Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year Everyone!

Running this blog all year has been a complete pleasure for me. It has helped to keep me busy. When I did not feel like writing anything else I knew I could come here and write about what I loved.

I am amazed the blog has received thousands of hits from around the world. Thank you all for reading my thoughts and bits throughout the year.

Please feel free to comment, reach out, and just say hi. I'd love to meet those of you who enjoy coming here from time to time.

I'm sure 2014 is going to be a great year! Happy New Year everyone!



Google Glass: My First Few Weeks

When I put my name on Google's Glass Explorer Program list about 4 months ago, I never thought I'd hear back from them. I re-entered my name several times hoping that might count for some measure of enthusiasm above just a typical must-have-it gadget-head. I'm an artist, a photographer, a writer too. Surely Google could figure this out about me. After all, they are Google. I even asked an old friend/coworker who had worked with me at TheGlobe.com ages ago, and now resides at Google, if he could somehow get me on the list. He could not. Google was strict with them, he told me. He could not even get one for himself.

Darn, I thought. I truly wanted Google Glass but there was no direct route towards getting one that I could see. I was not going to buy one second-hand or pay a markup on a device that is, for all intents and purposes, already too expensive for rational people. Google Glass, if you do get an invite, is not free. It will set you back $1,500. That's $1,620 with tax. They ship it for "free" if you can't get to one of their three pickup locations here in the United States. They are in New York City, LA, and San Francisco, if memory serves.

So one day, quite randomly back at the beginning of December 2013 I got the email from Google inviting me to be a part of the Glass Explorer Program.

Fast forward to today and I've been with the new technology for about a month now.

What is it? What can it do? Can you make a phone call with it? These are just a few of the questions I've been getting. Up here in Albany right now it's been in the 20s on and off all month. When I go out I usually wear a heavy winter hat. This obscures Google Glass, mostly, and up here people have not noticed it much. I was approached by one excited guy working at the cellular section in my local Target. I also only ran into one other person wearing Google Glass at my local Gaming Store Flights of Fantasy. That they were at a gaming store up here in Albany, like me, says a lot about the minds this product is attracting right now. I know for sure that not everyone who wants Google Glass is a writer/artist but I know from online G+ groups that many of us are. Some of us are gamers too. :)

It's the artist in me—the photographer specifically—that's interested in Google Glass. When the iPhone came out I wanted it because it meant less to carry. Phone + MP3s + camera = more pictures. Any photographer will tell you moments are fleeting and missing a cool picture is common. Once I had the iPhone with me I missed fewer shots. Sure, it's not a high end camera capable of all sorts of wonders, bokeh, and Leica lens miracles, but the most important camera is the one you have with you.

For me Google Glass is first and foremost a new type of camera. One that's with me and ready as long as it's on my head and charged. Is it a great camera? No it's not. It's good enough though and more than sufficient for online sharing. It is possible to even get artsy with it.

As a camera it can now take pictures one of three ways. You can press the button atop Google Glass to easily snap a picture. If the Google Glass prompt screen is up you can talk to Glass and say, "OK Glass, take a picture." I do not like talking to my tech, especially in public around strangers. I imagine the social embarrassment for such behavior will diminish over time as this becomes common for all. For now though, I feel like an ass. The third way to take a picture, my personal favorite, is to wink with your right eye. Now sure there are tons of privacy issues here with Glass and I'm sure they will, by hook or by crook, eventually get worked out. Photographers, though, have been taking candid street shots and shooting from the hip from the moment small cameras became available. All this does is make taking candid shots in public easier. I decided right away if any establishment asked me to remove Google Glass I would do so at first request, without argument. So far no one has asked. As far as candids go, well with Glass and with traditional cameras, I have yet to get a complaint in over 30 years of taking pictures. I'd not shoot pictures in a public restroom (with people present) with a traditional camera, and Google Glass is no exception. I already use my cell everywhere to take pictures. I shoot products at Barnes and Noble all the time, only to later find and buy the book cheaper from Amazon. With Google Glass all I need do is wink.

A red light added to the front of Glass has been suggested by many as a way for the public to know if they are being photographed or videoed. I agree with this, especially because now most people do not even know what on earth the device is. A red light is sort of the universal "on the air" symbol that most people know.

Glass as a camera still needs some work. While I can not find exact specifications online as to what the 35mm lens equivalent is of Google Glass, my guess is that it is about a 28mm equivalent. It's definitely wider than a 35mm equivalent. Since I do not shoot with anything wider than 35mm currently, Google Glass pictures are distinctly different than those I shoot with my iPhone or better Sony camera. I like the wider field of view. It gives a POV aspect to the Glass shots. The you-see-what-I-see aspect of it is fascinating to me.

