Howzit Ferbloggin

Yesterday I took the iPad Pro out on its first Away Mission. It was typical of how I use my iPads: I had dinner plans in the city, and decided to head in several hours early and do some work inside the Boston Public Library before relocating to a Panera a couple of blocks from the restaurant. It’s enough hours that I’d like to get some work done, but not a “real” work session that compels me to haul around my MacBook.

I missed MarsEdit. This morning, I set about looking for good iOS blogging apps. The last time I did so, I didn’t find anything I liked. The WordPress webapp is much more credible on the iPad Pro than it is on even an iPad Air, thanks to the larger screen. I might wind up sticking with that.

Still, fair is fair. I’m giving the official WordPress iOS app another try. It seems okay so far. But historically, the failure points of iOS blogging apps reveal themselves after I tap “Post.” Let’s see if it formats correctly, or somehow corrupts my whole WordPress database, or otherwise causes me to doubt my faith in a kind God and a just universe.

Incidentally, apps that haven’t been updated for the new OS in general and/or the iPad Pro specifically call attention to themselves. This WordPress app merely scales the standard iPad interface way the hell up. It’s what the iPad experience is probably like to a six-year-old kid.

Push the button, Frank…

Building a Homebrew BB-8

James Broton’s YouTube channel is one of the many reasons why I imagine I could get along just fine without cable TV. He’s a robot builder whose chief fascination (among many) is making replicas of movie bots and armor.

One of his current projects is a working BB-8 from the upcoming “Star Wars” movie. He has no idea how the working prop works or how its designers manage to steer a spinning ball while keeping a dome balanced on top of it, so he’s trying a couple of ideas.

His first design was a hollow ball and a robot on top with an Arduino and motorized wheels inside it that both kept itself balanced and drove the ball in any direction. Its movement was too wobbly, so he’s moved on to a much more complicated idea in which the ball itself is driven from the inside by a robot that acts like a hamster in a hamster wheel.

He documents and explains as he goes, designing and 3D-printing damn-near everything from scratch. It’s amazing stuff and inspires me to make things. It’s also just plain entertaining, in the same way that watching Norm Abram build furniture on “The New Yankee Workstop” was entertaining.

(And if you don’t think that watching someone wire up servos or cut dovetails is entertaining…we can still be friends but I’ll praise myself for being so willing to accept your weird alternative lifestyle.)

The Name of the Beast

I’m cautious and patient about the names I give to the computers and storage volumes that are part of my daily workflow. They’re inanimate objects and they don’t come when called. I know it’s silly. Does this level of self-awareness make the process seem somehow less undignified?

And yet…? Our pets don’t care what they’re named, do they? All they care about is that a certain consistent short sequence of sounds is associated with cookies and/or belly scratchies. Naming a new puppy “Begtap” will serve just as well as calling her “Della.” But she somehow seems like a Della, doesn’t she? And once that name pops into your head, it’s hard to think of her as anything but. Names have a certain magic that binds a soul to our reality.

This is why the MacBook I’m using to write this is called “Lilith Eleven.” I didn’t choose to name my first portable Mac (a PowerBook 100, which I could only afford because Apple had sold a truckful of them to Costco at clearance prices). One day it occurred to me that the name of this object was “Lilith.” It was an act of discovery, not creativity. I shrugged, and ever since, the primary machine I write with has always been a portable Mac named “Lilith.” 

It’s not as though picking a name for my iPad Pro was a project or anything. I knew I wanted something that connoted its size without being negative. “Mr. Creosote,” for example, wouldn’t do. 

Movie spaceships? Nothing reminded me of an iPad Pro. I took a quick tour through Wikipedia’s list of minor Hitchhiker’s Guide characters, but nothing leaped out at me and the whole thing seemed forced, anyway.

I was okay with keeping iOS’ default name in place until something good hit me.

Then tonight, I was moving some files (okay, my digital comics) from my iPad Mini to a hard drive so I could move them to the Pro. It was the first time in ages that I had a device docked to iTunes and the name of the Mini in the upper corner caught my eye: “Cyd.” I’d named it after the glorious Cyd Charisse, of course.

