All posts by emcdermott

Surface Pro 3: I Can Haz Digital Art?

This week, I had the privilege of dining with some tech celebs in Chicago (no really, they were stopped on the way out by a fan), and afterward, we walked by a billboard for the Surface Pro 3 — “The tablet that can replace your laptop”.  They mocked the Microsoft product for its ability to run horrible Microsoft Office programs, and perhaps their tech snob tastes were as refined as their excellent tastes in beer, but I had to defend the 3.  Secretly, I’ve been lusting over that little machine since it was unveiled, and on June 20th, when it was first available to purchase in stores, I even went to drool over it in person.

Surface Pro 3 at the Microsoft Store
Surface Pro 3 at the Microsoft Store in Chitown


I’d been searching for a lightweight laptop that could also create digital art well.  Like a cat to its first cheezburger, I was (and am) a total newb in the digital art arena, so I first turned to my friend Marc Grunert for some expert advice.  Marc is not only someone I’ve known for many years to be a talented artist, he also makes his dough that way!  You can check out some of his amazing illustrations here:  Marc directed me to Wacom’s Cintiq Companion which soon became my first digital art hardware crush:

Wacom’s Cintiq Companion


Wacom’s products are widely known to be in the Cadillac class of digital art hardware and reviewers commonly remark on the realistic feel and responsiveness of the drawing tools.  I knew if I were aiming for the best product for creating art, Marc had steered me straight. Unfortunately, along with being crazy-expensive (over $2k for the higher memory version + keyboard accessory), it was also a bit heavy and bulky for lugging on the trains and buses during my 3+ hour daily commute.  I needed something powerful but lighter and smaller, and I’d be willing to sacrifice a bit on drawing performance to get there…

And then the Surface Pro 3 was announced, and I dropped my Cintiq Companion crush faster than Romeo dropped his obsession with that Rosaline bitch.

However, it became clear before it even was available, the Surface Pro 3 had its own flaws.  There was the immediate concern that the drawing capabilities would be a little more than a little shittier than that of Wacom’s Companion or even that of its own earlier version.   The previous Surface Pro actually used Wacom technology in its pen and it came with 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity.  The Surface Pro 3 moves to N-Trig technology with only 256 levels of sensitivity.  I was largely skeptical that a human needed over 1,000 levels of pressure measurement.  As an engineer with a bunch of experience under her belt in several industries, I thought it all smelled like a lot of marketing B.S..  And based on this lengthy explanation from a Microsoft scientist, that assumption was probably correct:

The other big concerns came from this awesomely candid review by Gabe, artist from Penny Arcade:

I was most alarmed by the lag Gabe noticed while drawing and the fact that the HOME BUTTON was PERFECTLY LOCATED to KICK THE ARTIST BACK to the HOME SCREEN.  REPEATEDLY.  That’s just aces, Microsoft.

Luckily and surprisingly, Microsoft brought the gemba to them by inviting Gabe over to observe him (trying to) draw:   After a couple rounds, the engineers had a fix for the home button problem — it would be disabled while the pen was in contact with the screen.   Unfortunately, the drawing lag issue appears to remain unsolved for the moment.

Here’s what I found from my personal observation of the Surface Pro 3 in downtown Chicago:

1. After a week of being on display for the public’s grubby fingers, there was some significant wear.  The type cover was already approaching filthy, and take a look at the pen’s already worn nib (pardon my shitty phone pics, I was feeling too self-conscious to pull out my camera under the watch of an already raised MS employee’s eyebrow):

Surface Pro 3 Worn Pen Nib


2.  I love mechanical keyboards.  I have these awesome fingernails that I can use for peeling oranges, opening packages and attacking assailants like the mutherfucking Wolverine.  They’re not going anywhere just so I can use a shitty touch keypad.  Nope, screw you, Apple.  I’m really happy the Surface Pro line is continuing with physically moving keys!

Even Clawed Animals Can Use Surface Pro 3's Keyboard
Even Clawed Animals Can Use Surface Pro 3’s Keyboard


3.  The FreshPaint app is stupid-addictive.  I read this warning in other reviews, but I Had No Idea How Bad it really was.  I kept telling the MS salespeople, “yeah, yeah…uhh…I’ll be right off of this…thing…ooohh, wow…”.   Check out my modern art!

Surface Pro 3 FreshPaint App
Yeah, I Made This. Hard to believe, I know.