So what are the problems with the camera? For one, framing pictures is for the birds. Glass sits on everyone's head differently. Because I have a large head the battery on the right does not go back as far as it should, and so Glass rests a slight bit crooked on my head. Pictures I take tend to be cocked slightly. The display, insanely, does not show until after the picture is shot. Taking 2, 3, or even 6 or 7 shots to frame the scene correctly has been common for me, especially if the subject is close. Google will have to change this going forward unless they want typical consumer Glass photos to appear off-center or with heads cut off. If Google added the ability for a slight bit of camera customization it would go a long way. This way people who want a live view so they can frame a still shot first could just turn the feature on or off. When shooting video you already see as you shoot, so all they need to do is add a two-second delay or a live view for still pictures that just stays on until you use the three ways to take the shot. One extra button on Glass would go a long way to giving users a second level of customization that could be activated or deactivated in menus.

As the technology improves and the kinks get worked out I can see wearing Glass more and more frequently. Once it is like shades I can take off and hang from my shirt, well the sky's the limit then as far as photography goes.

What else can Glass do? Well it can do a lot more than just take pictures. It displays the time, which makes life a whole lot easier. It's great to access information quickly without using your hands.

You can look up stuff on Google by talking to it, similar to Siri on an iPhone. You can send email. You chat. You can make phone calls, get turn-by-turn directions, and with the growing list of apps and clever developers out there, the list of what it can do is growing day by day.

This will not be my only post of Google Glass. Since the device is relatively new, I'll be posting more blog entries about it from time-to-time. Stay tuned to my thoughts on it as a gaming device for pen and paper RPGs or for video games.

For now though here are some pictures I've taken with Google Glass. More artsy ones to follow soon. Enjoy.

Google Glass vignette with location data added

In my local supermarket

A reflection selfie

At the Albany Rural Cemetery

Cropped and converted to black and white on G+

Monday, December 30, 2013

Blind Boxes & Blind Bag Miniatures SUCK!

It's official! Blind boxes and blind-anything, packaged to reap companies more money, completely and entirely suck. There is no escaping the full depth and breadth of the suckiness. It's a money grab, pure and simple. If each and every miniature, Heroclix, article, or whatever, were worth getting, this would not be a problem. It is because half the characters and sculpts are of poor quality, badly painted, and broken junk that these blind boxes are of value to the companies that market tiny plastic game pieces. They are of no value to gamers.

Doubles, triples, quadruples and more (always of the lamest characters) continue to pile up fast—like speeding cars on a highway in dense fog.

To name all the companies that practice this money-grab would be futile. They all do it. The uber-nerd hipster gamers might irrationally argue that if all figures released were seen then the powerful, or rare ones would get snatched up quickly and all the crap would be left. Yes. The crap would go unsold. Crap merchandise should go unsold. Solutions, to this quandary? I say make the rare ones still rare. Just manufacture fewer overall. Maybe only sell the rare ones to people for every 10 figures they buy. There are lots of solutions. None of them include me continuing to pull a stupid hammerhead shark min from Pathfinder over and over. Broken twice, no less. Does this item truly need to be hidden? Will gameplay suffer if we all see what is in the boxes? I doubt it. Some dudes docking fees at Nantucket might take a hit. That's it.

For Heroclix and strategy games, I truly do not understand the blind package. It's like buying a chess game without the King, or having to keep buying forever in hopes of pulling a king. It would be madness.

For RPG games where people simply want the characters and minis that they want to use for their game, the blind package is insulting. That we continue to act like lemmings buying blind packages again and again says more of our stupidity than the arrogance of the companies behind such practices. If we stopped buying until the blind package system stopped making money, the practice would change very quickly.

Action figures in which a few figures are rare but can all be seen have been sold like that forever. This should be the way the gaming community functions going forward. It won't.

I tell my kids they can buy a few blind boxes here and there. When they start to get doubles, stop buying.

Using sites like StrikeZone make more sense. Even though some figures cost more we take fewer trips to the store. We buy less. We drive less. We waste less time. Overall it's better. Getting complete sets on Ebay is also not a bad choice. Often times gaming stores have piles of their unwanted quintuplets stuck under counters in boxes, often times for less that they were originally sold for.

