giving it away for free with the purchase of a trade collection out of this pile that they had assembled on the counter, or for five bucks on its own. So I paid the five bucks and picked it up along with this week’s small three-book haul. That’s going to be a fun addition to the reading list.

One of the things I picked up today was last week’s release of the first issue of IDW’s second reset of its G.I. Joe franchise; after the second “season” of books completely fell apart after the Cobra Command storyline wrapped up, I didn’t have much hope for it. But it was actually pretty good. I’m interested to see where new writer Fred Van Lente takes the series.

Work

Work’s been crazy, to put it simply. We have so many things going on right now, and we seem to absorb more significant projects at an astonishingly rapid rate. But somehow we’ve managed to successfully juggle everything so far, and good work is getting done. The next two months until we get to commencement are going to be a sprint; the whole year has been a sprint really. Getting a breather this summer is going to be welcome.

 

Back to School

What I am studying
I started my final semester of graduate school tonight; I am taking two courses this spring, but one is going to require me to write a short paper and nothing else, so it doesn’t count. The one that counts is called Common Good, in the educational leadership core. I don’t have a good handle on it yet — after all, tonight was only the intro — but it seems like it could be pretty interesting. More to come on this as the course unfolds.
What I am watching
The fourth season of Archer debuted tonight on FX; pretty solid start for what is hands down my favorite show (although The Walking Dead gives it a run for its ones some weeks).
I am glad Archer started strong, because another show I have become quite invested in — American Horror Story — has had the bottom fall out of it during the second season, and now it is a complete train wreck of a show. It is just a wild unfocused mess with too many characters and no ability to decide what the main story is — or even who the main character is. The first season — which is fantastic — focused on the house. It may have seemed to be a show about Dylan McDermott’s family, but it was about the house and Tate. Clarity. The second season could be about any of a half dozen characters really; could’ve been Dr. Arden; could’ve been Lana; looked early on to be about Jude (but isn’t); pick anyone really. But the second season never decided if it was about insane asylum inmates or Nazi war criminals or alien abduction or zombies or or or or. There is just too much shoehorned into the show, so it isn’t abut anything and the things it includes never have time to be adequately developed. I am glad next week is the season finale; it needs a break to reset and try again in season three.
Sports…
Between Lance, Mantei and nobody getting elected to the baseball Hall of Fame this year, it has been a pretty crappy month for sports. At least the NHL lockout ended; I am not even an NHL fan but at least it is good news in sports. That, and the NFL playoffs so far have been fantastic.
In the college realm, the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers were finally admitted to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association today, putting a merciful end to their three-year effective exile from the sport as an independent. The CCHA giving them the stiff-arm three years ago quite nearly killed them, but they have been heroic in working to keep their program afloat until they could finally secure a conference home.
Having the Chargers in the WCHA is good for the league and good for college hockey. And it will allow Bemidji State to resurrect one of its greatest rivalries. Everyone wins. Kudos to the WCHA for giving Huntsville the home it deserved.
Comics
I have been playing catchup on my comic pile after falling basically the entire month of December behind. I caught up on the last two issues of Hawkeye, which remains a completely terrific title, and I have been slowly catching up on Saga, which remains my favorite current book — and there really isn’t even a close second.
Invincible seems to be getting back on track after an entirely-too-long time with powerless Mark (and therefore an entirely too long time with a book called Invincible that wasn’t really about Invincible); IDW’s G.I. Joe franchise continues to be a hot, barely readable mess aside from the always excellent Cobra series; and I am so far behind on Transformers I barely know where to start. I will get to those.
Finally, the new Dark Horse Star Wars series, set between A New Hope and Empire, actually isn’t bad. It is a testament to Brian Wood’s abilities as a writer — which are high — that he was able to pull this off. I am in for a few issues to see where he goes with this.