I’d chosen that name because it was short — small, like the iPad Mini. Also, Cyd Charisse’s character in “The Band Wagon” is described as having a “gamine” quality. Compared to my previous 9.7” iPads, this one certainly seemed to have “a mischievous charm,” so all in all, I knew I had a winner.

And so, I discovered the name of this iPad Pro. “Charisse.” If “Cyd” is small, “Charisse” is almost three times bigger.

As with any good name, it’s not the logic that sells it. It’s the realization that yes, that’s definitely the name of this thing.

iPad Pro – Unboxing & First Flight video

I’ve been busy, busy, busy putting my new iPad Pro through its paces since I picked it up this morning. Too busy to even blog about it, in fact!

But I did shoot some video of the unboxing, setup, and my first flight with it, through a bunch of apps that make perfect sense. Sit back for all 45 minutes.

I did all of this in front of a live Periscope audience, who got to see a bunch of stuff I played with after my Mac Mini’s camera stopped (for God knows what reason). To sum up:

  • The Kindle app works OK, with two-page spreads. But the layout looks a little bit “off” due to the app not being optimized for the larger screen. iBooks looks much better.
  • The sound from the speakers is amazing. Sure, because it’s big enough to produce actual stereo separation (and unlike other iPads, actually has stereo speakers). That said, the sound is surprisingly rich.
  • When I paired with a Logitech bluetooth keyboard and set it up on a stand? Oh, baby! iOS on a big screen and in a desktop context feels so very right.

IMG 3188

Substantive opinions will have to wait until I’ve got a lot more stick time in with the Pro. But the iPad Pro made a great first impression and I had a fine first day with it, which included using it to edit (and partially shoot) the unboxing video.

I’ve got my ears and eyes open for data on Apple’s expectations for iPad Pro. I was a little surprised by what a staffer at the Apple Store told me when I came to pick it up, first thing in the morning. I asked if they were going to be busy with iPad Pro buyers. “Probably not,” he said. The store (in a big mall in a big New England city) only got a few of them. It was therefore a good thing that I’d stayed up and ordered one almost as soon as the purchasing window opened. Sometimes the problem is “too many earlybirds” and sometimes the problem is more accurately “not a whole lot of hardware shipped.”

They didn’t have any Apple Pencils or Smart Cases, except for display. That wasn’t surprising. The night before, I’d expanded the search in the Apple Store app to all of New England and even New York, and didn’t find a single store that had the Apple Pencil available for in-store pickup today.

iPad Pro – Bought!

Twitter  Ordering Image Web

Okay! It’s done. Ordering went live for me at about 3:30 AM. The 32 gig model was available for Friday delivery. The one I wanted is either in short supply or high demand…I won’t get it until next week.

I hesitated when I saw the delivery date. In-store pickup wasn’t available when I ordered, but it’s certainly possible that they’ll be in stores before it’s on my doorstep. My Apple review unit arrives for sure on Friday, so my editorial needs are certainly covered either way.

In the end, I decided that I wanted to make the (educated) leap of faith and buy one of my own. So why not have it hand-delivered? Plus, if I’m gonna wait, I might as well have it engraved to make it easy for honest people to find me if it gets lost or stolen.

No, of course that screenshot doesn’t show the actual engraving (my name and contact info). But if Apple allowed a whole paragraph, I don’t think you could do better than to lie and claim that this $1000 device is in fact a Golden Ticket to a personal meeting with a fabulous and unambiguously-beloved Hollywood celebrity.

Update: Wow, I don’t know what happened. Maybe I ordered it too soon after everything went live? In-store pickup options weren’t available when I started the ordering process. After I posted on Twitter about my order and folks told me they’d been able to get theirs today, I went back and re-checked. Voilá!

So I canceled the first order. I expect to have this thing in my hands in just five or six hours. Yay!

(It’s worth the trouble. It means I can have almost two whole days with it and then post a good “first look” piece on Friday, with a “real” review to follow in a week or two.)