4.  See that screen?  It’s pretty shiny.  Not sure how much of an issue the veiling glare would be in different ambient light conditions.

5.  The software fix for the home button location issue seemed to be already in place!  It still kicked me back to the home screen once though, when one of my drawing strokes continued a tick after the pen left the surface.  It was an extremely irritating moment.  Grrr.  I feel you, Gabe.

So for now, I’m holding off on purchasing anything to see if Microsoft finds a good fix for the drawing lag and also to see what the competition might have to add to the better-than-decent-drawing-plus-better-than-decent-computing arena.  I hope my tech pro friends and art pro friends will forgive me, whatever choice I ultimately make.

I don’t want to disappoint anyone who may have been expecting a cat pic in this post based on the title — even though cats really, really aren’t my thing.  So, here.  I present to you, The Ranger, my roommate’s saber-toothed mountain lion of a cat who is:

The Ranger



Scoring Affections at the World Cup

Whenever people heard that a couple of my 24-year-old male friends were going to Brazil for the World Cup, they said, “they’ll never make it back alive,” or, “well, say, ‘goodbye’ while you can”.  I’d retort with a “don’t be silly, they’ll be fine!” or a, “Brazil is not that scary, stop it!”.

While I didn’t worry about their safety, I did worry about them failing to capitalize on their greatest asset: they were about to become exotic foreigners in a world full of hot, Brazilian women.  Before you say, “what the hell are you talking about, Erin, Americans are totally lame everywhere they go, except for maybe Canada,” hear me out.  (Apologies in advance to my Canadian buddies.)  When I studied in Germany, I carefully observed one American exchange student in particular: a dorky, annoying, narcissistic dweeb-weezle of a specimen.  When he displayed himself in public, many of us were ashamed to be associated.  One afternoon, while he was surrounded by gorgeous German babes who seemed somehow interested in his terrible German grammar, I remarked to my German friend who’d previously studied in the U.S., “what the hell is that?!”  My friend scolded me and said, “don’t you realize you’re the same?  You’re special just because you are different.  It’s the same for you and it was the same for me when I was in the U.S. — you get attention only because you are foreign.”  Although it was saddening at the time, if true, this factoid could hold the key to unlocking the potential of one of the most amaziballs times in my young friends’ lives.

But how would the Brazilian babes know they were exotic ‘Mericans?  I mean, aside from their dashing, ‘Merican good looks?  They would need to be told.  On a t-shirt.  In Portuguese.

I enlisted the help of my expert friend, Jessica, who speaks a bit of Portuguese, and who, moreover, hosted Brazilian exchange students and visited Brazil.  She was quick to reply with a suggestion for what to write on the t-shirts and also turned to her Brazilian “sisters” for their expert opinions.  After much deliberation, a phrase was arrived at they were sure was, “going to work”: Gringo na área! Quer me beijar?  Then I spent a lot of time creating t-shirt art in Photoshop and going back and forth with the astoundingly fantastic Rachel of Barrel Maker Printing to perfect it.  All of our efforts resulted in this masterpiece:

"Gringo in the House! Who wants tah kiss me?"
Translation: “‘Merican in the House! Who wants tah kiss me?” Or something like that.


As the boys prepare to ship-out, we wish them good luck!  Make ‘Merica proud!  It was nice knowing you…  You will be missed.

The Untapped, Tapping, Double Tapping

Hi!  My name is Erin, and for those of you who don’t know me, student loan debt rules my life!  For some people it’s heroin, for others, Becherovka, for yet others, poo tang.  I propose that Sallie Mae is actually a noxious, whorey combination of them all: a heroin-Becherovka-poo-tang bullet in a bloody, survivor-less game of Russian roulette.   Mmmm.  Just.  Just take that in.

I think back now to all the well-meaning adults who tried to allay my paralyzing fears about student loan debt when I was trying to figure out how the hell to get through the private university obstacle course completely on my own.  I remember them saying, “but you’re gonna be an engineer.  You’re gonna be rich and these loans won’t matter at all.  You’re making too big of a deal out of this.”  And then, as I think back, I try to stifle my gag reflexes and keep myself from shouting out loud, on the public bus, “don’t listen, little Erin!  It’s all a bunch of LIES”.  (If you ever wondered why the crazies be talking to themselves on CTA, now you know: it’s ’cause of Sallie.)  There is a serious misconception about what each rung of society “should” and does earn — especially in comparison to the costs of higher education, and that misconception is fucking with our nation’s youth, but this is a rant for another post.  I digress.