Oh, hi there

It’s 9:18 p.m. as I write this, and there’s a two-year-old sitting in the middle of the living room watching Dora on the iPad. The switch to standard time on Sunday should’ve crushed her little toddler internal clock, which should’ve had her fast asleep something like two hours ago. Yeah, that didn’t work.

Four posts in October and I haven’t been around for three weeks. Well, I’ve been around; just not here. I haven’t been writing anywhere though; not here, and not in the thing I’ve been doing on the side (no entries there since the 14th of October; so just barely less time than I’ve been blowing this off).

I really just haven’t wanted to come here – or anywhere, really – to write. I would be a miserable failure if I were to be graded on “just show up” right now. But I haven’t felt up to it. Lame excuse, I know, but whatever.

30-day drawing challenge

The guys who did the #Inktober drawing challenge on Twitter have started a new 30-day challenge for November called #drawvember. Their 30 challenges for the month are:

  1. self portrait
  2. imaginary friend
  3. most-recent dream (which with me could get really, really interesting…)
  4. redesign a book cover
  5. childhood memory
  6. what’s in your bag?
  7. hybrid animal
  8. scene from a movie
  9. Siamese twins!
  10. super hero
  11. super villain
  12. an elderly person (I’d be tempted to finish something I sketched out a couple of years ago, and it’d get me in trouble…)
  13. a freaking baby
  14. portrait of a pet
  15. a dinosaur
  16. draw something with your eyes closed
  17. a delicious food
  18. ZOMBIES
  19. sea creature
  20. your dream job (this would be fun right now, given my current mental distractions)
  21. a guilty pleasure
  22. favorite cartoon character
  23. actor/actress
  24. collage
  25. best friend
  26. instrument
  27. something of sentimental value
  28. your zodiac sign
  29. the meaning of your name
  30. favorite outfit

I put up one thing for #Inktober, and it was horrible; it was an experiment with my Pentel pocket brush pen that I spent maybe 30 minutes on from start to finish, and about all it accomplished was to hammer home how freaking hard it is to ink with a brush. I totally missed the start of #drawvember, but maybe I can do something to try and catch up. Basically all of those 30 challenges could be a lot of fun, and they’d force me to start trying to draw what’s in my head, rather than just copying something somebody else has done, which really is one of my most-glaring limitations as a horrific hack with pencils.

Workflow

I decided today that I’m going to try and adjust my workflow at work to do drafts of the stories I’m writing using iA Writer instead of Apple’s Pages. I’ve got a few reasons for wanting to try this: Pages (and, really, all of iWork) is in desperate need of an update; since I don’t have Pages for my iPad (and really don’t have a compelling reason to buy it), its iCloud integration is essentially being wasted. Conversely iA Writer is on my Mac, my iPad and my iPhone, so I would have access to my work any where, any time, on demand; I like the added availability of having my drafts on my phone with iA Writer; I’m intrigued by Markdown as I’m using it in another writing platform and like the ability to have a formatted document written in mostly plain text. It also bugs me that when I cut-and-paste from Pages into InDesign, I lose the spaces between my paragraphs. On the scale of annoyances it’s probably pretty minor, but the few seconds it takes to scroll through the document and put the spaces back between my paragraphs bugs me. There are a lot of reasons I’m tempted to try this, really – and, honestly, one of them is that I think iA Writer seems like a pretty great piece of software, I haven’t bothered to use it yet, and this seems like as good a “force me to use software” project as any. I’ve got a story I desperately need to get written tomorrow (I had it scheduled for last week but a couple of “make this a priority” projects shoved it down a couple of notches on the totem pole), and I think I’ll take a run at it with iA Writer.

