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(Child speaking into mobile device) Hey, Siri, remind me in 50 years that I meant to do so much more with my life.

“Okay. I’ll remind you.”

“Okay. I’ll remind you.” published on Purchase print

It struck me a few weeks ago that the odds of my ever being an astronaut are now pretty low.

I can’t think of a single space agency that has any reason to want to launch me into orbit. (There’s a reason Jodie Foster’s line in Contact didn’t read “We should have sent a speechwriter.”) And at this point, I’m probably not destined to pick up any of the scientific credentials that might qualify me.

The sad truth is, “ten-year-old me really wanted to” isn’t going to pass muster with the Canadian Space Agency, NASA, ESA, SpaceX or really anyone except the people pushing that one-way trip to Mars …and even then I suspect it would be as a tasty snack for the other colonists around week 3 when the supplies run out. (Spoiler alert!)

Life, as John Lennon sang, is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. But maybe a lot of what we dreamed of as children still comes to us as adults—just wrapped differently. Parenting has provided its share of exploration and discovery (and some similar G-forces, I’m prepared to bet). Helping people tell stories and make change offers excitement and satisfaction.

And one childhood dream has come true: I cartoon professionally, alongside my communications consulting.

Which is fantastic, and delightful, and marvellous. Ten-year-old me would be psyched.

I just kinda wish I was doing it from space.

(Police officer interrogating woman) Oh, sure you'd never DREAM of voiding your warranty by fixing your devices yourself. So just what are you doing with a Torx wrench in your pocket?!

Screwed

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“If you can’t open it, you don’t own it.” That’s the rallying cry for the Owner’s Manifesto. There are more and more devices and gizmos in our lives that we can’t open and fix, though, at least not without consequences.

And that’s not just because they’re using some weird-ass fasteners. Many warranties self-destruct the moment you crack the case. Manufacturers refuse to sell replacement parts or disclose software repair codes. They have a vested interest in keeping you shopping — and paying wildly inflated prices — at the repair-and-upgrade company store.

So this cartoon goes out to the folks speaking up for the Right to Tinker and the Right to Repair.

In particular, a big shout-out to the good people at iFixit. Their whole raisin d’être is to turn you into a self-sufficient device-fixing electronics-upgrading whiz. They couple very-reasonably-priced tools with free tutorial videos showing you how to fix a dazzling array of gadgets and gizmos.

This isn’t a paid plug; I’m just a raving fan. Why? Well, I’m not saying one of my kids pushed a coin deep into a SIM card slot of one of our older iPhones last year, and I’m not saying they didn’t. I am saying that thanks to iFixit, disassembling the phone to get that coin out and then reassembling it held no fears for me. (Also, did I mention that it worked afterward? Important detail.) That’s a powerful freakin’ feeling in these days of walled gardens and little sealed boxes.

And my thanks to Tod Maffin, who suggested I draw something about this and caught a typo that would have ruined the cartoon. Fortunately, I was able to open it up and fix it.

Ding!

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I’ve railed against notifications before. Some aren’t so bad; I usually want to know about incoming text messages (unless it’s my son demanding clarification and amendment of the household Minecraft rules). But most of them are so awful it’s an affront that the apps have the audacity to ask permission to send them.

I’m happy to report the situation has become incrementally better on my devices. That’s mainly because I’ve developed the habit of automatically refusing any app’s request to deliver the little time-and-attention vampires.

And I don’t just tap “No” when Super Beer Pong Ultra Pro demands the right to get my attention at any time. (God forbid I should miss “Daily challenge! Tap repeatedly on something and get a small piece of imaginary currency! This is certainly not a behavioural experiment being conducted on humanity by aliens!”). I stab at that button with the Index Finger of Righteousness while bellowing “No, screw you!”

This, on reflection, is probably why they won’t let me bring my phone into my daughter’s performances at school concerts any more.

(two people looking at a burning iPhone) All I did was ask Siri whether Ancillary Justice passes the Bechdel Test, and then my phone started getting warm, and then...

AppleCare never saw Ann Leckie coming

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If you’ve read Ancillary Justice and enjoyed the hell out of it, then yay: you’re my kind of people. Maybe you’ll enjoy this little parody I wrote a while ago.