It looks as if the Pencil won’t be ready for anybody for another week. Not available for in-store pickup, and even in my rattlesnake-fast online order, it was going to ship a week after my iPad. I’ll have a Pencil on Friday (along with the keyboard case and other accessories) with my Apple review unit.

I even extended my search and the Pencil can’t be had in-store anywhere in New England! Wowzers.

Snappy Answers to (Sensible) iPad Pro Ordering Questions

I’ve answered a bunch of the same questions a bunch of times today already. So let’s save me some typing:

1) I’ve no idea when the iPad Pro pre-ordering opens up.

Best guess? Midnight, California time. But I’ll also be checking at midnight on the East Coast. Failing that, 6 AM East Coast time. If it still isn’t available, I’m just going to buy a Surface Pro 4 and send a screengrab of the receipt to Tim Cook and just watch him melt into a sad puddle of regret.

(Well, no. I’ll just go to bed and order one later. If I don’t get one the first week, that’s okay.)

2) I’ve no idea when the iPad will ship, or when it will be available in stores.

Only “sometime by the end of the week.”

3) I don’t even know which way will get an iPad Pro into your hands sooner.

It’s possible that someone who orders one tonight and pays for next-day shipping will receive it on Friday, and someone who orders one early in the AM on Thursday and selects in-store pickup will have it on Thursday.

4) If you aren’t one of the first to get one, don’t worry about it.

Apple is making plenty.

5) Which one are you buying?

Wifi, 128 gig, space gray. Pencil, but no keyboard case.

Ihnatko Almanac Episode #00161: “Project Doneway”

Episode 00161 of The Ihnatko Almanac has just been posted! Merlin Mann and I talk about “Project Runway” on the eve of the season finale.

This has been kind of a different season (as we discuss). There were fewer personality clashes, at least between the designers…Tim Gunn lost his cool with one of ‘em and that was about as hot as the fireworks got. What’s this? A reality show where nobody throws a glass of Chardonnay in anybody’s face?

I love podcasting with Merlin. The conversation veered off into a lot of different directions. It’s well worth your time even if you’re not into the show.

I recorded this one in LA. So please imagine lots of slices of avocado on the plate as you listen.

Rethinking Social Media

Screen Shot 2015 11 10 at 12 40 58 PM

Okay, I give up. I’m going to become more active on Facebook and Instagram. Instagram was never my speed, and I instinctively distrust Facebook with the volume of information that a frequently-updated social media platform takes in.

Besides, Twitter, Flickr, and my blog are serving my creative needs well. I Tweet little snippets of ideas and it’s a great place to announce stuff (new articles, podcast episodes, tattoos) to people who are interested in my work. I’ve been a Flickr user for (gads) thirteen years and it’s been a tremendous source of motivation to keep taking photos and getting better at doing it.

In the past month, though, I realized that I was reacting to Instagram and Facebook the way that they had been presented to me when I first encountered them. Why do I need Instagram? I have Flickr for my photoblogging. Why do I need Facebook? I have a blog. Plus, I hate the interface and they’re so grabby for more info about me.

(Every time I log in and it pesters me “Your user profile is only 42% complete!” and then it makes a wrong guess about where I live or where I went to high school…I just smile and smile.)

I figured out how to use Instagram: it’s going to be a place where I just place Interesting Photos, without blogging about their context. And I’ll feel free to go nuts with the styling because these shots (or versions of other photos I’ve taken) are designed specifically to be looked at on small phone screens.

I also noted that I managed to acquire a few thousand followers there without posting anything to it for years (I signed up for the account early, just to make sure I got the username). Okay, let’s turn the taps on.

It’s also nice to have a social media account where the only people I follow are family, and people who are somewhere on the “friend” spectrum. I get lots of news and entertainment info from my Twitter feed and I wouldn’t follow all of those websites and TV shows if I didn’t want to see their Tweets. It’s different for me on Instagram, where I know that every photo has a personal relevance to the life of somebody I know and care about.

As for Facebook? Everything I’ve always felt is still true. I don’t like it, I don’t think it’s well-designed, and I don’t trust it the way I trust Google (which, yes, is every bit as hungry for personal data).