Complete Collection

The final score from my absolute assault on Amazon.com around my birthday in April will finally be here tomorrow — IDW is reprinting Marvel’s run of G.I. Joe comics in hardcover format as G.I. Joe – The Complete Collection, and the first volume reprinting G.I. Joe numbers 1-12 will be on my doorstep tomorrow. I’m curious to know how often these are going to be released; there were 154 issues in the Marvel series, so at 12 issues apiece this could get to be a pretty significant space hog in my library. We’ll see how I feel about continuing with these after I get the first one. I’ve never had anything resembling a complete run of Marvel’s series; even my brothers and I were missing a ton of issues. If this reprint series is nice, it seems like it’d be a pretty great way to finally have this series on my shelves.

I pre-ordered this in mid-May. I’m thrilled that it’s finally going to be here.

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.

Ugh

The last few weeks have been really, really busy. I’ve been out of town five times since mid-July — a shopping day trip to Grand Forks (about a 220-mile round trip); a shopping day trip to St. Cloud (close to 300 miles round trip); a one-day round trip to Albert Lea (about a 625-mile round trip); a second trip to St. Cloud for work; and a day trip to Fargo (also close to 300 miles round trip). Tomorrow, I’ll spend another five hours or so in the car as we head out of town for a long weekend and a much-needed getaway.

What I’m Reading
Picked up three comics today — nothing from my meager pull list, but a few things I wanted to check out. People have been raving about this week’s Hawkeye #1, so I picked that up; I grabbed Captain Marvel #1 which is one or two weeks old at this point; and I also grabbed Batman Inc. #1 which is from last week, maybe. Plus, I still have Saga #5 sitting on my iPad that I haven’t read yet. And, I’m three issues behind on my G.I. Joe reviews for The Terrordrome.

With the Batman Inc. thing, I keep wanting to give Grant Morrison opportunities to impress me.  I really liked the first story arc of the last Batman, Inc. book, but didn’t keep up with that series at all. I quit on Morrison’s Action Comics after about seven issues because I just wasn’t hooked, and didn’t feel like continuing to spend money on the book every month. He’s getting another chance with this new Batman, Inc., title.

I’m also still struggling to make progress in A Game of Thrones. I keep hearing about how amazing this book is, and I just can’t get into it. Part of it has to do with me being father to a 14-year-old girl, and having the character Daenerys Targaryen be only 13 and treated the way she is. From a story perspective, it seems entirely unnecessary that she be 13, so it just seems like Martin being really creepy. The HBO show exacerbates this; I’ve only watched the first two episodes and haven’t wanted to go much farther because I can’t get “Dude, she’s supposed to be 13 in the books” out of my head.

Plus, as with the show, in the book the only interesting character is Tyrion Lannister and he’s mostly a sidebar.

“It gets better after about 350 pages!” But you’re assuming I’m going to tolerate it for that long…

What’s Up at Work
I started using a new toy we bought tonight, a media contact search and social media publishing tool suite from Cision. We are using the media list-building and release distribution tools, and also their Social Publish platform. I had a small story to release tonight, and used it as a testbed for both tools. The social publish tool is pretty cool; scheduling the post’s specific release time is not at all intuitive, but the process for entering the story into the system is really easy. Twitter posted immediately, but there was a slight delay to Facebook (“slight” meaning maybe a minute, and I think that has more to do with how often Facebook parses external sources for post updates than it does with anything coming from Cision); but it posted as well with one minor issue — due to user error, I was stuck with a default “powered by Cision” graphic as the post thumbnail on Facebook rather than our logo.

