Helen’s story, too many words on Transformers: Legends, and a recap of my weekend movie blitz

Helen’s lion story
A couple of weeks ago I had the girls in my office for a half-hour or so to account for some unusual schedule quirk between Mel and I. During that visit, Helen took a red pen and wrote a story for me on two Post-It Notes. Here is her story (with her spellings).

“Once apon a time there once was a lion that was 74 years old and was good at socker. And a professional ninja and his favorite subject was geography.”

Tell me you wouldn’t read the rest of that story if there were more Post-It Notes.

Teaching social media in schools

I just think there are way more important things to teach kids without diverting more valuable education time to something like social media…

Transformers: Legends
There’s a game available on iOS and Android called “Transformers: Legends”; it’s a free download with in-app purchases, and I started playing it about a month ago. It is a typical game; you can play for free, but your actions are limited by the game’s currencies — two of which you can buy for real money if you are so inclined.

The three currencies are credits (money used to pay to combine a Transformer’s robot-mode card with its vehicle or other alt-mode card to create a more-powerful version, or to use cards as raw materials to upgrade other cards); Energon (an “energy” that is used to undertake missions; each attempted mission segment costs 10 Energon. You start with 100 but can increase your upper limit to 136 by progressing through the game); and Battle Cubes (which are used one at a time to buy essentially pointless player-vs-player battles, and more importantly to begin fights with bosses in special weekly events called Episodes). Energon gets used up pretty quickly; you can spend a full charge of 13 turns in a few minutes, and when you have emptied the full 136 it takes 2 hours to recharge. Battle cubes can be expended in less than a minute, and recharge at a rate of one per hour. The Energon and Battle Cubes can be purchased with money.

Each turn in a “mission” has one of several outcomes — you play a mini game to shoot down incoming rockets by tapping them to earn credits; you discover one of three common or uncommon character cards assigned to that mission; you get to face off against a “boss” that has about a 20 percent chance to drop a rare-quality weapon; or you play the worst implementation of five-card Monty ever in a game for a chance to win a rare-quality character card. The rare is one of five cards on a board, which are flipped over and “shuffled,” and you tap a card to select the one you think is the rare. However, you will quick learn that the shuffle animation is the same very time and offers no clue as to where the rare ends up. So to win, your best bet is to just pick one of the five cards and stab it every time until the rare happens to be there. It is super lame.

The game also adds regular (weekly, basically) episodes — contrived storylines involving some Transformers characters that you are supposed to defeat for some reason. Basically it just adds a fifth possible element to each mission turn — a “boss fight” matchup against an opponent you can buy the opportunity to fight for one Battle Cube (or fight it with additional damage bonuses for two or three Cubes, which you should rarely if ever do). You earn points for beating each boss, which escalate as the bosses get stronger (and quickly to the point where you have to ask other players for help to defeat unless you want to spend many of your own Cubes to attack it repeatedly yourself — which is a waste of the game’s most valuable resource), and when the boss is defeated everyone who participates gets some sort of reward — typically tokens to buy more cards from the in-game store.

The episodes have two different reward ladders — one is based on your overall ranking for most points earned among all players who participate in the event, and the best rewards are locked up here. For this to be worthwhile at all, you have to finish in the top 5,000 (that level gets you an ultra-rare card, its alt mode and its matched weapon; if you don’t have all three the character is basically useless from a gameplay standpoint) — which at this point in the game’s life means you have to play pretty heavily during the episode and really work to maximize your boss points-per-cube metrics in the last three or four days of the event. By that point there is essentially no advantage to fighting your own bosses; you are better served to farm killshots from bosses fought by other players and get essentially free points over and over and over again.

The second tier unlocks different rewards depending on the total number of points you score. The rungs on the ladder are close together early on so its possible to get enormous rewards early in the event. However, and completely ridiculously, you reach a point where there are diminishing returns on the rewards — basically, relatively quickly you reach a point where your reward for reaching a point threshold is lower than the reward for reaching the previous threshold. Because by the time you reach those steps, your only motivation is to compete for a position on the overall leaderboard, so the game reduces the rewards to force you to buy the currency you need with real money in order to keep pushing up that second ladder. It is a seriously dirty trick on the part of the developers.

Also, the point rewards have become characters that if you have played at all seriously up until that point you will already have. So those rewards you can easily win are of minimal value; they will give your team a minor boost during the event due to their attack bonus, but once that bonus expires at the end of the event you will probably end up putting that character on the bench.

