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So Long Livejournal

No, I'm not predicting doom for the site (though others seem to do that weekly) ... I'm just saying that a while ago I moved my blogging over to my website and had my updates set to automatically cross-post here to LJ. Now it seems like that functionality is no longer working ... and the end result is that my posts are just not going to show up here any more.

I'll be honest, I COULD go to the effort of manually cross-posting ... but I'm not going to. (I MAY pop in occasionally with notes like this, though ... maybe.) My website is where I want people to go ... and so that's where I'm going to put my effort (since clearly, based on the irregularity of my updates in recent months, I NEED to put in some effort). You can always keep up with my comings and goings via Twitter ... and I'm going to keep my LJ account alive (since I still use the Friends page all the time). But it may be a very long time before you see any new content here from me.

So long, Livejournal ... and thanks for all the fish!

Products At Gen Con

The Internet is abuzz today with gamers trying to figure out what they should buy at Gen Con. Just to make sure that I’m never accused of missing an opportunity to blatantly plug projects I had a hand in, I suggest those of you in Indianapolis this week check out these booths.

STUDIO 2 PUBLISHING (Booth #605): The place to find all of the Super Genius Games print products, from compilations of our Pathfinder PDFs to our Call of Cthulhu adventures to our Savage Worlds campaign, you can find it all at Studio 2. New for the convention is LOOT 4 LESS: Things That Make You Go Boom!, collecting several of our ultra-popular Loot 4 Less PDFs into a single volume filled with low-priced permanent magic items that are affordable even to 1st-level PCs.

PAIZO PUBLISHING (Booth #302): You can find the Super Genius Games Pathfinder-compatible products for sale at the home of all things Pathfinder. Along with the new LOOT 4 LESS: Things That Make You Go Boom! book you can also get ADVENTURER’S HANDBOOK: Genius Guide, vol. 1 … plus I and all the other Geniuses will be spending a good deal of time at the Paizo booth just because they’re such swell folks.

GAMING PAPER (Booth #1456): It kind of snuck up on me how many items I’m connected to at the Gaming Paper booth. They’ll have their first two ever books of adventure material for sale — books that I did Creative Director work on. Check out CITADEL OF PAIN, a mega-adventure which makes full use of every room within their MEGA-DUNGEON 1 map product. Also check out ALL-STARS TAKE ON THE MEGA-DUNGEON which presents a quartet of smaller adventures that each uses part of the MEGA-DUNGEON 1 set and features work by Monte Cook, Ed Greenwood, Steven Schend, and Brian Cortijo. Also, while you’re there, you can pick up a roll of HOLIDAY WRAPPING PAPER BY STAN! for use as the holidays roll around.

Originally published at The Stannex. Please leave any comments there.

Stan!’s Gen Con Schedule

Yes, it’s that magical time of year again where I post my Gen Con schedule for the 3.5 people who care. (One person THINKS they’re gonna care, gets halfway through the list, and suddenly realizes that he doesn’t care AT ALL.) I’ve got a good mix of seminars, events, and open time to schmooze … so whichever of those interests you the most, I hope we can do some of it together at the show.

WED

9:00 – Diana Jones Awards

THU

11:00 – Atomic Array Interview

Noon – No-No’s of Game Design (GoH seminar)

4:00 – Battle for Dragon’s Delve (Dungeonaday.com sponsored event) (2 hours)

FRI

11:00 – Best Game Ever (GoH seminar)

2:00 – What’s New at Super Genius Games (Super Genius Games sponsored seminar)

5:30 – ENnie Cocktail Party

7:00 – ENnies Awards (I’m a presenter this year)

SAT

10:00 – Philosophies of Game Design (GoH seminar)

Noon – PDF Publishing 101 (GoH seminar)

1:30 – Secret Business Meeting (It’s secret!)

5:00 – Freelancing (GoH seminar)

9:00 – Old Time Post-Apocalypse Campaign

SUN

11:00 – Running a Game Company (GoH seminar)

MON

All Day – Hang out in Indianapolis, maybe see a movie or something. (My flight doesn’t leave until evening.)