During our Cision demo, which has now been well over a month ago, my first impression was that the UI for the Social Publish tool was exactly what I wished I had for BSU Today. The only thing Social Publish really adds is the built-in ability to post directly to Facebook and Twitter from within the post UI. This is somewhat counteracted by the fact that the Twitter and Facebook posts are the same — which means the information I post about a story on Facebook is artificially limited by Twitter’s character limit. We’ll have to see how often that even matters. MailChimp’s Social Broadcasting plug-in for WordPress does a better job of this; it allows for wholly separate and unique posts to Twitter and Facebook, allowing Facebook to be more detailed. Now that I think about it, we could probably use this plug-in to add this exact functionality to BSU Today…
Also, using Social Publish drives traffic away from BSU Today, and removes our ability to use Facebook and Twitter to publicize content on BSU Today that also is on social publish without double-posting. This is something I am definitely going to be mindful of.
For the traditional media release tool, building a single-city-specific media list to distribute the release there was painless. It took a few seconds; the media lists Cision generates are actually far more comprehensive than I’d ever need. Their database lists every contact at a particular outlet, so to get the four people I needed to send to in that city, I had to sort through a list of about 15 people. But, I could save the list of four after I created it, so that’s a one-time speedbump. Developing lists for larger communities — say, a distribution list to Minneapolis/St. Paul-area media — would obviously take a lot more time and effort.
One other twist to traditional-media releasing that I did not recall from our product demo was the “points” budget we are given to spend on distributing releases. We started with 5,000 points, and sending to the three contacts in Brainerd cost us three of those points. I’ll have to explore how often the point total will reset.
There are some other minor stumbling blocks — the Cision system has what look to be some useful project management tools for media releases, but as we only have a single-user account with one login, they are essentially useless to us (which is too bad; I’d have definitely been interested in exploring that).
Tonight was just the first step in a far-broader effort to integrate this tool into my workflow, really. But, I’d have to say the first experiment was pretty successful.
What I’m Watching
The more I think about “The Dark Knight Rises,” the more I get why there are people who really, really don’t like it. I still contend that the plot holes and plot ridiculousness and things that just flat-out don’t make sense were not remotely enough to derail my ability to sit in the theater and absolutely adore this movie. But I may be wavering on my initial statement that it’s the best of the three — that seems to be a case of just being caught up in that initial infatuation for something awesome. On repeated viewings it may not ultimately stack up all that well against “The Dark Knight,” but I still think “Rises” is an absolutely fantastic movie.
All for now. I’m through summer school and now have that distraction gone from my brain, so I’m hoping to be back here posting more.

A whole bunch of the updating

Storify for work
I discovered Storify a few weeks ago, and  found that it was a pretty nice tool for assembling bits and pieces of stuff from all over the web into something that was easy to follow. In other words, it’s proving to be a very effective rear-view window for what has happened on the Internet related to a single topic. People have been doing amazing things with it to track reactions to events taking place in real time all around the world. I’ve been using it to gather and put in order art from various places around the web to support the G.I. Joe comic book reviews I have been writing for The Terrordrome. But I have had this sense that there were scenarios where it would be a valuable tool for work. I didn’t immediately see what those were; I just knew those uses had to be there if I would look hard enough.

I have found the first one — I have found Storify to be a fantastic way to keep track of coverage of a story. I’ve been using it to record the mentions I find of a story on a $3 million National Science Foundation grant that our manufacturing and applied engineering center of excellence has received. There are a lot of things to like about using Storify this way: it’s very easy to compile mentions from a variety of different outlets into one place, and I don’t have to send out an update to interested people every time I find a new mention. I just tell them “hey, I’m tracking mentions in Storify — any time you want to know what coverage I’ve found for the grant, here’s the link.” Then I just dump new links into the story as I find them.

There’s more I can do with this; social media use on and around campus is starting to increase to the point that I may be able to do some basic event coverage with this for things like the fall startup convocation. That will be an interesting experiment. I’ll come up with some other uses for this over the course of the year too, I think; we just need to get the academic year going. I tend to not ideate very well in a vacuum; I find that I work best when there are things going on around me that can help to spark something in my brain.

Mythbusters with Megan
Last night, I stayed up with Megan until almost 1 a.m. watching Mythbusters on Netflix. It was an absolute blast, and it’s one of the very few things that have been “us” since she got back this summer. It’s been incredibly busy; Mel’s done a great job of keeping her entertained with a lot of different things, and we’ve done quite a bit of family stuff, but last night was the first time this summer it just felt like she and I (and, really, it was, since by the time we started watching the show everybody except Millie was asleep. The last three hours we had just the two of us after Millie finally went to sleep were just fantastic. It was just us.

