Beta reader program in full swing

I currently have about ten beta readers working their way through A Walk in the Park, With Monsters. If I end up with 40% who actually read the book and provide feedback, I’ll consider that a win. If you’re interested in participating in the beta reader program, drop me a note at “roland at lincolnfoxandthebaddog.com”

Buy Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog on Amazon.com right now, or get the first half for free right here if you're still on the fence (.epub download to read in iBooks, Google Play Books, etc.)

Google Pixelbook has a magnetic pen holder!

After using the Pixelbook for several months, I just learned yesterday that the magnetic closure on the screen side of the laptop can double as a convenient place to rest the pen when you’re not using it! I wouldn’t carry it around like this and expect it to hold, but when I’m taking a break, want to put the pen down and don’t want it to roll off somewhere or get lost, this is perfect.

I’m not sure if the designers intended it this way, but it’s really cool.

Buy Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog on Amazon.com right now, or get the first half for free right here if you're still on the fence (.epub download to read in iBooks, Google Play Books, etc.)

An Artists Review of the Google Pixelbook

When I was trying to decide whether or not to buy Google’s Pixelbook, the final factor for me was the artist’s experience. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an artist’s review of the device, so I decided to buy it and try it.

History

I’m pretty firmly into Chrome OS for everything, and I wondered how well the Pixelbook’s pen and Android apps could satisfy my digital illustration needs. Previously, I’ve used a Wacom Intuos board, and then a Surface Pro for direct-to-screen illustration. I’ve not used any of the apps or the pencil on the iPad Pro. Why not? I’m not a fan of the pure tablet format, and wouldn’t have much use for the iPad beyond art, so it’s not something I would spend money on. I write a lot, and wanted a backlit keyboard and UHD/4K screen, so the Pixelbook was already looking pretty good to me. Because of where I work (Google), I’d already seen a few in person, and they are gorgeous.

I’m not a professional artist, but I have been in the past. I was a production artist for years, worked in print production, and did fine art and animation for a while. Years ago, a project that I helped with ended up being included in a MoMA exhibit. The point is that I’m nothing near a full-time working artist, but I’m also not a complete derelict who has zero experience, so adjust your expectations of this review accordingly.

So, is it usable?

Absolutely. The Pixelbook is optimized for a handful of art apps, most notably Autodesk Sketchbook Pro, Infinite Painter and ArtRage. I tried all three, and didn’t bother with the note-taking apps because I don’t care about taking notes. The apps were all extremely responsive. I experienced no perceptible lag when drawing. I’ve used ArtRage before, and I like it for what it does, but after trying all three apps I settled on Sketchbook Pro. I didn’t put Adobe’s Photoshop Sketch app in here because when I tried it, I experienced a fair amount of lag.

The nice thing about the Android versions of these apps is that they are much less expensive than the Windows/MacOS versions. They seem to have a little less functionality, but not much. Each also has a free trial, which is usually just a severely reduced tool set. I paid the $5 for the Sketchbook Pro upgrade. One downside of the Android version of Sketchbook is that you can’t import external brushes. Hopefully this is changed in a future version, because it was annoying reading about people’s cool brush sets and not being able to use them.

Everything seemed as sensitive and responsive as my older Wacom setup, and because it’s all on a touchscreen, you can do things like grab the canvas with two fingers on the screen and zoom in/out and rotate at will. It’s far more like working on, for example, a sheet of paper. In a purely subjective judgment, I found the actual drawing experience better on the Pixelbook than on my Surface Pro.

One thing I did miss from my Intuos days was the feel of the board itself. With the Pixelbook, just like the iPad Pro or Surface Pro, you’re drawing on glass, and you can tell. There is no texture to it. You forget about it after a while, but still, it’s a thing.

The one thing I’m still missing on Android

I’m okay with the raster illustration tool set on Android. It’s not spectacular, but I think it’s serviceable. As far as the illustration pipeline goes though, I’m still missing one crucial piece. While many of the illustration apps have some limited ability to adjust colors for an entire layer, it’s just that — limited. A strong part of my illustration pipeline is to take my finished-but-still-layered work into Photoshop and tune it layer by layer. Maybe I’ll sharpen or lens blur some things, or maybe I’ll do some masking and spot color adjustments. Coming from a print production background, Photoshop’s color adjustment tools are an old and good friend. Sometimes, I’ll also pull pieces of an illustration into the Liquefy tool to adjust proportions after the fact.

As of now, there is nothing on Android that supports that level of control. I was hoping that Lightroom CC Mobile would allow you to apply its relative power to layered PSD files, but it doesn’t.

Sadly then, I’m not 100% removed from the traditional desktop OSs. Sigh.

The pen

The Pixelbook Pen is an additional $100. There’s nothing outstanding about it, so I’ll just do the gripes:

  1. It requires a battery, which adds weight.
  2. The body is metal, so even for apps that support “erase with the butt” you’re putting metal against your screen. Not all apps support it anyway.
  3. There is only one button on it, and it launches the Google Assistant. You can’t reprogram it. From the artists’ perspective, it’s a huge waste.
  4. You can’t change nibs like you can on a Wacom stylus.

Other than that, it does its job. My hand doesn’t get tired holding it. It functions well. I noticed no degradation from a pressure or tilt perspective against my old Wacom setup.

