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Shopping with wild abandon

Shopping with wild abandon published on No Comments on Shopping with wild abandon

Hey, venture capitalists! Looking for a withering one-liner to use when you’re dressing down the leadership of an underperforming ecommerce startup? Try this:

“Are you running a business, or a charity for abandoned shopping carts?”

You’re welcome! That’ll be $30,000.

For what it’s worth, here are five things that make me abandon my shopping cart:

  • Businesses trying to sell outside the United States, using forms built by developers who aren’t aware there is an “outside the United States”. So the postal code’s limited to five characters. Or when I select my country, the form still makes me choose from one of the fifty states (or, if it’s feeling generous, Puerto Rico and Guam as well).
  • Forms that step me through a “convenient” eighty-step process, with no clue as to how far we are from the end. If I’m finally filling in my credit card details, and the children look noticeably older than when I first clicked the checkout button, I’m out of here.
  • Shipping sticker shock. “Oh, you live in Canada? Let me recalculate your shipping costs. …Wow. Uh, how much equity do you have in your house?”
  • Mystery formats with uninformative error messages. “Oooooo, that’s not the format we use for phone numbers. Try guessing again.” Especially effective combined with…
  • Amnesia do-overs. “Nope, that wasn’t it either. Try again… with a completely blank form.”

Help me choose a caption

Help me choose a caption published on No Comments on Help me choose a caption

Okay, folks, I need a quick bit of help.

The cartoon that ran yesterday on ReadWriteWeb actually originally had a different caption. And while I’m pretty pleased with the one it ran with, I can’t shake the question of which one is better.

I put this question to the Twitters, and the suggestion came back, “Crowdsource it!” Sounds like fun, thought I, and so here we all are.

Mind helping me out? Here are the nice people from SurveyMonkey to ask you to vote for your favourite.

Getting Things Drawn

Getting Things Drawn published on No Comments on Getting Things Drawn

If I’m sounding a little more breathless, a touch more excited, a wee bit more giddy than you usually find me, well, there’s a reason.

The heroic folks at Getting Things Done (why, yes, that Getting Things Done) just blogged my business-book-sequel cartoon on GTD Times. (I can well understand why they blogged that cartoon and not, say, this.)

If you haven’t heard of Getting Things Done – or, as author David Allen’s fans call it, GTD – and you’re hoping to raise your personal productivity, then definitely check out the blog and look into GTD.

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.

Northern Voice

Northern Voice published on No Comments on Northern Voice

I just finished two days of iPad-based cartoon-blogging and doodle-note-taking at Northern Voice, the Vancouver-based personal social media conference… and boy, are my arms tired.

But both the iPad and the Pogo Sketch performed magnificently. As for me, well, I’ll leave that to you to judge.

Thanks, Northern Voice MooseCampers!

Thanks, Northern Voice MooseCampers! published on 2 Comments on Thanks, Northern Voice MooseCampers!

I got to kick off MooseCamp – the narrowly-rescued unconference stream at Northern Voice – with a half-hour on webcomics. I shared a little of what I’ve learned over the past few years, but one of the things that grabbed people’s imagination is that you can cartoon without, well, cartooning.

Here are links to some of the comics I mentioned that are created with little or no actual drawing (although there’s a lot of talent still there):

  • Dwell On It, Tateru Nino’s cartoon created through Second Life screen captures
  • Gumshoo, a fun comic that deals with the same kind of topics I do, created on
  • A Softer World, with captions over top of photos – think LOLcats for grownups (often leading dark internal lives)
  • Dinosaur Comics, which uses the same clipart and panel structure in every comic
  • Get Your War On, which uses truly awful office clipart to devastating political effect
  • And then there’s xkcd – stick-figure cartoons from someone who every once in a while proves he can, in fact, draw pretty damn nicely.

Thanks, everyone – I loved the session!

Drupal-pickup-line mug

Drupal-pickup-line mug published on No Comments on Drupal-pickup-line mug

Enough people liked the Drupal pickup line cartoon that I’ve created a mug on Zazzle. And thanks for the great response, people!

My favourite webcomic these days is Bad Machinery

My favourite webcomic these days is Bad Machinery published on No Comments on My favourite webcomic these days is Bad Machinery

And now a word about Bad Machinery.

I loved John Allison‘s hilarious Scary-Go-Round, which tracked the lives of several 20-somethings, teenagers and occasional monsters in the supernaturally-charged town of Tackleford, England. (I felt bereft on reading the last page in the same way that I do when a beloved TV series winds up, or a good friend moves to North Vancouver.) The characters were often blithely aloof to the world around them, but as with Seinfeld, that somehow made them all the more human – especially on those occasions when their awareness allowed a little compassion to creep in. The fact that the more-or-less-lead character dies two or three times over the course of the comic is just gravy.

His follow-up comic is Bad Machinery, and the characters include many of the younger siblings of SGR regulars and their friends. Now centered in the children’s school, Bad Machinery nonetheless has a more mature and humane sensibility to it. The occasional appearance from an SGR cast member – including one who has, for reasons not explained in the comic, returned from Hell – is an added treat, but you can start reading with zero knowledge of SGR and still enjoy it all immensely.

But by all means, check out SGR, too. It’s a ton of fun, and it’s also a chance to see an artist’s storytelling ability grow along with his technical skills.

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?)

Closing on 500…

Closing on 500… published on No Comments on Closing on 500…

The Noise to Signal Facebook fan page has nearly 500 fans. And while I try not to be a metrics junkie, well, that’s a pretty fundamental part of who I am. (How many now? Reload. How many now? Reload.)

Therefore, and notwithstanding the generality of the foregoing, I make you this promise: the day we top 500, I’ll be celebrating with a rare, almost-unheard-of triple update. That’s right: three N2S cartoons inside of 24 hours.

So if you haven’t joined already, how about becoming a fan?

Update: So… you people did that in UNDER FIVE HOURS?! (Tod Maffin was number 500, sometime around 9 pm last night.)

Okay, then… triple update coming today. Meanwhile, uh, I’ll do a quadruple update if you convince the military junta in Burma to step aside. #worthashot

How to use your laptop as a lightbox

How to use your laptop as a lightbox published on 2 Comments on How to use your laptop as a lightbox

Work took me to London this week – exciting stuff, as I’ve never really been (that overnight at Heathrow doesn’t exactly count), and I’ve been loving every jet-lagged moment of it.

But that didn’t mean I could skip my deadline at ReadWriteWeb this weekend, did it? And yet here I was eight time zones away from my beloved Cintiq – excuse me, that should read “from my beloved, comma, from my Cintiq…” – and from my tracing paper. It was late at night and, seat of empire and cultural crucible though London may be, I was pretty sure there wouldn’t be a 24-hour art supply shop anywhere near my Islington hotel.

Also, that would have required me to move. Did I mention the jet lag?

This video is all about how I solved the problem, thanks to my trusty MacBook Pro and my beloved (dammit, there I go again) Canon SLR.

(Oh, and many thanks to Stephen Whitehead for a very kind offer!)