So, really, once you complete the four mission nodes on the globe and acquire everything there is to acquire on the 18 “missions” at each node, the game becomes totally pointless to play. You exist only to farm points during events, which is most efficiently done by sniping the killshot on episode bosses — which doesn’t even require you to play the game. You just sit at the event menu and wait for a notification to pop up that somebody needs help. If the boss has less health than you can deliver damage with one currency point, you kill it, earn the currency point for delivering the killing blow, and then repeat for as long as you can stand to stare at the app and deliver the three screen taps it takes to participate in a fight.

If you have a collector mentality there is some interest early in the game in acquiring the different characters and their alt-modes. However once you get all of the common and uncommon characters, you just have to play a game of chance against a virtual dice roll to complete the lineup of rare characters. Beyond that are the super rares, and it is essentially impossible to collect those without spending money. And the very good ones in terms of in-game power are reserved for episode rewards requiring a volume of points you are not going to score without spending lots of money on Battle Cubes for boss fights. But once you reach the point where your primary method of advancement is to farm killshots during episodes until your Battle Cubes run out, the game becomes pointless to play.

I reached that point on Saturday. So unless something changes, I am pretty much done with this.

Memorial Day weekend movie blitz

Star Trek Into Darkness Friday night. Completely outstanding movie, and without question the best movie I have seen so far this year. Oblivion isn’t in the same ballpark, and Trek even blew away Iron Man 3, which I also thought was quite good. Very excellent villain(s), I very much like this current iteration of the crew, and the effects and fight scenes are great. This gives me great hope for what JJ Abrams will do with Star Wars 7.

Epic Saturday afternoon. Fun kids movie; Helen loved it and Millie spent the entire movie being three. It will be fun to see again on BluRay at some point.

Hangover 3 Monday afternoon. There was really no way this could have been worse than Hangover 2, but it still wasn’t very good. The bar set by the first one was just so, so high; the two sequels were almost failed from the very start. This third one was OK; it was Chow-centric which was good, but for some reason the Chow character has spent the last two movies as a different character than he was in the first one. In the first he was fun and flamboyant and had this maybe-he-is-gay vibe; in the second he just became dirty and mean. In the third one he is a weird combination of the two; they have tried to create him as this super-villain but they pushed that so far that it’s no longer a good character, I don’t think. The writers also tried to weave in this redemption-of-Alan subplot that honestly just didn’t work. There were funny moments to be sure, but not nearly enough to say this was a good movie.

Has there been another movie franchise where the first film has been so incredibly good and the two sequels have been total duds? The Matrix comes to mind obviously, but I can’t really think of another one. A lot of really wasted potential here.

The toy history of characters in “G.I. Joe: Retaliation”

Toys can be an important merchandising tie-in for summer’s blockbuster Hollywood movies, and this summer’s G.I. Joe: Retaliation is no different. As it is based on characters which appear in Hasbro’s G.I. Joe toy line, which made its debut in its current format in 1982, toys are a focal point of the merchandising for this film.

The movie features 11 main characters — seven heroes on the G.I. Joe team and four members of their adversaries in the evil terrorist organization known as Cobra. Each of those 11 characters are represented in action figure form in the merchandising for this summer’s film. However, given that the history of G.I. Joe now dates back more than 30 years, those interested in pursuing toys of these characters might also be interested in digging into the deep and often varied stories of these characters as they have appeared in toy form throughout the decades.

Some of the characters in Retaliation have been mainstays of the G.I. Joe universe for the entire life of the property, and collecting each of their appearance in toy form will require chasing down more than five dozen different toys. Others have been rather infrequently immortalized in plastic, with as few as three different toys made of the character.

In total, pursuing every toy made of the 11 primary characters in G.I. Joe: Retaliation would lead to a collection of more than 320 action figures. Here’s a breakdown of the number of times each of the film’s 11 primary characters have shown up as toys in the last three-plus decades.

Cobra Commander
Cobra Commander is supreme leader of the terrorist organization which contains the villains in Retaliation. Hidden behind a helmet for the majority of the film, Cobra Commander is played by Luke Bracey. The Commander was one of three villains released in the very first series of G.I. Joe figures in 1982. Since then, he has appeared in action figure form 51 different times, including three times in the line of toys to support the film. However, none of the three film-line toys represents how the character appeared on screen.

Duke
Duke is the field commander of the G.I. Joe team, played (briefly) in the film by Channing Tatum. Duke first appeared in the second series of G.I. Joe figures in 1983, and has since appeared as 48 different action figures. He has one figure in the toy line to support Retaliation, but it does not represent how he appeared on screen.

Firefly

Firefly is Cobra’s saboteur and demolitions specialist, and the character was played by
Ray Stevenson in Retaliation. Firefly has been represented as an action figure 26 times since the character first appeared in the third series of G.I. Joe figures in 1984, including three times in the line of toys to support the film.