Art, oh my
Tess Fowler is selling some original art from Zenescope’s Wonderland 2010 of a character she designed called The Red Knight. The character reminds me a lot of Warduke from the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon in the 1980s; I kinda want to buy this.

June Birchbox
Birchbox launching a monthly goody box for dudes just happened to fall around the time that I had birthday money to spend; so I took some of it and bought a three-month gift subscription… for myself, from myself.

It’s been really fun. I’m not sure if it’s been $20 a month fun, but I’ve enjoyed getting them in the mail. It’s fun to try products that I never in a million years would have tried — or even heard of really — otherwise. And it’s kindof cool that I got the first three of them that they ever put together for guys. This month’s box came with a couple of neat cord organizers from Quirky – one for iPhone/iPod headphones that doubles as a stand, and one that I will absolutely use on my desk at work to keep up to five cords for a laptop organized (coincidentally, I plug exactly five cables into my Macbook Pro at work every morning. It’s like this was made for me…).

It also had some pre-shave oil; I’ve used Zirh’s pre-shave oil for a long time, and have never even tried anything else. The box came with John Allan’s Slick Water, which is quite a bit different from the Zirh oil; it’s thicker and creamier, whereas the Zirh stuff is just oil. It seems like I need a bit more of the Slick Water to cover my face, but it works really, really well. I’m tempted to get a full-size bottle.

Other stuff in the box: Benta Berry super-moisturizing face cream (used it this morning; love it); supersmile tooth whitening system (haven’t used it yet).

Comic catch-up
I finally got around to picking up last Wednesday’s Saga #4 on the good ol’ iPad; it’s an absolutely brilliant comic. Every issue is better than the last, which is saying something since the first issue is fantastic. Brian Wood is building a very compelling and completely bat-shit crazy universe, and Fiona Staples’ art is panel-to-panel brilliance.

I also picked up the first issue of DC’s preview series for Masters of the Universe; it’s a prequel to the storyline of the 1908s MOTU toy line, taking place a few hundred years before He-Man took possession of the Sword of Power. It’s got that typical Geoff Johns “why is this comic book so incredibly violent?” tinge to it, bu the art is pretty decent and the final-page cliffhanger brings in the bad guys we know and love from the ’80s. It’s 99 cents; there’s no harm whatsoever in continuing to buy it just to see how it turns out, but the first issue wasn’t particularly compelling.

This week’s Bento update, Silk Spectre, Grad School, and other stuff

Software I’m Using
Yesterday, FileMaker announced a major upgrade to the iPad version of its Bento personal database software. I’ve been using Bento for a couple of years now; it’s a simplistic database to the point of almost not being a true database, but it has worked really well as an archive of news clips for work. I have had the iPad version for awhile as well; it allowed for some rudimentary data-entry tasks into existing libraries, but wasn’t much of a from-the-beginning creation tool. And, it only would sync with the desktop version via WiFi — and Bemidji State’s wireless network doesn’t allow device-to-device WiFi connections. So, essentially, the iPad version of Bento was useless to me unless I remembered to sync the iPad at home (which, of course, I basically never did).

The new version changes everything; it can now be used independently of the desktop version, meaning it’s a completely self-contained database creation solution, and it also offers over-the-air sync with the desktop version so the Wi-Fi issue at work would be a non-issue. It’s a very compelling upgrade.

But, FileMaker didn’t release it as an upgrade to the existing version. They launched it as a new app. Which means all existing users have to pay for it if they want the upgrade. So I feel like I paid $10 for something that ultimately turned out to be worthless, and now that they’ve finally gotten around to making it functional, they’re wanting another five bucks out of me. Honestly, I’ll probably do it, but man, it seems like a raw deal to deliver to your customers.