Would you buy a book if you did not know what you were getting? A CD? A DVD? What about a Star Wars figure? Maybe in a 5 pack, only one figure is blind? Something. Anything but the casino slot machine road to addiction we are on now.

To sum up...

• Companies need to stop selling blind boxes of miniatures.

• Companies need to stop making crap figures that come broken.

• Consumers need to demand the elimination of blind packaging, especially for RPGs where there is zero value for rare figures except to generate repeat purchases.

Stupid broken double of a crappy Hammerhead Shark

Monday, December 9, 2013

Micro Reviews: Original D&D • King of Tokyo • XBox One

Here are few micro reviews for a few things we've picked up that are specifically gaming centric over the last few months. Enjoy!

Premium Original Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Roleplaying Game

It's odd that this is still not available from Amazon.com and will not be available until December 17, 2013. I have had this for at least a month now from my local gaming store. I'm guessing WOTC releases stuff to all the mom and pop gaming stores before going the Amazon/B&N route. If you can wait though, and saving your own money is more important to you than paying the markup to your local place you'll likely save $50 if you buy it off Amazon. My local store had it for $150 and the owner was nice enough to come down close to Amazon's price. I'm pretty sure she's not going to do that for everyone unless your charisma score is pretty high. :)

One of the main reasons I'm lumping this in as a micro review is because I don't plan on playing this. I'm sure an in depth review can be found elsewhere but I'm approaching it more as a keepsake. It was just one of those gaming things I wanted to have. As someone who barely followed the AD&D rules as a kid and only loosely follows 4E as an adult, digging into these original rules and playing this is not something I feel like doing. The reissue is beautifully boxed and made more for display than for convenient play, especially if you plan on taking it with you. Sure you can take out the dice and the rules pamphlets but seriously, why? The dice are stuck into the foam so securely it seems WOTC did not even intend they come out easily for play. This looks great. It has a felt bottom so it can sit on a nice table and not scratch it up. If you have this and have played, please contact me and let me know how you experience was. I'm curious.

Bottom line — Nice keepsake. A piece of history. Not something I'm likely to play any time soon.

King of Tokyo Board Game

King of Tokyo is a great little board game. My youngest son is only 6 and I'm always looking for easy and fast games we can play. So many games out there, while cool, are insanely complex and require a few nights in jail just to get the game completed to any significant satisfaction. It's 2013 and not everyone has 2-4 hours carved out with 6 friends to just sit around and play a game with 10 thousand bits and pieces. King of Tokyo is simple. Open the box, bust out the dice and bits, read the rules as you go, and you'll be up and running in no time. There are easy and advanced rules too. So if your mind works like the innards of a cray supercomputer and the simple pedestrian rules are beneath you you'll have what to indulge in. I did not even look them over. Simple & fast are my friend, especially with a 6 year old. Companies like iello that "get this" will be drawing in kids. Kids want stuff. They have parents that want to do things with them. And we spend money on them. I suspect companies that make games with this in mind may do better to drawn in kids who will grow into more complex gamers.

Expansions are available too (here too) so you can build off what comes in the box. As few as 2 people can play this game. I'd always write in a way for one person to play as I know there are lots of only kids out there who want to be involved too. Dice and chance can easily make rules for a one player game. If you are clever you could easily do this yourself but a young child might not be able to conceptualize that. iello might want to consider this.

Bottom line — Bravo iello! Good job! Great game! Good for young kids.

Xbox One - Standard Edition

I'm not sure why I got this. I swore I wouldn't. I even cancelled my order off Amazon. Fast forward to the Saturday after it was out and I'm in a GameStop and they have a few because of people who preorder—like me—and then cancel. Actually it's likely people who pre order at 4 stores and then just pick up from one, or cancel. Whatever the case, there were 4 in store, a line had formed and I got in it and picked up the console. I knew if I hated it I could resell on Ebay. As it turns out even now on Amazon I do not see a link to where the console can be ordered for the normal price. Only the nutty outer limits prices are up now. Christmas is in 3 weeks so I'm guessing that will not abate till the gift giving/excessive spending dies down after the new year.