Originally published at The Stannex. Please leave any comments there.

Double-Holiday (Or Maybe Triple)

Today is another of my artist holidays … well … actually it’s TWO of my artist holidays all rolled into one square on the calendar. June 21st is both Al Hirschfeld’s and Berke Breathed’s birthdays.

Al Hirshfeld is one of the great caricaturists of the 20th-century, indeed (in my opinion) of all time. I became a fan of his work long before I knew how brilliant it was. Growing up, my family always had a subscription to the NY Times and on Sunday mornings, while dad read the sports, mom read the travel section, and my brother and sister squabbled over the comics (from Newsday … the Times doesn’t HAVE a comics section), I would stare fascinated at page 1 of the Arts & Leisure section at a massive Hirschfeld depicting some new Broadway show or movie blockbuster. I was lost in the wild loops and swirls and hypnotized by the human forms they made … and I still am to this day. Anyone who has seen my attempts at caricature can not doubt that Hirschfeld was a major influence on me … I only hope that it is occasionally also true in my other drawings as I try to capture a burst of motion (or emotion) in just a few simple lines.

Berke Breathed, on the other hand, is one of my greatest influences in terms of learning the art of the four-panel comic strip. Bloom County premiered in our local papers right about the time I was starting to realize that my interest in cartooning was more than just an idle fancy. It was THE comic strip of its day … the one that everyone opened up the paper to read … the one that we talked about in the cafeteria the next day. Look at any of the comic strips I did in high school and college, and you’ll see the Breathed influence. And I hope that you can hear the echo of his timing, irreverence, and sense of the absurd in the comics I’m still doing today.

****

I’ve been in the deadline cave pretty much constantly for the past few weeks, which means that I missed commenting on a few moments of significance … not least among them, another of my artist holidays — the birthday of M.C. Escher.

Although I’m sure I saw some of his drawings earlier in my life, the first time I REMEMBER being introduced to Escher was my first week at university. An enterprising art dealer was having a sale of prints, mattes, and frames on SUNY B Peace Quad, and one of my dorm neighbors was specifically looking for Reptiles … and he found it, too! Another neighbor bought Waterfall. But while I was fascinated by his reality-bending pieces, I had my eye on Hand With Reflecting Globe – still one of the most startling self-portraits I’ve ever seen. But over the years, the Escher piece that has most captivated me is Drawing Hands … it just speaks volumes to me about the sense of various levels of “reality” that can co-exist in a drawing.

Originally published at The Stannex. Please leave any comments there.

The Challenge of Losing Your Mouse

Last week I talked a bit about the experiences of my first week using an iPad as my main piece of writing hardware. I thought I’d covered the whole thing pretty thoroughly, but I just realized one topic I didn’t discuss: How weird it is not to use a mouse.

Okay. Confession time. I have been writing long enough to remember the days before the mouse was a standard piece of computer equipment. I remember how much my friends mocked me for using (and, in fact, preferring) a machine that required this dinky little “toy” in order to interface with the system.

Of course, here we are, nearly three decades later, and it seems impossible to imagine NOT using a mouse. It is a completely integral part of home computer functionality. But the iPad doesn’t use a mouse … it uses a touch screen.

This is all well and good when you’re using it AS a “pad” … holding the machine in your hands and poking around at it with your fingers is completely natural. But when you stand it on end, put a keyboard in front of it, and start typing away, reaching out and touching the screen to move, modify, and highlight text is … well … kind of counter-intuitive. At least, at this this point in the tech-curve it is. We’re USED to using the mouse to guide a cursor and then either single- or double-clicking (left or right side) to get the desired effect. It feels WEIRD to have to poke at the screen and there’s a lingering uncertainty and fumbling quality to the tentative touches I’m making on the screen.

How many times to I have to hit it? And at what angle to get the location and effect just right? And what happens if I get it wrong?

