Merry Christmas, world!

For some reason, despite being a professional papercraft designer, I’m astonishingly incompetent at wrapping presents. A few hundred square feet of wrapping paper, a couple dozen miles of tape, a box of staples, and half a gallon of craft glue later, I’m finally done wrapping stuff.

After bagging up what looks like a bunch of festive papier-mâché tape balls and vaguely rectangular piñatas, I decided to take a minute to wish all of you a peaceful Christmas Eve and a merry Christmas.

Now I’m off to bed. 🙂

My Office (2014)

I had some time off from work for the holidays, so I’ve been catching up on other stuff. In particular, I’ve been rearranging my office for the past couple of days.

I unpacked my Canon Pixma iP6600D printer and realized that it’s probably the oldest still-functional device in my office. Out of nostalgia, I went and fished out some old photos of the various office setups I’ve had over the years.


There’s the printer, a tiny 1280×720 15″ monitor, plus a mouse and keyboard, connected to my old Gateway desktop PC.
I can’t get over how barebones that setup is. Mind you, that was half of the office–the other half fit into a backpack and included a Gateway convertible notebook, a scanner, a portable Canon Pixma iP90v printer, and a bunch of other stuff.


We moved to a new place in 2009, and the room I was using as an office was so tiny that we had to refurnish it in order to find a place for my stuff to go. I used IKEA’s 3D planner and a lot of catalog surfing to come up with a way to make as much use of the much smaller space as possible.
Same PC, display, and printer, new furniture.


2013 played hell on my workspace arrangements. I was juggling several part-time jobs doing papercraft design, freelance graphic design, web development, and a motley variety of odd jobs during 2012, none of which really needed a dedicated workspace of their own. In 2013, however, I took a huge detour into full-time video game development after a successful Kickstarter project.

The first change was making room for a bunch of new development hardware, including an enormous and powerful Shift workstation furnished by Maingear, one of the sponsors of The Gallery: Six Elements.

And it grew…
And kept growing…
…until it completely dominated nearly half of my office space, displacing almost everything else into the closet or storage. Printers, hobby cutters, laminators, cutting mats, nothing was safe from the voracious appetite of the ever-growing video game development beast.

Until this week, when I finally had enough time off to turn the rest of my office into productive and usable workspace for other pursuits!


I got a 21.5″ iMac in December, which runs both OS X and Windows. It’s dedicated to OS X and iOS development, graphic design, papercraft design, web development, and entertainment. In setting it up, we come right back to the beginning of this blog post. The Canon Pixma iP6600D that I received in 2006 as a gift from Mrs E is still trucking, and it’s back on the job.
I find the fact that it color coordinates so well with the brand new iMac hilarious. It’s like that printer never goes out of style. I’m planning to move my venerable Craft ROBO cutter under the riser below the printer, where the black wire basket is.

I relocated the webcam boom stand to the corner, between the 2 tables, and artfully positioned my shredder in front of it, at a 45 degree angle. The table on the right is for general home office stuff, like paperwork.

I also cleared out a bunch of crap from under the tables and re-homed it. I now have an empty 50″ closet table to work with, which I want to deck out with some riser shelves and a couple of lamps. That’ll give me a proper hobby workspace again, which I’ll cover in another blog post!

A bite of the Apple

After 9 years of being on the fence, I finally purchased a Mac to get my foot into the door of iOS and OS X development. I got the 21.5″ late 2013 model with the Nvidia GTX750M GPU.

The Unboxing

It came in a funny looking trapezoidal box. While removing it from the packaging, I had this weird “Damn, I feel like a rich person” response. I don’t know how to explain it other than the unboxing felt like a premium experience compared to other PCs that I’ve unpacked. I felt a wave of smug and snooty superiority overcome me, which then came to an abrupt end as our semi-outside cat Mack walked up to the outer shipping box and decided to mark it as his property.

The Machine

The iMac is a slick looking aluminum and glass construct, artfully designed to look extremely thin from certain angles. The edge of the display is a few millimeters thick, and curves gradually towards a bulge in the rear middle. It feels pretty hefty and substantial. It has only one cord, a power cord that plugs into the wall or a power strip.


The 1920×1080 display itself is nice, with excellent color and clarity. The 27″ version of the iMac has a 2560×1440 Retina display, which probably looks even more stunning if the quality of the 21.5″ model’s display is anything to go by.

The wireless keyboard is a thin aluminum slab with white plastic keys and gray lettering. It’s accented with white plastic and soft gray rubbery feet on the underside. It feels nice–not as nice as the mechanical Razer Blackwidow Ultimate attached to my workstation, but nice nonetheless. Unlike my Dell XPS 18’s wireless keyboard, the iMac keyboard doesn’t have a keypad. I have slightly mixed feelings about this, but my opinion of the keyboard is generally positive.