Anyways, I’ve been playing around for a few years now with creative projects on the side to see if I could monetize any of it and speed up my K.O. of this Sallie bitch…


…and I’ve decided to just put all my shit out there, throw it on the wall, see what sticks, what doesn’t, and what sells to some lunatic for thousands of dollars as modern art.  Luckily, I found an excellent way to do this — at least for my artwork.

Print On Demand (POD) art prints.  This is a thing!  I’ve been reading forums about all the different sites that offer this service and testing them out.  Oh wait, “what the hell is that, exactly?” I heard you ask.  Oh, sorry.  Yeah, so just like with POD publishing, where a printer prints and ships individual copies of your book as they are ordered, people can order individual prints of your artwork in a variety of formats from a high resolution digital image you upload.  You just upload a pic of your painting, choose how you’d like it to be offered, and in some cases, how much you’d like to offer it for, and then you sit back and wait!  Of course, it would help if you actually sent traffic to those sites, but that’s not a prerequisite.

For right now, I uploaded some old pieces to test the sites out and learn how it all works.  I really don’t expect any of the current ones I have up to sell, but, then again, I’ve seen some of my competition which does get sales, and………….   …….it wouldn’t be an entirely nuts possibility either.  If nothing else, I’ve found it can be an excellent way to gauge interest in pieces based on view count.  I read good things about The Untapped Source, and so far in the past week of playing with it, I’ve definitely been able to see what The People like.  I’ve had issues with getting images in the right category (e.g. Photography or Traditional), but I’m gonna give this small company the benefit and assume they’re on vacation and will soon reply to my message(s).

I first started posting paintings up there, which kept being listed as “Photography” despite my efforts to fix them.  After several days of getting lots of views in spite of the category error, I thought, might as well throw some actual photographs up there for giggles.  After that, well, every time I log on, I can’t stop myself from muttering, “holy fucking shit”.

Holy Fucking Shit

So, if you couldn’t guess, the correctly categorized photos are the ones with 400+ views: “Chicago Sunset from Lake Michigan” and “Montrose Harbor in Winter”.   You can check ’em out too, here:

I have no idea if any of the paintings I’ll be producing in the future with commercial intent will sell, but it’s one of the things I’ve got to throw on the wall.  And I plan on tapping into all the resources at my disposal, double-tapping Sallie like the rabid zombie she-beast she is, and tapping out.  If you’re one of those artsy types, I strongly encourage you to do the same, if only for that public interest thermometer feature.  Would you tap that?  Cuz I’d tap that.  Let’s tap that, together.  If you got art online, include links in a comment on this post!

Tell It To The Man



Anyone who has been to an interview, ever, knows there can be a lot of personal, invasive, irrelevant and sometimes just outright inappropriate questions flung at interviewees.  That makes it all the more curious when average Joe looks around his office to find himself knee-deep in stupid.  How did so many undesirables slip through the meticulous, infallible questioning by which The Man judged them?  Why are [...]
Posted: June 30, 2013, 7:23 am

Annabel Lee’s Cynical Makeover

I wrote this while wondering: what if Edgar Allen Poe, so enraptured with his love in his poem, “Annabel Lee”, grew older, wiser and disillusioned?  What would his sorrow sound like in that case?  Below is how I envision that possibility.  Click here to view the original version: Edgar’s Annabel Lee


But that was many and many a year ago, 
   In a kingdom by the sea. 
When there lived a maiden whom you may know 
   By the name of Annabel Lee. 

Yes, back then, I was a child and she was a child, 
   In that kingdom by the sea; 
And we loved with a love that when push came to shove, 
   Buried the child in me. 

Our love was weaker by far than the doubt 
   Of our older versions, we’d see- 
   Of the wiser versions we’d be- 
And neither do seraphs in heaven shout 
   Nor demons down under the sea, 
That ever an ember of envy ignited, 
   From the love of that Annabel Lee. 

Moonlight’s false beams do bring no more dreams, 
   Of the beautiful Annabel Lee; 
And only stars rise through expanses of skies, 
   Once framing idle reverie; 
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down on my side 
   With no lover, no darling; a monk has no bride, 
   In the sepulchre there by the sea, 
   In the quiet of the sounding sea.