This really has been the most difficult part of using the iPad to write. And it’s only getting better slowly. Using a mouse is just such second nature that anything else feels wrong.

I’m sure that, given time, I’ll become as adept at this new touch-based user interface as I currently am with the mouse-based one. But in the meanwhile, if you see me jabbing at my “laptop screen” and looking at it quizzically … just know that I haven’t lost my mouse (or my mind) … I’m trying to step into the future.

Originally published at The Stannex. Please leave any comments there.

iPad: One Week In (Part 2)

Yesterday, I talked a bit about the experiences of my first week using an iPad as my main out-of-the-house writing machine. In particular, I talked about the hardware, but just as important really is the software. That’s what I’m going to talk about today.

The question of software functionality really breaks into two major categories: Writing/Editing Functionality and Switching Between Programs. I’ll start with the latter because, really, it’s an easier subject.

The potential problem, in a nutshell, is that a laptop is capable of running multiple programs simultaneously, but the iPad can only run one at a time. So where as before I could have a word processor open in one window, a web browser in another, a PDF viewer in another, and a spreadsheet in yet another and click back and forth between them, now I would have to shut down whatever program I was working with in order to boot up another.

In theory, this sounds like a terrible hardship. And there are some projects on which it really WOULD be. But as someone who mostly deals with JUST text generation (mostly), the vast majority of my projects simply don’t require a whole lot of flipping from one program to another. The most common iteration of this that I do is pausing in my writing to look something up online. And ALL of the writing apps I’ve seen so far are programmed smart enough to keep my place in the document, so that when I close and re-open the app, the cursor is just where I left it. Plus the web browsers are generally set to open up on the “last page viewed.” So in practice, there is no discernible difference between the iPad’s functionality and tabbing over to a program that’s running in parallel.

Of course, high-power computer users WILL notice some differences. And I’m certain there ARE programs that my laptop had that aren’t available on the iPad … but I didn’t USE those applications much (if at all) … so I haven’t miss them. Indeed, so far I’m not ever sure WHAT they are. There may yet come a day when I desperately want to get my iPad to perform some function I took for granted on my old laptop only to find that it simply can’t be done. But one week in, I can say that I haven’t even run into the shadow of that issue.

On the other hand, the question of functionality in Word Processing is something I’ve spent a GREAT deal of time examining and thinking about. There are a lot of writing apps available, and I bought every one that anyone recommended to me, just so I could try them all out. (At an average cost of $3/app it just seemed smartest to spend the money and make my own comparisons.)

As of this writing, I have the following apps: Pages, Plain Text, and iA Writer.

When it comes to straight up typing text and getting it into a usable file, I have to say that they ALL do the job adequately. However, since my work is equal parts writing and editing for print readiness, there are some extra features that are important to me, in particular being able to work with text formats like bold, italics, indents, and multiple styles. Really, I need an app that gives me most of the basic functionality of Microsoft Word, and to that end only ONE app has done the trick: Pages (based on the native-Mac word processing and layout program).

This brings up the hidden challenge that each app had to deal with: data transfer–getting files to and from the iPad. Since it isn’t possible to use a USB Flash Drive with the iPad (withough jail breaking the machine, which I wasn’t prepared to do), some other data transfer method has to be used.

My preference is to use Dropbox, which is a great cloud-based storage service that has a very well designed app. And many of the word processing apps are built specifically to synch with Dropbox BECAUSE it is such a widely used service. However, Pages does not have Dropbox connectivity (mainly, it seems, because Apple is trying to encourage users to turn to either their proprietary MobileMe or iWork systems).

Honestly, this almost killed Pages for me. I have no interest in paying for MobileMe, and iWork has a severe limitation on how large a document it can handle (nothing bigger than 50 pages … which many, perhaps most, of my projects exceed). But the Pages text manipulation abilities are head and shoulders better than any other apps. Thankfully, it DOES allow you to email files … so that has become my data transfer option of choice for the moment.