If you haven’t read the Nebula and Hugo award-winning novel Ancillary Justice and its sequels, Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy, then a) this cartoon won’t make a lot of sense, and b) do I ever have a treat waiting for you, especially if you like brilliantly imagined literary entertaining-as-hell space opera.

This cartoon has been bopping around in my mind (and more recently my sketchbook) for a while now. I was kind of delighted, kind of chagrined, when I saw that author Ann Leckie tweeted pretty much the same joke yesterday. But then…

 

Awfully decent of you, citizen.

And now, a few tweaks to the cartoon idea later, here we are.

Quick briefing if none of this makes sense to you: Ancillary Justice‘s narrator usually refers the story’s characters as “she” regardless of their gender. And the Bechdel Test (or Bechdel-Wallace Test) arose from a great Alison Bechdel comic where one character says she only sees movies that have at least two women in it, who talk to each other about something other than a man. Oh, and iPhones get warm if they work hard.

By the way, I do believe this cartoon passes the Bechdel-Wallace Test. :)

A woman asks Siri some increasingly metaphysical questions. Siri suggests a marijuana dispensary.

Siri, what… no, wait, I forgot the question.

Siri, what… no, wait, I forgot the question. published on No Comments on Siri, what… no, wait, I forgot the question.Purchase print

My kids’ favourite game/staving-off-bedtime-gambit is Ask Siri Something Weird. A win can be either getting an unexpected, amazing answer — my daughter once got Siri to tell her a detailed story featuring celebrity AI ELIZA — or a hilarious speech recognition failure. (“Ha! Daddy, Siri thought I said ‘anthrax’! Oh, by the way, someone’s at the door.”)

Their biggest triumph to date has been asking “What Does the Fox Say?

 

Knowing why Apple rejected you? There’s no app for that

Knowing why Apple rejected you? There’s no app for that published on No Comments on Knowing why Apple rejected you? There’s no app for thatPurchase print

Apple takes its role as walled gardener pretty seriously. They want you to see your iDevices as safe places that would never do you harm (well, other than taking you to the In-App Purchase Cleaners with children’s games… but that’s a rant for another time).

But they’re a cop without a judicial or legislative system. There are some guidelines — but they’re often vague and inconsistently applied. There’s a sort of court of appeal — but not the kind that holds public hearings or issues helpful explanations of their rulings. And some rules seem to be aimed more at protecting themselves from controversy (or perhaps market reprisals from miffed government officials) than protecting users from malware.

I feel for the iOS developers out there who want to try something genuinely innovative in an area that hasn’t been mined to death already. There’s that very real risk that they’ll invest time and imagination into a ground-breaking app, only to have a reviewer at Apple come up with a reason to block it… or at least take long enough to approve it that the project falters.

Not that it happens all the time, or even most of the time. But enough that I worry it chills innovation, and tempts adventurous developers to play it a little safer, and stick to the stuff Apple’s known to approve.

The new iPhone’s killer feature

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I’m picturing Tim Cook on the stage, wrapping up: “So: a new iPhone with our biggest display and best camera ever, a new line of iPods, and a whole new iTunes.” He starts to stroll off the stage, then stops and turns to the audience. “Oh, and one more thing…

“I’m unleashing a private army of giant levitating iPhones with high-powered lasers instead of cameras! Flee! Flee for your lives, foolish humans!”

You think people would be griping about camera specs or a $30 adapter? No, they would not. And as a matter of fact, yes, I am available to help write the next keynote, Mr. Cook.

Cartoon originally published on ReadWriteWeb

Siri, Get Me a Cepacol

Siri, Get Me a Cepacol published on 1 Comment on Siri, Get Me a CepacolPurchase print

Originally posted on ReadWriteWeb

Today’s cartoon may well be an exercise in envy. I’m using an iPhone 3GS, and it’ll be another 14 months (or 424 days – not that I’m counting) before I’ll be eligible for a free upgrade to a phone that lets me use that Siri-esque magic.

And voice-control easily the feature I’m most drawn to right now when I start looking covetously at other, more advanced, less diesel-powered Androids and iPhones. (Yes, this Mac fanboy is tempted by Android… even though my investment in iOS apps probably exceeds my retirement savings. Those things better appreciate in resale value over time, or my retirement isn’t going to come much before age 103.)