Flint
Flint is a warrant officer on the G.I. Joe team, played in the film by DJ Cotrona. The character first appeared in the fourth series of G.I. Joe toys in 1985, and since then he has appeared as an action figure 20 times. He has two toys in the series supporting the Retaliation film.

General Joseph Colton
Joe Colton is the original G.I. Joe, the man from whom the team of heroes takes its name. However, he did not appear in toy form until the 13th series of G.I. Joe figures in 1994. The character is played by Bruce Willis in the film, and in total he has been represented in toy form only three times. He has one figure in the toy series supporting the film.

**Jinx**
Jinx is a ninja affiliated with the G.I. Joe team, and the character first appeared in 1987. Played in the film by Elodie Young, the character has appeared in toy form six times under three different names — Jinx, Agent Jinx and Kim Arashikage.

Lady Jaye
Lady Jaye first appeared as a character in 1985 and is one of only a handful of female members of the G.I. Joe team. The character has been represented in toy form nine times, and was played in the film by Adrianne Palicki.

Roadblock
Roadblock appeared for the first time in 1983 as part of the third series of G.I. Joe toys. The main character in the Retaliation film, Roadblock was played by Duane “The Rock” Johnson. There have been 23 different versions of the Roadblock character over the years, with three in the toy line supporting the film as of this writing.

Snake Eyes
Snake Eyes is one of the 12 original G.I. Joe figures released in 1982, and has appeared in more incarnations than any other character in this property. The ninja commando, who cannot speak, was played in the film by Ray Park. Since making his first appearance, there have been 66 different Snake Eyes action figures released — including a total of six in the toy line supporting the Retaliation film.

Storm Shadow
Storm Shadow is Cobra’s ninja assassin; the character made his debut in the third series of G.I. Joe toys in 1984. Played in the film by Byun-hun Lee, Storm Shadow has appeared in toy form a total of 47 times, including three times in the toy line supporting the film.

Zartan
Zartan is a master of disguise and was played by Jonathan Pryce in the film. Zartan first appeared in the third series of G.I. Joe figures in 1984, and has appeared as an action figure a total of 21 times. He has one figure in the toy line supporting the Retaliation film, but the figure does not represent how the character appeared on screen.

Interested in learning more about the hundreds of characters and thousands of action figures that make up the G.I. Joe toy line? Visit YoJoe.com, the most complete fan-maintained encyclopedia of G.I. Joe collectables on the Internet and start your own collection today.

Good day with the girls

Took the girls to an event at Bemidji Community Art Center where they each got to make five Cristmas-related crafts, then hung out with Helen a bit while Millie napped.

Plus, I resurrected Derka and have him about halfway to 86. The differences don’t make it not WoW; I, enjoying leveling so far but I can totally see being done again as soon as I get to a place where I have to group with other people to progress. Missed the game, but the people who play just kill it.

BSU hockey picked up a much-needed win today at Duluth; Andrew Walsh had 33 saves and helped BSU win for just the fourth time in 14 games this year. They needed it.

Exhausted. Time for bed.

Things I’ve read today

Like a vast number of users of Apple’s products, I read every post at Daring Fireball every day. It’s an Apple-centric news, information and review blog, but it’s also about whatever else its author, John Gruber, finds really interesting and things is worth the time and effort for his readers to explore, as well.

Well, Daring Fireball has been on fire for the last couple of days.

Yesterday, links to this quite excellent (albeit quite unsafe for work due to language) piece by David Simon on this absolutely ridiculous Gen. David Petraeus “scandal,” with an equally excellent followup about an FBI agent named John O’Neill. Even if you find the language offensive, read both of these pieces very carefully and consume the key message – then ask yourself what’s really important to you when we make decisions about the people we want to protect us from the dark parts of the world. When you’re done with that, do some serious soul-searching about the notion that a person taken down by some stupid sex scandal just might have had the ability to prevent 9/11. Then ask yourself again what’s really important to you.

Then, tonight, Daring Fireball had a link to a piece called “Twitter is pivoting,” by Dalton Caldwell. I’ve thrown around the phrase “500 ways to kill yourself” when describing Twitter’s behavior as a corporation over the last year or so, particularly concerning their inexplicable desire to slay the developers of third-party clients which played such a significant role in Twitter’s lofty position in the social media landscape. Caldwell’s piece is a pretty solid analysis of the path Twitter’s taking, and makes some interesting comparisons to another former social media giant that once took a similar path.

More social media news

Pinterest launched brand pages this week; I created an account for BSU back in the spring, and then never cultivated it. The launch of brand pages gave me a reason to at least touch base with the account this week, get it converted to a brand profile and verify our website. I’m still not entirely certain how to go about using this as a social media resource for the University, particularly given the vast number of balls that I already am juggling. But it’s one of those things that just feels like we have to get going.