I’ll be honest, though, I am significantly less than 100% satisfied. And I’m here to say that unless Pages introduces a way to access Dropbox, I’m a user who is just sticking around and waiting for some other software producer to introduce an app that handles text better AND synchs with Dropbox … and I’ll drop Pages like a hot potato.

In the meanwhile, though, the system works. I’ve done three separate types of projects (manga localization, game design, and standard copy editing) on the iPad this week, and had almost no trouble (and what trouble I did have was the sort I EXPECT when learning to use a new piece of equipment).

So, really, one week in, I have nothing but positive things to say about my iPad writing experience. It SEEMS like this is going to be a boon to me and my ability to write on the go … and that can only make me a happier Stan!

Originally published at The Stannex. Please leave any comments there.

iPad: One Week In (Part 1)

Well, it’s now been a full week of having and working with my iPad, so this seems as good a time as any to do my first report/review (since a surprising number of people actually requested that I do so). To begin with, I guess I should talk about what hardware I’m using.

I talked to a lot of people who gave varying bits of advice about which model to go with. I decided that I was not willing to pay extra for a data plan, so I had no need of the 3G-enabled models. My laptop (for which this is a substitute) relied on wi-fi, and I never felt that it was a drawback, so I figured the same would be true for the iPad. Besides, if I ever REALLY needed to use the Internet when I was away from wi-fi, I could pull out my iPhone and use that. (And, if reports about iPhone 5 are right, when it’s released and I upgrade, I’ll actually be able to use THAT as a tether and create a wi-fi connection ANYWHERE.)

The question of data storage was another thing. Some people urged me to get the most possible because that would allow me to store an incredible amount of media (be it text files, drawings, music, or video). But I’d been using an 8-gig data stick as my main piece of data-transportation equipment along with a 6-gig iPod Touch and never filled up either. It seemed unlikely to me that I’d ever NEED to fill up my iPad … and even unlikely that I’d do so inadvertently. Plus, because of my freelancer income, price sensitivity was a real issue in this whole process, and each step up in storage comes along with a significant step up in price.

The other big issue that I had, and that people offered me widely varying opinions on, was the keyboard. Clearly, using the built-in, on-screen keyboard in the iPad wasn’t going to work. The machine isn’t sensitive and reactive enough to handle touch-typing, and as someone who can (at my best) type 75 words per minute (and can average 40-50 wpm), that’s important.

There were two camps in the keyboard debate: One that backed a wireless bluetooth set (with heavy weight toward Apple’s own shiny little silver & white slab) and those who preferred a keyboard/recharge-dock combination unit.

Both solutions required some kind of power source–batteries or a wall plug. But I was trying to get away from needing a wall plug at all (that being one of my main complaints about using the laptop recently). And in order for the combo unit to do any recharging it absolutely needed to be plugged into a wall outlet.

The main complaints I heard about a wireless keyboard was that having bluetooth reception on caused the iPad to use its battery charge more quickly. And one person told me that there was a noticeable on-screen lag when typing quickly with these units.

In the end I decided to go with a 14 gig, wi-fi only iPad2 (the most basic of the available units) with an Apple bluetooth keyboard, and on the whole it has worked exactly as I’d expected. Yes, there have been times when a lack of wi-fi has been minority annoying, but it hasn’t ever prevented me from using the iPad in exactly the way I would have used the laptop … so that’s really not germane to the discussion. And, in point of fact, the iPad has been faster, lighter, and easier to boot than my laptop. Add that to the fact that even at its highest consumption rate (actively using wi-fi and bluetooth), the length of usage I get out of a single full battery is at least EIGHT TIMES more than I was getting out of the laptop, and it becomes clear that this is already a successful experiment.

Of course, all of that was exactly as I’d expected. It was pretty easy to figure out whether the new hardware would physically work the way I needed it to, and by the time I placed the order I was pretty confident it would. The BIG question was whether I’d be able to get adequate functionality out of the available apps to match the software I was previously using on the laptop.