In FileMaker’s defense, this could also have something to do with a common complaint about Apple’s App Store — that there is no mechanism available to offer free upgrades to existing customers and make everybody else pay for a major new version of an app. So they can discount the app during a launch window and hope enough of their existing customers upgrade during that initial window to effectively give them a discounted upgrade.

And, to twist the dagger even further, for some asinine reason it’s not a universal app — which means FileMaker wants to charge you five bucks to upgrade on your iPad, and another five bucks to upgrade get the app on your iPhone**. With the current state of apps and how easy it is to have one app run on both platforms (I have auto-downloads for apps turned on, so I frequently find stuff on my iPad or iPhone that I downloaded for one and not the other and had no idea , there’s not remotely an “in FileMaker’s defense” for this. It’s just awful.

** UPDATE: Double-checking, there is no Bento 4 for iPhone. They simply updated the existing iPhone app to work with the Mac and iPad versions of the app. Basically, they’ve splintered their version numbers — iPad and Mac at version 4; iPhone at version 1.2.1. This actually makes the fact that the iPad app isn’t universal even worse, because FileMaker clearly has both mobile applications on separate development paths. That makes no sense.

What I’m Reading
I’d meant to check in last week and rave about the second installment in DC’s controversial Before Watchmen event, the first issue of Silk Spectre. It was written by Darwyn Cooke, who also wrote and illustrated the launch issue for the event, Minutemen, with art by Amanda Connor. I wrote last week that I wasn’t terribly impressed with Minutemen; I had the exact opposite reaction to Silk Spectre. In short: I loved basically every page of this book. Whereas Minutemen was a smashed-together mess of two-page vignettes on a huge number of characters that never felt like a cohesive comic book, here Cooke got to open the throttle a little bit by focusing only on one character and the difference is remarkable. To top it off, Connor’s art was absolutely magical from start to finish.

I had a sense going in that what DC was doing here wasn’t going to be completely terrible, nor was there any chance it was all going to be brilliant. There were going to be hits, and there were going to be misses. So far, for me, Minutemen has been a miss and Silk Spectre has been a huge hit.

I passed on this week’s series launch, the first issue of Comedian. The Comedian wasn’t one of my favorite characters in the original Watchmen series; his death in the series’ opening sequence was the first shot fired in Ozymandias’ scheme, and his story was told entirely through flashbacks. Giving him a standalone series that is yet another flashback seems entirely pointless. I’m just not sure what more there is to say about his character.

The only thing I bought this week, in fact, was Snake Eyes & Storm Shadow #14. I wrote about that last night.

What I’m Buying
Today, I bought Volume VII of Bullett magazine, which I’ve been picking up for awhile now. I’m the farthest thing in the world from their target audience, I’m sure, but I’ve enjoyed the photography and many of the interviews they’ve done. This issue has Alexander Skarsgard from True Blood on the cover; I’m pretty sure I got knocked up just by buying something with his picture on it.

Wrapping up grad school
Final paper for my educational assessment summer school course is due on Monday at midnight;  I’ve got a ton of work to finish it up between now and then, but I’ll make it. This has been a strange class for me — the most-difficult of the five grad school courses I’ve taken so far for me to feel like I’m engaged with. Part of the problem is that the course is compressed into a block of just more than three weeks; the sprint hasn’t given me much opportunity to feel like I’m at all involved in anything that’s going on. The format of the course has been difficult, too; it’s had nine hours of interactive television component, but it’s set up with the idea that there’s one group of students in one city and one group in another. Which is true; but there’s also been me, by myself, in a third city. So the course has included numerous “break into groups for discussion” opportunities — for, of course, everyone but me. I think that’s a big reason I haven’t felt engaged. I’ve been on an island. But, so far I think I’ve managed to do the work that has been required. I’ve got a second summer school course starting in July; it’s another three- or four-week blitz, but it’s purely online. That one should be fine.