Here are a handful of things that I’ve done with it so far (I think that two were Sketchbook and one was ArtRage):

And then here’s something I started, and due to OS resets I lost 🙁

Conclusion

Unless you’re really into premium device design, there’s not much to recommend the Pixelbook over, say the Samsung Chromebook Pro. It has the same res screen, more or less the same specs and features.

However, and this is a big however, if you actually want to do digital art, I’d say that as long as you’re good with the illustration offerings on Android, the Pixelbook + Pen is worth the extra cash.

 

Buy Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog on Amazon.com right now, or get the first half for free right here if you're still on the fence (.epub download to read in iBooks, Google Play Books, etc.)

Using Calibre on a Chromebook for Indie Publishing

In a previous post, I talked about my love for Chrome OS and Chromebooks in general. This past week, I completed my move onto 100% Chrome OS for my self-publishing pipeline. The last barrier to doing this was a reliable and controllable way to generate .mobi files for Amazon’s Kindle platform. The feature isn’t generally available just yet, but if you’re interested in doing this, here’s a brief tutorial on how to make it happen early!

  1. You need a supported Chromebook. Right now, it’s only on the Pixelbook. This is expected to change as support is expanded. Most likely, these instructions will stay the same for new supported devices.
  2. Switch to the DEV channel on your Chromebook:
    1. Go to Chrome’s Settings panel, hit the upper-left hamburger menu and choose “About Chrome OS” at the bottom.
    2. Click “Detailed build information”.
    3. Click the “CHANGE CHANNEL” button in the “Channel” item.
    4. Choose “Developer – Unstable” from the Channel dialog and confirm your choice.
    5. Back on the “About Chrome OS” panel, there will be a button to “RESTART” your Chromebook. Once it downloads the DEV channel update, it will restart.
    6. Doing this will NOT wipe your Chromebook 😀 So no worries there!
  3. Tell your Chromebook to enable the experimental feature:
    1. Navigate to this URL chrome://flags/#enable-experimental-crostini-ui
    2. Find the flag called “Experimental Crostini UI”
    3. Change the setting to the right of it from Default to Enabled
    4. Once again, you’ll have to restart your Chromebook
  4. Launch the Linux environment:
    1. Go into Chrome Settings
    2. There should be a “Linux (Beta)”section. Turn it on. It will do a download, then launch a terminal window. This is your new full Linux terminal!
  5. Install and run Calibre. Calibre’s website recommends a direct download and install, so we’ll do that.
    1. You’ll need the “wget” utility first. To install it, type:
      sudo apt-get install wget
    2. Calibre’s website has a command line to do its installation, but I found it didn’t work perfectly. Here’s one that worked for me:
      sudo wget -nv -O- https://download.calibre-ebook.com/linux-installer.sh | sudo sh /dev/stdin
    3. A bunch of stuff will download and install. When it’s finished, you can run it by simply typing calibre on the command line
    4. Calibre should make an application window, and you’re good to go!

In order to make files accessible to Linux applications (at least for now), there’s a new item in Chrome’s file browser called “Linux”. It shows up next to the “Downloads” and “Drive” entries. You can drag and drop your files there, and they will end up in the default directory that your Linux apps can access. This part is a little clunky, and I expect that it will change in the future for a smoother user experience.

Kudos to the Linux-on-Chrome OS team — this is a great feature. As someone who went from Windows to desktop Linux to Mac then to Chrome OS, this is an exciting development.

Cheers

Buy Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog on Amazon.com right now, or get the first half for free right here if you're still on the fence (.epub download to read in iBooks, Google Play Books, etc.)

ChromeOS, Linux Applications, and Indie Writers

I’ve been using ChromeOS for years (i.e. Chromebooks). In January I bought a Pixelbook, and it is easily the nicest computer of any variety (laptop, mobile, etc.) that I’ve ever personally owned. Until last month, I still had to have a Mac around to do a few things, but I believe those days are over. Google has announced that they are rolling out support on Chromebooks for Linux applications.

For the independent writer and publisher, this is an amazing advance. One of the most critical tools that we need during the publication process is a way to curate the creation of .mobi files — Amazon Kindle’s native publication format. Amazon will do it for you, but their auto-conversion leaves a lot to be desired. The main tool that indie writers use to control this themselves is called Calibre. It’s an open source document converter that creates .mobi files, and provides a really nice tool set for dealing them.

You need a Mac, Windows and Linux machine to run it. But now, you can do it right on a Chromebook. I just got it working on my Pixelbook yesterday and produced a beta-reader .mobi of A Walk in the Park, With Monsters. It’s great to know that I can now use ChromeOS for my entire publication pipeline!

Buy Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog on Amazon.com right now, or get the first half for free right here if you're still on the fence (.epub download to read in iBooks, Google Play Books, etc.)

Pittsburgh: The Denizens of the Shallows

Pittsburgh has a fleet of boats that do cruises on the Three Rivers. If you’ve ever taken one, you’ll remember these mildly horrid things. As you cross the access way to the pier area of the fleet, the water is fairly shallow and these carp cluster there, hoping that passersby will feed them.

Buy Lincoln, Fox and the Bad Dog on Amazon.com right now, or get the first half for free right here if you're still on the fence (.epub download to read in iBooks, Google Play Books, etc.)