pentacles, magic

The Magic Sketchbook Chronicles

I just unified all my blog posts from the past half year about the Surface and the Mobile Studio under a new tag: “Magic Sketchbook”.

For me, a Magic Sketchbook is a device that does pretty much one thing: run Adobe Illustrator in a package not much bigger or heavier than a hardbound 9×12″ sketchbook, with the ease and fluidity of being at the computer with one hand on the stylus and the other on the keyboard hitting the forty or fifty hotkeys I’ve grown used to. It can do other things, it’s a general-purpose computer, but the only software I want to run on it is Illustrator, so as to eliminate the myriad distractions of the net, Twitter, IM, email, and whatever else.

I have not assembled a system that fills all of these criteria, but I think I can live with my current compromise of a (heavy, slightly-too-large, kickstand-lacking) 13″ Mobile Studio plus a Twiddler3 chording keyboard and a wire stand taped to the back. Looking at my braindumps along the way to this may help you make some decisions about what your magic sketchbook will be, if you have about $2k to spare.

Originally published at Egypt Urnash. You can comment here or there.

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Wacom Mobile Studio vs Surface 4 Pro

I spent some time with both of these devices this year. They’re both pretty similar in a lot of respects: a nearly-300dpi screen, an i5 or i7 processor, and Windows 10. Which means they can run Adobe Illustrator – which is the entire reason I am interested in a Windows device.

The dream is to have a 13″ tablet that runs Illustrator so I can work in AI as easily as I used to work in my sketchbooks. Sitting on the bus, waiting for the bus, lounging on a park bench, sitting in an airplane, lounging around a cafe, slouching around home… wherever. Right now I carry around a 13″ Mac Air and an Intuos tablet, and that works okay, but I have to have room to spread out, and time to set up and tear down – I can sit in a cafe easily, but I can’t cram the computer and tablet onto my lap in a single seat on the bus, nor can I easily stuff it into my bag when I realize I’m at my bus stop and I’ve only got a few seconds to pick up my stuff and get off.

So let’s compare these two devices and assign points based on their relative merits to me. Both start with zero…

Price and computing power. This summer, I paid $1600 plus tax for a 2.2ghz i7 Surface 4 Pro with a 256g SSD and 8g of RAM. I am now using a $2000 Wacom Mobile Studio: i7 of unknown speed, 256g SSD, 8G RAM. The Surface is $400 less for much the same power; 1 point to the Surface.

Size. The Surface has about the same footprint as my Air, and fits in my favorite bag – a soft-sided one that has room for it, my wallet, keys, a few other small essentials, and really not much more. The Mobile Studio is a good inch and a half wider than the Air, and doesn’t fit in that bag. It’s not going to fit into any bag sized for a 13″ device. -1 point to the Mobile Studio.

Stylus. The Surface comes with a hard plastic NTrig stylus, with two hard-to-press buttons on the side, and an eraser that doubles as a button. The Mobile Studio comes with a typical Wacom stylus: soft plastic grip, two easy-to-click buttons on the side, an eraser, and a gentle flare just above the tip for an overall shape reminiscent of a brush. -1 point to the Surface. 30 points to Wacom, for scores of -1 vs 29.

Stylus attachment. The Surface’s stylus has magnets inside it that match magnets on the side of the Surface. They snap together pretty positively. You wouldn’t want to carry the whole thing in your bare hand, but I didn’t have any problems with it ever coming off in my bag. The Mobile Studio, meanwhile, comes with a little plastic dingus that you’re supposed to cram into the security slot, which will hold the stylus against the side of it, obscuring the charge port. 5 points to the Surface, -1 to Wacom, for scores of 4 vs 28.

Drawing surface. The Surface is hard, hard glass and its pen skids around like, well, plastic on glass. And it’s ultra-reflective, to boot. You will want a matte screen protector – once I got one of those off of Amazon for a few bucks, both of those were fixed. The Mobile Studio has a tiny bit of tooth to it, and is not terribly reflective; it doesn’t feel as nice to draw on as pencil on paper, but it’s a lot better out of the box than the Surface. -1 to the Surface, 3 to Wacom. 3 to 31.

