Projects

Now that I’m done with graduate school save for my final paper and a comprehensive final exam, I’ve started giving some thought to what to tackle next. Grad school hasn’t been challenging, really, but having it hanging over my head constantly for the last two years, including summer school, has been incredibly taxing. It’s been a distraction, pulling my attention away from just about everything else with the mere fact that it’s been something that’s been constantly on my mind since August of 2011.

Right now, my “what’s next?” list has three projects. Those are:

• Write some software. This is a project I have already started; initially I want to work on doing some development for Filemaker Pro 12 as part of a project for work, and I think it’s finally time to stop making excuses and begin learning how to do iOS development. It’s something that has fascinated me since the very first moment I held my first iOS device, a third-generation iPod Touch.

For Filemaker, I want to start building a project for work. I maintain a series of spreadsheets in Google Docs to keep track of my news and social media calendars for work; right now there are three. One with an inventory of news releases I distribute over the course of a given year; one is a calendar of upcoming events on campus that I use as a coverage planner; the third is a similar calendar for scheduling social media posts, which is a new initiative for this year. With this system, I don’t have an easy way to answer questions like “what media outlets picked up X story?” or “what stories were picked up by the most number of media outlets?” I think I can use Filemaker to build something that can answer these questions for me.

For iOS, I have all kinds of ideas. There are things I could build for work; I have ideas for things I could build in order to support Brad’s new initiatives in athletic media relations; there are things I could build to help deliver publications and presentation materials. I also have an idea for a game, to digitally resurrect something from the late 1990s that has been gone for awhile and never got the virtual version it deserved.

• Write a book. Taking inspiration from this, I have an idea for a similar encyclopedic look at something that I’m pretty sure has not yet received this sort of formal treatment (although there are several web versions, but none that do exactly what I have in mind). This will take a ton of work, but I think the end result could be cool.

I also have had an idea for a work-related book in my head for about 10 years; it’s something that is right in my wheelhouse, and I have the ability to gather the assets I would need to write this book at my easy disposal through work. And, it’s a subject that deserves to be written.

So, ultimately “write a book” might become “write two books.” We shall see.

• Finish my postcard project for my friends. Just over a year ago, I put out a call to my friends on Facebook to request postcards – “Ask me to draw you something, and I will send it to you on a postcard.” I expected a few responses, and I ended up with a list of about 36 of these to draw. I had this idea that I’d do one of them each week. The first one was done for Megan in early June of 2012. By October, I had done eight. I finished a ninth in November, and have barely touched pencil to paper since then save for the Megan Fox piece I started in May. I need to get this off the ground again, and get my friends the cards they asked for. Maybe not a card a week, but at least a card every other week.

I also need to start drawing Lego Gagas again; I’ve scrounged up some great reference material on Pinterest that needs to be Legoized.

Thoughts after midnight

Man it is late. But I started reading and it was difficult to stop. I have been laser focused on something I can’t even talk about, and tonight I started reading a pair of books to help get my mind into necessary shape (which, honestly, has been needed for awhile for any number of reasons 🙂 ). They both are off to a good start. I got through all of the introductory chapters for “Making Ideas Happen,” which has been rotting on my iPad since before I even had this particular iPad — so, Y’know, a long time. I read the 22-page iBookstore sample for the second book, which was fascinating; I will definitely get that book once I have finished “Ideas.”

Obviously my little goal of posting here daily has been a dismal failure so far; part of my efforts tonight with reading are to try and do better and to force myself into a disciplined rhythm even if, like tonight, I end up being awake irresponsibly late in order to do what I want to do each day. The kids/family/job/school blender of life makes my days pretty short, but I would like to put more effort into making good use of the time I do have — which I am terrible at.

I do like posting from my iPad though… Maybe I just need to be more flexible with my writing source instead of deciding I am not in the mood to get to the MacBook Pro. We shall see.

In closing, the greatest thing ever is hearing a two-year-old tell you, “thanks for making me happy.” Life accomplished, basically.

Good night.

(This post took 11 minutes. I can find 11 minutes a day to do this…)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.