And, even with the understanding that we’re not using Pinterest and should be, and have no presence on Instagram and probably should, I can’t get out of my head the notion that the relaunched MySpace could be a very useful tool for promoting certain segments of the programmatic and entertainment opportunities at BSU… But it’s also one more thing to manage in an already overwhelming sea of things to manage.

Also, the Twitter battle between the Israeli Defense Force and Hamas over the last couple of days adds a really interesting psychological warfare angle to the fact that neither of those two groups of people seem to be able to find any way to not blow each other up. It’s like Spy vs Spy at this point, only nobody is miraculously back in one piece in the next issue.

Grad school update

I took today off work as a writing day for graduate school. I generated some new material for the final paper I’m doing with one other person in my Systems Thinking class, but the majority of my efforts were spent repairing some abysmal work that was turned in with the last version of this paper. Incredibly frustrating. I’ve got some more writing days next week, but need to shift gears and pour some massive work into my final paper for my other class; completing that is going to be a challenge, honestly. So I want to see if I can have the paper I worked on today essentially done by the time The Walking Dead starts on Sunday. Good goal, that.

Social goals

About the only thing I’m doing with regularity is Pinterest. Twitter is a pain to follow when I’m out and about like I was today (and, the fact that I missed my quota is a good indicator that I was concentrating on my paper instead, which is good). This is only my third post here in maybe nine days since I started the daily goals checklist; that’s probably the one thing I’d like to try and make an effort to do better at.

Legos

For a couple of evenings this week, the girls wanted to bust out the Legos in the basement. Helen has been building this huge elaborate… something. It’s either a ship or a house or a ship with a house on it, or even possibly just an undefined polygonal mass. Whatever it is, she’s put a ton of effort into it and it’s pretty interesting. While she was working on that, I set out to build a version of the Monster Fighters Vampyre Hearse (even though we don’t have the bones or fangs or other skeleton-y bits to really make it work) with a significantly meaner engine than the retail kit. I think Lego’s base kit is pretty awesome, but the front of that vehicle seems very undersized compared to the rest of it. Minifig scale tends to make a lot of stuff seem undersized, I realize, but especially given how chunky the back of that hearse is, the front third is pretty underwhelming.

I ended up building more of a science fiction truck, and I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. I want to spend more time just experimenting with the way pieces can be assembled in different ways to build certain structures, and especially how bits like saws and grates and walkie-talkies and sextants are used in interesting ways to create form and texture. I was able to do a few things with this truck (and I need to get some good pictures of it; there is an in-progress shots on Instagram), but I felt like I was limited both by a lack of parts and by a lack of understanding of how to fit together parts we do have in atypical ways to construct the masses I was going for.

Overall I’m really happy with how this vehicle turned out, particularly given the fact that it was for all intents and purposes designed on the fly as I was building it. In some cases, I found a part, decided I liked it, and figured out a way to shoe-horn it onto the vehicle in a manner that made sense and was visually appealing. There’s really only one part of the vehicle I’d change, and I honestly am not sure what I’d do as an alternative. So, for now, it’s good.

It’s been one crazy day

Storm of the Decade
Last night, Bemidji got crushed with the worst thunderstorm I have seen in the 11 years I have lived up here. It was intense even by Kansas standards, which have barely been approached in the decade I’ve lived here. It had everything – the ominous green sky, rolling thunder that continued uninterrupted for around 30 minutes and was enough to keep the house constantly vibrating, lightning that tore through the entire sky, 80-mile-per-hour straight-line winds, and torrential rain. In short, it was awesome.

Mostly, it was awesome because we escaped basically unscathed. We had some decent-sized branches down in the yard, but nothing that was too big to just pick up and drag to a pile, and the only tree we lost is in the very back of our yard and fell over into a brush pile anyway — so honestly we may not even mess with it for awhile. And we lost power around 7:30, but had it back by about 3 a.m. this morning. Some people are still without power, now about 25 hours after the storm started. We got incredibly lucky. There are thousands of trees down in town, reports of more than 100 downed power lines, and the police had a curfew from 11 a.m. until 6 a.m. (and apparently arrested a huge number of kids who were out trying to loot — which is great. I have absolutely no sympathy for anyone who chooses to take advantage of a disaster situation to steal from people).

I did some work covering the storm for Bemidji State’s social media outlets, and overall I think we did a pretty good job with that. Coincidentally, we had just last week talked as a staff about how we might approach a situation like this after discussing how schools in Duluth reacted (or didn’t react) to the massive floods that wrecked that city a couple of weeks ago. So we already had in our heads an idea of what we’d try to do. I won’t go into much detail about what we did; I’m working on a timeline for how we covered the story over on Storify, and that pretty much sums up how the day went.