Weight. The Surface is .78kg. A black hardcover sketchbook .87 kg. The Mobile Studio is 1.38 kg. And the Air is 1.35 kg, though if I add in the Intuos it’s about 2.16 kg total. The Surface weighs less than a sketchbook. And while the Mobile Studio is less to haul around than the Air plus a drawing tablet, in practice I’m discovering that 1.38kg is way too heavy for a thing I tend to want to support in one hand. It has to be supported by whatever it’s sitting on; trying to lift it up for a better angle makes my hand start to complain very quickly. 1 point to the Surface; -30 points to the Mobile Studio. And that makes the Surface start looking better: 4 points vs 1.

Support. Half of the Surface’s back folds out on a hinge, to make a very stable kickstand. It’s easy to adjust, stays where you put it, and lets you have it at a wide range of angles. It is a wonderful thing, and nearly every Windows 10 tablet computer on the market has stolen it with Microsoft’s blessing. Except for the Mobile Studio. Which has… nothing. You can buy a big awkward plastic stand for it, or you can carry around a little one. Or you can do what I’ve done, which is to take one of the lightweight wire stands I use for books at conventions and tape it to the back of the Mobile Studio, because with a thing this heavy there is really no point where you’re ever going to want to use it without a stand. If I keep it I will probably try to find something slightly more elegant, as it’s constantly catching on my bag when I try to stick the Mobile Studio back into it while getting off the bus. 20 points to the Surface. -7 to Wacom. 24 vs -6.

Cool Widgets. The Surface has a camera that does “Windows Hello”. It seems silly at first but it is really pretty damn cool to turn it on and give it a good angle on my face to log in. And then it smiles and winks at me, which is just really charming. It also happens in like two seconds with no interaction on my part. I think the 16″ Mobile Studios might have this but my 13″ does not; I have to use a password or PIN to log in every damn time I take it out. And the keyboard doesn’t automatically pop up when the password/pin fields appear; I have to hit the ‘summon keyboard’ button at the top of the screen no matter how I play with Windows’ screen keyboard settings. Very annnoying. On the other hand, the Mobile Studio has a row of six buttons and a little wheel running down one side of the front. They’re configurable to a lot of things; I’ve traditionally ignored these on my drawing tablets, preferring to keep one hand on a keyboard, but I can see them working pretty well to hit a few very basic keys and summon a customizable radial menu when you’re using it without a keyboard. They are also why it is too wide to fit in a bag. And honestly once I get the hand-held keyboard I bought along with the Mobile Studio configured, I’ll probably never use them*. 7 points to the Surface for making logging in not just painless, but fun; 5 to the Wacom for having some extra buttons at the price of being too huge for my bag. 31 vs -1.

Operating system. Both of them run Windows 10. Both of them come with terrible defaults: “pen flicks”** are on, the Surface wants to wake halfway up in your bag and check for new email on a regular basis and tends to end up waking all the way up and wasting half its battery warming up your bag, the Wacom isn’t very thrifty with its power out of the box either, hitting the command key on the Apple keyboard I’m connecting to them brings up the desktop instead of acting as a meta key, why the hell is Apple not making a device in this space damnit. All of these things can be fixed but it’s annoying to someone who’s spent the past sixteen years on Macs, and I’m not pretending to be rating the appeal of these things to anyone but myself here. -5 to both; the score’s now 26 to -6.

Adobe Illustrator compatibility. Here’s the big one. This is the art tool I’ve been using for the past sixteen years, the one I know how to use without any conscious thought, the one I have drawn an entire graphic novel in. The one program I am buying these things to run. The Mobile Studio works just fine with it, as I expected. The Surface? Drops the first half-second of my stylus motions every time I draw a shape with Illustrator’s pencil or brush tools. And… my workflow is based almost entirely around drawing shapes with Illustrator’s pencil tool. The Surface is therefore basically useless to me. The Internet has told me to both install a driver and to delete one; installing the driver made things even worse, and the one I’m supposed to delete doesn’t exist. There is one last suggestion I haven’t tried, and will probably visit a Microsoft store to check out soon, but I have no hopes of it working. -600 points to the Surface.

Final score: -574 to -6. Nobody wins.