But sometimes you have to do things you don’t like to get the things you want. Facebook is, beyond any argument, the only place I can post something and be sure that most of my friends and family will see it. Similarly, if I want to see what these people are up to…I need to dip into Facebook from time to time.

This thought had been in the back of my mind for a couple of weeks but the point was truly brought home after I casually posted a short video of myself at the LA County Museum of Art. As with the photo I’d posted of myself in my Halloween costume, I got some welcome nods from the family.

And! Something from one of my far-flung cousins. He and his wife — whom I’d never met — happened to be in LA that same week for a different conference. Without Facebook, we would never have found that out and I wouldn’t have had such a great evening with them the night before I left.

It therefore becomes a question of “Do I want to insulate myself from family and friends?”

Well, one hates to generalize. You’re asking me “Yes” or “No”?

Okay. “No.”

There are so many tools available to you. You can drown in them. They work if you understand what they can do, and assign a clear role to them.


  • The Blog. Stuff like this. Things that don’t really work as columns and articles, either because they’re synaptic misfirings, or the Sun-Times (et al) can’t push a super-timely piece through the edit cycle and onto the website fast enough.
  • Twitter. Quickies, links, fun ideas that pop in my head…potato chips of creativity.
  • Flickr. The gallery venue of my highbrow attempts at Art.
  • Instagram. Photos in Halloween fun-sized Snickers portions.
  • Facebook. A private account that I only let my friends and family see. And I’m usually there to see my friends and family.

You win, Facebook jerks.

(Oh, sorry: I mean “the executive team,” not “friends and family on Facebook.”)

Mystery Science Theater 3000 reboot in the works |

Mystery Science Theater 3000 reboot in the works |

MST3K creator Joel Hodgson is crowdfunding a reboot of the show:

Those who he hopes to get involved include past cast members and writers, as well as a brand new cast that includes a fresh host as well as a new mad scientist and new voices for famous wise-cracking robots Tom Servo and Crow. ‘Basically, I’m trying to blend the old with the new,’ says Hodgson. ‘Mystery Science Theater has already refreshed itself once with a completely new cast, so I think it deserves to do that again. The original cast is going to be invited back to write, produce, and do cameos as their mad science characters, and then there’s a new cast with new talent.’

I love this idea because I love MST3K. I wonder how they’re going to translate it for a modern audience. Most of us first-generation MSTies discovered it the way I suppose Muscovites discovered the Beatles during the days of the Soviet Union: a network of freedom fighters sharing dubbed and re-dubbed cassettes. The show was on Comedy Central but in the 90s it wasn’t on every cable system…nor could everybody in their Twenties afford cable, necessarily. Friends of mine and I used to even rent a VFW hall and throw “‘Bot Bashes,” where dozens of fans could gather and see early episodes for the first time.

Most of the classic eps are on YouTube. Some legally (subscribe to the Official MST3K Channel). Some…well, the phrase “Keep Circulating The Tapes” appears prominently at the end of every episode, so I suppose that’s a license to distribute?

I still watch ‘em from time to time. My favorites (Secret Agent Super Dragon, Warrior Of The Lost World, Code Name: Diamond Head12 To The Moon, Mitchell…and those are just the ones I can name from memory!) still hold up. Still, I’m aware that they’re 90 minute shows, and the pacing might seem slow to an audience that’s used to comedy written in smaller chunks.

Joel seems to be on the right track. Us old folk would be happy just to get a Season 11 (same show, same sets, same cast) but hey, we already got a version of MST3K that’s “ours.” I hope the brains behind MST3K succeed in making one for folks who are as young now as I was when a friend first tried, and failed, to explain what this movie show with puppets was all about.

That said? I can’t wait to see Trace Beaulieu and Frank Conniff performing together again in character. “Doctor Clayton Forrester” and “TV’s Frank” are, objectively, one of TV’s funniest comedy character duos ever. Right up there with Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton, Oscar Madison and Felix Unger, and Mr. Bean and the predictable and simple rules of human society.

I’m going to support the Kickstarter because this is totally the sort of project I like to support. Here is a creative work that I want to help get made…not a preorder of a gadget that’s already definitely going to happen. 