In short, social media proved its worth in this situation. We reacted quickly, had pictures of damage on campus out to people who were curious to know how the storm impacted the university within maybe two hours after the storm ended, and were continually updating with new photos and new information throughout the morning. There are things I wish we’d have done differently, but they were mostly minor things regarding timing of some of the information we posted. But, especially when you consider that we were running the immediate reaction type information regarding the storm with power out in the entire city, meaning we were limited by the life of our cell phone batteries, I think we did a really good job covering this event for the campus.

Work on home office/studio space
I finally took some time on Sunday afternoon to spend about two hours in my upstairs office at home and get it back into a condition that’s fit for human habitation. It was a mess before, to the point that it was very difficult to be in there to do anything. I bought a drafting table last year out of some guy’s garage for $50, and this weekend was the first time it’d ever been set up anywhere in my house. Everything is set up now, and I’ve got two really nice surfaces to draw on now; it’s a pretty solid studio space. I still have some work to do on lighting in there — it’s horrible — but in terms of how the furniture is arranged things are as good as they’re going to get until I get my ancient PowerMac G5 out of there.

G.I. Joe Retaliation at Retail
Thanks to Apple’s new Podcasts app, out just a few days ago on June 26, I finally have taken the plunge and started listening to podcasts. Podcasting is one of those things that I really could not tell you why it’s taken me so long to get into. It’s one of those things that seems like it should be right in my wheelhouse, and the subject matter of a vast majority of podcasts are things I’m into — computers and nerd stuff. But, the delay is over, and I’m now subscribed to a whole bunch of stuff.

One of the things I started listening to is a G.I. Joe-related podcast put out by a bunch of guys I follow on Twitter called “What’s On Joe Mind?” They did a couple of wrapup shows for the annual JoeCon collector’s convention, which was in New Orleans over the weekend. One of the wrapups featured a group of designers from Hasbro, who were talking about the direction they’re taking the toy line, providing some more insight into some of the things they had on display at the convention, etc.

The discussion turned to the toys for the G.I. Joe Retaliation movie — which was supposed to come out on Friday the 29th, but just a few weeks ago was pushed back to March 2013. The first wave of toys to support the movie was scheduled to come out just a couple of days after the announcement was made to push the movie back, so there was a lot of speculation about the toys being recalled, etc. But the first wave of toys did make it out with a full retail release, and one of the Hasbro reps, when asked how it was selling, said something along the lines of the toys “doing very well at retail” and that Hasbro hopes to use that success as a springboard for further retailer traction when they “re-release Wave 1 in the spring” when the line ramps up to again support the release of the movie.

Re-releasing Wave 1 is a move that seems like it could backfire. The big fear with movie-related toys is that retailers go all in right away, and end up ordering more of the early waves than they can sell. That leaves shelf space full of old figures, which leaves them no room to put out new releases, which makes the new releases difficult to find (the toys for the first G.I. Joe movie were a textbook example of this; retailers massively over-ordered waves 1 and 2, and the subsequent figures became challenging to track down). Hasbro has a situation where Wave 1 has already been at retail, and as it is by their own admission selling well, putting that same product out a second time is taking a pretty big chance that next spring there will still be people who want to buy those toys who haven’t already purchased them.

Hasbro has a lot of great product in the pipeline for 2013, and hopefully sales of the early Retaliation stuff will justify them putting in the effort to get it to market

Grad School
My second summer school course is underway. I’ve got a forum discussion to participate in this week already, and I probably need to get my work on that done tonight to the extent that I can with tomorrow being the 4th. No word yet on grades for the course that wrapped up last week. I think I did well enough in that; I’d like to think that I’ll get an A and keep my 4.0 going, but we will see. There were no grades posted during the course as updates for individual assignments, so everything will be posted all at once. Not having feedback on the progress of my grade during the class is the source of all of my anxiety about this class, I’m sure, since the only thing I’ll see will be the final grade.

What I’m reading/writing/learning

What I’m Reading
I’m a bit behind on my comic book reading; and, in actuality, I’ve cut back significantly on the number of books I’m buying every month. I’m down to less than a dozen books a month now, which I’m OK with even though I’d really prefer to be closer to eight. I’m buying both of IDW’s ongoing Transformers series (More Than Meets the Eye and Robots in Disguise) and all three of its G.I. Joe books (G.I. Joe, Cobra, and the newly-renamed Snake Eyes & Storm Shadow). I haven’t kept up with the Transformers books like I did before IDW split its one ongoing series into two after Transformers 125 (which I never got), so those are almost in the “I’m only buying these because the shop is pulling them for me” territory.

