What’s in a Name?

In which the Author Reflects upon a Recent Tweet

Read a tweet from Scott Kurtz of PvP Online this morning that made me think. He asked himself why he gives a title to each strip, when sometimes the only appropriate title is “moves the story along.” I think the answer lies in the nature of a webomic update. Whether it’s long-form or a gag strip, standalone or part of a story arc, the goal is to make each strip a significant and satisfying update to the work as a whole. As such, I think it’s worthy of a title, like any other work of art (okay, I’m reaching pretty far for that last bit 😉 )

Most of my strips are written well in advance – I’ll go into a writing frenzy every so often and crank out a dozen or more at a time – but the strip titles are often the last thing I do as I’m trying to post the strips created that week. I’ve compounded the title dilemma by adding subtitles, with which I’ve tried to impart a “Young Victorian Ladies’ Primer” kind of feel (an idea I ripped off from The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson.) So the title question is something I’ve struggled with – is thinking up a title for each strip a worthwhile exercise or not? I think it is. But like the strip update itself, it should impart some meaning (even if small) to the overall package.

Make Me Love You

Keep your SharePoint House in Order

On the other hand, with ComicPress’ settings to make the strip’s URL out of its title, I sometimes run into pretty long URLs, because I prefer that over short, unreadable URLs. In doing that, I am committing a cardinal sin of usability – one that I vehemently grouse about in my daily role as a SharePoint consultant. In SharePoint, it makes a HUGE mess when users employ descriptive phrases (even small paragraphs) for site, list, or item titles. I’m sure any CMS, document management system, or dev platform has the same issue. Further, when the item title is transcoded into a URL string, each space becomes 3 characters (“%20”), not just one. Many special characters do the same, and some foreign characters transcode to 9 characters! Big mess. I’m working on a large system upgrade for my current client, and this is a major impediment we’re having to fix before we can migrate. Compound that with a content database that is 15+ times the recommended maximum size, and you see the magnitude of the issue.

If you use SharePoint, do us all a favour – keep the titles short but meaningful. I guess that’s my theme of the day.

Poor Man’s Cintiq®

Can’t Wait for my Microsoft Surface™!

I’m pretty excited about the Microsoft Surface. It’s a big thing that we’re getting into building and selling our own hardware (in addition to the XBox, of course), and from what I’ve seen, the Surface is going to be a sweet piece of kit. I can’t wait to get my hands on one. Literally, I can’t wait. My schedule has me needing to ink my hand-drawn strips in less than two weeks. Would have been cool to do that on my new Surface, but the release isn’t until the end of October, and the Pro model (which I’d need to run Photoshop or Manga Studio) won’t be out until a few months later. So – I’m already pencilling by hand, will I be forced to ink directly on paper as well?!

So, I decided to buy a shiny new Cintiq 24HD… until I saw the price tag. I’ll still get one eventually, but not right now; I need an alternative solution.

Enter my trusty, crusty old HP 2730p tablet PC. Very rugged little machine; my younger kids have been kicking it around as a gaming PC for the past couple years (until I stole it back 🙂 ). You can pick these up now for around $200-300 on eBay, and they are a great low-cost, short-term alternative to the Cintiq. The HP shares the same resolution and is of the same approximate size and weight as the smallest Cintiq, the 12WX – which still costs a thousand bucks. However, you do need to make a few tweaks in order to get the pen experience up to a usable level for artwork. Here’s a description of my setup:

  • Windows 7 Home Premium. Or really, whatever version you have. Not Windows 8 yet, though – Some of the Registry tweaks don’t work in Win 8 yet (see next item).
  • Viziblr Fix My Pen! (2011.08.15). To address those UI bells & whistles that the standard tablet driver has: ripple effect when you click, and so on. These UI effects kill the responsiveness of the pen input, and make it very awkward to draw. The app needs to be run as an Administrator if you’re on Vista or Windows 7.
  • External USB or wireless keyboard. I’m a keyboard shortcut junkie, and the HP’s keyboard is covered up when using the tablet in slate mode. The external keyboard enables me to still use one hand to adjust brush size, switch tools, zoom in & out, etc. Not quite the hard keys on the Cintiq, but close.
  • Wacom Tablet PC – Enhanced Graphics Driver 7.0.9-5. I found this to be a necessity to get the right “feel” for the pressure sensitivity and pen angle. Not all tablets are “penabled”, so if you’re using a different tablet, check your specs.
  • Software. I was going to use Photoshop to ink, but I tried out Manga Studio… man! I think I’m a convert.
  • Optional items. External monitor, if you like your palettes on a separate screen. External mouse, if you’re using an external monitor. Although you could adapt what this guy did, if you’re using a regular Wacom graphics tablet.

It may have only 256 levels of pressure sensitivity, and the right-click button on the pen doesn’t quite work with the config changes I’ve made, but for something pulled out of semi-retirement, it’s a great little art platform. I’ve found videos on YouTube that talk about calibration issues with the 2730p, but with this setup I have not encountered those problems.

You All Know What’s Next

How Much Foreshadowing is Too Much?

By now, most of you have figured out who the guest star is for the next few strips (starting tomorrow), and extrapolated to see how Penny, Bad Penny and Shakespeare are going to get back home to their own timeline. I was pretty heavy-handed with the foreshadowing, and maybe went overboard. In fact, I feared folks would see it coming when I posted my “Don’t Get Hot and Flustered” desktop picture a while back. That hint was apparently just vague enough.

So, apologies to those of you have been waiting so long in antici… … …pation (thanks, Louise!). Since so many folks know the movie’s lines by heart anyway, I figured surprise wasn’t much of an option, and went the opposite route and bludgeoned you with it. Thanks for indulging me! 🙂