(I also really want the tee shirt.)

Here, check out one of my favorite MST3K shorts: a little driving safety film called “Last Clear Chance.” There’s a joke from this one that I will spontaneously think of at least once a month until the day I die.

TAG Heuer launches their luxury Android Wear watch

TAG Heuer Connected

(Via TAG Heuer.)

Okay: $1500 for a smartwatch from an established luxury watch brand. Titanium case, sapphire crystal.

Rubber watch band.

What is it with smartwatch makers going all cheapskate on the bands that they include with their super-expensive watches? I know, I know: people who spend $1500 for any kind of watch are probably happy to spend $2000 for an additional watch made by someone else if they want a leather band.

Or something. Maybe they consider cow leather to be for the riff-raff. “If the hide didn’t come from an extinct animal whose taxidermied form was obtained from the American Museum of Natural History in exchange for underwriting a new wing…well, why even bother?” I’m just speculating.

Also interesting: it runs Android Wear, so it’ll work with all of those apps. But it doesn’t have a heartrate monitor. Perhaps the luxury watch buyer pays someone to exercise for them. I’m not very savvy about that demographic. Do they still commute to their offices in sedan chairs carried by uniformed orphans?

Still, the TAG Connected looks terrific. And while the $1500 price tag is kdjfhsjkdhfkshd-inducing, Engadget is reporting that owners can trade their TAG Connected in for a $1500 credit towards a mechanical TAG Carrera anytime inside of two years.

I’d love to see Apple introduce something similar. Does anybody really believe that these first-generation Apple Watches will still be desirable after two or three years? It’d be nice to be able to apply the value of an old watch towards the purchase of a new one.

The Connected comes with a custom TAG watchface. I think high-end makers ought to release custom watch faces that are compatible with all Android Wear devices. It’s good brand ambassadorship and it highlights the styling and philosophy that defines these companies as luxury brands. People who would never buy a $1500 watch in a million years will enjoy the watch faces. And then, a million and one years later, when they come into some money, maybe they’ll want their first super-nice watch to have that same kind of style language.

Tim Cook on the iPad Pro: | The Independent

Tim Cook: Apple CEO on the company’s latest venture – the iPad Pro:

The iPad Pro is the most expensive tablet yet, £679 and up. At a time when iPad sales are flat, was he tempted to do as some competitors have done and released, say, a £50 tablet?

“No, there are no good £50 tablets. We’ve never been about making the most, we’ve been about making the best. This was a way of making a product that people can do a lot of things with. I think it will attract a lot of PC users and people who are not currently using Apple products. And I think it will be a reason for people to upgrade who love iPad and who have been waiting for something very different and now here it is.”

(Via The Independent.)

Oh, and high school trombone players have a new role model:

“When I was younger I played the trombone and I just remember turning the pages. The score always got dog-eared and was perched on a music stand which was invariably terrible. It would fall over or pages would go flying.”

There are (who knew?) wireless foot pedals which can automatically turn the onscreen pages for you, it turns out. So would this new app be enough to rekindle the Apple CEO’s passion for playing a musical instrument? “Well, I think I’m the only person who could listen to me do that.”

Actually, if Tim decided to release a trombone album with all the proceeds going to a worthy charity (something that promotes STEM education, say) I’d buy a couple of copies. Wouldn’t you?

Diana Damrau interview

“Princess Di“:

Her voice drops a bit as she reflects on the life she has chosen. ‘Singing is such a whole experience for body and mind and soul,’ she says. ‘You have to have control over your body, but you must have the artistry to guide you, to go for the beauty. That’s what we want. If you sing the Witch in Hänsel und Gretel, or something like that, you have other goals. But usually, it’s the beauty. We are longing for beauty — and to touch people, and to be able to do this, it can take time. You can be brilliant in technique, and that impresses people. But it’s not the whole thing. It takes a long time to be able to combine these things, and you need time to grow. And’ — she sighs a little — ‘people are not too patient.’

(Via Opera News.)

I have so much respect for this woman’s profound talent and her artistic perspective. As someone who has to create stuff, I find something inspirational in most of her interviews.