My DC reading was getting out of hand with their New 52 initiative, and I dropped all but four titles from them — Animal Man, Batman, Batgirl, and Birds of Prey. I missed Animal Man #9, so just by that I may be done buying that one even though it’s a title I have enjoyed quite a bit. Batman is just shockingly good; I read tons of Batman books when I was a hardcore comic book collector in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and while I’m not at all familiar with his recent print history this is as good as any Batman story I’ve ever read. Scott Snyder is just in the zone with the way he’s written the story so far, and Greg Capullo is doing absolutely astonishing work on the art. I’ve looked forward to it every month for eight months now, and it hasn’t let me down yet. Batgirl and Birds of Prey have just been fun books; Gail Simone is right in her element writing Batgirl, and I’ve just been surprised at how much I have enjoyed Birds of Prey. It’s been a really good team book.

I’m also reading three books a month from Image — Invincible, Morning Glories, and Saga. I’m all-digital with Image — I have the first seven hardcover collections of Invincible and the first two trades of Morning Glories, but have never bought single paper issues of either series. I got the first issue of Saga because of the buzz about it online, and then went digital with it just because I loved it so much. All three of these titles, really, have a spot among my favorite books right now, along with Batman and Cobra.

You’ll notice no Marvel books on my list. As much as I love their characters, I’m not buying any of their books. Moon Knight was really cool and I enjoyed following that for a year until it wrapped up; Daredevil was fantastic but suffered the Animal Man fate and got swept aside when I missed an issue somehow; Ghost Rider was silly fun before it wrapped up after nine issues; I decided to quit on FF when it went into space and got kinda silly, and I’ve been buying the second SHIELD miniseries — but it’s been many, many months now since the last issue came out, and I have no clue what the status is on that series moving forward. I bought the first two issues of the Scarlet Spider series that Ryan Stegman was doing art for, but that didn’t hook me; Stegman’s fantastic, though, and now that he’s moved to pencils for Fantastic Four I am probably going to check that out.

What I’m Drawing
As much as I love to draw, and as much as I really wish I was better than I am and had the ability to put the things I can see in my head onto paper rather than just being a Xerox machine of marginal quality, hammering out somewhat decent, but not quite good, copies of work produced by actual artists, as I’ve been trying to get back into it on a more serious basis, I have found it difficult to find motivation to draw regularly. I know, those two sentiments compete mightily and make absolutely no sense. But it’s exactly where I find myself.

So in order to provide myself a push, I bought 15 blank 5×7 Canson watercolor postcards and put out a call on Facebook to my friends — the first 15 people to respond would get a drawing on one of these postcards, which I would then mail to my home. Right now I have a queue of 28 postcards to draw — the response has been overwhelming, and I’m quite excited about that. I hope I can get to all of them in a respectable amount of time; I suspect it’ll be a project I will be working away on for the majority of the summer.

I’ve started already; the first two cards are completed and ready to go out the door. My process has been to start with a light purple sketching pencil to define shapes, then use a 5H pencil to build the image. From there, I’ve been inking over the top of the pencils with Kuretake Zig Memory System Millennium markers — they come in a five-pack of various point sizes that runs about $10.50 at Target — and then erasing all of the pencil lines and coloring the final image with Prismacolor markers and pencils.

Right now, the Kuretake pens are killing me. They’re fantastic pens — if you stop at the inking stage. I’ve discovered the hard way that the ink isn’t waterproof; the Prismacolor markers will catch the black lines and smear ink all over the place when I’m trying to color the cards.

I had an Amazon gift certificate to burn, so I took the plunge and bought a four-pack of Copic Multiliner SP inking pens a couple of weeks ago. I’ve wanted to try Copics for awhile; the ink is waterproof and is specifically designed to use for this kind of inking and then colored over with markers. So I think for Card 3, I’m going to switch from the Kuretakes to the Copics and see how that works out. I’m actually afraid that I’m going to fall head over heels in love with the Copics and want to buy more — because they are stupidly expensive.

What I’m Learning
I spent today trying to learn a couple of new social media tools – HootSuite and Storify.

HootSuite is pretty much just like TweetDeck or Seesmic or any other Twitter client along those lines; it allows you to create different columns for different content and search piles of stuff simultaneously, has functionality to allow you to keep track of Facebook, etc. It’s got some built-in post scheduling abilities that are either non-existent or not as apparent as they should be on the other clients.

Most of the “good” features of HootSuite are limited to the pro (“paid”) version, which costs about ten bucks a month; so who knows if they’re even worthwhile. I’ll probably just pay the $10 at some point to try them out, and if they seem useful I’ll keep paying them.