But this post is already long enough … so that’s a question that will have to wait be be explored in Part 2 tomorrow.

Originally published at The Stannex. Please leave any comments there.

I Have A Recurring Plane To Catch!

It’s not common for me to remember my dreams. Once or twice a year, I’ll go through spurts where I remember them several nights in a row, but they’re usually quite bizarre. In general, though, I don’t remember the nightly subconscious decompressions my brain treats my sleeping mind to.

Recently, though, I’ve been having a recurring dreamlet … a snippet that isn’t a dream itself, but a concept that sneaks into whatever dream I happen to be having at that moment. And the concept in question has been this: I suddenly remember that I have an airplane flight scheduled for the following morning (generally less than 12 hours away … with sleep being needed in between).

I recognize this as a variant of the “I have a test I forgot to study for” dream, but there are clear differences. This dreamlet doesn’t become the focus of the dream. In fact, it’s generally a signifier that I’m about to wake up. So, really, it seems like it might be my brain worrying about deadlines and telling me that I need to get up and get to work.

Also, it’s not an anxiety dream. I don’t spend time WORRYING about the fact that I have this forgotten plane to catch … I just realize that this event is coming, stop whatever else I was doing, and start working toward the new goal (generally involving doing laundry, packing, and/or arranging transportation). A quick surge of anxiety is followed by immediate action. Then I wake up.

This dreamlet has been cropping up a lot recently. Several times a week, and certainly for the last three or four days running. Not terribly surprising, since I’m in the middle of a 6-week series of back-to-back deadline crunches. Hopefully, once those pass, so will this recurring dreamlet.

I’m just afraid that one day I’ll wake up and realize that I really DO have a plane to catch!

Originally published at The Stannex. Please leave any comments there.

Rockwell Exhibit

A few weeks ago, my friend Jeff made a post on his blog about a trip he and his wife made down to the Tacoma Art Museum to see a Norman Rockwell exhibit that featured ALL of his Saturday Evening Post covers and a roomful of original paintings.

Rockwell is someone whose work has always meant a lot to me. He deftly straddled the line between “high art” and “commercial art/illustration” (terms that mean a lot to academics and art directors). He seemed to be able to tell stories (often humorous stories) with his paintings and yet still be taken seriously by … well … everyone.

Plus, his work is so BEAUTIFUL!

Really, I’ve been a fan for years, but hardly ever talked about it because … well … who ISN’T a fan of Norman Rockwell?!?

Anyway, the blog told me that the show would be in Tacoma until May 30th, so I thought I had PLENTY of time to get down to see it. I kept telling myself that, day after day … until yesterday morning, when I realized I had TWO DAYS left to get down to see it, and I had plans for Monday!

So, I got up on Sunday, got myself ready, and headed down to Tacoma.

It was a surprisingly quick trip. In my head, it’s a bigger deal to go down to that end of the Puget Sound than it really turns out to be. I got from my driveway to the museum in under 30 minutes. Really, I stood in line to get my tickets longer than that. It turns out that I wasn’t the only person who had procrastinated coming to see this exhibit.

In the end, the wait was relatively short and only served to heighten my anticipation. The show itself was great. Surprisingly (to me) I found the magazine covers (actual magazine covers, not the original art) to be the highlight. Being able to see a 50-year career at the TOP of the illustration field laid out for easy viewing was revelatory. Seeing the growth of the artist, the refinement of the perspective on America, and the decades-long focus on what is best in successive generations was more emotional and profound an experience than I had expected.

Then there was the whole other room of the exhibit — a large space filled with dozens of original canvases.

I don’t know why, but I somehow had it in my head that the four-color press representations of Rockwell’s work accurately captured all of the gravitas of his paintings … which seems ridiculous to me now that I’ve seen those canvases. In his blog post, Jeff mentioned tactile nature of the oil paints that Rockwell worked in most often … but the thing that impressed me the most were all the other media that got worked in there. The ink line work to draw sharp, detailed edges. The pencil drawing to create the feeling of painterly mediums within a painted reality.