If you’re not an opera fan, try out “Forever,” her first album of Broadway and film standards. It’s been in heavy rotation on my phone for the past year and a half.

Please back this documentary about women and online harassment by Amy Guth

Documentary about women and online harassment by Amy Guth — Kickstarter:

I’m making a documentary about women and online harassment.

Specifically, I’m making an episodic documentary (that means you don’t have to wait for the whole thing to be finished, since it will be released in episodes) about harassment and civility in the online world, how it relates to women and how some women are fighting back. I’m also creating multimedia pieces around the project as I go. 

While focusing on women’s stories in the modern, digital world and online spaces, I’m also including glimpses into historic examples of backlash against women’s voices (Think anti-Suffragist pamphlets and tactics, trolling letters to female literary greats and scientists, even corporate propaganda to get women out of post-war factories and back into the home). How did these previous attempts at silencing affect the way women conveyed information and organized for social change? By connecting past and present, I aim to find out how the conflict around who gets to have a public voice has (or, perhaps has not) changed over time, regardless of medium.

(Via Kickstarter.)

This sounds like a terrrific documentary. It’s about $8000 short of being funded with just 4 days to go.

Now then. If you back Kickstarter stuff partly for the entertainment value of the process, this is a great time to jump in. Imagine that you weren’t particularly planning on voting in a big election, but there were realtime counts that told you that your favored candidate was close to winning. Wouldn’t it be satisfying to know that your vote really, really mattered?

Unfortunately, I’ve been denied this joy, as I backed it a few weeks ago. But now I’ve gone and upped my pledge (from “not quite cheapskate” to “enthusiastic supporter” level) because I really want to see this one happen.

As your attorney, I strongly advise you to participate.

iPad Pro goes on sale Wednesday!

Apple – Press Info – Epic 12.9-inch iPad Pro Available to Order Online Wednesday & Arrives in Stores Later This Week:

CUPERTINO, California — November 9, 2015 — Apple® today announced iPad Pro™ is available to order online on Wednesday, November 11, from and will arrive at Apple’s retail stores, select carriers and Apple Authorized Resellers starting later this week. Apple Pencil™ and Apple’s new Smart Keyboard, also available to order on Wednesday, bring breakthrough levels of precision and utility to iPad Pro.

(Via Apple.)

It looks like I can finally take that envelope full of money I’ve had taped to the underside of my desk since about December of last year and put ‘er to good use. I’m so glad I followed my heart and didn’t blow it on something stupid, like having water service restored to the house.

Yup, I’m planning on buying one as soon as they’re available. The full reasons are good fodder for a column, but the short version is that I’ve spent the past five years waiting for exactly this kind of device. I feel like I’m buying an early-generation Tesla. It’s both something that I have a real use for, and an investment I’d like to make in the future of a platform.

Between one thing and another, I don’t think I’ve ever bought as much personal Apple hardware in any previous year as I have in this one.

I dunno what time the ordering window opens but I’ll be keeping a close eye and a twitchy finger on the Apple Store app on my iPad Mini until it does.

The Comment Comment

A while ago, I turned off comments on the blog and switched to a feedback form sort of thing. My thinking:

  1. Sending me a comment in the form of an email would put people into the communication mode of “I’m speaking to this one specific person” as opposed to “I’m gonna light some bottle rockets because the echo in this quarry is going to be sweeeeeet!”
  2. I could hand-pick the comments I wanted all visitors to see, and post them as sort of a “letters to the editor” kind of post. (Or, to introduce the concept of productive thievery, do something like the Comics Curmudgeon’s “Comments Of The Week.”)
  3. And I wouldn’t have to keep policing the blog for spam. Some spammers manage to get through even various countermeasures I’ve got on the blog. It’s a drag. I don’t want this blog to be a drag.

But I forgot to turn comments off when I switched to this new theme, and therefore people are leaving comments, and they’ve all been thoughtful and respectful and have made me proud. So! I’m going to keep comments on and see how it goes.

All I ask is that you write as though you’re sending a private message to me and things will keep going great. I’ll probably create a page with a formal commenting policy when I get some time.