From what I have heard, nearly every art program out there works fine with the Surface, except for Illustrator. Clip Studio Paint had issues, but got updated; Flash supposedly doesn’t see the stylus at all. I didn’t try either of those programs, or indeed anything else but Adobe Illustrator – the whole point of getting these tablets for me is “a Magic Sketchbook that lets me use Illustrator on the bus”. If I was willing to change applications I’d just switch to something that runs on an iPad Pro and spend about $900 for that and the Apple stylus, which is a damn nice stylus aside from the terrible recharging setup.

If the Surface worked with Illustrator, I wouldn’t have bothered with the Mobile Studio. And if you use a program that works with the NTrig stylus – which apparently is just about every other art program in the world – I really can’t recommend that you bother with it either, unless the Wacom hotkeys and popup menu are worth paying about $500 more for a device that’s really too heavy to comfortably use on your lap. And maybe for stylus rotation/tilt, I never use those. The Surface’s stylus is less comfortable than the Wacom, but if I’d kept it I would have gotten one of those little soft plastic pencil cushions that cost like maybe 35¢ and lived with the shitty side buttons. Take the $500 you’d spend on a MS, use $200 of it to buy a Twiddler and spend a few days configuring that.

When I initially wrote this, I had about a week and a half left to return it. I’m down to about a half a week left and I think I’m getting used to the workarounds I’ve done; using my second-favorite bag until I find a new bag that fits the Mobile Studio and not much else feels like less work than packaging it up, returning it, and visiting the Microsoft Store to try that one last little tweak to make it work with AI, and possibly do without a Magic Sketchbook until I find a Surface clone with Wacom drivers, or the “universal stylus initiative” I’m hearing about starts showing up in new tablets, and I can get pretty much any tablet and buy a Wacom stylus for it. Or until Apple pulls their thumb out, gets OSX running on mobile chips, and makes an Ipad Ultra-Pro. I am not holding my breath waiting for that last one.

The next post in the Magic Sketchbook series will probably be a love letter to the Twiddler, with some notes on technical woes I encountered while setting it up. It’s the last piece in the Magic Sketchbook puzzle for me.

* Later: I still use them a tiny bit, mostly either when I don’t want to take the Twiddler out, or for one keystroke I can’t generate with it for technical reasons – and I just thought of a way to get around those if I’m willing to change how the stylus buttons are mapped.

** “why is my screen scrolling sometimes when I draw fast?” Pen flicks. Type ‘flicks’ in the system search to find the relevant control panel and turn that shit off.

Originally published at Egypt Urnash. You can comment here or there.

pentacles, magic

Fox Plans

Fan art of Spearhead Games’ fabulous “Stories: Path of Destinies”.

“Stories” is cynical, world-weary, charming, and intimately aware of How Stories Work. It’s a very grown-up game. And as a game for grown-ups should be, it’s very respectful of your time – I finished it in about eight hours, and felt very satisfied. It’s also the first game whose characters I’ve cared about enough to do fan art of in years. Highly recommended.

It’s got two major gameplay loops: fast, simple combat that politely suggests maybe you want to learn some finesse by ranking every encounter on style, and a really neat spin on “Choose Your Own Adventure” storytelling – you’ll make about four story choices during the course of a 20-30min playthough, and probably get a Bad Ending. But you (and the player character, he’s explicitly being reset back to the beginning with new knowledge) will learn a Truth about the way an important character or item behaves, and take that (along with whatever combat skills you unlocked) into the next playthrough. So you begin paying attention to the story, and trying to guess which choice will result in a happy ending for that old scoundrel Reynardo, or at least one that’s a really entertaining fiasco.

There’s a lot of ways to fail in this game, and only one good end. Unless you make a deliberate choice to avoid the Good End, you’ll probably get it in 6-10 runs. It makes a lot of coy references to other stories and other games that come off as witty cracks rather than “hey look I made a reference you should laugh”, because it’s very much its own coherent vision.

I got it when it came up as one of December’s free games on PSN. I wish I’d gotten it sooner so I could give the folks who made it more money, because it is delightful.

This drawing was done almost entirely with the Mobile Studio – pretty much everything except for adding the text (I haven’t copied over all my fonts yet) and doing some final tweaks happened there. About halfway through it I got the Twiddler keyboard set up, which rapidly went from “slower than poking at icons and my big page of RadialMenu buttons” to “about 75% as fast as working with a full keyboard under my left hand”. So that’s pretty cool.