The Magic Mouse that came with it is interesting. I can see how it would be a “love it or hate it” sort of peripheral, and it took some getting used to. I added the third-party MagicPrefs pane to the mix to get a middle button back, and I actually kind of love it. It’s a smooth, low-profile mouse with no visible buttons and a touch-sensitive shell. It’s silver plastic accented with white and a light grey Apple logo. The touch sensitivity comes in the form of gesture recognition–you can tap, swipe, and click. Swiping up/down the middle acts like a scroll wheel, swiping sideways moves between screens, and it’s just pretty cool. MagicPrefs allows you to tap in the middle to register a middle click, which comes in handy if you also install Windows. (More on that later.)

The external ports are the one slight annoyance I have. They’re on the back of the display near the lower right corner. You get 4 USB ports, 2 Thunderbolt ports, a smart card reader, a headphone jack, and an Ethernet port. I usually have to turn the display around to see where to plug stuff in, and that’s only mildly annoying at best.

Aesthetically, I love the uncluttered simplicity of the iMac. It just looks nice on a desk.

Booting Up

The first boot was uneventful, just a normal “set up your machine” sort of thing, which went swimmingly. Once OS X loaded, the first thing I did was update the software and start downloading OS X Mavericks.

My initial impression was that after getting used to Windows 8 on my enormous Dell XPS 18 tablet and iOS 7 on my 5th-generation iPod, OS X looked and felt a little quaint and old-fashioned in comparison. I got used to it pretty quickly, however.


The mail app included with OS X beats the pants off the Windows 8 email client. It was straightforward to add my accounts to it, and I really like it so far.

I was also quite charmed by the clear simplicity of the included free apps like Numbers and Pages. They’re almost exactly at the perfect intersection of simplicity and function for casual users compared to Word, Office, OpenOffice, MS Works, and other similar productivity apps. You know that one relative everybody has who goes into an incandescent Hulk rage when all he/she wants to do is set up a resume or do a simple chart, and Office or whatever is making a simple task way too damn complicated? These apps just about nail that type of user’s sweet spot head-on and cover most of the typical scenarios nicely–letters, presentations, reports, charts, spreadsheets, presentations, it’s all there out of the box.

Waking from sleep is almost instantaneous. The speed still takes me by surprise.

Mac or PC?

Both. I got the Parallels Desktop 9 virtualization software, an OEM Windows 8.1 System Builder DVD, and installed Windows 8.1 to a Boot Camp partition. Aside from a couple of gotchas that were cleared up by consulting Professor Google, getting that up and running was a breeze. I installed the Windows-only work apps on the Windows partition. The lightweight stuff like Metasequoia, Ultimate Unwrap 3D, and Ultimate Papercraft 3D run great in a Parallels virtual machine.

I don’t use the Coherence mode (which makes Windows apps look like they’re running on your OS X desktop), I simply do a 2 finger swipe between OS X and Windows 8.1, which display on separate screen spaces. Coherence mode is cool for about ten minutes, and the little bit of extra overhead is better spent on other things.

When I need to do something performance-intensive in Windows that needs direct hardware access, like 3D games, I just boot directly into Windows. The iMac is a pretty damn good Windows PC, although you do need to get used to some minor keyboard differences.

Final thoughts

I’m still getting to know OS X and getting up to speed on the developer side of things. Overall, I really like the hardware, the user experience so far, and the possibilities it offers developers. In particular, I got a kick out of playing around with Automator, AppleScript, and shell scripting. There’s a whole hidden depth for developers to explore under the hood, and it’s just awesome.

I rewrote one of my Windows utilities (an UV scaling calculator that I use with Silo 3D) in Objective-C to get a feel for using XCode. Objective-C is an interesting programming language with some quirks that will take me some getting used to, and I’m looking forward to getting better acquainted with it.

Creative Cloud apps run great on the iMac. The fact that Adobe gives you access to practically their whole suite of content creation apps for a monthly subscription is awesome. I started my self-employment on a shoestring using Paint Shop Pro 7 in 2003, and it wasn’t until 2006 that I could afford Photoshop CS. It took me until 2011 to upgrade to Photoshop CS5, and it seemed like Illustrator and InDesign were going to be totally out of the reach of my budget for the foreseeable future. Being able to use the whole suite without shelling out the cost of an used car up front is a huge bonus.

I like being able to switch between OS X and Windows on the fly. It’s especially handy when working on papercraft stuff, since the 4 applications I use for 3D modeling, UV mapping, and papercraft development don’t have OS X versions. I can also develop and test software for both platforms simultaneously.

I’m really happy with the iMac so far.

Telecommuting In Style

I’ve been working with an indie game dev studio based on Vancouver Island for a while now. Normally, when my boss Denny wants to know what any one of the team is doing, he’ll just walk up to a station, look over a shoulder, and ask questions. Similarly, when anyone else needs to show something quickly, it’s trivial to wave someone over and get on with things. When half of the company works in Vancouver and the other half works in Austin, however, that all goes out of the window. It’s not uncommon for the process of explaining something over Skype to be clunky and more time-consuming than it would be if we were all in the same office, and this becomes much more of an annoyance during crunch time.