There still is not a multi-column Twitter client that allows for any decent way at all to manage user lists. You can add users to lists in HootSuite, but I need to do some digging to find out if that’s actually adding users to my Twitter list (which means their membership would be available to me in other clients, like TweetDeck or the Twitter desktop and/or mobile clients), or if they’re just added to a cloned version of that list that only lives in HootSuite. If it’s the latter, that’s basically useless.

Storify allows you to cobble together bits and pieces of stuff from all over the web, with an emphasis on social media posts, to build a “social story.” The best way to explain it is to just show you the test story I built this afternoon. You pick and choose social posts, images, web pages, text snippets, any piece of content you can find on the web, really, and mash it all together into a “story,” along with text fields that allow you to put the pieces into context or weave an overall narrative to stitch them all together into something coherent. I can foresee a few applications for this for work; I can also foresee a few uses of it for some of my other side projects. I may try to use it to support the comic book reviews I write; I have never felt like putting in the time to download art, format it for the blog, and upload it to support the written reviews. It’s just seemed like too much work. But, I can see how it might be pretty easy to cobble together the existing pieces of the comic from all over the web — IDW’s original solicit for the issue, the cover art, the preview that gets posted, pencils/inks/etc. posted by the creative team on their various blogs and hangouts all across the Internet — and smoosh them together into a “supporting art” story in Storify, and then just link to the Storify story from the review. I might give that a shot this week and see how it goes…

Birchbox and comics — a pretty solid combination

What I’m Buying
I actually got this on Monday; I signed up for a three-month trial to Birchbox. This was a total impulse buy; it just seemed silly and fun to get a little box full of unknown loots in the mail every month. The first box came with a pair of really nice green and blue Richer Poorer socks, a trial size bottle of Zirh shave gel (which I’ve actually used for years), a bar of this Kiehl’s soap, and some Billy Jealousy facial cleanser. Super-fun. I’m curious now to see what sort of goodies I get next month…

What I’m Reading
Tons of good stuff today. Tons. Batman #9 continues the Court of the Owls storyline, as a weakened Batman tries to flush the Court’s Talon assassins out of the Batcave; this entire series has been comic book brilliance, and today’s issue was absolutely no exception. It’s incredibly well-written, and Greg Capullo’s just been in the zone on the art for all 198 pages so far. It’s one of four DC books I’m still buying after my experiment to try out around half of DC’s New 52, and as long as the creative team of Scott Snyder and Capullo stays together, it’s getting my four bucks a month. I just love it. G.I. Joe #13 came out today as well, and I wrote a review of it last night for The Terrordrome. Just read this morning’s post; it sucked and I really don’t have much more to say about it.

The two digital comics I buy also both came out today — Invincible #91 and Morning Glories #18. Both of those were really good as well. Invincible also ends with a great cliffhanger, as we discover that the Viltrumite scourge virus meant to kill Mark might have altered him in noticeable — and exceptionally painful — ways. And there really aren’t enough good things to say about Morning Glories at this point; it’s just now a year and a half old, and it’s one of the best things I’ve ever picked up. The story is phenomenal; Joe Eisma’s art is gorgeous. This is just a fantastic comic.

I’m also a couple of weeks behind on this, but I finally got the second issue of the Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples collaboration, Saga, today as well (two bucks on iPad — I freaking love digital comics). This series is amazing. Absolutely fantastic. The premise is simple enough — boy soldier from Army A falls for girl soldier from Army B, resulting in child C; powerful people who don’t like that they’ve combined forces send assassins to kill them. So they run. Vaughan’s using a really clever narrative trick to drive the story along, and Staples’ art is just flat-out beautiful. The full-page cliffhanger splash at the end of the second issue is just a genius comic book page; based on how the issue progressed, the ending is nothing you would expect in a million years, and visually it’s just stunning. Fantastic page.

I am really enjoying the fact that I am to the point that I absolutely love everything I’m buying now. So fun.

Who I’m Following
There has been a bunch of research regarding social media that says people tend to surround themselves with people who share similar opinions on political issues, and that despite the infinite ability of the Internet to connect people of every imaginable viewpoint, people tend to freeze out those who don’t agree with them. I’m really finding that I am exactly the opposite. After today’s news that President Obama came out and explicitly supported gay marriage, the reaction from my social media circles has been overwhelmingly and basically exclusively positive. I’m not sure I have seen anything from any of the people I follow on Twitter or are friends with on Facebook that has come out and complained about the position. The only remotely anti-Obama things I’ve seen today have been obvious jokes on Twitter, really. I think I have a diverse group of people that I’m following; it could be that is not true, or that the people who lean to the left just tend to be far more vocal. And, it could just be that the right-leaning people who are vocal (and I do follow some) just haven’t felt like commenting about this. Whatever the reason, the overwhelming one-sidedness of the reaction stood out.