Originally published at Egypt Urnash. You can comment here or there.

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looking good

Between accidentally discovering that iOS categorizes me as six different people, and looking at the eight year old photos of me trying to be SEXXXY on my dusty FetLife account, I am realizing that I have changed a lot in the past decade. I can’t remember when I went on hormones offhand; I think it was around twelve years ago? They’ve been good to me. I can barely recognize that gangly barely-not-a-boy with the tiniest beginnings of titties.

A few years of burlesque and pole dance class haven’t hurt that either. There are some amazingly dubious fashion choices on display in some of these old photos I’m looking at. Short hair? Really, 2005 me? And that coat? But, well, you gotta make mistakes before you can learn from them. I’ve learnt how to present myself a lot better, both in clothing and in carriage.

I’m someone else now. Will I still look like this person, but a little older, another decade from now? Who knows. Hopefully I’ll at least not look like a corpse just yet. Time to have some fun before this hot body rots off my bones.

Originally published at Egypt Urnash. You can comment here or there.

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the dream of the constantly moving library

I was in a giant library, mostly full of pulp novels and comic books. Some parts of the floors were covered in boxes of books, and constantly moving as if there were conveyor belts underneath, moving the books around under the shelves.

There was also something about being locked in there by a couple people who wanted to kill the two protagonists of this dream for some arcane reasons I cannot remember. We snuck up on one and killed them and took their flamethrower.

Morning came, I and four other people left the library to certain death unless our plan succeeded, and then I woke up with the title track from BÖC's “Fire Of Unknown Origin” in my head.

Originally published at Egypt Urnash. You can comment here or there.

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Today I discovered that iOS Photos thinks I am six people.


Mostly it thinks I’m this lady.


But sometimes it thinks I’m this woman. And damn I like being her a lot more. She’s hot.

2017 goals: Make Photos think I’m that lady more than a mere 1/7 of the time.

Originally published at Egypt Urnash. You can comment here or there.

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adulting is weird

For a long time I’ve been theoretically polygamous, but not actively – ever since I broke up with Rik and Nick, I’ve really just been sleeping with Nick. But recently I’ve started having naked funtime with another friend. I now have both an ex-with-benefits and a friend-with-benefits, and which is a lot of benefits for someone who used to think she would never have any kind of relationship!

Not too long after realizing this, I asked two questions: when’s the last time you got tested for STDs, and what’s the state of your marriage.

The first one is pretty obvious basic courtesy, really. If you’re gonna sleep around, keep yourself clean, you know? One of us should have probably asked it before we’d had our heads crammed between each others’ legs, but, well, these things happen.

The other one… I felt super adult for asking that. Because I’ve been in a position where I was flirting with someone who turned out to be in the middle of their main relationship getting wobbly. And the last thing I want is for “having fun in bed with a friend” to turn into “arguably being a component in a friend’s relationship failing” – I haven’t actually been that, but I’ve backed off from things that looked that way. That’s just totally the opposite of having a good time.

(For what it’s worth: their answers to both questions were fine by me. And so were theirs.)

Anyway. Happy New Year.

Originally published at Egypt Urnash. You can comment here or there.

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the dream of horrible printing fuckups

I dreamed that I got the advance copy of the omnibus while preparing for a con. It looked great up until the middle, when it started having pages of other comics, and falling out of the binding, and then was just pages of solid color to the end of the book.

Then I looked at it again and it looked fine. And then I woke up. Guh.

Originally published at Egypt Urnash. You can comment here or there.

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foodhole thoughts

Thinking about my shape. Thinking about my weight. Thinking about how my eating habits have dropped back to their pretty horrible defaults, which involve a ton of cheap fast carbs.

Made some bacon for breakfast for the first time in ages instead of going out to Morsel for bacon and eggs and honey butter and a biscuit that it’s all on. It was tasty and I am fed but not overfull.

Thinking about moving on from pole dance but I’m not sure what to. Still gotta keep myself in shape somehow, and having an external structure helps a lot. Gotta at least go back to a simple exercise routine or something while I ponder that. I should also drop by the pole studio and say “thanks, it’s been fun, but I think it’s time to either get super serious about this or move on” if I’m gonna stop.

Originally published at Egypt Urnash. You can comment here or there.