So is it good? Yes the console is good. Games? Meh. We picked up Dead Rising 3 and RYSE at the store and both games are OK. Neither blew me away, even the graphics. RYSE looks good but is very mapped out, no open world. It was fun, but got tired pretty quickly. I bore easily with even the best games so don't entirely listen to me. Dead Rising 3 is much more open. Zillions of zombies. Almost too many. Yes, definitely too many. It just becomes a meat grinder of absurdity. It had us laughing so I guess if you look at it that way, as comical absurd farce,  it works. Some stranger just appeared in our game while we were playing, what we thought, was for just us. We still have not figured that out. It was worrisome. We turned the game off at that point. We also have Battlefield 4 but we've not played it much. There was so much cursing that I could not even have my younger son off in the next room while it was on. The game looked good and was basically standard military fighting carnage. I'm looking for more complex games. games that have strong filmlike stories. They are few and far between. When those come I'll be happy. A game where the non playable story is so strong that you'd want to sit and watch it like a favorite film, even if you do not want to play the game. When games like this arrive, games in general, will be taken to the next level I want them to be at. Make a playable Blade Runner where the playable aspect is amazing and the watchable content gets non gamers watching because it's just that good. Someone, please, make me that game.

The system itself is lots of fun. If you have Netflix, Amazon prime, lots of Blu-rays and pump your cable TV through the system it's even more fun. You can talk to the system too. It's not perfect but it's not bad either. Fun to turn on and off. SmartGlass app for mobile devices is great. A must have. It seems these systems come out a full year before they should be out.

Bottom line — Great system. Games need a lot of work. Online gaming downloads need more content too. No backwards compatibility to my 360 games is deplorable in a system like this. I'm ashamed for SONY and Microsoft that they did not put PS3 and 360 backward compatibility in. Shame!

Thanks for reading.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Dear Mr. Watterson

I was in cartooning class in high school when my friend busted out and showed me the very first Calvin and Hobbes compilation book. I could not get enough. The comic struck a major chord with me. I collected all the books until the very BIG complete box set came out, then I ditched the small books for the sake of simplicity. I regret that now. Here we are, years later now, and I'll likely be ordering a bunch of the small books for my two sons, 6 & 12 years old. This documentary had us glued to the TV. We did not surf the web on iPads, we just sat and watched. And when it was over what did the boys do? They asked me to try and find the few remaining small Calvin and Hobbes books floating around the house. The missing ones are now in my Amazon cart, waiting for "Santa" to deliver them. Whether or not you are an artist or just a reader, Dear Mr. Watterson has something for everyone. The documentary is not obsessive about Bill Watterson either, like some nut job banging on J D Salinger's door and demanding answers. It's just a "thank you" of sorts, and that fine.

It does attempt to explore Watterson's motivations behind his refusal to commercialize Calvin and Hobbes. This is fine and it does shed some light. To me though, the real question is: What is wrong with us as a culture that when someone does not care about money we all sit around scratching our heads endlessly debating why? The focus, if you ask me, should be on us, not Bill Watterson. The ones speculating are the ones that need analyzing. Still, the documentary does not get too obsessive, which is nice. It felt very sincere and included enough points of view and info so as to not seem dominated by one single point of view.

In the film some talk about how print comic strips are changing as a result of the print industry in general changing. This is obvious. The question is posed as to what will come down the pike as far as how media will be discerned to be worthy enough to become popular on a large scale again. The answer to that question lies in the very way the film itself was created--Kickstarter! And enough people deemed this film worthy that it was able to get off the ground and actually get made. This, people, is the new way worthy media hopefully will get made.

In Dear Mr. Watterson someone says there will never be another Rolling Stones or another Beatles. That may be true to some extent as the catalyst to have such bands might no longer exist. Still, I feel, the internet will do a great job of removing "the syndicate" and giving direct control to artist and appreciator. Maybe millionaires will no longer be in the mix. As an artist myself who has witnessed many other artists, I can attest to the very destructive influence that the lure of the possibility of fame and piles of money can have on an individual's creativity. Money skews perspective. It pulls you away from what you love and fools you into thinking you want something you don't. Will the lure of fame and big money eventually be removed by the more democratic playing field of pure appreciation that the Internet can perhaps provide? I hope so. The absence of big money to drive creativity can only be a good thing. With fame and fortune eventually removed from the mix, all that will be left is drive, talent and content. And that is all we really need. We don't need another stuffed animal in every mall. And really, if you truly wanted a stuffed Hobbes for your kid, there is nothing stopping you from making one.

Thanks Mr. Watterson.


The comic strip industry is changing for sure. Just today I learned that the comic strip Gil by Norm Feuti that I follow via my dad clipping me the strip is ending. While Gil is ending after 2 years and that sucks I did find this website, Dailyink, where for $20 a year you can get 90+ strips a day. That's a deal, especially when you compare that to the cost of getting a daily newspaper delivered. Another holiday gift for the family taken care of! :) I hope Gil lives on in some form on Dailyink.com!