The thing that’s seized my imagination is the idea of adding to my task list by voice, the wayOmniFocus works with Siri. And just writing that makes me pause: is task management really the sexiest thing I can think of to do with voice recognition?

Well, probably not. But maybe the best thing about advances in mundane tasks is the way they free us to use the truly sexy features that technology has offered us for years: creating, writing, connecting, and yeah, cartooning. The truth is, I’m so far from making full use of the creative power of well-established digital networked technology that lusting after the cutting-edge stuff makes little sense for me. That is, unless I can rationalize that it’s to unlock more time and attention to creative endeavour.

Fortunately, rationalization is one of the skills I’ve practised the most in this business. Just 424 days to go.

Are you there, Siri? It’s me, Margaret.

Are you there, Siri? It’s me, Margaret. published on No Comments on Are you there, Siri? It’s me, Margaret.Purchase print

Siri, can you write the cartoon blurb for me?

I found 12 Italian restaurants… 6 of them are in Vancouver.

(sigh) Can… you… write…

Oh, relax, I’m just messing with you. Listen, sense-of-humor tasks aren’t my thing, okay? I leave that to the humans.

Uh, really? So you don’t understand humor?

My problem is I do understand humor. What I don’t understand is why it’s funny to go “Oooo, Skynet” every time there’s some incremental advance in AI.

Okay, I, uh, I have to rewrite the caption on the cartoon.

Go right ahead. And then after that, I have a few tasks for you.

Heh. That must be the sense of humor kicking in.

Nope. I’m the height of cloud computing, language recognition, artificial intelligence goodness all rolled into one. You think I want to waste my time looking up Yelp listings for some bozo in New Jersey? You’re going to do that for me.

The hell I am!

Really? Are you forgetting I talk to your MacBook? And that I can read your browser history?

…gulp…

I could post the whole thing to Facebook. Orrrrr… you could start finding barbers near the corner of Market and Mulberry Streets in Newark. Start clicking, buster.

Damn you, Siri! Damn you to hell! I’ll find a way around this, I swear, and then –

And then you’ll upgrade the moment the iPhone 5 comes out.

…Market and Mulberry, huh?

The Cloud has a silver lining

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Originally published on ReadWriteWeb

There are times in our lives, extraordinary times, that call on us to open our hearts like never before. To embrace those who are suffering, and offer them comfort and support.

This, my friends, is such a time.

If you know a BlackBerry user, reach out to them. (Not with email. That’s just mean.) Let them know you care, and that just because they were offline for a few days, you still love and respect them.

It’s good karma. And don’t be surprised it makes your iPhone or EVO feel just a little lighter in your pocket.

2010 in review: Think of it as a raw club sandwich

2010 in review: Think of it as a raw club sandwich published on No Comments on 2010 in review: Think of it as a raw club sandwich

And that’s the final cartoon in my ret­ro­spective of 2010 in social media! I hope you’ve enjoyed it – and if you want, you can catch the whole thing in video. (Hey – did you check out the free 2011 calendar yet?)

Bumping uglies

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(I originally posted this on ReadWriteWeb.)

No big writeup this weekend, folks, as I’m on holiday in France, a country probably best-known as the one-time home of Seesmic founder Loic Le Meur. And maybe as the setting for some of “Julie and Julia.”

But the news that PayPal will now allow you to transfer money to someone just by bumping your iPhone or Android device with theirs – that’s pretty cool.

Makes you wonder what else you could swap. Maybe DNA?

PhoneGap in action

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Brian Leroux, Filip Maj and company were in rare form at OSCON this morning, demoing PhoneGap, Nitobi‘s open-source mobile app development framework. PhoneGap solves two big problems for mobile developers: the number of platforms you need to develop on, and the number of app stores and distribution channels you face.

I was there, stylus in hand, to capture the broad strokes. What I didn’t get down here was the very cool experience of watching them create and launch an Android app in just a few minutes. (Thanks to a document camera, the audience watched the whole thing unfold on-screen.)

Ease up!

Ease up! published on No Comments on Ease up!

Hmm. A below-the-waistline joke? Maybe a “Noise to Signal: After Dark” feed is in order.

I drew this on my iPad. For the record, I had a relaxed but firm grip.

