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.