I swear I spent a good twenty minutes just looking at various fine details in “Triple Self Portrait” (one of my absolute favorites of Rockwell’s catalog), and at least ten minutes apiece on several other paintings, just noting the details of the painterly tricks and tools he used to create those iconic images of America and Americana.

I also came away with a new image added to my list of favorites. “Family Tree” is a piece I’m not even sure I’d ever seen before or, if I had, one that I never really appreciated as much as it deserves. The emotion, character, story, and sense of history that Rockwell is able to convey with just a collection of paired head shots completely blew me away JUST when I saw it on a Post cover. Seeing the 5-foot canvas almost literally staggered me.

The room was crowded, so I had to keep the other patrons in mind as I tried to get close-up views and to spend extended periods of time lingering over the canvases. Plus, I noticed as I made my way through the gallery, the line to get in had grown considerably during my stay. So after a couple of hours I took one last look at “Triple Self Portrait” and took my leave.

But despite the fact that I spent the rest of the day working on editing and writing assignments, I kept thinking about drawing. I hope I can find time in the coming week to spend on my own meager illustrations … seeing if there are ways I can tease my lines and splashes of color to show a little more emotion, capture a little more truth, and tell just slightly better stories.

Originally published at The Stannex. Please leave any comments there.

An Apple A Day: The Second Package

One thing I have to say about Apple, they certainly have their shipping processes wired. After receiving my keyboard, I was still able to track the process on the remainder of my order (namely, the iPad itself), which it turns out was coming to me direct from the factory in Shenzhen, China. I knew when it was scheduled to ship, and when it was scheduled to arrive, and those dates would occasionally change (presumably as work flow in the factory did).

Then, all of a sudden, I noticed that the package HAD shipped … two days earlier than predicted. Unfortunately, the arrival date did NOT shift (presumably because of the holiday weekend). Still, I was invited to track the package’s progress via Fed Ex’s tracking system, so I did.

Shenzhen to Hong Kong to Alaska and to Oakland, all within 30 hours. Pretty impressive. But the delivery date remained on the far side of the weekend. This seemed true to form for Fed Ex, in my experience … never deliver anything any EARLIER than promised because that should cost more.

Anyway, that’s how I went to sleep last Thursday night … package in Oakland. Which was a little frustrating, but acceptable.

However, when I woke up in the (late) morning on Friday it was to find a Fed Ex sticker on my front door saying that they’d tried to deliver a package, but “no one was home.” Going online, I sure enough found out that it was MY package, which had made it from Oakland to Seattle and onto the local delivery truck while I was asleep.

Now, suddenly, I had exactly the same situation — no delivery because of the holiday weekend — but the package was going to be sitting less than 5 miles from my home. THAT was maddening! Luckily, the local Fed Ex depot was open into the early evening. I waited until the delivery trucks finished their routes and went there, hoping that I’d be able to get them to fish around for it … but I was needlessly worried. All it took was one ID confirmation, a signature, and 4 minutes of waiting and suddenly I had my package in my hands. And in the package … my iPad!

I won’t lie, I got a little misty eyed. I also got a little myopically focused on my new device.

Over the next day, I spent about $100 on protective gear and apps … and spent a bit too much of my time fiddling with the device, trying to get it set up for writing duty NOOOOOWWW.

The good news is that it works. I am making this post from my favorite Panera using the iPad and the bluetooth keyboard. It works!

The less good news is that I still have a bunch of little road bumps to figure out. I can’t get the app I like AND the data transfer/storage service I like to work together. I am having some adjustment issues to working without a mouse. And I still have deadlines that are pressing close enough that I might have to go back to using my laptop for another few days. But those are all only short term problems.

In the long run, it seems like this VERY MUCH is going to work.

*whew*

Originally published at The Stannex. Please leave any comments there.