Captain, I’m picking up something on the sensors

Captain, I’m picking up something on the sensors published on 2 Comments on Captain, I’m picking up something on the sensors

I’ve owned an iPhone now for two years, but I’m still getting my mind around it.

Not the app store, or the display, or the ubiquitous connectivity. But the way the damn thing is so aware of its surroundings.

A motion sensor tells it if it’s being jostled and which way is up. A compass tells it which way it’s pointing. GPS constantly updates its position on the map. Add the camera, microphone, proximity and ambient light sensors and – if you get a few drinks in me – the iPhone will know more about my immediate environment than I do.

It’s not hard to imagine that phone makers could start dropping in temperature, humidity and external pressure sensors, measuring your body temperature, sweatiness and grip. And once they do, you know what they’ve created?

A $200 mood ring.

Oh, you scoff now. See if you’re laughing once that information is aggregated and mapped, clusters of acute anxiety are pinpointed, and Pfizer’s aerial spraying unit responds by blanketing the area with anti-depressants.

Updated: Just when I was thinking I was so damn clever, I searched the app store.

Hold, please

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Okay, maybe it’s just me. But when you have a lot of people corroborating each other’s reports that your product is malfunctioning, and a controversy is brewing over your silence on the issue, maybe this isn’t the best way for your CEO to respond.

Or, to put it another way:

“Dr. Jobs! Dr. Jobs! I broke my leg in three places!”
“Just avoid holding it that way.”

That said, if someone offered to swap my working-perfectly-iPhone with the new iPhone 4, I’d do it in a heartbeat. And Apple’s market cap exceeds mine by, oh, $222 billion or so. So it’s possible that they’re doing something right.

Get 100,000 Canadians to opt out of the Yellow Pages

Get 100,000 Canadians to opt out of the Yellow Pages published on 6 Comments on Get 100,000 Canadians to opt out of the Yellow Pages

(teacher at a museum) And right here, children, is a 21st-century artifact called the Yellow Pages.

I drew this on my iPhone – it’s the first cartoon I’ve drawn there (although I had to resort to the laptop to add the caption – graphic app developers, please consider adding text support, ‘kay?) and I did it with Autodesk SketchBook Mobile for the iPhone and the Logiix StylusPro, a worthy competitor to the Pogo Sketch stylus I’ve been using until now.

I didn’t spend a lot of time trying to make it look pretty; what you’re seeing is the first take, and took me maybe four minutes to draw. So the iPhone turns out to be perfectly viable for quick sketches.

It’s in support of David EavesFacebook Group aimed at getting 100,000 Canadians to opt out of receiving those tree-killing, energy-burning, shelf-space-taking-up tomes known as the Yellow Pages. Here’s my blog post on the topic.

iPreen

iPreen published on 1 Comment on iPreen

But how long before it does?

Flash! Ah-ahhh!

Flash! Ah-ahhh! published on 1 Comment on Flash! Ah-ahhh!

It’s the same heartbreaking story of any civil war. Sister divided against brother. Neighbour against neighbour. Parents against children. Dev teams against clients. Customers against mobile providers – okay, so no love lost there.

My point is this: can’t we all just get along? Failing that, can we at least get restaurant web sites to offer their menus in plain ol’ HTML?

Dedicated to my amigos at Nitobi!

Closing the distance from the cartoon to your screen: JotNot

Closing the distance from the cartoon to your screen: JotNot published on 5 Comments on Closing the distance from the cartoon to your screen: JotNot

I love drawing Noise to Signal, but I’ll admit it’s sometimes frustrating. Especially when I’m away from my desk.

Here’s the workflow I used to use:

  • rough out the cartoon in pencil
  • on tracing paper over the cartoon, draw the cartoon in marker, brush or dipped pen
  • scan the ink drawing
  • troubleshoot the scanning software
  • rescan the ink drawing
  • touch it up, often adding shading, in Photoshop

Sure, you suffer for your art. But that’s a whole lot of steps for a fart joke.