Earlier this month, Denny and I found ourselves repeatedly having the same weird conversation–he would ask me what I was up to, and I’d tell him I was too busy working to explain what I was up to. It’s funny the first time, but gets old pretty quickly, and doesn’t really keep anyone clued in.

So, to fix that, I put together a Boss Stick. I call it that because it lets me put my boss on a stick so he can look over my shoulder from 2300 miles away.


On the hardware side, it’s just a photographer’s light stand with a telescoping boom arm, a quick-detach ball mount, my trusty Logitech C920 HD webcam, a Smith Victor reflector lamp with a daylight CFL, and 16 feet of USB 3.0 cable.

On the software side, I upgraded to a Skype premium account (the quarterly plan’s a good deal!) for the group video chat and screen sharing features. I also set up a Flash streaming server account with Onyxservers and use that to stream a live feed to the other office during working hours. Topping that off is ManyCam Pro acting as a video mixer/switcher, which allows me to use multiple video sources and cut/transition between  them as needed.

This setup has already proven its utility several times over by allowing me to demonstrate works-in-progress and show hard-to-describe issues over live video, and Denny can see exactly what I’m working on just by tabbing over to my video feed when he needs to. We’re in the process of setting up something similar for the Vancouver office, which should be fun.

The other nice thing about the Boss Stick is that it’s also going to come in useful when I do more papercraft videos in the future. I always have a blast shooting those, and it’ll be nice to actually work with the ideal camera angles that I couldn’t get before with a small table tripod.

Another hardware review: Dell XPS 18 Tablet

After getting a new job as an indie video game developer with Cloudhead Games, I found myself in a first-world-problem situation where I needed an additional workstation display devoted primarily to communications and documentation. Since I didn’t have any more display ports available on my workstation, I decided to shop around for a Windows 8 tablet that I could also use as a replacement for my 2 year old XPS 15 notebook.

I ended up with a Dell XPS 18 all-in-one. It comes with a wireless keyboard, mouse, and an articulated stand. The tablet also has a pair of fold-out legs on the back, which allows it to stand by itself in 2 different ways.

2013-06-29 15.44.06

On the surface, an 1080p tablet with an 18.4″ screen that clocks in at 5 pounds sounds like an absurd novelty. Dell goes out of its way to call it an all-in-one that happens to be really portable, rather than suggest that it be used in the same way as smaller tablets. They’re right–unless your bulging, spinach-powered forearms make full-grown silverback gorillas take up kettlebells out of a sudden sense of inadequacy, you’re not going to be curling up on the sofa to read 1500-page ebooks on this thing.

I didn’t personally find the weight to be that much of an issue, though. It weighs nearly 2 pounds less than my dearly departed Gateway CX2720 convertible that the XPS 15 notebook replaced 2 years ago, and is also nearly a pound lighter than the XPS 15 notebook. I was used to spending significant amounts of time working with the 7-pound CX2720 in tablet mode, so I guess that skews my perception of the XPS 18’s weight a bit towards the positive side.

I opted for the midrange Core i5 configuration with 8GB of RAM. The lower end Pentium and Core i3 configurations are probably more than plenty for just Skype and Internet browsing alone, but I also wanted it to be usable for other stuff like my papercraft projects and web design.

Here are a couple shots of it integrated into my video game development workstation as an accessory display:

2013-06-15 12.34.50

2013-06-13 19.20.51

In this setup, I use Input Director to configure the XPS 18 as a slave system so I can use the big workstation’s peripherals with it, and it feels pretty much exactly like a simple accessory display.

When not working on video games, it gets parked on the stand and acts as a normal PC:

2013-06-29 15.43.16

I’ve also taken it out of the office and used it as a Netflix machine. It’s awesome at that particular task. It’s a little too clumsy for ebook reading, since the size of the screen means most small-format ebooks show up in a 2-pages-facing layout. I haven’t tried this yet, but I bet it’d work better for magazines, comics, and other full-color text/graphics documents.

Windows 8 is a little weird, like it can’t make up its mind whether it wants to be a touch-centric OS or a desktop OS. It does both fairly well, but the blending of both interfaces needs some work. Some things require more clicks and swipes to accomplish in Windows 8 than in previous versions, and some things aren’t as readily intuitive as Microsoft would like.

In what strikes me as a misguided effort to encourage people to use the Modern user interface, they removed the Start orb from the desktop interface. I think they should have kept the Start button and the Start menu in the desktop interface, but whatever. Stardock sells Start8, a $4.99 start button replacement app that blends in nicely and emulates the classical Start menu behavior, and this goes a fair way towards improving the desktop experience.

Once I figured out how the Modern apps were supposed to work (I had some trouble with Skype at first, and couldn’t figure out how to snap 2 apps together without a visit to Google), I found that I actually liked the Modern apps just fine when using it as a tablet or touchscreen. I’m still a bit ambivalent about Windows 8 in general, but I’m keeping an open mind.

I’m currently still loading my papercraft and web design software on the thing. I’m looking forward to seeing how it handles those jobs–the much larger screen and the increased RAM should come in pretty handy in Photoshop and Carrara.