As for this particular announcement — for those who are pursuing this right (and they should be; the 14th Amendment, equal protection under the law, First Amendment, religious freedom (and this is a religious issue, and only a religious issue), all of that) what the President said today is a shot in the arm. Unfortunately, in the grand scheme of things, right now it’s meaningless. North Carolina is passing constitutional amendments banning it; Minnesota’s trying to do the same thing. There’s no possible way the federal government passes anything; the Supreme Court doesn’t seem to be touching it. It’s a feather in the cap, for sure, but, functionally, nothing seems as if it will actually change any time soon.

What I’m Studying
Grades are posted for both of my spring courses at Winona State; I have officially completed my first year of grad school with a 4.0.

The rumors are true — I actually finished another novel

What I’m Reading
I just finished Clive Barker‘s Abarat: Days of Magic, Nights of War (literally just finished, within the last 15 minutes).  I’ve fallen into a “like it but don’t love it” kind of place with Abarat; I started out really enjoying it, but it seems to be dragging on for the sake of requiring more books at this point. I’m positive I’ll buy and read the third book in the series, Absolute Midnight, but honestly I’m up for taking a break from this series to read something else first. As long as it takes me to finish books once I start them, it may be 2014 until I get around to Absolute Midnight, and that really isn’t much of an exaggeration.

Candidates for Next Book that are sitting on my shelf right now – G.I. Joe: Tales From the Cobra Wars, an anthology of short stories edited by Max Brooks of World War Z fame; Neuromancer by William Gibson; and finally A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin.

Truth be told, I have a ton more books that I haven’t read that should be on this list. But, y’know, they are all the way upstairs. So, of the three that my laziness makes accessible to me, Neuromancer is probably the leading candidate. It just feels like something I should’ve read a long time ago, back when I was actually reading books. I have Barker’s Coldheart Canyon upstairs as well, and that’s probably a candidate also. I just like reading Barker’s books;  I enjoy his use of language and the worlds he builds, and I’ve always had this notion that his mind works the way I wish mine would sometimes, in terms of the things he’s able to dream up and then produce — either in prose or on a canvas with his paintings.

I also got assaulted with hardcover comic collections today as a result of my birthday cash score from Parents. The four most-recent volumes of Invincible to catch me up with all seven of those; both of DC’s absolutely gorgeous New Teen Titans omnibuses; volume two of Matt Fraction and Salvador Larocca’s Invincible Iron Man series, which is worth owning not only because it’s a run of very good Iron Man stories, but for Larocca’s absolutely awesome art; and the first volume of Dynamite’s adaptation of A Game of Thrones which I have purchased because Tommy Patterson seems like a great guy I’d like to have a beer or six with, and I like his art — and for basically no other reasons.

What I’m Studying
I’m going to turn in my final research paper for one of my grad school courses tonight, and with that I will close the books on my spring semester. I took a final exam last night, which was the most bizarre test I have ever taken in my life. It was a 30-question multiple-choice test given online with a 75-minute time limit — two and a half minutes per question is obscene, and basically meant there was more than ample time to repeatedly Google any answer I didn’t know immediately. That’s not the odd part. The odd part was that we were initially told that the test would be only 60 minutes, and the questions we were asked were not related to anything we had directly discussed in class, ever, or anything that was even in our textbook or the PowerPoint presentations that served as our “handouts” over the course of the spring. The questions were all tangentially related to the course’s main topic, but almost all involved tiny details that were never remotely part of the coursework. It was almost like the test was specifically designed to mess with us — to the point that after five questions I honestly wondered if the wrong exam had been posted. Still, of the 30 questions, I missed two, and one of the questions I missed was because the instructor wanted a specific response from two that were for all intents and purposes the same — one was a symptom and one was the resulting problem. I answered the problem; he wanted the symptom. So, still — I got a 93 percent on a test that was almost entirely material that I was seeing for the first time when I sat down to take the exam.

But, turning in tonight’s paper will have me 12 credits toward a master’s degree, and as of tonight I am still on track to finish everything in the spring of 2013. I’m taking two summer-school courses, which is not going to be much fun, but that’ll only leave me four classes (and an internship that will likely get written off) to take next year to finish the degree — two in the fall, and two in the spring. I need to check course schedules, etc., to see what the fall will look like, but, really, after tonight I’m going to be 40 percent done with this degree (and I should have 12 credits of As).

That’s about it for now… I’ll save a couple of my other “What I’m (whatever)” for tomorrow.