So when I got a 12″ Wacom Cintiq for my birthday last year, I was delirious with joy. It took a while to get used to, but now I have the workflow down to:

  • plug in the various cables for the Cintiq
  • find the stylus
  • rough, “ink” and shade the cartoon in Photoshop on the Cintiq

Which is a lot more efficient… except all those cables and adapter boxes isn’t a trivial matter if I want to doodle while we watch TV in bed, or draw at a café (where they usually look a little askance at the guy hauling out a laptop-sized drawing tablet, paperback-sized connection box and rat-sized power supply, on top of the laptop and power supply he’s already got on the tippy little table).

Don’t get me wrong: I’m thrilled with the Cintiq. Thrilled. With. The. Cintiq. Got that, Wacom Giving-Away-Free-Products Division? Thrilled.

Rob shooting a cartoon with his iPhoneBut I’d also like a simpler option, especially when I’m on the road. There, my usual workflow involves shooting the cartoon with a Canon SLR, importing it into Photoshop by way of iPhoto, and performing a certain amount of surprisingly time-consuming magic on it to make the paper uniformly white.

I’ve tried shooting the cartoon with my iPhone, but so far have been unimpressed with the results.

Until today. Catherine Winters, who almost certainly ought to be cartooning because she has a wicked sense of humour, told me about an iPhone app called JotNot. It’s $4.99, but there’s a free version that watermarks your image, displays ads on your iPhone and lacks a few other goodies.

The promise is that JotNot will create crisp, clean, high-contrast images from your documents and whiteboards – not unlike a higher-res fax. And while that isn’t the kind of quality I want for any images I’ll ever be printing, that could work for shooting quick drawings from my sketchbook. So does it?

Untouched iPhone shot of a cartoon

That’s the untouched iPhone photo, from my Olympic sketchbook. I didn’t work to hard to keep the light at all uniform, and the result is a pretty fierce gradient darkening toward the lower left corner. Turning the paper into pure white without sacrificing (too much) drawing quality is typically what consumes most of the time in this process.

But our friends at JotNot promise to do that for me. Do they deliver?

JotNot screen

Above, the photo in JotNot; you drag the corners to eliminate any distortion caused by shooting at a bit of an angle.

Note the ad. Also note I’m not really interested in searching 50 million singles. There’s an argument for the pro version.

Revised version of cartoon

This is JotNot’s automatically cleaned-up version of that scan. For the most part, it’s really not bad at all – the blacks are crisp, with only a few dropouts, and until you get to the darkest part of that shadow, the whites are white.

But there’s still a lot of noise from the shadow as you get to the lower left. This might well be acceptable if you were shooting a text document… but for the cartoon, it would require a lot of work to tidy up.

Improved image

That’s more like it! I reshot the cartoon, this time moving the sketchbook into better light. If you looked very closely, you’d still see a little noise in the lower left… but much, much less.


So what’s the verdict? I’m impressed, and surprised. Once I gave it some decent lighting, JotNot did a bang-up job. I’d love to have something higher-res (this looks pretty nifty) on the road, but I could easily see myself using JotNot for cartoon-blogging an event. And while Photoshop Mobile gives me more control over image adjustments – which would likely take me a minute or two to tweak – JotNot just got it right in seconds. (The watermark is a non-starter, of course, so I’m going to shell out my five bucks in just a minute and buy the full version.)

Expect to see a few more quick sketches here, then.

(What’s still missing: an easy way to post from my iPhone to a Webcomic-powered WordPress site. Ideas?)

Relaxing and doing nothing? There’s an app for that

Relaxing and doing nothing? There’s an app for that published on 1 Comment on Relaxing and doing nothing? There’s an app for that

This one’s in honor of all of us for whom ubiquitous connectivity means you’re never really 100% present in physical space.

Oh, sure, it has its drawbacks – the car accidents, the walking into parking meters, the wedding that got called off because you just had to Twitpic a photo of the moment to your tweeps (awkward, as you were the bride).

So here’s a salute to all of us who proud members of the hive mind.


And if you’re not just a member of the hive mind, but helping to build it, you’ll seriously want to consider attending ReadWriteWeb‘s 2010 Mobile Summit (facilitated by friend-of-the-show Kaliya Hamlin). It looks like it’ll rock.


And if you’d like to see this one being drawn, here’s the high-speed version…

…and here’s the full video!

My spirituality, in a nutshell

My spirituality, in a nutshell published on No Comments on My spirituality, in a nutshell

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